A Brief History
On July 16, 1862 and July 16, 1882, we commemorate the birthdays of 2 significant African-American women, Ida B. Wells (who first developed statistics on lynching in the US) and Violette Neatley Anderson (the first African-American woman to practice law before the United States Supreme Court). In honor of these historic Black American Women, today we choose to highlight the accomplishments of Seven Great Black American Men, people that young Americans can look up to, especially African-American youths. The order listed has no significance.
7. Booker T. Washington.
A multi-faceted man as an educator, author, civil rights proponent, and advisor to Presidents, Washington was probably the leading African-American advocate of the period 1890-1915. Educated at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and Wayland Seminary, Washington was born into slavery and used Tuskegee Institute as his base for fighting for the rights of African-Americans in the Jim Crow days after Reconstruction. He was an advocate of the education of Black youth and development of Black owned businesses as the primary way of advancing the common lot of African-Americans. Washington’s adept use of the media, oratory and organization is legendary.
6. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
A mainstay of the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Maryland and Princeton, this astrophysicist and cosmologist is a familiar face on television exposing this generation of Americans to the wonders of the cosmos. Neil Tyson got his education at Harvard, the University of Texas and Columbia, and is one of today’s greatest scientists, as well as one of the greatest advocates of science.
5. James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens.
Perhaps the greatest track and field athlete of all time, this Cleveland, Ohio native (born in Alabama) went on to greatness at Ohio State University and in the 1936 Olympics, where his magnificent performance proved Hitler and Nazi Germany wrong about “Aryan” superiority. Owens was as smart as he was athletic and enjoyed some commercial success while also mobilizing African-American voters. A man of great dignity, he was not afraid to support racial equality publicly and eloquently. In later years, business went bad and Owens went bankrupt, but was appointed a special Goodwill Ambassador by the US Government and spoke to many audiences.
4. Daniel Cormier.
The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion in mixed martial arts, Cormier was a distinguished high school wrestler, winning the Louisiana State Championship 3 years in a row in high school. Piling up a 61-0 record in junior college, he went on to great success at Oklahoma State, achieving a record of 53-10, including the post graduation accomplishment of being the US National Champion from 2003-2008. Named a team captain for the 2008 US Olympic Wrestling team, Cormier was unable to compete due to kidney problems. A college graduate, this intelligent and classy individual displays a great work ethic, first class sportsmanship, and is a pretty darn good fighter, with a professional record of 22-2.
3. George Washington Carver.
Okay, so he did not invent peanut butter. Still, this inventor and botanist was a major proponent of peanuts and sweet potatoes as alternate crops to cotton in the war ravaged South. Born into slavery himself, Carver devoted his life to making life better for other people and produced numerous helpful bulletins advising farmers how to maximize crops. An early environmentalist, Carver was recognized by Time Magazine as a “Black Leonardo” in 1941. Rejected for admission to a white college, Carver got his degree in Botany by studying “Plants as Modified by Man” at Iowa State Agricultural College. He was the first African-American student at that school, and certainly to this day remains one of their most honored alumni. Carver later became the first Black faculty member at Iowa State.
2. Dr. Ben Carson.
A graduate of Yale and the University of Michigan (Medical School), this brilliant neurosurgeon (now retired) was perhaps the finest in his field during his practice. Capable of excelling at the most delicate of surgeries, Carson became the first surgeon to ever separate conjoined twins (“Siamese Twins”) attached at the head. Carson continued his public service by running for President in the 2016 primary season, and despite dropping out of the race has continued to make his political views public, provides counsel to the President Donald Trump, and serves as the 17th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is also a best selling author (6 books on best seller lists) and a prolific writer or professional medical papers. In 1994, Carson founded a scholarship foundation for American youths.
1. Benjamin Banneker.
Born in Baltimore at a time when Maryland was a slave colony (and later state) in 1731, Banneker was actually born a free man to free parents. A self taught scientist, Banneker became knowledgeable enough about astronomy to publish almanacs and became a competent surveyor. Banneker’s proximity to what became Washington, D.C. and his prominence allowed him to correspond with Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson, especially about subjects such as slavery and racial equality. Banneker is remembered today by streets, schools and parks being named in his honor and he has even appeared on a US Postage stamp. One of Banneker’s unique political proposals was that a “Secretary of Peace” be established. His inventiveness was demonstrated when he used a pocket watch as a model for a working wooden clock.
In this article, we have listed seven great black American men, such as Jesse Owens, but there are many others, including a bonus eighth entry to be covered momentarily, but before I get to this individual, as a question for students (and subscribers), what other great African-American men would you like to see highlighted on a follow up list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Bonus Entry: LeBron James
James’s life story is another remarkable example of how one can rise above adversity. The basketball star’s mother was only sixteen at the time of his birth and his father, a man with a considerable criminal record, was essentially absent from James’s life. Nevertheless, thanks to a combination of mentorship, opportunities, and his own hard work, James eventually became a dignified player on the court and a decent family man off the court. He has also become a spokesman for non-violent dialogue at the present time of racial strife plaguing the US. Among his greatest athletic achievements was leading the Cavaliers to the first major league sports championship in Cleveland since 1964. When his career ends, he will be rated as the best or one of the best basketball players of all time.
James, as with the others on this list, is not merely a great man due to his natural talent or even for excelling in a particular career. These men are also great, perhaps even more importantly so, for persevering despite hardships, making the most of opportunities when they became available, and especially for using their fame and talents to help others. As Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
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For more information, please see…
Blakley, Gloria and Allison J. Keyes. Great African Americans. Publications International, 2002.
Oughton, Taylor. Great African Americans Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book). Dover Publications, 1996.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Booker Washington and Theodore Roosevelt at Tuskegee Institute, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1925, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.
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