African Americans Who Helped Shape the U.S.


Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806). Mathematician and astronomer. He constructed the first striking clock to be made in America.
George Carruthers (1939– ). His telescope and image converter was used to identify molecular hydrogen in space.
George Washington Carver (1864–1943). Agricultural chemist. He advocated innovative agricultural methods and developed applications for agricultural products.
Charles Drew (1904–1950). Physician, surgeon, medical researcher.
Percy Julian (1899–1975). Chemist, known for being a pioneer in the synthesis of medicinal drugs such as cortisone and the birth control pill.
Kenneth Clark (1917–1983. Psychologist.


Thomas Jennings (1791–1856). The first known African American to hold a patent.
Granville T. Woods (1856–1910). Known for contributions to the street car and the telephone.


Maya Angelou (1928– ). American author and poet who has been called “America’s most visible female autobiographer.”
James Baldwin (1924–1987). Novelist, playwright, poet, and essayist. .
Frederick Douglass (1818–1895). Civil rights activist and writer.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963). Historian, civil rights activist, and writer.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906). Poet.
Ralph Ellison (1914 –1994). Novelist, critic, and scholar.
Henry Louis Gates (1950– ). Author, documentary filmmaker, literary critic, and professor at Harvard University.
Langton Hughes (1902–1967). Poet and social activist, known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960). Folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the Harlem Renaissance.
Toni Morrison (1931-2019). Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
Alice Walker (1944– ). Author and poet who wrote The Color Purple and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Booker T. Washington. (1856–1915). Writer and political leader.
Ida Wells (1862–1931). Journalist, newspaper editor, and early civil rights activist.
Richard Wright 1908–1960). Novelist, short story writer, and poet.

Political Leaders and Activists

Edward William Brooke III (1919– 2015). U.S. senator.
Julian Bond (1940–2015 ). Founder of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, first president of Southern Poverty Law Center, and former chairman of NAACP.
Ralph Bunche (1903–1971). Diplomat and winner of the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.
Shirley Chisholm (1924–2005). First African American woman elected to Congress.
Marian Wright Edelman (1939– ). Activist for the rights of children.
Matthew Gaines (1840–1900). Former slave, community leader, minister and Republican state senator. Helped establish free public education in Texas.
Marcus Garvey (1887–1940). Black nationalist, encouraged African Americans to migrate back to Africa.
Frances Harper (1825–1911). Abolitionist and poet.
Jesse Jackson Sr. (1941– ). Civil rights activist and Baptist minister.
James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938). Author, known for his leadership within NAACP.
Barbara Jordan (1936–1996). Congresswoman, educator and constitutionalist.
Alan Keyes (1950– ). Political activist, served as President Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs.
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968). Prominent leader of the civil rights movement.
Barack Obama (1961- ). 44th President of the United States
Rosa Parks (1913–2005). Civil rights activist, known for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955 and sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Colin Powell (1937– ). Statesman and retired four-star general of the U.S. Army. He also served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827–1901). First African American to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Condoleezza Rice (1954– ). Foreign policy expert who served as national security adviser and then secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
Carl Burton Stokes (1927–1996). Elected mayor of Cleveland in 1967, he was the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city.
Sojourner Truth (1797–1883). Abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
Harriet Tubman (1820–1913). Abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the Civil War.
Malcolm X (1925–1965). Muslim religious leader and human rights activist.


Notable Members of the Judicial and Legal Fields

Johnnie Cochran (1937–2005). Criminal defense lawyer.
Charles Hamilton Houston (1895–1950). Dean of Howard University Law School, NAACP lawyer, and mentor to Thurgood Marshall.
Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993). Civil rights lawyer and the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005). Civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, and state senator.
Judith Ann Wilson Rogers (1939– ) First African American female on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
Clarence Thomas (1948– ). Associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
William F. Yardley (1844–1924). Attorney, politician, and civil rights advocate.


Muhammad Ali (1942-2016). Heavyweight champion boxer, philanthropist, and social activist.
Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. (1943 – 1993). Professional tennis player. Won the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.
Anita DeFrantz (1952– ). Olympic rower and member of the International Olympic Committee.
Michael Jordan (1963– ). Professional basketball player.
Jesse Owens (1913–1980). Track and field star.
Jackie Robinson (1919–1972). Civil rights leader and the first African-American Major League Baseball player.
Venus and Serena Williams (1980– ) and (1981– ). Professional tennis players.
Tiger Woods (1975– ). One of the most successful professional golfers of all time.



Louis Armstrong (1901–1971). Jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996). Known as the “First Lady of Song.”
Billie Holiday (1915–1959). Jazz singer and songwriter.
BB King (1925– ). Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter.
Sidney Poitier (1927– ). Actor, film director, author, and diplomat.


Ursula M. Burns (1958– ). CEO of Xerox Corporation.
Kenneth I. Chenault (1951– ). CEO of American Express.
Kenneth C. Frazier (1954– ). President and CEO of Merck and Co.
Robert Johnson (1946– ). Founder of Black Entertainment Television.
Aylwin Lewis (1954– ). CEO of Sears Holding Corporation.
Stanley O’Neal (1951– ). CEO of Merrill Lynch & Co.
Richard D. Parson (1948– ). Chairman of Citigroup and former CEO of Time Warner.
Franklin Delano Raines (1949– ). CEO of Fannie Mae.
Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919). Business entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Lloyd D. Ward (1948– ). CEO of Maytag.
Ronald A. Williams (1950– ). Executive Chairman of Aetna Inc.
Oprah Winfrey (1954– ). Entertainer and business leader.

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