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.
Philosophy is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct…Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures. African American philosophers are raising new questions and offering new perspectives in ethics, social and political philosophy, and Critical Race Theory. This richness of thought includes new directions in philosophy and growth, such as the field of Africana Philosophy, defined as critical thinking on the past, present, and future destiny and experiences of Africans and the African disapora, addressing issues such as freedom, colonialism, Blackness, and resistance to oppression.
Contributions by current scholars include the recovery of forgotten Black thinkers in the field, (Tommy Curry, Tommie Shelby), exploring the meaning of being Black in the modern world (particularly in relation to Black poverty and being Black and male) (Curry), the issues of systemic racism in Western culture and philosophy (Angela Davis, Cornel West, Curry), and Black resistance to oppression (Curry, Shelby, Davis, West). Prominent thinkers in the field are known for both academic work and activism in areas of social concern such as the judicial system, prison reform/abolition, Black Nationalism and freedom struggles, and the issues arising from the legacy of colonialism and imperialism.
Pioneering Black Philosophers in History
To inspire students in the Black community to a greater commitment to the studying philosophy, these exceptional role models from history are often cited for their ongoing influence:
Frederick Douglass — Though not a philosopher by profession, Frederick Douglass nonetheless fulfills the station by the weight of his skills as one of history’s most powerful orators. His thought leadership on abolition, religion, politics, civil rights, diplomacy, and many more crucial subjects marked him as the greatest Black thinker of the 19th century, and a role model who will stand for generations.
Hubert Henry Harrison — Dubbed the “Black Socrates,” Harrison was a proponent of the Free Thought movement and one of the most notable atheists of his time, rejecting religious thought in favor of scientific empiricism. Harrison helped form the ideas of “class consciousness” and “race consciousness,” and he was often critical of other notable Black leaders of his day for their lack of radicalism.
Alain LeRoy Locke — The first African American Rhodes Scholar, Locke was known for his writings and philosophical ideology that fueled the famous Harlem Renaissance. Locke served as a philosophy professor at Howard University for many years, and the College of Arts and Sciences building on campus bears his name.
Joyce Mitchell Cook — The first Black woman to graduate from a professional philosophy program in the U.S. (Bryn Mawr College, 1955), she was also the first to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy (Yale University, 1965) She later taught at Howard University, served as editor of a prominent philosophy journal, and became a White House presidential speechwriter for Jimmy Carter.
25 Influential Black Philsophers 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, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the philosophers listed are contemporary scholars while others may be more historical figures. In either case, according to our AI, these are the most cited and searched Black philosophers over the past 30 years.
List is arranged alphabetically
Anita L. Allen
1953 - Present (70 years)
Anita L. Allen current holds the titles of the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is Vice Provost of Faculty. Within the university, Allen has also worked with the bioethics department, the Africana Studies program, and the gender, sexuality, and women’s studies program. Outside of the University of Pennsylvania, Allen has also taught at places including Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Tel Aviv University. Allen received her BA from the New College of Florida, and her MA and PhD in philosophy from the University of Michigan.
Allen is often cited as an international expert on issues of law and ethics, especially in regards to privacy, as well as women’s rights and diversity in higher education. Much of Allen’s work investigates the intersection between privacy, ethics, and society, and what these things mean in an increasingly advanced age in which the nature and role of privacy in our everyday lives and decisions is constantly shifting. These concerns extended to bioethics as well; in fact, in 2010 Allen was selected by President Barack Obama for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
William Barclay Allen is an American political scientist. He has been Professor of Political Philosophy and dean of James Madison College at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. He was a member of the National Council on the Humanities from 1984 to 1987 and chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 1988 to 1989.
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 a 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.
Kathryn Sophia Belle, formerly known as Kathryn T. Gines , is an American philosopher. She is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. Much of her work has focused on increasing diversity within philosophy, and she is the founding director of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers.
Influential far beyond just the realm of law, Crenshaw is one of the founders of critical race theory and the concept of intersectionality. These are methods of analyzing issues in regards to the influence of race, as well as the intersection (hence the name) of various aspects of identity, such as economic status, education, and gender. Crenshaw notes, of course, that she put the name “intersectionality” on the concept, but it existed before in the work of people such as Angela J. Davis and Deborah King. These ideas are just as often applied in fields including literature and art, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology as they are in law and legal theory.
Edward Warren Crosby , was an African-American professor/administrator emeritus, in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University . As a pioneer in the field of Black education his most notable accomplishments include the establishment of Black History Month and the Department of Pan-African Studies at KSU. The Institute for African American Affairs and the Center of Pan-African Culture were two of the first institutions of their kind to be established at institutions of higher education.
Tommy J. Curry is an African American scholar, author and professor of philosophy. , he holds a Personal Chair in Africana philosophy and Black male studies at the University of Edinburgh. In 2018, he won an American Book Award for The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood.
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American Marxist and feminist political activist, philosopher, academic, and author; she is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Davis was a longtime member of the Communist Party USA and a founding member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism . She writes extensively on class, gender, race, and the U.S. prison system.
Lez Edmond was an American philosopher, social activist, civil rights journalist, public intellectual author and academic primarily concerning the Civil rights movement . Early life Edmonds was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He was raised a Seventh-day Adventist who initially attended Adelphi University for his BA and MA degree. He later earned his PHD from Union Institute. Edmonds stated in an interview that he was forced into Civil Rights while working for an electronic store. It was here that a German co-worker called him a “god-damn black nigger.” When Edmonds reported this to HR, ...
Lewis Ricardo Gordon is an American philosopher at the University of Connecticut who works in the areas of Africana philosophy, existentialism, phenomenology, social and political theory, postcolonial thought, theories of race and racism, philosophies of liberation, aesthetics, philosophy of education, and philosophy of religion. He has written particularly extensively on Africana and black existentialism, postcolonial phenomenology, race and racism, and on the works and thought of W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon. His most recent book is titled: Fear of Black Consciousness.
Leonard Harris is a professor of philosophy at Purdue University, where he has directed the Philosophy and Literature Ph.D. program and the African American Studies and Research Center. Before Purdue he taught at Morgan State University, a public, historically Black research university in Baltimore, where he created and directed a Philosophy for Children Center as an affiliate of the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University. He wrote about his experience introducing philosophy to Washington, D.C. public schools in his book, Children in Chaos: A “Ph...
John H. McClendon III is a professor in the department of philosophy at Michigan State University. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Kansas, and taught at Binghamton University, Eastern Illinois University, University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana, Bates College, and the University of Missouri before coming to Michigan State University. His areas of focus include African philosophy, marxist philosophy, philosophy of African-American studies, and the history of African-American philosophers.
Charles Mills was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center City University of New York, as well as a critically acclaimed philosopher on race. He earned his B.Sc. in physics from the University of the West Indies and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto.
Michele Moody-Adams is an American philosopher and academic administrator. Between July 1, 2009, and September 2011, she served as Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education at Columbia University. She was the first woman and first African-American to hold the post. She has since resigned as dean, citing the decreasing autonomy of Columbia College. She remains a faculty member in the department of philosophy. In 2021, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Anthony Sean Neal is an American philosophy professor and author. In 2021, Neal was awarded the title Beverly B. and Gordon W. Gulmon Dean’s Eminent Scholar. Neal is an author and an associate professor of philosophy at Mississippi State University. Neal is a Fellow of the American Institute of Philosophical and Cultural Thought. Neal is also an American Philosophical Association Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, UK. He is also a Fellow of the Shackouls Honors College. He is a 2019 inductee into the Morehouse College Collegium of Sc...
Adrian Margaret Smith Piper is an American conceptual artist and Kantian philosopher. Her work addresses how and why those involved in more than one discipline may experience professional ostracism, otherness, racial passing, and racism by using various traditional and non-traditional media to provoke self-analysis. She uses reflection on her own career as an example. Piper has been awarded various fellowships and medals and has been described as having “profoundly influenced the language and form of Conceptual art”. In 2002, she founded the Adrian Piper Research Archive in Berlin, Germany, ...
Tommie Shelby is an American philosopher. Since 2013, he has served as the Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, where he is the current chair of the Department of African and African American Studies. He is particularly known for his work in Africana philosophy, social and political philosophy, social theory , and the philosophy of social science.
Kenneth Allen Taylor was an American philosopher and co-host of the radio program Philosophy Talk. Education and career Taylor received his A.B. from the University of Notre Dame in 1977. He received his Ph.D. in 1984 from the University of Chicago, where he completed his dissertation under the supervision of Leonard Linsky. Before coming to Stanford, Taylor taught in the philosophy departments at Rutgers University, University of Maryland at College Park, Wesleyan University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Middlebury College.
Paul Christopher Taylor is an American philosopher, author, and W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Previously he taught philosophy and African American studies at Pennsylvania State University. He writes on race theory, aesthetics, pragmatism, social and political philosophy, and Africana philosophy.
Laurence Thomas is an American philosopher. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Political Science at Syracuse University. Thomas is noted for his work on moral luck, social philosophy and American Blacks and Jews.
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.
Robert Gooding-Williams is M. Moran Weston/Black Alumni Council Professor of African-American Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the founding director of Columbia’s Center for Race, Philosophy, and Social Justice. He specializes in philosophy of race and Continental philosophy, especially Nietzsche.
Janice Dean Willis, or Jan Willis is Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University, where she has taught since 1977; and the author of books on Tibetan Buddhism. She has been called influential by Time Magazine, Newsweek , and Ebony Magazine. Aetna Inc.’s 2011 African American History Calendar features professor Willis as one of thirteen distinguished leaders of faith-based health initiatives in the United States.
George Dewey Yancy is the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Philosophy at Emory University. He earned a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh, an M.A. in philosophy from Yale University, an M.A. in Africana Studies, and a Ph.D. from Duquesne University. He is a distinguished Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, a University of Pennsylvania Inaugural Provost’s Distinguished Visiting Faculty Fellow, and the founding editor of the Philosophy of Race book series.
Naomi Zack is a professor of philosophy at Lehman College, City University of New York , having formerly been a professor at the University of Albany and the University of Oregon. She has written thirteen books and three textbooks, and she has edited or co-edited five anthologies, in addition to publishing a large number of papers and book chapters, particularly in areas having to deal with race, feminism, and natural disasters. Zack has taken on a number of professional roles related to the representation of women and other under-represented groups in philosophy. Zack is also a member of the ...
These organizations make it their mission to encourage current Black philosophers while raising up the next generation of students, teachers, and proponents of academic philosophy:
American Philosphical Assocation: Committee on the Status of Black Philosophers — This APA committee is charged with assessing and reporting on the status of black philosophers. It also makes reports and recommendations to the board concerning ways in which full and meaningful equality of opportunity can be provided to all individuals who seek to study, teach, or conduct research in philosophy.
Society of Young Black Philosophers — SYBP exists to connect Black philosophy students and junior faculty for the purposes of helping the former gain tenure-track jobs and the latter gain tenure.
Society of Christian Philosophers — SCP works to promote fellowship among Christian philosophers and to provide occasions for intellectual interchange among Christian philosophers on issues that arise from their joint commitment.
American Association of Blacks in Higher Education — AABHE strives to be the premier organization to drive leadership development, access and vital issues concerning Blacks in higher education. In pursuing this vision, AABHE seeks to collaborate with other ethnic groups and organizations that have similar interests.
Society for the Study of Africana Philosophy — SSAP has been a forum for the discussion of philosophical ideas for over thirty-five years. SSAP was established to provide a network of support for young African American philosophers and other intellectuals in the academy, to bring together alternative voices to de-center the predominant ‘Eurocentric’ focus of and lack of diversity in most academic philosophy departments, and to provide a place for lay intellectuals to exchange ideas with professional academics in an informal setting.
The Black Philosophers Consortium — BPC aims to create an intellectually diverse community in which practicing and aspiring Black philosophers can build relationships and pursue professional development in a space organized around their distinctive paths through the profession. The BPC is dedicated to the professional development of Black philosophers as a whole, irrespective of political commitments, ideological convictions, and metaphilosophical assumptions.