Here in the United States of America(USA), the month of February is Black History Month. This month is to honor the most influential black people in the history of the USA, and honor those who made a difference in the country.
Just as a premise, I'm not a black person myself, and I'm not writing this as a way to virtue signal, and this isn't performative activism. I'm also not claiming this list to be the literal most influential black people in the history of the USA, and I'm not here to claim to understand, or know more about the struggles blacks have faced in the USA. Also, my list of black people may include black Hispanics, and mixed race people who have been recognized as "black" in society.
This is the first part of this list, and I will update this list weekly in the month of February, so let's get started.
Robert Sengstacke Abbott(1870-1940)-Founder of The Chicago Defender
Robert was Born just five years after the end of the Civil War. He founded a weekly newspaper, The Chicago Defender, one of the most important black newspapers in history, in 1905. Without Abbott, there would be no Essence, no Jet , no Black Enterprise, no The Source, no The Undefeated.
The success of The Chicago Defender made Abbott one of the nation’s most prominent postslavery black millionaires, along with beauty product magnate Madam C.J. Walker and paved the way for prominent black publishers such as Earl G. Graves, John H. Johnson and Edward Lewis.
The son of slaves, Abbott grew up with a half-German stepfather whose relatives eventually joined the Third Reich during the 1930s. Ironically enough, young Robert was taught to hate racial injustice, despite encountering it at every turn in his life, from his early foray into the printing business to his time in law school in Chicago, all the way to religious institutions.
An alum of Hampton University, Abbott was a catalyst for the Great Migration at the turn of the 20th century, when six-million African-Americans from the rural South moved to urban cities in the West, Northeast and Midwest, with 100,000 settling in Chicago. Like a politician promising tax breaks to out-of-state companies to inspire relocation, Abbott took it upon himself to lay out the welcome mat for the millions of blacks abandoning the Jim Crow South to head to the Windy City, where manufacturing jobs were awaiting as World War I approached.
What started off as 25 cents in capital and a four-page pamphlet distributed strictly in black neighborhoods quickly grew into a readership that eclipsed half a million a week at its peak, numbers that mirror the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel today. The paper’s rise in stature and circulation was due in large part to Abbott being a natural hustler. The Defender was initially banned in the South due to its encouragement of African-Americans to abandon the area and head North, but the Georgia native used a network of black railroad porters (who would eventually become the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) to distribute the paper in Southern states.
Alvin Ailey(1931-1989)-Founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre
Alvin Ailey, the legendary modern dance pioneer, choreographer and civil rights artist-as-activist, left us his answers. Although Ailey died over 30 years ago, many of his best-known pieces have become as emblematic of vibrant, relevant American art as tap dance, jazz, the literature of Toni Morrison and hip-hop. Ailey explored issues of social justice, racism and spirituality in the African-American experience. This was during the height of the civil rights movement, when the notion of black classically trained dancers moving to the music of Duke Ellington, gospel, blues, Latin and African pop was truly revolutionary, if not unfathomable.
Born into poverty in Texas in 1931, Ailey drew from his emotional well of close-knit black churches, rural juke joints, fiery protest songs and a lonely childhood as a closeted gay man to fuel his passion for dance. He befriended many of his fellow mid-century American masters (Maya Angelou, Carmen De Lavallade, Merce Cunningham and Katherine Dunham, to name a few) while living in New York. After Ailey’s death from an AIDS-related illness in 1989, the company and school grew into the premier repository for emerging black choreographers, and is still the most popular dance touring company on the international circuit.
Muhammad Ali(1942-2016)-Former Professional Boxer
Muhammad Ali is arguably the greatest Boxer of all time.
Just over a month earlier than his debut, the heavyweight boxing champion refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War. As Ali awaited conviction for draft evasion and the revocation of his title, several African-American athletes, led by the NFL’s Jim Brown, convened a meeting with him in Cleveland.
Brown, fiercely independent himself, told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2012, “I felt with Ali taking the position he was taking, and with him losing the crown, and with the government coming at him with everything they had, that we as a body of prominent athletes could get the truth and stand behind Ali and give him the necessary support.”
There is a now iconic photograph of Ali and his newly formed “cabinet.” Flanked by eventual Hall of Famer Brown and eventual Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) the champ also had eventual Hall of Famers Willie Davis and Bobby Mitchell as well as attorney Carl Stokes (who would become Cleveland’s mayor and the first African-American mayor of a major city) behind him.
The united front in Cleveland also proved an inspiration for Martin Luther King Jr.
King praised Ali for his courage in one of his own most courageous statements about Vietnam: “Every young man in this country who believes that this war is abominable and unjust should file as a conscientious objector.”
As a boxer, his style, power, ring savvy and winning of an Olympic gold medal and the world heavyweight title three times was unprecedented.
He lost the heavyweight crown in 1971. His religious conversion to Islam only made him more resolute.
Ali’s professional record was 56–5 — but the fight that epitomizes his genius was the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the bout against heavyweight champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali, at age 32, was the underdog. But Ali’s “rope-a-dope” technique baited Foreman into throwing wild punches and exhausting himself. In an eighth-round knockout, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title that had been taken from him 10 years earlier.
At the memorial service held after his death on June 3, 2016, his widow, Lonnie Ali, said this: “Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted us to use his life and his death as a teaching moment for young people, for his country and for the world.”
Maya Angelou lived a life just as remarkable as the poetry and prose she crafted in her 86 years on this earth.
And it was the documentation of Angelou’s life that resonated with her audience and earned her a myriad of accolades, including three Grammy awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a host of honorary degrees.
Despite horrific periods in her life, Angelou rose. At 8 years old, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. After being convicted, Angelou’s abuser was found beaten to death. The once garrulous girl from Stamps, Arkansas, silenced herself for nearly five years, believing that her voice had killed the man because she identified him to her family. Instead, she memorized poetry during her silence, rearranging cadences and reciting Shakespearean sonnets in her head.
With the help of a teacher, Angelou was able to speak again. She used literature to recover from trauma, but got pregnant at 16. She found work as San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor and later worked in the sex trade and as a calypso singer to support her family. Angelou spoke honestly of her experiences, unashamed to walk in the truths of her past.
Later, she joined the Harlem Writers Guild and with help from friend and fellow author James Baldwin, went on to write "The Caged Bird Sings" in 1969 — the first in what would become a seven-volume, best-selling autobiographical series. Nearly a decade later, Angelou struck poetic gold with "And Still I Rise", a collection that remains one of her most important works.
Janae Girard(1998-Present)-Instagram Influencer
Born in Miami, Florida in 1998, she is the youngest person on this list so far.
Some may think it's controversial to put a half-Cuban Social Media Influencer, but her job is to literally influence people, and she does so in a positive way. She is an adamant activist of the Black Lives Matter(BLM) Movement, and she had led the way in her community to have petitions filed to prevent police brutality, and other forms of discrimination against blacks in the USA.
On top of this, she is a Christian, and participates actively in her church, and she does fashion modeling in various locations of the USA. She has really made a name for herself at just the age of 22 years old, yet, still spends time with her nieces, nephews, and other family members, as well as moral obligations within her community.
Serena Williams(1981-Present)-Professional Tennis Player
Born Sept. 26, 1981, in Saginaw, Michigan, and raised in Compton, California, Williams is the youngest of five daughters. Her father, a former sharecropper from Louisiana, learned from tennis books and videos how to coach his daughters Serena and older sister Venus. In daily two-hour practices, the Williams sisters worked themselves to the bone on a concrete court, avoiding potholes and often practicing without nets. Growing up in Compton meant developing a sense of fight — the same fight that would characterize their game on and off the court.
Williams transcended tennis, a historically white and demure sport, by being herself — with solid curves, a signature Afro-style ponytail, and an energetic style of play. What makes Williams’ career, spanning more than two decades, so remarkable is not a spotless record, but the spirit to rise above the criticism of her age, game, and body and set the standard for accomplishment in sports.
Her resume boasts 23 Grand Slam titles (the record), 6 U.S. Opens, 7 Wimbledon titles, 7 Australian Opens, 3 French Opens, 4 Olympic gold medals, 23 doubles titles, and a career Golden Slam. Williams has won enough awards for several lifetimes. With Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Jimmy Johnson-while they are incredible in their sports, none of them have dominated their sports as much as Williams dominated her sport. Simply put-she's the greatest Female Tennis Player of all time.