02/01/2017 08:58 am ET | Updated Feb 06, 2017

50 Iconic Black Trailblazers Who Represent Every State In America

There's not a single state that hasn't been touched by black excellence.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost/Getty Images
Black excellence lies at the core of America's progressions. 

Black History Month is finally upon us. As part of our BHM kickoff, we’ve compiled a collection of black icons from each state that have made invaluable contributions to America. The people featured in the collection have made monumental (and for the most part, understated) advancements in politics, music, sports, literature and beyond.  

While the vast majority of these icons were born in the state they’re featured under, a handful of them weren’t, but did make history in the state.

Their excellence is just another reminder that we too, helped make America.

  • 1 Alabama: Claudette Colvin
    The Washington Post via Getty Images
    Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin. Born in 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama, Colvin became the first person to be arrested for rebelling against bus segregation in the city after refusing to give up her seat to a white person in 1955. At the time, Colvin was just 15 years old.
  • 2 Alaska: Blanche McSmith
    Stan Wayman via Getty Images
    Blanche McSmith (center left) was born in 1920 in Texas. After moving to Alaska in 1949, McSmith became president of the NAACP's Anchorage branch. A decade later, Smith made history by becoming the first black representative in the Alaska legislature. 
  • 3 Arizona: Dr. Rick Kittles
    Bob Demers/UANews
    Dr. Rick Kittles is a highly renowned figure in the field of genetics, known for using DNA testing to explore the ancestry of African-Americans. He currently serves as Chair of Minorities in Cancer Research at the American Association for Cancer Research.
  • 4 Arkansas: John Cross, Jr.
    POOL New / Reuters
    John Cross Jr. was born in Haynes, Arkansas in 1925. In 1962, Cross became a pastor at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where civil rights activists would often convene. In 1963, the church was the site of a bomb by KKK members that killed four young girls. Cross became a leader for the grieving town by continuing his sermons and presiding over the three of the girls' funerals.
  • 5 California: Octavia Butler
    Malcolm Ali via Getty Images
    Octavia Butler, born in 1947 in Pasadena, California, was one of few black female sci-fi writers during the high point of her career in the 1970s. In 1995, her work was prestigiously rewarded when she became the first sci-fi author to receive the MacArthur fellowship or "genius grant." With the money from the grant, Butler bought a home for her mother and herself.
  • 6 Colorado: Larry Dunn
    Earl Gibson III via Getty Images
    Larry Dunn, born in Denver, Colorado in 1953, was the keyboardist of Earth, Wind & Fire for 11 years. He helped create the band's 1975 hit "Shining Star."
  • 7 Connecticut: Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
    Washington Bureau via Getty Images
    Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1908, but New York is where he made history. In 1945, Powell became the first black person to become a U.S. Representative for the state of New York. Many of the bills he proposed during his 15 years in office would eventually be included in the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
  • 8 Delaware: Clifford Brown
    Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
    Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1930, Clifford Brown was an accomplished jazz trumpeter who helped set the standard for the musicians who would succeed him. In 1989, the first Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, which remains an annual event, was held in Wilmington, Delaware to honor the late musician. 
  • 9 Florida: Esther Rolle
    Ron Galella, Ltd. via Getty Images
    From Broadway shows to the classic sitcom "Good Times," Esther Rolle, born in 1920 in Pompano Beach, Florida, had a prominent acting career. Audiences loved Rolle's character on TV sitcom "Maude," so much so that the show's producer Norman Lear created "Good Times" as a spinoff series in which Rolle would star.
  • 10 Georgia: Cynthia McKinney
    Joshua Roberts / Reuters
    Born in 1955, Cynthia McKinney of Atlanta, Georgia, became the first black woman to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992. 
  • 11 Hawaii: Barack Obama
    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
    Born in 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Barack Obama made history on November 4, 2008 when he was elected to become America's first black president. His legacy has been an inspiration for citizens worldwide.
  • 12 Idaho: Victor Wooten
    Daniel Knighton via Getty Images
    Born in Mountain Home, Idaho in 1964, Victor Wooten was a member of the jazz band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones before embarking on a career as a solo musician. Wooten is a five-time Grammy winning musician was voted one of the top bassists of all time by a Rolling Stone reader poll.
  • 13 Illinois: Lorraine Hansberry
    David Attie via Getty Images
    Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1930, Lorraine Hansberry was the first black playwright to have their work staged on Broadway with "A Raisin In The Sun." She was also the youngest American to receive a New York Critics Circle award. 
  • 14 Indiana: Major Taylor
    Hulton Archive via Getty Images
    Marshall Walter "Major" Taylor was born in 1878 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the first black person to become a champion in a sport and held seven world records by the time he retired at 32-years-old. He retired as one of the richest athletes in history.
  • 15 Iowa: Charity Adams Earley
    African American Registry
    Although born in South Carolina in 1918, Charity Adams Earley made history in Fort Des Moines, Iowa when she became one of the first black female officers of the Women's Army Corps. She later became the first black woman to be commissioned by the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
  • 16 Kansas: Hattie McDaniel
    John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive via Getty Images
    Born in 1895, in Wichita, Kansas, actress Hattie McDaniel played Mammy in the classic film "Gone with The Wind." In 1940, McDaniel's made history when she became first black person to win an Oscar, taking home the award for best supporting actress.
  • 17 Kentucky: bell hooks
    The Washington Post via Getty Images
    Born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky in 1952, noted cultural scholar, award-winning author and black feminist who goes by the namesake of her great grandmother, bell hooks. In 2015, the bell hooks Institute was created at Berea college. The institute allows for a comprehensive study into hooks' works and theories. 
  • 18 Louisiana: Madam C.J. Walker
    Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
    Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Near Delta, Louisiana, Madam C.J. Walker epitomizes the term "self-made." By inventing and selling hair products, Walker became first American woman to become a self-made millionaire. Walker created a hair routine that's still popular among black women today referred to as the "Walker System." Walker donated some of her money to black organizations like the NAACP and the black YMCA.
  • 19 Maine: William Burney
    -Iznogood- via Getty Images
    Born in Augusta, Maine in 1951, William Burney was elected the first black mayor of the town in 1988.
    (Picture unavailable). 
  • 20 Maryland: Thurgood Marshall
    Getty Images
    Thurgood Marshall was born in 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. As NAACP Chief Counsel, in 1952, he took on the case of Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) on behalf of the plaintiffs. Marshall won the case, which deemed public school segregation to be unconstitutional. In 1967, Marshall would become an even more prolific figure by becoming the first black Supreme Court Justice.
  • 21 Massachusetts: Phillis Wheatley
    Library of Congress
    Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal in 1753 and sent overseas to Boston, Massachusetts where she would become a slave. While enslaved, Wheatley was constantly exposed to books. In 1773, she became the second woman and the first black person to have their poetry published.
  • 22 Michigan: Carole Anne-Marie Gist
    George Rose via Getty Images
    Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1969, Carole Anne-Marie Gist made history when she became the first black Miss USA in 1990.
  • 23 Minnesota: Toni Stone
    Transcendental Graphics via Getty Images
    Born in 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Toni Stone became the first woman to play in a professional men's baseball league when she joined the San Francisco Sea Lions of the West Coast Negro Baseball Leagues in 1953. Stone endured endless acts of racial and gender-based discrimination.
  • 24 Mississippi: Fannie Lou Hamer
    Bettmann via Getty Images
    Born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was a relentless civil rights advocate. Hamer endured arrests, assault and being shot at by racists upset by Hamer's activism. Hamer made a notable speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention on being black in America. She helped black citizens register to vote and created organizations to service minority families.
  • 25 Missouri: Maya Angelou
    Reuters Photographer / Reuters
    Born in 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, Maya Angelou is a renowned, poet, author and civil rights activist. Her works such as "Still I Rise" and "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" have spanned generations. When close friend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on her birthday, Angelou went years without celebrating her April 4th birthday.
  • 26 Montana: Geraldine Travis
    Courtesy of The Montana Legislative Branch
    Born in 1931 in Albany, Georgia, Geraldine Travis became the first black person elected to be elected to Montana's State Legislature in 1974. She worked to advance civil rights both in and outside of government.
  • 27 Nebraska: Malcolm X
    Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images
    Born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, Malcolm X was a fearless civil rights icon and a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. The X that replaced his last name was intended to serve as representation of the loss of his African identity. X was responsible for the popularity of the "any means necessary" philosophy which emphasizes going to any length to protect your rights.
  • 28 Nevada: Kelvin Atkinson
    Ethan Miller via Getty Images
    Kelvin Atkinson was born in Illinois in 1969, but he made history in Nevada when he became the first openly gay black man to serve in the state's legislature where he represented Nevada's 4th district. The following year, he and his partner also became the first gay couple to marry in the Nevada.
  • 29 New Hampshire: Myrna Adams
    University of New Hampshire
    Myrna Adams made history at the University of New Hampshire by becoming the school's first administrator in 1969 where she aided black students through financial aid and advisement. 
  • 30 New Jersey: David Dinkins
    STR New / Reuters
    Born in 1927 in Trenton, New Jersey, Howard University alumnus David Dinkins became the first black mayor of New York City in 1989 beating opponent Rudy Giuliani and incumbent Ed Koch. Dinkins went on to teach at Columbia University and has a building named after him in Manhattan.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Baker was the first living black person to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The story has been updated to reflect that Baker was the only living WWII black service member to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. This article also misstated that the 16th Street Baptist Church is located in Montgomery, Alabama; it is in Birmingham.


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