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.
Professional historians study primary and secondary sources, and material artifacts, to provide an interpretation of what was happening at a particular moment in history and why. According to the National Council on Public History, Historians are trying to understand how and why things change over time. The ways in which scholars interpret history can have a direct impact on behavior and policy. Historians help us to understand and grapple with the past by contemplating complex questions and difficult situations, enabling us to make sense of and shape society in the present day.
Black historians have certainly grappled with complex and difficult questions, dilemmas, and relationships that have shaped our country for centuries. The impact of their research and writing cannot be overstated. They are shaping our perception of racial inequalities and the African Diaspora in a world where the potential for bias in the retelling of history is a reality.
Black Historians Making Important Contributions to the Field
A few of the historians we highlight in our ranking of the most influential Black historians below include:
Robin Kelley focuses his research on American and African-American history, emphasizing radical social movements at work within African-American culture.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a prominent public intellectual known for his writings on Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow Laws, and the Black church
Nell Irvin Painter researches and teaches history, African American studies, and the social construction of gender, race, and beauty.
Annette Gordon-Reed is the Pulitzer Prize winner in History (2008) for her work on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, and is also a prominent scholar of American legal history.
David Levering Lewis is active in the field of comparative history. He has published works on imperialism in 19th century Africa, Muslim Iberia, the French Third Republic, and has won two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography.
30 Influential Black Historians From the Last 30 Years
The Black scholars in our list were identified as 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/data, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
Yosef Alfredo Antonio Ben-Jochannan , referred to by his admirers as “Dr. Ben”, was an American writer and historian. He was considered to be one of the more prominent Afrocentric scholars by some Black Nationalists, while most mainstream scholars, such as Mary Lefkowitz, dismissed him because of the basic historical inaccuracies in his work, as well as disputes about the authenticity of his educational degrees and academic credentials.
Mary Frances Berry is an American historian, writer, lawyer, activist and professor who focuses on U.S. constitutional and legal, African-American history. Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought where she teaches American legal history at the Department of History, School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the former chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Previously, Berry was provost of the College of Behavioral and Social Science at University of Maryland, College Park, and was the first African American chancellor...
Clayborne Carson is an American academic who is a professor of history at Stanford University and director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Since 1985, he has directed the Martin Luther King Papers Project, a long-term project to edit and publish the papers of Martin Luther King Jr.
Darlene Clark Hine is an American author and professor in the field of African-American history. She is a recipient of the 2014 National Humanities Medal. Early life and education Darlene Clark was born in Morley, Missouri, the oldest of four children of Levester Clark, a truck driver, and Lottie Mae Clark. She married William C. Hine in 1970 and divorced in 1974. She married Johnny E. Brown in 1981 and divorced in 1986 and has one daughter, Robbie Davine.
John Henrik Clarke was an African-American historian, professor, prominent Afrocentrist, and pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s.
Louis S. Diggs Sent to join our Heavenly Father October 24, 2022,is an African-American writer and historian specializing in the African-American history of Baltimore County, Maryland. As a chronicler of the county’s African-American legacy, his work illuminates the historic past of its Black communities. In addition to social history, Diggs has published on Baltimore African-American military records from the American Civil War and the Maryland Army National Guard.
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.
Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. is an American literary critic, professor, historian, and filmmaker who serves as the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the 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 known African-American novels, long forgotten, and has published extensively on the recognition of African-American literature as part of the Western canon.
Paula J. Giddings is an American writer, historian, and civil rights activist. She is the author of When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, In Search of Sisterhood: Delta Sigma Theta and the Challenge of the Black Sorority Movement and Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching.
Annette Gordon-Reed is an American historian and law professor. She is currently the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University and a professor of history in the university’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences. She is formerly the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard University and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Gordon-Reed is noted for changing scholarship on Thomas Jefferson regarding his relationship with Sally Hemings and her children.
Dayo Gore is an African-American feminist scholar, former fellow of Harvard’s Warren Center for North American History, formerly employed as Assistant Professor of History and of Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Gore is currently Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at University of California, San Diego. Gore is one of a new generation of young scholars active in preserving and exploring the infrequently chronicled history of 20th-century black women’s radicalism, in the US and beyond. Along with Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, Gore edited a...
Vincent Gordon Harding was an African-American pastor, historian, and scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. A social activist, he was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Martin Luther King Jr., whom Harding knew personally. Besides having authored numerous books such as There Is A River, Hope and History, and Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero, he served as co-chairperson of the social unity group Veterans of Hope Project and as Professor of Religion and Social Transformation at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. When Ha...
Thomas Cleveland Holt is an American historian, who is the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History at the University of Chicago. He has produced a number of works on the people and descendants of the African Diaspora. He served as president of the American Historical Association in 1994.
Gerald Horne is an American historian who holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. Background Gerald Horne was raised in St. Louis, Missouri. After his undergraduate education at Princeton University, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
John Glover Jackson was an American Pan-Africanist historian, lecturer, teacher and writer. He promoted ideas of Afrocentrism, atheism, and Jesus Christ in comparative mythology. Early life and education Jackson was born in Aiken, South Carolina, on April 1, 1907, and raised Methodist. At the age of 15 he moved to Harlem, New York, where he enrolled in Stuyvesant High School. During this time, he became interested in African-American history and culture and began writing essays on the subject. His work was noticed and in 1925, while still a high school student, Jackson was invited to write fo...
Robin Davis Gibran Kelley is an American historian and academic, who is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at the University of California, Los Angeles . From 2006 to 2011, he was Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California , and from 2003 to 2006 he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. From 1994 to 2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University as well the chair of NYU’s history department from 2002 to 2003. Kelley has also served as a Hess Schol...
David Levering Lewis is an American historian, a Julius Silver University Professor, and a professor of history at New York University. He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography, for part one and part two of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois . He is the first author to win Pulitzer Prizes for biography for two successive volumes on the same subject.
Samella Sanders Lewis was an American visual artist and art historian. She worked primarily as a printmaker and painter. She has been called the “Godmother of African American Art”. She received Distinguished Artist Award for Lifetime Achievement from the College Art Association in 2021.
Wilson Jeremiah Moses is an African-American historian. He is Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University. Career Wilson J. Moses obtained his A.B. and M.A. in British Literature at Wayne State University, and his Ph.D. in American Civilization at Brown University. He held the Walter L. Ferree professorship in the middle period of American History at Pennsylvania State University before that, and he currently is Professor Emeritus at Penn State. He has in the past held a series of posts at other American Universities:Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa;...
Akbar Muhammad was an associate Professor Emeritus of history and Africana studies at Binghamton University in New York. He specialized in African history, West African social history, as well as the study of Islam in Africa and the Americas. He is the co-editor of Racism, Sexism, and the World-System, along with Joan Smith, Jane Collins, and Terrence K. Hopkins. His own writings focused on slavery in Muslim Africa, Muslims in the United States, and integration in Nigeria through the use of education. He holds a notable role in the history of the Nation of Islam.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad is an American academic. He is a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and the Radcliffe Institute. He is the former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a Harlem-based branch of the New York Public Library system, a research facility dedicated to the history of the African diaspora. Prior to joining the Schomburg Center in 2010, Muhammad was an associate professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington.
Nell Irvin Painter is an American historian notable for her works on United States Southern history of the nineteenth century. She is retired from Princeton University as the Edwards Professor of American History Emerita. She has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and as president of the Southern Historical Association, and was appointed as chair of MacDowell’s board of directors in 2020.
Benjamin Arthur Quarles was an American historian, administrator, educator, and writer, whose scholarship centered on black American social and political history. Major books by Quarles include The Negro in the Civil War , The Negro in the American Revolution , Lincoln and the Negro , and Black Abolitionists . He demonstrated that blacks were active participants in major conflicts and issues of American history. His books were narrative accounts of critical wartime periods that focused on how blacks interacted with their white allies and emphasized blacks’ acting as vital agents of change rat...
Runoko Rashidi was a historian, essayist, author and public lecturer based in Los Angeles, California, and Paris, France. He is the author of Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations] and the editor of Unchained African Voices, a collection of poetry and prose by Death Row inmates at California’s San Quentin maximum-security prison. He was a member of the editorial board of Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies , and he held an honorary doctorate of divinity from Amen-Ra Theological Seminary . He also supported the work of controversial scholars like the late Iva...
Rosalyn Terborg-Penn was an American professor of history and author. Terborg-Penn specialized in African-American history and black women’s history. Her book African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 was a ground-breaking work that recovered the histories of black women in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. She was faculty member of Morgan State University.
Wallace Houston Terry, II was an African-American journalist and oral historian, best known for his book about black soldiers in Vietnam, Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War , which served as a basis for the 1995 crime thriller Dead Presidents and the 2020 Spike Lee movie Da 5 Bloods.
Wyatt Tee Walker was an African-American pastor, national civil rights leader, theologian, and cultural historian. He was a chief of staff for Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1958 became an early board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference . He helped found a Congress for Racial Equality chapter in 1958. As executive director of the SCLC from 1960 to 1964, Walker helped to bring the group to national prominence. Walker sat at the feet of his mentor, BG Crawley, who was a Baptist Minister in Brooklyn, NY and New York State Judge.
Roger Wood Wilkins was an American lawyer, civil rights leader, professor of history, and journalist who served as the 15th United States Assistant Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1966 to 1969.
Chancellor Williams was an American sociologist, historian and writer. He is noted for his work on African civilizations prior to encounters with Europeans; his major work is The Destruction of Black Civilization . Williams remains a key figure in the Afrocentrist discourse.
Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, curator of photography, photographic historian, author, and educator. Among her awards and honors, she is a 2000 MacArthur Fellow. She is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University.