We are in Black History Month in the United States of America(USA).
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 not even saying these are the absolute most influential black people in the history of the USA.
This is the second part of this list, and I will update this list weekly in the month of February, so let's get started. If you want to read part one of this list, click here.
W.E.B De Bois(1868-1963)-Writer and Sociologist
In the introduction to The Souls of Black Folk, published in 1903, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois wrote that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line.” Though this prophetic remark is perhaps his most indelible, in a career spanning over a half-century until his death in 1963, Du Bois possessed the most perpetual voice on race in American history.
Attentive to both sides of the color line, Du Bois provided the most cogent explanation why whites to this day rebuff interracial political alliances even when sharing economic interests with people of color. In Black Reconstruction in America, published in 1935, Du Bois observed that working-class whites receive the psychological wage of whiteness. “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers,” he penned, “while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”
Aretha Franklin(1942-2018)-Singer and Songwriter
Curtsies are absolutely appropriate. Aretha Franklin is undisputed when it comes to pouring gospel-inflected, bluesy wails of love-gone-wrong lyrics over country-fried–yet-pop tracks. She plucked her Pentecostal pipes from the pulpit and applied them to a secular sound, giving us Sunday morning righteousness on any given Saturday night.
Fifty years ago, the daughter of popular Detroit Baptist minister C.L. Franklin scored a No. 1 hit with her remake of Otis Redding’s Respect, a song with a bit of a double entendre that helped soundtrack the civil rights movement. In 1967, when there was racial unrest in her native Detroit, people ran through the streets, daring cops to come near them while they shouted “sock it to me,” her ad-lib from the song, as they protested. Her signature song — and her most noted, as it’s been used many times over in TV and films and is a hot karaoke tune — also served as a sororal call for women, who also were looking for respect and to be taken seriously alongside their male counterparts. All these years later, the single still resonates, and she arguably has the best recorded singing voice of all time.
Michael Jordan(1963-Present)-Former National Basketball Association(NBA) Player
Michael Jordan operates on his own terms. The ruthless competitor in him has made sure of that. Over the years, he molded himself into this lauded beast in reaction to what perhaps only he considers failure. It all began in 1978, during his sophomore year at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, when Jordan was not selected for the varsity basketball team. A relentless nature and a growth spurt ultimately got him to a level of athleticism and bravado he’s yet to descend from. He dominated on varsity and received a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, he hit a game-winner to clinch a national championship and was named the national college player of the year. In the 1984 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls selected him third overall. Many have wondered why he didn’t go No. 1 or No. 2.
Debates could — but shouldn’t — be entertained regarding his place in the history of the game. While I'm no fan of using team accomplishments for individual rankings, take from this what you will: His six NBA titles in six NBA Finals appearances with six NBA Finals MVPs are among the greatest feats sports has ever seen. Five league MVPs, 10 league scoring titles, an NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, two NBA Slam Dunk contest trophies — remember the free throw line dunk? — and the list goes on. The NBA told him not to wear the sneakers Nike made for him, but he still did, eventually turning Air Jordan into an entire commercial collection and billion-dollar brand. His "Jumpman" logo is likely more recognizable than the NBA logo’s silhouette of Jerry West. At the peak of his playing career, Jordan entered an early retirement to play Major League Baseball. When he failed this time, he did so on his own terms, announcing his return to the NBA with a two-word fax that read, “I’m back,” before winning three more championship rings. Another retirement led to another comeback, and a 51-point game at the age of 38.
Every American kid — by the time he or she reaches fourth grade — has studied the important history of this country’s space missions. The significance of NASA being able to send John Glenn around the earth three successful times is well-documented, well-reported on and appropriately looked at as one of the more important gains in air and space. The critical nugget that always was missing was the unseen black female force that helped him get there.
Thankfully, we now know better. Katherine Johnson, 98, was a physicist and mathematician who helped launch the first use of digital electronic computers at NASA, the independent federal government agency that handles aerospace research, aeronautics and the civilian space program. Her wisdom with numbers and accuracy was so highly regarded that her sign-off was paramount for NASA to modernize itself with digital computers.
Be clear, Johnson wasn’t alone — many black women were hired by NASA in the early 1950s to work in the Guidance and Navigation Department. Johnson came on board in 1953 — a year before the civil rights movement kicked into high gear — and she initially worked in a pool of black women who all were performing math calculations. But it was Johnson who was plucked out of the pool to work with an all-male flight research team. It was Johnson who helped calculate the orbit for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. And it was Johnson who co-authored 26 scientific papers, which NASA still links to via its archives.
Arianna is a Social Media Influencer living in New York City, New York. She is a fashion model, blogger, and spends time helping raise her nieces, and nephews.
She has came a long way to make it to where she is. She started from the very bottom in Flushing, Queens(New York City), and has made a name for herself on the internet, and has even began her own local clothing line. She has truly dug herself out of a financial hole, and has a rags to riches journey.
Pain was always Richard Pryor’s comedic easel of choice. Look no further than his chillingly still relevant 1974 bit, “Ni****s vs. Police,” from the Grammy-award winning album That Nigger’s Crazy. Pryor’s jokes were a therapeutic soundtrack for black America and a no-holds-barred crash course for those who failed to understand what it meant to be an outsider in one’s own country a century after the abolition of slavery. That same year, Rolling Stone caught up with Pryor as he purchased a Walther .380 and Colt .357. At checkout, Pryor had but one question for the gun shop owner: “Like, how come all the targets you ever see are black?”
Born December 1st, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois, Richard Franklin Lennox Pryor III’s art reflected his life — hard, vulgar, sensitive and, of course, hilarious. He was molested at 6, abandoned by his mother, a sex worker, at 10, and was raised in his grandmother’s brothel.
Ida B. Wells(1862-1931)-Journalist
It’s too bad there isn’t more crossover between journalism and the practice of writing comics, because if there was, surely Ida B. Wells would be rendered with a superhero’s cape by now.
Known as a “Sword Among Lions,” Wells faced down threats of death and torture for bringing international attention — not to mention shame — to the lynch mob terror that afflicted post-Reconstruction black communities in the United States.
Our reluctance to believe the worst about fellow human beings, especially those we deem most familiar, is one of our most persistent shortcomings. Less than 100 years ago, many could not bring themselves to believe the atrocities committed in World War II concentration camps without journalistic evidence. Just a few decades before, Wells was sounding the alarm about the barbaric acts of her countrymen in the pages of the Memphis Free Speech, the newspaper she co-owned. She pushed for action in the face of widespread denialism.
Documenting the epidemic of lynching was miserable, disheartening work, but Wells also found time to advocate for the suffrage and civil rights of black women like herself. She wasn’t much concerned with being polite about it, either. For her troubles, black men criticized her for being unladylike and The New York Times labeled her a “slanderous and dirty-minded mulatress.”
Still, Wells rose to represent the best of the American journalistic tradition, and in doing so wasn’t just an advocate for those most afflicted and least comfortable, but a defender and protector of democracy, justice, and freedom for all. She dared America to confront its hypocrisies head-on and live up to the ideals upon which it was founded.