The Most Influential Black Scholars

The Most Influential Black Scholars

Find over 600 famous and influential Black scholars in 20 academic disciplines. In this series, we feature Black academics and professionals who have impacted their fields of study and have become the most searched and cited Black scholars today.

We have identified over 600 Black scholars who are highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.

Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the people listed are contemporary scholars while others may be more historical figures. In either case, according to our AI, these are the most influential Black scholars in their given fields over the past 30 years.

Find out more about our Methodology.

20 Most Influential Black Scholars Today

  1. #1

    Barack Obama

    1961 - Present (61 years)
    Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who served as the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, Obama was the first African-American president of the United States. He previously served as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008 and as an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004.
  2. #2

    Clarence Thomas

    1948 - Present (74 years)
    Clarence Thomas is an American lawyer who serves as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to succeed Thurgood Marshall, and has served since 1991. Thomas is the second African-American to serve on the Court, after Marshall. Since 2018, Thomas has been the senior associate justice, the longest-serving member of the Court, with a tenure of as of .
  3. #3

    Thomas Sowell

    1930 - Present (92 years)
    Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. Born in North Carolina, Sowell grew up in Harlem, New York. Due to financial issues and deteriorated home conditions, he dropped out of Stuyvesant High School and served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Upon returning to the United States, Sowell enrolled at Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude in 1958. He earned a master’s degree in economics from Columbia University in 1959, and earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1968.
  4. #4

    Angela Davis

    1944 - Present (78 years)
    Angela Yvonne Davis is an American political activist, philosopher, academic, scholar, and author. She is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. A Marxist, Davis was a longtime member of the Communist Party USA and is a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism . She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, race, and the US prison system.
  5. #5

    Cornel West

    1953 - Present (69 years)

    Cornel West currently holds the title of Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School. Prior to this, he has held positions at Princeton University (where he maintains the title of Professor Emeritus), Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, and the University of Paris. West earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University in 1973, and completed his PhD at Princeton University in 1980, making him the first African-American to earn a PhD in philosophy from Princeton.

    West is well recognized as a social critic on racial and political issues, as well as a public intellectual. Indeed, his influence can be traced as much (or more) to his public activism and visibility as it can his academic work. West is often cited in mainstream media, and frequently makes public, television, radio, and print appearances. West is known as a strong voice of left-wing politics and social justice in America, though he has also frequently been critical of prominent left-wing politicians, including Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Also notable is the fact that West has established a public presence removed from politics and philosophy entirely, including cameos in films from The Matrix franchise, as well as a spoken word and hip hop albums.

  6. #6

    Neil deGrasse Tyson

    1958 - Present (64 years)

    Neil deGrasse Tyson was born in New York City in 1958. He attended Harvard University where he earned a BA degree in physics and then received a Master's degree in astronomy from University of Texas at Austin. In 1988, he enrolled at Columbia where he completed MPhil and PhD degrees in astrophysics. Best known as a public spokesperson for science, Tyson is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. He has been a researcher at Princeton University and after joining the Hayden Planetarium he became its director and oversaw the massive reconstruction project of the Planetarium completed in 2000.

    Tyson earned his Bachelor of Arts in Physics at Harvard University and his MA in Astronomy from The University of Texas at Austin. Tyson received a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University, where with his advisor R. Michael Rich he obtained funding from NASA and the ARCS Foundation to attend international conferences and make use of expensive equipment such as observatories, where in Chile he obtained important images of a supernova which advanced research in Chile and around the world.

  7. #7

    Molefi Kete Asante

    1942 - Present (80 years)
    Molefi Kete Asante is an American professor and philosopher. He is a leading figure in the fields of African-American studies, African studies, and communication studies. He is currently professor in the Department of Africology at Temple University, where he founded the PhD program in African-American Studies. He is president of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies.
  8. #8

    William Julius Wilson

    1935 - Present (87 years)
    William Julius Wilson is an American sociologist. He is a professor at Harvard University and author of works on urban sociology, race and class issues. Laureate of the National Medal of Science, he served as the 80th President of the American Sociological Association, was a member of numerous national boards and commissions. He identified the importance of neighborhood effects and demonstrated how limited employment opportunities and weakened institutional resources exacerbated poverty within American inner-city neighborhoods.
  9. #9

    Walter E. Williams

    1936 - 2020 (84 years)
    Walter Edward Williams was an American economist, commentator, and academic. Williams was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, as well as a syndicated columnist and author. Known for his classical liberal and libertarian views, Williams’s writings frequently appeared in Townhall, WND, and Jewish World Review. Williams was also a popular guest host of the Rush Limbaugh radio show when Limbaugh was unavailable.
  10. #10

    Bryan Stevenson

    1959 - Present (63 years)
    Bryan Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, law professor at New York University School of Law and the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, he has challenged bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, especially children. He has helped achieve United States Supreme Court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole. He has assisted in cases that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty, advocated for the poor, as well as de...
  11. #11

    John Hope Franklin

    1915 - 2009 (94 years)
    John Hope Franklin was an American historian of the United States and former president of Phi Beta Kappa, the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Southern Historical Association. Franklin is best known for his work From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, and continually updated. More than three million copies have been sold. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
  12. #12

    Katherine Johnson

    1918 - 2020 (102 years)
    Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 33-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.
  13. #13

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.

    1950 - Present (72 years)
    Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, professor, historian, filmmaker, and public intellectual who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is a Trustee of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He rediscovered the earliest African-American novels, long forgotten, and has published extensively on appreciating African-American literature as part of the Western canon.
  14. #14

    Marian Wright Edelman

    1939 - Present (83 years)
    Marian Wright Edelman is an American activist for civil rights and children’s rights. She is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund. She influenced leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Hillary Clinton.
  15. #15

    Dennis Archer

    1942 - Present (80 years)
    Dennis Wayne Archer is an American lawyer, jurist and former politician from Michigan. A Democrat, Archer served on the Michigan Supreme Court and as mayor of Detroit. He later served as president of the American Bar Association, becoming the first black president of the organization, which, until 1943, had barred African-American lawyers from membership.
  16. #16

    Michael Eric Dyson

    1958 - Present (64 years)
    Michael Eric Dyson is an American academic, author, ordained minister, and radio host. He is a professor in the College of Arts and Science and in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University. Described by Michael A. Fletcher as “a Princeton Ph.D. and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two”, Dyson has authored or edited more than twenty books dealing with subjects such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Marvin Gaye, Barack Obama, Nas’s debut album Illmatic, Bill Cosby, Tupac Shakur and Hurricane Katrina.
  17. #17

    Van Jones

    1968 - Present (54 years)
    Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones is an American news and political commentator, author, and lawyer. He is the co-founder of several non-profit organizations, a three-time New York Times bestselling author, a CNN host and contributor, and an Emmy Award winner.
  18. #18

    Lani Guinier

    1950 - 2022 (72 years)
    Carol Lani Guinier was an American educator, legal scholar, and civil rights theorist. She was the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and the first woman of color appointed to a tenured professorship there. Before coming to Harvard in 1998, Guinier taught at the University of Pennsylvania Law School for ten years. Her scholarship covered the professional responsibilities of public lawyers, the relationship between democracy and the law, the role of race and gender in the political process, college admissions, and affirmative action. In 1993 President Bill Clinton nominated...
  19. #19

    Shirley Ann Jackson

    1946 - Present (76 years)
    Shirley Ann Jackson, is an American physicist, and the eighteenth president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She is the first African-American woman to have earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . She is also the second African-American woman in the United States to earn a doctorate in physics.
  20. #20

    Derrick Bell

    1930 - 2011 (81 years)
    Derrick Albert Bell Jr. was an American lawyer, professor, and civil rights activist. Bell worked for first the U.S. Justice Department, then the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where he supervised over 300 school desegregation cases in Mississippi.
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Influential Black Anthropologists

Considered the best of the sciences and humanities, modern anthropology necessitates an interdisciplinary approach. Among our list of influential Black anthropologists today, you will find famous anthropologists exploring complex problems with innovative solutions. These scholars are teachers, mentors, and practitioners whose works have advanced the field and help prepare the next generation of anthropologists.

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Influential Black Biologists

Our list of influential Black biologists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of biology include ecologists, biomedical engineers, educators, immunologists, and scientists. They are doing groundbreaking work and advancing the field, helping to prepare the next generation of biologists.

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Influential Black Chemists

Our list of influential Black chemists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of chemistry include chemical engineers, biochemists, pharmacists, nuclear chemists, researchers, educators, and more. These innovators are doing groundbreaking work and advancing the field in areas like nanotechnology, molecular chemistry, and medicine, helping to prepare the next generation of chemists.

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Influential Black Communications Professors and Professionals

Our list of influential Black communications professionals and professors is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of communications include journalists, writers, editors, broadcasters, educators, and more. These leaders in the field are paving the way for the next generation of communications professionals.

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Influential Black Computer Scientists

Our list of influential Black computer scientists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of computer science include educators, computer scientists, rock scientists, computer engineers, and more. These innovators are doing groundbreaking work and advancing the field in areas like biotechnology, healthcare, and aeronautics, helping to prepare the next generation of computer scientists.

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Influential Black Earth Scientists

Our list of influential Black Earth scientists is composed of leaders in the field who are paving the way for the next generation of Earth scientists. They are doing groundbreaking work in areas like hydrology, geochemistry, oceanography, education, and meteorology.

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Influential Black Economists

Our list of influential Black economists is composed of leaders in the field who are paving the way for future economists. They are doing groundbreaking work in areas such as government, business, education, and public policy.

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Influential Black Educators

Our list of influential Black educators is composed of leaders in the field who are paving the way for future educators. These scholars are doing groundbreaking work to remove educational disparities and increase awareness in areas such as Black feminism. Among this group of influencers are educators, writers, poets, activists, and politicians.

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Influential Black Engineers

Our list of influential Black engineers is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of engineering include biomedical, aerospace, civil, environmental, mechanical, and electrical engineers, among others. They are doing groundbreaking work and advancing the field, helping to pave the way for the next generation of engineers.

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Influential Black Historians

Our list of influential Black historians is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of history are conducting research in areas like political theory, comparative history, social movements, the African Diaspora, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of historians.

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Influential Black Lawyers and Legal Scholars

Our list of influential Black lawyers and legal scholars are leaders in creating, teaching, and interpreting the laws that benefit each of us. These prominent scholars are judges, jurists, attorneys, politicians, law professors, and Supreme Court justices. They are paving the way for the next generation of experts in the law.

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Influential Black Literary Scholars

Our list of influential Black literary scholars are giants in their field. These prominent scholars are educators, literary critics, writers, poets, and linguists. They are paving the way for the next generation of literary scholars.

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Influential Black Mathematicians

Our list of influential Black mathematicians is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of mathematics are paving the way for the next generation of mathematicians, working in areas such as robotics, academia, national security, astronomy, and more.

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Influential Black Medical Practitioners

Our list of influential Black medical practitioners is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of medicine are conducting research and treating patients in areas like family medicine, oncology, epidemiology, opthalmology, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of medical practitioners.

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Influential Black Nurses

Our list of influential Black nurses exemplifies the breadth of disciples and practice found in nursing. These leaders are military personnel, educators, public health specialists, activists, and organizational leaders. Their example is inspiring the next generation of nurses and healthcare professionals.

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Influential Black Philosophers

Our list of influential Black philosophers are giants in the field of philosophy. These leaders are known both for their academic work and their activism. They are paving the way for the next generation of philosophers.

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Influential Black Physicists

Our list of influential Black physicists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of physics are conducting research in areas like nuclear research, medicine, astronomy, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of physicists.

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Influential Black Political Scientists

Our list of influential Black political scientists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of political science write about and research topics such as urban politics, social justice, marginalized groups, poverty, and more. These innovators are paving the way for the next generation of political scientists.

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Influential Black Psychologists

Our list of influential Black psychologists is as diverse as the field of study. These leaders in the field of psychology write about and research topics such as Black juveniles, crime, racial diversity, social inequality, and more. These innovators are paving the way for the next generation of psychologists.

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Influential Black Religious Studies Scholars

Our list of influential Black religious studies scholars is comprised of leaders in the field who are developing ideas in areas such as activism, political theology, poverty, racial reconciliation, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of religious studies scholars.

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Influential Black Social Workers

Our list of influential Black social workers leads the field in research and practice in areas like mental health, gender inequality, domestic violence, substance abuse, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of social workers.

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Influential Black Sociologists

Our list of influential Black sociologists leads the field in research and advocating in areas such as race and technology, women’s studies, social policy, inequality, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of sociologists.

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