In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to highlight Jackie Robinson, who had the strength of character to withstand the immense backlash as well as the intellect to understand the potential to change not only baseball but America’s ideas about race and integration. He knew that if he was able to hold himself to a higher standard and not respond to the abuse in kind, he would not only win for himself but for all ball players of color to follow.
Jackie Robinson was inspired by his older brother Mack, a Track and Field silver medalist in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Hitler mistakenly believed Germany would prove the superior Race. Jackie Robinson not only followed his brothers example by excelling in athletics, but also by challenging wrong thinking and policy not only in baseball but in American society as a whole. Robinson broke the baseball color line when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, and in 1962 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His good character, strength of will, and personal conviction in what he knew was right were his foundation. He credited his mother and her teaching as one of the sources for his strength.
She taught him “God watches what you do; you must reap what you sow, so sow well.” And because he never wavered he made an impact on the lives of those around him becoming an inspiration to others who followed. One example were the girls who integrated into the Little Rock, AK school system. These girls, facing waves of negative attention also received phone calls from Jackie personally to support them. There are many others where were positively impacted by this courageous and steadfast man, and some of them include Bill Russel, Hank Aaron, and Lu Charles to name a few. And on Robinson’s tombstone it reads, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
There are so many great African Americans that I could not expound upon but one in this article. Below is list of many notable men and women throughout our history. I did not highlight the obvious ones; Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Thomas Sowell, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Serena Williams, Clarence Thomas, Dr. Ben Carson, Booker T. Washington and Marian Anderson.
I’d like to also acknowledge some noteworthy African Americans who strove for justice, opportunity and equality not only for themselves but for others. Thank you for your lives of hard work, dedication and service.
- Arthur Robert Ashe Jr.: was an American professional tennis player who won three Grand Slam singles titles. He was the first Black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team and the only Black man ever to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.
- Edward William Brooke III: an American Republican politician who was the first African American Popularly elected to the United States Senate.
- George Washington Carver: the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century was an agricultural scientist and inventor who promoted alternative crops to cotton and methods to prevent soil depletion.
- Shirley Anita Chisholm: became the first black woman elecgted to the United States Congress as well as the first black candidate for a major-party nomination for the President of the United States.
- John William Coltrane: the most influential saxophonist in music history.
- Bill Cosby: the first African American to earn the Emmy Award for acting in 1966.
- Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: a United States Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen, was the first black brigadier general in the USAF. He was advanced to four star general in 1998. He followed in the footsteps of his father Benjamin O. Davis Sr., who was the first black general in the United States Army.
- Fredrick Douglass: an African American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman who was described by abolitionists in his time as a living counterexample to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.
- Charles Richard Drew: was an American surgeon and medical researcher in the field of blood transfusions. He improved techniques for blood storage and developed large-scale blood banks early in WWII, allowing medics to save thousands of allied forces in the war.
- Katherine Mary Dunham: was considered the “matriarch and queen mother of black dance”, due to having one of the most successful dance careers in African American and European theater in the 20th century.
- Matthew Alexander Henson: was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic, most notably reaching the geographic North Pole on April 6, 1909.
- Charles Hamilton Houston: was a prominent African-American lawyer, Dean of Howard University Law School, and NAACP first special counsel. A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, he played a significant role in dismantling Jim Crow laws, especially attacking segregation in schools and racial housing covenants, so much so the he earned the title, “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow.”
- Mae Carol Jemison: is an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. She became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor.
- John Arthur Johnson: also known as the “Galveston Giant”, became the first African – America world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915) at the height of the Jim Crow era. According to Ken Burns, “for more than thirteen years, Jack Johnson was the most famous and the most notorious African-American on earth.
- John Harold Johnson: was an American Businessman and publisher who became the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 in 1982 and in 1987 was names Black Enterprise Entrepreneur of the year. His magazines, Ebony and Jet were among he most influential African-American businesses in media beginning in the second half of the twentieth century.
- Percy Lavon Julian: was an American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.
- Alain Leroy Lock: was distinguished in 907 as the first African American Rhodes Scholar, is acknowledged as the philosophical architect or “Dean” of the Harlem Renaissance.
- Thurgood Marshall: an American lawyer and civil rights activist who became the first African –American to serve as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1967-1991. Prior to his judicial service, he successfully argued several cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education.
- Colin Luther Powell: was an American politician, statesman, diplomat, and United States Army officer who served as the first African –American secretary of state. He also served as the 16th United States national security advisory and the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Madam C.J. Walker: was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist. She is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- Daniel Hale Williams: was an American general surgeon, who in 1893 performed “the first successful heart surgery. He was elected as the only Africa-American charter member of the American College of Surgeons, and founded Chicago’s Provident Hospital, the first non-segregated hospital in the United States.
- Oprah Winfrey: Dubbed the “Queen of All Media,” she was the richest African – American of the 20th Century, was once the world’s only black billionaire, and the greatest black philanthropist in U.S. history. Her show was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and ran in national syndication for 25 years.
- Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander: was the first black woman to receive a Ph. D in Economics in the United States, the first black woman student to graduate with a law degree from Penn Law School, and the first African-American woman to practice law in Pennsylvania.