Director of Communications
We at The Immigrant Learning Center strive to inform Americans about the economic and social contributions of immigrants in our society. In honor of Black History Month, we are highlighting some Black immigrants that influenced, and are still influencing, the national conversation in this country.
George McKay, Author/ Journalist, 1889 – 1948
Claude McKay is famous for inspiring the Harlem Renaissance, a prominent literary movement of the 1920s. A prolific author, he wrote his first poem at the age of ten. He arrived in South Carolina from Jamaica in 1912 and published his first poems in 1917. His most famous poem, If We Must Die, was published in 1919 during “Red Summer,” a period of intense racial violence against Black people. Although he was known for the directness with which he wrote of racial issues, this poem spoke to resistance movements worldwide, and was even quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II. McKay’s most successful novel, Home to Harlem, gained recognition as the first commercially successful novel by a Black writer. Current scholars recognize him as a fixture of African-American studies. His last novel, Amiable With Big Teeth, was published posthumously in 2017.
Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael), Civil Rights Activist / Author, 1941–1998
Ture came to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago at age 11 and he became a U.S. citizen at the age of 13. While a student at Howard University, Ture was jailed for 49 days in Jackson Mississippi for his participation in one of the first Freedom Rides. Being only 19, he was the youngest Freedom Rider to be imprisoned. Undeterred, he stayed active in Freedom Rides and demonstrations before obtaining his degree in philosophy with honors in 1964. In 1965, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent him to “Bloody Lowndes” County, Alabama, which was famous for lynchings. Although the population was 80 percent Black, there was only one Black registered voter. In one year, Ture managed to raise the number of registered Black voters to exceed the number of White voters by 300. In 1970, that original Black registered voter, John Hulett, was elected sheriff. Ture became the chairman of SNCC, and in 1966 led a group of volunteers in the March Against Fear. It was there he coined the phrase “Black Power.” In his 1968 book with Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, the term is defined as, ”a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations.” He and Hamilton are also credited with coining the phrase institutional racism in that same book.
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Author / Activist / Educator, 1977 –
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award-winning, bestselling the author and MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow whose work has been translated into more than 30 languages. Her work, tackles themes such as politics, religion and love in contexts such as the Nigerian civil war, the immigrant experience in the United States and feminism. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria for a scholarship in the United States. She graduated summa cum laude in communication and political science from Eastern Connecticut State University and went on to earn master’s degrees in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and African Studies from Yale University, all while writing and publishing. Most American student between 14 and 22 have been assigned her work. Adichie has been invited to speak around the world. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has been viewed more than 2 million times, started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014. In Sweden, it was distributed to every 16-year-old high-school student. Parts of the speech were even featured in Beyoncé’s song Flawless. Adichie’s most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017.
Because of the legacy of slavery, voluntary Black immigration is a relatively recent, although growing, development. Immigrants from Africa were among the fastest-growing groups within the U.S. foreign-born population from 2000 to 2009. The Census Bureau projects by 2060 the share of Black Americans who are immigrants will rise to 16.5 percent. That means we will continue to look forward to important economic and social contributions from both native- and foreign-born Black Americans.