UPDATED: 10:15 a.m. ET, Jan. 25, 2022
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
That was true for Bill Owens, a real-life trailblazer who was the first Black state senator in Massachusetts history and a civil rights icon in his own right in the Boston area who notably tried to gain traction on the topic of reparations for Massachusetts residents who are descendants of enslaved Black people in the U.S. Owens died on Saturday at the age of 84.
The Boston Globe reported that Owens had recently been in declining health, including testing positive for COVID-19. However, an official cause of death was not immediately reported.
While Owens was born in Alabama, he put his roots down in Boston, from where the Democrat launched a successful bid for state representative in 1973 before his historic election to the state senate in 1975, a position in which he served multiple terms until his retirement in 1992.
Not only did Owens graduate from high school in Boston, but he also attended and graduated from Boston University, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He also lived in Mattapan, a predominately Black neighborhood in Boston.
Aside from the aforementioned efforts for reparations, Owens was a tireless worker on behalf of Black Boston.
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who described himself as Owens’ friend of 50 years, offered a glimpse into the important work the late politician achieved in his life.
“From the beginning of his career, he fought to ensure that Black families and workers got the rights and representation denied to them,” Markey said of Owens in a statement emailed to NewsOne on Monday afternoon after news of the death broke. “He fought to become the first Black State Senator just like he fought for housing justice, for reparations, for Roxbury Community College, and for equal opportunity for all people of color. He learned the lessons of our nation’s history, rewrote them, and then taught the-powers-that-be from his own textbook on building political and economic power.”
Owens was ahead of his time when it came to the topic of reparations. While there is currently a national movement to secure reparations, Owens prioritized Black Massachusetts residents in the late 1980s in part because he said the state benefitted monetarily and otherwise from the slave trade.
“You can call it racism if you wish, but it’s the result of what happened during slavery,” Owens famously said at the time.
Keep reading to learn more about the notable Black lives we’ve lost in 2022.
1. André Leon Talley, 73Source:Getty
Fashion icon André Leon Talley died on Jan. 18 at the age of 73. Visionary, legendary, phenom are all words that have been used to describe Talley and his impact on both fashion and journalism.
While younger generations may know him from his time as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” Talley has been a fixture in high fashion and journalism for almost 50 years.
Variety called the former creative director and editor-at-large for Vogue a “titan of fashion journalism.” Talley stood at an impressive 6-foot-six-inches, with his presence felt in each room he entered.
Talley’s bylines included Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily. A prolific influence on fashion and beyond, Talley got his start at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine in 1975, later becoming the fashion news editor at Vogue.
2. The National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – Cheryl A. Hickmon
The National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl A. Hickmon, died after battling a recent illness. Her death, which has been confirmed by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on their website and social media, comes just months after Hickmon took over as National President.
In the statement the Sorority wrote a heartfelt message to Hickmon and her family.
“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.
President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President.
She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister. The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”
3. American Basketball Player – Lusia Harris
Lusia “Lucy” Harris-Stewart, the legendary, barrier-breaking hall of fame basketball player whose largely unknown life story was recently told in a new documentary already being mentioned as an Academy Award contender, has died at the age of 66.
Not only did Harris win three straight national championships in the 1970s while starring for Delta University in Mississippi, but the dominating center also won a silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and was even drafted into the NBA — the first and still only time that the world’s premier professional basketball league selected a woman.
In 1977, the Utah Jazz selected Harris with the 137th pick in the seventh round of the NBA Draft.
4. Brigadier General Charles McGee – Dulles, VASource:Getty
Brigadier General Charles McGee was called home at the age of 102. NBC 4 Washington quoted his family as saying McGee passed away peacefully Sunday morning. He is survived by his three children and countless grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Becoming a centenarian is among McGee’s many amazing accomplishments. One of the last remaining Tuskegee Airmen, McGee was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on his 100th birthday.
“My approach to life was, and still is, ‘Do while you can,’” McGee said in a 1999 interview with Aviation History.
Born in Cleveland, OH McGee’s family moved a lot when he was growing up finally landing in Chicago in High School. After earning money in the Civilian Conservation Corps, McGee went on to the University of Illinois. McGee was also a proud member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
When news of Pearl Harbor broke, McGee joined the military becoming a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. He would go on to fly 409 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. McGee retired at the rank of Colonel in 1973. According to the National World War II Museum, McGee flew more combat missions in the three wars than any other pilot.
He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2020, McGee was honored both by NASA and at the 2020 State of the Union. Former President Trump promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General ahead of the State of the Union.
McGee appreciated the honor but said it would’ve been nice to have that recognition while he was still in service.
“At first I would say ‘wow,’ but looking back, it would have been nice to have had that during active duty, but it didn’t happen that way,” McGee told U.S. Airforce News. “But still, the recognition of what was accomplished, certainly, I am pleased and proud to receive that recognition and hopefully it will help me carry on as we try to motivate our youth in aviation and space career opportunities.”
Last month McGee celebrated his 102nd birthday at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tx.
“General McGee came up to the cockpit today while we were flying and I let him know it was like flying my hero. It was just an honor to have him up here with us today,” Lt. Col. Joseph Harding told News4SA last month.
A STEM scholarship in his honor is set to begin in the Fall of 2022. The scholarship will support Black high school students interested in a career in a STEM field.
5. Ronnie SpectorSource:Getty
Ronnie Spector, the pop music singer who rose to fame in the 1960s as part of the girl group the Ronnettes, died Wednesday at the age of 78. The Associated Press reported that Spector’s death came after a battle with cancer.
Born Veronica Bennett, the New York City native who was raised in Harlem began performing with her older sister, Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley, as the Ronettes in the early 1960s. They were officially discovered after winning the renowned amateur night talent competition at the world-famous Apollo Theater.
After signing to the record label of music producer Phil Spector — who would later marry Ronnie Spector — the Ronettes turned the world performing the likes of “Be My Baby” and “Walking in the Rain,” two of the group’s signature hit songs.
“… the Ronettes cultivated an image modeled on the streetwise women of their Spanish Harlem roots. Spector in particular is now known as “the original bad girl of rock n’ roll”—she and her band mates wore dark mascara and short skirts, which pushed the envelope at that time.”
Ronnie ultimately went solo in 1964 and enjoyed a career that spanned through 2017, when the Ronettes released their first single in decades.
She and Phil Spector married in 1968, after which the couple adopted three children. Phil Spector would ultimately die in prison as a convicted murder following their divorce.
Far Out Magazine recalled the tumultuous relationship the couple had.
“Phil Spector was the definition of abusive. From the get-go, owing to jealousy and other questionable elements of his ideation, he turned Ronnie into a shadow of her former self. Over the course of their marriage, Phil Spector became as controlling and psychologically dominant as was possible. He turned his 23-room mansion into a maximum-security prison. It boasted chain-link fences, barbed wire and intercoms in every room, making it nigh on impossible for Ronnie to leave. Her husband had come to embody Orwell’s Big Brother.”
In 1998, the Ronettes sued Phil Spector claiming he owed them more than $10 million in unpaid royalties.
The New York Times reported at the time:
“The plaintiffs claim that after recording 28 songs with Mr. Spector, they were paid a pittance in the early 1960’s, and that Mr. Spector has wrongly deprived them of millions, not only from the sale of their records but also from the licensing of their hit songs in commercials and television shows like ”Moonlighting,” and in films like ”Dirty Dancing” and ”Goodfellas.””
6. James Mtume, Grammy award-winning musicianSource:Getty
Grammy award-winning musician James Mtume reportedly passed away on Sunday, Jan 9 just six days after his 76th birthday. Born James Forman, he was a renowned musician, songwriter, and producer.
A Philadelphia native, Mtume was exposed to musical greatness from birth as the son of Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Health and stepson of James “Hen Gates” Forman a pianist for Charlie Parker. His love of jazz would continue in his own career joining Miles Davis’ band from 1971-1975 as a percussionist. During that time Mtume recorded three acoustic jazz compositions.
He later took his eclectic jazz sound, experimenting with digital sounds to create a jazz/R&B/funk blend called “Sophistafunk.” Mtume reached new heights with his self-titled group, recording on the Epic Label from 1978 to 1986.
Their hit single “Juicy Fruit” would go on to become a widely sampled song in the world of Hip Hop. In a 2018 interview with NBC News, Mtume shared that allowing the song to be sampled for “Juicy” by Biggie introduced a new generation to the classic.
He also wrote hit singles for artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Phyllis Hyman, Mary J. Blige and K-Ci & JoJo. Working with guitarist Reggie Lucas, Mtume co-wrote the classic “The Closer I Get to You” sung by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
“Never Knew Love Like This,” which Mtume wrote for songstress Stephanie Mills, won a Grammy for Best R&B song.
7. Lani Guinier, civil rights attorneySource:Getty
Civil rights lawyer, legal scholar and professor Lani Guinier, whose nomination to serve as the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in President Bill Clinton’s administration was derailed thanks to Republican opposition based on the topic of race, has died at the age of 71.
She died following complications from Alzheimer’s disease, the Washington Post reported, a citing family member.
Guinier broke a number of racial barriers in both academia and the legal profession with her work at Ivy League colleges, including Harvard Law School, where she became the first Black woman to be granted tenure.
On Friday, Harvard Law School Dean John Manning eulogized Guinier in a message to faculty and staff sharing the news of her death.
“Her scholarship changed our understanding of democracy — of why and how the voices of the historically underrepresented must be heard and what it takes to have a meaningful right to vote. It also transformed our understanding of the educational system and what we must do to create opportunities for all members of our diverse society to learn, grow, and thrive in school and beyond,” Manning wrote in part.
Despite all of Guinier’s amazing accomplishments in life — including but certainly not limited to being a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University as well as being assistant counsel at the NAACP LDF and serving as special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days in President Jimmy Carter’s administration — she will likely be most remembered for her controversial nomination to serve in the Department of Justice decades later.
After Clinton nominated Guinier for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993, Republicans pounced because of her views on race and racial discrimination. As an explainer in The Atlantic pointed out, critical race theory became a part of public discourse during the confirmation hearing. Clinton was consequently accused of not fighting hard enough, or at all, for Guinier’s nomination and ultimately withdrew it.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed writer went so low as to call Guinier “Clinton’s Quota Queen,” which was just a few racist inches away from calling her a “welfare queen.”
Guinier, a leading legal mind in the area of alternative voting rights, ending up taking a bullet for the Democratic team. She didn’t protest (too loudly) about the smear job done on her by Republican hatchet men. But she did have some choice words during an NAACP conference following the nomination debacle.
“I endured the personal humiliation of being vilified as a madwoman with strange hair — you know what that means — a strange name and strange ideas, ideas like democracy, freedom and fairness that mean all people must be equally represented in our political process,” Guinier said at the time. “But lest any of you feel sorry for me, according to press reports the president still loves me. He just won’t give me a job.”
8. Jessie Lee Daniels, of the Force MD’sSource:Getty
Staten Island Hip-Hop and R&B artist Jessie Lee Daniels from the Force MD’s has died at the age of 57. His management team confirmed the sad news on social media and tribute to him in a post on Facebook. The date of Daniels’ death was unclear, but it was first reported on Jan. 5.
9. Max Julien, actorSource:Getty
Max Julien, star of “The Mack,” passed away at the age of 88.
Born Maxwell Banks, Julien was 88. Despite various birth dates listed for Julien online, TMZ confirmed that he was born on Jan. 1, 1933. The Washington, D.C. native was a Howard University alum and member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Best known for his role as the pimp Goldie in the Blaxploitation film “The Mack,” Julien also co-wrote the screenplay for “Cleopatra Jones.” By the time Julien starred in “The Mack” and “Cleopatra Jones,” he had been acting for over 20 years.
He appeared in “The Mod Squad” and his big-screen debut in the 1966 film “The Black Klansman,” not to be confused with the 2018 Spike Lee film with a similar title. Lee’s movie is an adaptation of a memoir by Ron Stallworth, while the 1966 version was initially released under the title “I Crossed the Color Line.”
Julien remained an active presence on screen with a scene-stealing performance in the 1997 Def Jam film “How To Be A Player.” In a statement provided to TMZ, Julien’s PR team said his wife Arabella discovered him early Saturday morning.
“During Julien’s decades-long career, he was known for being bold, honest and straightforward,” read the statement. “He would live and speak his own truth both professionally and privately. He was thought of as a rare ‘man among men.’“
Actor and direct Robert Townsend paid tribute to Julien on Twitter.
“My first cinematic heroes has passed. Today we lost actor, writer, producer and director Max Julian,” tweeted Townsend. “In college, I would act out scenes from THE MACK, it’s still one of my favorite movies. Thank you Mr. Julian for making me think outside the box… God bless his soul.”
During a 2019 interview on the “Strong Black Legends” podcast, when asked about an “underappreciated black artist that you would like to give figurative flowers to” Townsend didn’t hesitate in saying, Julien.
“Max Julien is writer, director, producer who did ‘The Mack,'” Townsend said. “He did ‘Cleopatra Jones’; he wrote the script to that. He did ‘Thomasine & Bushrod’.”
He explained that Julien’s depiction of a pimp in “The Mack” kept Townsend from the streets.
Julien also wrote and starred in the 1974 western crime drama “Thomasine & Bushrod” alongside Vonetta McGee. Gordon Parks, Jr, the film was directed with Glynn Turman and Juanita Moore also making appearances.