Many African-Americans from diverse fields have contributed greatly to the history of America. We have an African-American occupying the highest office of the country; indeed, Barack Obama's inauguration as the President of USA was a proud moment not only for African-Americans, but for everyone who believes in equality of races.
The Achievements of African-Americans
We must not forget the centuries of struggle of African-Americans, who, like every one of us, dreamed of being judged by the content of their character rather than by their physical appearance.
There have been (and are) numerous African-Americans who "had a dream" and worked tirelessly to make themselves and their country proud of their accomplishments. These achievers range from diverse fields, from entertainment and politics, to athletes and literature.
The Field of Entertainment
Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)
Singer | Dancer | Actor | Entrepreneur
Michael Jackson is considered the greatest entertainer of all-time.
He was one of those African-American celebrities whose fame transcended borders and religion. His album "Thriller" is the best-selling album of all-time. 'MJ' - as he was popularly known, was the winner of 13 Grammy Records, the Grammy Legend Award, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and an Artist of the Century Award.
Michael Jackson's personal life generated controversy over allegations of sexual abuse of children. After a hiatus from music, Michael Jackson was preparing for a comeback with a series of concerts titled, "This Is It". However he died on June 25, 2009 due to intoxication caused due to prescription drugs.
Aaliyah (1979 - 2001)
Recording artist | Dancer | Actress | Model
Aaliyah became a teen singing sensation at the age of 15.
Her debut album, "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number", sold a million copies and earned platinum status. She continued to mesmerize her audience with her songs until she died in a plane crash in Bahamas, where she had gone to shoot a music video. Aaliyah is survived by her parents and an older brother.
Akon (Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam (born 1973))
Recording artist | Songwriter | Producer | Businessman
Akon is the son of Mor Thiam - the great percussionist and Jazz musician.
Akon traces his roots to Senegal, where he lived with his family until the age of 7, after which his family decided to move to USA. They settled in New Jersey, where Akon and his elder brother went to school. It is reported that Akon had a difficult time adjusting to the new country, and after a series of unlawful activities, he was sent to jail.
During his time in jail, Akon began to write his own songs. After being released, he started recording his songs at home, and one of his tapes got the attention of SRC/Universal - a music company - which released his first album "Trouble". After "Trouble", there has been no looking back for Akon, and he has become one of the most popular R&B artists of all-time.
Tyra Banks (born 1973)
Model | Author | Actress | Television Personality
Tyra Banks made a mark for herself in fashion modeling and became a supermodel.
She entered swimwear and lingerie modeling, and became a household name with young women. She has since dabbled in acting in films, but the reason for her popularity around the world is her television shows "America's Next Top Model" and "The Tyra Show".
Angela Bassett (born 1958)
Angela Bassett is a critically-acclaimed American actress, having worked in films including "What's Love Got to Do with It, Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, Strange Days," and "The Score".
Angela got public recognition with her role of "Betty Shabazz" in the 1992 blockbuster "Malcolm X". Apart from films, she has worked in numerous television serials, most notable among them being "Ruby's Bucket of Blood," and "ER".
Harry Belafonte (Harold George "Harry" Belafonte, Jr.) (born 1927)
Singer | Songwriter | Actor | Social activist
Harry Belafonte was born in New York City on March 1, 1927.
After a difficult childhood, Harry joined the U.S. Navy. After a brief stint, Harry returned to New York City and did odd-jobs to support himself.
The turning point in his life came after watching a performance at the American Negro Theater. He was so inspired by the performance that he decided that he wanted to be an actor, but it was his singing that brought him fame and recognition. Harry has been actively taking part in many social and political causes.
Halle Berry (born 1966)
Fashion model | Actress
Halle Berry is the first African-American woman to have won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Before she embarked on her film career, she was a pageant queen, and also worked in TV series, "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge". "Monster's Ball", a romantic drama film, catapulted her to international fame and recognition.
Halle Berry has, since worked in blockbusters including "Die Another Day, Frankie and Alice," and "Cloud Atlas". Berry has been a constant fixture in fashion magazines and has made it to the list of "People" magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World," and "FHM's" "100 Sexiest Women in the World." Berry's upcoming movie, "The Call", is expected to release in March this year.
Beyoncé Knowles (born 1981)
Singer | Songwriter | Dancer | Actress
Beyoncé tasted success early in her life as the lead singer of "Destiny's Child", a girl group band.
She went solo in the year 2003 with her album, "Dangerously in Love". The album was a huge success and won her five Grammy Awards. She continued the gold run with her 2008 album "I Am...Sasha Fierce", which won her six Grammy Awards.
Beyoncé has sold over 75 million records worldwide and has been the recipient of Grammy Awards on seventeen occasions. Apart from singing, Beyoncé has also worked in eight films, out of which "Dreamgirls" was critically acclaimed.
Mary Jane Blige ( born 1971)
Singer | Songwriter | Record producer | Actress
Mary Jane's growing years were marred by drugs, sex, and alcohol. Her life was going nowhere until the CEO of Uptown Records', Andre Harrell, signed a record contract with her.
Mary never looked back and her debut album, "What's the 411", became a bestseller. She has been achieving constant success through her albums, and has been acknowledged as a successful African-American woman.
LeVar Burton (Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr.) (born 1957)
Actor | Presenter | Director | Producer | Author
Coming into prominence after playing the role of Kunta Kinte in the ABC miniseries "Roots", LeVar is a well-known celebrity in the US.
He garnered critical acclaim for hosting the show, "Reading Rainbows". The series went on to win five Emmy awards. His next big break came in the year 1987, when he was seen in the role of Lieutenant Commander Geordi LeForge. Currently, Burton directs film and television projects.
Don Cheadle (Donald Frank "Don" Cheadle, Jr.) (born November 29, 1964)
Actor | Producer
Don Cheadle is an American actor best known for his role in movies including "Out of Sight, Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Crash," and "Reign Over Me". Cheadle is actively involved with the cause of genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and has co-authored a book on this issue.
He was named the U.N. Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador. He has worked on the sitcom "House of Lies", for which he received a "Golden Globe Award" in 2013. He has also appeared in the promo ad for the Champions for Earth tournament in "Angry Birds Friends".
Ciara (Ciara Princess Harris) (born 1985)
Singer | Songwriter | Dancer | Actress | Fashion model
Ciara started her singing career on a sensational note with the triple platinum album "Goodies".
She followed it with albums "Ciara: The Evolution" and "Fantasy Ride". Her fourth album "Basic Instinct" met with moderate success. She is the recipient of BET Award, MTV Video Music Awards, MOBO Awards, and the highly reputed Grammy Award.
Nat King Cole (Nathaniel Adams Coles) (1919 - 1965)
Jazz pianist | TV personality
Nat King Cole was the first African-American to host a variety TV show, "The Nat King Cole Show". Although the show didn't last too long, it was a symbolic event in racially segregated America of that time.
Cole went on to appear on TV shows "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Gary Moore Show". He tried his luck in movies, but did not achieve the desired success. He is remembered today as a legendary jazz pianist, whose soothing baritone mesmerized the audience.
John Coltrane (1926 - 1967)
Jazz saxophonist | Composer
John Coltrane is remembered as a legendary and revolutionary saxophonist in the history of jazz music. He performed under bandleaders Joe Webb, King Kolax, Jimmy Heath, Howard McGhee, and Dizzy Gillespie. He garnered the attention of jazz fans in the Miles Davis' quintet.
His debut album "A Love Supreme" was a tribute to his victory over drug addiction. Coltrane started his own group and gained international recognition through his radical musical style, which he adopted in the mid-1960s. He died at the age of 40 from liver cancer.
Sean Combs (born 1969)
Rapper | Record producer | Actor | Entrepreneur
Sean Combs is one of the wealthiest names in hip-hop, with "Forbes" putting his net worth at $550 million.
He achieved commercial success in 1993, when he started his own production company, Bad Boy Entertainment. His debut album "No Way Out" reached platinum status, and his second album "Forever" was also a huge success.
Besides music, Combs has investments in apparel, restaurants, liquor, and plans to open a business school in New York. He is also involved in charity and has helped Hurricane Katrina victims. Due to his charity work, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is the recipient of three Grammy Awards.
Denzel Washington (born 1954)
Actor | Director | Producer
Denzel Washington became one of the television's known faces with the role of "Dr. Chandler" in the medical series "St. Elsewhere".
He worked simultaneously in films and got an Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor in the movie "Glory". He received critical acclaim for playing "Malcolm X" in the movie of same name.
Washington 's other important works include "Power, Cry Freedom, Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire, The Hurricane, Remember the Titans, Training Day, Antwone Fisher, American Gangster," and the recent blockbuster "Flight".
Morgan Freeman (born 1937)
Actor | Director
Morgan Freeman is one of the respected figures in American film industry.
He has acted in more than seventy movies and is the recipient of a Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Starting with TV shows "Another World" and "The Electric Company", he began to get offers from big production houses.
Freeman is best known for his performance in movies including "Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby," and "Invictus". He is involved in charitable causes, and is a part of the organization PLANIT NOW, which helps people living in hurricane-prone areas.
Will Smith (Willard Christopher "Will" Smith Jr.) (born 1968)
Actor | Producer | Rapper
Will Smith started his career as a rapper under the name "The Fresh Prince". He moved on to TV and starred in the hit series "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air".
He got movie offers and debuted with the film "Where the Day Takes You". The movie that catapulted him to international stardom was "Independence Day".
He went on to do blockbuster films including " Men in Black (series), Ali, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness," and " I am Legend". His films have grossed $5.7 billion in box office sales. He has been nominated 83 times, and has a total of 42 awards to his name, including four Grammy Awards.
Oprah Winfrey (born 1954)
Entrepreneur | TV host | Actress
Oprah Winfrey entered national consciousness with her popular show "The Oprah Winfrey Show", considered the highest-rated show in American TV history. She is one of America's most influential woman and is known for her philanthropy.
Besides TV, she has done numerous films, notable among them being "The Color Purple", which won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. According to a survey in 2012, Winfrey had given more than $400 million to educational causes. Currently, she hosts her talk show "Oprah's Next Chapter" on Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Sidney Poitier (born 1927)
Actor | Director | Author | Diplomat
An American born, Bahamian actor, Sidney Poitier is a distinguished film personality and has the honor of being the first African-American to win the Academy Award for the Best Actor.
Time magazine included him in the list of Greatest Male Stars of All Time. Apart from acting, he has directed nine movies, out of which only "Stir Crazy" achieved major commercial success.
Poitier has proved his acting prowess through a number of movies including "Edge of the City, The Defiant Ones, A Raising in the Sun, Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue", and "In the Heat of the Night".
Forest Whitaker (born 1961)
Actor | Producer | Director
Forest Whitaker debuted with the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." He achieved success with the films "Bird, Panic Room" and "Phone Booth".
He has directed four films, and actively works for the betterment of children who have been affected by the civil war in Uganda.
The film that made Whitaker a truly international star was "The Last King of Scotland", for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, National Board of Review Award for Best Actor, and BET Award for Best Actor.
Samuel Leroy Jackson (born 1948)
Actor | Producer
Samuel Jackson has acted in more than 100 films, most popular among them being "Goodfellas, Jungle Fever, Pulp Fiction, A Time to Kill, Eve's Bayou, Jackie Brown,
Coach Carter, Iron Man (series)," and "Django Unchained". According to "The Guinness World Records", Jackson is the world's highest grossing actor, for his movies have earned more than $7.42 billion so far.
Jamie Foxx (Eric Marlon Bishop) (born 1967)
Actor | Stand-up Comedian | Singer | Musician | Radio Host
Jamie Foxx is considered one of the most versatile actors in the business. He is best known for playing R&B singer Ray Charles in the movie, "Ray", which earned him an Oscar, Golden Globe, and a BAFTA Award in the best actor category.
He has left his mark in every field he has worked in. His other notable films include "Any Given Sunday, Ali, Collateral, Dreamgirls, Law Abiding Citizen," and "Django Unchained".
Aretha Franklin (born 1942)
Musician | Singer | Pianist
Aretha Franklin is one of the biggest musicians America has ever produced. She was a child prodigy and used to perform with her father, who was a Baptist preacher. Her debut album came out when she was just fourteen years old. She continued producing albums and several of her numbers achieved international success.
Aretha is the recipient of 18 performance Grammy Awards. She has also received The Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been inducted in the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She hasn't given up on singing and continues to perform at various events.
James Brown (1933 - 2006)
Singer | Songwriter | Musician | Recording Artist
Well-known to the world-over as the inventor of funk music, James Brown holds an important place in the history of African-American singers. Besides music, he also actively championed the cause of education among African-American children.
He spent his childhood polishing shoes and washing cars, but as he later noted, he always had the determination of becoming successful one day. He went on to produce numerous albums over the course of time and cemented his position as one of the leading singers of that era. Brown died on Christmas day in 2006, after being ill for some time.
Incarcerated for stealing a car, Brown met Bobby Byrd - who would later induct Brown in his band, "The Gospel Starlighters." The band was renamed "The Famous Flames", and their song "Please, Please, Please" became one of the biggest hits of that time.
Smokey Robinson (born 1940)
Singer | Record Producer
Smokey Robinson was the founder of the group "The Miracles." The band achieved considerable success, producing several hit numbers. In the early 1970s, Robinson decided to go solo and produced several albums, a majority of which were panned by critics and fans alike.
Robinson continued to produce chart-topping numbers with the 1987 single "Just to See Her" winning him his first Grammy Award. Besides focusing on his music, Robinson served as the Vice President of the record company Motown for a long time.
Tina Turner (Anna Mae Bullock) (born 1939)
Tina Turner, as Anna was popularly known, started her career with "The King's of Rhythm". She tasted success with the song "A Fool in Love", and soon became an important member of the band. She married the leader of the band Ike Turner, and together they gave legendary hits like "River Deep Mountain High" and "Proud Mary".
When Tina's marriage with Turner fell apart, she found herself in enormous debt. It wasn't until that she met Roger Davies that she became her former self and started recording again. The album "Private Dancer" was a massive hit and since then, Tina has never looked back. She has worked in numerous films and documentaries, and is the recipient of eight Grammy Awards.
Diana Ross (Diana Ernestine Earle Ross) (born 1944)
Singer | Actress
Diana Ross is the first African-American woman to have won a Golden Globe Award for a lead role. She has an illustrious singing and acting career that has spanned around forty years.
She has sold over 100 million records worldwide and was declared the most successful artist in history by the "Guinness Book Of World Records ". In 1996, BillBoard magazine named her the Female Entertainer of the Century.
Hank Aaron (Henry Louis "Hank" Aaron) (born 1934)
Hank Aaron is one of the greatest men ever to have played baseball. He was ranked fifth on "The Sporting News" list of "100 Greatest Baseball Players." Baseball fans remember Aaron for being the man who broke Babe Ruth's home run record in 1974. He was given America's highest civilian order, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
Barry Bonds (born 1964)
Barry Bonds played for Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants during his career. He has numerous records to his name including seven Most Valuable Player Awards, eight Gold Gloves, and 14 All-Stars.
He was convicted on charges of perjury in 2011, but was not sentenced to prison. Bonds has been the subject of the 2006 book "Game of Shadows" which alleged him of used performance-enhancing drugs.
Kobe Bryant (born 1978)
Kobe Bryant plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and is considered next only to Michael Jordan when it comes to the greatest basketball players of all time. He is estimated to be worth $200 million dollars.
Shaquille O'Neal (born 1972)
Basketball Player | Rapper | TV Analyst
Shaquille O'Neal will be remembered by basketball fans for his enormity and his agility. In 1996, he was named in the list of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
Off court, he was the center of media attention during his playing days, and even later, as he hosted a reality TV show "Shaq's Big Challenge". He has also dabbled in rap music and films, but has only achieved moderate success in these ventures.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr.) (born 1947)
Basketball Player | Actor | Coach | Author
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 38,387 points. During his career, he became the recipient of six regular season Most Valuable Awards. After his retirement, he has taken up the role of coaching although he has only been offered modest positions. He has made numerous appearances in TV serials and films.
Kareem's books "Giant Steps, On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance ," and "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement" have been well-received by readers. He was made the cultural ambassador of the United States in 2012.
Magic Johnson (Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr.) (born 1959)
Basketball Player | Entrepreneur | Author
Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) (born 1942)
Muhammad Ali has been called the greatest athlete of all-time. He became an international boxing sensation in the 1960s when he won a majority of his matches by knockout. He became the World Heavyweight Champion after defeating Sunny Liston in 1964. He joined the Muslim group, The Nation of Islam, in 1964 and renamed himself Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad Ali was drafted in the Vietnam War, but refused to join, claiming that his religious beliefs prevented him from doing so. Due to his refusal to serve in the war, he was arrested and his boxing license was suspended. After a period of around four years post his arrest, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of convicting Ali.
When Ali's suspension was overturned, he returned to the ring with a stronger determination and went on to become a heavyweight champion for a second time.
Muhammad Ali has also graced the covers of the magazine "Sports Illustrated" on 37 occasions. He has also appeared in a number of films, and has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Venus Williams (born 1980)
Tennis Player | Entrepreneur
Venus Williams is the winner of seven Grand Slam titles, which include five Wimbledon titles. She has a total of forty-four career single titles including four Olympic gold medals. She launched her interior design firm "V Starr Interiors" and has her own fashion line "EleVen". She, along with her sister Serena, hold a stake in football team Miami Dolphins.
Serena Williams (born 1981)
Tennis Player | Entrepreneur
Arguably the best tennis player of all-time, Serena Williams is the younger sister of Venus Williams. She is the winner of 30 Grand Slam titles and has brought America four Olympic Gold medals. She has numerous awards to her name, including the recognition from the French publication, L'Équipe, which named her the Champion of Champions.
Serena has also won the BET Award for Female Athlete of the Year seven times. She is considered a fashion idol and has posed for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue twice.
Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the year 1976 by President Gerald Ford. He was the subject of the TV film "The Jesse Owens Story". The film went on to win an Emmy award. Owens died in 1980 of lung cancer.
Tiger Woods (Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods) (born 1975)
Tiger Woods is one of the most successful golfers in the world. He became a professional golfer in the year 1996, and went on to win the "Masters" in the year 1997. After that, there was no looking back. He went on to win numerous tournaments and broke several records. He has 75 PGA Tour wins and 38 European Tour wins to his name.
Tiger Woods' image as a champion athlete was marred when reports emerged that he was involved in several extra-marital affairs. After dodging the issue at first, he finally admitted to infidelity and apologized for his actions.
He took a hiatus from professional golf and resumed playing in April, 2010. Despite several international companies ending their advertising contracts with him, he is still believed to be one of the richest athletes in the world.
Politicians & Activists
Barack Obama (born 1961)
Senator | President
Barack Obama's Presidential win in 2009 was one of the proudest moments for African-Americans. Born in Hawaii, he started his political career as a senator from Illinois. He became a U.S. Senator in 2005; 3 years later, embarked on his Presidential campaign.
On November 4, 2008, he won the Presidential election, becoming the first African-American President of USA. He was reelected in 2012 and is serving his second term. He is the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
Jesse Jackson (born 1941)
Civil Rights Activist | Baptist Minister
Jesse Jackson is a leading African-American political figure. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During the movement, he was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He played a key role in Operation Breadbasket and at one point of time, was being touted as the successor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jackson has been known in the political circles as a master negotiator and an able diplomat. He announced his campaign for the Presidency in 1984, but didn't get the required votes in the primaries. In a 2006 poll by AP-AOL, he was included in the list of 100 Greatest African-Americans.
Condoleezza Rice (born 1937)
One of the famous African-American diplomats of 21st century, Condoleezza Rice was an important member in the George W. Bush admnistration, serving as National Security Advisor in his first-term. Before working with the government, she was a professor at Stanford. She was named the most powerful woman in the world by "Forbes" magazine on three occasions.
Willie Brown (born 1934)
Willie Brown has a long association with the California State Assembly. He became the speaker of the Assembly in 1980, and remained so for the next fifteen years. He has the distinction of being the first African-American to become the Mayor of San Francisco.
Besides politics, Brown is known for his flamboyance and has been criticized on numerous occasions for his comments. He has played himself in numerous cameo roles, notably in the 2003 blockbuster "Hulk".
Literature & Artists
Maya Angelou (born 1928)
Author | Poet
Maya Angelou is an accomplished writer and poet, and her works have garnered international acclaim. Her autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was well-received by the readers. Her other famous works include "Gather Together in My Name, The Heart of a Woman" and "A Song Flung Up to Heaven".
Angelou's work is seen as a major contribution to African-American culture. Her collection of poems "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie" got her nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Toni Morrison (Chloe Ardelia Wofford) (born 1931)
Writer | Editor | Professor
Toni Morrison is an American novelist, and the winner of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize. She won these awards for her novel "Beloved". The novel was made into a movie in 1998 starring Oprah Winfrey. In 2012, she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work.
Her other important works include works such as "Sula, Song of Solomon, Paradise, Home, The Black Book," and "Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination".
~ Willie Mays (1931) - Baseball player ~ Louis Farrakhan (1933) - Leader ~ Bill Russell (1934) - Basketball player ~ Frank Robinson (1935) - Baseball
~ Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919) - Entrepreneur ~ Ron Brown (1941-1996) - Politician ~ Angela Davis (1944) - Political activist ~ Althea Gibson (1927-2003) - Athlete ~ Walter Payton (1954-1999) - Football ~ Jerry Rice (1962) - Football
~ Charles Barkley (1963) - Basketball ~ Reggie Jackson (1946) - Baseball player ~ Sugar Ray Leonard (1956) - Boxer
~ Ralph Ellison (1913 - 1994) - Novelist ~ Alex Haley (1921 - 1992) - Writer ~ Lorraine Hansberry (1930 - 1965) - Author ~ Walter Mosley (1952) - Author
~ Medgar Evers (1925 - 1963) - Civil Rights activist ~ James Meredith (1933) - Civil Rights activist
~ Bobby Seale(1936) - Activist ~ Roy Wilkins (1901 - 1981) - Civil Rights activist ~ Michelle Obama (1964) - First Lady of US ~ Ursula M. Burns (1958) - Businesswoman