13 Famous Black Families Who Have Left Their Mark on American History

During Black History Month, it's important to remember that Black experiences are not universal, and neither are the legacies Black families can leave behind.

During Black History Month—and every day of the year—it's important to remember that the experiences of Black families are not a monolith. "The Black family knows no single location, since family reunions and genetic-ancestry searches testify to the spread of family members across states, nations, and continents," according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. "The family offers a rich tapestry of images for exploring the African American past and present."

An image of Magic and Cookie Johnson with their family.
Getty Images (1). Art: Jillian Sellers.

Without diverse depictions of the Black family, it's impossible to imagine the true scope of Black people's contributions to American society. Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theatre in Harlem, also believes there is a healing power in embracing the idea of a "collective family" within our communities.

"I have always been taken by the vernacular of the Black Arts movement, introducing the terms Brother and Sister to refer to each other," says Lythcott. "Creating a unifying rallying call to our community that we are, in fact, more than neighbors, but family. This has always resonated as powerful medicine to me. Holistically reclaiming our agency in the making of our own destiny, in it together through whatever may come our way. That's power."

Being a Black family in America is not a homogenous experience. Yet, many famous Black families have been deliberate about becoming pillars in American society, whether in sports, entrepreneurship, performing arts, education, or politics.

Read on for what 13 Black families can teach us about the past and how to build a better future rooted in racial equality.

01 of 13

Beyonce Knowles-Carter & Sean Carter 'Jay-Z' (Music)

An image of Jay-Z and Beyonce.
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Jay-Z and Beyonce are known for topping the charts and being trailblazers in the music industry. But they've also consistently used their influence and financial success to create opportunities for disenfranchised communities.

Beyonce's Beygood Foundation supports non-profits that serve marginalized communities by providing scholarships, internships, and fellowships to improve job placement. Likewise, Jay-Z's Shawn Carter Foundation provides college scholarship funds, college prep programs, study abroad programs, and community programs for people facing socio-economic hardships.

Between the two, this power parenting duo continues to create infrastructures for funneling resources to those in need.

02 of 13

Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee (Actors, Activists)

"She Hate Me" New York Premiere - After Party

The dynamic Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were pillars in the performing arts community and the film industry. Married for many decades until the passing of Davis in 2005 (Dee passed nine years later), the couple often acted in movies together, but they also lived a life committed to social activism.

They fought for Black rights during the civil rights movement and were close friends with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and many other prominent figures. Both Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were named into the NAACP Image Hall of Fame Awards, awarded the National Medal of Arts, and received Kennedy Center Honors.

03 of 13

Ciara & Russell Wilson (Sports, Music)

An image of Russell Wilson and Ciara.
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Ciara is a singer, songwriter, and dancer, while husband, Russell Wilson, is a highly-decorated NFL quarterback. Together, the millennial parents have been bold in declaring their faith in God, and they've consistently made business decisions that model what it truly means to create generational wealth, invest in the lives of others, and nurture their own home life.

In 2014, Wilson founded the Why Not You Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering children.

04 of 13

Harry T. & Henrietta Moore (Social Activism)

We often hear familiar names mentioned in the context of the civil rights movement, but the assassination of Harry T. and Harriette Moore on December 25, 1952, served as a significant catalyst for change. Harry T. was an educator and founded the first NAACP branch in Brevard County, Florida. His wife, Harriette, was also an educator.

The couple played a major role in fighting for equal rights in the South, housing equality, the removal of barriers to voter registration, and much more. Their assassination helped lead to a national outcry against racial injustice towards Black people.

05 of 13

Magic & Cookie Johnson (Sports, Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy)

An image of Magic and Cookie Johnson with their family.
Getty Images.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson is a legendary five-time NBA champion. However, it's his work off the court with his wife, Cookie, that continues to make an impact on history by economically empowering Black communities.

Magic Johnson Enterprises, worth more than $1 billion, aims to provide quality entertainment and products to ethnically diverse and underserved areas nationwide.

06 of 13

Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee (Film Industry, Literary Arts)

An image of Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee with their children.
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Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee are famous for telling stories that influence cultural narratives without perpetuating negative stereotypes or ascribing to caricatures of Blackness in film. These parents of two young adults consistently deliver content to the masses that teaches, elevates, and inspires.

Their films include Lee's Crooklyn, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, and BlackkKlansman, as well as Lewis Lee's adaptation of The Watsons Go to Birmingham.

07 of 13

Barack & Michelle Obama (Government, Politics)

An image of the Obama family.
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Being Black and well-educated is nothing new. But the representation of this demographic was missing on the global scale—until recently. As the first Black-identifying President and First Lady, Barack Obama, and wife Michelle have forever left their mark on American history.

Together with their daughters, they shifted deep-rooted thought patterns, which systemically weakened the Black family dynamic in America and paved the way for future generations to do the same.

08 of 13

Thurgood Marshall & Vivian Burey Marshall (Judicial System, Activism)

As the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thurgood Marshall served as chief attorney on the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that ended racial segregation in schools.

Marshall and his first wife, Vivian Burey Marshall, were married for 25 years until her death, and Thurgood credited Vivian as the one who helped him become a better student and leading lawyer. Marshall later went on to become the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

09 of 13

Stephen & Ayesha Curry (Sports, Entrepreneurship)

An image of Steph and Ayesha Curry
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While Stephen Curry is known as one of the best three-point shooters in NBA history, it's his character and respect for his wife, Ayesha Curry, that's leaving a lasting legacy on today's generation.

Both are generous philanthropists, and Curry's production company Unanimous Media helped produce the faith-based film Breakthrough, Emanuel, and the animated version of Good Times, the first sitcom to feature a two-parent Black family on television.

10 of 13

Geoffrey Holder & Carmen de Lavallade (Dance, Performing Arts)

An image of Geoffrey Holder, wife Carmen De Lavallade, and their son Leo.
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Geoffrey Holder was an actor, director, musician, artist, and costume designer who made many contributions to Black culture and the world of performing arts. He worked extensively with Alvin Ailey and The Dance Theatre of Harlem on the Broadway shows House of Flowers and Firebird, which won Tony awards.

Holder married renowned actress, dancer, and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade, who performed as the prima ballerina in Samson and Delilah and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. Holder and de Lavallade were married for almost 60 years until his death in 2014. Their life together was portrayed in the documentary Carmen and Geoffrey.

11 of 13

Al Roker & Deborah Roberts (Journalism)

An image of Al Roker and Deborah Roberts with their family.
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Al Roker and Deborah Roberts have consistently excelled in their respective careers in journalism, and they're known for treating others with the utmost respect. Married for almost 30 years, they have forged separate career paths showcasing their integrity and commitment to work and family.

As the weather forecaster on Today, Roker has worked at NBC for 40 years. Roberts is an Emmy-winning reporter known for her work as an ABC News Correspondent and appearances on programs such as 20/20, Good Morning America, The View, Nightline, and many others.

12 of 13

John H. Johnson & Eunice Johnson (Literary Arts, Publishing)

John H. Johnson created a legacy by becoming one of the most successful Black publishers in American history. After graduating from college, Johnson created the publication Negro Digest, and later he started Ebony and Jet, which grew to become major influencers of Black culture.

Eunice Johnson, his partner in publishing, was best known as the founder of the Ebony Fashion Fair, an annual international event highlighting fashion for Black women.

13 of 13

Gabrielle Union & Dwayne Wade (Film Industry, Sports)

Gabrielle Union is an actor and Dwayne Wade is a former pro basketball player. Together, they are superstar parents, demonstrating the beauty of blended families and supporting LGBTQIA kids. When Wade's daughter (Union's stepdaughter) came out as transgender, both parents openly supported her. Since then, they have been vocally outspoken on the harms of anti-trans legislation.

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