African Americans are among the largest ethnic groups in the United States. Although mainly of African ancestry, many of them have non-Black ancestors as well. African-Americans are mainly the offsprings of enslaved Africans who were brought from their homelands by force to the New World.
Due to systemic injustices and discrimination, the African American community has had quite limited rights and was long denied a rightful share in the progress of the United States in terms of economic, social, and political progress. However, the African-Americans made some basic and lasting contributions to the history and culture of the united states of America.
Who were these individuals who shaped the events of the past?
Although there are a lot of such African-Americans, we have jotted down the list of the top 5 African-Americans of the past who played a vital role in uplifting the black communities in America. Here we go…
Martin Luther King Jr – American Baptist minister and civil rights activist
A social rights activist and a Baptist minister in the United States during 1950-60, Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of the American civil rights movement.
On his mission for equality, Martin faced a lot of obstacles. He was arrested more than 20 times for protesting. Not only this, but he was the object of many violent attacks – to his property as well as his person. He also received threatening phone calls, was stabbed, and even his home was bombed and set afire.
He organized a lot of peaceful protests as the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This included the March on Washington in 1963. Martin was the youngest person who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Martin is remembered for his contributions to the American civil rights movement. A void of segregation and racism is the famous speech of Martin Luther “I Have a Dream” which he delivered in 1963.
In this speech, he highlighted his dream of the United States. He also organized and staged numerous marches and boycotts, and advocated for non-violent protest methods.
He was operational till the time of his assassination by James Earl Ray, on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, United States. The assassin, James Earl Ray who ran away after killing Martin Luther King jr was later captured in the UK, on June 8, 1968, at London airport.
Rosa Parks – American activist in the civil rights movement
Rosa Parks from Montgomery was a lady who refused to give her seat to a white passenger after the driver asked her to do so. Due to this disobeying, she had to face a lot of troubles that also plunged her family. She united with King Martin for procuring basic human rights.
Rosa Parks was labeled as the “Mother of the Freedom Movement” after her disobeying and subsequent arrest. Her bus protest led her family into a decade of health and economic instability. She lost her job early on in the boycott, developed health issues, and never found steady work in Montgomery again.
The NAACP awarded the Spingarn Medal to Rosa Parks in 1979 and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 1980. Rosa Parks was admitted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of fame in 1983.
Rosa Parks is known for refusing to move to the back of a bus when the driver asked her to give her seat to a white passenger. Along with King Martin, Rosa made great strides for African Americans across the country by procuring basic human rights.
So, stand for your right or you will never get any.
Muhammad Ali – an American professional boxer
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay in 1942 and made his name in boxing where he was among the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. He was the first fighter to win this championship on three separate occasions.
The outspoken nature of Muhammad Ali on the issues of race, politics, and religion made him a controversial figure during his boxing career. But he was not only a world-famous athlete but also a person who struggled with and overcame dyslexia.
The best years of Muhammad Ali were in the early 1960s when he changed his slavery-associated name Cassius Clay to an Islamic name Muhammad Ali. This symbolized a new movement, the Nation of Islam, in which the black separation in the United States occurred.
He also gained became a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and moved further into the realm of left-wing activism and intersected race with a quite larger counterculture movement in the U.S.
Muhammad Ali was known all over the United States for his social message of black resistance to white domination and black pride. His message also highlights the refusal of induction into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
Fredrick Douglass – American abolitionist
Frederick survived the Civil War in the mid-19th century which was fought over black slavery and its role in American society.
He experienced major challenges related to racism during the initial years of his life as a slave. Being separated from his mother, he observed the sufferings of slaves from physical tortures, beatings, and other cruel practices performed on them.
As a leader in the abolishment movement, the efforts of Frederick Douglass bore fruit when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1st, 1863. With the passage of the 13th Amendment, slavery was abolished in the U.S. His autobiographies are considered among the classics of American autobiography.
Douglass was a prominent abolitionist and a former slave himself. He is best known for one of his best pieces of work, his autobiography – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. He outlined his life of slavery and subsequent escape, which proved to be instrumental to the movement of abolition and the ultimate goal of terminating slavery.
W.E.B Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois)
W.E.B Du Bois was an esteemed academic, author, and civil rights activist in the generation before Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. He was one of the founders of the NAACP which is an organization for African American rights and activism.
Du Bois was among the foremost Black academics of his era. He was the first African American at Harvard University to earn a Ph.D. Before becoming the director of NAACP publicity and research and starting the official journal of the organization in 1910 – The Crisis, he had already published widely.
“The Father of Pan-Africanism” faced challenges as a sociologist, political polemicist, and revolutionist historian. His life and intellectual efforts spanned almost a century.
Du Bois wrote a collection of articles and essays that played role in exposing the hypocrisy of the Reconstruction era. These essays also defended African-Americans as victims of racism.
Conclusion on top 5 African-Americans in history
The African American population is the second largest ethnic group in America. In 2015, there were around 42 million African Americans living in the US, which was 12.8% of the US population.
Despite being mainly of African ancestry, many African Americans have non-Black ancestors as well and their family lineage can include Native Americans, Europeans, and Asians from centuries ago.
These people, numbering several hundreds of millions have made an enormous contribution to the country they courtly reside in and they need to be remembered for that.
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