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Black History Legends

Michelle Alexander • 2013 MLK Keynote Speaker

Author/Civil Rights Activist
2013 MLK Keynote Speaker

Michelle Alexander is a longtime civil rights advocate and litigator. She won a 2005 Soros Justice Fellowship and now holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Mortiz College of Law at Ohio State University. Alexander served for several years as director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, and subsequently directed the Civil Rights Clinics at Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor. Alexander is a former law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun on the U.S. Supreme Court, and has appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is her first book.


Earl Lloyd

Earl Lloyd
First African American in the NBA

Earl Francis Lloyd (born April 3, 1928 in Alexandria, Virginia) is a retired American basketball player. He was the first African-American to play in the National Basketball Association, in the 1950-51 NBA season.[1] Three other African Americans played in the same season: Chuck Cooper, Nathaniel Clifton, and Hank DeZonie.
Lloyd, a forward known for his defense, played collegiately at West Virginia State College, was selected in the ninth-round of the 1950 NBA Draft by the Washington Capitols. On October 31, 1950, Lloyd became the first African-American to play in an NBA game, against the Rochester Royals.  Lloyd led West Virginia State to two CIAA Conference and Tournament Championships in 1948 and 1949. He was named All-Conference three times (1948–50) and was All-American twice, as named by the Pittsburgh Courier (1949–50). As a senior, he averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game, while leading West Virginia State to a second place finish in the CIAA Conference and Tournament Championship. In 1947-48, West Virginia State was the only undefeated team in the United States.  Nicknamed “The Big Cat”, Lloyd was one of three African-Americans to enter the NBA at the same time. It was only because of the order in which the teams’ season openers fell that Lloyd was the first to actually play in a game in the NBA. The date was October 31, 1950, one day ahead of Cooper of the Boston Celtics and four days before Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton of the New York Knicks. Lloyd played in over 560 games in nine seasons, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward averaged 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

Lloyd played in only seven games for the Washington Capitols before the team folded on January 9, 1951. He then went into the U.S. Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before the Syracuse Nationals picked him up on waivers. He spent six seasons with Syracuse and two with the Detroit Pistons before retiring in 1960.  Lloyd retired ranked 43rd in career scoring with 4,682 points. His best year was 1955, when he averaged 10.2 points and 7.7 rebounds for Syracuse, which beat the Fort Wayne Pistons 4-3 for the NBA title. Lloyd and Jim Tucker were the first African-Americans to play on an NBA championship team.  Lloyd once said; “In 1950, basketball was like a babe in the woods; it didn’t enjoy the notoriety that baseball enjoyed.” Like Lloyd, Clifton and Cooper had solid but not spectacular careers.  According to Detroit News sportswriter Jerry Green, in 1965 Detroit Pistons General Manager Don Wattrick wanted to hire Lloyd as the team’s head coach. It would have made Lloyd the first African-American head coach in American pro sports. Dave DeBusschere was instead named Pistons player–coach. From 1972 to 1973, Lloyd did coach the Pistons and was a scout for five seasons.


Dr. Eugene Richardson

Dr. Eugene Richardson
Original Tuskegee Airman

Eugene Richardson became interested in flight as a young boy in 1930 when his father and a friend took him along to see the Colored Air Circus, a group of Negro aviators performing an airshow in Mansfield Ohio. Driven by pure interest to fly, he decided to join the Army Air Corps in order to become a pilot. When he turned 17, he went to the Customs House at 2nd and Chestnut here in Philadelphia where he signed up to take a pilot qualification test. His father was actually against his decision to train as a pilot, but he eventually gave his permission and signed the parental permission papers needed since Richardson was still under age. He passed the test and a few months later at the age of 18 he was sent to Keesler Field in Mississippi for 3 months of basic training. From Keesler he went on to Tuskegee Army Air Field for 40 weeks of training(10 weeks. of pre-flight, 10 weeks of primary, 10 weeks of basic, 10 weeks of advanced). Tuskegee held the civilian contract for pilot training for the Army Air Corps at that time and had 42 Negro civilian instructors. White trainees went to different bases for their 10-week training segments. The Negro aviators stayed at Tuskegee for all 40 weeks. After Tuskegee, he went to Eglin for gunnery training and then to Walterboro, SC for combat training. At Walterboro, Richardson learned to fly P-40′s and P-47 aircraft. While he and 37 others finished their flight training in March 1945, the war ended in the European Theater just 2 months later so they never saw any combat. Richardson is not sorry about that. ” I didn’t want to go kill anybody or get killed. I just wanted to fly.” Of the 38 pilots in his class, 23 including Richardson graduated as fighter pilots and 15 as B-25 bomber pilots. His most memorable experiences as a pilot were his first solo flight, the first formation flight and the completion of his first simulated combat mission. He also recalled one flight during which he had to return to base immediately after takeoff because the oil temperature gauge pegged itself at overtemp. It turned out that the engine had completely lost all its oil. Richardson got the plane, a P-47, back on the ground before the engine seized. During combat training at Walterboro, the pilots flew twice a day, every day, weather permitting. A typical training flight would last about 2 hours with about 30 minutes of pre-flight briefing and plane checkout before wheels-up. Dr. Richardson was discharged in July 1946. He returned to Philadelphia where he finished his high school degree at then Temple High School. He did his undergraduate work at Temple and got his Masters’ and D.Ed at Penn State. He pursued a successful career in education in the Philadelphia School System. He did not pursue a career in Aviation after his discharge from the service because, “there was nowhere for a Black aviator to go in the United States – only Tuskegee.” An interesting anecdote: Richardson’s son , Eugene Richardson III was also a fighter pilot, and is now the Boeing 777 Fleet Standards Manager with American Airlines. He is responsible for the training and certification of pilots for the 777, and all procedures for the aircraft in flying to airports throughout the world. Dr. Eugene Richardson resides in the West Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia and regularly visits schools telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.


U.S. Congressman John Lewis

U.S. Congressman John Lewis

Vanderbilt University 2012 MLK Keynote Speaker

Often called ”one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties, and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America.

He was born the son of sharecroppers on February 21, 1940, outside of Troy, Alabama.  He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama.  As a young boy, he was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which he heard on radio broadcasts.  In those pivotal moments, he made a decision to become a part of the Civil Rights Movement.

As a student at American Baptist College, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1961, he volunteered to participate in the Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. Lewis risked his life on those Rides many times by simply sitting in seats reserved for white patrons.  He was also beaten severely by angry mobs and arrested by police for challenging the injustice of Jim Crow segregation in the South.

During the height of the Movement, Lewis was named Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. In 1964, John Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement.   Hosea Williams, another notable Civil Rights leader, and John Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965.  They intended to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state.  The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”   News broadcasts and photographs revealing the senseless cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.

In 1981, he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. While serving on the Council, he was an advocate for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. He was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and Chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary, both in Nashville, Tennessee. He has been awarded numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities and is the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre, the Capital Award of the National Council of La Raza,  the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, and the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage Award” for Lifetime Achievement. The Timberland Company has developed the John Lewis Award, which honors the commitment to humanitarian service by acknowledging members of society who perform outstanding humanitarian work.  And the company has established a John Lewis Scholarship Fund.

John Lewis co-authored his biography with writer Michael D’Orso, entitled Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. Other books about his life include: Freedom Riders:  John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, by Ann Bausum  and John Lewis in the Lead , by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson.   John Lewis has also been featured in many books about the civil rights movement, including The Children by David Halberstam and the Taylor Branch series on the Movement.  He has been interviewed for numerous documentaries, news broadcasts, and journals.


Julian Bond

Julian Bond
Vanderbilt University 2011
MLK Keynote Speaker

From his college days as a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to his present Chairmanship of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Julian Bond has been an active participant in the movements for civil rights, economic justice, and peace and an aggressive spokesman for the disinherited.

As an activist who has faced jail for his convictions, as a veteran of more than twenty years of service in the Georgia General Assembly, as a writer, teacher, and lecturer, Bond has been on the cutting edge of social change since he was a college student leading sit-in demonstrations in Atlanta in 1960.

Horace Julian Bond was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in January 1940. His father, the late Dr. Horace Mann Bond, was the first President of Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. In 1945, Dr. Bond became the first Black President of the country’s oldest Black private college, Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, and the Bond family lived at Lincoln until 1957 when Dr. Bond became Dean of the School of Education at Atlanta University.

Julian Bond graduated from the George School, a co-educational Quaker school in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1957, and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta that same year.

While at Morehouse, Bond won a varsity letter as a member of the Morehouse swimming team, helped to found a literary magazine called The Pegasus, and was an intern for Time magazine.

While still a student, Bond was a founder in 1960 of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights (COAHR), the Atlanta University Center student civil rights organization that directed three years of nonviolent anti-segregation protests that won integration of Atlanta’s movie theaters, lunch counters, and parks. Bond was arrested for sitting-in at the then-segregated cafeteria at Atlanta City Hall.

He was one of several hundred students from across the South who helped to form SNCC on Easter Weekend, 1960, and shortly thereafter became SNCC’s Communications Director, heading the organization’s printing and publicity departments, editing the SNCC newsletter, The Student Voice, and working in voter registration drives in rural Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Bond left Morehouse one semester short of graduation in 1961 to join the staff of a new protest newspaper, The Atlanta Inquirer. He later became the paper’s managing editor.

Bond returned to Morehouse in 1971 to graduate, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Bond was first elected in 1965 to a one-year term in the Georgia House of Representatives in a special election following court-ordered reapportionment of the legislature, but members of the House voted not to seat him because of his outspoken opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Bond won a second election, to fill his vacant seat, in 1966, and again the Georgia House voted to bar him from membership. He won a third election, this time for a two-year term, in November, 1966, and in December the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Georgia House had violated Bond’s rights in refusing him his seat.

Bond ultimately served four terms in the House and six terms in the Senate. In the Senate, Bond became the first Black Chair of the Fulton County Senate Delegation, the largest and most diverse in the upper house, and was Chairman of the Committee on Consumer Affairs and a member of the Committees on Human Resources, Governmental Operations, and Children and Youth.

During his service in the Georgia General Assembly, Bond was sponsor or co-sponsor of more than 60 bills which became law, including a pioneer sickle cell anemia testing program, authorization of a minority set-aside program for Fulton County, and a state-wide program providing low-interest home loans to low income Georgians. He waged a successful two-year fight in the legislature and the courts to create a majority black congressional district in Atlanta and organized the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, then the nation’s largest.

In 1968, Bond was Co-Chairman of the Georgia Loyal National Delegation to the Democratic Convention. The Loyalists, an insurgent group, were successful in unseating the handpicked regulars, and Bond was nominated for Vice  President of the United States, the first Black to be so honored by a major political party. He withdrew his name because he was too young to serve.

He holds honorary degrees from twenty-three schools, including Dalhousie University, University of Bridgeport, Wesleyan University, University of Oregon, Syracuse University, Eastern Michigan University, Lincoln University (PA), Wilberforce College, Patterson State College, New Hampshire College, Detroit Institute of Technology, Howard University,  Edward Waters College, Morgan State University, Gonzaga School of Law, Bates College, California State University at Monterey Bay, Northeastern University, Audrey Cohen College, Washington University, Susquehanna University, and Ramapo College.

Bond is Chairman of the Premier Auto Group (PAG) (Volvo, Land Rover, Aston-Martin, Jaguar) Diversity Council and on the Advisory Boards of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Corporation for Maintaining Editorial Diversity in America, the Nicaragua/Honduras Education Project, the Earth Communications Office, the National Federation for Neighborhood Diversity, the Southern Africa Media Center, the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Center for Visionary Thought Advisory Team and on the Advisory Committees of the American Committee on Africa and the Human Rights Defense Fund.

Bond has served four terms on the NAACP National Board and since 1998 has been Board Chairman. He is on the Advisory Board of the Harvard Business School Initiative on Social Enterprise, the Oliver White Hill Foundation, the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, and the Board of the NAACP’s Magazine, The Crisis, and the Council for a Livable World. He was President of the Atlanta NAACP from 1978 until 1989. He is President Emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center and currently serves on its Board.