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15 of the Most Famous Black Professors & Scholars

Black scholars have made an enormous impact on students and society as a whole. We set out to highlight some of the many prominent Black scholars today. Many people are trying to learn more about social equality and racial injustice. Here, we highlight the work of some living Black scholars who have made it their life’s work.

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Their work represents a variety of academic disciplines, which include:

  • Economics, political science, and jurisprudence
  • Linguistics, psychology, and sociology
  • History, anthropology, and Africana studies
  • Literary theory, philology, and cultural criticism
  • Philosophy, theology, and critical theory

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London in 1954 to a Ghanaian father and an English mother. The family returned to Ghana when Anthony was very young; thus, he grew up speaking Asante (a form of Twi) as well as English. Appiah returned to England for his higher education, earning both his bachelor’s degree (first-class) and his Ph.D. in philosophy from Cambridge University. At Cambridge, Appiah wrote his dissertation on the philosophy of language under the supervision of Hugh Mellor. His first two books were devoted to this field. Today, he is a professor of philosophy and law at New York University. Appiah is married to New Yorker editorial director Henry Finder.

Mary Frances Berry

Mary Frances Berry was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1938. She attended segregated public schools in her hometown, then studied at Fisk University for a time before transferring to Howard University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1961. She earned her Ph.D. in American constitutional history from the University of Michigan in 1965 and also obtained a J.D. degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1970. Berry became the first Black woman to lead a major research university in the United States when she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder in 1976. She is currently the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania.

Stephen L. Carter

Stephen L. Carter was born in Washington, D.C., in 1954. He received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1976 from Stanford University, where he was managing editor of the student newspaper. Carter earned his J.D. in 1979 from Yale Law School, where he was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. After law school, he clerked for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall during the 1980-1981 session. Carter has taught at Yale Law School since 1982. He is currently the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law. His areas of expertise include contracts, evidence, intellectual property, professional ethics, ethics in literature, law and the ethics of war, and law and religion.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1975. His father, Paul Coates, who was a former Black Panther, owned the Black Book bookstore in Baltimore and ran the Black Classic Press publishing operation out of his home. After graduating from high school, Coates attended Howard University for several years but left before taking a degree to pursue a career in journalism. He was appointed Martin Luther King, Jr., Visiting Scholar at MIT in 2012 and Journalist in Residence at City University of New York (CUNY) in 2014. Coates is currently a Distinguished Writer in Residence with the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.

Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1948. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969 from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in social sciences education in 1970 from Harvard University. Collins taught in the public schools of the Roxbury section of Boston from 1970-1976. Then, she was appointed director of the Africana Center at Tufts University, a post she held until 1980. In 1984, she earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis. Collins is currently a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland College Park.

Kimberly W. Crenshaw

Kimberly W. Crenshaw was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1959 and is best known as one of the founders of critical race theory. She received her bachelor’s degree in government and Africana studies in 1981 from Cornell University. Crenshaw earned a juris doctorate in 1984 from Harvard Law School, followed by a master of laws (LLM) in 1985 from the University of Wisconsin Law School. At Harvard, she organized the Critical Race Theory Workshop, which originated the term. Crenshaw has been awarded several visiting fellowships and lectureships and is a regular commentator on NPR’s The Tavis Smiley Show. She is currently a professor of law at UCLA Law School and Columbia Law School.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis is a political activist, philosopher, academic, and author who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1944. After spending a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, she earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude at French Brandeis University in 1965. Davis has taught philosophy, Africana studies, and feminist studies at several universities over the years, including UCLA, San Francisco State University, Rutgers University, and Syracuse University. She is currently Distinguished Professor Emerita, with a joint appointment in the History of Consciousness Department and the Feminist Studies Department, at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates is a literary critic, teacher, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who was born in Keyser, West Virginia, in 1950. He is currently the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and Director of Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. Gates took his bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in history in 1973 from Yale University. He obtained his Ph.D. in English language and literature in 1979 from Cambridge University.

Joy DeGruy

Joy DeGruy, born in 1957, is a researcher, educator, and author. She is known worldwide for her research into the intersection of racism, trauma, violence, and American chattel slavery. DeGruy earned her education at Portland State University (PSU). She first earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communication in 1986, followed by master’s degrees in social work and clinical psychology in 1988 and 1995, respectively. She completed her Ph.D. in social work and social research in 2001, then became an assistant professor at PSU’s School of Social Work, where she remained for the next 20 years.

Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor, was born in Livingston, Texas, in 1958. She received her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in 1981 and her JD from Harvard Law School in 1984, where she worked for the Harvard Law Review. She is a professor at Harvard Law School, Harvard University, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. After spending time in private legal practice, Gordon-Reed returned to academia and taught at New York Law School and Rutgers.

Angela P. Harris

Angela P. Harris, a legal scholar, was born in 1961. She received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1981 from the University of Michigan and her master’s in sociology in 1983 from the University of Chicago. She earned her juris doctorate in 1986 from the University of Chicago Law School. After taking her law degree, she clerked for Judge Joel Flaum of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and then worked as an associate for Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

Ephraim Isaac

Ephraim Isaac was born in Ethiopia in 1936 to a Yemeni Jewish father and an Ethiopian mother. He was raised in Ethiopia but came to the United States for his higher education. He is currently the director of the Institute of Semitic Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. Isaac received his bachelor of divinity from Harvard Divinity School in 1963 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1969. He subsequently taught at Harvard, as well as several other universities, including Bard College, Howard University Divinity School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Princeton University.

Edmond J. Keller

Edmond J. Keller was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1942. He received his bachelor’s degree in government in 1969 from Louisiana State University in New Orleans. His master’s degree in political science came from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, followed by a Ph.D. in political science from the same school in 1974. Keller is an Africanist scholar and served as chair of the Department of Political Science, director of the Globalization Research Center – Africa, and director of the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) until his retirement in 2013. He is currently a distinguished professor emeritus at the Department of Political Science at UCLA. He has also taught at Indiana University, Dartmouth College, the University of Wisconsin, Xavier University (New Orleans), and the University of California Santa Barbara.

Randall L. Kennedy

Randall L. Kennedy, a law professor, and author, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1954. He is currently a Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Kennedy received his bachelor’s degree in history in 1977 from Princeton University. Appointed a Rhodes Scholar, he studied history at Oxford University for two academic years (1977-1979). He earned his juris doctorate in 1982 from Yale Law School.

John H. McWhorter

John H. McWhorter, a linguist and academic, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1965. He attended Friends Select School in the city but skipped the 11th and 12th grades for early admission to Simon’s Rock College in Massachusetts. He received his bachelor’s degree in French from Rutgers University, followed by a master’s degree in American studies from New York University. In 1993, he earned his Ph.D. in linguistics from Stanford University. McWhorter is the author of more than a dozen books, and he has been published in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. He also makes frequent appearances on radio and television talk shows.

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