Nelson Mandela

During his law studies at the University of Witwatersrand, Mandela became involved in the movement against racial discrimination in apartheid South Africa. He built strong relations with black and white activists; in 1944 he joined the African National Congress. In 1962 Mandela was arrested, charged with treason and later, in 1964, sentenced to life imprisonment. After serving 27 years of his sentence, he entered negotiations which successfully ended apartheid. In 1994 he became the first black president of South Africa..

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Marcus Garvey

Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) was the last of 11 children. Garvey wanted to take Blacks from all over world back to Africa. In 1912 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) with the aim of bringing together all of the African diaspora. In 1912, the UNIA had its first international convention in New York City; Garvey spoke of pride in African culture and history to an audience of over 50,000 from all over the globe. In 1929, Garvey traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to describe the world-wide abuse of Africans to the League of Nations.

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Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens (1913-1980) had different jobs in his youth: delivering groceries, loading freight cars, and working in a shoe repair shop. It was at this time that he realized his dream was to run. He was first in the national spotlight when only a high-school student he tied the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100 yard dash and long-jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches. Owens attended Ohio State University and won a record eight individual NCAA championships, but he had to live off campus with the other African-American athletes. Within 45 minutes in 1935 in Michigan, he set three world records and equaled a fourth. He won four golds in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which were attended by Adolf Hitler. Legend has it that Hitler refused to shake Owen’s hand, but a British fighter pilot says he actually witnessed a handshake. Owens said “Hitler didn’t snub me–it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”

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Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin  Photo Credit: Google Images

Bayard Rustin
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Bayard Rustin was born in 1912 in Pennsylvania. During World War II, he planned to organize a march on Washington challenging segregation in the military. In response, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which ended segregation in all federal agencies. Rustin fought for the rights of Japanese-Americans when they were confined during the war. In 1942, he created the nonviolent Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). He was arrested several times for protesting against colonial rule in India and Africa. In 1947 he organized the Journey of Reconciliation to protest segregated buses.

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Sojourner Truth

Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery in 1797. Her owners were of Dutch ancestry, and she spoke only Dutch until she was nine, when she was sold to a new owner. She escaped with her baby daughter in 1826. In 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and told her friends, “The Spirit calls me, and I must go.” She began traveling around the U.S. and preaching about the abolition of slavery. For the rest of her life, she continued to fight for rights for African Americans and women.

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Robert Robinson Taylor

Today United States Postal Service workers dedicated the 2015 Black Heritage stamp honoring Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942). Taylor seems to have been the first black student to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and America’s first academically trained African-American architect. For over thirty years, he worked at the Tuskegee Institute, teaching, directing, and designing its buildings.

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Philip Randolph

Philip Randolph was born in Florida in 1889. He moved to New York in 1911 where he created his own brand of civil rights activism, which recommended collaboration. He started an employment office to provide job training and urge Blacks to join unions. In 1917 he founded the magazine Messenger, which fought against lynching and for an integrated society. That same year, he created a union for New York elevator operators. In 1919 he became president of a shipyard and dock workers union. Later, as president of a union for sleeping car porters, he enrolled 51 percent of porters. In 1941 he suggested a march on Washington to protest racial discrimination. The threat of the march prompted Roosevelt to pass the Fair Employment Act. In 1963 he organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

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Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland in about 1822. She escaped from slavery by fleeing to Philadelphia in 1849, and was determined to also free her family and others. She made 19 trips to Maryland, freeing 300 people. During the Civil War, she was an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war; she freed over 750 slaves with her Combahee River Raid. In her later years, she fought for women’s right to vote.

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Lugenia Burns Hope

Lugenia Burns Hope was born in 1871 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1898 she moved to Atlanta with her husband, who became the first African American president of Morehouse College. As a community organizer in Atlanta, she fought for full-day care centers and safe spaces to play for Black children. She helped raise money for equipment for the children and created the Neighborhood Union, which advocated efforts such as improving schools for African Americans. The union set the stage for the civil rights movement and became an international example for community organizing.

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W.E.B. Du Bois

The first African American to earn a doctorate, W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) graduated from Harvard. He subsequently became a professor of economics, history, and sociology. In 1909, he was one of the founders of the NAACP. He was a leader of the Niagara Movement, which wanted equal rights for blacks. He demanded full civil rights and increased political representation and thought that African Americans needed the opportunity for advanced education. He helped organize Pan-African Congresses to seek the independence of African colonies. Many of the changes he fought for were incorporated in the Civil Rights Act, a year after his death.

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