Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Content starts here


African Americans have played an integral role in U.S. history, contributing to critical discoveries and breakthroughs in medicine, government, business, and various other fields. This Black History Month and beyond, we celebrate the immeasurable impact that Black people have had on the fabric of our society by recognizing these heroes and shining a light on their stories.

Check out five African American leaders and trailblazers below:

John Mercer Langston, born in 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia, was an attorney and civil rights activist. Langston attended Oberlin College in Ohio, one of the first colleges in the country to admit Black students. After graduating, he pursued law school and, at the age of 24, achieved the historic feat of becoming the first African American to pass Ohio's state bar exam. Langston dedicated his career to the cause of liberty for all, earning a reputation as a staunch abolitionist. In 1890, he made history again by becoming Virginia's first Black member of Congress.

Mae C. Jemison, an astronaut, made history as the first Black woman to go to space. Following a distinguished educational journey that included earning her undergraduate degree from Stanford University and her medical degree from Cornell University, Jemison served as a staff physician in the Peace Corps. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 inspired her to pursue her dream of becoming an astronaut. From a pool of 2,000 candidates, Jemison was one of the 15 individuals selected, and in 1992, she participated in the eight-day STS-47 Spacelab Life Sciences mission.

Patricia Roberts Harris was a pioneering diplomat and legal scholar. She achieved academic excellence, graduating summa cum laude from Howard University and at the top of her class at George Washington University Law School. Her contributions extended to serving as the co-chair of the National Women’s Committee for Human Rights, an appointment made by President John F. Kennedy.

Harris made history as the first African American woman appointed as a U.S. ambassador when President Lyndon Johnson selected her as the ambassador to Luxembourg. She was also the first African American dean of a U.S. law school, leading Howard University. President Jimmy Carter further recognized her capabilities by appointing her as the first secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a historic moment as she became the first African American woman to serve as a cabinet secretary.

Dorothy Height, a prominent civil rights leader, earned her bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degree in psychology from New York University before embarking on a career as a social worker in Harlem. Active in the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in the area, Height became a leader and advocated for the organization's nationwide integration of facilities.

Subsequently, she worked with and eventually led the National Council of Negro Women, where her efforts focused on ending the lynching of African American people and improving the criminal justice system. Height's impactful work in civil rights and organizing led her to serve as an advisor to notable figures such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and President Lyndon Johnson.

Sidney Poitier, a Bahamian American actor, humanitarian, and diplomat, made history as the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1963 for "Lilies of the Field." He redefined roles for African Americans, rejecting those based on racial stereotypes, and directed several films, including "Buck and the Preacher" and "Stir Crazy."

During World War II, Poitier enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in a medical unit. Upon discharge, he applied to the American Negro Theatre (ANT) in New York City. Initially denied a place due to his accent, he refined his American enunciation by listening to radio voices. After six months, he reapplied to ANT and was accepted. A dual citizen of the United States and The Bahamas, Poitier served as The Bahamas' ambassador to Japan from 1997 to 2007. In 2009, President Barack Obama presented him with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Celebrate Black History Month by learning more about the important contributions African Americans have made to science, medicine, politics, arts, and every other area of life. For ideas about how to volunteer in honor of Black History Month, visit