As you choose your 5 historical events or figures for the SAT essay, don’t look at them as any less relevant than your current events! Every event in the past has an impact on the present. Always ask yourself what the significance of an event or person is, and whether this significance has changed over time.
For example, even Martin Luther King Jr. was unknown at one point. If civil rights are your passion, take a look at this article explaining how difficult it was for even a great man to influence a nation. How important was King’s death in insuring that he would be able to inspire future generations of leaders? King influences current discussions because of the events of the past - some of which were beyond his control.
History also shows up in current events when you least expect it. Can you fully understand the current debate about where King Richard the III should be buried if you know nothing about this man? Take a look at this article that is a current event. What facts would you need to know from history in order to take a stand on this current issue? Where could you find those facts? The point here is that historical context is often needed to take a stand. Be sure to state exactly why any historical event or person that you use in an essay is relevant to a current debate on the subject at hand.
The last point to keep in mind when considering the relevance of historical examples is that the understanding of any event will change over time. It is a good idea to do a quick search for articles about your historical example in the news. You would not want to talk about Area 51 without using the latest information about this area that is known to the public. If aliens, spying, or military planes interest you, take a look at this article about Area 51.