Biographies of Great African-Americans
Daniel Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 - July 6, 1971) was a great jazz trumpet player, composer, and singer. He was nicknamed Satchmo because some people said that his mouth was like a satchel. 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. Armstrong celebrated his birthday on July 4.
Crispus Attucks (1723? - March 5, 1770) was the first American to die for the Revolutionary cause: "The first to defy, the first to die." Attucks was shot in the "Boston Massacre," the first fight leading up to the Revolutionary War.
Attucks was the American son of a native African father and a woman belonging to the Natick Indian tribe. As a young adult, Attucks escaped his "owner" in Framingham, Massachusetts, and went to sea as a whaler and worked as a ropemaker in Boston, Massachusetts. He learned to read and write, and studied government. Attucks went to many anti-British meetings to discuss unfair taxes; he wrote to Governor Thomas Hutchinson (the Tory governor of Massachusetts) to protest these taxes. On March 5, 1770, Attucks and other Patriots (Colonists who were against British rule) fought with the Red Coats (British soldiers) at Dock Square in Boston in an unofficial skirmish. Attucks was the first of five people to die in the fight. The soldier who shot the Patriots were tried for murder, but most were acquitted (the future US President John Adams was the lawyer for the British soldiers); the acquittals further enraged the people of Boston.
As the first person to die for the American Revolutionary cause, Attucks was buried with honor in the Park Street cemetery in Boston. "Crispus Attucks Day" was begun by black abolitionists in 1858; in 1888, the Crispus Attucks Monument was built in the Boston Common.
James Baldwin (Aug. 2, 1924-Dec. 1, 1987) was a very important American author who wrote about the struggle of being black in America. James was the oldest of nine children and was born into poverty in Harlem, New York. 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 (who died in a mental hospital in 1943). James was a preacher himself for three years when he was a teenager. The author Richard Wright was James' early writing mentor. Baldwin's first book, the semi-autobiographical Go Tell It On the Mountain, was published in 1953 and is considered to be a classic American novel. Baldwin lived in France for many years, distancing himself from American life in order to examine it; Baldwin wrote, "Once you find yourself in another civilization, you're forced to examine your own." 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, including The Fire Next Time and Notes of a Native Son. Throughout his life, Baldwin used his enormous writing talent to work for racial equality. Baldwin wrote, "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." and "Artists are here to disturb the peace." Baldwin died at the age of 63 at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France.
Bruce, B. K.
Blanche Kelso Bruce (March 1, 1841-1898) 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, Virginia. He was educated by his owner's son, and he later went to Oberlin Colllege (in Ohio). 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. He rejected an offer of a ministerial appointment to Brazil because slavery was still legal there.
Dr. Guion Stewart Bluford Jr. (November 22, 1942-) was the first African-American in space. A NASA astronaut, he flew aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle mission STS-8 as a mission specialist. The flight lasted from August 30, 1983, until September 5, 1983. Dr. Bluford is an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He is also a colonel in the US Air Force. He later flew on other space missions, including STS-61A (in 1985), STS-39 (in 1991), and STS-53 (in 1992). In total, Bluford logged over 688 hours in space. Dr. Bluford became a NASA astronaut in August 1979. Dr. Bluford is married and has two children.
Carver, George Washington
George Washington Carver (1865?-1943) was an American scientist, educator, humanitarian, and former slave. Carver developed hundreds of products from peanuts, sweet potatoes, pecans, and soybeans; his discoveries greatly improved the agricultural output and the health of Southern farmers. Before this, the only main crop in the South was cotton. The products that Carver invented included a rubber substitute, adhesives, foodstuffs, dyes, pigments, and many other products.
ChisholmShirley Chisholm (Nov. 30, 1924 - Jan. 1, 2005) was the first African-American woman elected to the US Congress. Shirley Anita St. Hill was born in Brooklyn, New York. After being a teacher and serving as a New York state assemblywoman, Chisolm was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives. She served in Congress for seven terms, from January 3, 1969, until January 3, 1983. In 1972, Chisholm was the first African-American woman to run for a major-party presidential nomination. During her long political career, she fought for the rights of women and minorities.
Aaron Douglas (May 26, 1899 - February 3, 1979) was an African-American artist who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, and studied art at the University of Nebraska. He later moved to Harlem, New York, and soon became a pre-eminent artist. Douglas did many paintings, woodcut prints, murals, and book and magazine illustrations.
Frederick DouglassFrederick Augustus Washington Bailey Douglass (Feb. 7, 1817-Feb. 20, 1895) was an abolitionist, orator and writer who fought against slavery and for women's rights. Douglass was the first African-American citizen appointed to high ranks in the U.S. government.
Drew, Charles R.
Dr. Charles Richard DrewDr. Charles Richard Drew (1904-1950) was an American medical doctor and surgeon who started the idea of a blood bank and a system for the long-term preservation of blood plasma (he found that plasma kept longer than whole blood). His ideas revolutionized the medical profession and have saved many, many lives.
William Edward Burghardt DuBois (February 23, 1868 - August 27, 1963) was a writer, historian, leader and one of the founders of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). DuBois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was a gifted student who became a reporter for the New York Globe when he was 15 years old. He later attended Fisk University, then transferred to Harvard University; he was the first black to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard University. DuBois became a teacher and later studied the state of black people in the USA and around the world; he wrote many books.
Du Sable, Jean-Baptiste-Point
Jean-Baptiste-Point Du Sable (1750?-1818) was a Haitian-French pioneer and trader; he founded the settlement that would later become Chicago.
Estevanico (pronounced es-tay-vahn-EE-co), also called Estevan, Esteban, Estebanico, Black Stephen, and Stephen the Moor (1500?-1539) was a Muslim slave from northern Africa (Azamor, Morocco) who was one of the early explorers of the Southwestern United States.
Goode, Sarah S.
Sarah E. Goode was a businesswoman and inventor. Goode invented the folding cabinet bed, a space-saver 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. Goode owned a furniture store in Chicago, Illinois, and invented the bed for people living in small apartments. Goode's patent was the first one obtained by an African-American woman inventor (patent #322,177, approved on July 14, 1885).
Henson, Matthew A.
Matthew Alexander Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 - March 9, 1955) was an American explorer and one of the first people to visit the North Pole. He was on most of Robert E. Peary's expeditions, including the 1909 trip to the North Pole.
Jemison, Mae C.
Mae C. Jemison (October 17, 1956 - ) was the first African-American woman in space. Dr. Jemison is a medical doctor and a surgeon, with engineering experience. She flew on the space shuttle Endeavor (STS-47, Spacelab-J) as the Mission Specialist; the mission lifted off on September 12, 1992 and landed on September 20, 1992.
Johnson, William Henry
William Henry Johnson (1901- 1970) was an African-American artist who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Johnson was born in Florence, South Carolina, but as a teenager, went to study at the National Academy of Design in New York. He painted in France from 1926 to 1930. When he returned to the USA, he opened a studio in Harlem. Johnson had his first solo art exhibition in New York in 1941. Johnson's vibrant paintings represent many subjects, ranging from scenes from everyday life to historical commemoratives of African-Americans, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and Matthew Henson.
Jones, James Earl
James Earl Jones (January 17, 1931 -) is an African-American actor who is famous for his deep, resonant voice and powerful presence. He has acted in many movies, including Dr. Strangelove (1963) and Star Wars (as the voice of Darth Vader). He has appeared often on stage and television (including the miniseries Roots II, The Lion King, and Sesame Street). Jones was born in Arkabutla, Mississippi, and was raised by his grandparents (his parents separated before he was born). At the age of five, the family moved to Michigan. In high school, Jones overcame a severe speech impediment (a stutter that had made him almost mute for years). Jones studied at the University of Michigan, but left without a degree. He served in the miliary (as a second lieutenant). He later began acting, eventually winning two Tony awards (for acting in plays, three Emmys (fo TV performances), a Grammy (for a recording in 1977) and an Oscar nomination (for movie performance). Jones now lives in New York state.
Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was a great composer and pianist. As a boy in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin taught himself to play the piano. He played and composed ragtime music, a lively, unique genre. He composed over 60 pieces (most for piano), including the "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer," which are still popular today. Joplin also wrote two operas.
Barbara Jordan (Feb. 21, 1936-Jan. 17, 1996) was the first black U.S. congresswoman from the deep South; she served Texas for six years in the US House of Representatives. Jordan was a powerful orator who fought for civil rights and the rights of the poor.
King Jr., Martin Luther
MLKMartin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a great man who worked for racial equality in the USA. He was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia. After graduating from college and getting married, Dr. King became a minister and moved to Alabama. During the 1950's, Dr. King became active in the movement for civil rights and racial equality. He participated in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and many other peaceful demonstrations that protested the unfair treatment of African-Americans. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Commemorating the life of a tremendously important leader, we celebrate Martin Luther King Day each year in January.
Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) was an African-American artist who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but at 13 years old, moved to New York City, New York, where he studied art. He soon became successful, both artistically and commercially. Lawrence often painted scenes of ordinary life in vibrant colors and with a startling angularity. In 1946, Lawrence said of his philosophy of art, "My belief is that it is most important for an artist to develop an approach and philosophy about life - if he has developed this philosophy he does not put paint on canvas, he puts himself on canvas.".
Thurgood Marshall stampThurgood MarshallThurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 - Jan. 24, 1993) was the first African-American justice of the US Supreme Court. Marshall was on the team of lawyers in the historic Supreme Court trial concerning school desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education (1954). As a result of this trial, the "separate but equal" doctrine in public education was overthrown. After a successful career as a lawyer and judge fighting for civil rights and women's rights, Marshall was appointed to the high court in 1967 (by President Lyndon Baines Johnson). On the high court, Marshall continued his fight for human rights until he retired on June 27, 1991.
Elijah McCoy (1843 or 1844-1929) was a mechanical engineer and inventor. McCoy's high-quality industrial inventions (especially his steam engine lubricator) were the basis for the expression "the real McCoy," meaning the real, authentic, or high-quality thing.
MorganGarrett Augustus Morgan (March 4, 1877 - August 27, 1963), was an African-American inventor and businessman. He was the first person to patent a traffic signal. He also developed the gas mask (and many other inventions). Morgan used his gas mask (patent No. 1,090,936, 1914) to rescue miners who were trapped underground in a noxious mine. Soon after, Morgan was asked to produce gas masks for the US Army.
ObamaBarack Obama (born August 4, 1961 -) is the 44th President of the United States of America. He was elected President on November 4, 2008 (as a Democrat), and was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. His Vice-President is Joseph Biden. Barack Obama is the first African-American president of the USA. Obama was born in Hawaii. His father, also called Barack Obama, was from Kogelo, Kenya, Africa; his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was from Kansas, USA.
Obama graduated from Columbia University (1983), then worked as a community organizer in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from Harvard Law School (1991) and was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Michelle Robinson and Obama married in 1992; they have 2 daughters. He was elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996, 1998, and 2002 (he lost in 2000). Obama was elected to the US Senate in 2004 (Dem-IL). Barack has written two books, Dreams from My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006).
He is the first Black President of the United States,sworn in on Jan,20 (2009)
OwensJesse Owens (Sept. 12, 1913 - Mar. 31, 1980) was one of the world's greatest track and field athletes. At the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals (in the 100 meter, 200 meter, 400 meter relay and the long jump) , set two Olympic records, and tied another. This humiliated Hitler and was an affront to his racial theories - Hitler had assumed that the "Aryans" (the Germanic race) would easily win. A year earlier, as an Ohio State University student, Owens set new world records in the 220 yard dash, the 200 yard hurdles, and the long jump (and equaled the record in the 100 yard) at the National Collegiate Track and Field Meet (on May 25, 1935).
Gordon ParksGordon Parks (Nov. 30, 1912- March 7, 2006) was 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. Parks was the youngest of 15 children, born to impoverished parents in Kansas. Parks was the first African-American photographer to work at Life magazine and Vogue magazine. He wrote 12 books, produced many documentaries and Hollywood films (including Shaft), produced, directed, and scored a major Hollywood film (The Learning Tree, 1960), wrote a ballet about Martin Luther King (called Martin), and composed other music (including a symphony, a concerto, blues and other popular songs).
Rosa Parks (February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005) was a pivotal figure in the fight for civil rights. On December 1, 1955, a Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver ordered Mrs. Parks to give up her seat to a white man. When she refused, she was fined and arrested. This incident prompted a city-wide bus boycott, which eventually resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on city buses is unconstitutional.
Norbert Rillieux (March 17, 1806-October 8, 1894) was an African-American inventor and engineer who invented a device that revolutionized sugar processing. Rillieux's multiple effect vacuum sugar evaporator (patented in 1864) made the processing of sugar more efficient, faster, and much safer. The resulting sugar was also superior. His apparatus was eventually adopted by sugar processing plants all around the world.
Jack (Jackie) Roosevelt Robinson (January 31, 1912 - October 24, 1972) was the first black man allowed to play major league baseball.
On April 11, 1947, Robinson played his first major league baseball game (he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees). Robinson played with the Dodgers for 10 years. He played in six World Series and was the first African-American in the Baseball Hall of Fame (in 1962).
Dred scottDred Scott (1795-1858) was a a slave who sued for his freedom in court, since he had been taken to a "free" state (Wisconsin). He lost his case in St. Louis, Missouri, but won it on appeal. His case was again appealed and Scott lost. The results of his court case led to major political upheavals in the USA and eventually, the Civil War.
Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883) was an American preacher who dedicated her life to fighting for for civil and human rights. 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 US Civil War, she helped black Union soldiers obtain supplies and also worked as a counselor for the National Freedon Relief Association.
TubmanHarriet Tubman (1820 - 1913) escaped slavery in Maryland in 1849 and traveled north. She then helped hundreds of other slaves flee to the north to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Mrs. Tubman helped John Brown recruit soldiers for his raid on Harpers Ferry (1859). She spied for the Union (in South Carolina) during the US Civil War. After the war, she lived in Auburn, New York, and founded the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged Negroes. Mrs. Tubman devoted her life to fighting slavery and championing the rights of women.
Walker, Madame C. J.
Madame C. J. WalkerMadam C. J. Walker (December 23, 1867 - May 25, 1919) was an inventor, businesswoman and self-made millionaire. Sarah Breedlove McWilliams C. J. Walker was an African-American who developed many beauty and hair care products that were extremely popular. Madam Walker started her cosmetics business in 1905. Her first product was a scalp treatment that used petrolatum and sulphur. She added Madam to her name and began selling her new "Walker System" door-to-door. Walker soon added new cosmetic products to her line. The products were very successful and she soon had many saleswomen, called "Walker Agents," who sold her products door to door and to beauty salons.
Walker, Maggie Lena
Maggie Lena Walker (July 15, 1867-December 15, 1934) was the first woman in the USA to become a local bank president. Throughout her life, Walker worked for civil rights and other humanitarian causes.
Maggie Mitchell was born in Richmond, Virginia, to former slaves. In 1886, Maggie married Armstead Walker, Jr. 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.
Washington, Booker T.
Booker Taliafero Washington (April 15?, 1856 - Nov. 15, 1915) was an orator, civil rights activist, professor, writer, and poet. He was born a slave in Virginia, but was freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (when it went into effect in the South, in 1865). Washington dedicated his life to education as a means of obtaining equality. He founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the National Negro Business League.