Ossie Davis, actor, playwright, producer, activist, and husband to actress Ruby Dee, was 87 when he died in February from natural causes. Wrote poet Haki Madhubuti in his tribute to Davis: “His art fed us, allowing us to grow and, yes, finally appreciate his greatness and his genius. He was, indeed, our golden trumpeter; clear, resolute, unafraid, athletic, Black-self-loving, articulate and, above all, always in tune and ahead of his time.”
Attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. died at the age of 67. The great-grandson of slaves, Cochran wrote in his 2003 book, A Lawyer’s Life, that the work of Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney for Brown v. Board of Education, became his inspiration for pursuing a legal career.
Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark, social psychologist, renowned educator and principal architect of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies as a resource for Black elected officials, died of cancer on May 1. He was 90. Clark is perhaps best known for his research on the psychological effects of racial discrimination that became a cornerstone in the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. Along with his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, he used dolls as a means to assess the impact of a separate-but-equal society on African-American children, and produced findings that compelled the Supreme Court to rule against segregation.
Harold Cruse, renowned social critic, essayist, professor and a former director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Afro-American and African Studies, died March 25 in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 89. Considered to be one of the leading Black public intellectuals of the 20th century, Cruse was best known for his book The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual. He was first named program director of Michigan’s Center for Afro-American and African Studies (CAAS) in 1969, then acting director in 1971 and director from 1972-1973. Reportedly, he was one of the first African-Americans without a college degree to get tenure at a major university.
Clarence “Big House” Gaines, legendary former Winston-Salem State University men’s basketball coach and director of athletics, died April 18. He was 81. Gaines’ 47-year legacy of contribution to WSSU included 828 wins, eight Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference championships and a national title. Gaines finished his coaching career in 1993 as the second all-time winningest coach, and today is ranked fifth in that category.
Oscar Brown Jr., a poet, actor, playwright, singer, song-writer-composer, director and musician, died May 29. Writes Haki Madhubuti, who paid tribute to him earlier this year, “If ever there was a man who embodied all of the qualities of a conscientious and responsible Black artist, it was Oscar Brown Jr. The man was talented, multidimensional, literate to the bone, Black/African-centered, culturally focused and politically active. He was also a loving father and a proud family man.”
Charles S. Bing, Florida A&M University associate band director who tutored generations of members of the famed Marching 100, died from complications from a stroke. He was 67.
John H. Johnson, the publisher of Ebony, Jet, the JPC Book Division, and formerly Negro Digest/Black World, Ebony Jr., EM (Ebony Man) and Ebony-South Africa; the founder of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and the Ebony Fashion Show; and one of world’s first Black multi-millionaires, died on Aug. 8. He was 87.
Constance Baker Motley, a lawyer and federal judge who fought racism in landmark segregation cases including Brown v. Board of Education, the Central High School case in Arkansas and the case that let James Meredith enroll at the University of Mississippi, died of congestive heart failure. She was 84. She would have celebrated her 40th anniversary on the bench next year.
Vivian Malone Jones, one of two Black students whose effort to enroll at the University of Alabama led to former Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door” in 1963, died on Oct. 13. She was 63.
Dr. C. DeLores Tucker, longtime civil rights activist, a former Pennsylvania secretary of state and founder of a national Black women’s political organization, died Oct. 12. She was 78.
In 10 plays, nine set in Pittsburgh’s “Hill District,” August Wilson, “more than any writer of his generation, chronicled the lives of the ‘ordinary’ Black folks. He documented in a poet’s voice the history, culture, vision, pain, psychology, fighting spirit, struggles, aspirations and hopes of his people — Black people,” writes Haki Madhubuti in tribute. Wilson died of liver cancer. He was 60.
Inspiring a movement that would transform the United States, civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks died in October. She was 92. Mourners came out to pay their respects from Montgomery, Ala., to Detroit. Parks became the first woman in American history to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
The Rev. Albert J. Sloan, president of Miles College and the man who brought the historically Black institution back from the brink of closing, died Nov. 25 at a Birmingham, Ala., hospital. He was 62.
Dr. Andrew A. Best, a physician credited with helping create the medical school at East Carolina University, died at the age of 89. Best, a native of Kinston, N.C., established his medical practice in Greenville in 1954 and retired in 2004. He served in the Army during World War II, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He went on to receive a medical degree in 1951 from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn.
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