Jacobs’s mother died when she was only six years old, and then she moved in with her late mother’s owner, who taught the girl to sew and read. With the help of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, she was able to escape in 1842 at the age of twenty-nine, and got work as a nanny in New York, staying away from her former owners for ten years until she officially bought her freedom.
She then went on to write an autobiography that was published in multiple countries. Until her death in 1897, she was an abolitionist and was dedicated to helping slaves and freedmen.
Zora Neale Hurston – Author
Zora Neale Hurston is now one of the most legendary Black writers in American history, but it almost wasn't so. As a child, she had to stop attending school after her father stopped paying the school fees, and then she had to lie about her age at public school in order to get a free education.
She was an author, a filmmaker, and a student of Hoodoo (the American version of Voodoo), and her most famous book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” became a famous film in 2005. She was also, of all things, an anthropologist during her spare time.
Nipsey Hussle – Rapper and Entrepreneur
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Hussle was first known as Ermias Joseph Asghedom, and he was an activist, business owner, and Grammy-winning rapper. While young, he had to join gangs to survive before he was able to find success with his music. He was dedicated to providing opportunities and solutions to young Black men that go beyond joining gangs as he did.
Just one day before he was going to meet with LAPD officials about gang violence in South Los Angeles in 2019, he fell to the very thing that he had spent so long making music to defuse – gang violence.
Nina Simone – Musician
Eunice Waymon, which you probably know as Nina Simone, had a hand in every part of the recording industry, as well as working as a civil rights activist. Her music escaped the bounds of genre. She learned to play piano as a toddler in the church where her father was a teacher.
She made it to the white side of town to study with a German piano teacher, and then made it into nothing less than The Juilliard School. She eventually helped create more than forty albums and received an honorary degree from the Curtis Institute mere days before she passed away in 2003.
Big Mama Thornton – Singer
With a name like Big Mama Thornton, you know you're getting a big personality, too. Big Mama is best known for her Rhythm and Blues recording “Hound Dog,” which was later covered by Elvis, and her song “Ball and Chain,” which was later covered by Janis Joplin.
Her name came from both her size and her incredible voice. As a child, she sang in a church until she caught the attention of an Atlanta music promoter. She sang her way through the south, playing at such famous hot spots as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater into the seventies.