What is a "black list"? The dictionary defines it as "a list of persons who are disapproved of or are to be punished or boycotted." But imagine if the black list were a roll call of distinction rather than of disenfranchisement? These are some of the questions that prompted photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders to embark on a portrait project to create an entirely new kind of black list — a visual who's who of African-American men and women whose intelligence, talent and determination have propelled them to prominence. If the new black list represents a chronicle of African-American achievement, the 50 men and women included in the project surely merit inclusion on its rolls. See some of their images here.
This exhibition has been made possible by generous support from AT&T.
Majora Carter (born 1966) is an environmental activist whose career reflects a widening of the concerns of African-American leaders after decades of concentration on legal or strictly socioeconomic issues. Through an accident — her dog pulled her through a vacant lot to the Bronx River — Carter started working on environmental and access-to-nature issues for city dwellers. After a five-year fundraising and restoration project, she oversaw the opening of Hunts Point Riverside Park in 2007. She has gone on to other environmental projects in the Bronx and has now also hosted both Web-based and television programs on urban sustainability.
Whoopi Goldberg (born Caryn Elaine Johnson in 1955) is one of the most important stars in Hollywood. Beginning her career as a standup comedian, Goldberg announced herself as a serious actress by appearing as Celie in The Color Purple (1985), a role for which she received an Oscar nomination. She won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1990 for her role in Ghost — it was the first Academy Award presented to a black actress since Hattie McDaniel had won 50 years earlier. In 2001 she won the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Goldberg has made more than 150 films, and at one point in the 1990s she was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.
Louis Gossett Jr. (born 1936) has worked as an actor for more than half a century, a career that began with a Broadway debut when he was only 17. His first film role was in a 1961 adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry's novel A Raisin in the Sun, which starred Sidney Poitier. He is perhaps best known for his Academy Award-winning role playing opposite Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), but he also won an Emmy for his work in the pioneering miniseries Roots (1977), as well as two Golden Globes, for An Officer and a Gentleman and The Josephine Baker Story (1992).
Hill Harper (born 1966) is an actor and New York Times best-selling author with a B.A. from Brown University and a law degree from Harvard. As a student at Harvard, he started acting, and he has never practiced law, deciding instead to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He has appeared in several Spike Lee films, including his first major part — as a film student in Get on the Bus (1996), about the Million Man March. Harper is best known for his role as an investigator on CSI: NY. He has also written a series of inspirational and self-help books for African Americans, including Letters to a Young Brother (2006).
Model and fashion designer Beverly Johnson became the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue in 1974. A year later she also broke the color barrier in the French edition of Elle. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1952, Johnson became a model while studying at Northeastern University in Boston. An instant success, she went on to appear on more than 500 magazine covers, an accomplishment in its own right but especially so in the fashion industry, which is still color-conscious despite its ostensible liberalism. Johnson has also acted in television shows and films and has written a book of beauty and styling tips.
Originally from South Carolina, Debra L. Lee (born 1955) graduated from Brown University and later earned degrees in public policy and law from Harvard. She worked as a law clerk in Washington, D.C., and in 1986 joined BET, the parent company of Black Entertainment Television, as vice president of the legal affairs department. She later took on other responsibilities at the company, and in 1996 she was named president and chief operating officer, replacing the company's founder, Robert L. Johnson. Lee's mandate as president has been to create original programming for the network instead of relying on syndicated products.
"John Legend" is the stage name of the hugely successful recording artist and record producer John Stephens (born 1978). He started singing as a youth in his church choir in Ohio and came to public attention when he sang as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. While he was still a student, his keyboard skills earned him the opportunity to record with Lauryn Hill. He released two independent albums under his own name before an introduction to singer Kanye West in 2000 led to a recording contract and to his new name, which he took because he was told that he sounded "old school."
Marc Morial (born 1958) is the son of Ernest "Dutch" Morial, the first African-American mayor of New Orleans. After earning a law degree from Georgetown University, the younger Morial worked in private practice before entering politics, first serving in the Louisiana State Senate and then as mayor of New Orleans (1994-2002). During his two terms as mayor, crime was reduced by almost 60 percent, and Morial oversaw the pre-Katrina tourism and convention boom in the city. Morial, who has been president of the National Urban League since 2003, is frequently mentioned as a possible political candidate again in his home state.
Novelist, essayist and critic Toni Morrison (born 1931) is one of the major American literary figures of the late 20th century. She has written a series of stunning works about the American experience, focusing especially on the nexus of race and gender. While teaching at her alma mater, Howard University, Morrison wrote and published her first hook, The Bluest Eye (1970). She followed with a series of novels that include Sula (1973) and Song of Solomon (1977). In 1993 she became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature.
Pentecostal minister, community organizer and politician, the Rev. Al Sharpton (born 1954) is a controversial figure in American politics. Starting with Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket, Sharpton gained national attention by leading a series of actions around incidents of perceived and actual racial injustice in New York City. He achieved notoriety for inflaming relations between African Americans and the Jewish community during the Crown Heights riot of 1991. African-American sociologist Orlando Patterson has called him a "racial arsonist," but to his admirers, Sharpton is a champion for the disenfranchised. Moderating his rhetoric, Sharpton has become a more mainstream figure of late.