America long has been described as a melting pot. People from all cultures, continents and walks of life have blended together to paint the canvas that is the United States. African Americans have played a significant role in forming the fabric of the United States, and every February we recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and give thanks for their contributions to medicine, the arts, sports, business, law, and much more. The following is a small sampling of the myriad African American individuals past and present who have made their mark on American history.
Ryan Coogler Ryan Coogler is the director of what has been dubbed the “biggest, blackest superhero movie” in recent history — and perhaps all time. Marvel Studio’s “Black Panther” took in $1.3 billion worldwide and became a cultural touchstone. Coogler proved he is a director of note, and the public is bound to see much more of his work in the future, including a potential “Panther” sequel. Robert Abbott Giving voice to African Americans in a different way, Robert Abbot was a pioneer of the black press. He founded a weekly paper called The Chicago Defender, which would become one of the most important newspapers in history in the early 20th century. Abbott’s work would eventually pave the way for many other publications. Serena Williams Serena Williams is arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time. Serena Williams has more than 20 Grand Slam titles to her name and is a face and advocate for working women. One of her more notable recent accomplishments is her successful return to the court just one year after nearly dying from complications that arose during the birth of her daughter — once again proving her mettle. Alvin Ailey Alvin Ailey was a modern dance choreographer and pioneer. He also was a civil rights activist. He founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which became one of the most successful dance companies in the world. His company was an amalgam of faces and cultures, making it unique for its time. Mary McLeod Bethune Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, civil rights leader and adviser to five United States presidents. She turned to her faith and used her voice to be a pioneer for racial progress. Education long had been at the core of Bethune’s mission, and she founded two schools and later became one of few female college presidents. Aretha Franklin The world lost the “Queen of Soul” in 2018, but her influence and resounding voice live on. Her gospel-infused singing was born out of church choirs, and her famous No. 1 hit “Respect” helped become a soundtrack not only for women, but also the civil rights movement. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Franklin’s influence could be heard through singers like Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and more.