Being a leader isn’t always easy. It often requires you to overcome adversity, face challenges head-on, and fight for what’s right. In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting some of the most influential African American leaders who did just that.
Their Greatest Achievements
There’s something to be learned from each and every one of these powerful agents of change – most notable of which are their efforts to make the world a better place and take a stand against injustice, inequality, and adversity. These leaders have also had a significant impact in shaping the world we live in today.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of the most well-known civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and activist who fought against racial inequality. King was a proponent of nonviolence and peaceful protest. He was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which aims to achieve racial equality peacefully. He went down in history as a hero and one of the most influential leaders in the world.
Rosa Parks was a civil rights activist in Alabama and the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Parks is known most for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This boycott brought about the ruling by the Supreme Court that segregation on public buses is unconstitutional.
Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States and the very first African American president. He served two terms and made several noteworthy accomplishments. Obama worked to strengthen the economy during a global financial crisis, championed healthcare reform with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his efforts to improve international relations, just to name a few.
Frederick Douglass taught himself to read and write at a young age. After escaping slavery, he became an author, public speaker, and prominent leader of the abolitionist movement. In addition to his abolitionary work, Douglass also supported and advocated for women’s rights.
Oprah Winfrey is a famous television producer and personality, philanthropist, and author. She is the first African American woman to have her very own television production company. Winfrey worked to pass the National Child Protection Act and has created and contributed to numerous non-profit organizations that support, educate, and empower women and children.
A brave leader during the Underground Railroad movement, Harriet Tubman escaped from slavery and spent 11 years guiding other enslaved people to freedom through the Underground Railroad as a “conductor.” Tubman was also a spy, scout, nurse, and soldier during the Civil War for the Union Army.
Medgar Evers was a World War II veteran and Civil Rights leader. He was the NAACP’s first field officer in Mississippi. He helped lead protests against the segregation of public primary schools, beaches, parks, and at the University of Mississippi. Evers also organized voter registration drives and started new NAACP chapters in Mississippi.
As a player for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was the first African American professional baseball player in U.S. Major League Baseball. After he retired, Robinson was dedicated to civil rights activism and worked to raise money for both the NAACP and SCLC.
Booker T. Washington
Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington overcame many barriers that were blocking him from getting an education. After his family gained freedom through the Emancipation Proclamation, there were no schools in his area. However, he didn’t let that stop him. Instead, he walked 500 miles to enroll in school at the Hampton Institute. Washington excelled academically and became the first teacher and principal at the Tuskegee Institute. In addition, he was an author, adviser to several presidents, and one of the most influential African American public speakers in his day.
The first African-American woman elected to serve in Congress in 1968, Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman to seek the U.S. presidential nomination from a major party. She co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus, which is designed to guarantee equal rights, opportunities, and access for African Americans and other marginalized groups.
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest professional boxers of all time. He was an Olympic gold medalist and the first fighter to win the world heavyweight title three times. He was also a philanthropist, humanitarian, and activist that advocated for civil rights and religious freedom. Ali earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005 and supported organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics.
What Diversity Means to Us at the NSLS
At The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) we wholeheartedly believe the fact that there is strength in diversity and it’s our mission to celebrate it. We stand against discrimination and are committed to upholding this standard for our members, employees, and higher education community.
We strive to build better leaders and foster a community of success-oriented students that have a desire to make a positive impact. We know that everyone is capable of inspiring change around them and being part of a leadership program like the NSLS can help you do it. Learn more about our organization’s stance on diversity and how you can make an impact.