Skip to main content

Learn About 28 Black History Makers in 28 Days

February 1, 2021

By Beatrice Alvarez

This year we are making sure to celebrate Black History Month every single day in February. We want to spotlight a history maker per day with an opportunity to honor these great individuals by learning more about their lives and their contributions. Without further ado, get to know these incredible 28 Black history makers.

1. Nina Simone

American Masters

American Masters: How It Feels To Be Free

The inspiring story of six trailblazing Black women entertainers.

Nina Simone is one of the six amazing Black women profiled in this documentary about groundbreaking artists from American Masters. "How it Feels To Be Free" is streaming until 2/16.

2. Louis Armstrong

The Jazz Ambassadors

Louis Armstrong: America’s Cultural Ambassador

The Voice of America radio show gave American jazz a worldwide stage.

Louis Armstrong not only transformed the American musical genre of jazz, he was also the nation's cultural ambassador to the world. In this clip from The Jazz Ambassadors, we learn more about Armstrong's global impact. The full film is available to stream for Passport members.

If you want to learn even more about Armstrong's history-making career and all the other artists who contributed to the uniquely American art form that is jazz music, then get your Passport login ready. Jazz, Ken Burns' sweeping documentary series is available to stream for Passport members.


3. Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer: Stand Up

Fannie Lou Hamer: Stand Up

Civil rights hero Fannie Lou Hamer is remembered by those who joined her in the struggle.

Every time we vote, we think of Fannie Lou Hamer. She rose up from rural Mississippi to speak truth about inequality and to stand up for the rights of all Americans.

4. Victor Hugo Green

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America

Discover how the advent of the car brought African Americans new freedom but also dangers.

Victor Hugo Green wrote "The Green Book," a guide for Black motorists, because to this day getting behind the wheel presents a different set of possibilities for Black drivers than it does for others. Driving While Black is a documentary that explores the dynamics that led Victor Hugo Green to write his now-famous guide book.

5. Dr. Maya Angelou

American Masters

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Dr. Maya Angelou was a singer, dancer, activist, poet and writer who inspired generations.

Dr. Maya Angelou was everything. She was a singer and a dancer. She was an activist and a poet. She was and continues to be an inspiration. American Masters' film about her is available to stream until 2/21.

6. Diahann Carroll

An Evening With Diahann Carroll
The HistoryMakers

An Evening With Diahann Carroll

The legendary entertainer discusses battles with racism and sexism within the industry.

Julia, Claudine, or Dominique. Diahann Carroll gave life to these characters and many more. She amazed audiences with every performance and made people question their own assumptions and prejudices with her character portrayals. In addition to learning about Carroll's life in this frank conversation with Gwen Ifill featured above, she was also featured in American Masters' "How It Feels To Be Free." You will want to watch both to full appreciate how groundbreaking she was.

7. George Washington Carver

Iowa PBS Documentaries

George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life

This show uncovers Carver's complexities and reveals the full impact of his life and work.

George Washington Carver is remembered by many for his innovative studies of the peanut plant. His contributions to agriculture and plant sciences are vast, and they are made even more remarkable by the circumstances of his upbringing. Watch this Iowa PBS documentary about his life and legacy and you'll understand more about what drove him to be such a prolific scientist.

8. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Open Mind

The New Negro

In 1957, Richard D. Heffner sat down with Martin Luther King Jr and Judge Waties Waring.

On the long-running program The Open Mind, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about how the civil rights movement changed many African Americans. One of the striking things about Dr. King is how prescient his words were--he spoke in a universal and timeless manner.

9. Edmonia Lewis

She Inspires

Edmonia Lewis

Learn about internationally recognized sculptor & Rensselaer County native, Edmonia Lewis.

Edmonia Lewis was the first African American and Native American woman to achieve worldwide recognition for her sculpture. She chose to live in Rome, Italy for most of her career and noted that she felt less discriminated against there than here in the United States.

10. Fred Hampton

Independent Lens

The First Rainbow Coalition

Across lines of race and ethnicity, alliances formed among Chicago activists in the '60s.

Fred Hampton, the young leader of the Chicago Black Panthers, inspired people from all walks of life to work together to improve the lives of underserved Chicagoans. In the documentary "The First Rainbow Coalition" we learn how Hampton's efforts to help people in Chicago challenged the city's powerful forces, leading them to coordinate Hampton's assassination.

11. John Lewis

American Experience

Freedom Riders

The story behind civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the American South.

John Lewis dedicated himself to making this country better for all people. Many may know him as Congressman Lewis, but his activism and good deeds began as a teenager. He was but 21 years when he challenged segregation in southern states during the Freedom Rides. The film Freedom Riders is available to stream this month.

12. Madam CJ Walker

WORLD Channel

The True Story of Madam C.J. Walker | TWO DOLLARS AND A DREA

Madam CJ Walker was a self-made millionaire in the hair care business. The first woman to be a self-made millionaire. In the early 1900s. To say she was a trailblazer is an understatement. This documentary, "Two Dollars and a Dream" follows her rise to the highest entrepreneurial heights.

13. Howard Thurman

MPT Presents

Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story

Howard Thurman helped ignite social change through non-violence and spirituality.

Get to know Howard Thurman, who helped spiritually guide so many during the Civil Rights Era, in this documentary from Maryland Public Television.

Learn even more about Thurman's influence in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s series The Black Church when it premieres on Feb. 16.

14. Lorraine Hansberry

American Masters

Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Explore the life of activist and playwright Lorraine Hansberry.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lorraine Hansberry put stories on the stage that had never before been heard on Broadway. Learn more about her life and inspiring work in this American Masters treatment: "Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart." The film is streaming in February.

15. Paul Revere Williams

Lost LA

Paul Revere Williams

Pioneering African-American architect Paul Revere Williams' contributions to Los Angeles.

Architect Paul Revere Williams contributed to the iconic look and feel of Los Angeles via the buildings he designed. This documentary from PBS SoCal highlights a star-studded legacy in the barriers Williams broke and in the sights of the city.

16. Ida B. Wells

The Citizenship Project

The Early Black Press | Tennessee Voices Lifted | NPT

African Americans gained from the Civil War was the right to free expression.

Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist and leader in the early Black press. Her body of work serves as a model for investigative journalism and a testament to bringing truth to light in order to change society's wrongs.

17. Richard Allen

The Black Church

Episode 1

Host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the roots of African American religion.

Richard Allen, a once-enslaved Methodist minister, co-founded the first independent Black denomination in 1794: African Methodist Episcopal church. This set the stage for the church as a center for Black communities for many Americans. The Black Church looks at the history and significance of the church in Black life and culture, the show premieres February 16th and 17th.

18. Bessie Coleman

American Masters

Aviator Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman aviator.

When we say the sky's the limit, well, we think of aviator Bessie Coleman. She was the first African American woman to receive a pilot license and she is truly inspiring. This digital short from American Masters' Unladylike 2020 shines a light on this history maker.

19. Joe Louis

American Experience

The Fight

The famous 1938 heavyweight fight between American Joe Louis and German Max Schmeling.

Boxer Joe Louis was a stellar athlete, but when he fought against German Max Schmeling he became a symbol of American ideals. Go back in time to 1938 with American Experience  to learn more about Joe Louis and his historic fight night.

20. Marian Anderson

American Experience

Voice of Freedom

The life of singer Marian Anderson and her triumphant 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial

World-renowned contralto Marian Anderson regaled audiences and broke racial barriers with her powerful voice. American Experience's "Voice of Freedom" tells the story of Anderson's trailblazing life and it is streaming on the PBS Video App all month long.

21. Jackie Robinson


1944 Court-Martial

In 1944, Jackie Robinson refused to move to the back of a bus. Sound familiar?

Baseball fans know how Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball, but did you know he fought for civil rights beyond the baseball field? In this clip from Ken Burns' documentary "Jackie Robinson" we learn about a time when Robinson was court-martialed after refusing to move to the back of a military bus. (The full film is available to Passport members, by the way.)

22. Toni Morrison

American Masters

Toni Morrison In Memoriam

American Masters mourns the loss of the Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison told stories of uniquely Black American experiences that connected with all readers. It is hard to name a favorite novel of hers, but very easy to name one that stayed with us long after the first read.

23. Shirley Chisholm

She Inspires

She Inspires | Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm, educator and trailblazing politician, was born in Brooklyn in 1924.

Shirley Chisholm spoke truth to power. She was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, and was the first African American woman to do so. Learn about her life in this digital short from WMHT.

24. Leroy Robert "Satchel" Paige

A Century of Change

A Century of Change | Negro League Centennial Celebration

More than just the game of baseball, the Negro League changed our country.

Satchel Paige was probably the greatest baseball player of his time. We can learn more about Paige and his teammates in this documentary on the Negro League from Kansas City PBS.

25. Charlotta Spears Bass

American Masters

The First Black Woman to Run for Vice President of The U.S.

Charlotta Bass was the first Black woman to run for Vice President of the United States.

In 1952, Charlotta Spears Bass made history by becoming the first Black woman to run for Vice President of the United States. Learn more about her life and her political career in this digital short from American Masters' Unladylike 2020.

26. Ellis Haizlip

Independent Lens


Mr. SOUL! explores the first nationally broadcast all-Black variety show on public TV.

Ellis Haizlip hosted the first all-Black variety show on public television. Learn about Haizlip and his program's impact in the Independent Lens documentary "Mr. SOUL!"

27. Mary Church Terrell

American Masters

She was a Civil Rights Activist and Co-Founder of the NAACP

Mary Church Terrell was a suffragist, civil rights activist and co-founder of the NAACP.

A co-founder of the NAACP, Mary Church Terrell was active in all the major movements of the time: suffrage, anti-lynching, and anti-segregation. Terrell lived a life full of "firsts."

28. James Baldwin

American Experience

James Baldwin from "The Negro and the American Promise"

James Baldwin's appearance on Boston Public television alongside MLK and Malcolm X.

Writer James Baldwin put into words what so many feel about the country, about human dynamics. The interviews and writings he left behind continue to strike at the heart of social conflicts. This interview above from American Experience is no exception.

Recent Articles

Race and Racism in America

Watch a collection of films and specials that highlight and add context to the many aspects of race and racism in our country.

Violence Against Asian Americans

If you are hurting, needing comfort or are curious to learn, videos are available for streaming. Additionally, resources to learn how to fight violence against Asian Americans are available.


The Victoria Collection