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Black History Month: Famous African-Americans

Black History Month: Famous African-Americans

Parks is fingerprinted by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey on February 22, 1956, nearly three months after her arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. (AP)

February celebrates the history and legacy that the African-American community has brought and continues to bring to our culture. Teaching has pulled a huge list of these contributors together in several categories with lesson ideas, including Civil Rights Leaders, Inventors, Authors, Musicians, Athletes and more. Use the list and descriptions of these icons to introduce your students to the vast impact of the community, or go a step further and let students choose an icon to research.

Civil Rights Leaders:

These leaders have made a mark on society by their words and their works. Students can find out more about these figures with a simple web or library search. This assignment would work in groups, Students can make presentations to the class about what they’ve found.

Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X

Rosa Parks

Jesse Jackson

Andrew Young


These inventors have helped shape life as we know it today. Students can delve deeper into these figures and their inventions with more research.

Frederick McKinley Jones:

Invented a self-starting gas engine and devices for movie projectors. Also invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks.

Lewis Howard Latimer:

Invented an electric lamp and carbon filament for light bulbs. He was the only African-American member of Thomas Edison’s engineering lab.

Elijah J. McCoy:

Developed the lubricating cup for steam engines, preventing frequent stops and overheating. He is also credited with the patent for the folding ironing board and automatic sprinkler.

Garrett Augustus Morgan:

Received a patent for a traffic signal that featured automated STOP and GO signs, later replaced by traffic lights.

Granville T. Woods:

Invented a telegraph that allowed trains in motion to communicate with other trains and stations.


Choose excerpts from books or poems from works of these authors to introduce students to their literature. If time allows, select a book to read as a class for Black History Month.

Maya Angelou

Ralph Ellison

Langston Hughes

Toni Morrison


Musicians may be the largest and most well-known list of African-Americans. Students can easily relate to music. Though the list below focuses on musicians that have stood the test of time, there are countless current musicians that contribute to the legacy. Students can research the lives of these musicians and even share a song or two with the class throughout the month of February.

Louis Armstrong

Count Basie

Chuck Berry

James Brown

Ray Charles

Nat “King” Cole

John Coltrane

Miles davis

Thomas A. Dorsey

Duke Ellington

Ella Fitzgerald

Aretha Franklin

Marvin Gaye

Herbie Hancock

Jimi Hendrix

Billie Holiday

John Lee Hooker

Scott Joplin

B.B. King

Wynton Marsalis

Charlie Parker

Otis Redding

Smokey Robinson

Nina Simone

Bessie Smith

Sarah Vaughn

Stevie Wonder


Famous African-America athletes grace every sport. Though the athletes below are known as classic starts in their sports, there are many current athletes that students can research and learn more about.

Hank Aaron (baseball)

Ernie Banks (baseball)

Roy Campenella (baseball)

Willie Mays (baseball)

Jackie Robinson (baseball)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (basketball)

Wilt Chamberlain (basketball)

Julius “Dr. J” Erving (basketball)

Walt Frazier (basketball)

Ervin “Magic” Johnson (basketball)

Michael Jordan (basketball)

Isiah Thomas (basketball)

Muhammad Ali (boxing)

George Foreman (boxing)

Joe Frazier (boxing)

Don King (boxing)

Evader Holyfield (boxing)

Sugar Ray Leonard (boxing)

Walter Payton (football)

Herschel Walker (football)

Jim Brown (football)

Jerry Rice (football)

Barry Sanders (football)

Reggie White (football)

Gale Devers (Track)

Florence Griffith Joyner

Marion Jones (Track)

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Track)

Carl Lewis (Track)

Government Officials:

Thurgood Marshall, US Lawyer and Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court

Colin Powell, US Army general and Public Official

Barack Obama, Presidential Candidate, US Senator

Condolezza Rice, Diplomat, Professor, US Secretary of State

Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court

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