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Black Legends

There have been thousands of Black Americans who's work, service, inventions and words changed history. Unfortunately, our public school systems have yet to learn the value of teaching this history to ALL students. I, like so many others, hope that one day this will no longer be the case.

On this page, you will find profiles of Blacks who made a mark in history. Some you will recognize, others...you will have never heard of. But all of them were, and are important figures not just in Black history, but ALL history.

Daniel James Daniel "Chappie" James, Jr. won his wings and commission as a Tuskegee airman in 1943, but didn't see combat in World War II. He did, however, see combat in the Korean War, flying over 100 missions and earning a reputation as an outstanding fighter pilot. He became a full colonel by 1965 and flew over 60 more combat missions. James was an articulate speaker who commanded great physical prescence (he was 6'4"and weighed nearly 250 pounds)and was often called upon to defend not just America's military policy, but it's racial policies as well. He received his first star as a general in 1968 after commanding Wheelus AFB in Libya for over a year. Khadafy's regime came into power during that year and James was praised for his tact and diplomacy. He spent the next 4 years at the Pentagon in the office of Public Affairs where he won two more stars. He was then named vicecommander of the Military Airlift Command (MAC). Less than two years later, he was given his fourth star and named commander of the North American Air Defense (NORAD), a post he held until shortly before his retirement in early 1978. Daniel James, Jr. was the first Black 4-star general in American history. General James constantly stressed the qualities of determination and sincerity, arguing that performance, not skin color, was how a person should be judged.

Paul Williams Paul Williams aspired to be architect, but was told, "Whoever heard of a Negro architect?" Later, he said he found his race to be "an incentive to personal accomplishiment, an inspiring challenge. Without having the wish to 'show them', I developed a fierce desire to 'show myself'". Wiliams became a certified architect in 1915. After graduating from the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York, he searched the Los Angeles telephone directory until he found an architectural firm willing to take on a Black draftsman. When he was proficient in all aspects of architecture, he opened his own firm. In a career that spanned almost 60 years, Williams was one of the foremost architects of southern California. Although most of Williams' firms' work was residential, he also planned thousands of small homes in developments throughout California and Nevada. Williams designed mansions for some of Hollywood's biggest stars like Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball and Tyrone Power. But Paul Williams was a man whose talent knew no limitations. He also designed the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Court House, the MCA Building and Sak's 5th Avenue Department Store in Beverly Hills, the United Nations Building in Paris, France and co-designed Los Angeles International Airport. Truly a man before his time, Paul Williams' work will stand for years to come and his legacy remains eternal.

Joe Louis Joe Louis, 1914-1981, held the world heavyweight boxing title longer than anyone in history, twelve years. He won the title in 1937 by knocking out James J. Braddock in the 8th round. He would successfully defend the title 25 times, scoring 20 knockouts. He was known as the 'Brown Bomber' because of his quick devastating punches. All totalled, Louis fought 71 bouts, winning 68 with 54 of those being by knockout. Joe Louis has arguably been called the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. Louis is probably best remembered for his double bout with German Max Schmeling. Before acquiring the title, Schmeling scored a knockout against Louis in twelve rounds. But during the rematch, by-then Heavyweight champ, Louis, scored a humiliating 1st round knockout against Schmeling. He retired in 1949 undefeated...almost. He would never reign over his toughest opponent, the Internal Revenue Service. One month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Louis donated today's equivalent of 1.2 million dollars to the Naval and Army Relief funds. Being ever the patriot, he halted his lucrative boxing career and enlisted as a private for $21 a month. After his tour ended, he was hoping to retire with his banked earnings and his dignity. He would lose both. The income tax rate that had been a mere 2% when he started his boxing career had soared while he was away in the military. He was in debt to the U. S. government, and wasn't even allowed to deduct the enormous sums of money he had donated to the war relief effort. He came out of retirement to fight again because he said, "I had to keep working to pay taxes, but the more I worked, the less I had". Louis was dealing with a 90% tax rate and was never able to pay off the IRS. Louis should be remembered as a champion, a patriot and a role model for children. His flaws may have included being too trusting of his friends, but never dishonesty. At his death in 1981, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetary by order of President Ronald Reagan.

Marcus Garvey Marcus Garvey, 1887-1940, is recognized as leader of the first mass movement among America's Blacks. His theme was "Black Pride" when he started his "Back-to-Africa" movement in the U.S. He began his struggle in his native Jamaica in 1916, calling it the University Negro Improvement Association. A businessman and community leader, Garvey started a steamship company not only to ferry Blacks across the Atlantic, but to prove Blacks could create and sustain big businesses. In the 1920's, Garvey's empire started it's decline. He had some 2 million followers and supporters who sent him thousands of dollars. Some of the money went to start Black-owned businesses, and some to finance the movement. But in 1925, he was convicted of mail fraud in connection with the sale of stock in one of his businesses. He was released in 1927, and returned to Jamaica to make an unsuccessful attempt to revive the UNIA.

Thurgood Marshall Thurgood Marshall, 1908-1993 - was the first Black Supreme Court Justice, serving for 24 years. The history of the Civil Rights Movement in America cannot be told without the mention of his name. From 1940 to 1961 he served as legal director of the NAACP. These were pivotal times for the organization, with overturning racial segregation being it's prime directive. As part of a longterm strategy to eradicate segregation in schools, Marshall started with graduate and professional schools. As more and more cases were won by the NAACP, they set their sites on high schools and elementary schools. This long term battle to end segregation in schools culminated in the landmark decision of _Brown vs. the Board of Education_ in 1954. The Supreme Court declared segregation in the public school system illegal. By this time, Marshall was an experienced Supreme Court advocate, presenting many cases before them, including challenges against white-only elections and restrictive covenants. He would become known for his straightforward and plain spoken style, giving his definition of 'equal' as "getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.' Marshall's appointment to the U.S.Court of Appeals by President John Kennedy was not an easy one. A group of southern senators held up his confirmation for months, and he ended up serving under a special appointment made during a congressional recess. From 1961 to 1965, He wrote 112 opinions, none of which were overturned. From 65-67, he served as Solicitor General under President Lyndon Johnson. By the time Thurgood Marshall succeeded justice Tom Clark on the Supreme Court, he had argued 32 cases before them..winning 29. President Johnson said at that time that appointing Marshall to the Supreme Court was "the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place."

Mary Ann Shadd Mary Ann Shadd was the first Black woman editor of a newspaper in North America. She worked for racial integration, but with passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, she decided the future looked better for Blacks outside of the U.S. Being commited to the education of people of color, Shadd moved to Wilmington, Delaware at the age of 16 to organize a school. She taught in schools for Black children in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware before joining the emmigrationist movement and moving to Toronto, Canada with her brother, Isaac, in 1851. While in Canada, Shadd founded the paper Provincial Freeman. She used the paper to address and discuss all aspects of Black life. With the motto "Self reliance is the fine road to independence", Shadd exposed all aspects of segregation and discrimination. Although Shadd would later abandon her views on emmmigration, in 1855 she would be the first woman to address the Negro National Convention, speaking in favor of Canadian immigration. Shadd would eventually obtain a law degree and included gender equality in her endless fight. She testifed before Congress on women's suffrage and abolitionist Frederick Douglas would later speak highly of her...calling her "a woman for our time."

Carol Moseley-Braun Carol Moseley-Braun - Becoming the first Black woman to hold a United States Senate seat in 1992 was another of many 'firsts' for this 3rd generation Illinoisian. The daughter of a law enforcement officer, she was first elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1978 where she immediately earned a reputation as a dynamic debater and an uncompromising advocate for more efficient and accountable government. Her hallmark has always been an ability to build strong coalitions comprised of people of all races who are committed to the same principles of good government. In each of the 10 years she served in the legislature, she was voted "Best Legislator". When she took over the office of Recorder of Deeds in 1987, she became the first Black to hold an executive office in Cook County. Under her management, the inefficient operation with 19th century-style bookkeeping, which spent more money than it took in, became a computer run, revenue generating agency. Moseley-Braun was a come from behind success in the 1992 Illinois primary. She was outspent by her two opponents, (one of which was the 2 term incumbent), by more than 20-1. But she ran a positive campaign that emphasized issues and substance over personalities and negative attacks. She won the Senate seat with 53% of the vote. Read more about Carol Moseley-Braun.

Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr.Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. 1880-1970. David entered the military service on July 13, 1898. He served in dozens of positions and capacities, including Professor of Military Science and Military Sciences at Tuskegee Institute while his son, Lt. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. held command of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. In October of 1940 he became the first Black Brigadier General of the U.S. Army and the United States. He retired on July 14, 1948, after a distinguished military career that spanned more than 50 years. Read more about Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.

Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., son of this country's first Black General, shared more than just a name with his father. Born in 1912, he entered the West Point Military Academy in 1932. He endured much discrimination and various injustices, the least of which not being a "code of silence", where none of his co-cadets and many of his instructors would speak directly to him. However, he perservered and graduated 35th in his class in 1936. The 99th Pursuit Squadron, the first all Black flying unit was created in 1941. Davis, Jr. earned his wings in 1943 thus becoming the first Black Military Pilot and assumed command of the 99th, which was based at Tuskegee Air Field. In 1943, at the rank of Lt. Colonel, he met with a Pentagon review board and personally stopped a recommendation to disolve the 99th and prohibit all future Black squadrons from combat duty, thereby securing the role of Blacks in the Army Air Corps. His inspiring commands were highly instrumental in proving that combat performance could not be judged on race. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1954, becoming the Air Force's first Black General.

Malcolm X Born Malcolm Little in 1925, Malcolm X's childhood was anything but easy. His home was burned down by white supremacists, his father killed in a mysterious hit and run accident, and his mother was committed to a mental hospital, all by the time he was 12. He was greatly discouraged by the racial prejudice around him. While imprisoned for burglary, he read up on and converted to the Nation of Islam, led by Elijah Mohammad. Upon his release, he went to work full time for the Nation of Islam and became a powerful speaker with a dedicated following, propelling him through the ministry to become the Nation's most important minister. However, as time passed, he became dissatisfied with the Nation's reluctance to become more politically involved, among other things, which led to his leaving the Nation of Islam in 1964 and starting the National Mosque, Inc. He changed his name to "El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz" after a pilgrimage to Mecca, and embraced universal brotherhood. Followers of the Nation of Islam condemned Malcolm X as a hypocrite and traitor to Elijah Mohommad. He was assasinated while giving a speech in New York in 1965. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the slaying. Read more about Malcolm X. Pictures.

Reginald Lewis Reginald Lewis' first introduction to business was a paperoute at age 9. He made $15-20 a week and his grandfather stressed the need to develop good savings habits. He became more interested in business at age 15, when a high paying summer job was offered to him by a Balitmore club. The son and stepson of a Postal employee and a school teacher, Lewis excelled at sports and was captain of his football, baseball and basketball teams in high school. His goal was to play professional sports until he was 30, then pursue a law or business career. A shoulder injury at Virginia State University ended his quarterback days and hopes for a porfessional sports career. He discovered he had a great love for economics when he focused his energy on education. After graduating from VSU, he entered Harvard Law school WITHOUT having to take the entrance exam. He joined a highly prestigious New York law firm in 1968. The firm considered him a 'hard worker', but he left in 1973 to start his own firm...Lewis and Clarkson. The firm was very profitable and helped corporations like General Electric loan money to minority owned businesses. In 1984, he founded the TLC Group and became quickly established with the leveraged buyout of McCall's, one of America's oldest sewing pattern companies, for $1 million dollars in equity and $28 million in debt. TLC lead the company through it's two most successful years in it's 113 year history. On December 1, 1987, Reginald Lewis and the TLC Group made history by purchasing Beatrice International Foods for $985 million dollars. Lewis' company became the first Black-owned business to surpass the one billion dollar mark. Beatrice is one of the largest food businesses in the world with such products as Butterball turkeys and Good Humor ice cream. It's 61 companies manufactures and markets in 31 countries. Lewis attributed much of his success to his family's support. "They instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do". Read more about Reginald Lewis.

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