By Nnagoziem ‘The Vyrus’ Udensi
Through time, in the history of Africa, like in other parts of the world, some Africans separated themselves from the regular Africans to make a positive impact in the lives of others to the glory of Africa as a continent consciously and unconsciously. In this issue of Connect Africa Magazine, we are going to briefly look at some of these various Africans some might see as icons or human idols with the intent of projecting them to Africans as a whole.
Baptist minister Jesse Jackson set himself at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights. In 1971 he founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) to work for the economic advancement of poor people. In 1984 and 1988 he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in the U.S.A. The gifted orator, Jackson electrified delegates at the 1988 Democratic National Convention with this speech.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti
The Nigerian singer, songwriter, and musician, and a strong proponent of African nationalism and ethnic identity; Kuti had his first local hit in 1971 and soon became a West African star. His political protest songs (in English) caused the Nigerian army to attack his commune in 1974 and again in 1977, and he had been a political prisoner. Unsparing in his attacks on neocolonialism and corruption, he held up Idi Amin as a role model. His albums of big-band African funk include Coffin for Head of State (1978), Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense (1987), and Underground System (1993).
Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) was the first leader of the independent nation of Ghana. Nkrumah spent years working to bring independence to the British colony of the Gold Coast (as Ghana was known in colonial times). This was achieved in 1957, when Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African colony to gain independence.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., emerged as a leader of the American civil rights movement after organizing the famous 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Throughout his career he pressed for equal treatment and improved circumstances for blacks, organizing nonviolent protests and delivering powerful speeches on the necessity of eradicating institutional racial inequalities. In 1963 King led a peaceful march between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, where he delivered his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream.”
Before becoming the first black president of South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela spent much of his life in prison for leading black opposition to the oppressive rule of the white minority government. During his many years in captivity, Mandela became a worldwide symbol of resistance to white domination in South Africa.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland; the wife of his master helped him educate himself. As a young man, he fled to Massachusetts, a free state, where he began to work for the abolition of slavery. He wrote an autobiography, which was widely read, and published a newspaper that discussed the evils of slavery and discrimination. One of Douglass's best known speeches, "The Meaning of the 4th of July for the Negro,"
Desmond Tutu, a South African clergyman, was the first black man to be appointed general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership in the peaceful crusade against South Africa’s racial apartheid policies. In 1995 he was appointed head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to investigate crimes committed during the apartheid era.
Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904-1996), Nigerian politician, founder of modern Nigerian nationalism and first president of Nigeria (1963-66). Born at Zungeru, the son of an Igbo clerk, Azikiwe was educated in Nigeria and the United States. In 1937 he founded a newspaper chain, and in 1946 he became president of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. He was premier in Igbo-dominated Eastern Region (1954-59), then governor-general, and later president. Following the military coups of 1966, Azikiwe was adviser to the Igbo secessionist state of Biafra. He was chancellor of Lagos University from 1972 to 1975 and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1979.
Marcus Garvey organized the United Negro Improvement Association as a foundation to allow black Americans to move back to Africa. Failure to secure enough investment caused his ventures to collapse in 1922. Garvey was convicted of mail fraud the following year and deported to Jamaica in 1927 after U.S. President Calvin Coolidge commuted his sentence.
Jomo Kenyatta (1894?-1978), first prime minister (1963-1964) and then first president (1964-1978) of Kenya. Kenyatta was Kenya’s founding father, a conservative nationalist who led the East African nation to independence from Britain in 1963.
Jamaican singer and songwriter Bob Marley first became known as one of the leaders of reggae music in the late 1960s. By the time of his death in 1981, Marley had established himself as the most outstanding representative of the reggae genre and had become a popular musician in both the United States and Europe. Heard here early in his career, Marley performs with his group, then known as the Wailing Wailers, in a style known as rock steady. The direct predecessor to Jamaican reggae, rock steady featured a sparse rhythmic accompaniment and a relaxed feel. These features, which allowed the vocalist more expressive musical phrasing and greater lyrical freedom, were later retained in the reggae style.
With his explosive scoring ability and inspired defensive play, American professional basketball player Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association (NBA) championships (1991-1993, 1996-1998). He was also named NBA most valuable player in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1998. Jordan retired from basketball in 1993, but after playing professional baseball for one year, he returned to the Bulls in 1995.
Muhammad Ali, born in 1942, American boxer, one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport. Colorful, talented, and sometimes controversial, Ali entertained fans and intimidated opponents. His boxing style involved graceful footwork and powerful jabs. He also became famous for bragging about himself, often in his own verse. Ali once described his skills by saying that he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Ali first won the world heavyweight championship title in 1964 but was stripped of it three years later after he refused induction into the army. Ali regained the title in 1974 and in 1978, making him the first boxer to become world heavyweight champion three times.
Jack Robinson became the first black baseball player in the major leagues in the 20th century when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Robinson’s entrance into the major leagues was an example of all white areas that were opening to blacks in the late 1940s.
In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for disobeying a segregation law in Montgomery, Alabama, that required her to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. Her bold action helped to stimulate protests against inequality. The blacks of the community organized a boycott of the bus system and were led by Martin Luther King, Jr. They forced city officials to repeal the discriminatory law.
Malcolm X was a militant leader of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organization, in the 1950s and early 1960s. In contrast to other black religious leaders of that time who espoused pacifism, he called for achieving equality “by any means necessary.” He was assassinated in 1965.
Carol Moseley Braun
In November 1992 Illinois representative Carol Moseley Braun became the first black woman elected to the U.S. Senate. A distinguished public servant, Moseley Braun garnered the Best Legislator Award during each of the ten years she served in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Colin L. Powell
In 1989 American General Colin L. Powell became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, achieving the nation’s highest military post. He retired from the Joint Chiefs in 1993. In 2001 he became the secretary of state under President George W. Bush.
American writer Toni Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, becoming the first black woman to receive the prize. Morrison writes about African American women, celebrating their strength and vitality and revealing their struggles. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved (1987), which explored the effects of slavery on a former slave living in Ohio after the American Civil War.
In 1983 Vanessa Williams became the first African American to win the Miss America Contest.
Wole Soyinka, born in 1934, Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist, and lecturer, whose writings draw on African tradition and mythology while employing Western literary forms. In 1986 Soyinka became the first African writer and the first black writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature.
Kofi Annan, born in 1938, secretary general of the United Nations (UN), born in Ghana and educated in the United States. The first UN secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa, Annan began serving his first five-year term in 1997. In 2001 the UN General Assembly unanimously elected him to a second term, beginning in 2002. Annan shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his accomplishments as UN secretary general.
Robert Mugabe, born in 1924, first prime minister (1980-1987) and president (1987- ) of Zimbabwe. Mugabe played a crucial role in the black population’s quest for majority rule, which was achieved in 1980.
Francis Arinze, (born 1 November 1932) is an Igbo Nigerian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, having served as prefect from 2002 to 2008. He is the current Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni (succeeding Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI) since 2005. Arinze was one of the principal advisors to Pope John Paul II, and was considered papabile before the 2005 papal conclave, which elected Benedict XVI.[
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 29 October 1938) is the 24th and current President of Liberia. She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until the 1980 coup d'état, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions. She placed a very distant second in the 1997 presidential election. Later, she was elected President in the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006. Sirleaf is the first and currently only elected female head of state in Africa.
Lucky Philip Dube (pronounced doo-beh) (August 3, 1964 – October 18, 2007) was a South African reggae musician. He recorded 22 albums in Zulu, English and Afrikaans in a 25-year period and was South Africa's biggest selling reggae artist. Dube was murdered in the Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville on the evening of 18 October 2007