Fifty Influential Figures

Fifty Influential Figures


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Fifty Influential Figures

In African-American History

Fred Douglass                                                                                                                                        W.E.B. DuBois




This page is derived from an Ebony magazine edition which drew up 20 Negro individuals which was thought to have been the most influential in Black History. We have included those 50 and have extended the list to more contemporary individuals. We give the briefest information on these individuals. But in many instances we provide links to pages which provide much more extensive information along with other resources to expand one’s research on the individual or topics related to the individual.

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Racism: A History, the 2007 BBC 3-part documentary explores the impact of racism on a global scale. It was part of the season of programs on the BBC marking the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. It’s divided into 3 parts.

The first, The Colour of Money . . . Racism: A History [2007]—1/3

Begins the series by assessing the implications of the relationship between Europe, Africa and the Americas in the 15th century. It considers how racist ideas and practices developed in key religious and secular institutions, and how they showed up in writings by European philosophers Aristotle and Immanuel Kant.

The second, Fatal Impact . . . Racism: A History [2007] – 2/3

Examines the idea of scientific racism, an ideology invented during the 19th century that drew on now discredited practices such as phrenology and provided an ideological justification for racism and slavery. The episode shows how these theories ultimately led to eugenics and Nazi racial policies of the master race.

And the 3rd, A Savage Legacy . . .  Racism: A History [2007] – 3/3

Examines the impact of racism in the 20th century. By 1900 European colonial expansion had reached deep into the heart of Africa. Under the rule of King Leopold II, the Belgian Congo was turned into a vast rubber plantation. Men, women and children who failed to gather their latex quotas would have their limbs dismembered. The country became the scene of one of the century’s greatest racial genocides, as an estimated 10 million Africans perished under colonial rule.

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Four Greats of the Black Experience

Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune and Martin Luther King Jr.— received unanimous support from panel of 18 historians and political scientists.

Eight Near-Greats of the Black Experience

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Marcus Garvey, Langston Hughes, A Philip Randolph, Carter G. Woodson, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson, and Booker T. Washington.

The Fifty

(In descending order)

Frederick Douglass (1817-1885) 

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)  

Martin Luther King, Jr.. (1929-1968)  

Robert S. Abbott (1870-1940)

Richard Allen (1760-1831) 

Louis Armstrong (1900-1971)

Ella Baker  (1903-1988)  

James Baldwin (1924-1987) 

Benjamin Banneker (1736-1806)

Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931)

 Ralph J. Bunche (1804-1871)

George Washington Carver  (1861-1943)

Martin R. Delany (1812-1885)

Charles R. Drew  (1904-1950)

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

Edward Kennedy Ellington  (1899-1974)

Marcus Garvey (1887-1940)

Prince Hall    (1735?-1807)

Fannie Lou Hamer  (1917-1977)

W.C. Handy (1873-1958),

Frances E.W. Harper  (1825-1911)

Charles H. Houston  (1895-1950)

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Zora Neale Hurston  (1901?-1960)

Jack Johnson (1878-1946)

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

Ernest E. Just (1883-1941)

Joe Louis (1914-1981) 

Malcolm X (1925-1965) 

Benjamin E. Mays (1894-1984)

Jesse Owens (1913-1980)

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972)

A. Philip Randolph (1889-1978)

Paul Robeson (1898-1978) 

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

Mary Church Terrell (1883-1954)

Howard Thurman (1900-1981)

William Monroe Trotter (1872-1934) 

Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883) 

Harriet Tubman (1821/-1913)

Henry McNeal Turner (1834-1915) 

Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831) 

David Walker (1785-1830)

Madame C. J. Walker (1867-1919)

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) 

Phyllis Wheatley (1753?-1784)  

Daniel Hale Williams (1856-1931) 

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) 

Richard Wright (1908-1960)

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Fannie Lou Doc 1 / Fannie Lou Hamer Doc 2 / Fannie Lou Hamer Doc 3 / Fannie Lou Hamer Doc 4 / Fannie Lou Hamer Doc 5

Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech at the 1964 DNC

Fannie Lou Hamer (born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in that capacity. Her plain-spoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker and constant activist of civil rights. . . .

On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. . . . Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared—but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi to register. In what would become a signature trait of Hamer’s activist career, she began singing Christian hymns, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine,” to the group in order to bolster their resolve. . . . Bob Moses . .. dispatched Charles McLaurin . . . to find “the lady who sings the hymns”. McLaurin found and recruited Hamer. . . . On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop. Stopping in Winona, Mississippi, the group was arrested on a false charge and jailed. Once in jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death.

Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. . . Hamer was invited, along with the rest of the MFDP [Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party] officers, to address the Convention’s Credentials Committee. She recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the ordeal of the jail in Winona, and, near tears, concluded: “All of this is on account we want to register to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings—in America?”

Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), [along with] Walter Mondale, and Walter Reuther, as well as J. Edgar Hoover . . . suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP  two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:

“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”

Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968.—Wikipedia

First Ten

Frederick Douglass (1817-1885)

Abolitionist, editor, author, lecturer and the major Black leader of the 19th century is often called “The Father of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Douglass’ 1845 Narrative  Fourth of July Speech


W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

  Jacob and Esau  Toussaint L’Ouverture and Nat Turner  Du Bois Chronology

  Negro Church  DuBois’ Credo  Dawn of Freedom  Leading the Negro into Modernity

Civil rights leader and scholar was co-founder of the NAACP and the Pan-African Movement.


Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)

Educator, civil rights leader, adviser to presidents was the first Black woman to receive major federal appointment.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

  Chronology of the Life of  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Martin Luther King Speaks to AFL-CIO 

Living Scripture in Community  Letter from Alabama Clergymen      Letter from Birmingham Jail

Civil rights leader, minister, major leader of the Freedom Movement, 1960s.


Robert S. Abbott (1870-1940)

The Negro Press in the United States

Chicago Defender editor and publisher established a new type of journalism and vigorously supported the Great Migration to Northern Cities.


Richard Allen  (1760-1831) 

Minister and protest leader (above) is sometimes called “The Father of the Negro.” First Black bishop and AME church leader was president of the first national Negro convention.


Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong (1900-1971)

Armstrong’s Trumpet  Evtushenko in Satchmo’s New Orleans 

Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans

Bandleader, entertainer and the first great jazz soloist to achieve worldwide fame and influence as a trumpet player and symbol of a new music.


Ella Baker  (1903-1988)

Civil rights leader played key leadership role in SCLC and organized the Shaw University conference that led to the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Her work goes back to northern labor politics in the 1940’s, and later with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Although Ms. Baker worked with SCLC, she clashed with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because she did not believe in the “one great leader” model of social change, but instead worked to empower thousands of ordinary people to speak out. The impact of the work of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), with whom she was closely affiliated, showed the power of such an approach. Since then, Ms. Baker’s words have been memorialized in Sweet Honey In The Rock’s “Ella’s Song (We Who Believe In Freedom Cannot Rest).”

Source: Who Was Ella Baker 


James Baldwin (1924-1987)

James Baldwin Bio   James Baldwins Jeremiad  Go Tell It on the Mountain  Rainer Reviews Notes of a Native Son 

Hughes Reviews Notes of a Native Son If Beale Street Could Talk   Fire Last Time   Sermon and Blues     MAWA Baldwin

Novelist, essayist and lecturer helped define the Freedom Movement of the ’60s with The Fire Next Time and other books and statements.


Benjamin Banneker (1736-1806)

Charles A. Cerami. Benjamin Banneker: Surveyor, Astronomer, Publisher, Patriot. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002.

Astronomer and mathematician helped survey the federal territory that became the District of Columbia and published annual almanacs.

Next 15  Second 25  Third 25  And More 

Source: Lerone Bennett Jr., Ebony, Feb93, Vol. 48 Issue 4, p122, 11p *In 1989. Reprinted and revised from February, 1989 EBONY.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 1 December 2011




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