African Americans Impact History

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong:

Louis Armstrong was an incredibly influential and well-known jazz musician who broke many racial barriers in the music industry. Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans. He lived in an extremely dangerous neighborhood nicknamed “The Battlefield.” He only received an education up to the 5th grade before he dropped out to work for the Karnofsky family who were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. The Karnofsky family supported his musical talent eventually leading Armstrong to purchase his first cornet, an instrument similar to a trumpet. In 1912, Armstrong was arrested and sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys where he met Peter Davis, who would teach him how to play the cornet. When he was released, he was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver, the city’s top cornetist. Through this, he became a well known cornetist, causing him to go solo on the advice of his second wife Lillian Hardin. Louis Armstrong created many jazz songs such as “What a Wonderful World”, “La Vie En Rose”, “We Have All the Time In the World”, and many more. His hits are often played in movies and television with new covers being made daily by varying aspiring artists. Louis Armstrong paved the way for modern  jazz music and was a pure innovator.

Kobe Bryant (Photographer: Gene Wang)

Kobe Bryant: 

Kobe Bryant was a beautiful soul that many basketball fans and players still mourn today. He was an outstanding player who put his heart into the game he loved most. One of his many accomplishments was becoming the world’s youngest NBA All-Star in history at just 19. This was merely the beginning of his incredibly successful career. Having teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal playing for the Lakers, the two managed to carry the team to the NBA championships for three consecutive wins. Despite O’Neal leaving the Lakers in 2004, Bryant continued to play passionately, and proceeded to carry his team to victory against the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA finals. Despite injuries he sustained in 2013, Bryant worked hard to return to the court and managed to pass Michael Jordan’s record and became number three on the NBA career scoring list. Eventually, Bryant retired in 2016 with his last game against the Utah Jazz scoring 60 points, leading the Lakers to victory. Although he retired from basketball that was not the end of his story. In 2015 he wrote a poem called “Dear Basketball,” which later became an animated short film that was released in 2017. His short film received an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film making him the first ever athlete to achieve this award. Additionally, he even created an after school All-Stars and an annual summer camp. Unfortunately, on January 26th 2020 Kobe Bryant and his 13 year-old daughter Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas hills of California. His unfulfilled goals and passions now live on through his wife Vanessa Bryant and his three daughters Natalia Bryant, Bianka Bryant, and Capri Bryant.

Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham:

The beautiful and talented Katherine Dunham is one of the lesser known influential African American figures in history. Dunham became interested in dance when she was a university student and formed a group that performed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. She continued to pursue her dance career and took field studies in the Caribbean, acquiring vast amounts of knowledge about the cultural dances of other black people throughout the Americas. With the knowledge she gained, Dunham proceeded to compose a ballet called  L’Ag’Ya, that was based on Caribbean dance. This was formed by an all black company that toured extensively in 1943. Katherine Dunham choreographed for Broadway productions, opera, and starred in dance sequences in movies such as “Stormy Weather”  and “Casbah” . Katherine Dunham was a woman who was passionate about rediscovering traditional dances of black culture in the tropics. She was incredibly active when it came to human rights, even staging a hunger strike to show the plight of Haitian refugees. Dunham was an incredible woman who should always be kept in our memories. 

Frederick Douglas

Frederick Douglass:

Frederick Douglass was an abolitionist that was born into slavery sometime in 1818. He was taught to read the alphabet by Sophia Auld, the wife of a Baltimore slaveholder, despite it being banned. Although the two were caught, Frederick Douglass proceeded to learn more from others in his neighborhood. With this new found knowledge, Frederick began to read newspapers, political writing, and literature, and he later credited “The Columbian Orator” for shaping his views on human rights. Frederick Douglass proceeded to teach other slaves how to read the bible.  However, slave owners were not happy and dispersed the crowd. Douglass ended up being sent to Edward Covey, a slave breaker, who inhumanely and harshly treated slaves. Yet, Douglass fought back one day and Covey did not touch him after that. Years later, Douglass fell in love with Anna Murrary who helped him escape slavery, the two got married and had five children. Douglass wrote an autobiography about his life as a slave called “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”, and created the newspaper the North Store where he published many abolitionist newspapers. Frederick Douglass remains as one of the most well known and respected abolitionists in African American History.