Born to parents who were bonded slaves, Harriet Tubman life was a difficult one from the very beginning. Yet with her remarkable courage and determination, she not only escaped slavery herself, but also led other enslaved people to freedom. The prominent political activist and abolitionist was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the American Civil War.
Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan served as the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006. He was the founder and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation and a co-recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. During his stint with the UN, he launched the UN Global Compact and worked to combat HIV/AIDS.
Sidney Poitier was a Bahamian-American actor who became the first Afro-Bahamian and Black male actor to receive an Oscar for Best Actor in 1964. In 2009, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His life and work inspired a couple of documentary films, including the 2008 film Sidney Poitier, an Outsider in Hollywood.
The 66th United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made history in 2005 when she became the first female black Secretary of State. She is also the first female to serve as National Security Advisor, a position which she served from 2001 to 2005. One of the most powerful women in the world at one point of time, she has been depicted in Hollywood films.
Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to fly into space, as a mission specialist on the Space Shuttle Endeavour. A qualified physician, she has served as a Peace Corps doctor, too. She has written several books and established a non-profit and a tech research organization.
In the 1950s, a teenage African-American boy, Emmett Till was kidnapped, tortured and brutally killed for allegedly misbehaving with a white woman. Those responsible were never convicted but the brutality of the crime brought focus on racial discrimination and African-American Civil Rights Movement. It eventually played a crucial role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Civil rights activist and educator Betty Shabazz, or Betty X, was the wife of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X. Raised by her adoptive parents in Detroit, she met Malcolm X at a Nation of Islam event in Harlem. She died when her apartment was set on fire set by her grandson.
Bessie Coleman was an American civil aviator and the first African-American woman to hold a pilot license. Nicknamed Queen Bess, Coleman became a high-profile pilot in the air shows organized in the United States. Bessie Coleman died at the age of 34 in a plane crash. Her efforts to promote aviation inspired the Native American communities.
Occultist and herbalist Marie Laveau was known as the Vodoo Queen of New Orleans. Though a hairdresser, she was chiefly known for her spiritual practices which she used to heal the sick and the poor. She has inspired several books, such as Robert Tallant's The Voodoo Queen.
Known for his baritone voice and his signature goatee, T. D. Jakes is a bishop at The Potter's House and a filmmaker, too. He has produced and appeared in films such as Jumping the Broom and Not Easily Broken, the latter being based one of his novels.
Doris Miller was a US Navy cook third class. He became the first black American to be honored with the Navy Cross for saving the lives of many sailors aboard West Virginia by manning an anti-aircraft machine gun to shoot down Japanese planes during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was killed in action while serving in World War II.
The only son of comedian Bill Cosby, Ennis Cosby made headlines when he was shot dead at 27, in an attempted robbery on a deserted Southern California road. He was dyslexic and discussed his disability with the children he taught as a student-teacher at the Alfred E. Smith Elementary School.
Following the violent lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till by a group of white men, his mother Mamie Till-Mobley made a marked contribution to the fight against racism. She became a prominent civil rights activist and established the Emmett Till Players, a group that lectured on hope and unity.
Better known as the father of renowned golfer Tiger Woods, Earl Woods had initially been a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. He excelled in baseball in college and learned to play golf much later, at 42. Addicted to the sport, he taught it to his son, who later became a golf legend.
Jimmy Cliff is best known for popularizing reggae. After beginning his music career singing at local fairs in Jamaica, he scored his first hit, Hurricane Hattie, at 14. He later sang the iconic single Hakuna Matata from The Lion King. He was also the star of the film The Harder They Come.
Graça Machel is known for her association with Mozambique’s FRELIMO movement and has been the country’s first education minister. She has also been married to both former Mozambican president Samora Machel and South African president Nelson Mandela. Through The Elders, she is devoted to working for women’s and children’s rights.
The first black African to be featured on the Forbes billionaires’ list, African Rainbow Minerals founder Patrice Motsepe also owns a football club. In 2021, he took over as the president of the Confederation of African Football. The mining tycoon has also signed The Giving Pledge.
Historian Carter Woodson was is remembered for pioneering Black studies in schools and colleges. He began the Negro History Week, which is now celebrated as the Black History Month. Poverty had pushed him to work in the coal mines initially, and he couldn’t join high school before 20.
A multifaceted personality, Rudy Ray Moore was a comedian, singer, actor, and film producer. He is remembered for playing the title character in the crime comedy film, Dolemite, and its sequels. He served in the army as a young man and began his career in the entertainment industry following his discharge. Many black comedians consider him an inspiration.