1. Warren Henry, Scientist, born on a peanut farm where George Washington Carver lived and did research during summer months. Both of his parents were graduates of Tuskegee Institute, and young Warren was reading when he was four, occasionally going on walks with his father and Carver. He, too, attended Tuskegee Institute, where he majored in three subjects: mathematics, English, and French, earning a Bachelor of Science.
He served as principal at a segregated school in rural Ardmore, AL. While there, he received a summer scholarship to Atlanta University where, in graduate school, he taught classes at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges.
2. Marie Knight, Gospel and R&B singer (Cry Me a River), She was born Marie Roach in Sanford, Florida but grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Her father was a construction worker and the family were members of the Church of God in Christ. She first toured as a singer in 1939 with Frances Robinson, an evangelist. She married preacher Albert Knight in 1941; they were later divorced.
In 1946, she made her first recordings, for Signature Records, as a member of The Sunset Four. Shortly afterwards, Sister Rosetta Tharpesaw her singing at the Golden Gate Auditorium in Harlem, on a bill with Mahalia Jackson, and invited Knight to join her on tour. Tharpe recognized “something special” in Marie’s contralto voice. Knight continued to record and perform with Tharpe through the 1940s, sometimes acting out the parts of “the Saint and the Sinner”, with Tharpe as the saint and Knight as the sinner. Among their successes were the songs “Beams of Heaven”, “Didn’t it Rain”, and “Up Above My Head”, recorded for Decca Records. “Up Above My Head”, credited jointly to both singers, reached # 6 on the US R&B chart at the end of 1948, and Knight’s solo version of “Gospel Train” reached # 9 on the R&B chart in 1949.
She left Tharpe to go solo around 1951, and put together a backing group, The Millionaires (Thomasina Stewart, Eleonore King and Roberta Jones), with whom she recorded the 1956 album Songs of the Gospel. She also began recording secular R&B music in the late 1950s, for various labels including Decca, Mercury, Baton, Okeh, Diamond and Addit. Her duet with Rex Garvin, credited as Marie & Rex, “I Can’t Sit Down” released on the Carlton label, reached # 94 on the pop chart in 1959. In the late 1950s she also toured Britain as a guest of Humphrey Lyttelton. In 1961 she recorded the single “Come Tomorrow”, which was later a hit for Manfred Mann. Knight’s version of “Cry Me a River” reached # 35 on the U.S. Billboard R&B charts in 1965. She toured with Brook Benton, the Drifters, and Clyde McPhatter, and regularly reunited onstage with Rosetta Tharpe. She remained friends with Tharpe, and helped arrange her funeral in 1973. In 1975, having given up performing secular music, she recorded another gospel album, Marie Knight: Today.
In 2002, Knight made a comeback in the gospel world, recording for a tribute album to Tharpe. She also released a full-length album, Let Us Get Together, on her manager’s label in 2007.
3. Reverend Ike Frederick Eikerenkoetter II, Minister and electronic Evangelist based in New York City. He was best known for the slogan “You can’t lose with the stuff I use!” Began his career as a teenage preacher and became assistant pastor at Bible Way Church in Ridgeland, South Carolina. After serving a stint in the Air Force as a Chaplain Service Specialist (a non-commissioned officerassigned to assist commissioned Air Force chaplains), he founded, successively, the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People in Beaufort, South Carolina, the United Christian Evangelistic Association in Boston, Massachusetts (which was his main corporate entity), and the Christ Community United Church in New York City.
Known popularly as “Reverend Ike,” his ministry reached its peak in the mid 1970s, when his weekly radio sermons were carried by hundreds of stations across the United States. He was active on the Internet and in a syndicated television program.
He fully restored and owned the Christ United Church (“Palace Cathedral”) in Manhattan’s Washington Heights section, formerly the Loews175th Street movie theatre. Restorations included the seven-story high, twin chamber Robert Morton organ. The “Miracle Star of Faith,” visible from the George Washington Bridge, tops the building’s cupola. He was also the “chancellor” of the United Church Schools, including the Science of Living Institute and Seminary (which awarded him, his wife, and his son Doctor of the Science of Living degrees); the Business of Living Institute (home of Thinkonomics); and other educational projects.
4. Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr., actor, film director, and narrator. He is noted for his reserved demeanor and authoritative speaking voice. Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his performances in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemptionand Invictus and won in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. He has also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Freeman has appeared in many other box office hits, including Unforgiven, Glory, Seven, Deep Impact, The Sum of All Fears, Bruce Almighty, Batman Begins, March of the Penguins, The Bucket List, Evan Almighty, Wanted, The Dark Knight, and Red. We must not forget his great performance in The Gospel At Colonus
5. Cleavon Jake Little, film and theatre actor, known for his lead role as Bart in the 1974Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles and as the irreverent Dr. Jerry Noland in the early 1970s sitcom Temperatures Rising. In 1978 he played “The Prince of Darkness” in the radio station comedy FM. He was also in the 1984 action film Toy Soldiers and acted out the role of Super Soul in the film Vanishing Point in 1971.
6. Howard Dodson Jr., Historian, writer, administrator, and lecturer. long-time director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Dodson grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania where his family had moved from Virginia. His parents worked blue collar jobs in construction and textiles. He attended West Chester State College, and then earned a master’s in history and political science at Villanova. In 1964, he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ecuador. In 1968, believing he had responsibilities in the United States during the civil rights movement, he returned, stopping in Puerto Rico for a period of reflection and then going to Berkley to study slavery in the Western Hemisphere. From 1974 to 1979 he worked as the executive director of the Atlanta-based Institute of the Black World, in addition to teaching classes at Emory University. Dodson was later a consultant to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) until 1984.
Dodson took on the directorship of the Schomburg center in 1984 and had a successful tenure, during which he increased the center’s holdings of historical artifacts—many of them rare and irreplaceable—from 5 to 10 million, curated numerous displays and exhibitions, and raised millions of dollars in support. One high point was his intimate involvement in the African Burial Ground project, through which hundreds of former slaves buried in Manhattan during the 17th and 18th centuries were exhumed and reburied. He has recently announced his retirement from the directorship, with plans to travel widely.
7. Mark Curry, Comedian/Actor. He is best known as the star of the ABC sitcom Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and as one of the various hosts of the syndicated series It’s Showtime at the Apollo.