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Final Goodbye: Recalling Influential Black People Who Died In 2019 – Afro American

By Bernard McGhee, The Associated Press

A lauded writer who brought to light stories overshadowed by prejudice. A pioneering executive who broke the glass ceiling in Major League Baseball. An African “savior” turned dictator. An urban lyricist and social activist whose promise was cut short by violence.

This year saw the deaths of people who shifted culture through prose, pragmatism and persistence. It also witnessed tragedy, in talent struck down in its prime.

In 2019, the political world lost a giant in U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. He was born the son of a sharecropper, became a lawyer, then an influential congressman and champion of civil rights. 

Cummings, who died in October, was chairman of one of the U.S. House committees that led an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump and was a formidable advocate for the poor in his Maryland district.

The death of Toni Morrison in August left a chasm in the publishing world, where she was a “literary mother” to countless writers. She helped elevate multiculturalism to the world stage and unearthed the lives of the unknown and unwanted. She became the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize for “Beloved” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

In April, Hollywood lost director John Singleton, whose 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood” was praised as a realistic and compassionate take on race, class, peer pressure and family. He became the first Black director to receive an Oscar nomination and the youngest at 24.

The year also saw the untimely deaths of two young rappers, leaving a feeling of accomplishments unfulfilled. Grammy-nominated Nipsey Hussle was killed in a shooting in Los Angeles in March. Juice WRLD, who launched his career on SoundCloud before becoming a streaming juggernaut, died in December after being treated for opioid use during a police search.

Here is a roll call of some influential [Black] figures who died in 2019 (cause of death cited for younger people, if available):

JANUARY

James Ingram, 66. The Grammy-winning singer who launched multiple hits on the R&B and pop charts and earned two Oscar nominations for his songwriting. Jan. 29.

James Ingram, the Grammy-winning singer who launched multiple hits on the R&B and pop charts and earned two Oscar nominations for his songwriting, has died. He was 66. Debbie Allen, and actress and Ingram’s frequent collaborator, announced his death on Twitter on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Attempts by The Associated Press to confirm Ingram’s death with his family or representatives have been unsuccessful. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)

FEBRUARY

Kristoff St. John, 52. An actor best known for playing Neil Winters on the CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Feb. 4. Heart disease.

Kristoff St. John accepts the award for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series for his work on “The Young and the Restless” at the 35th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

Frank Robinson, 83. The Hall of Famer was the first Black manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues. Feb. 7.

John Dingell, 92. The former congressman was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history at 59 years and a master of legislative deal-making who was fiercely protective of Detroit’s auto industry. Feb. 7.

Andrea Levy, 62. A prize-winning novelist who chronicled the hopes and horrors experienced by the post-World War II generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. Feb. 14.

Jackie Shane, 78. A Black transgender soul singer who became a pioneering musician in Toronto where she packed nightclubs in the 1960s. Feb. 21.

MARCH

Ken Gibson, 86. He became the first Black mayor of a major Northeast city when he ascended to power in riot-torn Newark, New Jersey, about five decades ago. March 29.

Nipsey Hussle, 33. A Grammy-nominated rapper. March 31. Killed in a shooting.

FILE – In this March 29, 2018, file photo, rapper Nipsey Hussle watches an NBA basketball game between the Golden State Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks in Oakland, Calif. Grammy-nominated and widely respected West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle has been shot and killed outside his Los Angeles clothing store, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sunday, March 31, 2019. He was 33. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

APRIL

Damon J. Keith, 96. A grandson of slaves and figure in the civil rights movement who as a federal judge was sued by President Richard Nixon over a ruling against warrantless wiretaps. April 28.

John Singleton, 51. A director who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated “Boyz N the Hood” and continued over the following decades to probe the lives of Black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond. April 29. Taken off life support after a stroke.

This March 4, 2018 file photo shows John Singleton at the Oscars in Los Angeles. Oscar-nominated filmmaker John Singleton has died at 51, according to statement from his family, Monday, April 29, 2019. He died Monday after suffering a stroke almost two weeks ago. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

MAY

Binyavanga Wainaina, 48. One of Africa’s best-known authors and gay rights activists. May 21. Illness.

Patricia Bath, 76. A pioneering ophthalmologist who became the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent after she invented a more precise treatment of cataracts. May 30. Complications of cancer.

Frank Lucas, 88. The former Harlem drug kingpin whose life and lore inspired the 2007 film “American Gangster.” May 30.

JUNE

Leah Chase, 96. A New Orleans chef and civil rights icon who created the city’s first white-tablecloth restaurant for Black patrons, broke the city’s segregation laws by seating White and Black customers, and introduced countless tourists to Southern Louisiana Creole cooking. June 1.

In this Jan. 20, 2009, file photo, Chef Leah Chase, owner of Dooky Chase’ prepares for lunch at her restaurant in New Orleans. The legendary New Orleans chef and civil rights icon Leah Chase has died at 96, according to a statement her family released to news outlets. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)

Dr. John, 77. The New Orleans singer and piano player who blended Black and White musical styles with a hoodoo-infused stage persona and gravelly bayou drawl. June 6.

Dave Bartholomew, 100. A giant of New Orleans music and a rock n’ roll pioneer who, with Fats Domino, co-wrote and produced such classics as “Ain’t That a Shame,” “I’m Walkin’” and “Let the Four Winds Blow.” June 23.

In a Dec. 10, 1999 file photo, Fats Domino, center right, shakes hands with Dave Bartholomew, left, amid a crowd of former colleagues at the 50th anniversary observance of Domino’s first recording session in New Orleans. Bartholomew, a giant of New Orleans music and a rock n’ roll pioneer who with Fats Domino co-wrote and produced such classics as “Ain’t That a Shame,””I’m Walkin’” and “Let the Four Winds Blow,” died Sunday, June 23, 2019 in a hospital in a New Orleans suburb, his eldest son Dave Bartholomew Jr. told The Associated Press. He was 100 years old. (Jennifer Zdon/The Times-Picayune via AP, File)

JULY

Pernell Whitaker, 55. An Olympic gold medalist and four-division boxing champion who was regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever. July 14. Hit by a car.

Edith Irby Jones, 91. The first Black student to enroll at an all-White medical school in the South and later the first female president of the National Medical Association. July 15.

Johnny Clegg, 66. A South African musician who performed in defiance of racial barriers imposed under the country’s apartheid system decades ago and celebrated its new democracy under Nelson Mandela. July 16.

Elijah “Pumpsie” Green, 85. The former Boston Red Sox infielder was the first Black player on the last major league team to field one. July 17.

In this April 19, 2009, file photo, Boston Red Sox great Elijah “Pumpsie” Green throws out a ceremonial first pitch for the Red Sox’s baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Boston. Green, the first Black player on the Red Sox, has died. He was 85. A Red Sox spokesman confirmed his death Wednesday night, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Art Neville, 81. A member of one of New Orleans’ storied musical families, the Neville Brothers, and a founding member of the groundbreaking funk band The Meters. July 22.

In a May 4, 2008 file photo, Charles Neville arrives with The Neville Brothers on stage to perform during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the New Orleans Fairgrounds Racetrack in New Orleans (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

AUGUST

Toni Morrison, 88. A pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon” and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race. Aug. 5.

In this Nov. 25, 2005 file photo, author Toni Morrison listens to Mexicos Carlos Monsivais during the Julio Cortazar professorship conference at the Guadalajara’s University in Guadalajara City, Mexico. The Nobel Prize-winning author has died. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf says Morrison died Monday, Aug. 5, 2019 at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She was 88. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias, File)

Cedric Benson, 36. A former NFL running back who was one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA and University of Texas history. Aug. 17. Motorcycle crash.

Baxter Leach, 79. A prominent member of the Memphis, Tennessee, sanitation workers union whose historic strike drew the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the city where he was assassinated. Aug. 27.

SEPTEMBER

Robert Mugabe, 95. The former Zimbabwean leader was an ex-guerrilla chief who took power when the African country shook off White minority rule and presided for decades while economic turmoil and human rights violations eroded its early promise. Sept. 6.

FILE – In this April 7, 2016 file photo Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attends a meeting with the country’s war veterans in Harare. Mugabe seemed almost untouchable for much of his nearly four-decade rule. Shrewd and ruthless, he managed to stay in power despite advancing age, growing opposition, international sanctions and the dissolving economy of a once-prosperous African nation. Now, the apparent abrupt end of the Mugabe era is launching Zimbabwe into the unknown. It’s a humbling close to the career of a man who crushed dissent or sidelined opponents after leading Zimbabwe since 1980. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File)

Jessye Norman, 74. The renowned international opera star whose passionate soprano voice won her four Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honor. Sept. 30.

This July 4, 2010 file photo shows American opera singer Jessye Norman performing on the Stravinski Hall stage at the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland. Norman died, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019, at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York. She was 74. (AP Photo/Keystone/Dominic Favre, File)

OCTOBER

Diahann Carroll, 84. The Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as “Julia.” Oct. 4. Cancer.

This May 8, 2013 file photo shows Diahann Carroll at the world premiere of “Peeples” in Los Angeles. Carroll passed away Oct. 4 at her home in Los Angeles after a long bout with cancer. She was 84. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

James Stern, 55. A Black activist who took control of one of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups — and vowed to dismantle it. Oct. 11. Cancer.

This June 14, 2012, file photo shows James Hart Stern, of Jackson, Miss., at a news conference in Jackson, Miss. Stern, who took control of one of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups, and vowed to dismantle it, has died amid a legal fight over who would lead the group. James Stern died Oct. 11, 2019 after getting hospice care for cancer, according to one of his attorneys, Bob Ross, and a friend, Arne Edward List. Stern died at home in Moreno Valley, California, List said. He was 55. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Elijah E. Cummings, 68. A sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Oct. 17. Complications from longstanding health problems.

In this Nov. 15, 2018 photo, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., poses in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Cummings endured two painful years. Soon he’ll be more powerful than ever. He is the soon-to-be chairman of the House Committee on Oversight. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via AP)

John Conyers, 90. The former congressman was one of the longest-serving members of Congress whose resolutely liberal stance on civil rights made him a political institution in Washington and back home in Detroit despite several scandals. Oct. 27.

In an April 11, 2016 file photo, Congressman John Conyers is seen during a ceremony for former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, in Detroit. Detroit police say the former congressman died at his home on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. He was 90. ((AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

John Walker, 82. An Arkansas lawmaker and civil rights attorney who represented Black students in a long-running court fight over the desegregation of Little Rock-area schools. Oct. 28.

In this March 25, 2015 file photo, Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark. Walker, an Arkansas lawmaker and civil rights attorney who represented black students in a long-running court fight over the desegregation of Little Rock area schools, died Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. He was 82. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston File)

John Witherspoon, 77. An actor-comedian who memorably played Ice Cube’s father in the “Friday” films. Oct. 29.

In this Dec. 21, 2009, file photo, John Witherspoon leaves a taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman” in New York. Actor-comedian Witherspoon, who memorably played Ice Cube’s father in the “Friday” films, has died at age 77. Witherspoon’s manager Alex Goodman confirmed late Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019, that Witherspoon died in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)

NOVEMBER

Ernest J. Gaines, 86. A novelist whose poor childhood on a small Louisiana plantation germinated stories of Black struggles that grew into universal tales of grace and beauty. Nov. 5.

Charles Rogers, 38. The former Michigan State star and Detroit Lions receiver was an All-American wide receiver who was the school’s all-time leader in touchdown catches. Nov. 11.

Irving Burgie, 95. A composer who helped popularize Caribbean music and co-wrote the enduring Harry Belafonte hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).” Nov. 29.

DECEMBER

Juice WRLD, 21. A rapper who launched his career on SoundCloud before becoming a streaming juggernaut and rose to the top of the charts with the Sting-sampled hit “Lucid Dreams.” Dec. 8. Died after being treated for opioid use during a police search.

The Chicago-area rapper, whose real name is Jarad A. Higgins, was pronounced dead Dec. 8 after a “medical emergency” at Chicago’s Midway International Airport, according to authorities. Chicago police said they’re conducting a death investigation. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

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