Here is a list of the top five most renowned Black captives in history.
- Toussaint L’Ouverture (Haiti)
Born as a slave in 1743 on a plantation of Breda at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue, a French colony on the Caribbean Island, Toussaint L’Ouverture is remembered as the top leader of the Haitian revolution.
His military and political prowess helped captives in Haiti turn Saint-Domingue, the most prosperous slave colony of the time, into the first free colonial society that rejected race as the basis of social ranking.
Although very little is known about L’Ouverture’s early life, some records claim that he was the son of Gaou Guinou, a younger son of the King of Allada, a West African kingdom located in Benin, who was captured and sold in to slavery.
In the 19th century, African Americans used L’Ouverture, who died in 1803, as an inspiration to fight for their freedom.
2. Anna Julia Cooper (America)
Born in to slavery in 1858, Anna Julia Cooper went on to become a famous American Black liberation activist, sociologist, educator, speaker, and author. She was the fourth African-American woman to earn a doctoral degree and a prominent member of Washington D.C.’s African-American community.
Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hannah Stanley Haywood, an enslaved woman in the house of Wake County landowner George Washington Haywood. It’s not clear who Cooper’s father was, but some records suggest that it could be George or his brother Fabius J. Haywood.
In the early 1890s, Cooper participated in many anti-slavery movements, including the weekly “Saturday Nighters” salon of Black Washingtonians, Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching crusade, and several anti-slavery causes, among others. She also founded the Colored Women’s League in 1892 and became the only woman elected to the American Negro Academy in 1893. Cooper died in 1964.
3. Frederick Douglass (America)
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1818 to Harriet Bailey, an enslaved woman; he was separated from her while still an infant. In his writings, Douglass suggested that his master was his biological father.
As a slave, Douglass taught himself how to read and write, and when he finally escaped slavery, he became one of the most distinguished orators and incisive antislavery writers in America.
He was described by fellow abolitionists as a living counter-example of slaveholders’ argument that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. He authored the book “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave,” where he describes his life as a slave.
As one of the most influential African Americans of the 19th century, Douglass built a career of agitating the American conscience and was involved in numerous reform causes, including the end of slavery, women’s rights, land reform, peace, abolition of capital punishment, and temperance, among others.
He died in 1895 from a heart attack.
4. Margaret Garner (America)
Described as a mulatto, a person with one White and one Black parent, Margaret Garner was born in 1834 in Boone County, Kentucky, on a plantation belonging to John Pollard Gaines who is believed to be her father.
While little is known about her mother, Garner is remembered for killing her own daughter so that she would not be returned to slavery.
In 1856, she and her family had escaped slavery and fled to Cincinnati, Ohio, but slave catchers and the U.S. Marshals found them hiding in a neighbor’s house.
Garner killed her 2-year-old daughter with a butcher knife rather than see her returned to slavery.
The Marshals, however, managed to subdue her before she could kill the rest of her four children and herself.
Her story was the basis of Frances Harper’s 1859 poem “Slave Mother: A Tale of Ohio” and also inspired Kentucky painter Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s 1867 painting “The Modern Medea.”
Medea was a woman in Greek mythology who killed her own children.
U.S. award-winning author Toni Morrison also based her 1987 novel “Beloved” on Garner’s life. Oprah Winfrey would bring the book to life in the eponymous film in 1998.
Watch the “Beloved” trailer here:
Garner died of typhoid in 1858.
5. George Washington Carver (America)
Born in to slavery in 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri, George Washington Carver was a popular American botanist and inventor who assisted poor farmers to grow alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, in order to improve their quality of life.
Carver spent many years developing and promoting many products made from peanuts, but none were commercially successful. The most famous of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 recipes that used peanuts.
He also, however, developed techniques that helped to improve soil depleted by the repeated planting of cotton. Carver received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1923. In 1941, Time magazine described him as a “Black Leonardo.”
Carver died in 1943 in Alabama.