Famous Black Americans From Brooklyn

By: Pamela Stern

February is Black History Month, a commemorative period that was originally established as a weeklong observance known in 1926 as national “Negro History Week” by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. During the 1960s, activists from the civil rights movement urged authority figures to expand it. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford proclaimed February to be officially recognized as Black History month.

In honor of the month-long celebration, the Spring Creek Sun complied a list of some famous Black Americans who were born and grew up right here in Brooklyn. Their influential work has inspired many throughout the United States, and we thought it might be interesting to know a little more about these iconic Brooklynites.

Shirley Anita Chisholm was a trailblazer. She grew up in Brooklyn and attended  Girls’ High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Brooklyn College in 1946, and her Masters Degree in elementary education from Teachers College of Columbia University in 1952. She was the director of the Friends Day Nursery in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Chisholm began her journey in politics in 1953 when she joined Wesley “Mac” Holder’s effort to elect Lewis Flagg Jr. to the bench as the first black judge in Brooklyn. The Bedford-Stuyvesant Political League (BSPL) pushed candidates to support civil rights, fought against racial discrimination in housing, and sought economic opportunities and services in Brooklyn.  She eventually left the group. She was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1965 to 1968. Chisholm announced her presidential bid on January 25, 1972. She was the first woman to run for a Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. “I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am a woman and equally proud of that. I am the candidate of the people and my presence before you symbolizes a new era in American political history. “Chisholm retired to Florida in 1991. 

Chisholm died on January 1, 2005, in Ormond Beach, Florida after suffering several strokes.

In January 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the building of the Shirley Chisholm State Park, a 407-acre state park along 3.5 miles of the Jamaica Bay coastline, adjoining the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue landfills south of Spring Creek Park’s Gateway Center. The state park was dedicated to Chisholm that September. The park opened to the public on July 2, 2019.

Letitia James is an American lawyer, activist, and politician. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, James obtained her J.D. degree at Howard University in Washington, D.C., after graduating from Lehman College in The Bronx.

She worked as a public defender, then on staff in the New York State Assembly, and later as an Assistant Attorney General. Additionally, she served for a decade as a member of the New York City Council. She represented the 35th Council District, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant. She was later elected as the New York City Public Advocate in 2013.

She is the current Attorney General of New York.  She is the first African-American and the first woman to be elected to the position.

Stephanie Dorthea Mills was born on March 22, 1957and raised in the Bedford–Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Mills sang gospel music as a child at Brooklyn’s Cornerstone Baptist Church. She began her professional career at age nine, appearing in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn. After winning Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater six weeks straight at age eleven, Mills went on to become the opening act for the Isley Brothers.

Mills rose to stardom as “Dorothy” in the original seven-time Tony Award Winning Broadway run of the musical The Wiz from 1974 to 1979. The song “Home” from the show later became a Number 1 U.S. R&B hit for Mills and her signature song. During the 1980s, Mills scored five Number 1 R&B hits, including “Home”, “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love”, “I Feel Good All Over”, “(You’re Puttin’) A Rush on Me” and “Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)”. Mills won a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for her song “Never Knew Love Like This Before” in 1981.

Whodini– is an American hip hop group that was formed i1982. The Brooklyn, New York-based trio consisted of vocalist and main lyricist Jalil Hutchins; co-vocalist John Fletcher, a.k.a. Ecstasy (who wore a Zorro-style hat as his trademark); and turntable artist DJ Drew Carter, a.k.a. Grandmaster Dee.

Whodini was one of the first rap groups out of New York in the early ’80s to add a R&B twist to their music, thus laying the foundation for a new genre – new jack swing. The group made its name with good-humored songs such as “Magic’s Wand” (the first rap song accompanied by a video), “The Haunted House of Rock”, “Friends”, “Five Minutes of Funk” and “Freaks Come Out at Night”. Live performances of this group were the first rap concerts with the participation of breakdance dancers from the group UTFO. 

The group has released six studio albums. 14 singles of the group hit the charts of the American magazine Billboard. 4 albums of the group were certified Platinum by RIAA, due to their single “Friends” that hit the Billboard Hot 100.