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10 Little-Known but Important African-American Figures

The earliest Africans recorded in history to arrive in America arrived in the year 1619. It was the year a Dutch ship ferrying slaves traded them to the English men at port comfort modern-day fort Monroe. The blacks were 19 in number. 10 to 12 million Africans are said to have been transported to the western countries as slaves. Majority of the slaves were brought to Brazil and the West Indies. However, they did not survive for long. The weather conditions in those regions were unfavorable to them, so they died. Five hundred thousand slaves were taken to America where the conditions were more favorable with enough food and fewer diseases. These are the reasons for the high number of black Americans. Statistics show that in 1700, there were 25000 slaves in North America making 10% of its total population. The subsequent years saw a high number of slaves brought to America. The major African communities who had their men and women enslaved included; Hausa, Bakongo, Igbo, Mande, Wolof, Akan, Fon, Yoruba, and Makua. Slaves were also taken from the eastern parts of Africa including Tanzania and Madagascar regions. These regions had ethnic communities who were believed to be strong would work in the fields effortlessly.

Historians record that from the year 1750, a large number of American born slaves were registered. And the slaves born in Africa reduced in number. By the time revolution started in America, North America had begun outlawing slavery and the slave trade. The southern states, however, continued to source slaves to meet the high demand for labor. Slavery in these regions continued up until the year 1808. Slave trade in America was put to end in 1808. New America outlawed the importation of slaves. That was when an African population gained momentum in America. They increased in number, and that’s how we have the modern-day black Americans. Some of these African-American lived to become legends, and below are the inspiring stories of ten of them.

Colonel Allen Allensworth

Colonel Allen Allensworth

Allen Allensworth was born in Louisville Kentucky to slave parents in the year 1842. While growing up, he had ambitions. And always was punished for his search for education. That time, Slaves in America were not allowed to read. That did not stop Allensworth from quenching his thirst for learning. He escaped during the time of war and served in the army hospital corps as a civilian nurse. In 1863, Allensworth served in the U.S navy up until 1865. He was later ordained and became a minister.

He got married to Josephine Leavell, a school teacher on September 20, 1877. They would then dedicate their lives to increasing education and spiritual awareness. They were blessed with two children. Allensworth later vied for the chaplaincy position at the Buffalo soldier’s regiment. He was appointed and retired in 1906. After retirement, he traversed the United States empowering African Americans. In 1904, together with his family, they relocated to Los Angeles where he met Professor William Payne who was born in West Virginia. Along with three other men; William Peck, J.W. Palmer, and Harry Mitchell established Allensworth township, California.[1]

Charles Alston

Charles Alston

Alston is also another little-known African-American legend. Charles Alston was an African-American born painter and artist. He was born on November 28, 1907, in Charlotte, North Carolina. His parents were African American born slaves. He attended Dewitt Clinton High School. While at school, he exhibited his academic prowess and was nominated the school’s magazine editor, the magpie. He later joined the National academy of Art to perfect his skills in drawing and anatomy. He graduated in the year 1925 and then joined Columbia University. Surprisingly, he had secured a scholarship to join Yale School of Fine Arts, but he turned it down. He had entered a pre-architectural program, but the challenges faced by African Americans pursuing the course diminished his dreams of becoming an excellent architect.

While at Columbia University, he drew cartoons for the school magazine and also worked for the Daily Spectator. In his professional career, Charles would exhibit his love for arts through various magazines including; melody maker, the New Yorker, fortune and Mademoiselle. In 1963, he established a group by the name spiral. This group was well known as “306”.In 1968, he was appointed to the national council of culture and arts and later to the New York City art commission. In 1973 he became a professor at the city college of New York. Throughout his whole life, Charles Alston championed for African American rights. He dedicated his life through his artwork to bringing Africans-Americans together and fighting the racism that existed during his time. Charles Alston died on April 27, 1977, at the age of 69. However, his artwork continued to be celebrated. He was the first African American to have his artwork displayed in the White House.[2]

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker is well-known in the history books to have taken part in the design of Washington, DC. Benjamin was born in the year 1731 to African-American parents who at that time were free slaves. He grew up to be one of the best surveyors of that time. He was hired by Major Andre Ellicott to help design the boundaries of modern-day Washington, DC. Also, history records that at the age of 21, Banneker made a wooden clock that would strike at the top of every hour. He is also known for calculating solar eclipse in 1788.[3]

Harry Belafonte

Little-Known but Important African-American Figures

Harry Belafonte is one great legend who is well-known for his musical career. However, he also marks African American history books. Harry was born in Jamaica in the year 1927 to African American parents. While living with his grandmother in Jamaica, Harry attended wonder schools from 1932 to 1940. He later moved to New York City and enrolled at George Washington High school. Harry also served in the Navy during World War II. He launched his music career in 1949 as a pop singer but later developed interests in the folk genre.

Harry was also an active human rights activists and a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. together they had a mission of championing for political and human rights. He sang the song “we are the world” purposely to help raise money for assisting famine-stricken Africans at that time. And yes, the song brought in a lot of money. He also recorded songs in 1988 that championed against the apartheid policy in South Africa. Harry won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.[4]

Bill Pickett

Famously known as the Dusky Demon, Bill Pickett was an African-American man born to an African-American father and a Cherokee mother on December 5, 1870, at Jenks Branch, Texas. His father, Thomas Jefferson Pickett was a former slave. Bill was the second born child in a family of thirteen children. Bill Pickett got married in the year 1890 to Maggie Turner. Together they had nine children. Surprisingly Bill dropped out of school but his abundant talent made him famous around the world during his time. He is well known for inventing Bulldogging sport. This sport is whereby one grabs the cattle by its horns and fighting them to the ground. This type of game later translated to steer wrestling. He has since been known to have invented steer wrestling. Bill taught his fellow cowboys on bulldogging and slowly he gained fame. He took up the sport a notch higher for commercial purposes and helped raise money to support his large family.

Bill became a part of 101 Ranch Wild West Show in 1905. It is during this time that he adopted the name Dusky Demon as his stage name. He traveled worldwide showing his great talent and is said to have been captured by the old cameras. He was featured in the film the Bull-Dogger and the crimson skull done by Richard E.Norman.Bill backed himself up with great legacies during his lifetime. In 1971, thirty-nine years later after his death, he was inducted to the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Then in 1989, he became part of Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. In 1993, he was commemorated by the United States postal service, and the photograph was displayed on the postal stamps. However, the first dispatch of the stamps had the wrong picture. The stamps were recalled, and the right image of Bill was printed on the stamps. After retiring in 1916, he would occasionally ride his horses at his ranch. Sad he tripped off while riding a horse. He was injured severely, and he died 11 days later after the accident in April 1932.[5]

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Serving as the 66th United States secretary of states, Condoleezza Rice was born on November 14, 1954, to parents of African American origin in Birmingham, Alabama. She is the only child to her parents. Through finding my roots a series of the PBS, she discovered that she is 51% African and that her origin traces back to Cameroon. Being an academic prowess, Rice broke records when she enrolled at the University of Denver at the age of 16.

She earned her Ph.D. at the age of 26. She is also a talented pianist. A talent she practices till date. She developed this music talent at the age of three. At the University of Denver, she studied political science. This course would later shape up her political career. She was appointed on January 26, 2005, as the 66th United States secretary of states during George W Bush administration, making her as the first female African-American secretary of state.[6]

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson, well known as the baseball legend, is another legendary African-American. He was born on January 31, 1919, as the last born son to Mallie and Jerry Robinson in Cairo, Georgia. He was given the middle name Roosevelt in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. His athletic talent was evident while still in high school. His brothers who were athletes also encouraged him to pursue his talent. He participated in four major sports while at the university; baseball, football, basketball and track sports. In 1936, he participated in the annual Pacific Coast Negro tennis tournament and won. In his career life, he served the military in the U.S. Army. He won the world baseball championships in 1954.[7]

Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson

Sugar Ray Robinson is another African-American legend of all time. He was a multi-talented boxer and was recognized worldwide for his great boxing techniques. He was born on May 31, 1921, to Walker Smith Sr. and Leila Hurst. His original names were Walker Smith Jr. he acquired the nickname sugar ray during one of his performances when the crowd cheered him “sugar.”During his career as a boxer, he garnered six world titles.

He won one hundred and seventy-three fights out of two hundred and two contests he participated in. He lost nineteen fights and had six draws. Apart from being the greatest boxer, Robinson tried his luck in the entertainment industry. He became a great singer and dancer. He inspired many African-American youths during his time.[8]

Debi Thomas

Debi Thomas

Debra Janine Thomas, the world skating champion, was born on March 25, 1967, in New York. She is well known as the worlds’ greatest skate champion. Debra began her skating career officially at the age of nine when she participated in her first skating championship and won. Aside from being a great skater, Debi also had interests in the medical field from an early age. She graduated from the University of Arkansas medical sciences hospital as an orthopedic surgeon. Though she had a promising medical career, she experienced challenges working with other doctors due to her personality.[9]

Madam C.J. Walker

Little-Known but Important African-American Figures - Madam C.J. Walker

The wealthiest African-American female entrepreneur was born on December 23, 1867, as Sara Breedlove. She acquired the name Madam C.J. Walker from her husband whom she married in 1906. She was born in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. Having lost her both parents by the age of seven, she confidently build her way up the entrepreneurial ladder to become a successful African-American businesswoman. History also records that she had only three months of formal education.

Her passion for cosmetics and hair care products propelled her into establishing Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She was also a political philanthropist and an activist who championed for social welfare. During the time of her death, her net worth was estimated to be $600,000 ($8,000,000 in present-day dollars). As an activist, Walker helped many less fortunate African-American communities in America. She established the Young Men’s Christian Association through fundraising. Walker also contributed funds to the Tuskegee Institute to help the less fortunate students, Indiana polis’s Flanner house and Bethel African Episcopal Church. She succumbed to kidney failure and hypertension on May 25, 1919, at the age of 51.[10]

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