Philly’s African American Trailblazers

In celebration of Black History Month, check out our gallery of African Americans with Philadelphia connections who earned and now own a place in history.

30 photos
In celebration of Black History Month, check out our gallery of African Americans with Philadelphia connections who earned and now own a place in history.
Marian Anderson became a vital force in the struggle for blacks to gain equality in the music world. Her 1939 concert performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. ripped through racial barriers.
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Born in Philadelphia, Kevin Hart has come onto the scene as one of the most versatile comedy actors in film and television. The 32-year-old just wrapped his nationwide "Laugh at My Pain" tour and was the number one comedian on Ticketmaster in February, 2011. Hart debuted on amateur night at a Philadelphia comedy club and was instantly hooked. He quit his job as a shoe salesman and began performing. Hart sold out the Nokia Theater two nights in a row to break a record previously set by Eddie Murphy. Hart's Seriously Funny is one of the fastest selling DVDs in recent years. His Comedy Central special of the same name is the highest rated comedy special of 2010. He also appeared on the 10! Show last summer.
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Nnamdi Asomugha distinguishes himself on and off the field. Dubbed "Senator" by his teammates, the Eagles cornerback earned the nickname for the great work that he does within California and other communities across the country.
Dhani Jones has embarked in a number of business ventures. This former NFL linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles hosts his own show on the travel channel called Dhani Tackles the Globe and is the president and founder of Five Start Ties. He is a supporter of numerous charities, including the Ronald McDonald House and was also a Rhodes Scholar.
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Edward E. Robinson
The first black mayor in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He served the community of Yardley Borough. "Eddy" was a passionate golfer and softball player. He was on The Vandals, his neighborhood's an all-black team
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Bill Cosby - Actor/Comedian/Social Activist - started his career with the '60s action show, "I Spy." He is most famous for his sitcom 'The Cosby Show' in which he starred and produced. Cosby received a doctorate degree from the University of Massachusetts. He is an avid humanitarian and social activist.
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R&B Artist Teddy Pendergrass first grabbed national attention as a member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Later he flourished as an immensely successful solo artist. After a car accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, he founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance for spinal cord rehabilitation.
Jason Koerner
Will Smith started his career in the late '80s as one half of the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The pair had smash hits and even won the first Grammy ever awarded for rap music. Smith landed a role as the lead character in the popular '90s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." The show was a huge success. Eventually he became Hollywood Box-Office royalty and is one of Tinseltown's brightest stars.
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Patti LaBelle was the lead singer of two popular music acts -- Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and LaBelle. "Lady Marmalade" was a huge hit for the latter mentioned group. She had a No. 1 single in 1986 with her Michael McDonald assisted hit "On My Own."
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Kevin Eubanks burst onto the scene in 1992 as the leader of Jay Leno's "The Tonight Show Band." He moved with Leno to prime time to front the "Primetime Band."
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Sherman Alexander Hemsley (L) was born and raised in South Philly. He's perhaps best known as the energetic and outspoken George Jefferson of the 1970s television hit, "The Jeffersons" However, he also was part of the "All in the Family" cast in the early '70s.
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R&B mega-stars Boyz II Men jet setted to the top of the charts in the early '90s. They became the top-selling male R&B group of all time with No. 1 hits, "One Sweet Day", "I'll Make Love to You" and On Bended Knee." Of course we can't leave out the hometown shout out "Motownphilly."
Joe Frazier is a former professional boxing champion. He was honored by Ring Magazine as Fighter of the Year on two different occasions and with the Fight of the Year four different times. His feud with Muhammad Ali is one of boxing's most famous. Smokin' Joe is one of the most legendary boxers of all time.
Wilt Chamberlain was a professional NBA Hall of Famer -- arguably the most famous 76er -- who currently holds several unbroken records in the league.
NBA All-Star and MVP Kobe Bryant is a superstar forward with the Los Angeles Lakers and has led his team to four NBA Championships.
Singer-songwriter Chubby Checker topped the Billboard Charts in the 1960s with his cover of Hank Ballard's "The Twist."
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Lee Daniels started out with working on “Under the Cherry Moon” and “Purple Rain” but “Monster’s Ball” marked him as the first African American sole producer of an Academy award-winning film.
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Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff have written and produced over 170 gold and platinum records. Putting out 3,000 sounds during their career has made them some of the most prolific professional song writers of all time. In 2008 Gamble and Huff were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the “non-performer” category.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Abolitionist Absalom Jones was the first African-American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States. He worked for his owner at a store in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. He bought his wife's freedom and then his own. He also helped found the Free African Society in 1787 with Richard Allen.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Richard Allen is the founder and first Bishop of the African American Methodist Episcopal Church. Allen was praised by Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence for his services during the Yellow Fever that struck Philadelphia in 1793.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Alice of Dunk's Ferry was one of Black America's early oral historians. It is said she lived to the age of 116 and told first hand accounts of people and events in early Philadelphia and surrounding areas.
Octavius v. Catto was a civil rights activist in 19th-century Philadelphia and died for his beliefs. He was shot during election day violence in Philadelphia when a group of Irish men attacked Catto and other men trying to vote.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Elizabeth Taylor-Greenfield was a famous singer nicknamed "The Black Swan" who first started entertaining guests for her Mistress. At the height of her career in the 1850s she traveled the world and sang for Queen Victoria in Buckingham Palace.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Francis Ellen Watkins Harper used her creative writings to fight racism while also making strong feminist statements. Credit is awarded to her for introducing African American protest poetry.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Robert Purvis used his inherited wealth to support the abolition of slavery and to help African Americans advance in their education.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner established the nation's first school for freed men and was editor of the Christian Record, the largest black-owned periodical in the nation during 1868.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
David Bustill Bowser designed flags for 11 different African American regiments during the Civil War and painted portraits of Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist John Brown.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
Thomas Morris Chester refused to accept racism or let it stop him from furthering his career. During the Civil War, Chester was hired as a war correspondent for the Philadelphia Press, making him the first African American to be a writer for a major newspaper.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia
James Forten was a wealthy sail maker in Philadelphia who devoted more than half of his fortune towards abolitionist causes and buying slaves' freedom. Forten transformed his home on Lombard Street into a depot for the Underground Railroad and eventually opened a school for black children.
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