There are many famous black men and women. Whether they come from the United States, Europe, or some other place in the world, each of them have contributed to help make our world a better place. Some are doctors, politicians, civil rights leaders, or in the field of entertainment and sports, we are left inspired by their achievements
| Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
Famous For: Being the “King of Pop”
Michael Jackson was one of the most popular entertainers in the world. He started his career with The Jackson 5, a group formed with his other brothers. Thriller, an album he came out with in 1982 stands as still the “the best selling album of all time.” The other songs he made popular include I’ll Be There, ABC-123, Ben, Beat It, Thriller, Man in the Mirror, and Bad,” to name a few.
Famous For: The first African-American president of the USA
Voted in 2008 as president of the United States, Barack Obama is the first African-American to be voted to the highest office in America.
| Morgan Freeman (1937)
Famous For: Academy award performance for Million Dollar Baby
American actor and director Morgan Freeman has appeared in television and on the movie screen. In 2005 he won an academy award for best supporting actor in the movie Million Dollar Baby. Other movies he has appeared in include Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Bruce Almighty, The Shawshank Redemption, Invictus, and The Bucket List to name a few. He also does narration.
| Nelson Mandela (1918)
Famous For: First Black South African President
Born into “Thembu” royalty, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in 1994 became South Africa’s first Black president. His administration worked to stop racism and the practice of apartheid in South Africa. He also became president of the African National Congress in 1991.
| Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
Famous For: Leading the civil rights movement
Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister turned “civil rights activist.” His influence was important in advancing “civil rights” in America in which he advocated “non-violent civil disobedience.” His speech in 1963, I Have A Dream, is remembered by all Americans to this day. He received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
| Tiger Woods (1975)
Famous For: First black man to win the Masters
Tiger Woods and his accomplishments as a golfer is impressive, to date, he has won 14 major championships and a total of 105 professional titles. He was the first black golfer to win the coveted Masters Championship in 1997.
| Michael Jordan (1963)
Famous For: One of the greatest basketball players of all time
MJ, as he is also known, won six NBA championships. He is also considered as the greatest basketball player who ever lived by many people. As a college player, he also won an NCAA championship in 1982 and a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He won another gold medal in 1992.
| Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)
Famous For: First black man to play in Major League Baseball.
World Series champion Jackie Robinson was the first black man to play in Major League Baseball playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In addition to winning the world series in 1947, he won Rookie of the Year, the Batting Title, MVP, and the NL Stolen Bases title.
| Muhammad Ali (1942)
Famous For: Greatest heavyweight boxer in history
One of the greatest, if not the best heavyweight boxer in history, Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) won a total 56 fights. In the Rome Olympics in 1960, he won the gold medal in the light heavyweight division. Two of his later fights were known because of the titles he gave them, Rumble in the Jungle & Thrilla in Manila
| Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
Famous For: Most electrifying rock guitarist of all time
Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix popularized the use of “overdriven amplifiers” during his time. The style of music he played started with the blues rock, hard rock, and psychedelic rock. Some of his famous songs include Purple Haze, Hey Joe, Foxy Lady, All Along the Watchtower, and Voodoo Child. He is also remembered for his rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969.
| Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Famous For: Influencing African-American history
Malcolm Little or El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, these are names associated with human rights advocate Malcolm X. He is viewed as an influence in the plight of African-Americans during his time. He believed in the separation of America between black and white people.
| Oprah Winfrey (1954)
Famous For: The richest African-American in the 20th century
Before she became a “talk-show” hostess and media mogul, Oprah Winfrey first was an actress. She appeared in The Color Purple. She is recognized as the richest African-American and at one time was the only black billionaire. Oprah is a philanthropist as well. Her program The Oprah Winfrey Show is watched all around the world.
| Stevie Wonder (1950)
Famous For: Most awarded male solo artist
Stevland Hardaway Morris, we know him better as Stevie Wonder is one of America’s most popular and successful singer/songwriters of all time. In addition to singing, he also plays the keyboards, harmonica, bass guitar, drums, and even the accordion. Among the songs he is best known for include My Cherie Amour, Superstition, Fingertips Pt.2; Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours; and You are the Sunshine of My Life.
| Rosa Parks (1913-2005)
Famous For: “The first lady of civil rights”
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks and the importance of her role in the civil rights movement will always be linked. She has been recognized as the “mother of the freedom movement” and as “the first lady of civil rights.” Worldwide, she became a symbol to many to stop racial segregation.
| Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
Famous For: Scat singing and trumpet playing
Whether you call him “Pops” or “Satchmo”, there is no denying that raspy voice and piercing trumpet sound comes from Louis Armstrong. One of America’s best love jazz trumpeter popularized swing, Dixieland, and traditional pop music. He also made popular the “scat-singing” style. In addition to the trumpet, he also played the coronet.
| Bill Cosby (1937)
Famous For: The Cosby Show
A man of many talents, Bill Cosby is a popular actor, comedian, writer, musician, educator and producer. He started doing stand-up comedy and later starred in a television series entitled I Spy. He later had his own situational comedy show, The Bill Cosby Show and then in the 1980s, The Cosby Show. He is also remembered for introducing Fat Albert in his comedy routine then later on television as a cartoon.
| Ray Charles (1930-2004)
Famous For: Greatest singers of all time
Ray Charles Robinson was a pioneer of the style of music we know as soul music. He combined blues, gospel, R & B, and even country when performing a song. He ranked #2 on the “100 greatest singers of all time” list by “Rolling Stone” magazine. Songs he is remembered for include Georgia on My Mind, Unchain My Heart, Hit the Road Jack, I Can’t Stop Loving You, and Together Again.
| James Brown (1933-2006)
Famous For: The Godfather of Soul
American singer and musician James Joseph Brown Jr. is one of the founders of “funk music” and one of the best loved entertainers in the 20th century. His most popular songs include Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You / I Feel Good, and It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World. His first album Live at the Apollo continues to be popular.
| Aretha Franklin (1942)
Famous For: The “Queen of Soul”
Aretha Louise Franklin sang for a gospel choir. The rest, as they say is history. She rightfully is called the “Queen of Soul.” The songs Respect, Think and A Natural Woman are some of her famous hits. She has received a total of 20 Grammy Awards to date.
| Harriet Tubman (1820-1913)
Famous For: Helping slaves to freedom using the “Underground Railroad”
Her birth certificate says Araminta Harriet Ross, but we all know her as Harriet Tubman. As a humanitarian, she helped thousands of slaves to freedom during her lifetime making use of the resources available to her that include the Underground Railroad. Harriet was most active during the American Civil War, helping the Union as a scout and spy. After the war, she advocated for women’s right to vote.
| Miles Davis (1926-1991)
Famous For: Key influences in the history of jazz music
His talent and style as a musician helped make Miles Dewey Davis III one of the greatest innovators of jazz. He has received nine Grammy Awards. Davis was a moving force in the expansion of jazz music into varying forms that include jazz fusion, cool jazz, and bebop. Instruments he played begin with the trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, synthesizer, and organ.
| Maya Angelou (1928)
Famous For: Reciting On the Pulse of Morning at Presidential inauguration in 1993
As a poet and author, Marguerite Ann Johnson, or Maya Angelou, has to her credit 7 autobiographies, numerous books of poetry, and many more that she has authored over the last 50 years. On the Pulse of Morning and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings are two of her most memorable works. She is also a civil rights activist, actress, playwright, and professor at a university.
| Diana Ross (1944)
Famous For: Female Entertainer of the Century
Diana Ernestine Earle Ross, better known as Diana Ross was at one time named “Female Entertainer of the Century.” As a singer, she began her career as the lead singer of The Supremes and she went solo afterwards. More than 100 million of her recordings have been sold worldwide, combined as part of the group and on her own. She is also record producer and actress.
| Chuck Berry (1926)
Famous For: Johnny B. Goode
Whether you know him as Charles Edward Anderson Berry or Chuck Berry, the sound of his music and guitar is unmistakable. Berry developed and improved the genre we know as “rhythm and blues” to go with his showmanship. His most popular songs include Johnny B. Goode, Maybelline, Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music.
| Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
Famous For: Jazz singing
Some know her as “Lady Day”, but Billie Holiday and her singing style influenced future generations of jazz singers and pop singers. In addition to being a singer, she was also a songwriter. The songs she wrote, God Bless the Child, Lady Sings the Blues, and Good Morning Heartache have become jazz staples.
| Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)
Famous For: Leader of abolitionist movement before, during, and after the Civil War
Orator, statesman, and writer, these are the credentials that Frederick Douglass have. He made use of these gifts to lead the abolitionist movement after escaping slavery. He authored five books and his efforts were instrumental in freeing all slaves.
| Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
Famous For: Harlem Renaissance
James Mercer Langston Hughes was one of the earliest poets to introduce “jazz poetry.” He wrote for a newspaper, a novelist, social activist, and playwright. Among his body of work, he wrote The Big Sea, Simple Speaks His Mind, and The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.
| Nat King Cole (1919-1965)
Famous For: The song Unforgettable
One of the leading jazz pianists of his day, Nathaniel Adams Coles was and continues to be one of America’s favorite singers. He possessed a soft, smooth baritone voice. Among the songs he is remembered for include Mona Lisa, L-O-V-E and of course Unforgettable.
| Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
Famous For: Big Band & Swing music
Big band leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as Duke Ellington, is one of the most important influences of “jazz” music. He was a composer, bandleader, and pianist. He and his orchestra performed at the Cotton in New York City. Ellington received twelve Grammy Awards during his lifetime. Some of his well known songs include It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing and Take the ‘A’ Train.
| Condoleezza Rice (1954)
Famous For: First black woman to serve as Secretary of State
She holds the distinction of being the first black female Secretary of State of the United States and the first woman to serve as National Security Advisor under President Bush.
| George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
Famous For: Black Leonardo promoted alternative crops to cotton.
Carver advocated to plant crops alongside cotton that would help people provide for their own food. He was an inventor, botanist, scientist, and teacher. Carver also introduced one hundred by-products of peanuts that could be used at home and out in the farm.
| Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
Famous For: Wizard of Tuskegee
Many people of his time saw Booker T. Washington as a politician, but he was also an author, educator, and orator, even an advisor to President’s Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. He believed in the education and economic progress for the black community.
| Quincy Jones (1933)
Famous For: Grammy Award winning music
To his credit, arranger, composer, conductor, and producer Quincy Delightt Jones, Jr. has won 27 Grammy Awards and nominated 79 times for a Grammy. His musical style crosses over to all types of genre, rhythm and blues, jazz, pop, and even rock and roll. He was the conductor and producer of We Are the World.
| W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)
Famous For: Co-founder of the NAACP
Du Bois was the first black American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University. In addition to that, he was a civil rights activist, sociologist, author, and historian. He believed that blacks should be given their civil rights and proper representation politically. He was one of the co-founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). His books The Soul of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America are examples of his life work as an author.
| Colin Powell (1937-1962)
Famous For: First African American to serve as Secretary of State
The only black man to ever serve as “Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Colin Luther Powell, is a retired four-star general of the US Army. He is also the first African-American to be Secretary of State of the United States from 2001 to 2005; and National Security Advisor from 1987-1989.
| Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)
Famous For: Black nationalism and Garveyism
Jamaican Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr. advocated a movement that encouraged people of African descent to reclaim and return back to Africa. This movement became known as Garveyism. He was also a businessman, journalist, publisher, and orator. He established the UNIA-ACL (Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League).
| Harry Belafonte (1927)
Famous For: King of Calypso music
Singer and social activist Harold George Belafonte Jr. is fondly remembered for his Caribbean style singing and music during the 1950s. He has been given the title King of Calypso early in his career. His rendition of The Banana Boat Song continues to be a favorite because of its ‘Day-O’ chorus.
| Angela Davis (1944)
Famous For: Leader of the Communist Party USA
A leader of the Communist Party USA, Angela Yvonne Davis is also an educator and political activist. She has also been affiliated with the Black Panther Party during the civil rights movement. She is now a retired professor.
| Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Famous For: Abolitionist and women’s rights advocate
A women’s right advocate and abolitionist Isabella Baumfree gave herself a new name, Sojourner Truth. She escaped from slavery to freedom and became the first black woman to win a court case in efforts to gain back her son. During the Civil War, she was instrumental in recruiting black men to join the Union Army.
| James Earl Jones (1931)
Famous For: The voice of “Darth Vader”
One of the greatest actors in American history, this best describes the multi-talented actor James Earl Jones. He began his career on Broadway. In addition to his acting, his voice has received equal prominence as the voice of Darth Vader in “Star Wars” and Mufasa in “The Lion King.”
| Jesse Jackson (1941)
Famous For: Civil rights activist
As a participant in the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Baptist minister Jackson rose to prominence when he participated in the “Selma to Montgomery” march. In 1984 and 1988, he attempted to gain the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party; from 1991 to 1997, he was a shadow Senator for the District of Columbia. He founded a non-profit organization known as Rainbow/PUSH.
| Toni Morrison (1931)
Famous For: Novels Beloved and Sula
Chloe Ardelia Wofford, better known as Toni Morrison, is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature. She is best known for The Bluest Eye, Beloved, Song of Solomon, and Sula, four of her most famous books. She specializes in the area of African-American literature.
| Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993)
Famous For: First African American to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
Serving as associate justice of the US Supreme Court, Marshall became the first black member of the highest court in the nation. He was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. He became the Supreme Court’s 96th justice.
| Dred Scott (1795-1858)
Famous For: The Dred Scott vs. Sanford case
Dred Scott sued in order to obtain freedom for himself and his family. It was known as Dred Scott vs. Sandford and was before the Supreme Court. Scott lost the suit in which the court decided that “slaves” were not citizens therefore not given the right to bring the lawsuit.
| Richard Wright (1908-1960)
Famous For: Uncle Tom’s Children
Author and poet Richard Nathaniel Wright wrote his novels touching on the unfortunate situation of black people in America. Among his notable works include Uncle Tom’s Children, Black Boy, The Outsider and Native Son.
| Medgar Evers (1925-1963)
Famous For: Civil rights movement in Mississippi
Evers got involved in the civil rights movement after he served in the US Army during World War II. He actively participated in trying to stop segregation at the University of Mississippi. In addition, he was also field secretary under the NAACP. He was assassinated in 1963 and received “full military honors” and is buried at Arlington Cemetery.
| Ruby Bridges (1954)
Famous For: First black child to attend an all white school
In 1960, Ruby Nell Bridges Hall became the first black child to attend an all white school in New Orleans. US Marshals and her mother accompanied her to school that first day as well as subsequent days.
| Al Sharpton (1954)
Famous For: Social justice activist
Baptist minister, radio/television host, and social justice activist Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. ran as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2004 in the presidential election at that time. He hosts his own radio show and a nightly television talk show.
| Jim Brown (1936)
Famous For: Greatest running back of all time
Running back for the Cleveland Browns from 1957 to 1962, James Nathaniel Brown had record setting career playing in the National Football League (NFL). He is a member of the Hall of Fame and an NFL Champion (1964).
| Alice Walker (1944)
Famous For: Writing The Color Purple
Pulitzer Prize recipient Alice Malsenior Walker is the author of the novel The Color Purple. She is also a poet, activist and calls herself a “womanist.” Other books she has written include The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy.
| Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)
Famous For: Their Eyes Were Watching God
Author of more than fifty essays, short stories, and plays, Hurston rose to prominence during the “Harlem Renaissance.” She not only was a novelist, but she was also an anthropologist and folklorist.
| Clarence Thomas (1948)
Famous For: Second African American justice in the Supreme Court
Currently serving on the US Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas is the second African-American to serve in the highest court in the United States. He attended Yale Law School; became Chairman of the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in 1982; nominated to the US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia in 1990; and 1991, nominated and confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court.
| Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)
Famous For: The wife of Martin Luther King Jr. and a civil rights activist
Widow of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta continued the fight for civil rights after her husband died in the 60s. She became a leader and spokesperson for racial equality and later for the Women’s Movement.
| Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)
Famous For: First black man to win the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon
A formidable tennis player, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. won three of the Grand Slams in the sport, the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon, the first black man to do so. He also became the first black tennis player selected to the Davis Cup team of the United States. He was the number one tennis player in the world in 1975.
| Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)
Famous For: The Queen of Gospel
Gospel singer and a civil rights advocate, Mahalia Jackson is often considered the Queen of Gospel. Her voice has been described being of the “contralto” kind. She received six nominations for a Grammy Award and won four of them. The winning songs include Every Time I Feel the Spirit, Great Songs of Love and Faith, How I Got Over and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
| Jesse Owens (1913-1980)
Famous For: Winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics
Four time track and field Olympic Gold Medal winner James Cleveland Owens specialized in the long jump and the sprint. He won his medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he won a gold for: the long jump, the 100 and 200 meter sprint, and the 4 x 100 meter relay.