Compiled by Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
In any year, the deaths of great musicians, Hall of Fame athletes, elected officials, Civil Rights leaders, and others in the public arena are notable. But in 2020—one of the most bizarre years in history and certainly in recent memory—those losses seem to take on even more significance. Added to a year of devastating pandemic, civil unrest, and political turmoil were the losses of individuals, young and old, who’ve had a meaningful impact on our lives. Some were well-known, others were not so well-known—but they all will be missed. Here’s a list of notable deaths in 2020.
Jimmy Heath – Born on Oct. 25, 1926, Heath died on January 19. Nicknamed “Little Bird,” Heath was known for being a talented jazz musician. Raised by a clarinet-playing father and a mother who sang in a church choir, Heath was raised with an appreciation for music. In the 1940’s, he played alongside many jazz greats such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Heath’s performances and compositions on more than 100 albums led to him receiving several Grammy nominations. Many of his compositions have become “jazz standards,” or music pieces that are widely performed by jazz musicians. Heath died at 93 in Loganville, Georgia of natural causes.
Kobe Bryant – Born Aug. 23, 1978, Bryant died on January 26. Bryant was a professional basketball player with the Los Angeles Lakers for 20 years. In Bryant’s career, he won five National Basketball Association championships, was the NBA Most Valuable Player in 2008 and the NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. Bryant was the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, and began playing basketball when he was three years old. As a child, the Lakers were his favorite basketball team. At age 17, Bryant signed to the Lakers in 1996 thanks to his excellent performance in high school as the top scorer in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Bryant died at 41 in Calabasas, California in a helicopter crash.
Willie Wood – Born Dec. 23, 1936, Willie Wood was a professional football player for the Green Bay Packers, as well as a football coach for the San Diego Chargers, the now defunct Philadelphia Bell and the Toronto Argonauts. Wood started his career at Coalinga Junior College in Coalinga, California in 1956, then transferred to the University of Southern California, where he was the first Black quarterback in the history of the Pacific Coast Conference, now the Pac-12. Wood played for the Packers from 1960 to 1971, where he won All-NFL (National Football League) honors nine times and won five NFL championship games. He died in Washington, D.C. on February 3 from natural causes. Wood was 83.
Deborah Batts – Born April 13, 1947, Batts was known as the first openly gay federal judge. Batts received her bachelor’s from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1969 and her Juris Doctor from Harvard in 1972. Batts served in several positions prior to her election as a judge, from an Assistant United States Attorney to an associate professor of law at Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan. Batts died on February 3 in Manhattan from knee surgery complications. She was 72.
Paula Kelly – Born Oct. 21, 1942, Kelly was an American actress, choreographer and singer. Kelly attended the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in Manhattan, New York and majored in music. She later graduated from the Juilliard School of Music, majoring in dance. Kelly performed at the Academy Awards, in Broadway shows, and in multiple TV shows and films such as Sanford and Son, Golden Girls, Uptown Saturday Night and Sweet Charity. On February 8 at the age of 88, Kelly died of heart failure.
Ja’Net DuBois – Sources differ on Dubois’ date of birth. Born Jeannette Theresa Dubois, she is best known for her portrayal of Willona Woods on the TV show Good Times, which aired from 1974 to 1979. DuBois also co-wrote and performed the theme song “Movin’ on Up” for The Jeffersons, a TV show that aired from 1975 to 1985. DuBois acted in Broadway plays such as A Raisin in the Sun and Golden Boy. DuBois moved to television in 1969 with the TV movie J.T., as well as the soap opera Love of Life, where she became one of the first Black regular cast members on a daytime series. DuBois died of cardiac arrest on February 17.
Esther Scott – Born on April 13, 1953, Scott was an actress. Scott has appeared on multiple TV shows including 90210, Full House and The Steve Harvey Show. Scott was cast in multiple films as well, including Dreamgirls, Boyz n the Hood and The Birth of a Nation. In their obituary for Scott, The New York Times described her roles as often motherly, playing “sharp but nurturing characters.” Scott died from a heart attack on February 14. She was 66.
Barbara Smith – Born on Aug. 24, 1949, Barbara “B.” Smith was a model, businesswoman, restauranteur and television host. Smith began her modeling career in the mid 1960’s at the Ebony Fashion Fair in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first Black model to be on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine in 1976. Smith owned multiple restaurants called “B. Smith” located across New York City, as well as one in Washington, D.C.. As she battled with early-onset Alzheimers beginning in 2014, Smith and her husband Dan Gasby wrote “Before I Forget”, which talks about her journey with the disease. She died on February 22 from Alzheimer’s complications. Smith was 70.
Katherine Johnson – Born Aug. 26, 1918, Johnson was imperative to the United States’ success in space travel. Johnson worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for 35 years, and worked as a mathematician whose calculations and use of computers changed the field of aeronautics and computing. Johnson graduated from high school at the age of 14 and graduated college from West Virginia State, a historically black college. Johnson took every math course offered by the college during her time there, and graduated with the highest honors in 1937 with degrees in mathematics and French at the age of 18. Her story was told in the highly acclaimed film Hidden Figures, released in December 2016. Johnson died on February 24 in Newport News at the age of 101.
McCoy Tyner – Alfred McCoy Tyner was born Dec. 11, 1938. He was known as a five-time Grammy winner and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master for his skills in jazz piano. Tyner studied piano from the age of 13. He studied at the West Philadelphia Music School and later the Granoff School of Music, both in Pennsylvania. Tyner performed with the John Coltrane quartet from 1960 to 1965, and performed on many of the quartet’s records, such as My Favorite Things and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays. Tyner died on March 6 in northern New Jersey. He was 81.
Mable B. Anderson — Born in 1930. Anderson was founder of the Village Creek Society (VCS) and grew up in the frequently flooded neighborhood of Moro Park in Ensley. She established the Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society Inc., commonly called the Village Creek Society (VCS) in 1980 and incorporated in 1999 to address the extensive flooding of the Village Creek watershed. She graduated Birmingham’s A.H. Parker High School at 16 years old. Anderson died March 1. She was 89.
Barbara Neely – Born Nov. 30, 1941, Neely was a novelist and short story writer who largely wrote murder mysteries. Neely was involved in activism in her youth, largely in a political and social context. Inspired by Toni Morrison, a Black author who frequently wrote on race relations and Black women, Neely’s writing mimicked Morrison’s style of using a Black woman’s experience to tell complicated murder mystery stories that tie in violence against women, racism, sexism and class conflict. Neely passed on March 2 at the age of 78.
Barbara Harris – Born June 12, 1930, Harris was a bishop of the Episcopal Church. She was the first woman consecrated a bishop in the Anglican communion, and was elected in the Diocese of Massachusetts on September 24, 1988. Harris served as the bishop in Massachusetts for 13 years until retiring in 2003. She attended Villanova University, a Catholic university in Pennsylvania and was very active in civil rights issues. In the 1960’s, Harris participated in freedom rides and the Selma to Montgomery marches. Harris died in Lincoln, Massachusetts on March 13 at 89.
Curly Neal – Born on May 19, 1942, Frederick “Curly” Neal was a basketball player for the Harlem Globetrotters, a team known for their theatric style of basketball. He joined the Globetrotters after high school, where he averaged more than 23 points per game during his senior year, according to ESPN. Neal played for the Globetrotters from 1963-1985 and appeared in more than 6,000 games in 97 countries. Neal also featured alongside other Globetrotters in the Harlem Globetrotters cartoon, as well as in several Scooby-Doo movies. Neal died in Houston, Texas on March 26. He was 77.
Joseph Echols Lowery – Born Oct. 6, 1921, Lowery was a co-founder of civil rights organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) alongside Martin Luther King Jr., and served as its vice president, chairman of the board and president. Lowery was a staunch figure in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and continued to fight for civil rights up until his death. Lowery died on March 27 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 98.
April Dunn – Born July 6, 1986, Dunn was a disability rights activist. She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy. Adopted at five months after being put up for adoption by her biological mother, Dunn faced adversity in high school after failing to receive her diploma due to being unable to pass standardized tests. In 2014, Dunn advocated for Act 833 in Louisiana, which established alternate methods of grade promotion and graduation for students who cannot pass standardized tests. Dunn died on March 10 in Louisiana due to complications from COVID-19. She was 33.
Bill Withers – Born July 4, 1938, Withers was a songwriter and musician. He is well-known for his soulful hits such as “Just the Two of Us,” “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” In 1967, Withers moved to Los Angeles to begin his music career. He recorded demo tapes and performed in clubs at night while he worked for several different companies. Withers worked in the music industry for only 15 years due to his dissatisfaction with industry executives. Withers won three Grammys for his work, and was nominated for several others. Withers died on March 30 from heart complications in Los Angeles. He was 81.
Wallace Roney – Born May 25, 1960, Roney was a jazz trumpeter personally mentored by Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz figures of the 20th Century. Roney attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where he studied the trumpet. Roney was recording music by the time he was 15, and met Davis in 1983 while performing a tribute to Davis. Roney died on March 31 in Paterson, New Jersey due to COVID-19 complications. He was 59.
Ellis Marsalis – Born Nov. 14, 1934, Marsalis was a jazz pianist and father to Branford and Wynton Marsalis, who are well-known saxophone and trumpet players, respectively. Marsalis played saxophone in high school, and learned the piano at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1955. He recorded several albums of his own works, and later taught many students in jazz improvisation at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. Marsalis died on April 1 from COVID-19 complications. He was 85.
David Driskell – Born June 7, 1931, Driskell was an artist and curator and is known for establishing African American art as a field of study. He is also known as one of the most important authorities on the subject of African American art. He attended Howard University in 1955 and graduated with a bachelor’s in art. He also studied under African American artist James A. Porter, known for his work in the African American Art movement. Driskell died on April 1 in Washington, D.C. due to complications from COVID-19. He was 88.
Bobby Mitchell – Born June 6, 1935, Mitchell was a football player in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins. Mitchell was the first Black football player for the Redskins, as they were the last NFL team to integrate. In high school, Mitchell played football, basketball, ran track and was also offered a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball. Mitchell began playing professional football in 1958 and retired in 1969 due to physical limitations. Mitchell died on April 5 at age 84.
Earl Graves, Sr. – Born Jan. 9, 1935, Graves was an entrepreneur and philanthropist who focused largely on African American businesses. He was also the founder of Black Enterprise magazine, and director for Aetna, a healthcare company, as well as a board member for Boy Scouts of America. He created Earl G. Graves, Ltd in 1970 as a holding company, where he would create business in publishing, marketing, television and radio, among other things. He died on April 6. He was 85.
Willie Davis – Born July 24, 1934, Davis was a professional football player for the Cleveland Browns and the Green Bay Packers. Prior to his career with the NFL, Davis played college football for the Grambling State Tigers at Grambling State University in Grambling, Louisiana. He was drafted into the NFL in 1956, but did not begin his career until 1958 due to his service with the United States Army. Davis was a five-time NFL champion and won two Super Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. Davis died due to kidney failure on April 15. He was 85.
Erskine Ramsay Faush Sr. – Born in 1932. The Birmingham preacher and radio broadcaster was known as the man with the “sweetest voice this side of heaven.” For decades, Mr. Faush combined his preaching talents as pastor of the Metropolitan A. M. E. Zion Church in Birmingham with his flair for broadcast during his Gospel Cavalcade on radio station 900 Gold WATV. He became a legend both in the ministry and on the airwaves. He died on April 25 at age 88.
Little Richard – Born Richard Wayne Penniman on Dec. 5, 1932, Richard was best known as an influential rock and roll musician. With hit songs such as “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” Richard consistently created music to be enjoyed by everyone, and his performances even encouraged his audience to integrate. His music was often covered by other rock and roll singers of the time, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Recording Academy and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, as well as a Rhapsody and Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music. Richard died in his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee on May 9 due to a two-month fight with illness related to bone cancer. He was 87.
Betty Wright – Born Dec. 21, 1953, Wright was a soul and rhythm and blues singer and songwriter. Known for her use of the “whistle register,” or singing at a high pitch, Wright sang hits such as “Clean Up Woman” and “Tonight Is the Night.” She began singing at two-years-old, when her siblings formed a gospel group called Echoes of Joy. While the group eventually disbanded, Wright later released singles that topped R&B charts. Wright died from cancer on May 10 in Miami, Florida. She was 66.
Bob Watson – Born April 10, 1946, Watson was a professional baseball player for the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves from 1966 to 1984. In 1995, the Yankees hired Watson as GM, and in 1996 the team won their first World Series since 1978, making Watson the first African American general manager to win a World Series championship. Watson died from stage four kidney disease on May 14. He was 74.
Louis Delsarte – Born Sept. 1, 1944, Delsarte was a prolific African American artist known for his “illusionistic” style. Delsarte painted, created murals, prints and illustrated. Much of his inspiration came from jazz, opera, musicals and blues as well as African history. He attended the Pratt Institute in New York for a bachelor’s in Fine Arts, and received a master’s degree from the University of Arizona in Fine Arts. He died on May 2 in Atlanta at age 75.
Jimmy Cobb – Born Jan. 20, 1929, Cobb was a jazz drummer who was known as being part of Miles Davis’ “First Great Sextet,” Cobb found inspiration listening to jazz albums and jazz DJ Symphony Sid in New York City. Cobb worked with several influential jazz musicians during his career, including John Coltrane. He taught music at Stanford University in California, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He died on May 24 in Manhattan at the age of 91 from lung cancer.
Emma Amos – Born March 16, 1937, Amos was a painter and printmaker. She received degrees from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio as well as the Central School of Art and Design in London and New York University. Briefly living in Atlanta, she moved to New York City to experience the art scene but was surprised by the racism and sexism she experienced. She came to understand the necessity of Black art after realizing Black art galleries were often the only place Black artists could show their work. She died on May 20 after complications from Alzheimers. She was 83.
Wes Unseld – Born March 14, 1946, Unseld was a basketball player and coach. For the entirety of his career with the NBA, he played for the Baltimore Bullets, currently the Washington Wizards. Unseld played basketball in high school and was recruited by over 100 colleges, including the University of Kentucky, which prior to Unseld had never offered an athletic scholarship to a Black student. Unseld was a five-time NBA all-star, as well as an NBA champion and Finals Most Valuable Player in 1978, and MVP in 1969. Unseld died due to complications from pneumonia on June 2. He was 74.
Bonnie Pointer – Born July 11, 1950, Pointer was a member of the Pointer Sisters. Together with her sisters June, Anita and Ruth, the sisters created the group in 1969 and performed several popular songs across multiple genres, from rhythm and blues to pop, disco and country music. Their song “Fairytale” won a Grammy. Bonnie Pointer left the group in 1978 to pursue a solo career. Pointer died on June 8 from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles, California. She was 69.
Claudell Washington – Born Aug. 31, 1954, Washington was a professional baseball player for the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees and California Angels from 1974 to 1990. Washington did not play baseball in high school as his coach wanted him to pitch and Washington wanted to be an outfielder. Washington died at the age of 65 on June 10 in a hospital in the East Bay area of San Francisco, California. He had been battling prostate cancer since 2017.
C.T. Vivian – Born July 30, 1924, Vivian was a minister and author, as well as a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement. He studied for the ministry at American Baptist Theological Seminary, now American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee in 1959. He and several other students, including congressman John Lewis, organized a sit-in at local lunch counters. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. Vivian died of natural causes on July 17 in Atlanta. He was 95.
John Lewis – Born Feb. 21, 1940, John Lewis was known as a civil rights leader and congressman for Georgia’s 5th congressional district. In his youth, Lewis experienced racism and segregation in libraries and in being denied admission to Troy University in Troy, Alabama. Lewis participated in sit-ins, boycotts, the freedom rides and other nonviolent protests against segregation and racism in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1965, Lewis participated in the Selma to Montgomery march known as “Bloody Sunday,” where protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis’ skull was fractured when police officers used force on the peaceful protesters. Lewis received several awards in his life, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which has only ever been given out twice. Lewis died on July 17 from pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Charles Evers – Born Sept. 11, 1922, Evers was a businessman and politician. He served as the mayor of Fayette, Mississippi from 1969 to 1981 and from 1985 to 1989, making him the first Black mayor in Mississippi. At the time of his election, the white police officers in the town resigned to avoid working under a Black administration. Evers also worked as the field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Mississippi in 1963. He was named “Man of the Year” by the NAACP in 1969. On July 22, Evers died in Brandon, Mississippi. He was 97.
Cleveland “Cleve” Eaton – Born Aug. 31, 1939. The Fairfield Ala. great was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and over the course of his career wrote more than 300 songs performing with some of the greatest names in music including Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughn. Eaton was born in Fairfield and began as a child musician, mastering his mother’s piano, the trumpet, and the saxophone. Died July 5 at age 80.
Lady Red Couture – Born May 30, 1977 as Kareemia Baines, she was a drag queen and co-host of Hey Qween!, an online talk show on all things drag. She attended George Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, California where she took extracurriculars such as theatre and marching band. She began her drag career in 1995 where she was known for her ability to sing and command the stage. Baines died on July 25 due to a flare-up of cyclic vomiting syndrome, something she suffered from throughout her life.
Herman Cain – Born Dec. 13, 1945, Cain was a businessman and chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Missouri from 1989 to 1991. He graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia with a bachelor’s in mathematics. He received a master’s in computer science from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Cain ran as a Republican in the 2012 presidential election. He supported Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and served as co-chairman of Black Voices for Trump in 2020. Cain was a staunch opposer of mask mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cain died from COVID-19 complications on July 30. He was 74.
Chadwick Boseman – Born Nov. 29, 1976, Boseman was an actor known for his role as Black Panther in Marvel films. Boseman studied directing at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduated in 2000. His first television role was in an episode of Third Watch in 2003, picking up small roles in many different TV shows. His breakthrough role was as baseball star Jackie Robinson in the film “42” in 2013. In 2014, Boseman starred as James Brown in Get on Up.
Boseman starred as Black Panther in 2016 with “Captain America: Civil War. He later headlined in Black Panther in 2018, and reprised the role in subsequent Marvel films as Black Panther. During his work in Captain America, Boseman was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. Very few people knew he was sick, and he continued to act in several movies while undergoing treatment for cancer. He died on August 28 at 43.
John Thompson – Born Sept. 2, 1941, Thompson was a college basketball coach for the Georgetown Hoyas men’s team in Washington, D.C. from 1972-1999. Thompson also played for the Boston Celtics in Boston, Massachusetts, and won two NBA championships during his tenure. For Georgetown, Thompson led the team to a National Collegiate Athletic Association win in 1984, two Eastern College Athletic Conference wins, six Big East Conference Tournament wins and five Big East Conference regular season wins. He died on August 30 in his home in Arlington, Virginia. He was 78.
Lou Brock – Born June 18, 1939, Brock was known as a professional baseball player for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. Known for base stealing, Brock was a six-time all-star, won two World Series in 1964 and 1967 and was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award for community and sportsmanship in 1975. Brock was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985, and the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014. Brock died on September 6. He was 81.
Stanley Crouch – Born Dec. 14, 1945, Crouch was a poet, music and culture critic and novelist. As a child, Crouch often read literature from greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Mart Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He learned stories about Black culture from his mother, such as the jazz scene in Kansas City, Missouri. He was involved in the civil rights movement while he was in junior college, and in the 1970’s took up jazz drumming. Crouch died on September 16 in New York City. He was 74.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Born March 15, 1933, Ginsberg was the first Jewish woman and second woman to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ginsburg was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and served until 2020. She received her bachelor’s in government from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1954, and attended Columbia Law School in New York for her law degree in 1956.
Ginsburg is best known for being a pioneer for women’s rights on the supreme court. Considered more liberal than her counterparts, Ginsburg argued against gender discrimination in in cases such as United States v. Virginia and Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Ginsburg died from cancer complications on September 18. She was 87.
Gale Sayers – Born May 30, 1943, Sayers was a professional football player who spent his career with the Chicago Bears from 1965 to 1971. In high school, Sayers played football and ran in track and field. He was recruited extensively prior to going into the NFL, and played for the University of Kansas. During his time with the Chicago Bears, Sayers won several awards and achievements including four Pro Bowl wins, Rookie of the Year in 1965, Comeback Player of the Year in 1969 and the NFL 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time Team award. He was known for his speed. He died on September 23 at the age of 77.
Bob Gibson – Born Nov. 9, 1935, Gibson was a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals. He played 17 seasons from 1959 to 1975 as a pitcher and won 251 games during his time with the Cardinals. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014. Despite being a rather sickly child with issues such as a heart murmur, asthma or pneumonia, Gibson played baseball and basketball. He won a full scholarship for basketball from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gibson played for the Harlem Globetrotters for one year before playing with the Cardinals in 1959. He won two world series championships in 1964 and 1967, nine all-star games and multiple MVP awards. Gibson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, and died on October 2 this year at age 84.
Johnny Nash – Born Aug. 19, 1940, Nash was a singer and songwriter best known for the 1972 song “I Can See Clearly Now.” Nash is credited with bringing reggae into the spotlight for American audiences. In his youth, Nash would sing rhythm and blues covers on the local radio show, and his first major debut was in 1957 with “A Teenager Sings the Blues.” His cover of Doris Day’s “A Very Special Love” was his first chart hit in 1958. Nash died of natural causes on October 6 in Houston, Texas. He was 80.
Joe Morgan – Born Sept. 19, 1943, Morgan was a professional baseball player for several teams, including the Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Oakland Athletics. Morgan won two World Series championships in 1975 and 1976 with the Cincinnati Reds, and was named MVP those years, as well. Morgan died from leukemia complications on October 11 in Danville, California. He was 77.
Monica Roberts – Born May 4, 1962, Roberts was a blogger and transgender rights advocate. Roberts founded TransGriot in 2004 as a newspaper column for the Louisville LGBT newspaper The Letter. In 2006, Roberts created a blog for TransGriot. She used the platform to talk about transgender history and issues, such as the high volume of transgender homicides and the tendency for police reporting and media coverage to misgender victims. Roberts died on October 5 from medical complications. She was 58.
Anthony Chisholm – Born April 9, 1943, Chisholm was a Tony-nominated actor for his work in August Wilson’s Radio Golf. He was in other Broadway plays, such as Gem of the Ocean and Two Trains Running. He won awards such as the Drama Desk Award and Obie Award when he starred in the August Wilson play Jitney. Other awards include the NAACP Theatre Award, and many nominations for theatre awards. He died on October 16 at age 77.
Herb Adderley – Born June 8, 1939, Adderley was a professional football player for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. Adderley is the only football player to appear in four of the first six Super Bowls, and won three Super Bowl championships during his career, among several other wins. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Packers Hall of Fame in 1981. Adderley died on October 30 at 81.
Bishop Rance Allen — Born Nov. 19, 1948, Allen died on Oct. 31 at age 71 and was one of the most acclaimed and highly influential figures in the modern gospel music genre. The vocalist-guitarist-pianist was widely known for leading the Grammy-nominated Rance Allen Group, which he formed in the late 1960s with his brothers Tom and Steve, respectively, on drums and bass. The group’s mix of gospel, soul, rock and pop music, characterized by Allen’s unique delivery inspired a generation of gospel artists ranging from Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond to John P. Kee and Bryan Andrew Wilson. Allen was born in Monroe, Michigan, one of 12 children in his family, and began singing and preaching as Little Rance Allen at the age of five.
Lucille Bridges – Born Aug. 12, 1934, Bridges was the mother of Ruby Bridges, the first Black child to desegregate the all-white school William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bridges’ parents were sharecroppers, and Bridges eventually married Abon Bridges in 1953, where they had eight children. Upon Ruby entering school, the Bridges had to live under federal protection for a year due to threats against their family, and when Ruby attended school for the first time, she had to be escorted by federal marshals. Bridges died from cancer in New Orleans, Louisiana on November 10. She was 86.
David Dinkins – Born July 10, 1927, Dinkins was a politician, lawyer and author. Dinkins was the first Black mayor of New York City, from 1990 to 1993. Prior to entering politics, he attempted to enlist in the United States Marines but was rejected as they had filled their racial quota. He later served in the Marines from 1945 to 1946, and graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s in mathematics in 1950. He received a law degree from Brooklyn Law School in New York in 1956. He died on November 23 from natural causes in Manhattan, New York. He was 93.
Bruce Carver Boynton – Born June 19, 1937 in Selma, Ala., Boynton was a civil rights pioneer who inspired the landmark “Freedom Rides” of 1961. Boynton was arrested 60 years ago for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation and helped inspire the “Freedom Rides.” He died November 23 at the age of 83.
Walter Williams – Born March 31, 1936, Williams was an economist and academic. He earned his bachelor’s in economics in 1956 from California State University in Los Angeles, and his master’s and Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles. During his time as an economist, Williams wrote hundreds of articles, and book reviews on economic theory and the modern economy, as well as economic troubles surrounding the Black community. Williams died on December 1 after teaching a class at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Williams was 84.
Rafer Johnson – Born on August 18, 1934, Johnson was a film actor and decathlete. As a youth he was a great athlete, and was on the football, baseball and basketball teams. Johnson won a silver medal in the 1956 Olympic Games, and a gold medal in the 1960 Olympic Games in the decathlon, where athletes compete in 10 different challenges including running, jumping and throwing. Johnson died after suffering a stroke on December 2 in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 86.
Dick Allen – Born March 8, 1942, Allen was a professional baseball player for the Philadelphia Phillies, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. He is ranked among baseball’s top offensive producers in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Allen won several accolades for his performance, such as Rookie of the Year in 1964 and MVP in 1972, as well as the two-time home run leader in 1972 and 1974. Allen died on December 7 at 78-years-old.
Natalie Desselle-Reid – Born July 12, 1967. Natalie Desselle-Reid appeared in movies such as “B.A.P.S”, “Set It Off”, “Cinderella” and “Madea’s Big Happy Family” and also had a starring role in the UPN show “Eve”. Desselle-Reid grew up in Louisiana and attended Grambling State University. On television she was known for her work on “Eve”, for which she played one of the best friends of the main character (portrayed by Eve Jeffers). Desselle-Reid passed away from colon cancer on Dec. 7.
Thomas “Tiny” Lister, Jr.—Born June 24, 1958. Lister was best known as “Deebo” from the Friday movies series. “Deebo” was the neighborhood bully and antagonist to Ice Cube’s character, Craig Jones. He appeared in the sequel, “Next Friday”, but did not appear in the third film of the series, “Friday After Next”. He did appear in Cube’s director debut The Players Club and played the role of Obodo in Mario Van Peebles’ “Posse” (1993). Lister died on December 10.
Charley Pride – Born March 18,1934. Pride wasn’t country music’s first Black artist, but he reached heights that had not been available to early Black singers and musicians in the genre. And he did it by winning over millions of country music fans. He was the first Black artist to win the genre’s highest prize, CMA Award entertainer of the year in 1971, over nominees Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Jerry Reed and Conway Twitty. He was the first Black co-host of the CMA Awards in 1975 with Campbell and earned a lifetime achievement award at the CMA Awards this year. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy in 2017. He died in Dallas on December 12 of complications related to COVID-19, according to some reports. He was 86 years old.
The New York Times, Associated Press contributed to this post
Updated on 12/20/20 to include names. Updated on 12/24/20 to include a name.