This year, we lost many of our black firsts, black female firsts, survivors of tragedies, civil rights activists, world-changers, record-making athletes and globally renowned artists. From Aretha Franklin to Craig Mack to Ntozake Shange to Nancy Wilson to Winnie Mandela, our loss was great.
As we enter another year, where the fight for equality, dignity and freedom is necessary to our survival, let’s remember those who made an impact—both good and bad—and fought for us to be where we are, paved paths for us to follow or simply tried to live in their truth in an ever-hostile world, where the issue of whether black lives do matter is still a topic of debate.
The R&B singer rose to fame in the late 1960s after moving to Chicago and singing with Chess Records. LaSalle is known for her hit songs “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” and “Now Run and Tell That,” among others. She died Jan. 8 at the age of 78 in Jackson, Tenn.
A civil rights attorney, activist and icon, Freeman was born in segregated Virginia in 1916. After graduating from Howard University law school in 1947, she had a tough time finding a job as a lawyer. Two years later, she became legal counsel for the NAACP in its suit against the St. Louis Board of Education, and in 1954, was lead attorney in Davis v. the St. Louis Housing Authority, which ended legal racial discrimination in the city. Freeman was the first woman appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, a position she held for 13 years over four presidencies. She died in St. Louis on Jan. 12 at 101 years old.
Dubbed the “founder of modern gospel,” this composer, keyboardist, arranger, and choirmaster is best known for the crossover hit “Oh Happy Day,” which became a million-seller in 1969. Hawkins’ experience goes back to his childhood when he used to perform with his family and in church groups. In 2007, he was voted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. He died after a battle with pancreatic cancer on Jan. 15 in Pleasanton, Calif.
Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, White earned two NBA championship rings as a point guard for the Boston Celtics. He was also a former Public High League star. In 1968, he led the U.S. men’s basketball team to the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. He died in Boston on Jan. 16 due to complications from dementia after developing pneumonia.
Born in Memphis, Tenn., this Emmy-Award winning actress was trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Known for her roles in the films Roots (as Matilda, Chicken George’s wife) and The Women of Brewster Place, Cole’s other credits include L.A. Law, Murder, She Wrote and Backstairs at the White House. She died on Jan. 19 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, at the age of 75.
A trumpeter, composer, flugelhorn player, bandleader, singer and political activist, Masekela’s song “Grazing in the Grass” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1968. The legendary South African jazz musician collaborated with artists ranging from Harry Belafonte to Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Fela Kuti, and more. He died in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Jan. 23 at the age of 78.
Born on Aug. 16, 1929, in Brockton, Mass., Walker’s grandparents were slaves. A civil rights advocate, he was the first board chairman for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and was heavily involved in civil rights efforts, from working with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for desegregation to fighting against housing discrimination. He also helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, and was described by Martin Luther King Jr. as “one of the keenest minds of the nonviolent revolution.” He died on Jan. 23 in Chester, Va., at 88 years old.
The Motown vocalist became part of the Temptations in 1968, adding his distinctive croon to the group’s hits, including “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Edwards was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Temptation in 1989. He died in Chicago on Feb. 1 after a long illness. Edwards was 74 years old.
A jazz drummer, producer and session musician, Chancler played the drums during the recording sessions that generated three tracks for Michael Jackson’s Thriller album—“P.Y.T,” “Baby Be Mine” and “Billie Jean.” His six-decade career includes collaborations or performances with legends such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Hugh Masekela, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Ritchie, James Brown, Tina Turner and the list goes on. He died on Feb. 3 at the age of 65, in Los Angeles.
Described as low-key, the 36-year-old is recorded as the first black transgender woman killed this year. On Feb. 4, Walker was found shot to death in Jacksonville, Fla., at an Extended Stay America hotel around 8 p.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Walker’s murder was the second trans killing that week.
This year, five transgender black women were killed in Florida, and three of them were shot and killed in Jacksonville. Local activists fear that the murders are the work of a serial killer, or of targeted violence.
According to GLAAD, in 2017, 26 transgender people were killed in the United States, and out of the 21 deaths recorded, 19 are transgender people of color, with nearly all of the victims being transgender women of color. 2018 is on pace to meet or exceed this number.
A natural-born athlete, Jackson was a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts. He was a former walk-on at Georgia Southern University, then moved up to become the starting linebacker during his last two years. After graduating, he accepted a free-agent offer with the Arizona Cardinals, then signed a deal with the Colts, where he started in 2016. On Feb. 4, he died in a car accident in Indianapolis. He was 26 years old.
Known as “Kita” to her friends, Harvey was shot and killed on Feb. 6 around 5:30 p.m. on a dead-end street in Buffalo, N.Y. She was the fourth transgender person to be killed in 2018, and her death is being investigated as a hate crime. She was 35 years old.
Shipley, who called for peace in the wake of his stepson Freddie Gray’s death, died on Feb. 6 at 60 years old. Also known as Rick, he was recognized for his calm response to Gray’s death as a result of injuries sustained while in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department.
Smith was a legendary emcee and DJ from the Bronx who arrived at the birth of the hip-hop scene in the 1970s and was often discussed along with pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc. A DJ at the Disco Fever Club, his most popular singles were “Gangster Rock” and “Dancin’ Party People.” He died Feb. 8 in Las Vegas of a heart attack. He was 57 years old.
Born Reginald Eugene Cathey in 1958, he began his acting career in 1984. His best-known television roles were Norman Wilson on The Wire, Martin Querns on Oz and Freddy Hayes on House of Cards. In 2014 and 2016, he received Emmy nominations for his role as Freddy, winning for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama for the role in 2015. Last year, he made an appearance in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, co-starring Oprah Winfrey. He died in New York City on Feb. 9 at 59 years old after a long battle with lung cancer.
An executive editor of Ebony magazine, where he worked for 52 years, Bennett was an enthusiast of African-American history. In 2006, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. A year later, the author, historian, and journalist was honored with a resolution from the State Senate in his home state of Mississippi. On Feb. 14, he died peacefully of advanced vascular dementia at his home in Chicago, at the age of 89.
This art collector, educator, civil rights activist, philanthropist and socialite was a staunch advocate for education and arts in Washington, D.C. She created one of America’s leading arts-intensive high schools—the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and was the D.C. school board president for six years. Cafritz was not only the youngest person to serve as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, but she also won multiple Emmys and a Peabody Award for her documentary and arts reviewer work. On Feb. 18, at 70 years old, she died in the city she dedicated her life to. The cause was complications from pneumonia.
A devoted hairstylist, Mitchell, a trans woman, was shot and killed in Cleveland on Feb. 23. Her longtime partner, Shane Mitchell, suspected that her slaying was drug-related, and police confirmed that it was. She was 46 years old.
The fourth child and third daughter of Bill Cosby who was also an actress, died Feb. 23 due to renal disease while awaiting a kidney transplant, in Massachusetts. She was 44 years old.
A longtime stage actor in Chicago, Brown played Connie, the assistant to character Chief Boden on the NBC series, Chicago Fire. Her previous TV credits include the recurring role of Katie Welch for 13 episodes on Prison Break, in addition to one-time guest spots on Empire and Shameless. On March 3, Brown died in Olympia Fields, Ill., at the age of 49. Her cause of death was sepsis of unknown etiology.
One of the last surviving Tuskegee Airman, Carter was part of the famous U.S. Army Air Corps unit who had to overcome the challenges of being black in a segregated nation and military, while fighting against that same nation’s enemies. He not only served during World War II and Vietnam later, but he had a long career as a police detective in New York City, with 26 years in that job. Carter died on March 3 at the age of 95.
One of the first artists signed to Diddy’s label Bad Boy, Mack made his way to fame with his 1994 single “Flava in Ya Ear.” The rapper is considered a pioneer of hip-hop, using his unique flow and clever language to craft pictures in listeners’ minds. Mack died in Walterboro, S.C., on March 12 due to congestive heart failure. He was 46 years old.
On March 18, the 22-year-old was in his grandparents’ backyard in Sacramento, Calif., when he was shot and killed by two Sacramento police officers. They fired 20 shots hitting him eight times, saying that they feared for their safety. It turned out that Clark had a cell phone in his hand. The Sacramento Police Department completed its investigation of the shooting on Oct. 16, but the officers have not been charged. In September, Clark’s family filed paperwork for a lawsuit seeking more than $15 million in wrongful death damages.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist was an investigative reporter, respected editor and columnist for Newsday, and co-founder and fourth president of the National Association of Black Journalists. From involuntary sterilization to Long Island migrant farm workers, the Black Panther Party and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Payne covered various aspects of American life. He died in Harlem, N.Y., on March 19 after a massive heart attack. He was 76 years old.
A musician, composer and music scholar, Wilson grew up listening to jazz and spirituals. He often fused African, African-American and electronic rhythms, riffs and sounds with Western classical traditions to create his unique style. Wilson opened an electronic music studio at the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College in Ohio—where he formerly taught—and wrote several academic papers, including one on the art of black music. The artist whose music was played by orchestras around the world died at the age of 80 on March 23 in Oakland, Calif., due to complications of dementia.
When Linda was in third grade, her father, Oliver Brown, attempted to enroll her in Sumner Elementary, one of 18 all-white schools near their home in Topeka, Kan. His request was denied, and he was told to send her to one of the four black schools in the area. Oliver filed a lawsuit, which became the basis of the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. The Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, thus legally ending school segregation. Brown died in Topeka on March 25 at 76 years old.
On March 26 around 1:15 a.m., officers responded to the Shades Motel in Baton Rouge, La., where Berryman’s body was found with gunshot injuries. A transgender woman remembered by friends as “a sweet person with a big heart,” Berryman died at 28 years old.
The 29-year-old transgender woman was found dead on April 1 in rural Chesterfield County, S.C. Wall was fatally shot and her body was discovered in her car on the side of a road.
An icon of the fight against South African apartheid, this activist, who was the former wife of Nelson Mandela, the first black president in South Africa’s history, died April 2 in Johannesburg, South Africa, after a long undisclosed illness. She was 81 years old.
Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, this musician was known as the “King of Bubu Music,” which is a blend of traditional folk and witchcraft from northern Sierra Leone. Nabay used Bubu music to spread his message about stopping the decade-long civil war in the ’90s and developed an original take on the music by adding electric studio instrumentation. He died April 2 in his birthplace at 54 years old after a short illness.
A pianist and pioneer of free jazz who started playing the piano at six years old, Taylor was an icon who used the entire range of the instrument to create music. He died April 5 in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the age of 89.
The first black man to direct and choreograph a Broadway musical—Raisin, his musical based on Lorraine Hansberry’s classic drama, A Raisin in the Sun—McKayle was also one of the first choreographers to interlace the African-American experience and dance. Raisin earned a Tony Award in 1974 for best musical. He died April 6 in Irvine, Calif., due to complications of pneumonia. He was 87 years old.
Staples was a background singer and business manager for her family’s musical group, The Staple Singers. The ensemble was formed in 1948 by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and their hits, which are a blend of gospel, soul and pop, include “Respect Yourself,” “Let’s Do It Again,” and “I’ll Take You There.” In 1999, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2005, they received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys. Yvonne died April 10 in Chicago at the age of 80 from colon cancer.
Ward was a loyal supporter of racial and economic equality, who began her fight for social justice with the NAACP in Indianapolis in the late 1960s, opposing the Ku Klux Klan. She started her political career in 1972, and became the first African-American president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1990. She died April 14 in San Francisco after a brief illness at 86 years old.
This NBA player spent 15 seasons with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers, finishing his career with a record 21,586 points. The Hall of Fame guard is also the 76ers’ career leading scorer in field goals, field goals attempted, games and minutes played. Greer died on April 14 in Arizona after a brief illness. He was 81 years old.
A pioneer in civil and human rights in Milwaukee, Phillips’ career was full of firsts. She was the first black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1951; in 1956, she became the first woman and first African-American to sit on Milwaukee’s City Council; she was the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first African-American judge in Wisconsin; and from 1979 to 1983, she was the first female and nonwhite secretary of state in Wisconsin. Phillips died on April 17 at 95 years old in Milwaukee.
The R&B and jazz musician, a member of the Neville Brothers, was known onstage as “Charlie the horn man.” Neville played the saxophone, which earned him and the group a Grammy in 1989 for his solo on the song “Healing Chant.” On April 26, he died in Huntington, Mass., from pancreatic cancer. He was 79 years old.
Christened the father of black liberation theology, Dr. James Hal Cone was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Northwestern University in 1963. Cone is author of more than a dozen books, including Black Theology & Black Power, The Cross and the Lynching Tree and God of the Oppressed. His last book, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian, was published posthumously. Cone was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church, and the Bill and Judith Moyers Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He died April 28 at Sloan Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He was 79 years old.
Born in Jackson, Ala., in 1938, Starks taught himself how to play drum using a do-it-yourself set up including a bass and snare drum tied to a chair, with cymbals on a dinner tray table. In the ’60s and ’70s, he played with James Brown, helping the singer, songwriter, musician and dancer create some of his biggest hits. Starks played alongside original “Funky Drummer” Clyde Stubblefield, and worked on some of Brown’s most classic songs, including “I Got the Feelin,’” “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “Super Bad.” After battling leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome, Starks died May 1 in Mobile, Ala., at 79 years old.
At three years old, Daniels was carried away by her mother and sister through a swamp and onto a train to escape the Rosewood Massacre in January 1923. In Levy County, Fla., a white mob formed following a false claim that a black man sexually assaulted a white woman. The city of Rosewood was destroyed and anywhere from six to 100 black people were killed. No one was charged in the devastation, and Daniels was the last known survivor. She died May 2 in Jacksonville, Fla., from lung cancer at the age of 98.
A transgender woman described as a “motivated, happy girl that loved to sing,” Hall’s body was found floating in White Rock Creek in Dallas on May 12. She was 39 years old.
An active participant in Atlanta’s ballroom scene, Fortson, also known as “Nino Starr” and “Nino Blahnik” might have identified with both he/him and she/her pronouns. A member of the House of Blahnik, a national organization serving LGBTQ performers of color, Fortson was known for walking in the “Butch Realness” segment. On May 13, Fortson, 36, was fatally shot during an argument in Atlanta.
With a career that spanned nearly 50 years, Roundtree was a Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyer and civil rights activist who played a part in desegregating interstate bus travel. She mostly defended poor African-American clients, including black churches, community groups and some politicians. She mentored several generations of black lawyers, too. On May 21, at the age of 104, she died in Charlotte, N.C., due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
A transgender woman remembered by family and friends as a strong personality and good friend, English was an entertainer and performer at InCahoots, a gay nightclub in Jacksonville, Fla. She died in a local hospital on June 1 after being shot. She was 38 years old. She was the second reported trans person killed in Jacksonville this year.
At the age of eight, the singer was enrolled in the Alabama Institute for the Negro Deaf and Blind. He and five friends from the school’s choir formed the Happy Land Jubilee Singers, which toured during the ’40s, recording the 1948 hit “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine.” They changed their name to the Blind Boys of Alabama and later performed at benefits for Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Fountain died June 3 in Baton Rouge, La., at 88 years old.
A poet and musician, Nuriddin was part of the spoken-word group the Last Poets, earning him the title “Grandfather of Rap.” He contributed to the group’s debut album, in addition to its follow up album, “This is Madness.” Together, these albums are considered the beginnings of hip-hop. At 74 years old, Nuriddin died on June 4 in Atlanta.
Born in Fountain Hill, Ark., in 1929, the renowned talent manager and patriarch of the Jackson family, most notably including Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, was behind the most successful musical family in pop history. On June 7, he died from pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles. He was 89 years old.
The former insurance salesman-turned-opera singer was the 2008 winner of America’s Got Talent Season 3, collecting a $1 million prize and wowing audiences. Boyd died June 10 at 42 years old in Sikeston, Mo. His cause of death was heart failure, kidney failure and liver disease.
A civil rights activist and leader during the civil rights movement, Cotton was part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle. The only woman on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s head staff, she developed and implemented the organization’s citizenship education program for 12 years. Not only was she the executive education director for SCLC, but she organized many of the marches and protest actions throughout the South in the early 1960s, including the 1963 marches in Birmingham, Ala. Cotton died on June 10 at 88 years old in Ithaca, N.Y.
A transgender woman, Stephens was shot while driving home to get ready for work, according to her family. Her body was found with a gunshot wound in the back of her head, and police suspect that one or more people might have been present at the time of her death. She died at 39 years old in Meridian, Miss., on June 18.
A guitarist, Murphy was a veteran of the legendary Chicago blues scene of the ’40s and ’50s. He worked with several iconic artists, including Ike Turner (they were members of Junior Park’s Blue Flames), Etta James, James Cotton and Willie Dixon. He performed with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Memphis Slim. He is most remembered for his role as the game-changing guitarist in the 1980 comedy classic The Blues Brothers. He died June 18 in Miami at 88 years old.
On June 18, the rapper, whose real name is Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy, made recent headlines after reports surfaced of his alleged violence towards women, was shot in Deerfield Beach, Fla., while shopping for motorcycles. He died at the age of 20.
On June 19, Rose, who was unarmed, was shot by East Pittsburgh, Pa., Officer Michael Rosfeld while fleeing during a traffic stop. He died later at a hospital at 17 years old. A week later, Officer Rosfeld was charged with criminal homicide, and in December, it was reported that Rose’s parents are suing the University of Pittsburgh—Rosfeld’s former employer—for failing to discipline him or document performance issues in his personnel file, which would have kept the police department from hiring him.
On June 24 around 1 p.m., officers responded to a call at a hotel and discovered James, who was found shot. The 24-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. She was the third transgender woman to be killed in Jacksonville, Fla., this year.
Described as a funny storyteller by friends, Wells was the second transgender woman to be killed in Cleveland in four months. On June 24, she was found dead around 7 a.m. in the parking lot of an apartment complex, and police said she died due to a gunshot wound to the abdomen. Wells was 54 years old.
Honeycutt, a former basketball player for the UCLA Bruins and Sacramento Kings, died on July 7 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to police, after a nine-hour standoff in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 27 years old.
Knight played for UCLA from 1998-2002, and entered the 2001 NBA Draft where he went undrafted. On July 8, the Phoenix Fire department found Knight’s body at on a Phoenix, Ariz., roadway. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the Maricopa County medical examiner listed his cause of death as “suicide by multiple blunt force injuries.” He died at the age of 39.
Bowen was a dancer, teacher, scholar and activist for lesbian, black and feminist issues and founded the Bowen/Peters School of Dance in New Haven, Conn., which she ran from 1963 to 1982, with her ex-husband Ken Peters. In 2013, Bowen married Jennifer Lynn Abod, who directed a 2016 documentary on Bowen’s life titled The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen. Bowen died in Long Beach, Calif., on July 12 at 82 years old after suffering from Alzheimer’s.
On July 19, Garden, a transgender woman, was killed in Orlando, Fla. Authorities haven’t released details regarding the circumstances of her death, which is the fourth reported homicide of a transgender woman in Florida this year. She was 27 years old.
On July 22, Wilson and her two sisters were attacked by a knife-wielding white man at a BART station in Oakland, Calif. Wilson, who was 18, died immediately. One of her sisters was injured but survived; the other sister was unharmed. Despite mainstream media’s efforts to question her character, black celebrities, artists and others step in to praise her name and to remind the world that Wilson was an innocent young woman who had dreams of creating her own makeup line and owning a dance studio. Her alleged killer, John Cowell, who faces several charges including first-degree murder, could, if convicted, get the death penalty.
The first African-American elected in a white-majority congressional district in California and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus was known for his efforts to enact U.S. sanctions against South Africa for apartheid. An anti-Vietnam war candidate, Dellums retired from the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 after 27 years of service. He died July 30 in Washington, D.C. following a battle with cancer at the age of 82.
On March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tenn., the one and only Queen of Soul was born, gifting the world with her soon-to-be rhythm and blues, gospel and jazz magic. Between 1967 and 1974, she recorded several soul and pop hits, including “Respect,” which topped the pop and R&B charts in the spring of ’67, “Chain of Fools,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and more. Named “the greatest singer of all time” by Rolling Stone in 2010, Franklin influenced some of the greatest singers ever—from Whitney Houston to Mary J. Blige and Alicia Keys. She won 18 Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2012, she was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. After battling advanced pancreatic cancer, Franklin died Aug. 16 in Detroit at 76 years old.
A recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Annan was a former secretary-general of the United Nations. Born in Kumasi, Ghana, in 1938, he fought for a fair and peaceful world. He died Aug. 18 in Bern, Switzerland, after a short illness. He was 80 years old.
“Sweet” and “special” are words family used to describe Stanton, a transgender woman. On Aug. 30, she was found with a gunshot wound to her head and transported to a Stroger Hospital in Chicago where she was pronounced dead. She died at 24 years old.
Bell was a transgender woman who was shot multiple times in a Shreveport, La., neighborhood. Her body was found lying in the street by police, who rushed her to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She also died on Aug. 30 at 18 years old.
A pianist and composer, Weston devoted more than 50 years to the exploration of jazz’s roots in Africa. He not only carried on the traditions of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, but he brought them to life in his music, particularly with his band, African Rhythms. Weston won a Doris Duke Artist Award in 2014, and in 2016, his musical scores, correspondence, recordings and other items were acquired by Harvard Library. He died Sept. 1 in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the age of 92.
On Sept. 5 around 1 a.m., Tucker, a transgender woman, had an argument with someone in a black pickup truck. As she was running away from the vehicle, the driver of the truck shot her in the back at least once, according to police. She was taken to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia . where she was pronounced dead approximately five hours later. She was 30 years old.
On Sept. 6, Jean was in his Dallas apartment when he was shot and killed by ex-Dallas Police Department Officer Amber Guyger. Off-duty at the time of the shooting, Guyger claimed that she had mistaken Jean’s apartment for hers, and shot him thinking he was an intruder. She called 911, and paramedics took Jean to Baylor University Medical Center, where he died at 26 years old. Guyger was initially charged with manslaughter, but in November, a grand jury indicted her on murder charges.
The multi-Emmy nominated and winning writer-producer worked on shows such as MASH, Good Times, Maude, Alf, The Cosby Show, A Different World and Home Improvement. Mumford had a knack for writing jokes and punch lines with swift delivery. After a long undisclosed illness, he died on Sept. 6 in Silver Spring, Md. He was 67 years old.
On Sept. 8, North Port Police received a call about a person lying face down in a street in the Port Charlotte, Fla., area. The person was identified as Moore, a transgender woman whose car was missing at the time she was discovered but found the next day. According to police, she died of a gunshot wound, at the age of 20.
The first and only woman to win both Miss USA and Miss Universe titles, Smith was also the first African-American woman in 15 years to be awarded the Miss Universe title in 1995, which was the year she was crowned. Smith often used her influence to highlight causes she cared about, particularly racism. After a year-long battle with liver cancer, she died at 45 years old on Sept. 8 in Redwood City, Calif.
A pioneering guitarist of Chicago blues, Rush began teaching himself how to play the guitar at eight years old. His first recording on Cobra Records was titled “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B Charts. In 1996, his album Any Place I’m Goin’ won him a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. Rush died on Sept. 29 in Chicago due to complications related to a stroke he suffered in 2003. He was 84 years old.
A transgender woman, Frazier was a regular participant in Chicago’s LGBTQ ballroom scene. On Oct. 3, her body was found with stab wounds behind an abandoned building. According to police, she was stabbed by a person she was arguing with. Pronounced dead at the scene, she was 31 years old.
Taliaferro was the first black man drafted by the NFL. The Chicago Bears wanted him on the team, but he had already signed with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference. His NFL career began in 1950 when he played with the New York Yanks (1950-1951), then the Dallas Texans (1952), Baltimore Colts (1953-1954), and finally the Philadelphia Eagles (1955). He played seven positions and ended his career with unprecedented stats. Taliaferro died on Oct. 8 in Bloomington, Ind., at the age of 91.
An engineer, Montague transformed the way U.S. Navy ships are designed. She spent 33 years working for the Navy as an engineer, creating a computer program in 1971—in just 19 hours—that produced rough drafts of ship specifications. In 1972, Montague received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award, which is the Navy’s third-highest civilian award. She was also nominated for the Federal Woman of the Year Award. On Oct. 10, she died due to congestive heart failure. She was 83 years old.
An award-winning music critic and feature writer for the Virginian-Pilot and formerly of the Baltimore Sun, Ollison often wrote about newsmakers and his personal life, particularly growing up poor, gay and black in a broken home in Arkansas. He died on Oct. 18 at the age of 41 due to complications from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The award-winning playwright, performer and author wrote to the souls of black girls around the world. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf is the work she’s most known for, and for which she won an Obie Award in 1976. Her poetry defied genres and reached across racism and sexism, touching whoever came in contact with her pure expressions of love. On Oct. 27 in Bowie, Md., Shange died in her sleep, peacefully, at 70 years old.
The San Francisco Giants first baseman made his major league debut in 1959 and was named Rookie of the Year. Nicknamed “stretch” because of his 6-foot-4-frame, McCovey retired in 1980 with the record for the most home runs ever by a left-handed hitter in the National League, until it was broken in 2001 by Barry Bonds. A six-time All-Star, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986. On Oct. 30, after battling ongoing health issues, McCovey died at the age of 80.
A trumpeter who worked with artists such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Common, Hargrove was also a jazz musician who won a pair of Grammys as a bandleader—Best Latin Jazz Album in 1998 for Habana and Best Jazz Instrumental Album in 2002 for Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall. He died in New York City on Nov. 2 from cardiac arrest. He was 49 years old.
The first African-American to appear in a game for an NFL team after being drafted, Triplett split his four seasons in the NFL between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Cardinals. As a Lion, his greatest game was against the Los Angeles Rams on Oct. 29, 1950, where he collected a total of 294 yards on four kick returns, and a 97-yard touchdown, creating a record that wouldn’t be broken until 1994. Triplett died on Nov. 11 at 92 years old.
Roberson, 26, was working as a security guard at a bar in Robbins, Ill., and was shot by police on Nov. 11 while restraining a gunman who had exchanged gunfire with patrons in the bar. Roberson later died at the hospital. A day after the shooting, Roberson’s family filed a lawsuit against the officer who killed him, seeking over $1 million in damages. Information about the officer involved has not been released, but Roberson’s family believes that race was an element in his death.
The model and actress, who was also Sean “Diddy” Combs’ former longtime girlfriend, died on Nov. 15 after a weeks-long fight with pneumonia. Porter is survived by her four children: an eldest son with singer Al. B Sure! and three children—a son and twin girls—with Combs. She was 47 years old.
At six years old, Hooker watched as her home and town in Tulsa, Okla., were destroyed by a white lynch mob on May 31, 1921. As many as 300 black people died, while countless businesses and residences were ruined. Not only was she one of the last witnesses to the Tulsa Race Riots—considered the deadliest episode of racial violence in American history—but she was also the first black woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard in 1945. Hooker, who was 103 years old, died in White Plains, N.Y., on Nov. 21.
On Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day, Oprah Winfrey’s mom, who was a former domestic worker, died at her home in Milwaukee. She was 83 years old.
On Nov. 22, Bradford, 21, was shot and killed by a Hoover, Ala., police officer on Thanksgiving evening, when police responded to reports of shots being fired in the Riverchase Galleria Mall. Officers initially named Bradford as a suspect but a day later, the HPD admitted that they shot and killed the wrong man. Police would later arrest a suspect in the shooting.
Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis in 2013, and the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2015, Williams began performing at clubs at 17 years old. Years later, he became the house guitarist at Chess Records, a position he held until 1958 when he was drafted into the army. Williams died at the Munster Med-Inn in Munster, Ind., on Dec. 1 after a battle with cancer. He was 83 years old.
Taliaferro was a Bay Area journalist for KGO and the first African-American major-market radio talk show host in the country. He went missing in November. His body was found on Dec. 2 in a wooded area of Paducah, Ky., a mile from where he was last seen, which was a local church. Taliaferro died at 79 years old.
A four-time All-Pro selection and six-time Pro Bowler, Robertson played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1971 to 1978 before ending his NFL career with the Buffalo Bills. On Dec. 6, Robertson was driving a limousine, lost control of the vehicle, and was struck by two other vehicles. He died near Mabank, Texas, at the age of 69.
On Dec. 7, in Detroit, Stough, an aspiring fashion designer and transgender woman, came in contact with Albert Weathers, a former pastor. She was found dead the next morning and had been fatally shot. A few days later, Weathers, 46, was charged with murder in the 35-year-old’s death.
Eaton was the granddaughter of slaves and one of the first African-Americans in North Carolina to successfully vote since Reconstruction. She grew up in the Jim Crow era, and when Eaton turned the legal voting age in the early 1940s, she traveled by mule to register to vote. A well-known advocate for voting rights in the state, she was a member of the NAACP, a county poll worker and a special registrar commissioner. In recent years, in her 90s, she fought against voter ID laws in the state. On Dec. 8, she died at 97 years old.
An award-winning singer, Wilson was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1937. She began singing at church, and after winning a high school talent contest, moved to New York to record songs with Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley. Some of her most known songs are “Guess Who I Saw Today,” “Face It Girl, It’s Over,” “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” and “The Things We Did Last Summer.” After a long illness, Wilson died in Pioneertown, Calif., on Dec. 13 at the age of 81.
Overton was America’s oldest World War II veteran and the oldest man in the United States when he died in Austin, Texas, on Dec. 27 at age 112. He’d been recently hospitalized with pneumonia. Overton, who liked a little whiskey in his coffee and enjoyed an occasional cigar, joined the Army in 1942, nine months after Pearl Harbor, and served in the Pacific Theater with the 188th Aviation Engineer Battalion, an all-black unit. In 2013, he was honored by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.