Martin Luther King Jr (1929 – 1968) – King was a pivotal figure in the non-violent civil rights movement. During the 1950s and 1960s, he sought to improve race relations and overturn discrimination in American society. He is remembered for his powerful speeches which sought to bring about a united society – where race did not act as a barrier.
Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013 ) – Mandela spent most of his life campaigning for an end to apartheid in South Africa. After over 20 years in prison, he was released and was able to be the first elected President in post apartheid South Africa. Also admired for his forgiveness and willingness to reach out to the white community in South Africa.
Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) Leading figurehead in the South African anti apartheid movement. Desmond Tutu is a leading figure in speaking out for humanitarian and civil rights issues.
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens
James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete and four-time Olympic gold medalist in the 1936 games.Owens specialized in the sprints and the long jump and was recognized in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.His achievement of setting three world records and tying another in less than an hour at the 1935 Big Ten track meet in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been called “the greatest 45 minutes ever in sport” and has never been equalled. At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Owens won international fame with four gold medals: 100 meters, 200 meters, long jump, and 4 × 100 meter relay. He was the most successful athlete at the games and, as a Black man, was credited with “single-handedly crushing Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy”, although he “wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.”The Jesse Owens Award is USA Track and Field’s highest accolade for the year’s best track and field athlete. Owens was ranked by ESPN as the sixth greatest North American athlete of the twentieth century and the highest-ranked in his sport
Marian Anderson was one of the greatest singers of the 20th Century, but it was her dignity in the face of racial prejudice which confirmed her legacy in the United States.
Bessie Coleman was a pioneer and innovator in the field of aviation, both as an African-American and as a woman. Overcoming the obstacles placed in her path by the society of her day, she set and example for all of those following in her path.
Josephine Baker is a name that is synonymous with the 1920s cultural high life. She lived in a time of immense social, political and cultural change and was at the forefront of the “jazz baby” movement in the US and Europe, with her immensely colorful performances, provocative costumes and very distinctive singing voice.However, for all we recognize in her achievements as a much loved entertainer we forget about the other side to her life and everything she did in her capacity as a civil rights activist and campaigner during her later years.
Thurgood Marshall is known as the first Black Justice of the United States Supreme Court but he is really defined by his work as a civil rights lawyer which redefined life in the United States.
Martin Luther King Jr was one of America’s most influential civil rights activists. His passionate, but non violent protests, helped to raise awareness of racial inequalities in America, leading to significant political change. Martin Luther King was also an eloquent orator who captured the imagination and hearts of people, both black and white.
Perhaps one of the most amazing and inspirational figures to spring up not only in African American culture but in world terms is that of Harriet Tubman. She dedicated herself to the liberation and freedom of her people from the tyranny that was slavery, putting her own life on the line in order to do it.
George Washington Carver was born in 1860 in Diamond Grove, Missouri and in spite of earlier issues would advance to become one of the most commemorated and highly regarded scientists in United States history. His significant discoveries and methods allowed farmers through the South and Midwest to become successful and profitable.
Zora Neale Hurston
Known for: such books as Their Eyes Were Watching God
Dates: January 7, 1891? 1901? – January 28, 1960
Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, probably in 1891. She usually gave 1901 as her birth year, but also gave 1898 and 1903. Census records suggest 1891 is the more accurate date.In the 1970s, during the “second wave” of feminism, Alice Walker helped revive interest in Zora Neale Hurston’s writings, bringing them back to public attention. Today Hurston’s novels and poetry are studied in literature classes and in women’s studies and black studies courses. They have become again popular with the general reading public.
Known for: author of The Color Purple; Pulitzer Prize; recovering work of Zora Neale Hurston; work against female circumcision
Occupation: writer, activist
Dates: (February 9, 1944 – )Alice Walker, best known perhaps as the author of The Color Purple, was the eighth child of Georgia sharecroppers. After a childhood accident blinded her in one eye, she went on to become valedictorian of her local school, and attend Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships, graduating in 1965.
Alice Walker’s early poems, novels and short stories dealt with themes familiar to readers of her later works: rape, violence, isolation, troubled relationships, multi-generational perspectives, sexism and racism.
Usain St Leo Bolt, born 21 August 1986) is a Jamaican sprinter who is regarded as the fastest human ever timed. He is the first person to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic time became mandatory. He also holds the world record as a part of the 4 × 100 metres relay. He is the reigning world and Olympic champion in these three events. Due to his unprecedented dominance and achievements in sprint competition, he is widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time.An eight-time Olympic gold medalist, Bolt won the 100 m, 200 m and 4 × 100 m relay at three consecutive Olympic Games, although he subsequently lost one of the gold medals (as well as the world record set therein) nine years after the fact due to teammate Nesta Carter’s disqualification for doping offences. He gained worldwide popularity for his double sprint victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in world record times. Bolt is the only sprinter to win consecutive Olympic 100 m and 200 m titles (2008 and 2012), and he even extended this achievement in 2016 (‘triple double’).An eleven-time World Champion, he won consecutive World Championship 100 m, 200 m and 4 × 100 metres relay gold medals from 2009 to 2015, with the exception of a 100 m false start in 2011. He is the most successful athlete of the World Championships and was the first athlete to win three titles in both the 100 m and 200 m at the competition.Bolt improved upon his first 100 m world record of 9.69 with 9.58 seconds in 2009 – the biggest improvement since the start of electronic timing. He has twice broken the 200 metres world record, setting 19.30 in 2008 and 19.19 in 2009. He has helped Jamaica to three 4 × 100 metres relay world records, with the current record being 36.84 seconds set in 2012. Bolt’s most successful event is the 200 m, with three Olympic and four World titles. The 2008 Olympics was his international debut over 100 m; he had earlier won numerous 200 m medals (including 2007 World Championship silver) and holds the world under-20 and world under-18 records for the event.His achievements in sprinting have earned him the media nickname “Lightning Bolt”, and his awards include the IAAF World Athlete of the Year, Track & Field Athlete of the Year, and Laureus World Sportsman of the Year (three times). Bolt has stated that he intends to retire from athletics after the 2017 World Championships.
Matthew MacKenzie “Mack” Robinson (July 18, 1914 – March 12, 2000) was an American athlete who won a silver medal in the 1936 Olympics. He was the older brother of Baseball Hall of Fame member Jackie Robinson.Mack was born in Cairo, Georgia, in 1914. He and his siblings were left fatherless at an early age, leaving their mother, Mallie Robinson, as the sole support of the children. She performed in a variety of manual labour tasks, and moved with her children to Pasadena, California, while the children were still young. Mack remained in town for school, and set national junior college records in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and long jump at Pasadena Junior College.He placed second in the 200 meters at the United States Olympic Trials in 1936, earning himself a place on the Olympic team.:80 He went on to win the silver medal at the Summer Olympics in Berlin, finishing 0.4 seconds behind Jesse Owens.Mack Robinson attended the University of Oregon, graduating in 1941. At the University of Oregon he won numerous titles in NCAA, AAU and Pacific Coast Conference track meets. He has been honored as being one of the most distinguished graduates of the University of Oregon and is a member of the University of Oregon Hall of Fame and the Oregon Sports Hall of FameFor a time in the early 1970s, Mack was a park director of Lemon Grove Park, a park in the East Hollywood part of the City of Los Angeles.Later in life, he was known for leading the fight against street crime in his home town of Pasadena. The Pasadena Robinson Memorial, dedicated to both Matthew and Jackie, was dedicated in 1997. The memorial statue of Jackie Robinson by sculptor Richard H. Ellis at UCLA Bruins baseball team’s home Jackie Robinson Stadium, was installed by the efforts of Jackie’s brother Mack.Several locations are named in honor of Matthew Robinson. In addition to the Pasadena Robinson Memorial, the stadium of Pasadena City College was dedicated to him in 2000. That same year, the United States Postal Service approved naming the new post office in Pasadena the Matthew ‘Mack’ Robinson Post Office Building.[Robinson died of complications from diabetes, kidney failure, and pneumonia in Pasadena, on March 12, 2000 at a hospital in Pasadena, California, at the age of 85.He is interred at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum, Altadena, California.
Wilma Glodean Rudolph (June 23, 1940 – November 12, 1994) was an American track and field sprinter who competed in the 100 and 200 meters dash. Rudolph was acclaimed the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games.A track and field champion, she elevated women’s track to a major presence in the United States. As a member of the black community, she is also regarded as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer. Along with other 1960 Olympic athletes such as Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Oscar Robertson, and Rafer Johnson, Rudolph became an international star due to the first world-wide television coverage of the Olympics that year.The upstart sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as “The Tornado, the fastest woman on earth”.The Italians nicknamed her La Gazzella Nera (“The Black Gazelle”);to the French she was La Perle Noire (“The Black Pearl”)
Men of the Harlem Renaissance
Sterling Allen Brown may have worked as an English professor but he was focused on documenting African-American life and culture present in folklore and poetry. Throughout his career, Brown published literary criticism and anthologized African-American literature.
As a poet, Brown has been characterized as having an “active, imaginative mind” and a “natural gift for dialogue, description, and narration,” Brown published two collections of poetry and published in various journals such as Opportunity. Works published during the Harlem Renaissance include Southern Road; Negro Poetry and ‘The Negro in American Fiction,’ Bronze booklet – no. 6.
Writer and social activist James Weldon Johnson once said: “Claude McKay’s poetry was one of the great forces in bringing about what is often called the ‘Negro Literary Renaissance.” Considered one of the most prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Claude McKay used themes such as African-American pride, alienation, and desire for assimilation in his works of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.
In 1919, McKay published “If We Must Die” in response to the Red Summer of 1919. Poems such as “America” and “Harlem Shadows” followed. McKay also published collections of poetry such as Spring in New Hampshire and Harlem Shadows; novels Home to Harlem, Banjo, Gingertown, and Banana Bottom.
Langston Hughes was one of the most prominent members of the Harlem Renaissance. His first collection of poetry Weary Blues was published in 1926. In addition to essays and poems, Hughes also was a prolific playwright. In 1931, Hughes collaborated with writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston to write Mule Bone. Four years later, Hughes wrote and produced The Mulatto. The following year, Hughes worked with composer William Grant Still to create Troubled Island. That same year, Hughes also published Little Ham and Emperor of Haiti.
Poet Countee Cullen described fellow wordsmith Arna Bontemps as “at all times cool, calm, and intensely religious yet never “takes advantage of the numerous opportunities offered them for rhymed polemics” in the introduction of the anthology Caroling Dusk.
Although Bontemps never gained the notoriety of McKay or Cullen, he published poetry, children’s literature and wrote plays throughout the Harlem Renaissance. Also, Bontemps work as an educator and librarian allowed the works of the Harlem Renaissance to be accessible to generations that would follow.
Madame C.J. Walker became the first self-made, female millionaire in America by creating and marketing hair-care products for African-American women. Born to former slaves and orphaned at an early age, Walker worked as a laundress for nearly two decades before finding success as an entrepreneur. An ardent supporter of the advancement of African Americans in business, Walker trained and employed thousands of black women. She was a generous philanthropist as well, donating money to numerous charities, organizations, and schools.
Known for: first African American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993)
Occupation: writer, educator
Dates: February 18, 1931 –
Also known as: born Chloe Anthony Wofford
In her novels, Toni Morrison focuses on the experience of black Americans, particularly emphasizing black women’s experience in an unjust society and the search for cultural identity. She uses fantasy and mythic elements along with realistic depiction of racial, gender and class conflict.
Malcolm X was a prominent figure during the Civil Rights era. Offering an alternative view to the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X advocated for both the establishment of a separate black community (rather than integration) and the use of violence in self defense (rather than non-violence). His forceful, uncompromising belief in the evils of the white man frightened the white community.
After Malcolm X left the black Muslim Nation of Islam organization, for which he had been both a spokesperson and a leader, his views toward white people softened, but his core message of black pride endured. After Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, his autobiography continued to spread his thoughts and passion.
Dates: May 19, 1925 — February 21, 1965
Oprah Winfrey, whose early life was marked by abuse, entered broadcasting in Nashville, Tennessee, at the age of 17, moving to news then talk shows. She took a failing Chicago talk show and made it into one of the most popular talk shows ever: The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oprah Winfrey was the first African American woman to become a billionaire.
Dates: January 29, 1954 –
Occupation: news anchor, talk show host, actress, philanthropist, executive
- first African American syndicated talk show host
- first African American woman billionaire (Forbes, 2003)
- The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Productions, O Magazine, Oxygen Network
- Oprah’s Angel Network, Oprah’s Book Club
- campaign for the “Oprah Bill” (1993), providing a national database of convicted child abusers
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago, was kidnapped and murdered on August 28, 1955 by two white men while he was visiting relatives in Mississippi. Prior to his abduction, Emmett had committed what, in the South, was considered an unthinkable act — whistling at a white woman. Days later, the woman’s husband and his brother tracked Emmett down, abducted him from his uncle’s house, then beat him savagely and shot him.Emmett Till’s mutilated body was found three days later, floating in the river, anchored by a heavy object tied around his neck. National outrage at the violent death of a young boy—as well as the controversial acquittal of the murderers—helped to galvanize the early civil rights movement.
For 60 years, Sammy Davis Jr. sang, danced, acted, played multiple instruments, did impressions, told jokes, and made people laugh. He was a superstar, whose extensive career included seven Broadway shows, 23 films, 40 albums, and countless nightclub, concert, and TV performances.
Dates: December 8, 1925 — May 16, 1990
Dorothy Dandridge, acclaimed in her time to be one of the world’s five most beautiful women, became one of Hollywood’s most tragic victims. Dandridge had everything it took to succeed in 1950s’ Hollywood — she could sing, dance and act – except, she was born black. Though a product of the racially-biased era in which she lived, Dandridge rose to stardom to become both the first black woman to grace the cover of Life magazine and to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a major motion picture.
Doctor Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist from New York, was living in Los Angeles when she received her first patent, becoming the first African American female doctor to patent a medical invention.
Booker T. Washington is best known as a prominent black educator and racial leader of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He founded Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1881 and oversaw its growth into a well-respected black university.
Born into slavery, Washington rose to a position of power and influence among both blacks and whites. Although he earned the respect of many for his role in promoting education for blacks, Washington has also been criticized for being too accommodating to whites and too complacent on the issue of equal rights.
W. E. B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du BoisFebruary 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community. After completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Crispus Attucks (c.1723—March 5, 1770) was the first person killed in the Boston massacre, in Boston, Massachusetts, and is widely considered to be the first American casualty in the American Revolutionary War. Aside from the event of his death, along with Samuel Gray and James Caldwell, little is known for certain about Attucks.He may have been a Native American slave or freeman, merchant seaman and dockworker of Wampanoag and African descent. Some circumstantial evidence suggests that his father may have been Prince Yonger, an African-born slave and his mother, Nanny Peterattucks, a Natick Native American.Despite the lack of clarity, Attucks became an icon of the anti-slavery movement in the mid-19th century. He was held up as the first martyr of the American Revolution, while the others killed were largely ignored. In the 1850s, as the abolitionist movement gained momentum in Boston, supporters lauded Attucks as an African American who played a heroic role in the history of the United States.Historians disagree on whether Crispus Attucks was a free man or an escaped slave, but most agree that he was of Wampanoag and African descent. Two major sources of eyewitness testimony about the Boston Massacre, both published in 1770, did not refer to Attucks as “black” nor as a “Negro”; it appeared that Bostonians of European descent viewed him as being of mixed ethnicity. According to a contemporary account in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), he was a “Mulattoe man, named Crispus Attucks, who was born in Framingham, but lately belonged to New-Providence, and was here in order to go for North Carolina . . .” Because of his mixed heritage, his story is also significant for Native Americans.
Denmark Vesey (also Telemaque) (ca. 1767 – July 2, 1822) was a literate, skilled carpenter and leader among African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. He is notable as the accused and convicted ringleader of “the rising,”a major potential slave revolt planned for the city in June 1822; he was executed. Likely born into slavery in St. Thomas, he served a master in Bermuda for some time before being brought to Charleston, where he gained his freedom.Vesey won a lottery and purchased his freedom around the age of 32. He had a good business and a family, but was unable to buy his first wife Beck and their children out of slavery. Vesey became active in the Second Presbyterian Church; in 1818 he was among the founders of an independent AME Church in the city, which had the support of white clergy. It rapidly attracted 1,848 members, making this the second-largest AME congregation in the nation after Mother Bethel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.In 1822 Vesey was alleged to be the ringleader of a planned slave revolt. Vesey and his followers were said to be planning to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves, and sail to the black republic of Haiti for refuge. By some accounts, it would have involved thousands of slaves in the city and others on plantations miles away. City officials had a militia arrest the plot’s leaders and many suspected followers in June before the rising could begin. Not one white person was killed or injured.Vesey and five slaves were among the first group of men rapidly judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed Court and condemned to death; they were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822. Vesey was about age 55. In later proceedings, some 30 additional followers were executed. His son was also judged guilty of conspiracy and was deported from the United States, along with many others. The church was destroyed and its minister expelled from the city.
Nat Turner (October 2, 1800 – November 11, 1831) was an enslaved African American who led a rebellion of slaves and free blacks in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21, 1831. The rebels went from plantation to plantation, gathering horses and guns, freeing other slaves along the way, and recruiting other blacks who wanted to join their revolt. During the rebellion, Virginia legislators targeted free blacks with a colonization bill, which allocated new funding to remove them, and a police bill that denied free blacks trials by jury and made any free blacks convicted of a crime subject to sale and relocation. The rebellion resulted in the deaths of 55 to 65 white people. Whites organized militias and called out regular troops to suppress the uprising. In addition, white militias and mobs attacked blacks in the area, killing an estimated 200, many of whom were not involved in the revolt.In the aftermath, the state quickly arrested and executed some 55 blacks accused of being part of Turner’s slave rebellion. Turner hid successfully for two months. When found, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged. Across Virginia and other southern states, state legislators passed new laws to control slaves and free blacks. They prohibited education of slaves and free blacks, restricted rights of assembly for free blacks, withdrew their right to bear arms (in some states), and to vote (in North Carolina, for instance), and required white ministers to be present at all black worship services.
François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture 20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture or Toussaint Bréda, was the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution.His military and political acumen saved the gains of the first Black insurrection in November 1791. He first fought for the Spanish against the French; then for France against Spain and Britain; and finally, for Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti)’s colonial sovereignty against Napoleonic France. He then helped transform the insurgency into a revolutionary movement, which by 1800 had turned Saint-Domingue, the most prosperous slave colony of the time, into the first free colonial society to have explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking.Though Toussaint did not sever ties with France, his actions in 1800 constituted a de facto autonomous colony. The colony’s constitution proclaimed him governor for life even against Napoleon Bonaparte’s wishes. He died betrayed before the final and most violent stage of the armed conflict. However, his achievements set the grounds for the Black army’s absolute victory and for Jean-Jacques Dessalines to declare the sovereign state of Haiti in January 1804. Toussaint’s prominent role in the Haitian success over colonialism and slavery had earned him the admiration of friends and detractors alike.Toussaint Louverture began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue; he was by then a free black man and a Jacobin.nitially allied with the Spaniards of neighboring Santo Domingo (modern Dominican Republic), Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. Throughout his years in power, he worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue. He restored the plantation system using paid labour, negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States, and maintained a large and well-disciplined army.In 1801, he promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony, with himself as Governor-General for Life. In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803. The Haitian Revolution continued under his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence on January 1, 1804. The French had lost two-thirds of forces sent to the island in an attempt to suppress the revolution; most died of yellow fever.
Charles Deslondes was one of the slave leaders of the 1811 German Coast Uprising, a slave revolt that began on January 8, 1811, in the Territory of Orleans. He led more than 200 rebels against the plantations along the Mississippi River toward New Orleans. White planters formed militias and ended up hunting down the rebels. The slave insurgents killed two white men, and the militias and executions killed 95 slavesBorn into slavery in Saint-Domingue (now, Haiti), Deslondes was described in some accounts as mulatto or mixed race. He was brought to the Louisiana Territory by his master after the Haitian Revolution, when thousands of French Creoles brought their slaves and mixed-race refugees also left the island. Of the 9,059 immigrants in 1809, about 30 percent were white and 35.6 percent were slaves; the remainder were free people of color.Deslondes worked as a “driver,” or overseer of slaves, on the plantation of Col. Manuel Andre or Andry (this plantation was later called Woodland and no longer exists) who had a total of 86 slaves. In a letter printed in the Philadelphia Political and Commercial Advertiser on February 19 that year, Deslondes was mistakenly described as a free person of color.
Gabriel (1776 – October 10, 1800), today commonly—if incorrectly—known as Gabriel Prosser, was a literate enslaved blacksmith who planned a large slave rebellion in the Richmond area in the summer of 1800. Information regarding the revolt was leaked prior to its execution, and he and twenty-five followers were taken captive and hanged in punishment. In reaction, Virginia and other state legislatures passed restrictions on free blacks, as well as prohibiting the education, assembly, and hiring out of slaves, to restrict their chances to learn and to plan similar rebellions.In 2002 the City of Richmond passed a resolution in honor of Gabriel on the 202nd anniversary of the rebellion. In 2007 Governor Tim Kaine gave Gabriel and his followers an informal pardon, in recognition that his cause, “the end of slavery and the furtherance of equality for all people—has prevailed in the light of history”.Gabriel Prosser was the leader of an unsuccessful slave revolt in Richmond, Virginia in 1800. Born into slavery around 1775, Gabriel Prosser was owned by Thomas H. Prosser of Henrico County, Virginia. Little is known of Prosser’s life before the revolt that catapulted him into notoriety. Prosser’s two brothers, Solomon and Martin and his wife, Nanny, were all owned by Thomas Prosser and all participated in the insurrection. Gabriel Prosser at the time of the insurrection was twenty-four years old, six feet two inches, literate, and a blacksmith by trade. He was described by a contemporary as “a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life.” With the help of other slaves including Jack Bowler and George Smith, Prosser devised a plan to seize control of Richmond by killing all of the whites (except the Methodists, Quakers and Frenchmen) and then establishing a Kingdom of Virginia with himself as monarch. Prosser and the other revolt leaders were probably influenced by the American Revolution and more recently the French and Haitian Revolutions with their rhetoric of freedom, equality and brotherhood. In the months prior to the revolt Prosser recruited hundreds of supporters and organized them into military units. Although Virginia authorities never determined the extent of the revolt, they estimated that several thousand planned to participate including many who were to be armed with swords and pikes made from farm tools by slave blacksmiths. Prosser planned to initiate the insurrection on the night of August 30, 1800. However, earlier in the day two slaves who wanted to protect their masters betrayed the plot to Virginia authorities. Governor James Monroe alerted the militia. A rainstorm delayed the uprising by 24 hours, preventing Prosser’s army from assembling outside Richmond and providing the militia crucial time to prepare a defense of the city. Realizing their plan had been discovered, Prosser and many of his followers dispersed into the countryside. About 35 leaders were captured and executed but Prosser escaped to Norfolk where he was betrayed by fellow slaves who claimed the reward for his capture on September 25. Prosser was returned to Richmond and tried for his role in the abortive uprising. He was found guilty on October 6, 1800 and executed the following day.
Sara Jackson entered the National Archives in 1944, fresh from a degree from Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina, and Johnson C. Smith College in North Carolina. She had been trained as a teacher, but wartime events seemed to promise more than offered by teaching in the segregated classrooms of her native South. Still, the “colored only,” signs were much evidence in Washington, and the racial division of labor that segregation imposed did not promise much for the young black woman from a small black college in 1944. Sara quietly took up residence deep in the recesses of the Archives’ stacks with little fanfare, and it seems probable that her superior had no sense that Sara’s stay would make a difference to the Archives of the United States, let alone the history of the United States. It has. Sara did not rest easy in the silence of the stacks. Things were rarely quiet where she took her place. She soon began reading her way through the voluminous aisles: the War Department, the U.S. Army and Navy, the Adjutant General’s Office, the Engineer Department, the Bureau of Colored Troops, and of course, the Freedmen’s Bureau. As no one else—before or since—she mastered them. Her curiosity and determination fused the role of archivist and scholar in a single person, although Sara had no special training in either. In the end, as any one who followed in her wake down the Archives’ stacks understood, Sara Jackson did not know the records of the National Archives, she understood them. When she spoke, they spoke back—perhaps they were the only ones who dared. This archival assistant, without academic degree or scholarly paraphernalia, became one of the most knowledgeable historians of American life. During the 1950s and 1960s, the study of American history began to stir—pushed by the same changes that were arousing Americans anew to the sad facts of racial inequity and injustice. A new generation of historians, understanding that transformation of the American present required the transformation of the American past, took up the challenge of rewriting our history. When they arrived at the National Archives, Sara Jackson was ready. Before long, the lines before Sara Jackson’s desk were lengthening, as they queued up—chaired professors from great universities with long bibliographies and greenhorn graduate students with blank note cards. She directed them, gently through the power of suggestion and, then, if they did not get the point—well, Sara had her way. Armed with knowledge squeezed from the records, scholars began to write a new history of the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that history rests, to a considerable measure, on the work of Sara Jackson, for Sara Jackson was a great teacher. In my own case, sometimes I think the Freedmen and Southern Society Project was just an attempt to remember what Sara had forgotten. The young historians and archivists who were taught by Sara Jackson—her boys and her girls—and I proudly number myself among them—learned many things, and not all of them came out of a Hollinger box. Some of these lessons about how the title on the door often belied the activities behind the door. Sara Jackson, despite her sure knowledge, remained an archivist technician long after her abilities outgrew that title. There were lessons on human relations, for no one in the National Archives, from the Archivist of the United States to the greatest technician, did not know Sara Jackson, and generally what they knew they liked. Not that Sara was easy or undemanding: quite the opposite. Sara did not countenance fools gladly. She was impatient, and she exacted a price. Hidden agendas would not be accepted. The book had to be open. Honesty, had to be repaid with honesty, generosity with generosity, and friendship with friendship. But if the rules were hard, few did not willingly play, perhaps because we also knew the game was fixed, and Sara guaranteed everyone would be a winner. No one would be more honest, generous, and loyal than Sara.
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne (June 30, 1917 – May 9, 2010) was an African American jazz and pop music singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. Horne’s career spanned over 70 years appearing in film, television, and theater. Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of 16 and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the 1943 films Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather. Because of the Red Scare and her political activism, Horne found herself blacklisted and unable to get work in Hollywood.Returning to her roots as a nightclub performer, Horne took part in the March on Washington in August 1963 and continued to work as a performer, both in nightclubs and on television while releasing well-received record albums. She announced her retirement in March 1980, but the next year starred in a one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, which ran for more than three hundred performances on Broadway. She then toured the country in the show, earning numerous awards and accolades. Horne continued recording and performing sporadically into the 1990s, disappearing from the public eye in 2000. Horne died of congestive heart failure on May 9, 2010, at the age of 92.
Medgar Wiley Evers (July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an American civil rights activist from Mississippi who worked to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and to enact social justice and voting rights. He was killed by a segregationist.
A World War II veteran and college graduate, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. He became a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Following the 1954 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Evers worked to gain admission for African Americans to the state-supported public University of Mississippi. He also worked on voting rights and registration, economic opportunity, access to public facilities, and other changes in the segregated society.Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, a group formed in 1954 to resist integration of schools and civil rights activity. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music and film. All-white juries failed to reach verdicts in the first two trials of Beckwith. He was convicted in a new state trial in 1994, based on new evidence.Myrlie Evers, widow of the activist, became a noted activist in her own right, serving as national chair of the NAACP. His brother Charles Evers was the first African-American mayor elected in Mississippi in the post-Reconstruction era when he won in 1969 in Fayette.
Dr. Lorenzo Johnston Greene was a pioneering African American historian. Greene was born on November 16, 1899 in Ansonia, Connecticut. He received his BA from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1924 and his MA in history from Columbia University in 1926. From 1928 to 1933, Greene served as a field representative and research assistant to Carter Woodson, the director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, ASALH) in Washington, D.C. This collaboration helped inspire the 1930 publication with Woodson of The Negro Wage Earner. In 1931, Greene published The Employment of Negroes in the District of Columbia, a collaborative effort with Myra C. Callis. Both studies demonstrate Greene’s interest in urban history, social history, and race relations. Although he was inspired by Woodson and saw him as a mentor, Greene made his own lasting contributions to the field of history. His most significant academic work was a pioneering study of blacks in Missouri entitled Missouri’s Black Heritage published in 1980 as a collaborative effort with Antonio F. Holland and Gary Kremer.Lorenzo Greene served as instructor and professor of history at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri from 1933 to 1972. During this period he continued his graduate studies and received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University in 1942. That same year, he published The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776. His interest in race and labor issues helped to revolutionize labor historiography with a greater emphasis on African Americans and other laborers, both free and unfree. The Negro in Colonial New England is still considered the foundational work on the subject. Professor Greene served on a number of committees and associations and was editor of the Midwest Journal from 1947 to 1956. He was also the President of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History from 1965 to 1966. Greene’s academic interests included urban history, race and labor in Colonial America, Missouri history, the American Midwest, and New England history.
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an American civil rights activist, whom the United States Congress called “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement”. Her birthday, February 4, and the day she was arrested, December 1, have both become Rosa Parks Day, commemorated in California and Missouri (February 4), and Ohio and Oregon (December 1).On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks refused to obey bus driver James F. Blake’s order to give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks was not the first person to resist bus segregation. Others had taken similar steps, including Bayard Rustin in 1942, Irene Morgan in 1946, Sarah Louise Keys in 1952, and the members of the ultimately successful Browder v. Gayle 1956 lawsuit (Claudette Colvin, Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith) who were arrested in Montgomery for not giving up their bus seats months before Parks. NAACP organizers believed that Parks was the best candidate for seeing through a court challenge after her arrest for civil disobedience in violating Alabama segregation laws, although eventually her case became bogged down in the state courts while the Browder v. Gayle case succeeded.Parks’ act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including Edgar Nixon, president of the local chapter of the NAACP; and Martin Luther King, Jr., a new minister in town who gained national prominence in the civil rights movement.At the time, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. She had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for training activists for workers’ rights and racial equality. She acted as a private citizen “tired of giving in”. Although widely honored in later years, she also suffered for her act; she was fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store, and received death threats for years afterwards. Her situation also opened doors.Shortly after the boycott, she moved to Detroit, where she briefly found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to John Conyers, an African-American US Representative. She was also active in the Black Power movement and the support of political prisoners in the US.After retirement, Parks wrote her autobiography and continued to insist that the struggle for justice was not over and there was more work to be done. In her final years, she suffered from dementia. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and third non-US government official to lie in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.
Coretta Scott King ; April 27, 1927 – January 30, 2006) was an American author, activist, civil rights leader, and the wife of Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1953 until his death in 1968. Coretta Scott King helped lead the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. King was an active advocate for African-American equality. King met her husband while in college, and their participation escalated until they became central to the movement. In her early life, Coretta was an accomplished singer, and she often incorporated music into her civil rights work.King played a prominent role in the years after her |husband’s 1968 assassination]] when she took on the leadership of the struggle for racial equality herself and became active in the Women’s Movement and the LGBT rights movement. King founded the King Center and sought to make his birthday a national holiday. King finally succeeded when Ronald Reagan signed legislation which established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She later broadened her scope to include both opposition to apartheid and advocacy for LGBT rights. King became friends with many politicians before and after Martin Luther King’s death, most notably John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Robert F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy’s phone call to her during the 1960 election was what she liked to believe was behind his victory.In August 2005, King suffered a stroke and was left paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Five months later, she died of respiratory failure due to complications from ovarian cancer. King’s funeral was attended by four of five living U.S. Presidents and by over 10,000 people. She was temporarily buried on the grounds of the King Center, until she was interred next to her husband. King was honored for her activism in promoting human rights. King was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009. She was the first African-American to lie in State in the Georgia State Capitol upon her death. King has been referred to as “First Lady of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Ruby Nell Bridges Hall (born September 8, 1954) is an American activist known for being the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.
Nina Simone born Eunice Kathleen Waymon; February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003) was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist who worked in a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.Born in North Carolina, the sixth child of a preacher, Simone aspired to be a concert pianist.With the help of the few supporters in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, she enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York.Waymon then applied for a scholarship to study at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was denied despite a well-received audition. Simone became fully convinced this rejection had been entirely due to her race, a statement that has been a matter of controversy. Years later, two days before her death, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed an honorary degree on Simone.To make a living, Eunice Waymon changed her name to “Nina Simone”. The change related to her need to disguise herself from family members, having chosen to play “the devil’s music” or “cocktail piano” at a nightclub in Atlantic City. She was told in the nightclub that she would have to sing to her own accompaniment, and this effectively launched her career as a jazz vocalist.Simone recorded more than forty albums, mostly between 1958, when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue, and 1974, and had a hit in the United States in 1958 with “I Loves You, Porgy”.Simone’s musical style fused gospel and pop with classical music, in particular Johann Sebastian Bach, and accompanied expressive, jazz-like singing in her contralto voice.
Barack Hussein Obama II born August 4, 1961) is an American politician who served as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He was the first African American to serve as president, as well as the first born outside the contiguous United States. He previously served in the U.S. Senate representing Illinois from 2005 to 2008, and in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 to 2004.Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, two years after the territory was admitted to the Union as the 50th state. He grew up mostly in Hawaii, but also spent one year of his childhood in Washington State and four years in Indonesia. After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988 Obama enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation he became a civil rights attorney and professor, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. Obama represented the 13th District for three terms in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004, when he ran for the U.S. Senate. Obama received national attention in 2004, with his unexpected March primary win, his well-received July Democratic National Convention keynote address, and his landslide November election to the Senate. In 2008, Obama was nominated for president, a year after his campaign began, and after a close primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. He became president-elect after defeating Republican nominee John McCain in the general election, and was inaugurated on January 20. Nine months later, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.During his first two years in office, Obama signed more landmark legislation than any Democratic president since LBJ’s Great Society. Main reforms were the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare”; the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act; and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 served as economic stimulus amidst the Great Recession, but the GOP regained control of the House of Representatives in 2011. After a lengthy debate over the national debt limit, Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. In foreign policy, Obama increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, reduced nuclear weapons with the U.S.-Russian New START treaty, and ended military involvement in the Iraq War. He ordered military involvement in Libya in opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, and the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.After winning re-election over Mitt Romney, Obama was sworn in for a second term in 2013. During his second term, Obama promoted greater inclusiveness for LGBT Americans, with his administration filing briefs that urged the Supreme Court to strike down same-sex marriage bans as unconstitutional (United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges). Obama also advocated gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and issued wide-ranging executive actions concerning climate change and immigration. In foreign policy, Obama ordered military intervention in Iraq in response to gains made by ISIL after the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, continued the process of ending U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, promoted discussions that led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on global climate change, following the invasion in Ukraine, initiated the sanctions against Russia, brokered a nuclear deal with Iran, and normalized U.S. relations with Cuba.
Betty Boop’s “black grandmother”.
Esther Jones, known by her stage name “Baby Esther“, was an African American singer and entertainer of the late 1920s, known for her “baby” singing style. She performed regularly at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Theatrical manager Lou Walton testified during the Fleischer v. Kane trial that Helen Kane saw Baby Esther’s cabaret act in 1928 with him and appropriated Jones’ style of singing, changing the interpolated words “boo-boo-boo” and “doo-doo-doo” to “boop-boop-a-doop” in a recording of “I Wanna Be Loved By You”. Kane never publicly admitted this. Jones’ style, as imitated by Kane, went on to become the inspiration for the voice of the cartoon character Betty Boop.When Kane attempted to sue Fleischer Studios for using her persona, the studios defended themselves by arguing that Kane herself had taken it from “Baby Esther” Jones. An early test sound film of Baby Esther’s performance was used as evidence. In court, it was presumed that Jones had since died.
Famous figures from the past and present
Sister Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and recording artist. A pioneer of mid-20th-century music, she attained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s with her gospel recordings, characterized by a unique mixture of spiritual lyrics and rhythmic accompaniment that was a precursor of rock and roll. She was the first great recording star of gospel music and among the first gospel musicians to appeal to rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll audiences, later being referred to as “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll”.She influenced early rock-and-roll musicians, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Willing to cross the line between sacred and secular by performing her music of “light” in the “darkness” of nightclubs and concert halls with big bands behind her, Tharpe pushed spiritual music into the mainstream and helped pioneer the rise of pop-gospel, beginning with her 1939 hit “This Train”.Her unique music left a lasting mark on more conventional gospel artists, such as Ira Tucker, Sr., of the Dixie Hummingbirds. While she offended some conservative churchgoers with her forays into the pop world, she never left gospel music.
Tharpe’s 1944 hit “Down by the Riverside” was selected for the National Recording Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress in 2004, which noted that it “captures her spirited guitar playing and unique vocal style, demonstrating clearly her influence on early rhythm-and-blues performers” and cited her influence on “many gospel, jazz, and rock artists”. (“Down by the Riverside” was recorded by Tharpe on December 2, 1948, in New York City, and issued as Decca single 48106.) Her 1945 hit “Strange Things Happening Every Day”, recorded in late 1944, featured Tharpe’s vocals and electric guitar, with Sammy Price (piano), bass and drums. It was the first gospel record to cross over, hitting no. 2 on the Billboard “race records” chart, the term then used for what later became the R&B chart, in April 1945.The recording has been cited as precursor of rock and roll.
Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton (December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984) was an American rhythm-and-blues singer and songwriter. She was the first to record Leiber and Stoller’s “Hound Dog”, in 1952,which became her biggest hit, staying seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B chart in 1953and selling almost two million copies. However, her success was overshadowed three years later, when Elvis Presley recorded his more popular rendition of “Hound Dog”. Similarly, Thornton’s “Ball ‘n’ Chain” (written in 1961 but not released until 1968) had a bigger impact when performed and recorded by Janis Joplin in the late 1960s.
Thornton’s performances were characterized by her deep, powerful voice and strong sense of self. She tapped into a liberated black feminist persona, through which she freed herself from many of the expectations of musical, lyrical, and physical practice for black women.She was given her nickname, “Big Mama,” by Frank Schiffman, the manager of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, because of her strong voice, size, and personality. Thornton used her voice to its full potential, once stating that she was louder than any microphone and didn’t want a microphone to ever be as loud as she was. She was known for her strong voice. Joplin’s biographer Alice Echols said that Thornton could sing in a “pretty voice” but did not want to. Thornton said, “My singing comes from my experience.…My own experience. I never had no one teach me nothin’. I never went to school for music or nothin’. I taught myself to sing and to blow harmonica and even to play drums by watchin’ other people! I can’t read music, but I know what I’m singing! I don’t sing like nobody but myself.”Her style was heavily influenced by gospel music, which she grew up listening to at the home of a preacher, though her genre could be described as blues.Thornton was quoted in a 1980 article in the New York TImes: “when I was comin’ up, listening to Bessie Smith and all, they sung from their heart and soul and expressed themselves. That’s why when I do a song by Jimmy Reed or somebody, I have my own way of singing it. Because I don’t want to be Jimmy Reed, I want to be me. I like to put myself into whatever I’m doin’ so I can feel it”.Thornton was famous for her transgressive gender expression. She often dressed as a man in her performances, wearing work shirts and slacks. She did not care about the opinions of others and “was openly gay and performed risque songs unabashedly.” Improvisation was a notable part of her performance. She often entered call-and-response exchanges with her band, inserting confident and subversive remarks. Her play with gender and sexuality set the stage for later rock-and-roll artists’ plays with sexuality.Scholars such as Maureen Mahon have praised Thornton for subverting traditional roles of African-American women. She added a female voice to a field that was dominated by white males, and her strong personality transgressed stereotypes of what an African-American woman should be. This transgression was an integral part of her performance and stage persona. Elvis Presley and Janis Joplin admired her unique style of singing and incorporated elements of it in their own work. Her vocal sound and style of delivery are key parts of her style and are recognizable in Presley’s and Joplin’s work.
Famous figures from the past and present
- Boston Massacre figure Crispus Attucks
- Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman
- Orator Frederick Douglass
- Massachusetts shipping magnate Paul Cuffe
- Black History pioneer Carter Godwin Woodson
- Freed slave Denmark Vesey
- Antislavery activist Sojourner Truth
- ‘Back to Africa’ leader Marcus Garvey
- Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad
- Legal figure Homer Plessy
- NAACP founder W. E. B. Du Bois
- Murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers
- Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Civil rights leader Coretta Scott King
- Bus-riding activist Rosa Parks
- Lynching victim Emmett Till
- ‘Black Power’ advocate Malcolm X
- Black Panthers founder Huey Newton
- Educator Booker T. Washington
- Soul On Ice author Eldridge Cleaver
- Educator Mary McLeod Bethune
- Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall
- Colonial scientist Benjamin Banneker
- Blood bank pioneer Charles Drew
- Peanut genius George Washington Carver
- Arctic explorer Matthew Henson
- Daring flier Bessie Coleman
- Astronaut Guion Bluford
- Astronaut Mae Jemison
- Computer scientist Philip Emeagwali
- Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai
- Brain surgeon Ben Carson
- U.S. President Barack Obama
- First Lady Michelle Obama
- First Daughters Malia and Sasha Obama
- U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch
- Attorney General Eric Holder
- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
- General and Secretary of State Colin Powell
- Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
- Reverend Al Sharpton
- Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm
- Early Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce
- Political activist Jesse Jackson
- BET founder Robert L. Johnson
- South African President Nelson Mandela
- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan
- Trial lawyer Johnnie Cochran
- Detroit mayor Coleman Young
- San Francisco mayor Willie Brown
- Newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr.
- Professor and talk show host Michael Eric Dyson
- Slave poet Phillis Wheatley
- Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes
- Pulitzer-winning poet Natasha Trethewey
- Expatriate author James Baldwin
- Pulitzer-nominated poet Maya Angelou
- Roots author Alex Haley
- Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison
- Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison
- Feminist writer Bell Hooks
- The Color Purple author Alice Walker
- Native Son author Richard Wright
- Science fiction writer Octavia Butler
- Poet and professor Nikki Giovanni
- Actor, singer and activist Paul Robeson
- Talk show host Oprah Winfrey
- Contralto Marian Anderson
- Singer and actress Dorothy Dandridge
- Dance masters The Nicholas Brothers
- Reggae legend Bob Marley
- Composer W.C. Handy
- Guitarist Chuck Berry
- Rock ‘n roll star Little Richard
- Jazz singer Billie Holiday
- Pop superstar Michael Jackson
- Saxophonist Lester Young
- Talk show host Tavis Smiley
- Actress Halle Berry
- Blues guitarist Robert Johnson
- Actor Sidney Poitier
- Producer and film composer Quincy Jones
- Paris performer Josephine Baker
- Jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton
- Pianist and composer Duke Ellington
- Trumpeter Louis Armstrong
- Big band leader Count Basie
- Bebop trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
- Jazz trumpeter Miles Davis
- Blues singer Big Mama Thornton
- Singer and actress Lena Horne
- Reggae legend Bob Marley
- Calypso singer and actor Harry Belafonte
- Rock pioneer Jimi Hendrix
- Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane
- Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson
- Bluse singer Bessie Smith
- Actor Ossie Davis
- Actress Ruby Dee
- Rap legend Tupac Shakur
- Rapper Dr. Dre
- Rapper Jay-Z
- Rapper and Oscar nominee Queen Latifah
- Singer and dancer Sammy Davis, Jr.
- Ageless pitcher Satchel Paige
- Barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson
- Home run king Hank Aaron
- ‘Say Hey Kid’ Willie Mays
- Olympic sprinter Jesse Owens
- Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph
- Tennis player Althea Gibson
- Tennis player Arthur Ashe
- Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali
- Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson
- NFL receiver Jerry Rice
- Tennis super-sister Venus Williams
- Tennis super-sister Serena Williams
- Basketball player Michael Jordan
- Basketball player Sheryl Swoopes
- Basketball player Julius “Dr. J” Erving
- Golfer Tiger Woods
- Nobel Prize-winner Bishop Desmond Tutu
- First female Anglican Bishop Barbara Harris
- Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie
- Preacher T.D. Jakes
- African Cardinal Francis Arinze
- Maya Angelou
- Ralph Ellison
- Alex Haley
- Lorraine Hansberry
- Langston Hughes
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Toni Morrison
- Walter Mosley
- Richard Wright
Civil Rights Leaders and Activists
- Ella Baker
- Stokely Carmichael
- W.E.B. DuBois
- Medgar Evers
- Marcus Garvey
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Malcolm X
- James Meredith
- Elijah Muhammad
- Rosa Parks
- Bobby Seale
- Fred Shuttlesworth
- Emmett Till
- Ida Bell Wells-Barnett
- Walter White
- Roy Wilkins
- Josephine Baker
- Halle Berry
- Bill Cosby
- Dorothy Dandridge
- Sammy Davis Jr.
- Morgan Freeman
- Gregory Hines
- Lena Horne
- James Earl Jones
- Spike Lee
- Eddie Murphy
- Sidney Poitier
- Richard Pryor
- Will Smith
- Denzel Washington
- Oprah Winfrey
Inventors, Scientists, and Educators
- Archibald Alphonso Alexander
- Patricia Bath
- Bessie Coleman
- David Crosthwait Jr.
- Mark Dean
- Charles Drew
- Matthew Henson
- Mae Jemison
- Percy Lavon Julian
- Frederick McKinley Jones
- Ernest Everett Just
- Mary McLeod Bethune
- Garrett Augustus Morgan
- Charles Henry Turner
- Madame C.J. Walker
- Booker T. Washington
- Daniel Hale Williams
Politicians, Lawyers, and Other Government Leaders
- Ralph Bunche
- Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr.
- Minnie Joycelyn Elders
- Jesse Jackson
- Daniel “Chappie” James
- Thurgood Marshall
- Kwesi Mfume
- Colin Powell
- Clarence Thomas
- Andrew Young
- Coleman Young
Singers and Musicians
- Marian Anderson
- Louis Armstrong
- Harry Belafonte
- Chuck Berry
- Ray Charles
- Nat King Cole
- Miles Davis
- Duke Ellington
- Aretha Franklin
- Dizzy Gillespie
- Jimi Hendrix
- Billie Holiday
- Michael Jackson
- Robert Johnson
- Diana Ross
- Stevie Wonder