In recognition of Black History Month, the PCMA Southeast Chapter is recognizing notable African Americans from our member states. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina have been featured previously. South Carolina, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico are recognized this week. The person(s) referenced are only a small selection of the individuals from each state or territory and the information provided by no means reflects all the achievements associated with the person featured. Please take time to learn more about the person(s) who most interest you.
Althea Gibson, Clarendon County: An American tennis player and professional golfer, and one of the first Black athletes to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Nationals (precursor of the US Open), then won both again in 1958 and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. “She is one of the greatest players who ever lived”, said Bob Ryland, a tennis contemporary and former coach of Venus and Serena Williams.
Chris Rock, Andrews: A high-school drop-out, Rock worked at restaurants before stepping into stand-up comedy. He gained fame with SNL and earned his first role through Eddie Murphy. Known for voicing Marty in the Madagascar franchise, Chris also created the series Everybody Hates Chris and was voted Comedy Central’s fifth-greatest stand-up comedian. He has hosted the Academy Awards twice; in 2005 and 2016.
Darius Rucker, Charleston: Rucker gained fame as the lead singer and guitarist of the rock band Hootie & the Blowfish. He then launched a solo career, releasing Billboard-charting hits such as Wagon Wheel and True Believers. He became the first Black American singer to win the Country Music Association New Artist Award.
Eartha Kitt, North: This American actress, comedian, dancer, and singer-songwriter was a renowned talented singer with a distinctive voice. Kitt recorded several chartbusting songs during the 1950s. Also, a well-known activist, Eartha Kitt established a non-profit organization called the Kittsville Youth Foundation, which helped underprivileged youths in Los Angeles. She was also an ardent advocate for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. In addition to English, of course, Kitt spoke three other languages: German, Dutch from & French and sang in eleven, which she demonstrated in many of the live recordings of her cabaret performances. Diana Ross said that as a member of The Supremes she largely based her look and sound on Kitt’s.
James Brown, Barnwell: Respectfully known as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was a prominent figure of 20th century music. A progenitor of funk music, Brown influenced the development of many music genres. An inductee of the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame, Brown is ranked seventh in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
Jesse Jackson, Greenville: Civil rights activist and politician Jesse Jackson, father of former U.S. representative Jesse Jackson Jr., is also a Baptist minister. Jackson was known for commanding public attention since he first started working for Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965 he participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches organized by King and other civil rights leaders in Alabama. He has been a shadow U.S. senator from the District of Columbia and established organizations that merged into the non-profit Rainbow/PUSH. He also hosted CNN’s Both Sides with Jesse Jackson.
Joe Frazier, Beaufort: Nicknamed “Smokin’ Joe,” Frazier was a star heavyweight champion who won the boxing gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Known for his legendary 1971 “Fight of the Century” against Muhammad Ali and his defeat in the “Thrilla in Manila,” Frazier had scored 32 wins in his career.
Aretha Franklin, Memphis: Widely regarded as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin was a singer-songwriter, actress, and civil rights activist. Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Aretha was ranked number one on Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time list in 2010. Having sold over 75 million records, she is also one of the best-selling musicians ever.
Isaac Hayes, Covington: An American singer, actor, songwriter, and composer, Hayes was one of the creative forces behind the Southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served both as an in-house songwriter and as a session musician and record producer during the mid-1960s. Hayes was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Herman Cain, Memphis: The son of a janitor and a domestic help, Herman Cain used his talent in math to join Purdue University. He had worked with the Navy and been an analyst for Coca-Cola. He later headed Pillsbury as its VP. He had announced his presidential candidacy in 2012 but later withdrew.
Mary Church Terrell (b. 1863), Memphis: An African American suffragist and civil rights activist. She was one of the first women of African American heritage to earn a college degree. Terrell helped establish the National Association of Colored Women and served as its first president. Mary Church Terrell was made an inductee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.
Van Jones, Jackson: Especially known for his honest and poignant commentaries, Van Jones is an award-winning political contributor, commentator, and the host of popular CNN programs like Van Jones Show and The Redemption Project. Also, a leader in the fight for criminal justice reform for more than twenty-five years, he has founded number of non-profit organizations and authored several best-selling books.
Wilma Rudolph, Clarksville: Sprinter Wilma Rudolph made history by becoming the first American female athlete to win three track and field gold medals in a single Olympic game. As a child, she needed orthopedic shoes to help her walk. The sports icon lost her life to cancer but was immortalized through books and movies. As the twentieth of 22 children, Rudolph had several early childhood illnesses, including pneumonia and scarlet fever, and she contracted infantile paralysis (caused by the poliovirus) at the age of five. She recovered from polio but lost strength in her left leg and foot. Physically disabled for much of her early life, Rudolph wore a leg brace until she was twelve years old. Because there was little medical care available to African American residents of Clarksville in the 1940s, Rudolph’s parents sought treatment for her at the historically black Meharry Medical College (now Nashville General Hospital at Meharry) in Nashville, Tennessee, about 50 miles from Clarksville.
PUERTO RICO (Afro-Puerto Ricans)
Eva Marie Cruz, Toa Baja: a member of the Puerto Rican national volleyball team, Cruz plays for Valencianas of Juncos in the Puerto Rican league of volleyball. She is for many “La Reina” (the queen) of volleyball in Puerto Rico and participated at the 2002 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship in Germany. Cruz was the first player in the Puerto Rico women’s volleyball league (Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenino) to have 4,000 points. She reached this mark on February 27, 2009. She reached 2,000 defenses on February 2, 2007, and 200 serves, to become second in league history.
Michelle Marie Colón Ramírez, Bayamón: The Puerto Rican model and beauty pageant titleholder was crowned Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2021 and represented Puerto Rico at Miss Universe 2021 where she finished in the Top 10. She is the first Afro-Puerto Rican to win the national title.
Pedro Rosa Nales, Fajardo: a Puerto Rican journalist, news anchor and a recognized martial artist, Nales has received over 20 awards. As a television journalist, he was recruited by the WAPA-TV channel 4 of San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1981, becoming the first black Puerto Rican to work as a TV reporter. During his 32 years as a TV journalist, he had won more than 100 awards from several organizations in Puerto Rico and the United States, including awards for the coverage of hurricanes and investigative reports like Red Alert 1 and 2, in which he uncovered the military use of the Vieques island and the effects of army maneuvers on the population.
Roberto Clemente Jr, San Juan: Clemente was a Puerto Rican baseball player who represented the Pittsburgh Pirates in Major League Baseball (MLB). Apart from being a popular player, Clemente was also a great humanitarian whose impact is still being felt in MLB. Since his untimely death at the age of 38, Clemente has been the subject of several documentaries, articles, and books.
Rubén Sierra, Rio Piedras: a former Major League Baseball outfielder, Sierra goes by the nicknames El Caballo and El Indio. For over 20 seasons, Sierra played for the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins. Sierra also signed with the Cleveland Indians at the end of 1999 and was released towards the end of spring training in March 2000.
Victor Felipe Pellot, Arecibo: also known professionally as Vic Power, Pellot was a Puerto Rican professional baseball first baseman. He played twelve seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) for the Philadelphia / Kansas City Athletics, Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles / California Angels, and Philadelphia Phillies, from 1954 through 1965. Pellot was the second Puerto Rican of African descent to play in MLB and the second Puerto Rican to play in the American League (AL), following Hiram Bithorn. Pellot used the name Vic Power during his major league career, but played as Victor Pellot when he played winter baseball in Puerto Rico. He was an AL All-Star for four seasons playing in five of the six All-Star games that were played and won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards.