This great athlete is...Bill Russell (1934-) Bill Russell was already a pro sports legend after leading the Boston Celtics to a championship in 1957, and then again every year from 1959 through 1966. For the 1966-67 season, Russell took the reins of the team as player-coach - the first black coach in the history of the NBA. Russell won two more championships as a coach, retiring with an unprecedented 11 championships.
Ben Carson (1951-)
Ben Carson is a neurosurgeon whose accomplishments are almost too many to list. One of his most notable achievements was to separate a pair of conjoined twins who were attached at the head. In 2008, Carson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush. In 2009 he was portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in a made-for-TV movie called Gifted Hands.
Vernon Baker (1919-)
It's rare for any soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor, but not a single black soldier received the citation during World War II. In 1993, the United States Army commissioned a study that concluded that 10 African-American soldiers had indeed earned the honor, due to their gallantry on the battlefield. Of the 10, only Lieutenant Vernon Baker was still living when President Clinton awarded the medals in 1996.
Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)
Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, for her collection of poetry titled Annie Allen. Brooks was also named Poet Laureate of the state of Illinois in 1968, and in 1985 became the Poet Laureate of the United States (which, at the time, was called "The Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress").
Buck O'Neil (1911-2006)
Buck O'Neil is a true baseball legend. After a distinguished playing career with the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues, O'Neil went on to become a scout for the Chicago Cubs. In 1962 he became the first black coach in Major League Baseball, also for the Cubs. O'Neil died in 2006, and today is honored with the red-colored "Buck O'Neil legacy seat," located behind home plate in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium.
Vivien Thomas (1910-1985)
Vivien Thomas was a pioneer in the development of heart surgery to treat blue baby syndrome in newborns. Thomas worked as the assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock, who is credited with the technique that now bears his name. Yet in recent years, Thomas's contributions have gained wider recognition, thanks in part to a made-for-TV movie in which Thomas was played by Mos Def.
Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952)
Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American performer to win an Oscar. She won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939). In other major acting categories, Sydney Poitier was the first black performer to win the award for Best Actor (for Lilies of the Field, 1963), while Louis Gossett Jr. was the first to win Best Supporting Actor (for An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982). The first African-American performer to win Best Actress was Halle Berry, for her role in 2001's Monster's Ball.
Jack Johnson (1878-1946)
Jack Johnson was the first black boxer to be world heavyweight boxing champion. A dominating fighter, Johnson held the title for seven years, even as he was the target of persistent, unrelenting racism, which often found its form in boxing promoters' search for a "great white hope" to dethrone him. Johnson has recently garnered renewed attention thanks to Ken Burns's 2005 documentary, Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, based on the book by Geoffrey C. Ward.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
Booker T. Washington was a man of many firsts. He was the first African-American to be invited to the White House, by President Theodore Roosevelt. He was also the first African-American to be depicted on a postage stamp. For much of his career, Washington was the director of the Tuskegee Institute, a teaching college for African-Americans, but he gained much of his fame from his eloquent and impassioned push for racial equality.
Rev. Leroy Ricksy
(1936 - 2006)
Booker T. Washington said, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome.”Leroy Ricksy was born in Lynchburg, VA in the 1930’s, the time of the Great Depressionin this nation. Raised in a foster family, he attended a segregated school called “the chicken coop,” because it had been a chicken coop. Lynchburg is, as Leroy would say, “on the other side of Route 29” that is, not the Virginia of tourist images of Monticello nor suburbs that surround the nation’s capital today but a more modest city at the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains.
Later, as a young teen-ager, after a brief period of living with his birth mother, he was hired out as a farm worker during World War II and his schooling ended. He enlisted in the US Air Force during the Korean conflict and was stationed in Japan where four things happened: to enlist, he got a birth certificate that revealed his birth name, Ricksy; he got his GED and a woman named Marge Benson recognized something in Ricksy that motivated her to suggest that the Air Force could help him get further education.
In his own words, he says:
[I] had nothing to associate with what she was offering; geography and economics were like two foreign languages [me]… All my life had been in a negative world…I just didn't know…and I think that's the bottom line. And I think that helps me emotionally to understand something that most of my colleagues and most intellectuals do not understand and that is people just don't know. It's not because they are lazy or shiftless… they just don't know. And they don't believe.
Ricksy marries Fay, a dignified and graceful woman with a quiet sense of humor. In New York City after stints in Chicago and Toledo, Ohio, and some very hard times with poverty and addiction, Ricksy accepts Christianity, undertakes an addiction- free life, meets the Rev. Norm Eddy who introduces him to an evangelical preacher in the Bronx, who arranges for him to attend a Bible College in Puerto Rico where the studies are conducted in the Spanish language. Ricksy arrives there, not knowing a word of Spanish, and returns with a Bible College certificate, accreditation as a minister of the Gospel, and fluent in Spanish. We are now in the 1960’s and the civil rights movement is gaining national momentum.
Ricksy next enters Columbia University where he is provided with tutors and remedial instruction and emerges five years later with both a B.A. and a Master’s degree in Social Work. And, in the 1970’s begins work with the Children’s Aid Society where within a short time, he becomes the Director of Mental Health Services for East Harlem, a job he will leave to become Executive Director of the East Harlem Churches & Community Urban Center and, simultaneously, minister of the Church of the Resurrection, U.C.C. and, in that double capacity, found in 1986-87 an after school program, which in time will be named, the Booker T. Washington Learning Center.