Making Their Mark

February 5, 2018

In American Black History, there are a lot of people who stood out in the areas of life. All they wanted to do was play a sport, perform somewhere, speak out against something, or even help those who couldn’t help themselves. These people had an impact in what they were doing because they saw a chance to take a shot in the world they were in despite their odds.


Ethel Waters (1896-1977)

In 1896, Ethel Waters’ mother, Louise Anderson was a rape victim that was held at knifepoint by a man named John Waters. After she was born, Ethel’s mother rejected her and sent Ethel to live with her grandmother, Sally Anderson. According to, she found work as a maid, dishwasher, and waitress in hotels and apartment houses before 2 producers heard her sing at a bar one night. She possessed an ability to make the audience feel her pain when she sang. Eventually, she became the first black woman to appear on radio in April 1922, star in a commercial radio show in 1933, appear on Broadway in a dramatic play and appear on television and starred in films like, “Cairo” and “Cabin in the Sky.” She lost her battle with cancer in 1977. Although she was performing roughly around the same time as Billie Holiday, there probably wouldn’t be a Billie Holiday or even a Bessie Smith if it wasn’t for Ethel Waters.


Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) 

Born in Jamaica, 1887. His father, Marcus Garvey, Sr. was a great influence on Garvey, described as a man who was firm, bold, and strong who wouldn’t yield even to superior forces if he believed he was right. Garvey’s father also helped him learn how to read. According to, he traveled to the U.S. to raise funds for the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) which he founded in 1916, he also launched the Black Star Line with the U.N.I.A. that would establish trade and commerce between Africans in America, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Canada, and Africa by 1919. When he was deported in 1927, he continued his political activism for the Black Nationalism movements in Jamaica and moved to London in 1935. Garvey died in 1940 after several strokes.


Paul Cuffee (1759-1817)

Born in Massachusetts, 1759. According to, Cuffee led a group of free blacks to petition the Massachusetts government in 1780 to either give African Americans and Native Americans the right to vote or stop taxing them. According to, he was known for being the wealthiest African American of his time and launched his first expedition to Sierra Leone to help generate a mass emigration of free blacks that would be evangelized, establish business enterprises, and work to abolish slavery in 1811. He led 38 African colonists to Sierra Leone by 1815. He hoped to go on another voyage but his health was declining and died in 1817.


Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)

Born in Virginia, 1875. Woodson worked for the U.S. government as an education superintendent. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and established the Journal of Negro History in the next year. According to, he went on to write more than a dozen books including, “Mis-Education of the Negro” which focuses on African American self-empowerment. Woodson also served as a principal for Washington D.C.’s Armstrong Manual Training School and a college dean at Howard University and the West Virginia Collegiate Institute. He lobbied schools to participate in a program to encourage the studies of African American history which was Negro History Week at first but it became Black History Month by 1926. He chose February to celebrate the birthday of Frederick Douglass. Woodson died of a sudden heart attack in 1950.


Jackie Robinson (1919-1972) 

Born in Georgia, 1919, Jackie was an excellent athlete and played four sports: football, basketball, track, and baseball. According to, he served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during WWII for 2 years. He was arrested and court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to give up his seat on the bus. Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, wanted to desegregate the MLB. Rickey knew that there would be hard times ahead for Jackie and made him promise to not fight back when confronted with racism. Even though fans and other players didn’t want him to play, the Brooklyn Dodger’s team captain, Pee Wee Reese defended him. He opened the door for other black baseball players like Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron. He retired in 1957 but retired his uniform number of 42 in 1972, the same year he died in from heart problems and complications from diabetes.


Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) 

Born in Louisiana, 1901, according to, he was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys after being arrested and he fell in love with music while he was there. He was released from the home two years later. He was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong was a sub for a band member when he wasn’t getting pointers on the cornet. He joined the Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in 1924, the top African-American dance band in New York City at the time. Armstrong had persuaded Henderson and the arranger, Don Redman, to integrate his swinging vocabulary into their music which became the first jazz big band. Even through he didn’t start playing the trumpet until 1926, jazz history was changed when he introduced scat singing, played high notes, and did daring rhythmic choices. He came out with, “What a Wonderful World” after the jazz era. He didn’t stop performing when he had health problems, he still practiced the trumpet daily while he was at home before going on the road again in 1970. The “Father of Jazz as he became known went back home a year later and before he could perform in public once more, he died in his sleep in Queens, New York in 1971.

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