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28 black historical figures You Should Know

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Muhammad Ali are often mentioned as black historical figures, and rightly so. But how well do you know Claudette Colvin, Alice Coachman, or Shirley Chisholm, for example? You’re not alone if their names don’t automatically come to mind. Educators, activists, and historians have spent a long time trying to figure out why so much African American history is absent from our country’s curriculum.

“Those who settled the colonies were free citizens from nations in Africa with wide scale cultures that had tax regimes, irrigation systems, universities—they come from sophisticated developed nations,” Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, told NBC. “It’s where the program should start, and that, in my opinion, is the biggest omission. It’s an erasure of history and tradition, with some African Americans identifying as slaves and others fighting for their freedom.”

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We’re shining a long-overdue spotlight on untaught Black Historical People who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to civil society.

1.Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander | Writer | 1898-1989

powerful female historical figures

Alexander, a native of Philadelphia, was the first black woman in the United States to obtain a Ph.D. in economics, the first black woman student to graduate from Penn Law School with a law degree, and the first African-American woman to practice law in Pennsylvania.

2.Richard Allen | Minister | 1760-1831

black historical figures

A minister, educator and writer,He was born into slavery and purchased his freedom in the 1780s, at which time he entered St. George’s Church. He quit to create his own church after blacks were forced to sit in the gallery due to seating limits. In 1787, he converted an old blacksmith shop into the United States’ first black church.

3.Maya Angelou | Poet | 1928-2014

important female figures in history

she is one the most powerful female historical figures.
Angelou was a poet, artist, memoirist, and civil rights activist from the United States, with a vivid and disturbing history documented in her most famous autobiography, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” She is the author of seven autobiographies, three collections of essays, and several collections of poems, as well as a long list of novels, films, and television shows covering more than 50 years. Her work has been interpreted as a preservation and recognition of African-American history.

4.Arthur Ashe | Tennis Player | 1943-1993

unknown black history figures

Ashe a famous black historical figures who has 3 Grand Slam titles to his credit, as well as becoming the first black player to be picked for the United States Davis Cup team and the first black man to win singles titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. Ashe died of a heart attack while giving a tennis clinic in New York in July 1979. His popularity raised awareness of his illness, including the genetic nature of heart disease. Ashe was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, and he and his doctors thought he got the virus from blood transfusions he obtained after his second heart operation.

Ashe founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS after going public about his diagnosis, helping to raise awareness about the disease and advocating the teaching of safe sex education. President Bill Clinton presented Ashe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on June 20, 1993.

5.James Baldwin | American novelist | 1924-1987

african american historical figures

Baldwin was an American author, playwright, and activist who wrote “Notes of a Native Son,” “The Fire Next Time,” and “The Devil Finds Work,” among other works. If Beale Street Could Speak, one of his books, was made into an Academy Award-winning dramatic film in 2018.
“In any event, it is undeniable that arrogance combined with wealth is the most ruthless threat that justice can face.”

6.Ruby Bridges | Civil Rights Activist | 1954-present

female historical figures

Bridges is the young powerful female historical figures that made history as the first African American student to integrate Louisiana’s all-white William Frantz Elementary School at the age of six. She had lunch by herself and sometimes played recess with her teacher, but she never skipped a day of school that year. She founded The Ruby Bridges Foundation in 1999 with the aim of promoting diversity and progress through education. In a ceremony in Washington, DC in 2000, she was appointed an honorary deputy marshal.

7.Kobe Bryant | NBA star, humanitarian| 1978-2020

famous black historical figures

Bryant was drafted out of Lower Merion High School at the age of 17 and went on to win five championships for the Los Angeles Lakers. At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games, he was a part of the gold-medal-winning US men’s basketball teams. Bryant wrote the poem “Dear Basketball” in 2015, which he also narrated in a short film of the same name.

The film earned an Academy Award nomination for best animated short film. Bryant, an outspoken advocate for the poor, and his wife, Vanessa, founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation to help the city’s homeless population. In late January, Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven other passengers perished in a helicopter crash.

8.Octavius V. Catto | Civil Rights Activist | 1839-1871

little known black history figures

Catto is one of  important black history figures He was a key figure in the popular desegregation of Philadelphia’s city trolleys and was influential in the passage of the 15th Amendment, which prohibits race-based voting discrimination. Catto was just 32 years old when he was shot and killed outside of his South Street home on Election Day, 1871, the first time African Americans were eligible to vote. In 2017, a statue to Catto was unveiled at City Hall in Philadelphia.

9.Bessie Coleman | Civil Aviator | 1892-1926

historic hispanic figures

Coleman was the first African-American woman to command a plane. When she was refused admission to American flying schools because of her ethnicity, she taught herself French and moved to France, where she earned her license from Caudron Brothers’ School in just seven months. She was known for her stunt flying and aerial tricks. Her curiosity in aviation was piqued after reading accounts of World War I pilots. that’s make Her one of the famous female historical figures

10.Claudette Colvin | Civil Rights Pioneer | 1939-present

black history month important figures

Colvin was arrested at the age of 15 for refusing to give up her seat to a white girl , nine months before Rosa Parks’ more well-known protest. The NAACP decided not to use her case to contest segregation laws because of her age. Colvin is one of the four claimants in the Browder v. Gayle lawsuit after a series of personal problems. Montgomery’s segregated bus system was declared illegal in a 1956 judgment.

11.Medgar Evers | Civil Rights Activist | 1925-1963

black historical people

Evers was a Mississippi civil rights militant, the NAACP’s state field secretary, and a World War II veteran who served in the United States Army. Since Brown v. Board found high school integration was illegal, he campaigned to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi after graduating with a BA in business management. Evers was murdered by a white nationalist in 1963, sparking a wave of civil rights demonstrations that resulted in a number of works of literature, music, and film. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery because of his veteran rank.

12.Mary Fields | Mail carrier |1832-1914

important black history figures
historical women figures

Fields, also known as “Stagecoach Mary,” was the first African-American employee in the United States Postal Service. She was born a slave and was set free after slavery was abolished in 1865. Fields was recruited as a postal carrier at the age of 63 because she was the fastest candidate to hitch a six-horse team. She never missed a day, earning the nickname “Stagecoach” for her dependability. Fields carried the mail on snowshoes, holding the bags on her back, if the snow was too heavy for her horses.

13.Rudolph Fisher | Physician | 1897-1934

african american historical figures

Fisher was a physician, radiologist, journalist, short story writer, dramatist, singer, and orator who was African-American. He had a passion for music in addition to publishing scientific papers. He was a pianist, composer, and jazz musician who toured with Paul Robeson. Before his death at the age of 37, he published a number of short stories, two books, and articles for the NAACP.

14.James Forten | Abolitionist |1766-1842

black history famous figures

Forten was a rich African-American entrepreneur and abolitionist .  After the American Revolutionary War, he became a sailmaker in the city where he was born free. Following an apprenticeship, he climbed the ranks to become the foreman, and when his boss left, he purchased the sail loft. He built a highly lucrative company on the busy Delaware River waterfront in what is now Penn’s Landing, using equipment he designed. After establishing himself, Forten spent his 40s devoting both time and money to fighting for the national abolition of slavery and the establishment of civil rights for African-Americans. His was one of the most influential African american historical figures

15.Robert Guillaume | Actor | 1927-2017

important black history figures

Robert was raised in a segregated south by his grandparents before heading to New York to avoid social inequality. He spent 19 years in the theatre there, receiving acclaim and a Tony nomination for his performance as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. He landed his infamous appearance as Benson on Soap in 1976, for which he won an Emmy, and his spin-off, Benson, for which he also won an Emmy. In 1990, he returned to the stage in the infamous Ahmanson Theatre, playing the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. He is the narrator for the animated series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Any Child, and he voiced one of Disney’s most beloved animated characters, Rafiki.

16.Francis Harper | poet | 1825-1911

black female historical figures

Harper was an abolitionist, suffragist, poet, author, public speaker, and writer who was born free in Baltimore. She aided slaves in their journey to Canada through the Underground Railroad. She co-founded the National Associated of Colored Women in 1894, an association devoted to highlighting black women’s exceptional efforts and advancement. She was the vice president at the time.

17.Langston Hughes | Poet | 1902-1967

important female figures in history

Hughes was a poet, social activist, author, playwright, and columnist from the United States. He was born in Missouri and moved to New York at a young age, where he became one of the first founders of a new art form, jazz poetry. His first book of poems was written in the early 1920s, and he posted an in-depth weekly column for The Chicago Defender on the civil rights movement. His ashes are interred under a floor medallion in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s foyer, which also serves as the gateway to an auditorium named after him.

18.Zora Neale Hurston | American author | 1891-1960

famous female historical figures

Hurston went on to become an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker after her father quit paying her school fees when she was a teenager. She chose to attend a public school in 1917, but she had to lie about her age in order to get a free education. She practiced hoodoo, the American equivalent to voodoo, and worked as a plot consultant in Hollywood. Their Eyes Were Seeing God, one of her most well-known books, was made into a film in 2005.

19.Harriet Jacobs | Writer | 1813-1897

black historical figures

Her mother, a slave, died when she was six years old. Her late mother’s slave master taught her to sew and read, so she moved in with him. In 1842, she was given the opportunity to flee to Philadelphia with the help of revolutionaries from the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee. She accepted it and went to work as a nanny in New York. Her previous owners searched for her until she was eventually set free in 1852. She began writing an autobiography in secret, which was published in the United States in 1860 and England in 1861. She devoted the remainder of her life to assisting fugitive slaves and eventually freedmen as an abolitionist.

20.Cecil B. Moore | Lawyer |1915-1979

unknown black history figures

Moore was a lawyer and civil rights activist who led the campaign to integrate Girard College and was successful. He was a marine during WWII and traveled to Philadelphia to study law at Temple University after receiving an honorable discharge. He soon established a reputation as a tough negotiator who stood up for his mainly poor African-American clients in North Philadelphia. He was president of the NAACP’s Philadelphia branch and a member of the Philadelphia City Council from 1963 to 1967. In the fields of social justice and race relations, Moore is regarded as a pivotal figure. In the North Philadelphia area, he has an entire neighborhood named after him.

21.Bayard Rustin | Civil Rights Activist | 1912-1987 

african american historical figures

Bayard Rustin was a civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights activist in the United States. In the 1960s, he was a primary advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and in 2013, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously. Rustin grew up in West Chester and went to Cheney University of Pennsylvania, which is a historically black institution. He welcomed his partner as a gay man to defend their interests and legacy.

22.Nina Simone | Musician | 1933-2003

Simone was an iconic historical women. she is American singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and civil rights activist who was born Eunice Waymon in Troy, North Carolina. Her music spanned a wide range of genres, including classical, jazz, blues, and folk, as well as R&B, gospel, and pop. She began playing the piano when she was a toddler and sang at her father’s church. She’d walk over the tracks to the white side of town to learn classical piano with a German tutor before being admitted into The Juilliard School. She went on to sell more than 40 songs, and the Curtis Institute honored her with an honorary degree just days before her death in 2003.

23.Big Mama Thornton | Singer | 1926-1984

black history famous figures

Thornton is better known for her gutsy 1952 R&B recording “Hound Dog,” which Elvis Presley later recorded, and her original hit “Ball and Chain,” which Janis Joplin made popular. She grew up singing in church and soon attracted the attention of an Atlanta music promoter while sweeping and subbing for the regular singer at a saloon. She was nicknamed “Big Mama” because of her appearance and strong voice. She joined the Hot Harlem Revue and danced and sang her way through the southeastern usa as an openly gay woman. She performed at the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theatre, as well as other venues, until late 1970s.

24.Sojourner Truth | Abolitionist |1797-1883

little known black history figures

Truth was born into slavery but fled to freedom in 1826 with her newborn daughter. She then filed a lawsuit and secured the return of her 5-year-old son, who had been sold into slavery illegally. Truth started a lecture tour in 1851 that included a women’s rights meeting, where she gave her iconic “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, questioning common conceptions of racial and gender inferiority and injustice. She gathered thousands of signatures on a petition to give land to former slaves.

25.Denmark Vesey | Carpenter | 1767-1822

african american historical figures

This little known black history figures was born a slave, but he won a lottery and was able to buy his freedom. He got involved with the church when he was unable to purchase his wife and children’s rights. He was one of the founders of an independent African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1816, which grew to over 1,800 members and became the country’s second largest “Bethel Circuit” church after Mother Bethel in Philadelphia. Vesey was accused of leading a supposed slave rebellion in 1822. He and five other defendants were quickly found guilty and sentenced to death.

26.Muddy Waters | Singer | 1913-1983

black historical figures
famous black historical figures

Waters, an American blues singer-songwriter and musician known as the “Father of Modern Chicago Blues,” grew up on a Mississippi plantation and began playing the guitar and harmonica at the age of 17. He came to Chicago in 1941 to pursue a career as a full-time artist, working in a warehouse during the day and playing at night. He toured England in 1958, reigniting interest in blues and bringing the sound of electric slide guitar playing to the country. At Newport 1960, his first live recording, was recorded and released after his appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. He earned his first Grammy Award in 1972 for “They Call Me Muddy Waters,” followed by another in 1975 for “The Muddy Waters Warrior.”

27.Phillis Wheatley| Poet |1753-1784

important female figures in history

She was born in West Africa and sold into slavery at the age of nine. By that age  she had learned to read and write and was the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry. Not only did she have to prove she wrote the poem, but no one in America would publish it. She was obliged to travel to England, where her works were published in 1773 in London. Years later, she sent one of her poems to George Washington, who demanded and was granted a meeting with her in 1776 at his headquarters in Cambridge.

28.Serena Jameka Williams |Tennis Player |1981-present

powerful female historical figures
1er tour Roland Garros 2012 : Virginie Razzano (FRA) def. Serena Williams (USA)

Williams grew from the streets of Compton to become the best player in the country. She holds the most major singles titles by any man or woman in the Open Era, with 23. Around 2002 and 2017, the Women’s Tennis Association ranked her world No. 1 in singles eight times. She has participated in three Olympic Games and has four gold medals to her credit.


That was just a short black history figures list that range from activists to entertainers to record-breaking athletes to a postal worker, who helped change the world of united state.

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