In recognition of Black History Month, the PCMA Southeast Chapter is recognizing notable African Americans from our member states. Alabama was featured last week. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina are noted this week. South Carolina, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico will be recognized next week. The persons referenced are only a small selection of the individuals from each state 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.
Butterfly McQueen, Tampa: When McQueen was five years old, her father abandoned the family, and her mother sent her to attend public school and live in Augusta, Georgia, with her aunt. Her mother eventually settled in New York City, and McQueen spent most of her teenage years in Harlem, Long Island, and the Bronx. Butterfly McQueen is best remembered for her role as an enslaved woman named Prissy in the 1939 movie Gone With the Wind. For most of her film career, McQueen was typecast as a servant, but when those roles became scant in Hollywood during the 1950s, she pursued jobs in musical theater, television, and radio. She won the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame Award in 1975 and an Emmy Award for her role in the children’s television special The Seven Wishes of Joanna Peabody (1979).
Deion Sanders, Fort Myers: American football player Deion Sanders is considered one of the strongest pass defenders of the game. He was an electrifying athlete and played in the National Football League for 14 seasons. He played for teams like Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens. From 1991–1994, Sanders played for the Atlanta Braves. In 1992, Sanders played for the Atlanta Braves as well as the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons at the same time. He is now a coach and a sports analyst. He’s also a rapper.
Emmit Smith, Pensacola: Respected as one of the Southeastern Conference’s greatest running backs for his college career with the University of Florida Gators. In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys selected Smith as a first-round draft pick, and he was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year. Three years later, he was crowned the NFL’s MVP. The College and Pro Football Hall of Famer also has moves off the field, winning season 3 of Dancing with the Stars. In 2006, Smith was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. Much of the hall’s memorabilia is on display at the Central Florida Visitors & Convention Bureau in Davenport.
Esther Rolle, Pompano Beach: Born to Bahamian immigrants, Rolle he was the tenth of 18 children (children who included siblings and fellow actresses Estelle Evans and Rosanna Carter). Rolle graduated from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida and initially studied at Spelman College in Atlanta, before moving to New York City where she made her stage debut in a variety of productions; she was often cast in plays produced by Robert Hooks and the Negro Ensemble Company. Rolle is best known for her television role as Florida Evans, the character she played on two 1970s sitcoms. The character was introduced as Maude Findlay’s housekeeper on Maude and was spun off in the show’s second season into Good Times (1974-79), a show about Florida’s family.
Maya Rudolph, Gainesville: The SNL alum was born to singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton and composer Richard Rudolph. Rudolph has enjoyed a very successful career in television, films, and music winning numerous awards and racking up accolades. Since January 2023, Rudolph has been the spokesperson for M&Ms after owner Mars Incorporated pulled its “Spokescandies” in light of criticism for its depictions of gender. Although a few days later, Mars confirmed that their Spokescandies would return in their Super Bowl commercial.
Sidney Poitier Miami: Sidney Poitier was a Bahamian-American actor who became the first Afro-Bahamian and Black male actor to receive an Oscar for Best Actor in 1964. In 2009, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His life and work inspired a couple of documentary films, including the 2008 film Sidney Poitier, an Outsider in Hollywood.
Wesley Snipes, Orlando: The quintessential vampire-killer of Hollywood, Wesley Snipes is best known for his action-oriented films, such as the Blade film trilogy and The Expendables 3. Apart from being an actor, Wesley Snipes is also a martial artist, and hence often portray roles that require him to perform stunts. He is a black belt holder in Hapkido and Shotokan Karate.
Alonzo Franklin Herndon, Walton County: Born into slavery June 26, 1858 (d. July 21, 1927), Herndon was an African-American entrepreneur and businessman in Atlanta, Georgia; he became one of the first African American millionaires in the United States, first achieving success by owning and operating three large barber shops in the city that served prominent white men. In 1905 he became the founder and president of what he built to be one of the United States’ most well-known and successful African-American businesses, the Atlanta Family Life Insurance Company (Atlanta Life), which is still in business today.
Gladys Knight, Atlanta: Known as the “Empress of Soul,” Knight is an American singer, songwriter, actress and businesswoman. A seven-time Grammy Award-winner, she has recorded hits through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s with her family group Gladys Knight & the Pips, which included her brother Merald “Bubba” Knight and cousins William Guest and Edward Patten. In 1996, Gladys Knight & the Pips were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One year before, Knight had received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2007, Knight received the Society of Singers ELLA Award at which time she was declared the “Empress of Soul”. She is listed on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Singers of All Time. In 2022, Knight received Kennedy Center Honors.
Jessye Norman, Augusta: Legendary American opera singer and recitalist Jessye Norman was born into a family of musicians and made her opera debut with Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser in Berlin. A 5-time Grammy winner, she performed at iconic venues such as the Paris Opera and London’s Royal Opera, and served as an ambassador to the UN. In 2003, the Jessye Norman School of the Arts was opened– a tuition-free performing arts after-school program for economically disadvantaged students in Augusta, Georgia.
Little Richard, Macon: Born Richard Wayne Penniman and known professionally as Little Richard, was an American musician, singer, and songwriter. He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades. Described as the “Architect of Rock and Roll”, Richard’s most celebrated work dates from the mid-1950s, when his charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laid the foundation for rock and roll. Among his many acclaims, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its first group of inductees in 1986.
Martin Luther King Jr. Atlanta: A leader in the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. A man of Christian faith who was inspired by Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial inequality.
Otis Redding, Dawson: The King of Soul Otis Redding, who had performed with the Pinetoppers, among others, is remembered for his track (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay, released after his death in a plane crash. It became the first posthumous Billboard R&B- and Hot 100-topping record. He also won two posthumous Grammys.
Ray Charles, Albany: Despite suffering blindness due to glaucoma early in his life, Charles went on to become a great singer-songwriter, composer, and pianist. One of the most respected and decorated musicians of all time, Ray Charles has been named in lists, such as 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. He pioneered the soul music genre, which remains his greatest contribution.
Spike Lee, Atlanta: Celebrated as one of the most decorated American filmmakers of his generation, Lee’s critically acclaimed films explore political issues, such as urban crime and poverty, colorism in the African-American community, and race relations. Four of his films have been selected for conservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress
David Baker (1881 -1959), Louisville: Baker is known for inventing scales that were used in elevators to prevent overloading. He was also co-inventor of the streetcar transom opener in 1913, the high-water indicator for bridges in 1915, and a number of other inventions. Despite his extreme aptitude for invention, in the 1950s Baker was employed as a janitor at the Union League Building in Los Angeles.
Garrett Augustus Morgan, Claysville: Considered to be one of the world’s greatest African American scientists, one of Morgan’s inventions helps you get home safely every day; he invented two major things that affect everyone around the world: one was the stop light and the other was the gas mask. The next time you are at a stop light, remember an African American scientist is responsible for that invention, and he once called Kentucky home. The inventor sold the rights to his traffic signal to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000.
Monica Jones Kaufman Pearson, Louisville: A journalist and news anchor, Pearson’s career first started in Louisville, Kentucky as an anchor and reporter for WHAS-TV, while also working as a reporter for the Louisville Times. When Pearson moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1975, she became the first female and African-American to anchor the evening news at WSB-TV for 37 years. She retired from broadcasting on July 25, 2012. For twenty years, Pearson hosted “Closeups” and conducted over 170 celebrity interviews for WSB-TV—many of which may still be seen on YouTube.Pearson became the first African-American to become the chairperson of the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta. In August 2016, Pearson was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalist Hall of Fame, University of Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame, Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Muhammad Ali- Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., Louisville: Clay changed his name To Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam. Ali began boxing at 12. Ali is known to be a boxer, activist and philanthropist. At 18-years-old Ali received a Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympic games and began boxing professionally later that year. The Louisville native is internationally known as the three-time heavyweight world champ. Ali retired in 1981 and in 1984 revealed he suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome. On July 19, 1996, Ali’s lighting of the Olympic Caldron in Atlanta for the Centennial Olympic Games, engraved itself in the memories of many as an unforgettable, unexpected and gasp-drawing moment.
Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1964), Raleigh: An American author, sociologist, educator, Black liberation activist, and speaker, Cooper was one of the most important African-American scholars in US history. In 1924, Anna Julia Cooper earned her PhD from the University of Paris, becoming only the fourth African-American woman to receive a doctoral degree.
Hubert Davis, Winston-Salem: As the first black UNC head coach of North Carolina Tar Heels men’s team, this former professional player played for North Carolina from 1988–1992 and in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, and New Jersey Nets from 1992 to 2004. He holds the franchise single-season three point field goal shooting percentage records for both the Knicks and the Mavericks. He is the nephew of Walter Davis, another former Tar Heel and NBA player.
John Coltrane, Hamlet: Jazz saxophone legend, Coltrane won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was canonized by the African Orthodox Church. Coltrane is remembered for his significant influence on modern jazz.
Loretta Elizabeth Lynch, Greensboro: An American lawyer who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the 83rd attorney general of the United States from 2015 to 2017. Lynch was confirmed by the Senate by a 56–43 vote, making her the second African American, the second woman and the first African-American woman to be confirmed for the position.
Nina Simone Tryon: Widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, Simone was the sixth of eight children, and her family was extremely poor. She began playing piano at the age of three or four and went on to become what some regard as a musical genius. She was a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, who often used her entertainment platform to promote civil rights.