|Alvin Ailey, Jr. 1931 - 1989
Modern dancer and choreographer known for his
theatrical, energetic dances that combine modern, jazz and African dance
elements. He studied dance with Martha Graham and Charles Weidman before
forming his Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958. His dances include
Blue Swan (1958), Night Creature (1975) and Precipice
|Marian Anderson 1897 - 1993
Many African American operatic and concert singers have
credited Marian Anderson as their inspiration to seek professional vocal
careers. She received numerous awards and honors during her life.
She was given the NAACP's Spingarn Award by Roosevelt in 1938 and the
Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson in 1963. She
received honorary doctorates from over two dozen universities.
|Maya Angelou 1928 -
A remarkable Renaissance woman who is hailed as one of
the great voices of contemporary literature. As a poet, educator,
historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights
activist, producer and director, she continues to travel the world,
spreading her legendary wisdom.
Louis Armstrong 1901 - 1971
A great jazz trumpet player, composer, and singer. Armstrong was born in New
Orleans, Louisiana, and soon became a well-known cornet player in clubs and
on riverboats along the Mississippi River. He became world famous for his
incredible musical talent, especially his improvised solos. Armstrong also
sang "scat," a style in which nonsense words are used in a song. Armstrong
was featured in many recordings, television shows, and movies.
|Crispus Attucks 1723 - 1770
Heroic Patriot, American Revolution
Merchant seaman who challenged the British soldiers and was first to be
killed in the Boston Massacre, the event which is cited as the beginning
of the War of Independence. A Boston Commons monument was erected in
James Baldwin 1924 - 1987
American author who wrote about the struggle of being black in America. He
spent much of his youth reading. James' mother was a domestic worker (a
maid) and his strict, cruel stepfather was a factory worker and preacher.
The author Richard Wright was James' early writing mentor. Baldwin's books
are considered to be classic American novels. A pacifist, Baldwin
participated in the Southern school desegregation struggle of the 1960s and
marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin wrote extensively about the
Civil Rights Movement, and throughout his life, used his enormous writing
talent to work for racial equality.
|Benjamin Banneker 1731 - 1806
Inventor, scientist, engineer, and surveyor who assisted in developing
plans for the city of Washington, D.C. Made the first striking clock
with all American parts and compiled one of the first almanacs in the
|James P. Beckwourth 1798 - 1866
An American explorer, he located a route through the Sierra
Nevada Mountains, which later became an important path for pioneers and those on
their way to mine for gold in California, known as Beckwourth Pass.
|Mary McLoed Bethune 1875 - 1955
An American educator and civil rights leader, she is best known
for opening a school in Florida in 1904, which grew to become Bethune-Cookman
College. She was also an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
|Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. 1942 -
Aerospace engineer, one of the five man crew that flew the space shuttle
Challenger into outer-space in 1983. Deployed a weather and
communication satellite in space. Received "The Distinguished
National Scientist Award"
|Carol Brice 1918 - 1985
One of the first African American classical singers to
record extensively. Born into a musical family in Sedalia, North Carolina,
she attended high school at the historic Palmer Memorial Institute and
then studied music at Talladega College in Alabama.
K. Bruce 1841 - 1898
Blanche Kelso Bruce was the first African-American who served a full term in
the U.S. Senate. Senator Bruce was born a slave on the Farmville Plantation
in Virginia. He was educated by his owner's son, and he later went to
Oberlin College. Bruce was a Republican senator representing Mississippi; he
served from March 5, 1875 until March 3, 1881. During his term, Bruce fought
for the rights of minority groups, including African-Americans, Native
Americans, and Asian immigrants. After his term as senator, Bruce was
appointed registrar of the treasury.
|Ralph J. Bunche 1904 - 1971
Diplomat, Nobel Prize for Peace
Political scientist, educator, and one of the significant American
diplomats of the 20th century. Worked out the "Four Armistice
Agreements" which resulted in a cease-fire in the 1949 Arab/Israeli
conflict. Under-Secretary of the UN (1955 - 1971).
|Dr. Mary Elizabeth Carnegie 1916 - 2008
Established the first nursing program for blacks after
becoming the Assistant Director of Nursing at Hampton University.
A research center at Hampton, the M. Elizabeth Carnegie Nursing Archives,
was named in her honor. In 1945, she became the first dean of the School
of Nursing at Florida A. & M. University. Her book The Path We
Tread, Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1854-1984 is a seminal work on the
history of black nurses around the world.
|George Washington Carver 1864 - 1943
Scientist, Agricultural Chemist
One of the world's greatest scientists: Used scientific techniques to save
Southern agriculture. Developed over 600 different products from
peanuts and sweet potatoes. Created new Southern industries and
thousands of new jobs.
|Wilt Chamerlain 1936 - 1999
Few athletes have ever reached the level of domination
that Wilt Chamberlain achieved throughout his basketball career. An
offensive force second to none, "Wilt the Stilt" is one of only
two players who have scored more than 30,000 points in an NBA career.
He holds many NBA records, including the record for points scored in one
game - 100.
|Ray Charles 1930 - 2004
Ray Charles lived the American Dream through music. He
once said "Music is nothing separate from me. It is me."
Being born poor, and going blind by the age of 7, he lived through his
music. He recorded 14 albums in his musical career, and received many
awards including 12 Grammy Awards.
|Shirley Chisholm 1924 - 2005
Born in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, she
attended Brooklyn College on a scholarship and then earned a master's
degree in education from Columbia University. After becoming an expert on
early childhood education, Chisholm worked as a consultant to the New York
City bureau of child welfare from 1959 to 1964. Became the first
black woman to serve in the House of Representatives in 1968.
|Nat King Cole 1917 - 1965
A famous vocalist and known as "The man with the
velvet voice". By the age of 12 Nat was an accomplished
pianist. Nat formed his first jazz band in high school. Nat
said he had played piano in what he later remembered as every beer joint
in Los Angeles. Formed the King Cole Trio in 1939. He became
the first black jazz musician to have his own weekly radio show in 1948.
|Bessie Coleman 1893 - 1926
An American civil aviator, she became known as "Queen Bess" for
becoming the first African American to become a licensed airline pilot. She was also
the first American of any race or gender to hold an international pilot license.
|Bill Cosby 1937 -
With an amazing ability to touch the hearts of many,
Bill Cosby is one of the nation's most influential stars. Reaching
many audiences through many forms of media, he makes us laugh and makes us
think. He has written books, many comedy routines, appeared in many
films, recorded many audio albums and videos, and most notably was the
star of "The Cosby Show".
|General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. 1877 - 1970
First African American general in the U.S. Army. Born
in Washington, D.C., he attended Howard University briefly and then
enlisted in the army. During his fifty-year military career, General Davis
fought in three wars, led an all-black cavalry unit, served as inspector
general of the army, taught military science at Tuskegee Institute and the
historic Wilberforce University, and served in Europe as a special advisor
on race relations.
|Sammy Davis, Jr. 1925 - 1990
One of the greatest entertainers the world has ever
seen, Sammy Davis, Jr. was a very popular singer, dancer, and actor.
He recorded forty albums and made countless film, television and Las Vegas
appearances in his lifetime. He wrote three autobiographies in 1965,
1980, and 1989.
|Frederick Douglass 1818 - 1895
Former slave turned abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was
hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1841, and lectured
throughout the North. He feared for his life after publishing a book, and in
1845 fled to England. There he spoke with such effect that the British and
Americans contributed enough money for him to return to the United States in
1847 and buy his freedom.
|Charles Drew 1904 - 1950
Scientist, Blood Plasma Pioneer
Doctor and scientist who developed a process for separation and perserving
blood. His blood banks helped save thousands of lives during World
War II. Served as the Chief Surgeon and Chief of Staff at Freedman's
|W. E. B. DuBois 1868 - 1963
DuBois was by spirited devotion and scholarly
dedication, an attacker of injustice and a defender of freedom. Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "history cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois
because history has to reflect truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless
explorer and a gifted discoverer of social truths. His singular greatness
lay in his quest for truth about his own people. There were very few
scholars who concerned themselves with honest study of the black man and
he sought to fill this immense void. The degree to which he succeeded
disclosed the great dimensions of the man."
Jean DuSable 1748? - 1818
Jean-Baptiste-Point DuSable was a Haitian-French pioneer and trader; he
founded the settlement that would later become Chicago. He left Haiti in the
1770s for the Great Lakes area of North America and managed a British
trading post, called the Pinery, on the St. Clair River in what is now
Michigan. In 1779, he settled in Fort Dearborn - the area at the mouth of
the Chicago River on the shores of Lake Michigan. He was the first
non-Indian resident of that area. He established the trading post of fur and
grain, marking this area as vital to trade. The name of DuSable's settlement
was changed from Fort Dearborn to Chicago in 1830 where there is now an
African-American history museum named after him.
|Ralph Ellison 1914 - 1994
A novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. His
novel The Invisible Man was published in 1952 and won the National
Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act in 1964, and
Going to the Territory in 1986.
|Julius Erving 1950 -
"Dr. J" is one of only three players to score
over 30,000 points in a professional basketball career. He achieved
many honors including championships, MVP awards, and scoring titles.
He holds many of those records still today.
|Dr. Andrew J. Foster 1925 - 1987
Pioneer in education for deaf
individuals, was instrumental in founding twenty-two schools and an equal
number of religious programs for deaf children in more than twenty African
countries. Foster was born in Birmingham, AL, and lost his hearing at age
eleven after suffering from spinal meningitis. Drawn to a career in
education, he attended the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf in Talladega
and, in 1954, became the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet
College in Washington, D.C.
Sarah E. Goode 1850 - 1918
Businesswoman and inventor, Goode invented the folding cabinet bed - a
space-saving design that folded up against the wall into a cabinet. When
folded up, it could be used as a desk, complete with compartments for
stationery and writing supplies. She owned a furniture store in Chicago,
Illinois, and invented the bed for people living in small apartments. Her
patent was the first obtained by an African-American woman (patent #322,177,
approved on July 14, 1885).
|Dick Gregory 1932 -
African American comedian and civil rights activist
whose social satire changed the way white Americans perceived African
American comedians since he first performed in public.
|Matthew A. Henson 1866 - 1955
Adventurer skilled in handling Eskimo Husky dogs. In 1909 became the
first person to place an American flag on the North Pole. In 1945
wrote "A Negro Explorer at the North Pole."
|Jimi Hendrix 1942 - 1970
After serving in the United States Army for 4 years, Hendrix
began pursuing music in 1965. In mid-1966, Hendrix met Chas Chandler who
convinced Hendrix to go to London where he then created The Jimi Hendrix
Experience. Hendrix toured throughout Europe and the US in the late 60s,
becoming a legendary rock superstar.
|Billie Holiday 1915 - 1959
Holiday began singing in local clubs in the 1930s, and was
discovered in 1933 by John Hammond, who helped her get recording work with
bandleader Benny Goodman. Known for her distinctive phrasing and soulful,
soft, yet strong voice, she went on to record with many other performers in
the 30s, 40s and 50s.
|Langston Hughes 1902 - 1967
One of the most important writers and thinkers of the
Harlem Renaissance, which was the African American artistic movement in
the 1920s that celebrated black life and culture. Hughes's creative genius
was influenced by his life in New York City's Harlem, a primarily African
American neighborhood. His literary works helped shape American literature
|Michael Jackson 1958 - 2009
An American singer, dancer and entertainer. Referred to as
the King of Pop, he is recognized as the most successful entertainer of all time,
and one of the most influential. His contributions to music, dance and fashion, and
a much publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture over
|Dr. Mae C. Jemison 1956 -
After earning a Doctor of Medicine degree from
Cornell University in 1981, she went on to serve in the Peace Corps during
which she traveled to Cuba, Kenya, and Thailand, providing medical care to
people living there. In 1988, she completed her astronaut training
program, and in 1992 became the first black woman in space aboard SPACELAB
J on Mission STS-47.
James Earl Jones 1931 -
An African-American actor famous for his deep, resonant voice and powerful
presence. He has acted in many movies, including Dr. Strangelove and Star
Wars, and has appeared often on stage and television. In high school, he
overcame a severe speech impediment. He studied at the University of
Michigan, but left without a degree. He served in the military as a second
lieutenant. He later began acting, eventually winning two Tony awards, three
Emmys, a Grammy, and an Oscar nomination.
|Michael Jordan 1963 -
Quite possibly the best player to ever play
professional basketball. His career included 6 championships with
the Chicago Bulls, five NBA MVP awards, six NBA Finals MVP awards,
thirteen All-Star Game appearances, and ten scoring titles. He holds
countless NBA records that still stand, and is third on the NBA all-time
|Percy Julian 1899 - 1975
Chemist - Glaucoma Treatment
Extracted an ingredient from the soybean to help relieve arthritis.
Formed his own Laboratories to produce cortisone at a price that millions
of arthritis sufferers could afford. Worked on 86 patents and
developed a drug to treat an eye disease.
|Ernst Just 1883 - 1941
Received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships
during his prolific career--including, in 1915, the first-ever Spingarn
Medal--for his groundbreaking research in biology and embryology. An
outstanding student, Just completed his studies at a four-year preparatory
school in three years. After receiving top honors in zoology and history
at Dartmouth College, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa for outstanding
|Martin Luther King, Jr. 1929 - 1968
Prominent figure in Black History and civil
rights. His many achievements lead to segregation law changes, and
ultimately the declaration of segregation being unconstitutional.
|Sam E. Langford 1886 - 1956
A well-known and respected boxer in the early 1900s,
Langford was considered one of the most punishing punchers in boxing
history. Langford ran away from home at the age of 12, and worked
his way to Boston. At the age of 16, he made his professional boxing
debut and won his first fight. Eighteen months later, he fought and
defeated Joe Gans, the world lightweight champion.
|Lewis Howard Latimer 1848 - 1928
A pioneer in the electric lighting industry, Latimer
and his inventions, in a sense, brought light to the world. Yet his legacy
remains lost in the darkest chambers of history. In 1865, after being
discharged from the navy, Latimer worked as an office boy in a patent law
firm. He provided the firm with patent drawings of such high quality that
he was soon promoted to chief draftsman. He later assisted Alexander
Graham Bell with the patenting of the telephone, and developed patents for
Maxim-Weston (now Westinghouse) and Edison Electric (now General
|Nat Love 1856 - 1900
Famous cowboy from Tennessee who helped open up the Western frontier.
Called "Deadwood Dick" after winning several roping and shooting
contests at a 1876 rodeo in the Dakota Territory. Wrote a
|Thurgood Marshall 1908 - 1993
Thurgood Marshall is a
well-known figure in the history of civil rights and justice in America.
For 24 years a fixture on the United States Supreme Court, the first black
Supreme Court Justice, Marshall did more through the legal system than
anyone else to further the progress of the civil rights movement. His seat
on the bench was eyed by conservatives for many years because he had the
loudest voice in support of constitutionally supported individual rights.
|Jan Ernst Matzeliger 1852 - 1889
Inventor - Shoe Lasting Machine
Revolutionized the shoe industry by inventing a machine which mechanically
attached the "uppers" to the soles of shoes. Greatly
increased shoe production and saved the shoe industry millions of dollars.
|Robert C. Maynard 1937 - 1993
After completing his studies at Harvard
University, he became the first black national correspondent for the
Washington Post. He stayed with the Post for eleven years, then
established the Robert C Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in
Berkeley, CA. By 1983, according to Maynard, it was "by far the
single largest source of minorities entering the field of
journalism." Maynard then became editor of the floundering Oakland
Tribune in Oakland, CA, and subsequently astonished readers by purchasing
the newspaper from the Gannett Company.
|Elijah McCoy 1843 - 1929
Inventor - Automatic Machine Lubricators
Mechanical engineer who inved the Drip Cup ("The Real McCoy")
which revolutionized engine lubrication. Was granted patents for 57
inventions including one for a lawn sprinker. Established a
|Garrett A. Morgan 1877 - 1963
His "safety helmet," which was patented in
1912, was used by the Allied Forces in World War I and is the prototype of
the modern gas mask used by fire departments and emergency rescue squads.
In 1923, he patented the three-color electric traffic signal that now
stands on almost every street corner worldwide. He also invented an
attachment that improved the efficiency of the sewing machine.
|Barack Obama 1961 -
The 44th and current President of the United States of
America, he is the first African American to hold the office. He previously
served as the junior Senator from Illinois in the United States Senate from
2005 to 2008, and as a State Senator in Illinois from 1997 to 2004.
|Jesse Owens 1913 - 1980
By tying the world record in the 100-yard dash
twice as a senior in high school, Jesse became a track running star.
He went on to break several world records, including setting three new
world records and tying a fourth, all in 45 minutes at the Big Ten track
meet in Ann Arbor, MI on May 25, 1935. In 1976, President Gerald R.
Ford awarded him the Medal of Freedom.
Gordon Parks 1912 - 2006
A photographer, writer, film director, composer, and musician. His works
document the 20th century and have been seen by millions of people around
the world. He was the first African-American photographer to work at Life
magazine and Vogue magazine. He wrote twelve books, and produced many
documentaries and Hollywood films. He produced, directed, and scored a major
Hollywood film, The Learning Tree, in 1960. He wrote a ballet about Martin
Luther King, and composed other music including a symphony, a concerto, and
|Rosa Parks 1913 - 2005
By refusing to relinquish her seat on a bus, and
standing up for her civil rights, She ultimately accomplished changing the
discriminatory laws in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa later became a
recipient of the United States Congressional Gold Medal and the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.
|Charles "Rich" Patterson 1833 - ?
Patterson became a master blacksmith and gained his
freedom by reaching Greenfield, OH, a station on the Underground Railroad.
There, Patterson worked for the Dines and Simpson Carriage and Coach
Makers Company. Later, in partnership with J.P. Lowe, he formed a company
that became known for its expertly crafted horse-drawn carriages; soon he
had bought out his partner and formed the highly successful C.R. Patterson
and Sons Carriage Company.
Powell is an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the
United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State,
serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first
African American to serve in that position. During his military career,
Powell also served as National Security Advisor (1987–1989), as Commander of
the U.S. Army Forces Command (1989) and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff (1989–1993), holding the latter position during the Gulf War. He was
the first, and so far the only, African American to serve on the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.
Rice served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second
person to hold that office in the administration of President George W.
Bush. Rice was the first female African-American secretary of state, as well
as the second African American (after Colin Powell), and the second woman
(after Madeleine Albright). Rice was President Bush's National Security
Advisor during his first term, making her the first woman to serve in that
position. Before joining the Bush administration, she was a professor of
political science at Stanford University where she served as Provost from
1993 to 1999. Rice also served on the National Security Council as the
Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor to President George H.W. Bush
during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification.
|Norbert Rillieux 1806 - 1894
Scientist - Suger Refining Process
World famous engineer and inventor: Developed a vacuum pan that
revolutionized the method of refining sugar. Reduced the time, cost,
and safety risk involved in producing granulated sugar while improving its
|Jackie Robinson 1919 - 1972
After serving as a second lieutenant in the United States
Army for 2 years, Jackie Robinson played baseball professionally in the
Negro Leagues. In 1945 he joined the Montreal Royals, then a farm team for
the Brooklyn Dodgers. And on April 15, 1947 he broke the color barrier by
being the first African American player in Major League Baseball when he
played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
|Wilma Rudolph 1940 - 1994
The first female American runner to win three gold
medals in the Olympic Games. She was so fast she earned the title
"World's Fastest Woman". After her retirement as a runner,
Rudolph served as assistant director of a Chicago youth foundation,
helping to develop girls' track and field teams, and went on to promote
running nationally. Considered one of the greatest female athletes in
history, Rudolph was inducted in the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of
Fame in 1974.
|Mary Church Terrell 1863 - 1954
She was a champion of human rights, particularly
women's rights, throughout most of her life. In 1954, the year Brown vs.
Board of Education declared segregation unconstitutional, she could still
be seen marching with her cane at the head of picket lines at the age of
ninety. Her father's influence coupled with her educational experiences
gave Mary a broad, well rounded perspective on the world and on the
problems confronted by women and people of color.
Sojourner Truth 1797 - 1883
Sojourner Truth was the self-given name, from 1843 onward, of Isabella
Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. She
was born a slave in New York State, but was freed in 1827. After becoming a
preacher, she campaigned for the abolition of slavery and for women's
rights. During the Civil War in the United States, she helped black Union
soldiers obtain supplies and also worked as a counselor for the National
Freedom Relief Association.
|Harriet Tubman 1819 - 1913
Born into slavery, she was subject to very harsh
surroundings. At the age of 25, she married John Tubman, a free
African American, and five years later made her escape into freedom.
In 1857, she returned to her hometown in Maryland, and was provided a
two-story home, and shortly thereafter she purchased it. In 1896,
she purchased the 26-acre parcel on which the home stands.
Throughout her life she helped others with their escape to freedom,
assisting over 300 other African Americans gain their freedom.
Madam C. J. Walker 1867 - 1919
An inventor, hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist. Born Sarah
Breedlove, she was an African-American who developed many beauty and hair
care products. Beginning in 1905, her first product was a scalp treatment
that used petrolatum and sulfur. Starting with door-to-door sales, she soon
began selling her "Walker System" through the country. She began to teach
and train other black women in order to help them build their own
businesses. She also gave other lectures on political, economic and social
issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. The Guinness
Book of Records cites Walker as the first woman to become a millionaire by
her own achievements.
Maggie Lena Walker 1867 - 1934
The first woman in the United States to become a local bank president.
Throughout her life, she worked for civil rights and other humanitarian
causes. She worked first as a teacher, and then as an agent for the Woman's
Union Insurance Company, quickly rising to become the executive
secretary/treasurer of the company. She founded the newspaper the St. Luke
Herald in 1902. In 1903, she started the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and was
its president. In 1929, at the start of the economic depression, her bank
bought all the local black-owned banks in town and renamed itself the
Consolidated Bank and Trust Company.
|Booker T. Washington 1856 - 1915
Washington became principal of the new school
Tuskegee Institute in 1881, and led it to become world famous. His
view of seeking to improve the economic skills and quality of character
became very popular even with whites. In 1901, he became an advisor
to President Theodore Roosevelt, and became the first black ever to dine
at the White House with the President.
|Ida Wells 1862 - 1931
Journalist, Anti-Lynching Crusader
Investigative reporter; publisher of "The Red Record"; editor of
the Memphis "Free Speech"; Crusaded against organized
violence and effectively used the press to expose the harsh injustices
faced by African-Americans. Worked to organize the Negro Fellowship
League and the NAACP.
|Dr. Daniel Hale Williams 1856 - 1931
Pioneer - Open Heart Surgery
Surgeon who performed the first successful open heart operation. Repaired
a severely damaged heart without the use of drugs or blood transfusions.
Founded The Provident Hospital in Chicago and organized a training center
for Black nurses.
|Granville Woods 1856 - 1910
Inventor - Induction Telegraph
Invented a steam boiler furnance, an incubator, an automatic air brake,
and over 15 devices critical for electic railway systems. Most
famous for a telegraph system which reduced train collisions by allowing
moving trains to transmit message to each other.