African-Americans have had a tumultuous history in the United States, to say the least. From slavery to discrimination to the systematic racism rampant today, Blacks have and are being disenfranchised. It has taken unique and bold individuals to step out and pursue positions of power – thereby changing the course of the Black plight.
Here are the passionate individuals who risked having a life of discomfort for the advancement of African-Americans.
Barack Hussein Obama II – First Black President of the U. S.
Born on August 4, 1961, and raised mostly in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama served as the first African-American president from 2009-2017.
In 1983 after earning a degree from Columbia University in New York, he relocated back to Chicago to work as a community organizer. 1988 he enrolled at Harvard Law School and became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. After earning his degree from Harvard University, Obama became a civil rights attorney and professor teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992-2004.
From 1997-2004 Obama served as the Illinois Senator representing the 13th district subsequently running for U.S. Senate in which he won.
After serving in the U.S. Senate for four years in 2008, Obama was nominated for president and took the seat in 2009. Also in 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. During Obama’s first administration he signed many groundbreaking laws into fruition including the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act commonly referred to as “Obamacare.”
2013 signaled another win for Obama as he was re-elected as president of the U.S. During his second tenure, Obama fought for gun control laws, issued executive actions against climate control and immigration, ended the U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, and stabilized U.S. relations with Cuba ending the long instated embargo.
Obama left office with a 60% approval rating and a C-SPAN conducted a poll that concluded Obama ranked 12th best president.
These men helped paved the way for the equality of African-Americans and are sure to usher in even more progression with the passing of time.
Lawrence Douglas Wilder – First elected Black Governor in the U.S.
Wilder was born on January 17, 2018, in Richmond, Virginia. His grandparents were slaves and his parents were not. Although not poor, he does describe experiencing some poverty during the Great Depression. Wilder financed his college education while attending Virginia Union University by waiting tables and shining shoes. In 1951 he earned his degree in chemistry. He joined the Army also in 1951 and served in a combat role during the battle of Pork Chop Hill persuading 19 Chinese Soldiers into a concession for which he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal. In 1953 after his enlistment, Wilder began pursuing his master’s degree in chemistry but in 1956 redirected his efforts and enrolled in law school at Howard University Law School. In 1959 he instituted his own law practice in Richmond, Virginia.
The commencement of his political career was in 1969 when he was elected to Virginia State Senate during a special election. This enabled him to become the first African-American elected to Virginia Senate since Reconstruction. In 1985 Wilder was elected for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and in 1989 won the seat for Governor being the first African-American to do so; he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for this achievement.
Wilder’s focus during his reign as governor was gun control, crime, and transportation initiatives successfully lobbying for the allocation of funds to state transportation programs. He spearheaded a stand against apartheid in South Africa by formulating an order that forced state agencies and universities to dissociate themselves in any investment programs with South Africa.
In 1992 Wilder briefly ran for president before dropping out of the race and in 1994 briefly ran for U.S. Senate as an independent.
In 1994, Wilder became the mayor of Richmond nevertheless didn’t run for a second term.
After his political career, Wilder became the adjunct professor of public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University and occasionally writes for various Virginia newspapers. He founded the United States National Slavery Museum. Wilder has been honored by having buildings at Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University and Hampton University respectively named after him. Wilder has received an honorary degree from Arizona State University and has a middle school named after him.
Wilder’s collection of papers and a gallery can be found at the L. Douglas Wilder Library and Resource Center at Virginia Union University.
Carl Stokes – First Black mayor of a major U.S. city (Cleveland, Ohio)
Carl Stokes was born in Cleveland, Ohio on June 21, 1927. Stokes was reared with his brother by their single mother in a housing project named Outhwaite Homes. Stokes was a good student yet, he dropped out of school in 1944 and briefly worked for a company called Thompson Products. He later joined the Army at the age of 18. After his discharge in 1946, he returned to Cleveland and earned his high school diploma in 1947. In 1954 he earned his Bachelor’s degree and then proceeded to law school earning his law degree in 1956 while working as a probation officer. In 1957 he was admitted to the Ohio bar. From 1958-1961, he served as assistant prosecutor and partner at the law firm Stokes & Stokes.
1962 marked the start of Strokes’ political career as an Ohio Representative where he served for three terms. In 1965 Stokes lost his first attempt to be instituted as Mayor. He won the bid in 1967. His tenure as mayor afforded Blacks the opportunity to obtain city hall jobs. He commenced Cleveland Now! – a neighborhood regeneration program aimed at public and private funding.
After his political career Stokes lectured at colleges nationwide and in 1972 gained a position as the first Black news anchor at WNBC – TV in New York City. In 1980 he returned to Cleveland and served as general legal counsel for the United Auto Workers. From 1983-1994 Stokes served as municipal judge in Cleveland. His last political roles came as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Seychelles. In 1970, Stokes was voted as the first African-American president of the National League of Cities. During his lifetime, Stokes was bestowed with 12 honorary degrees, several civic awards, and represented the U.S. by special request of the White House on goodwill trips abroad. Stokes died of cancer on April 3, 1996. He was 68 years old.
Hiram Rhodes Revels – First Black and Native American Senator
Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 27, 1827, as a free man. He received his education in the form of tutoring from an unidentified Black woman. In 1841 he attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Indiana and Darke County Seminary in Ohio. In 1845 Revels was ordained as a minister and proceeded with preaching and became a religious teacher. Interestingly enough, Revels was imprisoned in 1854 for preaching to Blacks. From 1855 to 1857 he studied religion at Knox College in Illinois. He later became a minister in an Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland and served as a principal in an all-Black high school. Revels served as a chaplain in the United States Army and during his enlistment formulated two Black union regiments during the Civil War in Maryland and Missouri; he also fought at the battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi.
In 1865 Revels joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1866, he became the permanent pastor at a church in Natchez, Mississippi all the while founding schools for the Black youth.
In 1868, Revels was elected as the alderman in Natchez. In 1869 he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi Senate. Then in 1870, Revels was elected as a Senate member by a vote of 81 to 15. Finally, on February 25, 1870, Revels was elected as the first African-American member of United States Senate. As a senator, he strongly advocated for racial equality though was unsuccessful in formulating substantial change for Blacks. After his one-year Senate appointment, Revels served as the president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College now Alcorn State University while being an instructor of philosophy, served as Mississippi secretary of state ad interim, remained active in church ministry, served briefly as an editor for the Southwestern Christian Advocate, and taught Theology at Shaw College renamed Rust College.
Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a church conference at Aberdeen, Mississippi. He was 73 years old.