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Biographies of Major Figures

Read profiles of influential African Americans from the colonial era to the present-day. From abolitionists to jazz musicians, discover more about the figures who shaped African-American history.
  1. African-American Women (19)

Nannie Helen Burroughs:
Nannie Helen Burroughs was a prominent member of the NACW and established the National Training School for Women and Girls in 1909

Septima Poinsette Clark
Septima Poinsette Clark was an educator and civil rights activist. As director of citizenship schools help spur the Montgomery Bus Boycott and voter registration drive.

Asa Philip Randolph: Civil Rights Movement Activist and Mentor

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass' work as an abolitionist--speaking throughout the United States and Europe--as well as publishing a newspaper and slave narratives, make him an important member of the abolitionist movement.

Members of the Black Panther Party
This is a list of three prominent leaders of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense

Countee Cullen
Countee Cullen was a prominent literary figure of the Harlem Renaissance.

Biography: James Baldwin
James Baldwin's work as an essayist, novelist and playwright explored issues such as personal identity, racism, and sexuality.

Toni Morrison: Biography
Toni Morrison is a prolific writer whose novels about the African-American experience have received critical acclaim

Richard Wright
Following the success of "Native Son," Richard Wright became the first African-American bestselling author.

Georgia Douglas Johnson
Georgia Douglas Johnson was a prolific poet who provided her home as a literary salon during the Harlem Renaissance

Zora Neale Hurston: Folklorist and Novelist
Zora Neale Hurston's work as a novelist was heavily influenced by the folklore she heard as a child and her research as an anthropologist.

James Forten
James Forten was more than a wealthy African-American. He was an abolitionist and sociopolitical activist.

Arna Bontemps
Arna Bontemps was a poet and novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Yet, it was his work as a curator who archived African-American literature and culture that makes him most notable.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a journalist, suffragist and overall crusader for justice.

Publishers of Freedom's Journal
John B. Russwurm and Samuel E. Cornish published "Freedom's Journal" in 1827. The news publication was the first African-American published and edited newspaper in the United States.

Edmonia Lewis
Edmonia Lewis was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a sculptor.

William Wells Brown
William Wells Brown was an abolitionist, writer and historian.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg: Preserving the Past
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg's collected artifacts of the African Diaspora. Today, the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Study is world renowned.

A Biography of Carter G. Woodson
A biography of historian Carter G. Woodson, who founded the field of African-American history.

Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson broke racial barriers and made history when he became the first African-American baseball player to play Major League Baseball.

A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
A biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Biography of Crispus Attucks
A profile of Crispus Attucks, an African-American sailor who was the first killed in the 1770 Boston Massacre.

Biographies of Prominent African Americans
Biographies of prominent and influential African Americans.

John Mercer Langston
John Mercer Langston was not only the first African-American to serve in Congress, he was also an abolitionist, educator and fighter for racial unity as well as equality.

George Washington Carver
A description of the life of African-American inventor, George Washington Carver, from About.com guide Mary Bellis.

John Lewis
John Lewis is an United States congressman. At the age of 23, he became one of the "Big Six" civil rights leaders.

Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey came to the United States in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African-American culture. He founded the UNIA, urging African Americans to be proud of their African heritage.

Rosa Parks
A brief biography of Rosa Parks who started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, from About.com guide Jone Johnson Lewis.

Emmett Till
A profile of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was killed for whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman was a former slave who helped over 200 others escape from slavery to the North during the 19th century.

The Niagara Movement: Organizing for Social Change
The Niagara Movement was an instrumental organization that was established in 1905 by journalist William Monroe Trotter and W.E.B. Du Bois in opposition to Booker T. Washington's philosophy as an accommodation.

James Weldon Johnson: Renaissance Man
This page offers biographical information on the African-American writer, James Weldon Johnson. The profile features a biography, family information and various texts published by the author.

Lugenia Burns Hope
Lugenia Burns Hope worked tirelessly to improve the lives of African-Americans in Georgia through various initiatives.

Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker was the first women in the United States to direct a bank. Throughout her career as a businesswoman, Walker worked to help African-Americans.

Medgar Evers
Medgar Evers work as a civil rights activist in Mississippi helped end segregation at the University of Mississippi.

Claude McKay: Proletariat Poet
Claude McKay was one of the most prolific poets of the Harlem Renaissance--writing sonnets that exposed the harsh realities of African-American life in the United States.

William Monroe Trotter: An Uncompromising Agitator
William Monroe Trotter opposed everyone--from government officials to Booker T.Washington--for not believing that African-Americans deserved immediate equality in American society.

W.E.B. Du Bois: Innovative Activist
Historian, sociologist, writer, educator and sociopolitical activist, W.E.B. Du Bois fought throughout his career to uplift African-Americans through a variety of methods.

Booker T. Washington: Biography
Booker T. Washington was the most influential African-American leader from 1895 until his death in 1915.

American Negro Academy: Promoting the Talented Tenth
The American Negro Academy promoted the work of African-American scholars in the late 19th, early 20th century.

Paul Laurence Dunbar: Poet Laureate of the Negro Race
Paul Laurence Dunbar was the most prominent African-American literary figure prior to the Harlem Renaissance.

Alice Dunbar-Nelson
Alice Dunbar-Nelson worked as a poet, journalist and political activist during the Progressive Era and Harlem Renaissance.

Benjamin Tucker Tanner
Benjamin Tucker Tanner was a prominent 19th Century AME minister and bishop. He is also the father of artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson, one of the first African-American women physicians in the United States.

Biography of Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson
Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson was the first woman of any race to pass the Alabama State Medical Examination. She later became the founder of Tuskegee University's Nurses' School and Hospital. She is the eldest daughter of AME bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner and sister to famed artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Biography of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander was the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in the United States.

Henry Ossawa Tanner: A Naturalist at Heart
Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first African-American artist to achieve international acclaim.

John Baxter Taylor: First African-American Gold Medalist
John Baxter Taylor was the first African-American to represent the United States in an international athletic competition and the first to win an Olympic gold medal

Jessie Redmon Fauset: Harlem Renaissance Editor and Writer
Jessie Redmon Fauset was one of the key players of the Harlem Renaissance. As literary editor of The Crisis, Fauset promoted the work of African-American writers.

Alain Leroy Locke: Advocate for African-American Artists
Like Jessie Redmon Fauset, Alain Leroy Locke worked diligently to promote the literary and artistic work of African-Americans during the Harlem Renaissance.

Abyssinian Baptist Church
Abyssinian Baptist Church

Frederick Douglass
Read a short biography of Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist, from PBS.org.

African-American Senators
Eight African-Americans served in the U.S. Senate since 1870

Robert Morris Sr.
Robert S. Morris Sr. was one of the first African-American lawyers in the United States.

Benjamin Banneker: Inventor and Astronomer
Benjamin Banneker was known as the "Sable Astronomer." He published several almanacs, protested slavery and helped design the nation's capitol.

Richard Allen
Richard Allen established the AME Church and was an abolitionist and social activist.

Early African-American Poets: Images and Biographies

Prince Hall
Prince Hall established the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge during the colonial period.

Daniel Hale Williams
Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performed the first successful open heart surgery in the world. He also established Provident Hospital in Chicago for blacks.

Harlem Renaissance Playwrights

Sterling Brown
Sterling Brown was an African-American literature scholar and Harlem Renaissance poet.

Maya Angelou: Writer and Civil Rights Activist
Maya Angelou was a prominent memorist and poet whose work encouraged Americans of all walks of life.

Nikki Giovanni
Poet and activist Nikki Giovanni a distinguished professor at Virginia Tech University.

Angela Davis
Angela Davis is a professor and political activist often remembered for her affiliation with the Black Panther Party.

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson

Alice Walker
Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize winner for the novel "The Color Purple." She is also responsible to resurrecting the work of Zora Neale Hurston.

Jazz Legends

Cornel West
Cornel West is a prominent African-American scholar.

Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks is the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Brooks poetry is influenced by the Great Migration and later the Black Power Movement.

African-American Filmmakers
Five African-American filmmakers whose works explore life during the Jim Crow Era, Civil Rights movement and post Civil Rights Era.

Florence Mils
Actress, singer and vaudeville performer Florence Mills is considered the first African-American international superstar.

African-American Dancers
African-American choreographers and dancers whose work explores black culture and heritage.

William Grant Still

Men of the Black Arts Movement
Prominent contributions by men of the Black Arts Movement

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