Celebrating Black History: Unsung Pioneers Across NBA Cities

Celebrating Black History: Unsung Pioneers Across NBA Cities

NBA.com turns its focus to the remarkable stories of local African American pioneers in every city graced by an NBA team.

As the nation commemorates Black History Month, NBA.com proudly spotlights the incredible stories of local African American pioneers in each city graced by an NBA team. The organization delves into the lives of those who in both significant and subtle ways have shaped the communities surrounding NBA teams. From civil rights activists and business owners to politicians and artists, the following individuals broke barriers amid tumultuous racism in the United States.

In Atlanta, Herman J. Russell emerged from poverty to reshape the city’s skyline, breaking racial and economic barriers in the process. A pioneer in real estate and construction, Russell’s impact reached iconic landmarks like Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport and the Georgia Dome. His legacy extends beyond business, as he also provided bail money for civil rights leaders during the 1950s and ’60s.

Boston’s Mel King, a community organizer and civil rights icon, fought to prevent a parking garage from displacing Black and brown occupants. His dedication transcended time and influences Boston’s urban renewal plans today.

In Charlotte, Harvey Gantt, the first Black mayor, co-founded an architecture firm focused on community-oriented building designs, contributing to Queen City’s progress.

Chicago boasts Tammera L. Holmes, founder of AeroStar, an aviation company providing opportunities for underrepresented youth in STEM fields.

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s Carl Burton Stokes, the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city, pioneered a progressive approach, addressing issues like environmental pollution and urban poverty.

Dr. Opal Lee in Dallas, the grandmother of Juneteenth, played a pivotal role in making it a federal holiday.

In Denver, Wilma J. Webb, a former state representative, broke barriers in the Colorado Joint Budget Committee and played a crucial role in establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Detroit’s Ossian Sweet, a physician, confronted racial tensions by purchasing a house in an all-white neighborhood, leading to a racially charged trial.

In Houston, Lonnie Smith, a dentist, helped overturn Texas laws allowing “whites-only” primaries, marking a significant legal victory for the NAACP.

In Indiana, William Edouard Scott, an artist and educator, challenged the demoralizing depictions of Black life in art.

Los Angeles honors Bridget “Biddy” Mason, a former slave who became one of the city’s largest landowners and a community benefactor.

Memphis remembers Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist who faced discrimination on a train but went on to co-found the NAACP.

Miami’s Dr. Marvin Dunn, a historian, founded the Miami Center for Racial Justice, fostering dialogue on racial issues.

Milwaukee’s Vel Phillips, a politician and civil rights activist, achieved numerous firsts, becoming the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Wisconsin.

Minnesota honors Josie Robinson Johnson, a civil rights activist who played a vital role in developing African American and African studies at the University of Minnesota.

In New Orleans, Dr. Norman C. Francis, an educator, served as the first Black president at Xavier University of Louisiana, contributing to desegregation efforts and post-Katrina recovery.

New York’s Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, has dedicated more than seven decades to racial equality and civic engagement.

Oklahoma City recognizes Clara Shepard Luper, an educator and civil rights pioneer known as the mother of civil rights in Oklahoma.

Orlando celebrates David Ayala, an activist and organizer who champions the rights of people with criminal convictions.

In Philadelphia, Charisse McGill, an entrepreneur, became the first Black woman to own and operate a food establishment at a popular location.

Phoenix honors Lincoln Ragsdale, a Tuskegee airman and advocate who funded a lawsuit leading to the desegregation of schools.

Portland’s Winta Yohannes, a community organizer, leads the Albina Vision Trust, countering anti-Black racism in urban planning.

Sacramento remembers Dr. William H. Lee, founder of Sacramento’s first Black newspaper, The Sacramento Observer.

Salt Lake City recognizes Mignon Barker Richmond, the first Black woman to graduate from college in Utah, who initiated Utah’s first school lunch program in 1948.

San Antonio celebrates Aaronetta Pierce, an advocate for African American arts and a pioneer in owning a professional basketball team.

The San Francisco Bay Area honors Julian and Raye Gilbert Richardson, founders of the oldest remaining Black-owned bookstore in the United States.

Toronto pays tribute to Lincoln Alexander, Canada’s first Black member of Parliament and federal cabinet minister.

Washington, D.C., commemorates Benjamin Banneker, an astronomer and mathematician who helped map out the boundaries for the nation’s capital.

Their remarkable stories underscore the diversity and strength of Black pioneers across the NBA’s 28 markets, enriching the tapestry of American history and inspiring generations to come.

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