The African Diaspora suffered the loss of many iconic figures. The world lost poet/actress/activist Maya Angelou and actress activist Ruby Dee, one-half of legendary couple Ossie Davis. Poet/activist Amiri Baraka and father of Newark mayor Ras Baraka also passed away. Award-winning author J. California Cooper died at age 82. Cooper won an American Book Award in 1989 for the second of her six story collections, ‘Homemade Love.’ Her short story ‘Funny Valentines,’ about a woman in a troubled marriage was turned into a 1999 television movie starring Alfre Woodard and Loretta Devine. Walter Dean Myers, author of young-adult fiction that featured the stories of African Americans, died at age 76. Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez also died at age 87. The Nobel Laureate wrote such seminal works as ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ and ‘Love in the Time of Cholera.’ Chicago poet and author, Sam Greenlee, best known for his novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door, died in Chicago May 19 at age 83. Author and former Black Panther Wayne Pharr died in September at age 64. Pharr fought the Los Angeles Police in a historic gun battle in 1969 and authored the book Nine Lives of a Black Panther: A Story of Survival.
Celebrated Cuban actress Elizabeth Peña, 55, ‘Designing Women’ actor Meshach Taylor, 67 and rising star Misty Upham of ‘August Osage County’ fame all passed away this year. Oscar nominated actress Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life and Black Caesar) died in January 2014 at 99. Lee Chamberlin, 76, one of the original cast members of the hit PBS children’s show The Electric Company, died. Legendary Trinidadian-American dancer and actor Geoffrey Holder also died as well as Mary Hinkson, a leading dancer in the Martha Graham Dance Co. She was one of the first two African-American dancers to join the legendary troupe. Dominican Republic born fashion icon Oscar de la Renta also passed away. De la Renta designed gowns for U.S. Presidential First Ladies including Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Michelle Obama
Three-time Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, Jamaican-American Michel du Cille died of a heart attack while covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia. Longtime journalist and educator Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr, one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists, died at 89. Morrie Turner, the first African-American comic strip artist who created the Wee Pals comic strip also passed away. Brumsic Brandon, Jr., creator of Luther, one of the first nationally syndicated comic strips to feature a mainly black cast of characters, died in November at 87. Angelo Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Detroit journalist, radio talk show host and co-founder of a prominent community patrol group died at 51. St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bryan Burwell, who regularly appeared on HBO and ESPN, died at 59. Raymond Boone, founder, editor and publisher of Virginia’s Richmond Free Press died in Richmond on June 3.
Controversial yet beloved DC mayor and civil rights activist Marion Barry also passed away after a brief illness in November. The world mourned the loss of Franklin McCain, one of the Greensboro 4 who died and black nationalist icon and mayor of Jackson, Miss., Chokwe Lumumba who transitioned in February. Middleweight boxer, Rueben ‘Hurricane’ Carter, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years for a triple homicide died in April in Toronto. A film starring Academy award-winning actor Denzel Washington as Carter was made in 1999. Former president of Haiti, Jean-Claude Duvalier, known as Baby Doc, died in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in October at the age of 63. Zambian president Michael Sata died in October after receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness.
Herman J. Russell, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who turned a small plastering firm into one of the most successful African-American-owned real estate development and construction companies in America, died at 83 in November in Atlanta. Comer Cottrell, the creator of the wildly popular hair product, the ‘Jheri Curl’ died at his Plano, Texas home at 82. His company became a multimillion dollar entity and and helped launch a billion dollar industry. Cuban architect Ricardo Porro Hudalgo and political activist died on Christmas day at age 89. In 1957, Porro published an article, El sentido de la tradición, calling for a Cuban architecture that recognized the specifics of culture and history, “una arquitectura negra”. He was then forced into exile because of his support of the Cuban Revolution. A painter and sculptor, Porro went on to become one of the most celebrated architects of our time.
Sierra Leone doctor Sheik Humarr Khan, was one of the world’s top Ebola doctors. He died in July while treating victims of the disease. Ghanaian-born activist Efua Dorkenoo, who helped lead the campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa and the Middle East died at 65. Known as ‘Mama Efua’, in 1983 Dorkenoo founded the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD), a British NGO that supports women who have experienced FGM and tries to eliminate the practice.
The blogosphere lamented the deaths of legendary UK dee-jay Roberto Allen of Vibes FM in July and Hip-Hop pioneers Larry Smith and Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson. Smith, one of rap music’s first super producers, was instrumental in launching the careers of acts like Kurtis Blow, Run DMC and Whodini. Jackson, co-founder of the Sugar Hill Gang, died from complications due to cancer in December. The music world also said goodbye to Motown legend Jimmy Ruffin and legendary soul singer Bobby Womack, whose career spanned seven decades and included the ’80s hit ‘If You Think You’re Lonely Now,’ died at age 70. Country singer Kevin Sharp, 43, passed away and Puerto Rican salsa music great José “Cheo” Feliciano died in car crash at age 87. In March, House music legend DJ Frankie Knuckles died at age 59. South African Soul Singer Lulu Dikane died in December at 35 and Rob ‘DJ E-Z Rock’ Bryce, half of hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, passed away at 46. John Blake, Jr., a celebrated jazz violinist, who merged classical technique with spirituals, folk music and blues died at age 67. Jazz trumpeter, composer and big band leader Gerald Wilson whose career spanned eight decades passed away at 96. Legendary pianist and composer Joe Sample passed away in Sept from complications due to lung cancer.
Tony Gwynn, 54, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who played for the San Diego Padres and was considered one of the best hitters in baseball passed away and MLB Rising Star, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, 22, died in a car accident while visiting his home country of the Dominican Republic. Track-and-field legend, Alice Coachman, who became the first black woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics died at age 90. Jamaican born fencer Kamara James, 29 also died. She was one of the youngest fencers to represent the United States at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games at the age 19. Celebrated shot blocker and Philadelphia 76er Caldwell Jones, passed away at 64. South African Soccer Captain Senzo Meyiwa was killed in October by an intruder at the home of his girlfriend, Afropop singer Kelly Khumalo.
William Greaves, documentary filmmaker, producer and host of the groundbreaking TV news program Black Journal died at 88. Pioneering African-American filmmaker Ike Jones died in October. He was the first African-American graduate of UCLA’s prestigious film school and a producer of the film A Man Called Adam, starring Sammy Davis Jr., Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.
The world said ‘goodbye’ to world renowned scholars Ali Mazrui and Stuart Hall. Kenyan-born Mazrui, wrote extensively about African and Islamic studies and North-South relations. Jamaican-born, UK scholar Stuart Hall, often referred to as ‘the godfather of multiculturalism’ died in February.
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