Lonnie George Johnson (born October 6, 1949) is an American inventor and engineer who holds more than 80 patents. Johnson is best known for inventing the Super Soaker water gun, which has ranked among the world’s top 20 best-selling toys every year since its release.
Shirley Ann Jackson (born August 5, 1946) is an American physicist, and the eighteenth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She received her Ph.D. in nuclear physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973, becoming the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate at MIT.
Sly Stone (born Sylvester Stewart, March 15, 1943, Denton, Texas) is an American musician, songwriter, and record producer, most famous for his role as frontman for Sly and the Family Stone, a band which played a critical role in the development of soul, funk, rock, and psychedelia in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1993, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group.
Maxie Cleveland “Max” Robinson, Jr. (May 1, 1939 – December 20, 1988) was an American broadcast journalist, and ABC News World News Tonight co-anchor. He was the first African-American broadcast network news anchor in the United States. He was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Viola Davis (born August 11, 1965) is an American producer and actress of stage, screen, and television. After graduating from the Juilliard School in 1993, Davis began her career on stage and won an Obie Award in 1999 for her performance as Ruby McCollum in Everybody’s Ruby. She played supporting and minor roles in several films and television series in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including the films Kate & Leopold (2001) and Far from Heaven (2002), and the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In 2001, she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role as Tonya in the original production of King Hedley II.
Davis’ film breakthrough came in 2008 when her supporting role in the drama Doubt earned her several nominations, including the Golden Globe, SAG, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Greater success came to Davis in the 2010s. She won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her role as Rose Maxson in the revival of August Wilson’s play Fences. For her lead role as 1960s housemaid Aibeleen Clark in the comedy-drama The Help (2011), she received nominations for the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and the Academy Award for Best Actress, and won a SAG Award.In 2016, Davis played Amanda Waller in the superhero action film Suicide Squad and reprised her role as Rose Maxson in the film adaptation of Fences, for which she has won the Golden Globe, SAG Award, and Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Actress. Davis’ portrayal has also garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. With the nomination, Davis has become the first black woman in history to be nominated for three Academy Awards.
Since 2014, Davis plays lawyer Annalise Keating in the ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder, and in 2015 she became the first black woman of any nationality to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Her portrayal also won her two SAG Awards in 2015 and 2016. In 2012, she was listed by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, are the founders of the production company JuVee Productions. Davis has starred in their productions Lila & Eve (2015) and Custody (2016).
Edwin Reuben Hawkins (born August 18, 1943, Oakland, California) is an American gospel musician, pianist, choir master, composer, and arranger. He is one of the originators of the urban contemporary gospel sound. He (as leader of the Edwin Hawkins Singers) is probably best known for his arrangement of “Oh Happy Day” (1968–69), which was included on the Songs of the Century list. The Edwin Hawkins Singers made a second foray into the charts exactly one year later, backing folk singer Melanie on “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)“.
James Howard Meredith (born June 25, 1933) is a Civil Rights Movement figure, writer, political adviser and Air Force veteran. In 1962, he became the first African-American student admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi, after the intervention of the federal government, an event that was a flashpoint in the Civil Rights Movement. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy‘s inaugural address, Meredith decided to exercise his constitutional rights and apply to the University of Mississippi. His goal was to put pressure on the Kennedy administration to enforce civil rights for African Americans.
In 1966 Meredith planned a solo 220-mile March Against Fear from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi; he wanted to highlight continuing racism in the South and encourage voter registration after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He did not want major civil rights organizations involved. The second day, he was shot by a white gunman and suffered numerous wounds. Leaders of major organizations vowed to complete the march in his name after he was taken to the hospital. While Meredith was recovering, more people from across the country became involved as marchers. He rejoined the march and when Meredith and other leaders entered Jackson on June 26, they were leading an estimated 15,000 marchers, in what was the largest civil rights march in Mississippi. During the course of it, more than 4,000 African Americans had registered to vote, and the march was a catalyst to continued community organizing and additional registration.
In 2002 and again in 2012, the University of Mississippi led year-long series of events to celebrate the 40th and 50th anniversaries of Meredith’s integration of the institution. He was among numerous speakers invited to the campus, where a statue of him commemorates his role. The Lyceum-The Circle Historic District at the center of the campus has been designated as a National Historic Landmark for these events.
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave and hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life. She was a devout Christian and experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.
In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or “Moses“, as she was called) “never lost a passenger”. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America, and helped newly freed slaves find work.
When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. After she died in 1913, she became an icon of American courage and freedom. On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait gracing the $20 bill.
Willie Wilbert Herenton (born April 23, 1940) is an American politician who was elected in 1991 as the first African-American mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, and re-elected to a total of five terms. He resigned in 2008 to run as superintendent of the school board. In 2010, he was a candidate for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, until his defeat in the Democratic primary against incumbent Steve Cohen
Sean John Combs(born November 4, 1969), also known by his stage names Puff Daddy, P. Diddy and Diddy, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor, record producer and entrepreneur. He was born in Harlem and was raised in Mount Vernon, New York. He worked as a talent director at Uptown Records before founding his label Bad Boy Entertainment in 1993. His debut album No Way Out (1997) has been certified seven times platinum and was followed by successful albums such as Forever (1999), The Saga Continues… (2001), and Press Play (2006). In 2009 Combs formed the musical group Diddy – Dirty Money and released the critically well-reviewed and commercially successful album Last Train to Paris (2010).
Combs has won three Grammy Awards and two MTV Video Music Awards, and is the producer of MTV‘s Making the Band. His non-music business ventures include the clothing lines Sean John and “Sean by Sean Combs” – for which he earned a Council of Fashion Designers of America award – a movie production company, and two restaurants. In 2016 Forbes estimated Combs’ net worth at $750 million
Medgar Wiley Evers(July 2, 1925 – June 12, 1963) was an Americancivil rights activist from Mississippi who worked to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi and to enact social justice and voting rights. He was killed by a segregationist.
A World War II veteran and college graduate, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. He became a field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Following the 1954 ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, Evers worked to gain admission for African Americans to the state-supported public University of Mississippi. He also worked on voting rights and registration, economic opportunity, access to public facilities, and other changes in the segregated society.
Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, a group formed in 1954 to resist integration of schools and civil rights activity. As a veteran, Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.His murder and the resulting trials inspired civil rights protests, as well as numerous works of art, music and film. All-white juries failed to reach verdicts in the first two trials of Beckwith. He was convicted in a new state trial in 1994, based on new evidence.
Myrlie Evers, widow of the activist, became a noted activist in her own right, serving as national chair of the NAACP. His brother Charles Evers was the first African-American mayor elected in Mississippi in the post-Reconstruction era when he won in 1969 in Fayette.
He was the first African-American general officer in the United States Air Force. On December 9, 1998, he was advanced to four-star general by President Bill Clinton. During World War II, Davis was commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group, which escorted bombers on air combat missions over Europe. Davis himself flew sixty missions in P-39, Curtiss P-40, P-47 and P-51 Mustang fighters. Davis followed in his father’s footsteps in breaking racial barriers, as Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first African-American general in the United States Army.
James Nathaniel Brown (born February 17, 1936) is a former professional American football player and actor. He was a fullback for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League (NFL) from 1957 through 1965. Frequently regarded among the greatest football players of all time, Brown was a Pro Bowl invitee every season he was in the league, was recognized as the NFL Most Valuable Player four times, and won an NFL championship with the Browns in 1964. He led the league in rushing yards in eight out of his nine seasons, and by the time he retired, he had shattered most major rushing records. In 2002, he was named by The Sporting News as the greatest professional football player ever.
Brown earned consensus All-America honors playing college football at Syracuse University in New York, where he was an all-around player for the Syracuse Orangemen football team. He also excelled in basketball, track and field, and lacrosse. The football team later retired his number 44 jersey. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
In his professional career, Brown carried the ball 2,359 times for 12,312 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns, which were all records when he retired. He averaged 104.1 rushing yards per game, and is the only player in NFL history to average over 100 rushing yards per game for his career. His 5.2 yards per rush is third-best among running backs. Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. He was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, comprising the best players in NFL history. His number 32 jersey is retired by the Browns. Shortly after his football career, Brown became an actor, and had several leading roles throughout the 1970s.
Sir Sidney Poitier, (born February 20, 1927), is a Bahamian-American actor, film director, author and diplomat.
In 1964, Poitier became the first Bahamian and first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role in Lilies of the Field. The significance of these achievements was bolstered in 1967, when he starred in three successful films, all of which dealt with issues involving race and race relations: To Sir, with Love; In the Heat of the Night; and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, making him the top box-office star of that year. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Poitier among the Greatest Male Stars of classic Hollywood cinema, ranking 22nd on the list of 25.
Poitier has directed a number of films, including A Piece of the Action, Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, with Bill Cosby; Stir Crazy, starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; and Ghost Dad, also with Cosby. In 2002, thirty-eight years after receiving the Best Actor Award, Poitier was chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to receive an Academy Honorary Award, in recognition of his “remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being”.
From 1997 to 2007, he served as the non-resident Bahamian ambassador to Japan. On August 12, 2009, Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States‘ highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. In 2016 he was awarded the BAFTA Fellowship for outstanding lifetime achievement in film.