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21 Famous Black People Who Changed The World

1. Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968)


King was a pivotal figure in the non-violent civil rights movement. During the 1950s and 1960s, he sought to improve race relations and overturn discrimination in American society. He is remembered for his powerful speeches which sought to bring about a united society – where race did not act as a barrier.

2. Nelson Mandela (1918 –  2013 )

Nelson Mandela

Mandela spent most of his life campaigning for an end to apartheid in South Africa. After over 20 years in prison, he was released and was able to be the first elected President in post apartheid South Africa. Also admired for his forgiveness and willingness to reach out to the white community in South Africa.

3. Desmond Tutu (1931 – )


Leading figurehead in the South African anti apartheid movement. Desmond Tutu is a leading figure in speaking out for humanitarian and civil rights issues.

4. Oliver Tambo (1917 – 1993)


President of the ANC (1960 – 1990). Tambo was a leading figure in promoting international opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

5. Mohammed Ali (1942 – )

Muhammed Ali

Great boxer of the 1960s. Refused to fight in Vietnam. Then a controversial decision, he later became widely admired as a principled figure of great stature.

6. Kofi Annan  (1938 – )

Kofi anna

UN Secretary General from Ghana who served two terms. Widely admired for his skills of patience and diplomacy.

7. Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)

Frederick douglas

A former slave, Douglass became a leading figurehead in the anti-slavery movement. One of the most prominent African American leaders of the Nineteenth Century. His autobiography of life as a slave, and his speeches denouncing slavery – were influential in changing public opinion.

8. Haile Selassie (1892 – 1975)

Haile Selassie

Leader of Ethiopia and symbol of African independence against colonialism

9. Barack Obama (1961- )


First US President of African origin. Obama served two terms as President and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

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10. Malcolm X (1925-1965) –

Malcom x

Member of the Nation of Islam which advocated black self-determination separation of black and white people. He later disavowed racism and the Nation of Islam

11. Jesse Owens (1913-1980)

Jesse Owens

(athletics) Won Olympic Gold at ‘Hitler’s Olympics’, Berlin 1936.

12. Pele (1940 – ) (Brazil, footballer)


Pele was the greatest footballer of the century. Since retirement Pele become a global ambassador for sport and is a well known advocate of overcoming poverty.

13. Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009)


Musician and singer. Famous for albums such as ‘Bad’ and “Off the Wall”. Jackson was also a pioneer of music videos.

14. Michael Jordan (1963 – )  –


Great American Basketball player

15. Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013)


Best selling Nigerian novelist. He wrote the 1958 classic, ‘Things Fall Apart’

16. Haile Gebrselassie (1973 – )


Ethiopian record breaking distance runner.

17. Usain Bolt  (1986 – )

Usain Bolt

Iconic sprinter who has won a double Olympic triple of Gold medals at 100m, 200m, and 100m relay at 2008 and 2012 Olympics

18. Carl Lewis (1961 – )


US, athletics Nine time Olympic gold medallist, Carl Lewis won gold over three Olympics and was the great star of 1980s track and field.

19. Mo Farah (1983 – )


Somali refugee who came to Great Britain. Won double Olympic gold at 5,000m and 10,000m

20. Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797)


The first black African slave to write about his experience as a slave. His book ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano‘ played a pivotal role in turning public opinion in Britain against slavery

21. Benjamin Zephaniah (1958 – )

Benjamin Zephaniah

English poet and writer, born to West Indian parents. Zephaniah writes poetry influenced by Jamaican Rastafarian tradition. He is also a social activist in fields of civil rights, animal rights and vegetarianism


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