UPDATED: 11:55 p.m. ET, March 29 —
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died. This running file commemorating some of the notable Black folks who have died in 2020 is meant to pay homage to their contributions in life that will live on well after their deaths.
Most recently it was reported that the Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, the man who was also known as the dean of civil rights, died March 27. Lowery was widely regarded as the top lieutenant for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and contributed to the civil rights movement in the most profound of ways that include working to end segregation on buses in Mobile, Alabama, before Rosa Parks as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was 98 years old.
One milestone in this remarkable journey took place on Aug. 12, 2009, when President Barack Obama awarded him the nation’s highest civilian honor — The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the nonviolent struggle for the causes of justice, human rights, economic equality, voting rights, peace and human dignity. Prior to that, on January 20, 2009, in his inimitable style; Dr. Lowery delivered the Benediction on the occasion of President Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, his legacy of service and struggle is long and rich. His genesis as a Civil Rights advocate dates to the early 1950’s where, in Mobile, Alabama he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association; the organization which led the movement to desegregate buses and public accommodations. In 1957, with friend and colleague, Dr. King, he was a co-founder of the SCLC. He served as Vice President (1957-67); Chairman of the Board (1967-77); and as President and Chief Executive Officer from Feb. 1977 – Jan.15, 1998.
You can read more about Lowery’s amazing life by clicking here.
Some other notable Black folks who have died this year include the legendary NBA champion Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. The former Los Angeles Lakers star was just 41 years old. Emergency personnel responded to the accident, but there were no survivors. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was on the helicopter along with seven other people who all died, as well.
But there are others who died after living a full life of notable contributions to society, such as Katherine Johnson, the pioneering “Hidden Figures” NASA mathematician who died Feb. 24 at 101 years old. “She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a tweet when announcing her death.
B. Smith, the restaurateur, lifestyle maven and esteemed businesswoman, died in February, according to her husband, Dan Gasby, who announced the news of his wife’s passing in a Facebook post. “It is with great sadness that my daughter Dana and I announce the passing of my wife, Barbara Elaine Smith,” he wrote. “B. died peacefully Saturday, February 22, 2020, at 10:50 pm, of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in our home in Long Island, New York. She was 70.”
Up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, known for his record “Welcome To The Party” was shot and killed in Hollywood Hills on the morning of Feb. 19. The rapper was at a Hollywood Hills home that he may have been renting when at least four men were suspected of breaking into the property wearing hoodies and masks, according to law enforcement sources. Multiple fires were shot, striking and critically wounding the Brooklyn rapper. The men, who have not yet been identified, were seen fleeing the scene on foot. It is unclear Pop Smoke he knew his killers. However, it has been reported that there was a party or gathering at the home before the alleged home invasion took place.
Pop Smoke was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, where he was pronounced dead. He was 20 years old.
Famed actress Ja’Net DuBois, who played the role of Willona Woods on “Good Times,” died Feb. 18 at the age of 74. DuBois reportedly unexpectedly died in her sleep while at her Glendale, California home.
Veteran T.V. and movie actress, Esther Scott died Feb. 14 after suffering a heart attack days earlier. A family member announced that the actress, known for her roles in “Boyz N The Hood,” “90210,” “Birth of a Nation” and more, suffered a heart attack in her Santa Monica home and was later found unconscious. She was hospitalized and died days later. She was 66 years old.
Prior to that, the Jan. 9 death of Yolanda Carr, whose daughter, Atatiana Jefferson, was killed in her own home by police in Texas in November, was announced. Carr’s death came a couple of months after Jefferson’s father also died. His death was attributed in part to a broken heart while Carr’s cause of death was not immediately confirmed. Studies have shown a direct correlation between people affected by police brutality and the deterioration of their health that “can lead to conditions such as diabetes, stroke, ulcers, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, accelerated aging, and death.”
Legendary sports journalist Roscoe Nance also died Jan. 9 at the age of 71, according to an obituary published on the website of a funeral home in Alabama. Nance covered HBCU sports up until his death but was also an NBA reporter at one point. He was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 105, calling the honor “the highlight of my career,” according to the HBCU Gameday website.
The new year began tragically with the suspected drug overdose death on Jan. 1 of Nick Gordon, who was most famous for his relationship with Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. He was only 30.
Scroll down to learn more about some of the other notable Black folks who have died this year.
1. Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, civil right pioneer, 99Source:Getty
The Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, who was also known as the dean of civil rights, died March 27. Lowery was widely regarded as the top lieutenant for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and contributed to the civil rights movement in the most profound of ways that include working to end segregation on buses in Mobile, Alabama, before Rosa Parks as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He died March 27 at the age of 98.
Pictured: Lowery at his 96th Birthday Celebration at Rialto Center for the Arts on October 4, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.
2. Emma Cooper-Harris, first African American Mayor of Anguilla, Mississippi
Emma Cooper-Harris, who was remembered as a “community organizer” and “a civil rights icon in Mississippi,” has died. She was the first African American mayor of the Mississippi town of Anguilla and also served as a minister at a local church.
3. Fred “Curly” Neal, Harlem Globetrotters legend, 77Source:Getty
Fred “Curly” Neal, the Harlem Globetrotters legend who thrilled audiences with his dazzling dribbling display that included his signature move of bouncing the ball while sliding on one knee, died March 26. He was 77 years old.
Pictured: Harlem Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal visits SiriusXM Studio on February 13, 2012, in New York City.
4. Rev. Darius L. Swann, civil rights activist, 95
The Rev. Darius L. Swann, whose opposition to segregated schools led to the busing movement, died March 8. He was 95 years old.
5. Airickca Gordon-Taylor, civil rights activist and Emmett Till’s relative, 50
Airickca Gordon-Taylor, the daughter of Emmett Till’s cousin who had a career in bringing attention to his lynching death through a charitable foundation, died March 22 after suffering from “kidney problems for decades,” according to the Associated Press. She was 50 years old.
6. Manu Dibango, saxophonist, 86Source:Getty
Manu Dibango, the legendary saxophonist from Cameroon known for his 1972 hit, “Soul Makossa,” died March 24 following complications from the coronavirus. He was 86.
Pictured: Manu Dibango performs during Celtic Connections Festival at The Old Fruit Market on January 26, 2014, in Glasgow, United Kingdom.
7. Barbara C. Harris, Episcopal Bishop, 89Source:Getty
Barbara C. Harris, the world’s first ordained Episcopal bishop who is a woman, died March 13.
Pictured: Bishop Barbara Harris during service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston on Apr. 9, 1998.
8. Roger Mayweather, boxing champion and trainer, 58Source:Getty
Roger Mayweather, a former boxing champion and boxing trainer who is also the uncle of boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, died March 17. He was 58 years old. His death came one week after Josie Harris, Floyd Mayweather’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of three of his children, was found dead in California at the age of 40.
9. Josie Harris, former longtime girlfriend of Floyd Mayweather, 40
Josie Harris, Floyd Mayweather’s former longtime girlfriend, died Monday night, according to TMZ, which reported that she was found in her car at her home in Valencia, California. She was 40 years old.
10. Barbara Neely, author, 78
“Barbara Neely, an award-winning writer best known for her groundbreaking mystery series based on a Black woman sleuth named Blanche White, died earlier on March 2 after an unspecified illness,” Madame Noire reported.
11. Danny Tidwell, dancer, 35
Danny Tidwell, who rose to fame as a contestant and finalist on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance?” was killed in a car crash on March 6. He was just 35 years old.
12. Sam “The Man” Burns, DC house music DJ, diesSource:facebook
Sam “The Man” Burns, a legendary DJ in Washington, D.C., died March 7. Burns’ career spanned more than 40 years of spinning dance and house music in his native District of Columbia and has had a lasting effect on the city’s nightlife scene.
13. McCoy Tyner, legendary jazz pianist, 81Source:Getty
Legendary jazz musician and pianist, McCoy Tyner, died March 6. The renowned musician was a key figure in John Coltrane‘s jazz quartet. He was 81 years old.
Pictured: McCoy Tyner performing at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 18, 2005.
14. Katherine Johnson, 101
“Hidden Figures” NASA mathematician died on Feb. 24 at age 101.
15. B. Smith, 70
B. Smith, restaurateur, lifestyle maven, died at age 70 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
16. Pop Smoke, 20Source:Getty
Up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, known for his record “Welcome To The Party” was shot and killed in Hollywood Hills on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
17. Ja’Net DuBois, 74Source:Getty
Famed actress Ja’Net DuBois, who played the role of Willona Woods on “Good Times,” passed away in her sleep unexpectedly on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
18. Esther Scott, 66Source:Getty
Esther Scott, known for her roles in “Boyz N The Hood,” “90210,” “Birth of a Nation” and more, died on Feb. 14 after suffering a heart attack days prior.
19. Isadora Perkins-Boyd, ‘Super-Centenarian,’ 111
Isadora Perkins-Boyd, one of the oldest people in the U.S., died Jan. 24 in her native South Carolina at the age of 111. Her obituary referred to her in part as an “American Super-Centenarian.”
20. Nathaniel Jones, former federal judge, 93
Nathaniel Jones, a former federal judge in Cincinnati, died on Jan. 26 at the age of 93. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Jones “had a 23-year career on the federal appeals court bench in Cincinnati” and that he “never wavered in his commitment to civil rights.”
21. Kobe Bryant, NBA legend, 41Source:Getty
Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.
Pictured: Bryant shows off his jersey during a game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on Feb. 19, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.
22. Jimmy Heath jazz saxophonist, 93Source:Getty
Jimmy Heath, a jazz saxophonist who played with the genres greats including John Coltrane and Miles Davis, died from natural causes at the age of 93.
Pictured: Heath plays tenor saxophone while performing with his Big Band at the 4th Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York, New York, Aug. 25, 1996. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)
23. Yolanda Carr, mother of Atatiana JeffersonSource:S. Lee Merritt
Yolanda Carr, the mother of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot and killed by a Texas police officer inside of her home, died Jan. 9.
Carr’s death followed the death of Jefferson’s father, meaning the police officer effectively wiped out two generations of one family in just a few short months with his misguided shooting of Jefferson in November 2019.
24. Roscoe Vance, journalist, 71
The legendary sports journalist who covered the NBA and HBCU sports died Jan. 9 at the age of 71.
25. Nick Gordon, ex-boyfriend of Bobbi Kristina, 30Source:Getty
Nick Gordon, who was most famous for his relationship with Bobbi Kristina, died on Jan. 1 of an overdose. He was 30 years old.