The Black Resistance Hall of Honor is a project that was launched by the Department of Black Studies at the University of Missouri, Columbia, along with teachers and students from West Middle School in Columbia, Missouri in 2023. The project was initiated to honor Black History Month, and students from grades 7 and 8 have written brief biographies of significant Black individuals in Africa and the African diaspora. These individuals have contributed to the development of society through art, culture, economics, politics, and religion. 

This is an ongoing project that will continue to expand to include other important Black figures. We welcome participation from other schools as we work to build this Hall of Honor as a database and teaching resource. 

© 2023 by the Department of Black Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia

Barack Obama

Author C. Alter, Student

West Middle School

Barack Obama Jr., the 44th President of the United States, was the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office. He was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, but his mom died from ovarian cancer on November 2, 2008, two days before his presidential election. Obama developed the Affordable Care Act as President to aid working-class families. He also implemented early education programs for children of working-class families, work he started before becoming President. In 2012, Obama legalized same-sex marriage and was a champion of the LGBTQ+ community. Obama also championed legislation to create the state-earned income tax credit, which reduced the tax bill of working-class families by one million dollars. The early education programs he started included help for children of working-class families to access kindergarten care. He also created a new Early Head Start-Child Program to help children from birth through age three to assist with early learning before kindergarten. Obama taught the United States that your skin color should not be an obstacle to your success in America and that what makes you a good citizen is hard work, perseverance, and service to your community. He embodies Dr. King’s dream of success regardless of skin color. As Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Source: “Barack Obama’s February 5 Speech,” February 5, 2008, New York Times; Smith, E. (2007, January 22). Barack Obama Jr. (1961- ).


Author C. Benner, Student

West Middle School

Barack Obama, born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, became the 44th President of the United States, the first African American to hold that office. Obama is the son of a Kenyan father, Barack Obama, Sr., and an American mother, Ann Dunham, and has a half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and a half-brother, Malik Abongo Obama. Obama is a lawyer and statesman and served as the president from January 20, 2009, to January 20, 2017. He is often identified as a progressive member of the Democratic Party. As the first African American president, Obama faced extensive challenges due to racism. Throughout his presidency, he made several public statements and took action against racism and other forms of discrimination. He addressed racial differences in education, healthcare, and employment. Obama also used his office as president to speak out against hate speech and to promote unity and understanding among all Americans. During his presidency, Obama made several significant efforts to change society positively. One of his key accomplishments was the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which expanded access to healthcare for millions of Americans. He took steps to address climate change by creating policies to reduce carbon emissions and increase the use of renewable energy. Additionally, Obama supported LGBTQ rights and worked to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that banned openly gay individuals from serving in the military. He also played a role in the legalization of same-sex marriage. Obama’s policies to improve education included the Race to the Top Program, which helped improve the quality of education. He worked on improving relations with Cuba, which led to the lifting of some restrictions and an increase in diplomatic ties between Cuba and America. Obama was an influential figure in American politics and society and, despite the significant challenges and discrimination, used his platform against racism to promote unity and understanding among all Americans. Obama’s presidency will be remembered for his efforts to make positive societal changes and for being a symbol of progress and hope for Americans.

Source: “Barack Obama’s February 5 Speech,” February 5, 2008, New York Times; Smith, E. (2007, January 22). Barack Obama Jr. (1961- ).

Curtis Charles Flood, 1938-1997

Author A. Clifton, Student

West Middle School

A native of Houston, Texas, Curtis Flood was born on January 8, 1938, and died on January 20, 1997. He was raised by Laura and Herman Flood, who mainly did working-class jobs. However, Flood’s outstanding skills in baseball earned him a contract with the Cincinnati Reds immediately after he graduated from McClymonds High School. Later, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in December 1957, where he won many championships and awards. As a child and adult, Flood had to deal with racial discrimination, negatively impacting him and other Black community members. However, he decided to protest his trade to the Philadelphia Phillies because he believed he should have a say in choosing a team he would play for. Although Flood brought and lost his case in challenging the restrictive and unequal baseball contract Reserve Clause in the Supreme Court in 1972, the protest of his exclusion from decisions about his trade to the Phillies paved the way for other athletes to be included in the decision-making process about which team they would play for if they were to be traded. As a result of Flood’s action, other players, such as Catfish Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and Dave McNally, in Major League Baseball won cases regarding the fairness of their trade to other teams. In addition, the Curt Flood Rule introduced in 1973 allowed players to opt out of a trade if they had played professionally for ten years and had been with the selling club for five or more years. Although Flood’s inclusion in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame is still being advocated, his legacy remains. His challenge of the Reserve Clause helped develop baseball by making the trading process democratic. In addition, he was an outstanding player. He had a 223-game streak with zero errors. There is even an award called the Curt Flood Award that recognizes players for contributions to advancing players’ rights.

Source: Kosc, K. (2013) Flood, Curtis Charles (1938–1997). Texas State Historical Society.; Sloope, T. (2023). Curt Flood. Society for American Baseball Research.; The Major League Baseball Players Association. (2020). Players Association introduces the annual Curt Flood Award as part of the 2020 Players Choice Awards.

Fannie Jackson Coppin, 1837-1913

Author D. Ali, Student

West Middle School

Fanny Jackson Coppin was born in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC, on October 15, 1837. She was born into slavery and got freedom when her aunt purchased her for $125 from her enslaver, the author George Henry Calvert. Later in 1860, Coppin enrolled in Oberlin College in Ohio. While attending college, Coppin did as well as any man in her studies. She was the first woman of color selected for the Young Ladies Literary Society and College Preparatory. Coppin graduated in 1865 and became a high school teacher at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia. The following year, Coppin was promoted to the principal of the Ladies’ Department and taught Greek, Latin, and Math. In her thirty-seven years employed at the Institute, Coppin helped many students to educational success. While providing education for African American students, Coppin helped poor working women find housing. In 1881, she married an African Methodist Episcopal minister, Levi Jenkins Coppin, and got interested in missionary work. Coppin was one of a handful of women selected to speak in Chicago at the World’s Congress of Representative Women. Continuing her political career, Coppin was a vice president of the National Association of Colored Women, founded by Rosetta Douglas. Because several destitute women were refused admission into charity housing, Coppin opened a home for people denied charity housing. In 1899, a club that played a significant role in the California Suffrage Movement was named the Fanny Jackson Coppin Club. She also published a book about her teaching in 1913, titled Reminiscences of a School Life and Hints on Teaching. Coppin passed away on January 21, 1913. To honor her, officials in Philadelphia changed the name of the Andrew Jackson Elementary School by a unanimous vote to Jackson Coppin Elementary in July 2021.

Source: Document 8, Bylaws of the Young Ladies Literary Society, April 12, 1859, to April 10, 1863, Student Life Record Group 19/3/4, Box 1, Oberlin College Archives; Fanny Jackson Coppin, 2023,


Gabriel Prosser, 1775-1800

Author I. Seals, Student

West Middle School

Not many people have heard of Gabriel Prosser, born in 1775, right into slavery, with his two brothers Solomon and Martin, all enslaved in Henrico County, Virginia. Prosser worked as a blacksmith most of his life and was married to an enslaved woman named Nanny Prosser. Her husband sadly died on October 10, 1800, executed for planning a rebellion by the enslaved people. Two of his confidants told the Virginia authorities about the planned uprising that resulted in Prosser’s arrest and execution. Prosser was disappointed that the American Revolution did not produce the abolition of slavery throughout the new nation and was inspired by the Haitian Revolution, which abolished slavery and colonialism. Prosser and hundreds of enslaved people organized into a military group and planned to take over Richmond, Virginia, from slaveholders. The design included looking to white Methodists and Quakers for help building a new Virginia where Blacks could hold offices in government. As a blacksmith, Prosser knew many enslaved people ready to arm themselves with swords and pikes to participate in the rebellion. The plan was to take effect on August 30, 1800, but just before the attack, two enslaved people betrayed the uprising by telling the Virginia authorities about the plans. Prosser, executed for leading the planned insurrection of the enslaved people, bravely tried overturning slavery to free all Black people in Virginia. Despite the betrayal, Prosser inspired many people to put aside their fears and join the planned resistance against slavery. He designed the first major rebellion of enslaved people in the United States and inspired many other Blacks to keep fighting for freedom until its abolition in 1865.

Source: Reed, W. (2007, February 12). Gabriel Prosser (1775-1800).; “Gabriel’s Conspiracy, 1799-1800,” Africans in America,,

Gaspar Yanga, 1545-1618

Author C. Rodriguez, Student

West Middle School

Gaspar Yanga (or Nyanga) was an African man born in Gabon in Central Africa. He was born on May 14, 1545, and died in 1618. He was a considerable revolutionist and resisted Spanish colonial rule, which Spain used to become wealthier and more powerful. Yanga led a Maroon community of enslaved people who escaped Spanish slavery in Veracruz, Mexico. Yanga and his followers built a settlement where other fugitive enslaved people could find refuge. Their territory was isolated from everybody, which helped protect it for more than thirty years. They raided plantations, taking goods from the enslavers to help feed the community and undermine slavery. Yanga was rumored to be part of the royal family in Gabon and was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, but he became a great freedom fighter through his resistance against slavery. He helped free other enslaved people in Veracruz after his escape in 1570, growing his Maroon community to around 500 people. In 1609, Yanga led a revolt against Spain’s rule in Veracruz, forcing the Spanish crown to send more soldiers to the territory. Yanga’s people defended themselves well despite failing to end Spanish control over Veracruz. They returned to their village and successfully defended it against the Spanish for over a generation. This accomplishment inspired many more enslaved people to escape from slavery and join the self-governing Maroon settlement. Yanga’s bravery shows us how unfairly they were treated and the physical and mental struggles they endured for freedom from slavery. He showed that believing in yourself is critical to achieving your goals in life.

Source: Gaspar Yanga and Blacks in Mexico: 1570 African slave revolt in Veracruz. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2023, from

Harriet Tubman, 1822-1913

Author A. Bonaparte, Student

West Middle School

Harriet Tubman helped hundreds of enslaved people escape slavery in the United States. She also assisted in the US Civil War. Tubman was born in 1822 and died in 1913, and her parents named her Araminta Ross (aka Minty). She changed her name around the 1840s due to marriage or religious reasons. Tubman was born on a plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. She was born enslaved but escaped from slavery in 1849 to avoid being sold into the deep South. Tubman achieved greatness because she also helped liberate other enslaved people by returning to Maryland to rescue around sixty or seventy people over thirteen trips. She also helped another seventy people escape slavery by advising them of the routes to safety in the North and Canada. It was too dangerous for her to go places where she did not know people or the landscape, so Tubman helped enslaved people she knew to get to a safe place where slavery was not allowed. She also worked as a nurse in the Civil War. Tubman did an excellent job by changing the future of many people and helping to change the future of the United States. She saved many children, women, and men from slavery. Tubman changed our lives for the better because she helped to end slavery. Tubman risked her life to help others, making her a beautiful soul.

Source: Yee, S. (2007, February 11). Harriet Ross Tubman (ca. 1821-1913).

 Ida B. Wells, 1862-1931

Author K. Robb, Student

West Middle School

Ida B. Wells, activist and writer, was born into slavery in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wells took care of her six siblings after her parents died from yellow fever during the epidemic in 1878. She studied at Shaw University (now Rust College) in Mississippi for two years before expulsion in 1891 for publishing an article complaining about the institution’s unequal funding of Black students. Wells tried to balance caring for her siblings and teaching school. She began protesting the treatment of Black people after an incident on a train to Memphis, Tennessee when she attempted to visit her grandmother amid the yellow fever epidemic. The conductor told Wells she must move to a section for Blacks despite her buying a first-class ticket. Wells refused to go, but the conductor and other passengers physically removed her from the train. She returned to Memphis that same year, hired a lawyer, and sued the railroad company. The local court awarded Wells $500, but a federal court overturned the ruling. Wells began to write editorials in Black newspapers to challenge segregation laws in the South and bought a share of a Memphis newspaper, Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. In 1892, Wells became one of the most vocal Black activists, publishing against racism, lynching, and other horrors of the South. Whites destroyed the offices of her newspaper and threatened Wells’ life, forcing her to relocate. Wells traveled to England, where she helped to establish the British Antilynching Society in 1894. She returned to the US, and settled in Chicago, Illinois, where she married and became known as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, gave lectures, and published books against lynching and racism, such as Southern Horrors in 1892 and The Red Record in 1895. Wells spent most of her life protesting racism and the exclusion of African Americans from mainstream America. In 1896, she helped launch the National Association of Colored Women. Wells also helped to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. She spent the rest of her life as an activist until she died in Chicago in 1931 at sixty-nine.

Source: Norwood, Arlisha. “Ida B. Wells-Barnett.” National Women’s History Museum. National Women’s History Museum, 2017; Steptoe, T. (2007, January 19). Ida Wells-Barnett (1862-1931).


Jackie Robison, 1919-1972

Author C. Sutton, Student

West Middle School

Jackie Robinson was born in 1919 in Cairo, Georgia, the youngest of five children raised by a single mother after 1920. He didn’t just play baseball. He also played football, basketball, and track. Robinson attended Pasadena City College and dominated in sports before enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, Robinson competed in baseball, basketball, football, and track and field, setting a track record. However, he left UCLA because of financial problems before he could get his degree. He enlisted in the US Army and was drafted into the segregated cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1942, rising to the rank of commissioned second lieutenant by January 1943. Robinson began his career in Major League Baseball (MLB) in April 1947 as the first African American player, playing for the Dodgers, which won six championships in over ten seasons in Robinson’s time. The Dodgers signed him for $21,000, the equivalent of $215,000, in 2023. In 1955, Robison won the World Series title and retired with 972 runs. In 1962, Robinson received his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. Robison paved the way for other African American MLB players. At the same time, he participated in the Civil Rights movement. He was a spokesperson for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on advancing justice and equity across America. Robinson was brilliant in sports and used his prominence to promote justice and fairness in the United States. He remains one of the greatest inspirations in America, both as a sportsperson and a Civil Rights champion.

Source: Linge, Mary Kay (2007). Jackie Robinson: A Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

James McCune Smith, 1813-1865

Author T. Ragan, Student

West Middle School

James McCune Smith, born in New York City in 1813, was the child of formerly enslaved people who bought themselves out of slavery. Smith became a physician and abolitionist, the first African American to obtain a medical degree. After graduating from the African Free School in New York City, he attempted to enroll in several US universities but was refused admission because of racism. Smith went overseas to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 1835, a Master’s in 1836, and a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1837. Before returning to New York City, he went to Paris for his internship. Returning to New York, Smith opened a practice and pharmacy on West Broadway. He had joined the Antislavery Society in Glasgow. Later, in New York City, Smith quickly climbed the ranks of the antislavery movement as an organizer, orator, and writer. In 1854, Smith accused white abolitionists of insincerity in a column for Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star. Smith pointed out that many white abolitionists did not support Blacks having the right to vote. He also criticized prominent abolitionist Lewis Tappan for refusing to hire Black people and give them loans to open businesses. Smith also defended women’s rights, and the National Black Convention adopted his plan to organize Black women and men to fight racism and slavery nationally. Smith’s resistance against slavery and racism showed his perseverance against significant opposition. He died in Ohio in 1865, where he had accepted a position at Wilberforce College as a professor of medical anthropology.

Source: Winter, K. (2007, March 08). James McCune Smith (1813-1865).; James McCune Smith, The University of Glasgow Story, 2023,

John Berry Meachum, 1789-1854

Author J. Watkins, Student

West Middle School

Do you know Harriet Tubman? One of the people who worked with her was named John Berry Meachum. Born into slavery in Goochland County, Virginia, Meachum became a businessman who built the oldest Black church in Missouri. When he turned twenty-one, Meachum, having learned a lot of trades, gathered enough money to buy his freedom and that of his father. After that, in 1815, he followed his future wife, Mary, to St. Louis, Missouri, and bought her freedom. While in St. Louis, Meachum met the white Baptist preacher John Peck, and they built the First African Baptist Church in the city. Meachum became its minister in 1825, the year he was ordained. The church operated a school for Blacks and was a social center for people of color. It provided free education to enslaved and free people of color and had over 300 people in the church daily. Meachum faced many racial tensions from whites disgruntled with the teaching of Blacks, forcing Meachum to discontinue the church after Missouri lawmakers also imposed bans on Black education in 1847. Meachum and Mary relocated the books to a steamboat on the Mississippi River, where they continued operating the school. They also joined the Underground Railroad to free enslaved people, crossing paths with one of its prominent conductors, Harriet Tubman. Meachum’s carpentry business made enough money to buy the freedom of many people. Almost every person he freed paid him back for the help. Meachum left an inspiring legacy, marked by the street still carrying his name in St. Louis, along with another named for his wife, Mary Meachum Crossing. The Meachums reopened their church in 1848, and Meachum died while preaching in 1854. The church still stands today at a different location since 1917, on Bell Avenue in St. Louis, Missouri.

Source: Brenc, W. (2014, July 29). John Berry Meachum (1789-1854).

Madam C.J. Walker, 1867-1919

Author K. Jacobs, Student

West Middle School

Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) was born near Delta in Louisiana on December 23, 1867, and died in Irvington, New York, on May 25, 1919. Walker had many occupations, such as an entrepreneur, inventor, and social activist. She invented hair products for women of color and became America’s first woman millionaire through hard work and ingenuity, using sales agents to sell her hair products around the country. Walker created homemade hair products and a haircare system for Black women that cornered the market and made Walker financially successful. Most hair products for women were expensive, but Walker made hers affordable, easy to use, and specifically for Black women. Her products are still used today, such as the line of hair treatments known simply as MADAM. Walker’s products did not just change the lives of Black women by giving them more options for hair care and styling but paved the way for other Black women and men entrepreneurs in the US. However, she encouraged and inspired especially Black women in business. Walker was known to many as an intelligent and wonderful person who helped many women and taught them to believe in themselves, famously stating that employing hundreds of women of color was one of her main priorities. Walker inspired Black women such as Oprah Winfrey with her business skills and self-confidence despite facing tremendous odds from poverty and being orphaned at age seven and the opposition from racism after the US Civil War.

Source: White, C. (2007, February 21). Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919).

Malcolm X, 1925-1965

Author J. Dudley, Student

West Middle School

Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was an American Muslim minister and an important figure in the Civil Rights movement. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925, and later was a big advocate for Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within Black communities in America. His parents were Earl Little and Grenadian-born Louise Norton, both Garveyites. After Malcom’s birth, his family moved to Lansing, Michigan. There, Malcolm’s father formally joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association to help advocate Black nationalism. Malcolm dropped out of high school after a teacher made fun of his dreams to become a lawyer. He moved to Boston with his older sister, Ella Little Collins, and stayed in Boston until he decided to move to Harlem in 1943, where he got into drug dealing, pimping, and gambling. Three years later, in 1946, Malcolm was arrested for burglary and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He joined the Nation of Islam while imprisoned and was released on parole in 1952. He was called to Chicago by Nation leader Elijah Muhammad and changed his surname to X, noting the name was a slave name. Elijah Muhammad recognized Malcolm’s speaking abilities and sent him back to Boston to become a minister of Temple #11. As he continued to succeed, Malcolm earned a reassignment in 1954 to be the minister of Temple #7, and he met his wife, Betty Dean Sanders, who had joined the temple in 1956. They married in 1958 and had six daughters. Malcolm X became a public figure across America in 1959 when CBS aired Mike Wallace’s documentary on the Nation. In November 1963, in a speech in Detroit, Malcolm boldly criticized American racism and called for Black unity. He also spoke about his split with his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, before it became official. Later, he created a political group called the Organization of Afro-American Unity that was affiliated with the Organization of African Unity (African Union today). Malcolm X continued to fight racism in America, and on February 21, 1965, he was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

Source: Simba, M. (2007, January 23). Malcolm X (1925-1965).


Mamie Till, 1921-2003

Author S. Walker, Student

West Middle School

Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley was born on November 23, 1921, and died from cancer on January 6, 2003. Her place of birth is Mississippi, but when she was two, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois. Mamie was the mother of Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955. Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, accused him of whistling at her, grabbing her waist, and asking her for a date. Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Emmett, tortured him, and beat him to death. After learning about his murder, Mamie asked to have his body sent from Mississippi, where he was murdered. After some negotiation, Mississippi sent her the casket on the condition it stays closed. The state also did not want her to see her son. However, Mamie demanded to see him before he was buried. When she saw him, he was unrecognizable. To make the world aware of the cruelty meted out to her son, Mamie demanded the funeral to have Emmett’s casket open so everyone could see what racism had done to her son. Her resistance ultimately sparked protest and helped to encourage the Civil Rights movement to fight against racism and the resulting social, economic, and political oppression and injustices against Black people. Over 100,000 people went to see Emmett Till’s body, and Mamie had Jet, an African American weekly magazine, publish a photo of Emmett’s body. This helped the story gain media attention. In front of an all-white jury, Mamie testified at the trial for her son’s murder. She wanted to have the jury to understand the cruelty that her son experienced while not appearing weak or aggressive. However, the jury decided that the men who murdered Emmett were not guilty. Mamie was disappointed and upset but continued speaking about her son’s story. She fought against injustice by speaking out at protests, including one with A. Phillip Randolph, the civil rights activist. She even went on tour with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to fight for justice for her son. In the 1980s, Emmett’s story was featured in a PBS documentary. This was the first time much of white America saw Emmett’s abused, tortured body, even though Black America had seen it decades ago. The public was eager to hear his story. Mamie knew it was her job to tell the story of Emmett. She created waves in the growing Civil Rights movement. Prominent activists like John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. later referred to Emmett’s murder as a crucial moment in the fight for justice. Despite the odds, Mamie Till-Mobley turned the tragedy of her son’s murder into activism and resistance. She fulfilled her mission to highlight injustices to the Black community. Mamie spoke to people in over thirty cities in nineteen states on her tour with the NAACP. She fought not for herself but for her son. She never took no for an answer and showed the world why racism is evil and needs to be stopped.

Source: History. (2010). “Emmett Till Is Murdered.”, A&E Television Networks.; Boomer, Lee. “Life Story: Mamie till-Mobley.” Women & the American Story, July 9, 2022, 

Marsha P. Johnson, 1945-1992

Author A. Coalwell, Student

West Middle School

Marsha P. Johnson is probably one of the most known LGBTQIA activists in history. Johnson was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on August 24, 1945, and died in New York City on July 6, 1992. She was born Malcom Michaels Jr., chosen by her parents, Malcolm Michaels Sr., and Alberta Michaels. She was the fifth of seven children and was known for what she did on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Riot. Johnson moved to New York City with just $15 and a bag of clothes. She had no shelter and no family. That was until Johnson met Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican trans young woman. Because she was a young trans woman of color, she had little to no job possibilities. Johnson was seventeen and still had to take care of eleven-year-old Rivera. Johnson needed a job, so she turned to sex work, with few options available to LGBTQIA people at the time. Because of how dangerous this job was, she was even shot. Additionally, Johnson fought in the Stonewall Gay Bar Raid after a male police officer threw a glass at a mirror behind her after she yelled, “I have my civil rights!” The publicity of this incident began to change life for transgender and gay individuals in America. Johnson stood up to the police trying to stop and put down others because they didn’t think what or who they were was right, and she continued to fight for the LGBTQIA community and became an activist. Johnson also felt that young transgender people like her younger self needed a home, so in 1970, she and her best friend Rivera started STARS (Street Transvestite Activist Revolution) to house and shelter and even be like a mother figure to the trans people. The first home for STARS was the back of an abandoned truck that Rivera found. Johnson helped LGBTQ people to progress in society even if laws were against them.

Source: Rothberg, Emma. “Marsha P. Johnson,” National Women’s History Museum. 2022. 

Oscar Micheaux, 1884-1951

Author A. Carson, Student

West Middle School

Oscar Micheaux, born January 2, 1884, in Metropolis, Illinois, died March 25, 1951, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Micheaux was the first Black film producer and director in the United States. Micheaux produced and directed more than forty-five films for Black audiences and was an independent filmmaker until 1917, when he joined the Hollywood film industry. Before filmmaking, Micheaux wrote novels published in Nebraska and New York and later made movies in Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles. Most of his films were detective or romance stories, such as Murder in Harlem and The Exile. Some of his most famous films, such as Within Our Gates, Body, and Soul, The Symbol of the Unconquered, Ten Minutes to Live, and Swing, paved the way for other Black people in the US film industry. Micheaux has shown us that race does not define who you are or what you can accomplish. He was the reason we have many Black actors and directors in the US today. Micheaux opened opportunities for others and had a powerful impact that we all can appreciate today. Oscar Micheaux used his films to challenge racism and other forms of discrimination and his success to show the power of steadfast determination in transforming one’s life for the better.

Source: Ravage, J. (2007, March 03). Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951).

O.W. Gurley, 1868-1935

Author D. Sardis, Student

West Middle School

Ottowa Gurley was a businessman born in Huntsville, Alabama. Before 1921, he made Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which helped African Americans get jobs and start businesses to move upwards in society. Gurley opened a grocery store where Blacks could shop. He also created a two-story hotel and was one of the founders of the Vernon AME Church in Tulsa in 1905, two years before Oklahoma became a state. Gurley was self-sufficient. He eventually owned brick yards and a charted plane company. Gurley also encouraged some 7,000 African Americans to live on Black Wall Street. They relocated for better-paying jobs, schools, hospitals, and housing. Black Wall Street, destroyed by white rioters in 1921, had only Black-owned businesses helping to keep the wealth of Blacks in their communities. Gurley showed that self-reliance was critical to changing the future for Black Americans, especially during segregation when white America divided the country based on skin color. Overall, Gurley helped stimulate positive change in African American communities through economic upliftment.

Source: Thibert, K. (2020, September 19). O. W. Gurley (1868-1935).


Author A. Gillig, Student

West Middle School

O.W. Gurley was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on December 25, 1867 and died on August 6, 1935, in Los Angeles, California. He had two brothers and one sister, John, Millie, and Robert. His parents were John and Rosanna Gurley. He was an entrepreneur and was known as one of the wealthiest Black men in American history. Gurley built three two-story buildings and five residences and bought an 80-acre farm in Rogers County, Oklahoma. He made the Greenwood district in Tulsa known as Black Wall Street. What made Gurley further noteworthy was there were not many Black landowners, so he purchased forty acres of land in Tulsa. Gurley created the Greenwood district in Tulsa, so Black people could work and have their businesses. He was the founder and national president of the Black Wall Street USA National Movement. Out of the six hundred companies in Tulsa, Gurley owned at least one hundred. What made Gurley’s actions a positive change was that from 1910-1920 he grew the Black population in Rogers County by about 7,000, a professional and working-class population that had jobs such as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who provided services to the county. The buildings that Gurley made helped the county and its people. He built the Gurley Hotel and made the two-story building that housed the Black employment agency. Later, racial tensions flared, and the community was destroyed in a riot known as the Tulsa Race Massacre. Approximately 300 Black people died, and Gurley lost a fortune, about $200,000. Gurley was arrested for inciting the conflict, and other Black leaders, fellow businessman J.B. Stradford and newspaper editor A.J. Smitherman, secured his release. He fled to Los Angeles with his wife and died fourteen years later. He was sixty-seven years old.

Source: Thibert, K. (2020, September 19). O. W. Gurley (1868-1935).

Patrice Lumumba, 1925-1961

Author S. Akoth, Student

West Middle School

“Without dignity, there is no liberty. Without justice, there is no dignity. And without independence, there are no free men.” As you may have assumed, my name is Patrice Lumumba. I was born in 1925 and was assassinated in 1961. I was born in Katakokombe. As an adult, I had four children with my wife, Pauline. I was a Congolese politician and an independence leader who served as the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I led the Movement of the National Congolese from 1958 until my death and was an African nationalist who believed in Africa’s freedom from colonialism. I thought of Congo’s development as an independent country like the United States, also formed by an anticolonial revolution that officially ended in 1784. I was assassinated in the presence of Belgian colonial officials, and my body was thrown into a shallow grave. As a martyr, I became a broader symbol of the pan-African struggle for independence from European colonial countries, including Belgium. Pan-Africanism means all Africans were fighting for their freedom from colonialism. I made sure that the Congolese obtained their independence in 1960. To this day, my people remember me as a determined nationalist who fought hard to give them the gift of freedom from foreign rule, inspiring many people inside and outside of Congo. I can proudly say that I played a significant role in the transformation of Congo from a colony of Belgium to an independent republic giving my people access to equal civil rights, justice, education, and economic development. They learned they were no longer servants of Europeans but proud people with a long history of outstanding accomplishments. Congo was home to some of the greatest kingdoms in ancient times, defeating many Europeans who tried to conquer us. Our independence meant a return to past glories, a struggle I was always ready to give my life to achieve.

Source: Adeleke, T. (2008, April 15). Patrice Emery Lumumba (1925-1961).


Paul Bogle, 1822-1865

Author B. Pham, Student

West Middle School

Paul Bogle was instrumental in the resistance against oppression and injustice by the British colonial government in Jamaica. He was a Baptist preacher and an activist. Bogle’s grandmother raised him after his parents died. His father died in 1822, and his mother died soon after his father. However, Bogle built a church in Stony Gut in the parish of St. Thomas, where he held political meetings. In 1865, Bogle led a march of about 300 small farmers (mainly formerly enslaved people) to Morant Bay, the parish’s capital, to discuss their grievances against the British colonial government. The government sent troops to break up the protest march, and rebellion followed when the troops fired shots into the crowd. Governor Edward John Eyre was removed as the governor of Jamaica after the uprising but not before overseeing the hanging of Bogle and others, whom he blamed for the rebellion. Slavery was abolished in Jamaica in 1834, but the British colonial government still oppressed Bogle and other Black Jamaican people. Although the uprising was suppressed, Bogle was later named a national hero of Jamaica for his substantial contributions to the country’s movement toward independence from the British. There were many great reasons why Paul Bogle should be known worldwide, including his contributions to the struggle for justice and freedom from oppression by colonialism.

Source: Wooten, A. (2013, October 13). Paul Bogle (1822-1865).


Piye, d.714 BC

Author D. Chegwidden, Student

West Middle School

Piye, also called Phianky, was the Kushite king of Egypt, born in Kerma, Nubia, in modern-day Sudan. His birthdate was unknown, but Piye died in 714 BC after becoming one of the most influential leaders of Ancient Egypt. The son of King Kashta and Queen Pebatjma, as the king himself, Piye was known as Usimare and Sneferre, names showing his deep interest in using religion or the worship of Amun-Ra (the Sun God) to restore his people’s unity and greatness. Piye reigned as the founder of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt or the Nubian Dynasty (also known as the Kushite Empire or the Black Pharaohs), ruling from 747 BC until his death. He was known as the king who restored Egyptian greatness, initially concentrating his efforts on unifying and rebuilding Nubia. He defeated many internal adversaries to unite Egypt and was greatly appreciated by the Egyptian people for consolidating Egypt and restoring the empire’s peace. Piye’s victories over internal divisions and external invaders were recorded on a stela or stone slab at the pyramidal temple of Amun in Gebel Barkal, considered a sacred site in Egypt and today part of the five pyramidal archaeological sites in the Nile Valley seen as a World Heritage site. The site also highlights the outstanding accomplishments of Egyptian kingdoms from 900 BC to 350 AD. Gebel Barkal is a part of Ancient Egyptian religious traditions and folklore rediscovered by archeologists in 1862. Piye’s impact included his leadership of Egypt into its greatness as a powerful, independent, and influential ancient civilization that could protect its people from domestic trouble and invasion by outsiders. Piye embodied some of the earliest forms of Black resistance in statecraft, and the decisive role Black African people played in Ancient times as leaders and in building vast kingdoms and civilizations before Europe.

Source: “Piye,” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 30, 2015,

Samuel Sharpe, c.1780-1832

Author J. Vazquez, Student

West Middle School

Samuel Sharpe was born in the parish of St. James, Jamaica, around 1780 and died from hanging by the British colonial government of the island in May 1832. Sharpe’s parents are unknown, but he was a Baptist deacon and enslaved. He was literate and taught fellow enslaved people to read and write using the Bible. Sharpe led an uprising against slavery in Jamaica from December 1831 to January 1832 that would help to encourage the government of Britain to abolish slavery in its colonies, such as Jamaica, in 1834. Sharpe started to preach about freedom and helped many other enslaved people develop the confidence to rise against slavery so they could have a better future. The enslaved people burned down the Kensington Estate Great House during the rebellion. About 200 people died; 186 were enslaved, and the others were slaveholders and their allies. Sharpe initially organized a strike, but rebellion developed when the colonial government soldiers used violence against the people. They kept fighting for their freedom until Sharpe and most leaders were apprehended and brought in to be tried and executed. Before this, however, the uprising spread to other parishes such as Trelawny, Westmoreland, and parts of St. Elizabeth. After Sharpe was hanged on May 23, 1832, other enslaved people continued fighting for their freedom. Eventually, the government suppressed the rebellion, but the destruction caused by the fighting forced British lawmakers to consider the abolition of slavery. To honor Sharpe for his role in abolishing slavery, the government of independent Jamaica made him a national hero in 1975, making him the Right Excellent Samuel Sharpe. His image is on the Jamaican $50 bill, and Samuel Sharpe Square in Montego Bay, St. James, was also named in his honor.

Source: “Samuel Sharpe,” Jamaica Information Service, 2023,; Wooten, A. (2013, August 16). Samuel Sharpe (ca. 1780-1832).

Sidney Poitier, 1927-2022

Author M. Patterson, Student

West Middle School

Sidney Poitier’s parents were Bahamian immigrants, and Poitier was born in Miami, Florida, in 1927. He died on January 6, 2022, at the age of ninety-four, in Beverley Hills, California. Poitier became the first African American actor to win an Academy Award for best actor, changing history by breaking racial barriers in the Hollywood film industry during the 1950s and 1960s. In his fifty-seven-year career in film, Poitier starred in forty-eight films, six of which he directed. In 1961, Poitier was famously nominated for best actor for his role in A Raisin in the Sun and, in 1963, won the best actor award for Lilies of the Field. Other famous parts include his leading performance as American Mark Thackeray in To Sir, With Love, a 1967 film adaptation of the novel by Guyanese writer E.R. Braithwaite. In this film, Poitier played a Black engineer who could not find work because of racism in Britain. He took a job teaching mostly white inner-city students in London’s East End. The film, like the book, took a candid look at British race relations, spotlighting similarities with racism in the US, but also how compassion and knowledge could transform individuals and the larger society toward justice and fairness. It also challenged notions of white poverty as the consequence of Black successes, highlighting the social construction of class problems in Black and white communities, which they could fight with education. This film featured the famous song of the same name, “To Sir With Love,” by Scottish singer Lulu. Poitier further contributed to positive societal changes through his various roles in the Civil Rights movement, using his central platform as an actor to fight against racism in America. He dedicated his life to promoting messages of racial pride, respect, and the power of Black culture. Poitier’s resistance teaches us about how the past was unfair but how his struggles by speaking out about the unfairness could lead to positive societal changes, namely through everyone having equal rights to move upwards in society.

Source: Waggoner, C. (2008, June 04). Sidney Poitier (1927-2022).

Richard Allen, 1760-1831

Author H. Glaude, Student

West Middle School

Richard Allen was born into slavery in Delaware in 1760 and died a free man in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1831. At age seven, his mother and three siblings were sold by their enslaver, and Allen never saw them again. In 1780, Allen bought himself out of slavery and relocated to Philadelphia, where he lived amongst the city’s growing free Black population. He converted to Methodism at age seventeen and later built the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in America, built in Philadelphia in 1794. Allen was also a founder of the Free African Society of Philadelphia, where he crossed paths with Absalom Jones, and they became lifelong friends and fellow abolitionists. Together they authored a famous critique, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People, During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia, in 1793, published in 1794. It challenged the racism of white publisher Mathew Carey. He denounced Black altruism during the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Allen and Jones organized Blacks to perform roles such as nurses and carry away the dead, helping hundreds of white and Black people during the epidemic. Allen had taught himself to read and write like many other enslaved people, including Jones. Allen’s beliefs in education led to his establishment of schools for enslaved and free Blacks and preaching about the role of education in advancing Black freedom from slavery at his church. Allen was officially ordained a deacon in 1799 and, in 1816, became the first African American bishop. Allen worked to abolish slavery and contributed to the Underground Railroad to facilitate the escape of many Black people from slavery in the South. Allen was born into an arduous life of slavery but liberated himself and became a prominent preacher, educator, and abolitionist.

Source: Pope-Levison, P. (2007, October 18). Richard Allen [Pennsylvania] (1760-1831).

Thurgood Marshall, 1908-1993

Author C. Sanders, Student

West Middle School

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 2, 1908. His father worked as a railroad porter, and his mother was an elementary school teacher for twenty-five years. Marshall graduated from Frederick Douglass High School. He attended Lincoln University and then Howard University, graduating in 1930 as a lawyer. Soon after graduating, Marshall joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and worked so that the courts would stop disrespecting people of color. He defended Donald Gaines Murray in the court case University v. Murray in 1936 after the University of Maryland School of Law denied Murray’s application for enrollment even though he was academically qualified to enroll in the school. The Court of Appeals ruled Murray could attend the school without integrating with white students. Marshall later argued and won the famous ban on racial segregation in public schools in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case in 1954, claiming that “separate but equal” was inconsistent with the Constitution. Marshall used the law as a powerful weapon against racial discrimination. President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the US Court of Appeals in 1961, and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Marshall to the Supreme Court. Marshall received a 69-11 vote in August 1967 to become the first Black justice of the US Supreme Court. Marshall’s court cases had positive results in the struggle for racial justice and equity in America, positively changing the country’s future for all Americans. We still honor him today for his contributions to our national development.

Source: Reed, W. (2007, January 21). Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993).; Justice “Thurgood Marshall Profile - Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment,” 2023,

Vicente Guerrero, 1782-1831

Author A. Quan, Student

West Middle School

I am Vicente Guerrero, born on August 10, 1782. My father’s name is Juan Guerrero, and my mother’s name is Maria Rodriguez. The place of my birth is Tixtla, Mexico. I was a soldier, politician, and abolitionist, and I joined the military and helped the revolutionary movement. On the day of the anniversary of independence, I was able to free most enslaved people. I died on February 14, 1831, having lived to be forty-nine years old before I was assassinated. I stopped slavery in 1829 and helped free a lot of people. Most of the enslaved people in Mexico were released on the anniversary of independence. In the middle of 1829, I became the Republic’s second president. I stopped slavery because this world should not be a harsh place. After I chose to free the enslaved people, I was driven out of my office and was scared for my life, so I went to the southern part of Mexico. I had no idea my vice president had ordered me to be assassinated. As I made it to Culiacan, I was killed by the people who were sent. However, you might know me as one of Mexico’s most remarkable people of color who helped fight in the Mexican War. I was the second president of Mexico, and I stopped slavery, fought for equality, and stood against racism because no person should ever have to deal with that. Mexico is no longer the place it was in my time.

Source: Britannica, “Vicente Guerrero.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 6, 2022,


Yaa Asantewaa, c.1840s-1921 

Author A. Kelliehan, Student

West Middle School

Yaa Asantewaa was born in Besease, Ghana. According to the sources, her birth date was never recorded. All that is known is that she was born around the 1840s. Asantewaa was a warrior who rose to lead an army against the invading British. Asantewaa was very independent and began to rebel against the British, who threatened to take the Golden Stool she had to guard. Asantewaa would not let that happen and did not back down from the threats against her and her people. She gathered up her troops and fought the War of the Golden Stool against the British. Asantewaa never let her people down and gave power to her people—men and women. Before she died in 1921, Asantewaa inspired women of her time to challenge traditional gender roles. She led the rebellion and became the image of strength and resistance among women. Asantewaa empowered many people throughout her life through all her wars and leadership. Yaa Asantewaa’s life can teach a lot about the past and how people helped their community resist and overcome invasion. She has given us a powerful example of how valuable it is to be generous to others and believe in ourselves. She fought for more than just a Golden Stool.

Source: West, R. (2019, February 08). Yaa Asantewaa (mid-1800s-1921).

Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

Author K. Phipps

West Middle School

From one of the many great Black individuals in the arts, I choose Marguerite Annie Johnson, better known as Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928. Although born in Saint Louis, Missouri, she was quickly moved to live with her paternal grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, due to a concerning uproar over her parent’s divorce. Angelou’s family includes her father, mother, and brother, Bailey Johnson Jr. She also has a son named Guy (Clyde) Johnson. After moving back in with her mother, she attended George Washington High School in San Francisco, California. Maya Angelou received over fifty honorary degrees. A few doctorates from colleges include Smith College, Mills College, Mount Holyoke College, Lafayette, Northeastern, and Eastern Connecticut State.

Maya Angelou’s interest in the arts started at a young age, for she wrote poems and essays and kept a journal. She first started writing to cope with trauma. She had always been writing, but not until the 1950s did she begin to want to develop her skills. She moved to New York and joined the Harlem Writers Guild. Her inspiration came from her grandmother’s introduction to literature. It went pretty well; she had sold her music albums and, years later, wrote an autobiography of her early life. She was criticized after she published “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” but before that, she experienced abuse, rape, and many instances of racial injustice. The abuse impacted Maya significantly. When her molester died, she thought her words killed him, causing her not to talk for five years!

Maya Angelou had so many achievements throughout her life. These are just a few: the Presidential Medal of Freedom, The BET Honors Award for Literary Arts, and a Grammy Award for the best audiobook. As a prominent Civil Rights activist, Maya Angelou has helped to eliminate the belittling of ignored people and just fight for the greater good of society. Her words have impacted many lives, perplexed people who did not know if they were going in the right direction. She is why we can have hope and peace because of the inspiring advice she has written for us. Her writing has made people feel like they aren’t alone and brought people together. From this, she has brought greater diversity into theater and literature through her books and poems.

Martin Luther King Jr asked Maya to help coordinate The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (a famous nonviolent protest that eventually led to the American Civil Rights Movement). One of her most famous books that inspired people and told them they weren’t alone. She also helped Malcolm X with the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which “sought to reconnect African-Americans with their African heritage, establish economic independence, and promote African American self-determination.”

Source:, 2024;, 2024;, 2024;, 2023;, 2023.

Josephine Baker, 1906-1975

Author C. Ballinger

West Middle School

Freda Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906, in St Louis, Missouri. She had two brothers and one sister, and her parents were Carrie McDonald and Eddie Carson. She went to school until age eight but then dropped out and began working as a waitress at thirteen in the Old Chauffeur’s Club on 3133 Pine Street. At the age of thirteen, she joined a street performance group called the Jones Family Band. Baker’s career began to expand as she traveled and eventually took a trip to France. In her hometown, she became a show manager, which led her to New York, where she got to perform at the Plantation Club. After many auditions, she had a role in the chorus line of the successful Broadway show “Shuffle Along,” which got attention from the public. In the chorus line, she was a dancer, but she feared that she would be overshadowed by the others. Therefore, she incorporated comedy to stand out from the other dancers. She performed ninety-six times in the chorus line. Baker then traveled to Paris, where she became more popular because of her erotic dancing and unique style. She went on a European tour and performed at the Folies Bergère in France. Josephine Baker helped the world with her impeccable skills and still does to this day. Sadly, Baker passed away on April 12, 1975, at the age of sixty-eight, and is now resting in peace.

Source:, 2024.

Chadwick Boseman, 1976-2020

Author U. Campbell

West Middle School

Chadwick Boseman was born on November 29, 1976. His mother’s name is Carolyn Boseman, and his father’s name is Leroy Boseman. Boseman attended Howard University in Washington, DC, and the British American Drama Academy in London. He discovered his passion for writing when his basketball teammate got shot and killed. So, he decided to write about him. In 2000, Boseman graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in directing. Becoming an actor was challenging for him. He had to attend an acting workshop with Phylicia Rashad, and after their time together, Rashad encouraged him to audition for a summer acting program. Boseman gained international recognition for his role as Black Panther from 2016 to 2019. However, he faced criticism when he had to shed pounds for another role, which made him lose his muscular physique.

Source: Business, 2020; National, 2024;, 2024.

Ray Charles, 1930-2004

Author I. Seals

West Middle School

Ray Charles is known by many as the blind black piano player, but few are aware of his impact on society through his musical influence. Born on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, Ray Robinson Charles moved to Florida with his parents at a young age. Unfortunately, he witnessed his brother drown and die, and soon after that, he started to go blind. His mother then sent him to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, where he learned to read and write music in braille. There, he learned how to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet, and trumpet; by age seven, he was entirely blind.

At age five, Charles began playing piano in his neighborhood cafe, and his musical interest took off from there. When he learned to play the piano, he had to play with one hand and read the braille music with the other, which caused him to memorize the songs by heart. In 1937, his right eye was removed due to its pain. When Charles was fifteen, his mother passed away, and his father died two years later. Charles then worked as a traveling musician in Florida and Washington state, performing with western, country, and jazz bands. He tried to imitate one of his favorite artists, Nat King Cole, but soon found his style. In 1950, he moved to Los Angeles, and by 1954, he had his first big hit song called “I Got a Woman.”

In 1994, Charles received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award from the American Foundation for the Blind. He also won thirteen Grammy awards and a lifetime achievement award. Charles broke many racial and musical barriers, and his music style paved the way for many artists today. He mixed genres such as country, pop, and gospel, and he used his platform in the 1960s to support Martin Luther King and speak out against racial injustice. He refused to play at segregated concerts and is one of the pioneers of soul music, influencing artists such as Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley.

Source:, 2024;, 2024; Florida Department of State, 2024;, 2023.

Cardi B, 1992-

Author M. Patterson

West Middle School

Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar, also known as Cardi B, was born on October 11, 1992, in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, New York. Her mom’s name is Carla, and she’s from Trinidad and worked as a cashier, while her dad, Carlos, is a taxi driver from the Dominican Republic. She also has a younger sister named Hennessy Carolina Almánzar. Cardi B went to the Renaissance High School for Musical Theater & Technology, graduated in 2010, and worked at an Amish deli. After graduating, she was put out of her home and moved in with her boyfriend. She was fired from her job at the deli, so she decided she’d become an exotic dancer. She says making the decision “saved her life” because she became more serious about her future. Cardi enrolled in Borough of Manhattan Community College but later dropped out to focus on her career.

To start her career, she started doing social media in 2013 and blew up very fast on social media. She became an influencer with thousands of supporters on her Instagram and Vine accounts. Thanks to her viral videos, she was offered a job as a reality television star on the Love & Hip Hop series, and being on the show influenced her to start music. In 2015, she made her musical appearance in the show’s sixth season. She released her first mixtape in March 2016 and left the show to pursue her musical career. Cardi released her second mixtape in 2017 and signed a contract with Atlantic Records. In 2018, she released her single “Bodak Yellow” from her album Invasion of Privacy. The single topped the US Billboard Hot 100 list for three weeks, her being the first of Dominican descent to do so and the first female rapper to have a song Diamond certified after having over 10 million copies sold. Her Tom Ford Cardi-B-inspired lipstick sold out within 24 hours of its release in September 2018, and in 2019, she released her potato chip flavors in collaboration with Rap Snacks.

Cardi has come a long way from the Bronx to a million-dollar Rapper. She has accomplished many things, like being recognized as one of the most influential female rappers ever because she has helped empower women in this entertainment segment, and the highest certified female rapper of all time by RIAA or Recording Industry Association of America Artists rankings. She also won a Grammy Award, eight Billboard Music Awards, five American Music Awards, five Guinness World Records, eleven BET Hip Hop Awards, and two ASCAP Songwriter of the Year awards. That’s a lot accomplished in her short career.

Source:, 2024;, 2024

Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018

Author R. Cook

West Middle School

Mother Barbara Siggers Franklin was the one who named the iconic singer, songwriter, pianist, actress, and civil rights activist Aretha Louise Franklin. Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 25, 1942. Her mother, Barbara, was a gifted piano player and a renowned gospel singer. Aretha had an older brother named Vaughn. Her father was Clarence Lavaughn, known as CL. Her parents then had other children together, including Erma, Cecil, and Carolyn. Aretha attended The Juilliard School and Northern Senior High School. In 1944, the family moved to Detroit, where Aretha grew up. CL was also good friends with the gospel singer and pop star Sam Cooke. With such a musically talented environment, it was inevitable that Aretha would develop an interest in music. She honed her skills in her junior gospel choir. At fourteen, she released a gospel album, “The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin.”

At age sixteen, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She would ultimately sing at his funeral in 1968. Other influences in her youth included Marvin Gage and Ray Charles, among Franklin’s most significant influences. Critics recognized her talent, but the public remained lukewarm until 1966, when she switched to Atlantic Records. There, producer Jerry Wexler allowed her to sculpt her own musical identity. In 1968, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences debuted the Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It was awarded to Aretha Franklin for “Respect.” She also went on to win the next seven of these awards, making it eight of the seventeen Grammy awards she would win in her career. She was also the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Aretha had many honorary degrees from prestigious universities, including Harvard and Yale. Her song “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” has become an anthem for women and anyone who feels marginalized. She provided money for Civil Rights groups, sometimes covering payroll, and performed at many benefits and protests. Franklin also organized the June 1963 Walk to Freedom, the US’s largest Civil Rights demonstration. Despite losing her mother at age ten and facing battles with alcohol, Aretha’s milestones helped her sing with more emotional intensity and brought so much pain and power to the songs she chose to sing.

Source:; Wikipedia;

Morgan Freeman, 1937-

Author R. Mitchell

West Middle School

Morgan Porterfield Freeman Jr. is a very famous actor and filmmaker. He is known for his roles in famous movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Lean On Me, and more. Freeman was born to Morgan Freeman Sr. and Mayme Revere and is currently 83 years old, born on June 1, 1937, he lives in New York City but was born in Memphis, Tennessee. For his education, Freeman went to Threadgill Elementary School, Broad Street High School, Los Angeles Community College, where he took acting 101, and Boston University where he also got an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters. Freeman says his life was influenced by Desiderata, a poem by Max Ehrmann, written in 1927. He then began his acting career in 1967. He was cast in the all-African American production of the musical Hello, Dolly! to high audience and critical acclaim. During the 1970s, he continued his work on stage; his deep, soothing voice helped him get so many acting jobs; he also won a Drama Desk and Clarence Derwent Award along with a Tony nomination for his performance in The Mighty Gents in 1978. In the 1980s, he won two Obie Awards, his first for his portrayal of Coriolanus in the 1979 Coriolanus and his second in 1984 as The Messenger in the Gospel at Colonus. The 1990s brought Freeman the biggest roles yet, with films he completed being The Bonfire of the Vanities, Robin Hood, and The Power of One.

In 1993 Freeman made his directorial debut for Bapha. Soon after he began directing, he started his own production company, Revelations Entertainment. In 1994, Freeman played his most acclaimed role yet, The Shawshank Redemption, earning him his third Oscar nomination. Most recently, Freeman has appeared in Red and narrated the 2011 Conan the Barbarian remake. Freeman is a very famous and important figure in the acting industry. Throughout his extensive career, Morgan has been known as one of the kindest actors and scene partners. Besides acting, he enjoys flying, has a pilot license, and speaks French! To date Freeman is the only African American to appear in three best picture Oscar winners, Driving Miss Daisy, Unforgiven, and Million Dollar Baby. Those are the reasons why Morgan Freeman has been one of the most influential African American Actors to date.

Sources:, 2024.

Aaliyah Dana Haughton, 1979-2001

Author M. Schwinke

West Middle School

Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York City. Aaliyah was the younger child of Diane and Michael Haughton. In 1997, Aaliyah attended Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts where she majored in drama and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Aaliyah first gained recognition when she appeared on the television show “Star Search” and performed with Gladys Knight in concert. Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and her uncle Barry Henkerson’s Blackground Records at the age of twelve. Henderson introduced Aaliyah to R. Kelly, who then became her mentor and producer, and lead songwriter of her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothin’ but a Number” in 1994. Aaliyah worked with record producers Missy Elliot and Timbaland for her second album, “One in a Million” in 1996, which sold three million copies worldwide. Aaliyah’s single “Try Again” was featured in the film “Romeo Must Die” where she made her acting debut.

Aaliyah’s music and image inspired many women to embrace their individuality and strength. She challenged traditional gender roles and encouraged women to be confident and bold. Her unique blend of R&B, pop, and hip hop helped shape the music industry, their inspirational style and sound paved the way for future artists and contributed to the evolution of contemporary R&B. Aaliyah, as an African American artist, broke barriers and represented diversity in the music industry. Her success and influence opened doors for artists of color and promoted diversity.

Aaliyah’s iconic fashion sense, with her baggy pants, crop tops, and sleek hairstyles, influenced trends and became a significant part of the ‘90s and early 2000s fashion. Her style still continues to inspire fashion enthusiasts today. Sadly, Aaliyah died in a tragic plane crash, along with eight other passengers, at the age of twenty-two on August 25, 2001. The pilot was found to have traces of alcohol and cocaine in his body and was not qualified to fly the aircraft that was designated for the flight that crashed shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas. Aaliyah was an iconic African American artist who still continues to inspire many women, especially women of color, with her inspiring self.

Source:, 2024.

Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

Author K. Jacobs

West Middle School

Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born on August 9, 1963, in East Orange, New Jersey. She passed away on February 11, 2012, in Beverly Hills, California. Whitney had three older brothers: paternal half-brother John, maternal half-brother Gary Garland and Michale Houston, and her mother was Cissy Houston. Whitney Houston attended Franklin Elementary before transferring to Mount St. Dominic Academy and later graduated from a high school in New Jersey. Houston began singing at the age of five in her church, and her mother, Cissy, taught her how to sing. At thirteen, she decided to pursue a career as a professional singer. Houston practiced singing in many different genres to expand her learning. She was influenced by singers such as Cissy Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, and Chaka Khan. Houston peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 and became one of the best-selling artists ever. She won six Grammy awards and an Emmy and was one of the best-selling musical performers of the 1980s and the 1990s. Houston was also the first artist to have seven consecutive #1 hits.

After the release of her self-titled debut in 1985, Houston became one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. She was the powerhouse voice behind some of the 80s most famous songs, such as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and “How Will I Know?” as well as touching ballads like “Greatest Love of All.” Houston was known for her charitable works and often visited children in hospitals, sent personal notes to charities she supported, and organized Christmas parties for homeless children. Her music moved and helped many people worldwide, and she brought good spirits into this world by helping others.

Source:, 2024;, 2024;, 2024; 2024; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2024; Whitney, 2024.

Michael Joseph Jackson, 1958-2009

Author C. Perkins

West Middle School

Michael Jackson was a naturally talented singer, songwriter, and dancer, born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana. He was a member of the music group Jackson 5 and had a musical family background. Michael’s mother, Katherine, played clarinet and piano and wanted to be a country singer, while his father, Joseph, was a guitarist who performed in local R&B bands. They encouraged Michael to pursue his musical ambitions from an early age and he began performing at the age of five with the help of his father. Michael joined his family’s musical group after it was already formed by his older brothers and became a master of delivering dance and groovy tracks. His songs, such as “Man in The Mirror” and “Black and White,” also held messages about societal issues. He was influenced by many in the entertainment industry, including James Brown, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr, Gene Kelly, Diana Ross, Marcel Marceau, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Bob Fosse, The Bee Gees, Chuck Berry, The Temptations, Etta James, Ray Charles, and Mavis Staples.

Throughout his career, Michael won numerous awards, including thirteen Grammy Awards, the Grammy Legend Award, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, six Brit Awards, five Billboard Music Awards, and twenty-four American Music Awards. He held twenty-six Guinness World Records. He was admitted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, becoming the first and only recording artist to be inducted. He was also admitted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2014, following in his father Joe Jackson’s footsteps. Michael Jackson used his platform to advocate for social change and address pressing global issues. He received humanitarian awards for helping those in need around the world who are in need of food, shelter, and education. Jackson also supported many charitable causes, including children’s hospitals, disaster relief efforts, and educational initiatives. He was awarded by two presidents of the United States for his generous acts of kindness.

Source:, 2021; Colin McEvoy, “Michael Jackson: Biography, musician, dancer,” 2023,

Alicia Keys, 1981-

Author E. Jones

West Middle School

Alicia Augello Cook was born in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, on January 25, 1981. Her parents are Terria Joseph and Craig Cook, and she has a brother named Cole Cook. She attended Columbia University but dropped out after only four weeks to pursue a music career. After her deal with Columbia Records fell apart, Clive Davis, the president of Arista, signed her. Alicia also graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School at sixteen, where she was trained in dance and music. She became interested in music when she was five, started playing the piano when she was seven, and began creating her own music when she was twelve. She released her debut album, “Songs in A Minor,” in 2001, which sold over 6.2 million copies in the United States and over 12 million copies worldwide. The album reached the top spot on the Billboard 200 in its first week of release, with around 230,000 copies sold. Alicia has won numerous awards, including fifteen Grammy Awards, seventeen NAACP Image Awards, twelve ASCAP Awards, and an award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and National Music Publishers Association. She is also a philanthropist and co-founded Keep a Child Alive (KCA), which provides life-saving anti-retroviral treatment and resources to children and families with HIV/AIDS in Africa and India. Alicia Keys is known for supporting women’s empowerment, and some of her most famous songs include “A Woman’s Worth,” “Superwoman,” “Empire State Of Mind (Broken Down),” and “Brand New Me.” She also supports Oxfam’s work through her We Are Here Movement organization, which focuses on equality and justice, women and children, and climate and consciousness.

Source:, 2024;, 2024; Success, 2024;, 2024;, 2024.

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, 1989-

Author C. Alter

West Middle School

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles was born in Houston, Texas, on September 4, 1981. Her parents are Tina and Mathew Knowles, and she has a younger sister, Solange, and a step-sister, Bianca Lawson. Beyoncé attended Parker Elementary, Welch Middle School, and Alief Elsik High School in Houston but did not attend college. She is married to Jay-Z, and they have three children together: Blue Ivy (born in 2012) and twins Rumi and Sir (born in 2017). Beyoncé started her music career at a young age, performing in singing and dancing competitions. In the late 1990s, she joined the girl group Destiny’s Child. After the group disbanded, Beyoncé went solo and released several successful albums, such as “Dangerously in Love” (2003) and “B’Day” (2006).

Beyoncé’s musical style, combining rap and singing elements, has been influential in the industry. Despite some early criticism, Beyoncé persevered and has become one of the most successful musicians ever. She has won thirty-two Grammy Awards and is the youngest female artist to receive the Legend Award. In addition to her musical accomplishments, Beyoncé has contributed to society by using her platform to bring attention to issues such as racism, sexism, and LGBTQ rights. She has also donated to organizations that support education, food banks, and social justice causes. Beyoncé is a role model and an inspiration to many people worldwide.

Sources:, 2024; Look to the, 2024.

John Legend, 1978-

Author A. Quan

West Middle School

My name is John Roger Stephens, but people know me better as the artist John Legend. I was born on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio. My parents are Ronald and Phyllis Stephens. I grew up singing in church choirs and had free piano lessons from my grandmother. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where I co-founded a cappella group, I started performing in nightclubs in New York City. I was introduced to hip-hop artist Kanye West, and we collaborated on our demos. As a singer, I’ve won several awards, including the Best R&B Album, Best New Artist, and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Get Lifted.” In 2014, during an interview with Gayle King, she asked me why love songs are so attractive to me. I replied that they come naturally to me because I grew up on love songs, like Marvin Gaye’s music. I believe love is universal, and everybody feels these things. I am married to Chrissy Teigen, and together we donated $288,000 under Donald Trump’s name to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and $200,000 to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. We have four children: Luna, Miles, Esti, and Wren. My grandmother, Majorie Maxine Stephens, played a significant role in shaping my skills and passion for music. I sing love songs, and some of my most famous songs include “All of Me,” “Ordinary People,” and “Green Light.”

Source:, 2024; CBS, 2014;, 2018;, 2021;, 2023.

Bob Marley, 1945-1981

Author N. Ephrem

West Middle School

Bob Marley was born on February 6, 1945, in Nine Mile, Jamaica to Cedella Booker and Norval Marley. He attended Stepney primary and junior high school but dropped out at the age of fourteen to learn the welding trade. In his spare time, he played music with his friends and attended vocal classes held by Trench Town resident Joe Higgs, who inspired him. Marley was a member of a band called The Wailers, but their music wasn’t getting played on the radio. He was exposed to racism, poverty, and violence which affected his music, sparking a desire for him to make songs about peace. Marley was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Grammy lifetime achievement award, and was awarded the peace medal of the Third World. He popularized reggae music, spreading love and compassion for the poor and challenged racism. He introduced the world not only to Jamaican music but also to the Rastafari movement. Despite dropping out of school at a young age, Marley's contributions to music and social justice have impacted the world for years to come.

Source: YouTube: Inside the Music;

Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, 1960-

Author C. Perkins

West Middle School

Carlton Douglas Ridenhour, also known as Chuck D., was born on August 1, 1960, in Queens, New York, to Lorenzo Ridenhour and Judy Ridenhour. He has three children and siblings Henry, Paul, and Thelma. Chuck D’s parents were political activists and grew up learning a lot about the Civil Rights movement. During his youth, he participated in summer programs led by the Black Panther Party, which focused on Black history. These lectures and knowledge gave him pride in being Black and empowered him to help the community. Chuck D. attended W. Tresper Clarke Middle School, Roosevelt High School, and Adelphi University, where he earned a degree in graphic design. While in college, he hosted the Super Spectrum Mix Show at the college’s radio station WBAU with his newfound friend Hank Shocklee. He was impressed by activist, comedian, and health guru Dick Gregory, who showed him how humor and provocativeness can have a powerful impact.

Chuck D. is best known as a member of the rap group Public Enemy. The group’s political messages made them a popular, controversial, and influential group of hip-hop artists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Public Enemy was started in 1982 at Adelphi University on Long Island, New York, and its original members were Chuck D., Flavor Fav, Terminator X, and Professor Griff. All members were African American men who came primarily from the suburbs, and Public Enemy brought Black political ideology to pop music. Chuck D’s voice is natural and impressive, characterizing his rap. However, some of his views on issues have been controversial. He expressed concern about the use of drugs and guns by the Black community, which has contributed to their criminalization. He also felt that a Black person was more likely to be charged and prosecuted for a drug-related offense than a white person.

Chuck D has continued to influence people by touring as a lecturer and defender of the importance of rap as a communicative medium. He called the 1990s a “do-or-die” decade for African Americans. Speaking before 400 Emory University students in February of 1992, Chuck D. assured the young adults of the importance of independent thought and action in uplifting their lives in America.

Source:, 2024; C. Gillett “Def Jam Records: Hip-Hop Harbingers,”, 2010.

Diana Ross, 1944-

Author Roberto Q

West Middle School

Diana Ross (her full legal name was Diana Ernestine Eare Ross) was born on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, MI. She had always had two things constantly accompanying her throughout her childhood: the dream of studying fashion, designing, and cosmetology, and her five siblings. She often studied fashion in primary and secondary school to reach her goal. Fast forward a few years, and Diana Ross had become the leader of an all-female music group and was one of the many music artists who inspired many people and was recognized as someone who could connect to their audience while performing. As long as you ignore the cons of her career (which was being addicted to alcohol and painkillers) we can look at Diana Ross as a person of great importance in the music world, not just because she inspired so many people, not just because she connected to her audiences so well, but also because she inspired tons of other music artists as well. Even though she has been in music for a really long time, she is not yet officially retired, but no matter what age she retires, she will always be a turning point in musical art for the better.

Source:, 2023.

Angie Thomas, 1988-

Author L. Weston

West Middle School

Angie Thomas was born September 20, 1988, in Jackson, Mississippi. Angie lived with her mom, Julia Thomas, and her grandmother. Afterward, she attended Johnson Elementary, Brinkley Middle, and Northwest Middle. Angie then graduated from Belhaven University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She also has an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. Angie witnessed a shootout when she was six. The next day, her mom took her to the library to show her “there was more to the world than she saw that day.” This advice is what inspired Angie to start writing. Tupac also inspired her, along with her mom. At first, Angie was nervous about publishing her book, worried she would receive hate emails or threats. Instead, she received thanks and awards. Angie has won the Morris Debut Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in the U.S. and is the inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Myers Grant in 2015. She won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in the U.K. and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis German Award.

Source: Angie;, 2024.

Stevie Wonder, 1950-

Author J. Watkins

West Middle School

Stevland Hardaway Morris was born on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan. He grew up as an only child with his parents, Lula Hardaway and Calvin Judkins. Stevland attended Fitzgerald Elementary School and showed a passion for singing from a young age. He was influenced by Ray Charles and Sam Cooke and signed his first three-year contract at the age of ten, but his music career picked up when he was eleven. Stevland, who later became known as Stevie Wonder, improved his singing and instrument-playing skills by practicing with other singers and listening to people’s opinions. He won numerous awards and inspired people, especially those with disabilities, with his music. Stevie also helped the community by singing at world events and spreading cheer. He eventually won twenty-five Grammys and had a number-one R&B and Pop single. Stevie wanted to show that he could sing regardless of his race or disability, and his music encouraged people to pursue their dreams. Stevie Wonder has eight children and at the age of seventy-three, he continues to live his best life with his family while also contributing to the community.

Source:, 2024;, 2024.

The Weeknd, 1990-

Author J. Vazquez

West Middle School

The Weeknd is a famous artist whose birth name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. He was born on February 16, 1990, in Toronto, Canada. Abel was an only child, and he lived with his mother and grandmother in the suburbs after his parents split up when he was young. Although he wanted a sibling, he never got the chance to have one. He attended Samuel Herane Middle School but dropped out of high school later. However, he was able to attend West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute. Abel’s interest in music began in high school, and he released a free download album titled “House of Balloons” in 2011, followed by two more albums that further propelled his career. Abel was self-taught and used to practice singing and recording songs. His music was inspired by pop music and artists like Michael Jackson. When he released his first song, “House of Balloons,” he posted his mixtape anonymously, which created a sense of vagueness and secrecy. People found his unique style captivating, and he gained more popularity over time.

Abel has received numerous awards, including ten Billboard Music Awards, two BRIT Awards, four Grammy Awards, four Guinness World Records, and many more. Despite all these accolades, he continues to receive more recognition. Abel has supported multiple World Food Programs and donated up to $5 million. He is vocal about critical social issues like food security, education, and social justice. Abel uses his fame to support those in need and has almost changed the image of pop and R&B for the better. The Weeknd has donated $1 million in food aid to Ethiopia, $500,000 to COVID-19 relief, $500,000 to Black Lives Matter causes, and $300,000 to support victims of the Beirut port explosion. A fun fact about The Weeknd is that he got his name from leaving one weekend and never returning. He originally wanted the stage name “Weekend,” but another Canadian band already had that name, so he removed the “E” and thought it sounded cool.

Source:, 2024;, 2024;, 2024; IMDB, 2024; UN World Food, 2022.