Reflecting on the past: Black History Month

In honor of Black HIstory Month, the staff members of the Ranger Rocket compiled a list of influential African-Americans.

Etta James  

Born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on Jan. 25, 1938, Etta James proved early in life that she was the epitome of a star. By age 5, James was already known as a gospel prodigy with the help of radio airplay and local singing endeavors. By age 12, she had formed her own trio in San Francisco.

James frequented the music charts with such songs as “All I Could do was Cry” and “At Last.” From 1954-2012, James released numerous albums and hit after hit as she became known for her extraordinary voice. At the time of her death on Jan. 20, 2012, in Riverside, California, James had three Grammy Awards under her belt, as well as an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Still to this day, James is considered one of music’s most dynamic singers. She is also heralded for playing a big role in changing the whole perception of black entertainers. James made it big as an entertainer at a time when African-American optimism was low, and her fame boosted the confidences of many of her fellow and preceding musicians.

W.E.B. Du Bois

W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born in 1868 and died in 1963, was influential in the world of literature. He wrote the books, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study in 1899 and The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. He was the first African-American to attend Harvard and obtain a doctorate degree. He served as the editor for NAACPs magazine, The Crisis.

According to, “W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most important African-American activists during the first half of the 20th century.”

Alexander Miles

Born in the late 1830s, African-American inventor Alexander Miles transformed the game of the elevator system forever. While living in Duluth, Minnesota, he sparked an idea for automatic elevator doors.

He managed to reduce several possible deaths with his invention because before his automatic doors were implemented, a person could have easily fallen down the elevator shaft if a careless person forgot to close the doors before ascending or descending. He designed an appliance that would close the shaft doors when the elevator doors shut. For this idea, in October 1887, his patent was awarded.

Robin Roberts

     Robin Roberts was ESPN’s first on-air black, female anchor.  She was the first to host “Wild World of Sports” and the first woman ever to host a network-televised National Football League pre-game show.

Roberts is a Mississippi native.  She attended Southeastern Louisiana University.  She has battled through breast cancer and a bone marrow disease.

“It is about focusing on the fight, not the fright,” Roberts is known for saying.

     Contributing writers include Larry Mason, Samantha Whittle, Paige Grady and Lauren Benton.

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