By its very nature, any undertaking of this magnitude must be collaborative and expansive. Therefore, in establishing a road map for this important endeavor, the first task was to determine the life-achievement categories.
This task was daunting; the possibilities approached infinity. In the final analysis, a decision was made to select ten broad categories—in no particular order of precedence—that cover the widest scope of human effort: Arts and Entertainment, Business and Entrepreneurship, Communications and Media, Education, Human and Civil Rights, Inventions, Politics and Governance, Religion, Science and Technology, and Sports.
After the categories were defined, the undertaking was to determine who would best qualify as a topten achiever throughout recorded history within each of the respective life-achievement categories. We also considered regional and national proportionality. For instance, the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it claimed 20 percent of the initial list of nominees.
After months, and in some cases, years, we agreed on a list of finalists. To assist in this exercise, a multidisciplinary panel of academics was assembled to delve into the backgrounds and achievements of thirty nominees within each category and narrow down the nominees to fifteen per achievement category. Thereafter, a second panel of multi-ethnic judges—drawn from a wider spectrum of society—was tasked with selecting ten finalists per category, based on one overarching criterion: The contribution of the nominee must have been so significant and so compelling that it helped to advance, change, influence, and impact the world (or a significant part thereof) for the better.
Hopefully, the depth of research that gave rise to this work vindicates the judges’ decisions and helps to fill “history’s black hole.” It is also hoped that this work sparks a new wave of ebony pride, as embodied in the lives and work of these mountain movers—“Greatest Blacks Ever: The Top 100 Blacks Who Changed the World for Peace. Progress. Prosperity. Pleasure.”
Generally, civil rights refer to those statutory rights that grant equal treatment in education, employment, and housing. They extend to freedom of speech, equality in public places, press freedom, voting rights, and the like. Human rights, on the other hand, are universal and inalienable; they apply to all persons equally. If we accept the United States’ Declaration of Independence as a template, human rights center on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Whether civil rights or human rights, a centuries-old struggle endures throughout most of the world in order to guarantee that these freedoms are amplified and expanded. At the same time, needless to say, persistent, entrenched, organized, and deliberate efforts to deny, delay, and derail both civil and human rights ensue.
In Africa (most notably South Africa), Brazil, Britain, the United States, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, a protracted tug of war persisted historically between the oppressors and the oppressed, between the haves and the have-nots, between tyranny and liberty, and between domination and self-actualization.
Injustices included colonialism throughout the world, slavery across North and South America, apartheid in South Africa, Jim Crow laws throughout the southern United States, fascism in Europe, and dictatorship across much of Asia. As it relates to black people, the denial of basic civil and human rights—while today not as stinging and obvious— still lurks in the shadows. There can be no denying that black people across the globe have been the recipients of significant gains as measured by enhanced civil and human rights. But this progress did not come easily.
The blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice of many won these gains. In the arena of civil and human rights, the ten black persons who did most to change the world for the better are as follows: