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In honor of Black History Month, here’s a list of Chicagoans you should know

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad are two prominent members of Chicago's Black History scene. | AP Photo

Chicago wouldn’t be the city it is today without pioneers like Bessie Coleman, Ida B. Wells and Jean Baptiste Point du Sable.

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a list of African American activists, journalists, athletes and others whose lives had a lasting impact on Chicago.

Robert Sengstacke Abbott

Robert Sengstacke was the founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, one of America’s premier black newspapers. The Defender played a crucial role in The Great Migration by posting job ads for work in northern states.

Timuel Black

Timuel Black is a historian, author and civil rights activist who provided counsel to Martin Luther King, W.E.B DuBois and Barack Obama. He was also a Chicago Public Schools teacher for 30 years.

Timuel Black

Timuel Black helped draft Harold Washington to run for mayor of Chicago and, decades later, mentored a young Barack Obama. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American licensed pilot. She raised money for an African-American flying school by barnstorming, parachute jumping and giving lectures.

Rube Foster

Rube Foster, who was widely known the “The Father of Black Baseball,” was the manager of the National Negro Leagues’ Chicago American Giants. The American Giants played their home games at Comiskey Park, the home of the Chicago White Sox.

Rube Foster (back row, center) was the manager of the Chicago American Giants. | Highland Park Public Library

Wilson Frost

Wilson Frost, a former Chicago alderman, was widely known for declaring himself the city’s acting mayor when Richard J. Daley died in December 1976.

Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton was the president of the Black Panthers’ Illinois chapter. Hampton was known as a person who built a multicultural coalition across Chicago.

Vernon Jarrett

Vernon Jarrett was a columnist whose work appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. Jarrett was one of the cofounders of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Chicago chapter.

Former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Vernon Jarrett.

Mae Jemison

Astronaut Mae Jemison was the first black woman to travel to space.

Hazel Johnson

Hazel Johnson was an environmental activist who lived in Altgeld Gardens, a famous housing project on the Far South Side. She often pressed the Chicago Housing Authority for answers regarding environmental hazards, since Altgeld Gardens, which was originally built for black military veterans, was near a landfill.

Community organizer Hazel Johnson stands in front of the CID Infill, 134th and the Calumet Expressway, where sludge dried at the Sanitary District Calumet plant is used for ground cover.

John H. Johnson

John H. Johnson was the longtime publisher of Ebony and Jet Magazine, two publications that documented black life in America.

Montford Point Marines

The Montford Point Marines were some of the first black men to serve in the U.S. Marines Corps. They recently acquired the funds to save their Chicago Chapter hall, which is in need of repairs.

Lu Palmer

Lu Palmer was a journalist with the Chicago Defender and later a columnist with Chicago Daily News. He was influential in the election of Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington.

Journalist Lu Palmer

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a Haitian immigrant, was Chicago’s first non-Native American settler. Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History is named after him.

The Pullman Porters

The Pullman Porters worked on the railroads as sleeping car porters. Many of their members organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, America’s first black labor union.

SINGING ON THE RAILROAD Entertaining the crowds visiting the railroad section of the Daily News Victory Travel fair are members of the Pullman Porter Quartet left to right, Fred Butler, F.S. Balle, John Spencer, W.H. Butler and B.T. Cornelius rear.

Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells was an activist and journalist. She wrote the book “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States.” In 2018, Congress Parkway was renamed after her.


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State law to mandate black history courses at public colleges in Illinois
Black History Month time to reflect on the real meaning
1st black woman president for 130-year-old Metropolitan Water Reclamation Board