Follow the Leader

50 Great Black Americans You Need to Know and Never Forget About



  1. FREDERICK DOUGLASS*( 1817-1895) Abolitionist, editor, author, lecturer and the major Black leader of 19th century is often called “The Father of the Civil Rights Movement.”
  1. W.E.B. DU BOIS*(1868-1963) Civil rights leader, editor, scholar was co-founder of the NAACP and the chief organizer of the First PanAfrican Congress of 1919.
  1. MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE*(1875-1955) College president, civil rights leader, adviser to presidents was the first Black woman to receive a major U.S. government appointment.
  1. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.*(1929-1968) Civil rights leader, minister and nonviolent activist led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was major leader of the Freedom Movement.
  1. ROBERT S. ABBOTT*(1870-1940) Chicago Defender editor and publisher established a new type of journalism and vigorously supported the Great Migration to Northern cities.
  1. RICHARD ALLEN’*(1760-1831) Minister and protest leader sometimes called The Father of the Negro.’ First Black bishop was president of first national Negro convention.
  1. LOUIS ARMSTRONG*(1900-1971) Bandleader, entertainer and the first great jazz soloist to achieve worldwide fame and influence as a trumpet player and symbol of a new music.
  1. ELLA BAKER*(1903-1986) Civil rights leader played key leadership role in SCLC and organized the Shaw University conference that led to the founding of SNCC.
  1. JAMES BALOWIN*(1924-1987) Writer and lecturer helped define the Freedom Movement of the 60s with The Fire Next Time and other books and statements.
  1. BENJAMIN BANNEKER*(1736-1806) Astronomer and mathematician helped survey the Federal Territory that became the District of Columbia and published annual almanacs.
  1. IDA B. WELLS-BARNETT*(1862-1931) Editor, civil rights leader, and women’s rights advocate was a co-founder of the NAACP and “began the anti-lynching crusade” in America.
  1. RALPH J. BUNCHE*(1904-1971) Political scientist was first Black to win a Nobel Prize. He received the peace prize in 1950 for negotiating an end to Arab-Israeli conflict.
  1. GEORGE WASHINGTONCARVER*(1861-1943) Agricultural researcher developed hundreds of products from the peanut and sweet potato.
  1. MARTIN R. DELANY*(1812-1885) Editor, physician, abolitionist published the first full-length statement on Black Nationalism in 1852.
  1. CHARLES R. DREW*(1904-1950) Surgeon was a pioneer in the development of blood plasma preservation and a major influence as a role model.
  1. PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR*(1872-1906) Poet was the first Black writer to achieve national fame. Critics said he was the “Poet of His People.”
  1. EDWARD KENNEDYELLINGTON (1899-1974) Pianist and band leader expanded vocabulary of American music and was called greatest composer America. has produced,”
  1. MARCUS GARVEY*(1887-1940) Orator and Black nationalist organized America’s first real Black mass movement and articulated a new vision of African independence.
  1. PRINCE HALL*(1735-1807) Abolitionist and Masonic leader organized the first African-American lodge and the first Black interstate organization in America.
  1. FANNIE LOU HAMER*(1917-1977) Civil rights leader came out of a sharecropper’s cabin and played a major role in the Freedom Movement and the Freedom Democratic Party.
  1. W.C. HANDY*(1873-1958) Composer and bandleader published the first blues and collected and preserved the musical heritage of Southern blues singers.
  1. FRANCES E.W. HARPER*(1825-1911) Poet, abolitionist. novelist, lecturer and women’s rights advocate was a reformer and one of the most popular poets of her day.
  1. CHARLES H. HOUSTON*(1895-1950) Lawyer and first NAACP special counsel was the architect of the legal campaign that led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
  1. LANGSTON HUGHES* (1902-1967) Poet, playwright, author, newspaper columnist carried poetry to the people and is often called the “Poet Laureate of Black America.”
  1. ZORA NEALE HURSTON*(1901-1960) Anthropologist and writer pioneered in the., study of Black folk culture and was one of the most widely published women writers of her era.
  1. JACK JOHNSON*(1878-1946) First Black heavyweight champion won the title in 1908 and became a major symbol of Black defiance in first decades of the century.
  1. JAMES WELDON JOHNSON*(1871-1938) Civil Rights leader, poet, diplomat was the first Black secretary of the NAACP and the co-author of Lift Every Voice and Sing.
  1. ERNEST E. JUST *(1883-1941) Scientist and Howard University professor was a leading zoologist and made key contributions in the fields of experimental embryology.
  1. JOE LOUIS*(1914-1981) Boxer was heavyweight champion longer than any other person. He was a major symbol of Black assertion in the 30s and 40s.
  1. MALCOLM X* (1925-1965) Protest leader and Muslim minister championed Black Nationalism and a strong alliance between Africans and African-American.
  1. BENJAMIN E. MAYS*(1894-1984) College president, minister, World Council of Churches leader taught Martin Luther King Jr. and served as role model for leaders.
  1. JESSE OWENS *(1913-1980) Track star won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics and became an international symbol of racial harmony and the Olympic movement.
  1. ADAM CLAYTON POWELL JR.* (1908-1972) Politician and minister was the first Black congressman from the East and the first Black chairman of a major congressional committee.
  2. PHILIP RANDOLPH*(1889-1979) Labor leader and activist founded the March on Washington movement and helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
  1. PAUL ROBESON*(1898-1976) Singer, actor and activist created a new stage image of commitment and projected an international vision of art for freedom’s sake.
  1. JACKIE ROBINSON*(1919-1972) Baseball star joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and became the first Black to play in the major leagues in modern times.
  1. MARY CHURCH TERRELL*(1863-1954) Civil rights leader, cofounder of NAACP and first president of the National Association of Colored Women, which she helped organize.
  1. HOWARD THURMAN*(1900-1981) Preacher, philosopher, mystic developed nonviolent “love ethic” that influenced Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders.
  1. WILLIAM MONROE TROTTER (1872-1934) Civil rights leader and editor initiated the anti-Booker T. Washington campaign that led to the Niagara Movement and the NAACP.
  1. SOJOURNER TRUTH*(1797-1883) Abolitionist, orator and leader of women’s movement lectured widely and fought for the rights of Black settlers on the Western frontier.
  1. HARRIET TUBMAN*(1820-1913) Abolitionist, Union scout and spy, and symbol of Black tradition of heroic women made 19 trips into South and rescued some 300 slaves.
  1. HENRY MCNEAL TURNER*(1834-1915) College president, bishop, Union Army chaplain and politician was a leader of the post-Reconstruction Colonization movement.
  1. NAT TURNER*(1800-1831) Leader of Southampton, Va., slave revolt that triggered an impassioned national debate on the wisdom and viability of the slave system.
  1. DAVID WALKER *(1785-1830) Abolitionist and businessman called for a slave revolt in 1829 pamphlet, Walker Appeal.
  1. MADAME C.J. WALKER*(1867-1919) Businesswoman and one of the first self-made woman millionaires. She made a fortune with hot-iron process for straightening hair.
  1. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON*(1856-1915) College president and national leader de-emphasized protest and emphasized education, hard work and economic development.
  1. PHILLIS WHEATLEY* (1753-1784) First major Black poet whose 1773 work was the second book published by an American woman. The former slave was born in Africa.
  1. DANIEL HALE WILLIAMS* (1856-1931) Surgeon and educator performed the first successful operation on the human heart at Chicago’s Provident Hospital in 1893.
  1. CARTER G. WOODSON*(1875-1950) “Father of Black History” organized first Negro History Week and founded the Association for the Study of AfroAmerican Life and History.
  1. RICHARD WRIGHT*(1908-1960) Author of Native Son and other novels and books that helped redefine American race relations. He died in self imposed exile in Paris.