A look into the lives of six Black men and women who shaped the US


Ella Baker

Ella Baker was a 20th century civil rights advocate. (Ella Baker Center for Human Rights)

Ella Baker, a civil rights activist, played a pivotal role in ending Jim Crow in the U.S.

Wanting every Black American to actively fight for unrestrained civil rights, Baker spent much of her life working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and helping Black Americans register to vote, according to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

“The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening and how group action could counter violence,” Baker said.

During the Great Depression, Baker also advocated for Black workers, arguing that Black Americans could gain voting power by advocating job-creating policies.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a prominent conservative economist. (Tsowell.com)

Thomas Sowell, an economist and professor, is considered by many to be one of the greatest conservative economists of the 20th century.

Born in segregated North Carolina, Sowell would go on to teach economics at the University of California, Rutgers and Cornell.

His work, mostly focused on pro-free-market and anti-Marxist arguments, is critically acclaimed and resulted in an offer from President Gerald Ford to be the Federal Trade Commissioner, according to Sowell’s site.

Sowell received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in 2002 and has advised current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Benjamin O. Davis Sr.

Benjamin O. David, Sr. was the first African American general. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

Benjamin O. Davis Sr. was the first African American general in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Davis began his military career in the Spanish-American War at the age of 21, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

He quickly climbed the ranks, distinguishing himself as a leader until he retired on July 31, 1941.

The following day, Davis was called to serve as a brigadier general. Seven years later, he would officially retire as a decorated veteran.

Jane Manning James

Jane Manning James was a Latter-day Saint pioneer and one of the first Black converts to the Church. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

Jane Manning James was one of the first Black converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

James was a friend of Joseph and Emma Smith, crossed the plains with Brigham Young and settled in the Salt Lake Valley, according to the Church.

James made sizable contributions to the Salt Lake Utah Temple fund and Relief Society, building them into what they are today. She also had six children with her husband Isaac.

In 1888, James continued her legacy of service by receiving permission to perform proxy baptisms in the temple for her deceased ancestors.

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice was the first African American woman to serve as Secretary of State. (Office of the Historian)

Condoleezza Rice became the first African American woman to serve as Secretary of State.

Rice first taught at Stanford University until she served as an advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She was appointed by George W. Bush.

She later served as Secretary of State for four years. Rice championed a foreign policy strategy called “transformational diplomacy,” according to the Office of the Historian.

In 2008, Rice negotiated the signed the U.S.-India Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, resulting in civil nuclear trade between the U.S. and India.

Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer. Inventor. (Smithsonian)

Lewis Latimer worked with Thomas Edison to invent the lightbulb and, at the request of Edison, wrote an easy-to-understand book on how the new invention worked because of his talent for writing, according to the Lemelson Center.

Latimer also worked on the invention of the telephone.

Latimer was more than just an inventor. He continued to fight for civil rights in the early twentieth century before passing away in 1928.

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