Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

Exploring Philadelphia's Black Heroes: Guion Bluford, Octavius V. Catto, Rebecca J. Cole, Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens, Crystal Bird Fauset, Jessie Redmon Fauset, James Forten, and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper.

Feb 13, 2024 10:00AM ● By Okechukwu Nzeribe

Philadelphia, known as the city of brotherly love, is one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania. Known for its crucial role in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the city is home to a rich history of monuments and an array of ethnic nationalities amongst which are the Black heroes whose courage, resilience, and commitment have impacted the growth of American Democracy.

Let us take a look at some of the Black Heroes of Philadelphia;

Guion Bluford: A Journey to the Stars

Guion Bluford. Public Domain

Born November 22, 1942, Guion Bluford, a native of Philadelphia was the first African American to journey into space. After graduating with a degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, and also acquiring a doctorate in the same program from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Bluford served in the United States Air Force where he flew combat missions in the Vietnam war.

In 1981, NASA launched its first shuttle program called the STS-1 (Space Transportation System). Applying as part of the program, Bluford was among the 35 individuals selected from the many applicants. In 1983, he rode the Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-8 mission making history as the first African American to touch the stars.

As a mission specialist, Bluford then went on to record a total of four space flights as well as spending a total of 688 hours in space. 

Read also:

Mother-Daughter Duo Made History as the First Caribbean Women to Go to Space  Other Black People Who Made Space History

Mother-Daughter Duo Made History as the First Caribbean Women to Go to Space & Other Black People Who Made Space History

Black people have played key roles in the assembly of the International Space Station, NASA, and today utilize the orbiting lab by performing numerous spacewalks and robotic operations an... Read More » 


Octavius v. Catto: Civil Rights Activist

Octavius V. Catto. Public Domain

Born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1839, Octavius was the instructor of literature, mathematics, Greek, and Latin at the Institute for Colored Youth now known as Cheyney University.

During the battle of Gettysburg, Octavius was instrumental in the emergence of the 5th Brigade of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Being a major and inspector general in the brigade, his influence further enabled him to raise more regiments made of colored troops.

Being an educator, Octavius founded the Banneker Literary Institute and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League while still serving in the Union Army. He, along with Jacob C. White Jr also went on to found the Philadelphia Pythians (an all-black baseball team).

In the heat of racial segregation in Philadelphia, Octavius started a protest movement challenging the Jim Crow rules that promoted racial segregation in public transportation.

He was sadly killed during an effort by African Americans in Philadelphia to exercise their rights in the election of 1871 after the state ratified the Fifteenth Amendment.

Read also:

From Museums to Tours 11 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Philly This February

From Museums to Tours: 11 Ways to Celebrate Black History Month in Philly This February

As one of America’s oldest and most culturally diverse cities, there are several ways one can celebrate Black history in Philadelphia. Read More » 


Rebecca J. Cole: Women in Medicine

Rebecca J. Cole. Public Domain

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1846, Rebecca J. Cole was the second formally trained female doctor in the United States. A graduate of the Institute for Colored Youth, the New England Female Medical College, and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Rebecca did extensive work among the poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Washington educating families on the importance of hygiene while providing medical and legal services to families that require them. Her extensive advocacy led to the establishment of a Woman’s Directory Center catering to the needs of women and children.

Read also:

Hidden Gems of Black History

Hidden Gems of Black History

History is replete with tales of courage, and determination of many men and women of Black origin. Read More » 


Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens: An Amazon of Medicine

Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens. Public Domain

A certified obstetrician/ gynecologist, and professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Dr Helen became the first female of African American descent to be admitted as a fellow to the American College of Surgeons as well as the first African American woman in Philadelphia to hold the certification for Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Aside from several notable positions held by Dr Helen such as being the Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, and associate dean of minority admissions, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine where she had remarkable influence bringing more students of color into the medical field, Dr Helen was also passionate about helping young teens.

In 1967, she founded a Teen Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania that catered to the needs of young mothers. She also played a role in pushing for cancer prevention and screening in poor communities.

Read also:

Unveiling the Top African American Innovators in Healthcare Revolutionizing the Field

Unveiling the Top African American Innovators in Healthcare: Revolutionizing the Field

These African American innovators have left an indelible mark on the healthcare industry through their pioneering work, visionary thinking, and relentless pursuit of better healthcare out... Read More » 


Crystal Bird Fauset: Legislator for the Blacks

Crystal Bird Fauset. Public Domain

Crystal Bird Fauset was the first African American state legislator. Her bills and amendments were focused on pushing for improvements in public health, housing for the poor, public relief, and supporting women’s rights in the workplace.

She went on to found the Colored Women’s Activities Club for the Democratic National Committee which was influential in helping African American women register to vote. She was later on recognized by the Roosevelt Administration and made the Director of the Women and Professional Project in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Philadelphia. She later on became a member of his black cabinet which was critical in dealing with the continued racial discrimination.

Read also:

Who are the Black Civil Rights Leaders we should follow

Who are the Black Civil Rights Leaders we should follow?

These young activists, organizers, and thinkers have pushed for racial justice and equality, using their platforms to amplify marginalized communities' voices and demand change. Read More » 


Jessie Redmon Fauset: Literary Giant

Jessie Redmon Fauset. Public Domain

Born in 1961, Jessie is an African novelist, poet, and critic. Some of her works include; Plum Bum (1928), There is Confusion (1924), Comedy American Style (1933), and The Chinaberry Tree (1931). 

A graduate of Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, Jessie was the literary editor for Crisis magazine, the journal for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), publishing works of the likes of Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, etc. She was greatly influential in inspiring several writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Read also:

10 Poetry Books by Black Poets to Add to Your Book Shelf

10 Poetry Books by Black Poets to Add to Your Book Shelf

From ancient African poems to the work songs of enslaved people and the flood of amazing poetry during the Harlem Renaissance to right now, there’s just so much to read and celebrate from... Read More » 



James Forten: Businessman and Abolitionist

James Forten. Public Domain

James Forten was a renowned businessman and abolitionist who campaigned for women’s suffrage and equal rights for African Americans. His active campaign to Congress for the emancipation of all slaves gave rise to a pamphlet disparaging the legislature of Pennsylvania for barring the immigration of freed slaves from other US states.

His business acumen while working for Robert Bridges’s sail loft caught the eye of Bridge who decided to retire and handed over the reins of the business to James who went on to successfully run the business till eventually becoming its owner.

Read also:

The American Dream Stories of Success and Perseverance by African Americans

The American Dream: Stories of Success and Perseverance by African Americans

In this in-depth exploration, we delve into the lives and stories of African Americans who have triumphed over adversity, shattered glass ceilings, and blazed trails toward their versions... Read More » 


Francis Ellen Watkins Harper: A Force for Abolition and Suffrage

Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Born in 1925, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper is an African American poet and writer who played an active role in the abolitionist and women’s rights movement. Her collection of poetry includes; Bury Me in a Free Land, Death of the Old Sea King, and A Story of the Rebellion.

Her literary work “Two Offers” established her as the first African American to publish a short story. She was one of the co-founders of the National Association of Colored Women whose goal was to improve and promote the rights of African American women.

Read also:

Jean Toomers Cane at 100 the everlasting song that defined the Harlem Renaissance

Jean Toomer’s Cane at 100: the 'everlasting song' that defined the Harlem Renaissance

The novel interweaves the stories of multiple characters’ lives in southern and northern communities during the post-slavery “Jim Crow” era. Read More » 



 Okechukwu Nzeribe works with the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, in Anambra State, Nigeria, and loves unveiling the richness of African cultures.  [email protected]

Read more from Okechukwu Nzeribe:

10 Best Black Poets to Know

10 Best Black Poets to Know

Throughout history, poetry has continued to be a powerful tool in shaping society and influencing public opinion. Read More » 


Honoring Our Heroes The History and Significance of Veterans Day

Honoring Our Heroes: The History and Significance of Veterans Day

An emotional and significant day, Veterans Day recognizes the countless heroes who have not only selflessly served the country but have also done so while risking their lives or paying th... Read More » 


  The Growing Influence of AfroBeat in Philadelphia

The Growing Influence of AfroBeat in Philadelphia

With a 40.83% Black population, the popularity of Afrobeat has continued to soar especially as a good number of Nigerians and Ghanaians make up this demographic. Read More »