Empowering Leaders: Famous HBCU Graduates Who Revolutionized Our World

Last Updated on January 25, 2024

Lonnie Johnson —Tuskegee University
Lonnie Johnson (Tuskegee University) an inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, who holds more than 80 patents. His is best known for inventing the Super Soaker water gun, which has ranked among the world's top 20 best-selling toys every year since its release.

Trailblazers and Visionaries: How HBCU Graduates Shape Our World

Many of the people who have gone through the doors of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have changed their lives forever. These schools not only give students a good education, but they also help them reach their full potential, which can lead them to make important accomplishments in many areas. 

You can walk in the steps of some of the most important leaders, creative minds, and sports superstars the world has ever seen as you look around HBCUs. A lot of important lawyers, artists, scientists, public servants, and sports stars are famous HBCU graduates and left their mark on the world.

HBCU graduates have a big effect on many areas of life. Their legacies can be heard in the halls of justice, the arenas of public policy, the vibrant colors of the arts, the cutting-edge fields of science and entertainment, and the competitive world of sports.

Their stories show how these universities help young people become leaders and talented. Keep reading to learn about the amazing stories of famous HBCU graduates to start their paths to success, inspiring others to do the same.

You've probably heard of them and seen what they've done. There are a lot of examples of famous HBCU graduates breaking down boundaries and setting rules that are still being used today.

Famous HBCU Graduates in Law, Politics & Public Service

As the first female Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris made history. She is happy to have graduated from Howard University, which shows how useful an HBCU education can be in politics. Howard not only gave us Vice President Harris, but it has also been a breeding ground for some of the best lawyers in the country.  Then there are famous HBCU graduates who have graduated from The University of the District of Columbia, like Norma Holloway Johnson, a very important federal judge.

Law & PoliticsHBCU Attended
Kamala Harris - Vice President of the United StatesHoward University
Norma Holloway Johnson - Federal JudgeUniversity of the District of Columbia
Thurgood Marshall - Supreme Court JusticeHoward University
Raphael Warnock - U.S. SenatorMorehouse College
Keisha Lance Bottoms - Mayor of AtlantaFlorida A&M University
Stacey Abrams - Political Leader and ActivistSpelman College
Andrew Young - Former U.N. AmbassadorHoward University
Kurt Schmoke - First Elected Black Mayor of BaltimoreHoward University
Leah Ward Sears - First African American Female Chief JusticeSpelman College
Willie Gary - Prominent Trial AttorneyShaw University
Jesse Jackson Sr. - Civil Rights ActivistNorth Carolina A&T State University
David Dinkins - Former Mayor of New York CityHoward University
Amos T. Hall - Prominent Civil Rights AttorneyLangston University
Charlotte E. Ray - First Black Female Lawyer in the U.S.Howard University
Al Green - U.S. RepresentativeTexas Southern University
Keith Ellison - Attorney General of MinnesotaUniversity of Minnesota (Undergrad), Howard University Law School (Graduate)
Barbara Charline Jordan - First African American elected to the Texas Senate after Reconstruction Texas Southern University
Augusta Clark - Philadelphia City Council West Virginia State University

Moving from courtrooms to civil rights, HBCU graduates have consistently stood at the forefront.

Morehouse College is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an important figure in the civil rights movement, went to school. His participation there shows how important HBCUs have been in producing leaders who have changed the way social justice and equality are done.

In the past, Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, did his schooling at Lincoln University and Howard University. His court victories continue to serve as an example for lawyers and law students today.

Civil Rights LeadersHBCU Attended
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - Civil Rights PioneerMorehouse College
Thurgood Marshall - Supreme Court JusticeLincoln University, PA (BA), Howard University (LLB)
Rosa Parks - Civil Rights ActivistAlabama State Teachers College for Negroes (Alabama State University)
Jesse Jackson Sr. - Civil Rights LeaderNorth Carolina A&T State University
John Lewis - Civil Rights Leader and PoliticianAmerican Baptist College, Fisk University
Ella Baker - Civil Rights and Human Rights ActivistShaw University
Ralph Abernathy - Civil Rights LeaderAlabama State University
Benjamin Hooks - Civil Rights LeaderLeMoyne-Owen College
Andrew Young - Civil Rights Activist and PoliticianHoward University
Fred Shuttlesworth - Civil Rights ActivistAlabama State College
Diane Nash - Civil Rights ActivistFisk University
Julian Bond - Civil Rights LeaderMorehouse College
Marian Wright Edelman - Activist for Children's RightsSpelman College
Booker T. Washington - Educator and Civil Rights LeaderHampton Normal and Agricultural Institute
Leon Sullivan - Civil Rights Leader and Social ActivistWest Virginia State College

Allow these stories remind you of how important HBCUs are for building leadership and community service. Some of the same schools that these famous HBCU graduates went through may have an effect on your own path.

The number of famous HBCU graduates who have passed through HBCU halls might surprise you. Let us honor those who have made a difference in the arts, sciences, and culture.

Famous HBCU Graduates in the Arts and Sciences

HBCUs have helped a lot of successful people start their jobs in the arts and sciences. Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul and activist, for example, started her rise to fame after going to Tennessee State University. Her impact on writing, the media, and charity shows how good the education and experiences are at HBCUs.

After attending an HBCU, both scientists and artists have done very well, showing that their skills are not limited to entertainment. These places create atmospheres that promote imagination and curiosity, which are very important in both the scientific and artistic fields.

HBCU Alumni in the Limelight

A lot of talented people who went to HBCUs now work in the entertainment business. Known for his strong roles, Samuel L. Jackson is a famous actor who learned how to do his job at Morehouse College. His many parts continue to inspire HBCU students who want to become actors.

HBCU AlumniFieldNotable Work
Oprah WinfreyMedia/PhilanthropyThe Oprah Winfrey Show
Samuel L. JacksonActingPulp Fiction, Marvel Cinematic Universe
Spike LeeFilm DirectingDo the Right Thing, Malcolm X
Toni MorrisonLiteratureBeloved, Song of Solomon
Taraji P. HensonActingEmpire, Hidden Figures
Katherine JohnsonMathematicsNASA Space Missions
Erykah BaduMusicBaduizm, Neo-Soul Movement
Chadwick BosemanActingBlack Panther, 42
Langston HughesLiteratureThe Weary Blues, Harlem Renaissance
Phylicia RashadActingThe Cosby Show, A Raisin in the Sun
CommonMusic/ActingBe, John Wick: Chapter 2
George Washington CarverScienceAgricultural Innovations
Alice WalkerLiteratureThe Color Purple
Debbie AllenDance/ActingFame, Grey's Anatomy
W.E.B. Du BoisLiterature/SociologyThe Souls of Black Folk
Ralph EllisonLiteratureInvisible Man
Lionel RichieMusicHello, Commodores
Roscoe Lee BrowneActingStage and Film Career
Stephen A. SmithSports JournalismESPN Commentator
Sean “Diddy” CombsMusic/EntrepreneurshipMusic Production, Fashion
DJ EnvyMusic/RadioThe Breakfast Club, DJ Career
Will PackerFilm ProducingGirls Trip, Think Like a Man
Aisha 'Pinky' ColeEntrepreneurshipFounder of Slutty Vegan
Anika Noni RoseActingDreamgirls, The Princess and the Frog
2 ChainzMusicRap Music, Multiple Hit Albums
Megan Thee StallionMusicRap Artist, 'Savage'
Hadiyah-Nicole GreenScienceLaser cancer treatment

Not only do HBCUs help students get into the arts and sciences, but they can also help them get into the entertainment business. Their graduates carry on the HBCU tradition, showing that these schools are places where great people are born.

If you think of HBCUs, you might right away picture a long history of cultural roots and excellent education. They also make a big difference in the world of sports, which is something else that makes them stand out. Many great athletes have come from HBCUs. These athletes have not only done great on the field, but they have also left an indelible mark on the past of sports.

Famous HBCU Athlete Graduates

Tennessee State University, in particular, has been the starting point for a lot of famous athletes. Williams Rudolph was a great runner who had polio as a child but went on to win three gold medals in track and field at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. You should include her time at Tennessee State in your list of successes because that's where she got her unmatched skills.

Althea Gibson, a Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumna, broke barriers as the first African-American to win a Grand Slam in tennis. Her victories in the 1950s, notably at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, set a precedent in a then predominantly white sport. Gibson's journey at FAMU not only sharpened her skills but also fortified her resilience, making her a symbol of enduring excellence and courage in both sports and society.

Also from this prestigious school is Ed “Too Tall” Jones. Jones was an intimidating defensive end who stood 6 feet 9 inches tall. You may remember him for being a powerful force in the NFL while playing for the Dallas Cowboys, making opponents afraid of his reach and strength.

People remember Charles Oakley as a great student at Virginia Union and later as an NBA power forward. His name is tied with hard work and success. Oakley led Virginia Union to the CIAA championship in 1985, showing how determined and strong of a leader he was. These were traits that he used throughout his working life.

These players are just a few of the all-time greats in HBCU sports. They have sped, tackled, and shot their way into history, leaving stories that will live on in the halls of HBCUs across the country and inspire future generations.

Notable AthletesHBCU Attended
Jerry Rice - Retired NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl ChampionMississippi Valley State University
Art Shell - 1st African-American Head Coach in the modern NFL eraUniversity of Maryland Eastern Shore
Francena Mccorory - Track and Field Olympic Gold MedalistHampton University
Michael Strahan - Retired NFL Hall of Famer and Super Bowl ChampionTexas Southern University
Walter Payton - Retired NFL Hall of FamerJackson State University
Shannon Sharpe - Retired NFL Hall of FamerSavannah State University
Rick Mahorn - Retired NBA ChampionHampton University
Willie Lanier - Retired NFL Hall of FamerMorgan State University
Althea Gibson - Tennis and Golf ChampionFlorida A&M University
Willie Davenport - Olympic Track and Field AthleteSouthern University
Mel Blount - Retired NFL Hall of FamerSouthern University
Deacon Jones - Retired NFL Hall of FamerSouth Carolina State University
Bob Hayes - Retired NFL Player and Olympic Gold MedalistFlorida A&M University
Doug Williams - Super Bowl Winning QuarterbackGrambling State University
Steve McNair - Retired NFL PlayerAlcorn State University
Lou Brock - Retired MLB Hall of FamerSouthern University

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are some prominent entertainers and artists who graduated from HBCUs?

Among the artists and entertainers who have graced the stages and screens, Spike Lee, a filmmaker known for his impactful works, graduated from Morehouse College. Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, renowned for her role on ‘The Cosby Show,' is a proud Spelman College alumna.

Can you name notable women who are famous HBCU graduates and have made significant contributions to their fields?

Notable women who have walked the hallowed halls of HBCUs include Stacey Abrams, the political trailblazer from Spelman College, and Oprah Winfrey, a media proprietor and philanthropist who attended Tennessee State University.

What are some of the most prestigious HBCUs known for their influential alumni?

Howard University is a well-known HBCU that has produced important people such as Kamala Harris, the first female vice president of the United States, and Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice. It's also worth mentioning that Spelman and Morehouse Colleges have produced many successful alumni in a wide range of areas.

Which HBCU alumni have notably impacted civil rights and social justice movements?

Revered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., graduated from Morehouse College. His profound influence on the civil rights movement is revered worldwide. Additionally, attorney and political leader Stacey Abrams, a Spelman alumna, continues to work tirelessly for voting rights and social justice.

Who are some of the wealthiest individuals who received their education from HBCUs?

While there isn't a full list of the richest people who went to HBCUs, it is known that famous HBCU graduates like Oprah Winfrey, who went to Tennessee State University, have become very successful and wealthy. Winfrey is known as one of the richest people in the world. She is a television mogul and philanthropist. The story of her success is an example to many and shows that HBCU graduates can do great things.

What key political figures in history have an HBCU background?

HBCUs have educated numerous key political figures, such as Kamala Harris, Howard University alumna and the current vice president of the United States, as well as Thurgood Marshall from Howard University, who significantly impacted the legal landscape as a Supreme Court Justice.

38 thoughts on “Empowering Leaders: Famous HBCU Graduates Who Revolutionized Our World”

  1. One notable, or glaring, omission: Hon. L.Douglas Wilder; first elected Black governor, mayor of Richmond, VA. Graduate of Virginia Union and Howard Law

  2. Hoyt Phillip Glover

    Spelling error – “Historically Black Colleges and Universities have played a vital role in the life of the nation since their earliest days in the 1800s. Although a few, including Cheney State, were founded in the period before Emancipation, many were founded in the years towards the end of the Civil War, and soon thereafter. – See more at: https://hbculifestyle.com/famous-hbcu-graduates/#comments

    Correct spelling – Cheyney

    Cheyney Alumnus Class of ’97

  3. Not sure why the late Ed Bradley, journalist and longtime correspondent for 60 minutes was not mentioned. Ed Bradley graduated from Cheyney University of Pennsylvania which was founded in 1837. He certainly blazed the trail for African Americans working in the field of journalism.

  4. “The arts have been enriched by many HCBU alumni such as Morehouse College’s Langston Hughes, the poet whose work is standard reading now in many English classes.” Correction, Langston Hughes (Class of ’29) is an Alum of The Lincoln University.

  5. Langston Hughes did not attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he was a classmate of Thurgood Marshall.

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