In acknowledgment, respect and thanks to the many Black Americans which have made our great country what it is today, here is a brief listing of some notable contributions.
This listing can not and does not attempt to include all of our many past and present Black history makers nor the tens of thousands of individuals who do their part everyday!
The purpose here is to pay respect, pay tribute and inspire the rest of us to keep the dream alive in our communities.
(This listing is not in chronological order) (The term “Black History” also includes “African-American” and “Afro-American)
Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who served as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He is the first African American to have served as president, as well as the first born outside the contiguous United States. 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Martin Luther King Jr. was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs.
“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.”
General Colin Powell was appointed In 1989, by President George H. W. Bush as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The post is the highest military position in the Department of Defense, and Powell was the first African-American officer to receive that distinction. General Powell became a national figure during Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in Iraq.
In October 2008, (as a Republican,) Colin Powell made headlines again when he announced his endorsement of Barack Obama (A Democrat) for president.
“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.”
Condoleezza "Condi" Rice is an American political scientist and diplomat. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush.
“ We're in a new world. We're in a world in which the possibility of terrorism, married up with technology, could make us very, very sorry that we didn't act.”
Maxine Moore Waters is the U.S. Representative for California's 43rd congressional district, and previously the 35th and 29th districts, serving since 1991.
Congresswoman Waters serves as the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services. An integral member of Congressional Democratic Leadership, Congresswoman Waters serves as a member of the Steering & Policy Committee. She is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and member and past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Garrett Morgan was born in Paris, Kentucky, his early childhood was spent attending school and working on the family farm. Among his inventions was an early traffic signal. After witnessing a collision between an automobile and a horse-drawn carriage, Morgan was convinced that something should be done to improve traffic safety. Morgan was one of the first to apply for and acquire a U.S. patent for a traffic signal.
Jeanette Epps will be the first African-American astronaut to board the International Space Station. Epps and veteran astronaut Andrew Feustel will arrive to the station in May 2018. She will be the flight engineer for Expedition 56 and will stay on board for Expedition 57.
A native from Syracuse, NY, Epps has a PhD in aerospace engineering and was a NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project fellow. On top of that, Epps was recruited by the CIA and spent seven years as a technical intelligence officer before becoming an astronaut in 2009. In other words, not only is she making history, but she's also incredibly badass.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. is an American retired professional basketball player and current president of basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. He played point guard for the Lakers for 13 seasons.
Today, Magic Johnson Enterprises serves as a catalyst for fostering community and economic empowerment by providing access to high-quality entertainment, products and services that answer the demands of multicultural communities.
Harriet Tubman was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War.
“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement, whom the United States Congress called "the first lady of civil rights" and "the mother of the freedom movement".
“I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Ray Charles Robinson, known professionally as Ray Charles, is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and composer. Among friends and fellow musicians he preferred being called "Brother Ray." He was often referred to as "The Genius."
While recording for Atlantic Records during the Fifties, the innovative singer, pianist and bandleader broke down the barriers between sacred and secular music. The gospel sound he’d heard growing up in the church found its way into the music he made as an adult. He fostered “a crossover between gospel music and the rhythm patterns of the blues.” Over the decades, elements of country & western and big-band jazz infused his music as well.
George Washington Carver was born into slavery in Diamond, Missouri, around 1864. Carver went on to become one of the most prominent scientists and inventors of his time, as well as a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute. Carver devised over 100 products using one major crop—the peanut—including dyes, plastics and gasoline. The first African-American to be commemorated with U.S. postage.
“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”
“When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
Sarah Breedlove, known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a political and social activist. She was lauded as “the first black woman millionaire in America” for her successful line of hair care products. Born Sarah Breedlove, she was widowed by age 20 and took work as a laundress. After seeking treatment for hair loss, she developed the “Walker system” and sold her homemade products directly to black women. A talent for self-promotion helped build a booming enterprise, and she spent lavishly on luxurious homes. Walker also funded scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated large sums to the NAACP, the black YMCA and dozens of other charities.
Benjamin Banneker was a free African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist and farmer. Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, to a free African American woman and a former slave, Banneker had little formal education and was largely self-taught.
“Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.”
“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”
Lewis Howard Latimer was an inventor and draftsman best known for his contributions to the patenting of the light bulb and the telephone.
He was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1848, to parents who had fled slavery. He learned the art of mechanical drawing while working at a patent firm. Over the course of his career as a draftsman, he worked closely with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, in addition to designing his own inventions. He died in Flushing, Queens, New York, on December 11, 1928.
Elijah McCoy. Despite his qualifications, he was unable to find work as an engineer in the United States due to racial barriers; skilled professional positions were not available for African Americans at the time, regardless of their training or background. He accepted a position as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. It was in this line of work that he developed his first major inventions. After studying the inefficiencies inherent in the existing system of oiling axles, He invented a lubricating cup that distributed oil evenly over the engine's moving parts. He obtained a patent for this invention, which allowed trains to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance.
Marie Van Brittan (1922-1999) was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens. She became a nurse, who like most nurses, did not work regular 9-5 hours. Her husband, Albert Brown, was an electronics technician. When she was home alone at odd hours of the day or night, she sometimes felt concerned. The crime rate in their neighborhood had increased, and everyone in the neighborhood knew that police response time in their area was notoriously slow. Marie wanted a way to feel less vulnerable. Marie Van Brittan Brown invented the home security system in 1966, along with her husband Albert Brown. Although this was not the first closed-circuit television system, the patent was granted in 1969.
Lonnie George Johnson is an American inventor and engineer who holds more than 80 patents. Johnson is best known for inventing the Super Soaker water gun, which has ranked among the world's top 20 best-selling toys every year since its release.
Lonnie Johnson was brought up in Mobile, Alabama in the 1960s, when black children were not expected to go far, but such was his talent for engineering that he worked for NASA and helped test the first stealth bomber.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924 – January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, and she represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. In 1972, she became the first black candidate for a major party's nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
In 2015, Chisholm was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (November 29, 1908 – April 4, 1972) was a Baptist pastor and an American politician, who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives (1945–71). He was the first person of African-American descent to be elected from New York to Congress.
Re-elected for nearly three decades, Powell became a powerful national politician of the Democratic Party, and served as a national spokesman on civil rights and social issues. He also urged United States presidents to support emerging nations in Africa and Asia as they gained independence after colonialism.
Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. (born Jesse Louis Burns) is an American civil rights activist, Baptist minister, and politician. He was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997. He is the founder of the organizations that merged to form Rainbow/PUSH. Former U.S. Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. is his eldest son. Jackson was also the host of Both Sides with Jesse Jackson on CNN from 1992 to 2000.
“We must not be intimidated or sidetracked by terrorism. We must work even harder for peace & justice around the world.”
Willie Lewis Brown, Jr. (born March 20, 1934) is an American politician of the Democratic Party. By the early 1960’s he was a practicing attorney in San Francisco, CA. He served over 30 years in the California State Assembly, spending 15 years as its speaker, and later served as the 41st mayor of San Francisco, CA from 1996 to 2004, the first African American to do so. Under the current California term-limits law, no Speaker of the California State Assembly will be permitted to have a longer tenure than Brown's. The San Francisco Chronicle called Brown "one of San Francisco's most notable mayors" who had "celebrity beyond the city's boundaries."
Sarah Boone was an African American inventor who on April 26, 1892, obtained United States patent rights for her improvements to the ironing board. Sarah Boone made her name by inventing the ironing board. Boone was a rarity during her time, a female African-American inventor. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was "to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments." Prior to that time, most people ironed using a board of wood rested across a pair of chairs or tables.
Frederick McKinley Jones was an African-American inventor, entrepreneur, winner of the National Medal of Technology, and inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame. During his life, Jones was awarded 61 patents. Forty were for refrigeration equipment, while others went for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines. In 1944, Jones became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers, and during the 1950s he was a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense and the Bureau of Standards. In 1991, The National Medal of Technology was awarded to Frederick M. Jones. President George Bush presented the award posthumously to his widow at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Jones was the first African American to receive the award.
Barbara C. Wallace is a clinical psychologist and the first African-American woman tenured professor at Teachers College of Columbia University. She is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Equity in Health.Wallace is a professor of health education, director of the Research Group on Disparities in Health, and director of Global HELP within the Department of Health and Behavior Studies, Teachers College, Columbia University. Her psychology practice specializes in addiction treatment, chemical dependency, dual diagnoses, various forms of trauma, violence and abuse, and multicultural diversity training. Her research focuses on local and global health disparities; training of global leaders in health education and promotion. .
Dr. James E. West. Ninety percent of microphones used today are based on the ingenuity of James Edward West, an African-American inventor born in 1931 in Prince Edwards County, VA. If you’ve ever talked on the telephone, you’ve probably used his invention.
Dr. West and a colleague, Gerhard Sessler, developed the mic (officially known as the Electroacoustic Transducer Electret Microphone) while with Bell Laboratories, and they received a patent for it in 1962. The acoustical technologies employed became widely used for many reasons including high performance, acoustical accuracy and reliability. It is also small, lightweight and cost effective.
Henry Blair (1807–1860) was the second African American inventor to receive a patent.
Blair is listed as a "colored man"; making this identification the only one of its kind in early patent records. Blair was illiterate, therefore he signed his patents with an "x". It is not known if Blair was a freedman or not. At the time that his patents were granted United States patent law allowed both freed and enslaved people to obtain patents. In 1857 this law was challenged by a slave-owner who claimed that he owned "all the fruits of the slave's labor" including his slave's inventions. This resulted in the change of the law in of jay 1858 which stated that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not hold patents. After the American Civil War, in 1871, the law was changed to grant all men patent rights.
Janet Emerson Bashen is an American inventor, entrepreneur, and business consultant. She patented a software program to assist with web-based equal employment opportunity investigations. She founded a human resource consulting firm focusing on equal opportunity employment compliance, which investigated civil rights violations and employee misconduct. In May 2000, she testified before the U.S. House of Representatives that civil rights and employee misconduct investigations should be exempt from the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In 2012, she was named to Ebony magazine's list of the 100 most influential African-Americans in entertainment, politics, sports and business, called the Power 100 List.
Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) was a boxer, philanthropist and social activist who is universally regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. Ali became an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. Following his suspension for refusing military service, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title two more times during the 1970s, winning famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1984, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Ali died on June 3, 2016.
Rolihlahla Mandela (known as Nelson Mandela) was born into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo , Transkei, on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived; and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.
He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.
Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley was born in Connecticut in 1921. She later joined the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP and worked with Thurgood Marshall. Motley won notable civil rights victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, represented Martin Luther King Jr., served in the New York State Senate and was a city borough president. Perhaps most notably, though, she became the first black woman to be appointed to a federal judgeship in 1966. She died in New York City in 2005.
“Lack of encouragement never deterred me. I was the kind of person who would never be put down.”
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was a U.S. Supreme Court justice and civil rights advocate. Marshall earned an important place in American history on the basis of two accomplishments. First, as legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he guided the litigation that destroyed the legal underpinnings of Jim Crow segregation. Second, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court–the nation’s first black justice–he crafted a distinctive jurisprudence marked by uncompromising liberalism, unusual attentiveness to practical considerations beyond the formalities of law, and an indefatigable willingness to dissent.
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black servicemen to serve as military aviators in the U.S. armed forces, flying with distinction during World War II. Though subject to racial discrimination both at home and abroad, the 996 pilots and more than 15,000 ground personnel who served with the all-black units would be credited with some 15,500 combat sorties and earn over 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their achievements. The highly publicized successes of the Tuskegee Airmen helped pave the way for the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces under President Harry Truman in 1948.
Author Alex Haley (1921-1992) was best known for works depicting the struggles of African Americans. Raised in Henning, Tennessee, he began writing to help pass the time during his two decades with the U.S. Coast Guard. After conducting interviews with Malcolm X for Playboy magazine, he turned the material into his first book, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965). Haley’s subsequent novel, “Roots” (1976), was a fictionalized account of his own family’s history, traced through seven generations. It was adapted into a 1977 miniseries that became the most-watched broadcast in TV history, a record it would hold for years.
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