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24 Black Celebs Who Risked Fame & Fortune To Move Us Forward

Portrait of Paul Robeson Smiling for Camera 1926
Paul Robeson

Robeson stands as one of the most accomplished African-American figures to spring forth from the Harlem Renaissance movement early during the1920s. Excelling in both academics and athletics, Robeson would later take on singing and acting on his way to becoming an international sensation.

Robeson also supported pan-Africanism and did his best to be a champion for blacks and other oppressed people. In the political climate of McCarthyism coupled with the Cold War, Robeson was singled out for his outspoken ways. Although by 1950 he was world famous for his portrayal of Othello, he was labeled a communist and barred from obtaining a passport. Later, he was blacklisted from performing in domestic venues and studios.



Fela Kuti

Fela was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer, pioneer of the Afrobeat, human rights activist, and political maverick.

Kuti thought it most important for Africans to fight European cultural imperialism by supporting  traditional African religions and lifestyles. The American Black Power movement also influenced Fela’s political views; he was a supporter of  pan-Africanism and socialism, and called for a united, democratic African republic.

He was a candid supporter of human rights and many of his songs are direct attacks against dictatorships, specifically the militaristic governments of Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1984, Muhammadu Buhari’s government of which Kuti was a vocal opponent, jailed him on a charge of currency smuggling that Amnesty International and other rights groups denounced as politically motivated. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, and his case was also taken up by other groups. After 20 months, he was released from prison by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, leader of a coup against Buhari.


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