Black History

MALAKU E. BAYEN (1900-1940)

Born in Ethiopia, Malaku Bayen was taken to the palace of Ras (Grand Duke) Tafari Makonnen, his mother’s first cousin and the future Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I. As a young adult, he was educated abroad in both India and the U.S., where attended Howard University College of Medicine. In 1935, Dr. Bayen returned to Ethiopia to serve in the American Mission Hospital and in 1936 returned to the U.S. as Special Emissary of Haile Selassie to raise awareness for the Ethiopian cause against the Italian invasion.


BESSYE J. BEARDEN (1891-1943)

The first woman to become a member of a local New York City school board, Mrs. Bearden worked as the Deputy Collector of the Third New York Internal Revenue District. A respected civic activist, Bessye Bearden was known for her “dedication to the welfare of women of her race.” She was the mother of acclaimed artist, Romare Bearden.



GEORGE W. BECTON (1890-1933)

The leader of the World’s Gospel Feast Party, fiery evangelist Dr. George Wilson Becton was assassinated in Philadelphia. He spoke out against the policy rackets of the Depression Era and as a result two gunmen murdered him as he preached to a Philadelphia congregation. Thousands of mourners filed past his casket and attended his funeral at the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church in Harlem.



GEORGE BENTA (1921-2013)

For over six decades, George Benta served the Harlem community as one of the most respected funeral directors. Langston Hughes, Coleman Hawkins and Paul Robeson were among the luminaries buried from the Benta’s Funeral Home. Benta was known for conducting “flashy” services, with colorful vehicles and staff dressed in elegant suits. The family funeral home is still serving the community today.




Half Native American and half African American, Birleana Blanks was one of the first generation of African Americans to star in the musical comedy theater. Before 1920, she toured the vaudeville circuit teamed with her sister as a singing and dancing act. She then sang in a whole series of musical comedies at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem beginning with Over the Top in 1919 and then in other theaters in the mid 1920s.




A baritone who appeared in opera and concerts, Boatwright performed with the New York Philharmonic, the National Negro Opera Foundation and he was a voice teacher at Ohio State University. For many years he produced the Sacred Concerts performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in London and New York. He was married to Ruth Ellington, the younger sister of Duke Ellington.



“BRICKTOP” (ADA DUCONGE) (1895-1984)

She was a legendary singer and nightclub owner known for entertaining the “rich, famous and talented” in her Paris, Rome and Mexico City jazz clubs. Cole Porter wrote “Miss Otis Regrets” especially for her. Among her patrons were Noel Coward, the Duke of Windsor, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker and Duke Ellington.



RALPH BUNCHE (1904-1971)

When the United Nations General Secretary delivered his eulogy, Bunche was described as both “an idealist and a realist” and remembered for leaving “an indelible memory of a wonderful man and a legacy of achievement such as few men can bequeath to history.” Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, Dr. Bunche became the U.S. State Department’s expert on colonial affairs and in 1949 he worked to negotiate the armistice among the Arab states and Israel.



IVAN BYNOE (1917-2004)

One of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, Bynoe served our nation as a flyer during World War II. He was an officer with the 477th Bomber Group. After the war, the veteran worked as the tour director of the general mail facility in Manhattan for over 50 years.



ROBERT COLE (1869-1911)

The vaudeville team of Cole and Johnson toured America and Europe and wrote many popular songs including: “Louisiana Lize” and “Under the Bamboo Tree”. The team also produced many musicals. Cole was among the best-known composers, comedy writers and producers of the Ragtime era. Tragically, Cole suffered a breakdown in 1911 and took his own life.



RALPH COOPER (1908-1992)

As the originator and master of ceremonies at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Cooper introduced a number of performers to the nation. Among those who became famous following their triumphant appearances at the Apollo were: Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. Cooper started his career as an actor and dancer. He choreographed the Shirley Temple film Poor Little Rich Girl, and appeared in films with Lena Horne and Duke Ellington.



CELIA CRUZ (1925-2003)

The “Queen of Salsa” was born in Cuba, leaving her native land in 1959 following the take over by Fidel Castro. For over fifty years, she performed with the most celebrated bands. Her most enduring performances were with “El Maestro,” the legendary Tito Puente. This Grammy winning artist was known for her flashy stage costumes, colorful wigs and her signature cry, “Azucaar!”



COUNTEE CULLEN (1903-1946)

Over three thousand people attended the funeral of this renowned American poet. He received his master’s degree from Harvard University and went on to win numerous prizes for his writing. Helen Keller wrote him, “Your poetry has magic to turn my prison-house into a Garden of Delight.” He was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and worked as a schoolteacher at Frederick Douglass Jr. High School JHS 139.




Dr. Cullen was born in Fairmount, Maryland to former slaves Isaac and Emmeline Williams Cullen. In 1902, he was assigned to the Salem Methodist Mission, a mission chapel of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. Under Rev. Dr. Cullen’s guidance, the mission grew in prominence and size, attracting several thousand parishioners. The mission became an official church in 1908, and Rev. Cullen oversaw the construction of the present building – one of Harlem’s most imposing churches. In addition to his responsibilities to Salem Methodist Church, Cullen was a pioneer of the modern civil rights movement. Cullen served as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) and was a founder of the Urban League.




Known as an innovative jazz trumpeter and composer, for four decades Miles Davis explored a variety of musical styles. He came to New York as a young man to study at the Juilliard School of Music, but left school to play with Charlie Parker’s quintet. In the 1950’s he became a leader of the “Cool Jazz” movement and made several celebrated records: Birth of the Cool, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. His album Kind of Blue (1959) is the best selling jazz recording of all time. In the 1960’s he experimented with fusion, merging jazz with rock and roll. The music inscribed on his memorial is Davis’ original composition “Solar” recorded in 1954.



THOMAS DICKENS (1913-1984)

Considered one of the “deans” of black jurists, Judge Dickens made the headlines when he refused to give the then Governor, Nelson Rockefeller the minutes of a grand jury investigation. During the course of his 32 year career, he held Rockefeller’s decision to extradite Angela Davis to California, he criticized tough anti drug laws and was remembered for being fair and compassionate.




Dr. Dean received his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard and served as the chief of the African Unit of the Division of Economic Stability and Development of the United Nations. During the course of his brilliant career, he held positions at the University of Georgia, the City College of New York and the National Urban League. He was the son- in-law of Dr. Channing Tobias.




As a musician and cultural leader, Ellington was described as being “Beyond Category”. He began his career playing piano in Washington, D.C. and got his first big break when his band the “Washingtonians” were hired to play at the famous Cotton Club. The band grew to become the Duke Ellington Orchestra and for 50 years they toured the world. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and is often-considered America’s greatest composer and bandleader. “Satin Doll”, “Mood Indigo”, and “Solitude” are among Duke Ellington’s classic hits.



RUDOLPH FISHER (1897-1934)

Considered one of the most talented writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Rudolph Fisher was a medical practitioner receiving degrees from Brown University and Howard Medical School. He is considered one of the first African American mystery writers; his classic novels are The Walls of Jericho (1928) and The Conjure Man Dies (1932). He wrote numerous short stories and was a celebrated public speaker.



CHARLES GILPIN (1878-1930)

Starting out as a young vaudevillian in Chicago, Gilpin gradually made his way to New York where he helped to organize the Lafayette Players, the first stock company in Harlem. He earned his living as an elevator operator in Macy’s department store but in 1920 he was cast to star in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Emperor Jones. It would be the first dramatic production in an all white theater to star an African American actor. He received the NAACP Spingarn medal for his performance and the play was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.




The original drummer in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Greer played with the band for more than thirty years and was known for his innovative use of chimes, cowbells and cymbals. Ellington said of Greer, “He was not the world’s best reader of music, but the world’s best percussionist reactor.” After leaving the Ellington band in 1951, he freelanced with several groups including the Johnny Hodges Band.



LIONEL HAMPTON (1908-2002)

The “King of the Vibes” was a composer, bandleader, and great philanthropist. He broke racial barriers playing with the Benny Goodman band and went on to perform in groundbreaking performances with Benny Carter and Louis Armstrong. His recording, Flying Home is considered one of the most influential recordings in American musical history. A traditional jazz band led by Wynton Marsalis followed Hampton’s funeral procession from the Cotton Club to Riverside Church in Harlem. Former President George H.W. Bush gave the eulogy at the service.




Born in St. Croix, Harrison came to New York in 1900 where he built a reputation as a writer, educator and political activist. He was a founder of the Liberty League and The Voice, a newspaper that promoted the “New Negro” movement. Harrison considered himself a “radical internationalist,” and is known as the “father of Harlem radicalism.” As a writer, he contributed to the New York Times, The New York World and The Evening Post.




“The Father of the Blues” was the son of a freed slave from Florence, Alabama. Author of numerous compositions including “Saint Louis Blues”; the song inscribed on the memorial to Handy. Over 150,000 mourners lined the sidewalks of Harlem to pay their respects as his funeral procession traveled through the streets followed by a 30-piece band. Cootie Williams played Handy’s favorite hymn “Holy City” at the memorial service; Ed Sullivan, Mayor Wagner and Dr. Channing Tobias were among the speakers who eulogized the composer.




A jazz pioneer who played the tenor saxophone, Hawkins is credited for turning a “novelty vaudeville horn” into a romantic lead instrument. He played with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, and free lanced in Europe on many jazz and blues recordings. He is best known for his classic 1940 album Body and Soul and his recording of the well known Gershwin song, “The Man I Love.”



GEORGE E. HAYNES (1881-1960)

Haynes was a man of many “firsts,” as he was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Columbia University, the co-founder and first executive director of the Urban League, and he a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He served as the head of the Department of Social Science at Fisk University and during World War I he was a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Labor.



HILDA HAYNES (1912-1986)

She began her acting career on Broadway and eventually became known for her work in motion pictures and television. Haynes appeared in Diary of a Mad Housewife, The River Niger and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Throughout the 1970’s she played characters in several successful television programs including: Sanford and Son, Dynasty, Good Times and Starsky and Hutch.




Known as the “Calypso King of New York,” Hendricks was the first calypso artist to find success in the United States. He composed several successful songs including: Stone Cold Dead, Johnny Take My Wife, and Gin and Coconut Water. He performed at Carnegie Hall, the 1939 World’s Fair and established a Calypso Festival in 1947.



MATTHEW HENSON (1867-1955)

As a youth, Henson was an apprentice to a sea captain where he gained his knowledge of science and navigation. In 1909 he was the only American to accompany Admiral Peary in his expedition to the North Pole. In his book about the expedition, Henson wrote: “As I stood there at the top of the world and thought of the hundreds of men who had lost their lives in the effort to reach it, I felt profoundly grateful that the commander, had the honor of representing my race in the historic achievement.” His remains were moved to Arlington National Cemetery in 1988.



ANDRE “HUDDY 6” HUDSON (1976-2010)

Considered a celebrity in Harlem’s rap and club scene, Hudson was the confidant to many well known artists. As a performer, he was part of the group Harlem World.



HAROLD HUNTER (1974-2006)

Born in New York’s East Village, Hunter became well known on the city’s skateboard scene in the late eighties and nineties. He became known internationally for his role in the movie Kids.




She was the first African American to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied from 1895-1902. As a sculptor, she maintained an art studio and taught at Howard University. She did portrait busts of W.E.B. Dubois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar in addition to sculpting abstract portraits depicting the physiognomy of African Americans.




A pioneer in the field of radio, considered the first African American sports announcer. Jackson became the owner of New York’s first black radio station WLIB which later became WBLS. He was the first African American to be inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame. Jackson remained on the air through his 96th year, hosting his popular “Sunday Classics” show.



MILTON JACKSON (1923-1999)

Accomplished Vibraphonist, Milt Jackson was co-founder of the Modern Jazz Quartet, the band he played with for 40 years. During his six decades in the music business he played and collaborated with such pioneers as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. He also collaborated with John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis.




Illinois Jacquet, in the early 1940’s, created an entirely new style and sound for the tenor saxophone, elevating this instrument to a colorful and pre-eminent role in the world of jazz music. In 1942, Jacquet, at the age of 19, was catapulted to immediate international fame by the very first recording of his career with his classic solo on “Flying Home”, recorded with the Lionel Hampton Band. Two years later, on his solo, “Philharmonic Blues, Part II”, Jacquet spontaneously created notes never before heard on the tenor saxophone, thus permanently expanding its range by two and one-half octaves. With hit records on every major label throughout the 1940’s, and a star-studded career that spanned seven decades, Jacquet is revered for his high level of excellence in all facets of jazz music, most notably his great mastery of the ballad.



HALL JOHNSON (1888-1970)

Best known as a composer and conductor, Johnson began his career as a violinist with James Reese Europe’s orchestra. He founded the Hall Johnson Negro Choir to “show how the American Negro slaves – in 250 years of constant practice, self-developed under pressure but equipped with their inborn sense of rhythm and drama –created, propagated and illuminated an art-form which was, and still is, unique in the world of music.” In 1925 his choir made notable appearances in the all black productions of Green Pastures and Lost Horizons.




A legendary “underworld” figure, Johnson was a hero in the Harlem community with a reputation for never giving in and standing up for his race long before the Civil Rights movement. He spent at least 25 of his adult years in prison where he studied American History and played chess. The character of Bumpy Johnson appeared in several movies including Hoodlum and the Cotton Club.




With a career that spanned several decades, Jonah Jones played with some of the most famous jazz bands and sold millions of records with his versions of “On the Street Where you Live”, and “Baubles, Bangles and Beads”. He played with some of the earliest bands including McKinney’s Cottonpickers and went on to work with Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson. He performed with Cab Calloway for over a decade. In the fifties he had a regular engagement at the Embers club and in 1959 he won a Grammy for the album, I Dig Chicks.




In his youth, Lee was a Harlem boxing champion and after retiring from the sport he turned to acting for a career. He starred on Broadway in Native Son, and then moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in film where he appeared in Lifeboat (1944), Body and Soul (1947), Lost Boundaries (1949) and Cry, the Beloved Country (1951). His promising career ended during the McCarthy Era when he was listed among “The Hollywood Ten.”




Known as the “Doctor to the Stars,” Leo Maitland, M.D. was the physician of many celebrities including Miles Davis and Geoffrey Holder. He was a member of the surgical team that saved Dr. Martin Luther King’s life after he was stabbed in Harlem at a book signing in 1958. Dr. Maitland received his medical training from Meharry Medical School and continued his training in surgery at New York University.




Vaudevillian and TV comedian, Markham regularly appeared on the Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Mike Douglas shows. In his early years on stage he was considered one of the funniest and most popular black comedians. He is best remembered for the popular skit, Here Come de Judge on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In.



JAMES R. MARSHALL (1894-1947)

As the manager of the Apollo Theatre, Marshall was a national figure in the world of entertainment. In addition to managing the Apollo, Marshall worked during the Second World War to establish a west coast performance venue for African Americans in California. Among the notables who attended his funeral were: Noble Sissle, Stepin’ Fetchitt and Dewey Markham.



DAVID K. MCDONOGH (1821-1893)

Dr. McDonough was the first black graduate of Lafayette College, sent to college in the 1840’s by his master. Raised as a slave in Louisiana, Dr. McDonough pursued a career in medicine after graduating from the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons. His accomplishments were honored in 1898 when the McDonogh Memorial Hospital was opened in Harlem.



GEORGE A. MCGUIRE (1866-1934)

Archbishop George A. McGuire was the founder and first patriarch of the African Orthodox Church. George McGuire entered the Jefferson Medical College of Philadelphia, graduating in 1910. For the next six years, until he left the Episcopal Church, Rev. McGuire served as both minister and physician in the United States and the West Indies. During his travels, McGuire befriended Marcus Garvey and became convinced of the singular importance of establishing the African Orthodox Church. On September 28, 1921, George Alexander McGuire was consecrated the first Bishop and Primate of the African Orthodox Church..



JACKIE MCLEAN (1932-2006)

Born in New York City, the alto saxophone player started out with many of the jazz greats at a young age. In his early years he played with such luminaries as: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. His career spanned over five decades; he was recognized as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts and was the founder of the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford.




An actress and entertainer, Nina McKinney was known as the “Black Garbo” and was one of the first African American film stars. At the age of seventeen she was given a five year contract with MGM. She appeared in only a handful of movies because parts were scare and went on to tour Europe with jazz bands and to star with Paul Robeson in Congo Road.




Known as the “Queen of Happiness”, she was among the most popular entertainers in the 1920’s. Mills was a singer, dancer, and vaudevillian who starred in several productions in New York and London. Duke Ellington wrote “Black Beauty” as a tribute to Mills. Six carloads of flowers were brought to her grave; Ethel Waters was an honorary pall bearer and James Weldon Johnson attended the service. Over 10,000 people paid tribute to her at the funeral chapel and when she was laid to rest a plane flew over Woodlawn dropping rose petals on her grave.




He was the younger member of the flashy tap dancing duo known as the Nicholas Brothers. By the 1930’s they were performing at the Cotton Club with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, singing and dancing. The team performed in vaudeville, on Broadway, in movies and on television. Their movie career started after Samuel Goldwyn saw them perform in a nightclub and cast them in Kid Millionaire. Films featuring the dancers included: Tin Pan Alley, Stormy Weather, and Down Argentine Way. The Nicolas Brothers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.



JOSEPH “KING” OLIVER (1885-1938)

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band was one of the early touring jazz bands and featured a young horn player named Louis Armstrong. It was under Oliver’s leadership that jazz musicians began to play solos, showcasing these early talents and transforming traditional performances. He was an accomplished coronet player and considered one the earliest pioneers of jazz music. This early band recorded “Dippermouth Blues”, “Sweet Like This” and “Riverside Blues”. In 1994 the New Jersey Jazz Society raised funds to place a marker on the grave.




Born in Covington, Georgia, Harry Pace studied as a young man at Atlanta University, where he was taught by W.E.B. DuBois. In 1903 he went in to the printing business in Memphis printing the first illustrated African-American Journal. It was when he was in Memphis that he met W.C. Handy – he collaborated with the musician and the pair launched the Pace and Handy Music Company. Eventually Pace went out on his own founding Black Swan, the first black owned record company.



BEVERLY PEER (1913-1987)

Longtime bass player for singer and pianist Bobby Short, Peer originally started out as a member of the Chick Webb Orchestra. He played bass behind Ella Fitzgerald on all of her early hits. Peer also worked with Sarah Vaughan and Lena Horn and for a short time played with the symphony at Radio City Music Hall. He accompanied many celebrated artists including: Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Dorothy Loudon.




Son of Cuban immigrants, Pompez moved from Florida to New York to work as an executive in baseball’s Negro League. He owned the Cuban Stars and the New York Cubans and helped to organize the first Negro League World Series in 1924. In his later years he was a scout for the New York and San Francisco Giants. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.



WESLEY REDDING (1893-1924)

In 1921, Redding was promoted to the Detective Division of the New York City Police Department, making him New York’s first African American detective. A few months prior to his promotion, Redding made the news for arresting nine prisoners in one night in Washington Heights. His brother, George Redding, was the first African American captain on the force.




Drummer, percussionist and composer, Max Roach was considered one of the most important influences in jazz. He performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown. Roach was an activist in the Civil Rights movement.




The only daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, A’Lelia used her inherited wealth to promote art and culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Among A’Lelia Robinson’s circle of friends were Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Carl Van Vechten. She served as the patron for many struggling young black artists and writers.




In 1923, the young actress, Fannie Cook, married Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and moved to New York. After she divorced the stage star in 1949 she went on to work with the Negro Actor’s Guild.




Known to audiences as “Black Herman,” this traveling magician used a combination of medicine show techniques and vaudeville skills to develop a successful act. He was best known for his “Buried Alive” trick where he would hypnotize women and then place them in the ground for six hours. Eventually he would perform the trick on himself and sell tickets for the public to view his “private graveyard” prior to his theater performance.



JOHN R. STRACHAN (1916-1982)

The first African American appointed as the United States Postmaster for New York City was born in Harlem. John Strachan received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from New York University and served with the 369th Battalion in World War II. He started out as a clerk with the Postal Service and in 1963 President Lyndon Johnson appointed him to the position of Postmaster on the recommendation of Senator Robert Kennedy.



CLARICE TAYLOR (1917-2011)

The Virginia born actress was raised in Harlem. She was known for her reoccurring role as the grandmother on the Cosby show. Taylor also appeared as Harriet on Sesame Street and appeared in the television series Sandford and Son and Nurse. She appeared on Broadway in The Wiz, had roles in feature films and was a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company.




He was a nationally known Civil Rights leader who served as a member of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, Chairman of the Board of the NAACP and as a Delegate to the United Nations. It was at the 1953 conference of the NAACP that Dr. Tobais called for an all out drive to end segregation and other forms of racial discrimination by January 1, 1963, the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.




His Eminence, the Most Reverend Frederick Augustus Toote was born in the Bahamas in 1899. Following Marcus Garvey’s move back to Jamaica, Toote was the second man to serve as the President-General of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The UNIA is a “social, friendly, humanitarian, charitable, educational, institutional, constructive and expansive society, and is founded by persons desiring to the utmost to work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry.” In November 1938 Frederick Toote was consecrated a bishop in the African Orthodox Church.



HENRY A. TOPPIN (1887-1965)

Born in Barbados, Toppin came to New York as a child. He started as a chef, working at the Waldorf-Astoria and on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1926 he became a licensed undertaker and eventually the manager of the Henry A. Toppin & Son Funeral Home. He was active in politics for many years serving as a member of the state Democratic Committee, a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1952 and a member of the Electoral College.




For over 41 years, Reverend Tyler-Lloyd served as the leader of Trinity Baptist Church in the Bronx. He grew the congregation to over 1,100 members and was known for his ability sing and to bring modern situations into his sermons. Reverend Lloyd actively encouraged giving to the community and under his leadership Trinity Baptist Church gave substantial contributions to the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund. A portion of 224th Street in the Bronx was named in his honor.



WILLIAM H. TYERS (1870-1924)

The son of former enslaved people, Tyers was born in Virginia and moved to New York at the age of 12. At a young age, he showed a talent for composition and arranging and went on to work for several publishing companies and musical groups. He was a founder of the Clef Club and became the assistant conductor to Clef Club band leader James Reese Europe. After the First World War, Tyers was called to overseas to conduct Europe’s band whose members included Willie “The Lion” Smith and Sidney Bechet.



MADAM C.J. WALKER (1867-1919)

Through her hair treatment and cosmetics business, Sarah Breedlove Walker became the richest self-made woman in America. She began selling her products door-to-door, eventually establishing a major corporation in Indianapolis, and moving to New York where she built her beautiful Irvington estate, “Villa Lewaro.” Madam Walker was generous to many charities, donating funds to preserve the Frederick Douglass home as a museum, funding scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute and supporting the efforts of the NAACP.



JAMES S. WATSON (1892-1952)

The first African American to be elected as a member of the American Bar Association, Justice James S. Watson served as a Municipal Court Justice in New York for nearly 20 years. At the time of his death, he was the president of the Civil Service Commission. His funeral was held at St. Martin’s Protestant Episcopal Church with 2000 people in attendance and with an additional 3000 mourners lining the streets, listening to the service on loudspeakers.




Wife and business partner of jazz impresario George Wein, with her husband, she was responsible for the long-term cultural impact of the Newport Jazz Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the promotion of jazz throughout the world. Joyce Wein was known as an important collector of African American Art and for her contributions as a supporter of the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Harlem Children’s Zone.




Wells started out in Harlem as a part of the successful vaudeville trio, Wells, Mordecai & Taylor. He went on to become the owner of a popular club patronized by the likes of Errol Flynn, Tallulah Bankhead and Walter Winchell. 25,000 attended the funeral of the wealthy playboy.



JOSEPH “JOE” WILDER (1922-2014)

The jazz trumpeter known for playing with many famous artists including Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie broke the color barriers of Broadway. He was one of the first African American artists to be a member of the “pit orchestra,” joining the “Guys and Dolls” production in 1950. Wilder also played with television orchestras and was a National Endowment for the Arts.



BERT WILLIAMS (1873-1922)

One of the most popular entertainers in the nation, Williams appeared in numerous Broadway productions and with the Ziegfeld Follies. His trademark character, “Mr. Nobody”, was popular for many years and a staple of the Ziegfeld shows. He was a singer, comedian and all around performer, being the first to take the stage in integrated shows.




Longtime lead trumpet for the Duke Ellington Orchestra, Williams’ signature was his growling, muted horn. His first job as a musician was with the Chick Webb Orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom and then with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. He played with Bennie Goodman when his band performed at Carnegie Hall in 1938. Williams co-authored the jazz classic “Round Midnight” with Thelonius Monk.



James H. Williams rose to prominence as the Chief Porter of the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal. Through his position, he cultivated relationships with society’s elite. Chief Williams was an advocate for the NAACP and the Urban League and organized athletic teams and musical orchestras among the Red Cap Porters. He was a staunch supporter of Black soldiers during both world wars.



One of the founding members of the Clef Club, the first union for black musicians and entertainers, Irving Williams was the last president of the organization. He was known as a “private entertainer,” as he played the piano for what was considered the “smart set” of New York. Every summer for three decades, Williams lived on the Vanderbilt Estate where he was available to play for parties and gatherings in Newport.



HARRY WILLS (1889-1958)

Known as the “Brown Panther”, Wills was a heavyweight fighter who was a leading contender for the title for many years but never allowed to schedule a contest between the races. He never blamed Jack Dempsey for not giving him the chance to fight; he credited Tex Rickard, Dempsey’s manager with blocking the fight. Wills said, “Both my wife and I are sure that Dempsey would have met me for the title, I think Rickard has some feeling about a mixed bout for the world championship.” After retiring from the ring in 1932, Willis bought and maintained an apartment building in Harlem’s Sugar Hill.




The first black Protestant clergyman to preach in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Reverend Wilson served as the president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York and as the chairman of the board of the National Caucus of Black Churchmen. He received degrees from Roger Williams University, the American Baptist Theological Seminary and Benedict College. Wilson was the pastor of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem.



HENRI MAE YOUNGE (1909-1963)

Civic leader and Home Economics consultant for the Department of Welfare, Ms. Younge devoted her career to providing proper nutrition for the poor and to provide training and budget skills for needy Harlem families. A graduate of Howard University, Henri Mae Young worked for the USO during WWII and was an active fundraiser for the NAACP.



ROY INNIS (1934-2017)

Civil rights activist and politician. Mr. Innis was the National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality. Mr. Innis was also a lifelong member and leader of the National Rifle Association and served on its governing board.