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African American Resource Center
Black History Month
Living Legends
Living Legends Selected Images

African American Living Legends Series

Event History

In 1979, the Compton Library, a community library member of the County of Los Angeles Public Library, hosted an exhibit titled " The Ten Most Important Blacks in American History," as illustrated by Ebony Magazine's Art Director Herbert Temple. The exhibit was on loan to the library from Home Savings and Loan, the local exhibit sponsor.

The ten Black Americans honored through the exhibit were:

  • Richard Allen
  • Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Dr. William E. B. Du Bois
  • Marcus Garvey
  • Dr. (Rev.) Martin Luther King
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Elijah Muhammad
  • Harriet Tubman
  • Booker T. Washington

James Baldwin, Honoree, Author As a part of the opening ceremonies for the exhibit, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, then County Supervisor for the Fourth District, presented scrolls in recognition of community service to Todd Bridges, to Robert Dekruif of Home Savings and Loan and president of the Ahmanson Foundation, and film television star Esther Rolle.

The event was well attended by the community and served as an inspiration for the development of an annual program to commemorate the contributions of Black Americans.

Marcine Shaw from Supervisor Kenneth Hahn's office, then the County Supervisor for the Second District, and Winnie Jackson of the County of Los Angeles Public Library worked together to develop the first Black History Month celebratory event honoring individuals as the makers of "Living Black History." The event was held at the AC Bilbrew Library and the first honoree was Eubie Blake. This became the "African American Living Legends" Series which honored leaders and visionaries from 1980 to 2008.

View the African American Living Legends Series Program Archive.

Living Legends Honorees, 1980 - 2008

1980: Eubie Blake
1981: Cab Calloway
1982: Count Basie
1983: Black Women in History
Marian Anderson
Lillian Rogers Parks
Rosa Parks
Marnesba Tackett
Sarah Vaughn
Ruth Washington
Vassie Wright
1984: Frances Williams
1985: James Baldwin
Sallie Martin
Dr. Thomas A. Dorsey
1986: Coretta Scott King
1987: Mary Wilson
1988: Gloria Naylor
1989: Delta Sigma Theta
Sorority, Inc
1990: Marla Gibbs
1991: Jester Hairston
1992: Ray Charles
1993: Mayme Clayton
1994: Terry McMillian
1995: LeVar Burton
Mel Carter
Dr. James P. Comer
1996: Dorothy Donegan
James Earl Jones
1997: Johnnie Cochran
Isaac Hayes
1998: Smokey Robinson
1999: Nancy Wilson
2000: Cicely Tyson
2001: Lou Rawls
Herbie Hancock
2002: Walter Mosley
2003: Michael Datcher
Antwone Fisher
2004: Yolanda King
Robert Townsend
2005: Essie Mae Washington-Williams
Etta James
2006: Lerone Bennett
Natalie Cole
2007: Louis Gossett Jr.
Chaka Khan
2008: Angela Bassett
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Della Reese

View selected images from the Living Legends series

Eubie Blake, Honoree, Musician

Cab Calloway, Honoree, Musician