In celebration of Black History Month we have compiled a list of 28 HBCU alums that made history. The list is a mixture of historic and current notable HBCU alums. Additionally, the list focuses on those that actually graduated, even though there were many who attended but did not graduate, such as Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, and Erykah Badu.
If an HBCU alum you wanted to see featured did not make the list, keep in mind that it is only a list of 28. It is a testament to our institutions and a point of pride that we can compile lists of our standout alums and we then have to make tough decisions on who is included.
Enjoy reading, and remember that Black History is 365, and not just during the month of February!
1 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Morehouse College
He was a Baptist preacher/minister and civil rights activist. King is viewed as the leader of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He rose to prominence as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked by the arrest if Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on the bus to White man. He was essential in fighting for the federal civil rights and voting rights legislation that came to be the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He later became a chief advocate for human rights, the poor (economic justice), workers’ rights, and anti-war (Vietnam) and U.S. imperialism abroad.
2Thurgood Marshall – Lincoln University, Howard University
Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in United States history. He rose to prominence as the legal arm of the NAACP, establishing the Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1940. He won more cases before the Supreme Court than anyone else, including the infamous Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) which ended legal segregation in the school system.
3Jerry Rice – Mississippi Valley State
Rice is an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver. He is widely recognized as the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL and at any position, holding many of the receiving all-time records. He won three super bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers.
4Spike Lee – Morehouse College
Lee is a world famous innovative director who was one of the few African-American film directors to be nominated for an academy award, His notable works include: “Do the Right Thing,” “School Daze,” “Malcolm X,” Inside Man,” “Jungle Fever,” “She’s Gotta Have It,” and “He Got Game.”
5Julius Chambers – North Carolina Central University
He graduated summa cum laude in 1958 from NCCU where he also served as Student Body President. Chambers was an accomplished civil rights attorney who succeeded Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg as president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1984. He had a law practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. He won case after case against racial segregation enduring firebombings of his house, office, and car in the process. He argued eight cases before the Supreme Court and won each of them. In addition, he served as Chancellor of his Alma Mater from 1993-2001.
6Toni Morrison – Howard University
Morrison is Nobel Prize winning author. Some of her classic works include Beloved and Song of Solomon.
7Alice Walker – Spelman College
Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. She is most recognized for her work The Color Purple. (The exception on the list, in terms of graduating; she later transferred)
8Pam Oliver – Florida A&M University
She has been seen on the sidelines of numerous NBA and NFL games. She has been a reporter for ESPN, Fox Sports, and TNT. Oliver earned her degree in broadcast journalism in 1984.
9Samuel L. Jackson – Morehouse College
Jackson is a world famous actor with a significant list of notable films to his credit. He originally studied marine biology at Morehouse before switching his major studies to acting.
10Taraji P. Henson – Howard University
She is a famously acclaimed Academy Award-nominated actress. She actually worked as a secretary at the Pentagon to pay bills during her college career.
11Jesse Jackson – North Carolina A&T State University
He is a prominent civil rights activist who graduated from NC A&T in 1964. He has often been regarded in the past as one of the most important Black leaders. He also ran for President twice, in 1984 and 1988, gaining significant support an progress although ultimately unsuccessful.
12Ralph David Abernathy – Alabama State University
Abernathy was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who cofounded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was a close advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. during his life in the civil rights struggle.
13Marian Wright Edelman – Spelman College
Edelman is a writer, lawyer, and civil rights activist. She is probably best known for her legal advocacy work for African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement era and after. She was the first woman in Mississippi to pass the bar exam. She was a lawyer for the NAACP and has written many books on the issue of racial inequality in the United States.
14Lonnie Johnson – Tuskegee University
Nicknamed “The Professor” Johnson is an inventor and engineer. He joined the U.S. Air Force after receiving his master’s degree from Tuskegee University. He was assigned to the Strategic Command and in this capacity he helped to develop the stealth bomber program. In addition, he was a system engineer for both the Galileo and Cassini mission to Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. He is probably most famous for inventing the super soaker, which became and still one of the most popular toys in the world.
15Langston Hughes – Lincoln University
He was poet, playwright, novelist, and social activist. He was a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance publishing his first poem in 1921 and his first book in 1926. He went on to write great works of poetry, prose, and plays with African-American themes.
16Ralph Ellison – Tuskegee University
Ellison was a scholar, educator, literary critic, and author. He is best known for his award-winning Invisible Man published in 1952. The work influenced many writers and thinkers in that generation and the generations to follow.
17Stephen A. Smith – Winston-Salem State University
The ESPN analyst is a host of his own radio show and a part of the duo, along with Skip Bayless, on the popular ESPN debate show First Take.
18Lionel Richie – Tuskegee University
He is a world famous Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter with numerous top hits. He was successful both with his R&B group the Commodores and as a solo artist. He co-wrote “We Are the World” with Michael Jackson, which became the anthem for relief from hunger and for the conditions of people around the world.
19Fred Shuttlesworth – Alabama State University
Shuttlesworth was a civil rights activist and Baptist minister. He was a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement along with Dr. King. He co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
20Booker T. Washington – Hampton University
Washington was a former slave that went on to become one of the most prominent African-American leaders in history. He was educator and civil rights activist. He founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute that is now known as Tuskegee University.
21Leon Sullivan – West Virginia State University
Sullivan was a Baptist minister, civil rights activist, and social justice. He was also an anti-Apartheid activist. He had a focus on job training opportunities for African-Americans. Additionally, he founded the Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC).
22David Satcher – Morehouse College
Satcher is a physician who graduated from Morehouse College. Under the Clinton administration he served as the surgeon general (1998-2002). Before that appointment he was the director of the Center for Disease Control.
23Katherine Johnson – West Virginia State University
She was a mathematician and computer scientist. Johnson became a part of the all-male flight research division of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). When NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) she went on to join the Spacecraft Controls Branch. In this capacity she calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American to enter space in 1959. In 1962 she verified the mathematics behind John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in 1962. Most notably she calculated the flight trajectory for Apollo 11’s moon flight in 1969.
24Charles Scales – Alabama A&M University
He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Alabama A&M University. He is best known for being the Associate Deputy Administrator for NASA.
25Nikki Giovanni – Fisk University
Giovanni is a world renowned poet, writer, activist, and educator. She remains a passionate civil rights activist and remains a powerful voice in the Black community, specifically, and beyond. She has received a plethora of awards and honors, which is a testament to her living legend.
26Yolanda Adams – Tennessee State University
Adams is an award-winning Gospel Artist. She currently host The Yolanda Adams Morning Show radio show on Praise.
27Colbert I. King – Howard University
He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who was a columnist for the Washington Post. He served as Deputy Editor of the paper as well. He now frequently appears on ABC’S Inside Washington.
28Evelynn Hammonds – Spelman College
Hammonds earned her degree in physics from Spelamn in 1976. She eventually went on to become Harvard College Dean. Her writing on science and race is broadly cited in academic circles. She has earned degrees from Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard.
There are tons of graduates that are from Historically Black Colleges and Universities that make black history. Feel free to add more below!