Below are some suggested names with brief biographies, in chronological order. Please feel free to suggest any others you think would be appropriate.
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Tisquantum (or Squanto)
Tisquantum (/tɪsˈkwɒntəm/; c. 1585 (±10 years?) – late November 1622 O.S.), more commonly known by the diminutive variant Squanto (/ˈskwɒntoʊ/), was a member of the Patuxet tribe best known for being an early liaison between the native populations in Southern New England and the Mayflower Pilgrims . Learn more.
Metacomet (1638–1676), also known as Metacom and by his adopted English name King Philip, was chief to the Wampanoag people and the second son of the sachem Massasoit. At the beginning Metacomet sought to live in harmony with the colonists. In 1675 Metacomet led opponents of Puritan expansion in what became known as King Philip's War. Learn more.
Among the members of the Pocumtuck tribe was Chief Wawanotewat, better known as "Greylock." A famous warrior, he continued to lead bands into Massachusetts after most of his followers had left the state. Mount Greylock in the Berkshires is named after him. Learn more.
Although she was an African slave, Phillis Wheatley was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America. Educated and enslaved in the household of prominent Boston commercialist John Wheatley, lionized in New England and England, with presses in both places publishing her poems, and paraded before the new republic’s political leadership and the old empire’s aristocracy, Wheatley was the abolitionists’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual. Her name was a household word among literate colonists and her achievements a catalyst for the fledgling antislavery movement. Learn more.
Prince Hall (c. 1735–1738—1807) was an African American noted as an abolitionist for his leadership in the free black community in Boston and as the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry. He lobbied for education rights for black children and was active in the back-to-Africa movement. Learn more.
Elizabeth Freeman (c.1744—December 28, 1829), also known as Bet or MumBet, was the first enslaved African American to file and win a suit for emancipation in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Freeman's favor, found slavery to be inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution. Learn more.
Reverend Thomas Paul
Thomas Paul (1773–1831) was a Baptist minister in Boston, Massachusetts, affiliated with the African Meeting House and the Education Society for the People of Colour. His contributions include his work as an abolitionist, his leadership in the black community, and his support for Haiti. He helped establish a long line of black leaders, many of whom came from his own family. Learn more.
David Walker (1797?-1830) put his life on the line by publicly demanding the immediate end of slavery in the United States, and was a leader in the African American community in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1829, while living in Boston, Massachusetts, he published An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, a call for black unity and self-help in the fight against oppression and injustice. This was a passionate espousal of black liberation; a call to his “afflicted and slumbering brethren” to rise up and cast off the chains that bound their minds as well as their bodies. Learn more.
Edward Garrison Walker
Edward Garrison Walker, also known as Edwin Garrison Walker (1830–1901), was an American artisan in Boston who became an attorney in 1861; he was one of the first black men to pass the Massachusetts bar. He later became a politician and in 1866, nine years after the state extended the franchise to African-American men, he and Charles Lewis Mitchell were the first two black men elected to the Massachusetts State Legislature. Learn more
Susan Paul (1809–1841) was the first African-American woman to publish a biography in the United States. The book, Memoir of James Jackson (1835), describes the life of her young pupil at the city’s Abiel Smith School, the first public school building in the United States dedicated exclusively to African-American education. Paul eventually became an officer of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and served as a representative to the New York Anti-Slavery Convention. Her memoir, however, was considered her most important work. Learn more
Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey; c. February 1818 – February 20, 1895) was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland. At 20 he disguised himself as a sailor and escaped to New York by train. Within three years he was lecturing across New England on behalf of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. President Lincoln even met with Douglass in 1863 about the horrors of slavery. Frederick Douglass went on to become one of the most famous men in the country, an abolitionist, a powerful orator, an advocate for women’s rights, a brilliant strategist, a newspaper owner, a friend to John Brown and Harriet Tubman. Learn more
Henry Monroe was the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment’s 13-year-old drummer boy who directed maneuvers for the 54th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry Regiment during the ill-fated attack on Fort Wagner. Henry Monroe was from New Bedford, Mass., and attended public schools in Boston and New Bedford, graduating at the head of his class in which he was the only African-American. At the end of the war he went on to teach in the Freedman’s Bureau. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him an inspector of customs at the Port of Baltimore. He became a Methodist minister who published his Civil War recollections in the weekly church bulletin. Learn more
Lewis Hayden (December 2, 1811 – April 7, 1889) was an African-American leader who escaped with his family from slavery in Kentucky; they moved to Boston, where he became an abolitionist and lecturer, businessman, and politician. He was elected in 1873 as a Republican representative from Boston to the Massachusetts state legislature. He helped found numerous black lodges of Freemasons. The Lewis and Harriet Hayden House has been designated a National Historic Site on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. Learn more
Macon Bolling Allen
Macon Bolling Allen (born Allen Macon Bolling on August 4, 1816 – June 11, 1894) is believed to be both the first African American licensed to practice law and to hold a judicial position in the United States. Allen passed the bar exam in Maine in 1844 and became a Massachusetts Justice of the Peace in 1848. He moved to South Carolina after the American Civil War to practice law and was elected as a probate court judge in 1874. Following the Reconstruction Era, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association. Learn more
American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved people, family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry. During the Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women's suffrage. Tubman spent a great deal of time in Boston and she has a statue erected in Boston in honor of her dedication to freedom. Learn more
William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Dubois
W.E.B. Dubois was a writer, teacher and activist. The prolific Great Barrington, Mass., native attended Harvard and became the first African-American to earn a Harvard PhD. He also gained recognition for his 1903 book "The Souls of Black Folk" and went on to cofound the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). DuBois devoted his life to inspiring his race, which isn’t surprising given that his lifetime began just after the eradication of slavery and ended during the era of the 1960s civil rights battles. Learn more
Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons
Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons (c. 1853 – March 7, 1942) was an American labor organizer, radical socialist and anarcho-communist. Parsons entered the radical movement following her marriage to newspaper editor Albert Parsons and moved with him from Texas to Chicago, where she contributed to the newspaper he famously edited—The Alarm. Following her husband's 1887 execution in conjunction with the Haymarket affair, Parsons remained a leading American radical activist, as a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World and member of other political organizations. Learn more
Florida Ruffin Ridley
Florida Ruffin Ridley (January 29, 1861 – February 25, 1943) was an African-American civil rights activist, suffragist, teacher, writer, and editor from Boston, Massachusetts. She was one of the first black public schoolteachers in Boston, and edited the Woman's Era, the country's first newspaper published by and for African-American women.
A Boston Resident, Sarah Boone was an inventor most well known for creating a chair with a component that could be used as a signal (such as airplane seats); second woman to win a US patent. Teacher and musical composer. Learn more
Ida Barnett Wells
Ida B. Wells was born a slave. Brought international attention to lynchings in the South; called one of "the most vocal advocates" in this realm. Using the pseudonym “Iola,” Wells began to write editorials in black newspapers that challenged Jim Crowlaws in the South. She bought a share of a Memphis newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight, and used it to further the cause of African American civil rights. An investigative journalist, educator, and an early leader in the civil rights movement, she also helped found the the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Learn more
Mary McLeod Bethune
Prominent educator, political leader, and social visionary whose early twentieth century activism for black women and civil rights laid the foundation for the modern civil rights era. Bethune mobilized African American women’s organizations to challenge racial injustice and demand first class citizenship. In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women. A friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. She was also a leader of FDR’s unofficial “black cabinet.” Learn more
Charlotte Hawkins Brown
Established the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute, named after the first woman president of Wellesley College, who was a close friend and mentor, to help educate African American children and youth. Well known in this area, namely for the educational work and development she did, setting a model for others nationally. Many of her materials are housed at Radcliff College. Learn more
Roland Hayes (Brookline Resident)
Roland Hayes (June 3, 1887 – January 1, 1977) was an American lyric tenor and composer. The descendant of slaves, he broke color barriers in the 1920s as the first African-American to sing with major symphony orchestras in America and in the palaces of Europe. He paved the way for Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson and all the great African-American artists to follow. Learn more
Marita Bonner (Brookline Resident)
An American writer, essayist, and playwright Marita Bonner (June 16, 1899 – December 7, 1971), also known as Marieta Bonner, is commonly associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She attended Brookline High School, where she contributed to the school magazine, The Sagamore. She excelled in German and Music, and was a very talented pianist. In 1917, she graduated from Brookline High School and in 1918 enrolled in Radcliffe College. Throughout her life, Bonner wrote many short stories, essays and plays, and was a frequent contributor to The Crisis (the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and Opportunity (official publication of the National Urban League) between 1925 and 1940. Learn more
Amelia Boynton Robinson
A Civil Rights activist in Alabama and Georgia, she was a national advocate for voting rights, civil rights, and political activism. Ran for US House of Representatives in 1964 in an effort to directly challenge Jim Crow Laws. A key organizer of the march from Selma to Montgomery, she had deep connections to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and SNCC. Publicly honored in 2015 by Pres. Obama for this role. Learn more
Malcolm X (1925–1965) was an American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence; he has been called one of the greatest and most influential African-Americans in history. Learn more
Victoria Jackson Gray Adams
Called one of the most important people in the Civil Rights Movement: spurred voter registration, opened Freedom Schools in summer of 1964, fought for rights of sharecroppers, national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Founded Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was first woman from Mississippi to run for US Senate. Learn more
Melnea Agnes Cass (née Jones; June 16, 1896 – December 16, 1978) organized African American women to register to vote following passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She was 24 years old at the time. The social activist rallied for racial justice, protesting publicly, working for groups like the NAACP and founding organizations locally like the Freedom House, which took efforts to keep her Roxbury neighborhood clean and safe. From 1962-64, the “First Lady of Roxbury” served as the president of the Boston branch of the NAACP and was also actively involved in the desegregation of Boston public schools.
A. Phillip Randolph
A. Phillip Randolph (April 15, 1889 – May 16, 1979) was an African American civil rights activist who played a pivotal role in the early African American civil rights movement and led the first predominantly African-American labor union. He organized and led the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a predominantly black labor union. A man of strong character and conviction, he credited his parents for teaching him the importance of education, equality, justice and freedom. Learn more
One of the most important women in the civil rights movement for her leadership roles with the NAACP and SNCC. Worked as journalist and in publishing. Co-founded Young Negros Cooperative League (1930). By the late 1940s Baker, now a Field Secretary, was the NAACP’s most effective organizer as she traveled the South chartering new branches. In this role, instrumental in raising funds to support the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Organized a conference at Shaw University in 1960 that lead to the establishment of SNCC.She worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses. Learn more
Augusta Braxston Baker
First African American woman to hold an administrative position at the New York Public Library, she was a pioneering advocate of the positive portrayal of blacks in children’s literature, and beginning in the 1930s removed books with negative stereotypes from the NYPL shelves. Learn more
Daisy Lee Gatson Bates
Newspaper publisher; "influential in the integration of the Little Rock Nine," powerful organizer, named Woman of the Year (1957) by National Council of Negro Women and awarded Spingarn Medal, which is the highest honor of the NAACP. In 1960, Daisy Bates moved to New York City and wrote her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which won a 1988 National Book Award. Bates then moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Democratic National Committee. She also served in the administration of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson working on anti-poverty programs. Learn more
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu (是松豊三郎 Korematsu Toyosaburō, January 30, 1919 – March 30, 2005) was an American civil rights activist who objected to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Korematsu challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s orders for internment and became a fugitive. The legality of the internment order was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Korematsu v. United States. Korematsu's conviction for evading internment was overturned four decades later after the disclosure of new evidence challenging the necessity of the internment, evidence which had been withheld from the courts by the U.S. government during the war. Learn more
Cesar Chavez (born César Estrada Chávez, March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union, UFW) in 1962. Originally a Mexican American farm worker, Chavez became the best known Latino American civil rights activist, and was strongly promoted by the American labor movement, which was eager to enroll Hispanic members. His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive but nonviolent tactics made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. Learn more
Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta
Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta (born April 10, 1930) is a Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Cesar Chavez, was the co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Huerta helped organize the Delano grape strike in 1965 in California and was the lead negotiator in the workers' contract that was created after the strike. Huerta has received numerous awards for her community service and advocacy for workers', immigrants', and women's rights, including the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was the first Latina inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, in 1993. Learn more
Audre Lorde was a noted Afro-American writer, educationist, feminist, and civil rights activist. Starting to write poems in her early teens, she supported her college education doing odd jobs and later began her career as a librarian. She found teaching as satisfying as writing poems and taught English in several colleges. All the while, she continued to write, publishing her first book of poems around the age of 34, which was quickly followed by others. Calling herself a “black, feminist, lesbian, mother and poet”, she also wrote in prose, lashing out at the injustice meted out to the marginalized. Learn more
Ruby Nell Bridges
Ruby Nell Bridges Hall (born September 8, 1954) is an American civil rights activist. She was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960. In 1999, Ruby established The Ruby Bridges Foundation to promote tolerance and create change through education. Learn more
Born in Paris, Yo-Yo Ma (born October 7, 1955) spent his schooling years in New York City and was a child prodigy, performing from the age of four and a half. He graduated from the Juilliard School and Harvard University and has enjoyed a prolific career as both a soloist performing with orchestras around the world and a recording artist. He has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards. He has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2001, Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and the Polar Music Prizein 2012. Learn more
Deval Patrick (born July 31, 1956) was elected the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. From a childhood of poverty in Chicago’s South Side to college years at Harvard University to a Clinton-appointed post in civil rights work for the Justice Department, the two-term governor was a big supporter of green energy, affordable health care, education and became the first to legalize same-sex marriage. Learn more
Atul Gawande (born November 5, 1965) is an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. In public health, he is executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health systems innovation, and chairman of Lifebox, a nonprofit that works on reducing deaths in surgery globally. On June 20, 2018, Dr. Gawande was named the CEO of a recently-formed healthcare venture owned by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase. He has written extensively on medicine and public health for The New Yorker and Slate, and is the author of the books Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science; Better; The Checklist Manifesto; and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Learn more
Nergis Mavalvala is a Pakistani-American astrophysicist known for her role in the first observation of gravitational waves. She is the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT), where she is also the Associate Head of the Department of Physics. Mavalvala is best known for her work on the detection of gravitational waves in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project,but she has also obtained prominent results on other physicsproblems that evolved out of LIGO: for example, she has performed pioneering experiments on laser cooling of macroscopic objects and in the generation of squeezed quantum states of light. She is so smart, she can explain wormholes in to almost anyone. Learn more
John Wilson (1922–2015) is a nationally renowned sculptor who lived in Brookline for 50 years before he passed away in 2015. His artwork is featured in museums around the nation, as well as in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.Its focus is the African American experience in a segregated nation.