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Sports Spotlight

Jack Johnson (1878-1946)

Known as the "Galveston Giant," boxer Jack Johnson was one of the most famous black athletes in America. With the Jim Crow era in full force, Johnson's 1910 boxing match with undefeated white opponent James J. Jeffries was coined the "fight of the century." After Johnson knocked Jeffries out in the 15th round, race riots exploded all over the country.
Source: Biography 

Jesse Owens (1913-1980)

Owens, who specialized in sprints and the long jump, was a four-time Olympic gold medalist at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. At the 1935 Big Ten Championships, he set a record of 26 feet, 8 ¼ inches in the long jump that stood for almost 25 years. 
Source:  MSN 

Joe Louis (1914-1981)

Joe Louis became boxing's heavyweight champion with his defeat of James J. Braddock in 1937. Nicknamed the "Brown Bomber," his knockout of Germany's Max Schmeling in 1938 made him a national hero, and he established a record by retaining the championship for nearly 12 years. He is now considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers in U.S. sporting history.
Source: Biography 

Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)

Robinson was a professional baseball second baseman. In 1947, he became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. In 1949, he was awarded the National League Most Valuable Player, making him the first black player to receive this honor. He also helped the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series championship. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. He was not only a distinguished player but also a vocal civil rights activist. 
Source: Biography 

Charlie Sifford (1922-2015)

The first black golfer in the PGA, Sifford turned pro in 1948; he won the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and 1969 Los Angeles Open. In 1961, Sifford was the first African American to join the PGA tour. He was among the top 60 winners on tour for the next nine years. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Source: African American Golfers Digest

Althea Gibson (1927-2003)

In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title. Gibson’s success continued into the women’s doubles final at Wimbledon, as well. In 1957, Gibson won the U.S. National Championships, becoming the first African American to do so. Gibson was also the first African American to play in the Australian Open championship. In 1958, Althea Gibson repeated as both U.S. National and Wimbledon champion.  
Source: The Undefeated, 

Bill Russell (1934- )

A legend for his defense, rebounds, and shot-blocking, Bill Russell was largely considered the top player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history for decades until Michael Jordan came onto the scene in the 1980s. As the center for the Boston Celtics, Russell helped his team win 11 championships in 13 seasons. Starting in 1966, he served as player-coach for the Celtics, thus becoming the first black coach in the NBA and the first one to win an NBA championship. He also was the captain of the U.S. national basketball team that won gold at the 1956 Olympics.  
Source: Biography

Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994)

Rudolph was a sickly child who had to wear a brace on her leg. She overcame her disabilities to compete in the 1956 Summer Olympic Games, and in 1960, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics. Later in life, she formed the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to promote amateur athletics. 
Source: Biography

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Arguably the greatest professional boxer of all time, Ali is the only athlete to become a three-time lineal heavyweight champion, winning the coveted title in 1964, 1974, and 1978. Nicknamed “The Greatest,” the Olympic gold-winning boxer was named sports personality of the century by the BBC, the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, and the third greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN. Some of his greatest matches include the championship match against Sonny Liston in 1964, the “Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier in 1971, and the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman in 1974.  
Source:  MSN 

Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)

Known for his quiet but resolute demeanor, Arthur Ashe is still the only African American male tennis player to have won singles titles in the U.S. Open (1968), the Australian Open (1970), and Wimbledon (1975). The same year he won his first Grand Slam title, he was also ranked the top tennis player in the world. Ashe wasn't only a record-breaking tennis player, but he was also known for his activism off the courts. He helped organize tennis programs for inner-city youth and publicly denounced apartheid in South Africa. After contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion during a heart procedure in the 1980s, Ashe spoke out about his diagnosis in 1992 and launched an AIDS foundation for further research.
Source: Biography

Florence Griffith Joyner (1959-1998)

Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner still holds the world records in the 100- and 200-meter events that she set in 1988, making her the fastest woman of all time. She was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1995. 
Source: Biography 

Michael Jordan (1963- )

Nicknamed Air Jordan or His Airness, Jordan’s leaping ability made him world famous and also helped popularize the NBA. As a Chicago Bulls player for 12 years, Jordan achieved five Most Valuable Player Awards, 10 All-NBA First Team designations, six NBA championships, and two NBA Slam Dunk contest championships. He is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Jordan’s Legends profile on the NBA’s History website refers to him as “the greatest basketball player of all time.”
Source:  MSN

Kobe Bryant (1978-2020)

Kobe Bean Bryant became one of the NBA’s most popular players during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. In 1996, at age 18, he entered the NBA after high school and became (at that time) the youngest player in NBA history. Among his many athletic achievements, Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, won five NBA championships, is fourth on the NBA career scoring list, and was a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He was also the first African American to win an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film (for 2017’s Dear Basketball) and the first former professional athlete to be nominated for or win an Academy Award. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other people died tragically in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2020.
Source, ESPN

Serena Williams (1981- )

Williams’ resume includes 23 Grand Slam singles titles (the record), six U.S. Opens, seven Wimbledon titles, seven Australian Opens, three French Opens, four Olympic gold medals, 23 doubles titles, and a career Golden Slam. 
Source: The Undefeated 44 

Allyson Felix (1985- )

American runner Allyson Felix has won nine Olympic medals, making her tied for the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history. At just 18 years old, Felix competed in her first Olympics, the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. In 2005, she became the youngest champion to compete at the World Championships, and two years later, she became only the second female to win three gold medals at a single World Championships. With her first-place victories in 2012, Felix became the first American woman to win three gold medals at an Olympics since Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Olympics. Felix has won the Athlete of the Year Award from USATF more than any other person.
Source: Biography 

Gabby Douglas (1995- )

Dubbed "The Flying Squirrel" for her high leaps in competition, Gabby Douglas is a multiple gold medal-winning world champion and Olympian. In 2012, she made history at the London Olympics when she became the first person of color to become the Individual All-Around Champion. Four years later, Douglas competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and helped her team (aka "The Final Five") win another gold for their team event.
Source:  Biography

Wilma Rudolph photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license. | Michael Jordan photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. | Kobe Bryant photo credit: Ovidiu Hrubaru / | Serena Williams photo credit: lev radin / | Allyson Felix photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. | Gabby Douglas photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license; Attribution: Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil