Celebrating Black History Month with Cleveland Public Library

Artists & Writers

Charles L. Sallée Jr.

1913 – February 15, 2006

An Oberlin-native and accomplished artist and designer whose artwork is largely unknown among his peers but whose name surfaces in the majority of the reviews of African-American art during the years 1935 to 1945. Harlem Renaissance critic Alain Locke praised Sallee’s prints and portraits.

John Legend

December 28, 1978 – Present

An accomplished singer, songwriter, producer and philanthropist, Legend is the first Black man and second youngest person to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT).

Dr. H. Leslie Adams

December 30, 1932 – Present

The composer’s works have been performed by the Prague Radio Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Iceland Symphony, and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His opera, Blake, recounts the story of a slave who resolves to lead his people out of bondage and to a life of dignity. Cleveland Public Library currently holds a collection of Dr. Adams papers and musical works.

Anna Arnold

December 18, 1960 – Present

She’s the first African American in Northeast Ohio to direct a college gallery. The prolific entrepreneur/artist who produced paintings, sculptures, ceramics and jewelry for nearly 30 years and has exhibited in over 200 gallery and museum shows and events across the United States.

Nnedi Okorafor

April 8, 1974

This Cincinnati-native writes fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. She is best known for her novels Binti, Who Fears Death, Zahrah the Windseeker, Akata Witch, and Lagoon.

Langston Hughes

February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967

This poet, social activist and playwright grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Central High School. Known as the leader of the Harlem Renaissance, his work portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America.

Charles W. Chesnutt

June 20, 1858 – November 15, 1932

An African-American author, essayist, political activist and lawyer, best known for his novels and short stories exploring complex issues of racial and social identity in the post-Civil War South.

Toni Morrison

February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931 in Lorain, her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved and received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Benjamin Banneker

November 9, 1731 – October 19, 1806

Banneker assisted in a survey that established the original borders of the District of Columbia. His knowledge of astronomy helped him author a series of almanacs. Advocates of racial equality praised his work.

Breaking Barriers

Robert P. Madison

July 28, 1923

He became the first African American to earn a degree in architecture in Ohio. His firm, Robert P. Madison International, has built an architectural legacy in NE Ohio, across the nation, and around the world.

Baraka Shabazz

1965 – Present

The teen chess phenom was the first African American woman to reach an expert level rating. By age 15, she was ranked the sixth foremost female chess player in the U.S. She was also the first African American to compete in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship in 1981.

Alonzo Wright

April 30, 1989 – August 17, 1976

The first black millionaire in Cleveland operated 11 gas stations in 1940 and had hired the largest number of black youths in the United States. He also established a real estate firm.

Benjamin O. Davis

July 28, 1923

Davis was a United States Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen. He was the first African-American Brigadier general. In 1998, he advanced to four-star general.

Michelle Janine Howard

April 30, 1960 – Present

A historic naval career: She became the first woman to become a four-star admiral in 2014. She was also the first African-American woman to command a U.S. naval ship in 1999.

Leah Chase

June 6, 1923 – June 1, 2019

Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase was the first African American to receive The James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. Her restaurant, Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans, is known for its outstanding Creole cuisine and African American art. The restaurant served as a meeting place during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. 

Jesse Owens

September 12 ,1913 – March 31, 1980

An American track and field athlete and four-time gold medalist in the 1936 Olympic Games. Owens specialized in the sprints and the long jump and was recognized in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.

Harrison Dillard

July 8, 1923 – November 15, 2019

The Cleveland-native was the only man to ever win Olympic gold medals in both the 100 meter sprints and the 110 meter hurdles, making him the “World’s Fastest Man” in 1948 and the “World’s Fastest Hurdler” in 1952.

Civic Leaders

Carl B. Stokes

June 21, 1927 – April 3, 1996

He was the first black elected mayor of a major U.S. city. The Cleveland-native also served in the Ohio House of Representatives. Many buildings have been named in his honor.

Ella Baker

December 13, 1903- December 13, 1986

As a civil rights and human rights activist, she worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century. She is known for her critiques not only of racism within American culture, but also of sexism within the civil rights movement.

Pauli Murray

November 20, 1910 – July 1, 1985

Murray was the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. As a lawyer, she fought for civil rights and women’s rights. NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray’s 1950 book, States’ Laws on Race and Color, the “bible” of the civil rights movement.

Zelma George

December 8, 1903 – July 3, 1994

A symbol of African American achievement in several fields ranging from operatic diva to United Nations diplomat, she wrote a musical drama, “Chariot’s A’Comin!”, which was telecast by WEWS-TV in 1949.

Tamika Mallory

June 8, 1980

This American activist is one of the leading organizers of the 2017 Women’s March. Mallory is a proponent of gun control, feminism, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Harllel Jones

January 14, 1938 – May 10, 2011

The founder of the black nationalist group, Afro Set, was a leader in the Hough community. He inspired young Black people to express their African roots and persuaded entrepreneurs to design Afrocentric clothing.

Jane Edna Hunter

December 13, 1882 – January 17, 1971

In 1911, an African-American social worker established the Working Girls Association in Cleveland, which later became the Phillis Wheatley Association of Cleveland.

Entrepreneurs & Inventors

Moziah “Mo” Bridges

November 13, 2001 – Present

Founder of Mo’s Bows, this young entrepreneur has sold more than $700,000 of bow ties and men’s accessories. He has a partnership with the NBA and a scholarship fund to send kids to summer camp.

Daymond John

February 23, 1969 – Present

An African American businessman, investor, television personality, author, and motivational speaker. He is best known as the founder of FUBU, and an investor on the ABC reality television series Shark Tank.

Garrett Morgan


His most notable invention was a three-position traffic signal and a smoke hood. He created a chemical hair-processing and straightening solution and eventually started a hair product company.

Marcus Samuelsson

November 6, 1971 – Present

Samuelsson is an Ethiopian Swedish chef, restauranteur, and award-winning cookbook author. At 24, he became the youngest chef to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. He has been a UNICEF ambassador since 2000.