Gone But Not Forgotten: The Activists and Notables We Lost in 2020

Uptown Magazine

Gone But Not Forgotten: Activists and Notables We Lost in 2020

From John Lewis to Rev. C.T. Vivian to Bishop Barbara C. Harris to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, here are the activists and other notables who passed away in 2020, including those whose racially-motivated deaths galvanized America’s racial reckoning.

Yolanda Carr

1965? - Jan. 9, 2020

Cause of death: Ongoing illness

Activism: Mother of Atatiana Jefferson, who was her mother’s caretaker until police in Fort Worth, TX fatally shot her on Oct. 12, 2019

Ahmaud Arbery

May 11, 1994 - Feb. 23, 2020

Cause of death: Homicide by gunshot

Activism: His death, at the hands of three white men who chased him down and fatally shot him, helped galvanize the modern civil rights movement

Darius L. Swann

1925? - March 8, 2020

Cause of death: Pneumonia

Activism: His case Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, whose decision mandated busing as a method to desegregate schools

Breonna Taylor

June 5, 1993 - March 13, 2020

Cause of death: Homicide by gunshot

Activism: Frontline worker who was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police during a botched raid, Breonna’s Law has since banned no-knock warrants in the city

Barbara C. Harris

June 12, 1930 - March 13, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown

Activism: First female bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States and in the worldwide Anglican Communion, challenged the Episcopal hierarchy to accept women, as well as Black and LGBTQ+ people

Monika Diamond

? - March 18, 2020

Cause of death: Fatally shot at age 34

Activism: Businesswoman and transgender activist who created safe spaces for Charlotte’s LGBTQ+ community

Airickca Gordon-Taylor

1969 - March 22, 2020

Cause of death: Kidney problems

Activism: Relative of Emmett Till who spent her life educating the youth about civil rights, founded the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation

Joseph E. Lowery

Oct. 6, 1921 - March 27, 2020

Cause of death: Natural causes

Activism: Co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr. and led the organization until 1997, his civil rights activism included organizing to desegregate Alabama buses and advocated for the rights of marchers in Selma to the governor

Earl G. Graves

Jan. 9, 1935 - April 16, 2020

Cause of death: Alzheimer’s

Activism: Established the Black Enterprise media company that highlighted Black-owned businesses and created a platform for economic justice

Fred L. Davis

May 8, 1934 - May 12, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown illness

Activism: March with Martin Luther King Jr., pioneering Black entrepreneur, Memphis’s first Black city council chairman

Emma Amos

March 16, 1937 - May 12, 2020

Cause of death: Complications from Alzheimer’s

Activism: contemporary artist who explored the intersectionality of race and gender before it was a mainstream term, art depicted the vibrance of Black middle-class life and American culture

Wilson Roosevelt Jerman

Jan. 21, 1929 - May 16, 2020

Cause of death: COVID-19

Activism: Served 11 U.S. presidents (From Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama) as a member of the White House staff, began career as a cleaner, was promoted to butler, and advanced to maître d

George Floyd

Oct. 14, 1973 - May 25, 2020

Cause of death: Homicide by cop

Activism: Publicly killed by Minneapolis police while in custody, his death, along with those of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, set off a chain reaction of protests across the United States and the globe, and amplified the call for Black lives to matter

Emma Sanders

Sept. 24, 1928 - June 24, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown

Activism: Was an anti-segregationist and pushed to have a federal building named for civil rights activist Dr. A.H. McCoy, which was the first federal building named for a Black person

Zindzi Mandela

Dec. 23, 1960 - July 13, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown

Activism: Read her father Nelson Mandela’s rejection of former president P.W. Botha’s offer to be released from prison, served as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark, was supposed to lead a new mission to Monrovia

John Lewis

Feb. 21, 1940 - July 17, 2020

Cause of death: Stage-4 pancreatic cancer

Activism: Lifelong activist, public servant, and integral figure in the Civil Rights Movement, one of the original Freedom Riders, head of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District

C.T. Vivian

July 30, 1924 - July 17, 2020

Cause of death: Natural causes

Activism: Participated in the Freedom Rides, was an executive member of the Souther Christian Leadership Conference, created Upward Bound, launched the Black Action Strategies and Information Center, and wrote Black Power and the American Myth, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013

Roy C. Hammond

Aug. 3, 1939 - Sept. 16, 2020

Cause of death: Liver cancer

Activism: Wrote socially-conscious songs, like “Open Letter to the President” and “Great Great Grandson of a Slave,” his “Impeach the President” was a response to Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

March 5, 1933 - Sept. 18, 2020

Cause of death: Pancreatic cancer

Activism: Associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who was a legal, cultural, and feminist icon,

Monica Roberts

May 4, 1962 - Oct. 5, 2020

Cause of death: Complications of a pulmonary embolism

Activism: Trans rights activist and journalist, whose GLAAD Award-winning blog, TransGriot, focused on trans stories within the Africa Diaspora, also wrote for Ebony, The Advocate, and OutSmart Magazine

Lucille Bridges

Aug. 12, 1934 - Nov. 17, 2020

Cause of death: Cancer

Activism: Considered a mother of the Civil Rights Movement for allowing her daughter Ruby Bridges to become the first Black student to integrate a New Orleans elementary school

Drew Days III

Aug. 29, 1941 - Nov. 15, 2020

Cause of death: Complications of dementia

Activism: Champion of racial equality, one-time lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the first Black person to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division

Bruce Boynton

June 19, 1937 - Nov. 23, 2020

Cause of death: Cancer

Activism: Inspired the 1961 Freedom Rides, his and Thurgood Marshall’s victory in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) declared segregated bus stations illegal

David Dinkins

July 10, 1927 - Nov. 23, 2020

Cause of death: Natural causes

Activism: World War II veteran and the first Black mayor of New York City, America’s largest city

Marcus Garvey III

1930? - Dec. 8, 2020

Cause of death: Alzheimer’s

Activism: Son of Pan-African activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey who maintained the role of president of the United Negro Improvement Association, was also an electrical engineer, mathematician and physicist

James L. Netters Sr.

1927? - Dec. 13, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown

Activism: Worked to end segregation in the South, and alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Fred L. Davis, was one of the first Black elected officials voted into Memphis City Council

Alfred Thomas Farrar

Dec. 26, 1920 - Dec. 17, 2020

Cause of death: Unknown

Activism: Aerospace engineer and former Tuskegee Airman

Joe Clark

May 8, 1938 - Dec. 29, 2020

Cause of death: Long battle with illness

Activism: The bat-wielding New Jersey school principal immortalized in the film Lean On Me

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