While there have already been tongue in cheek lists featuring the white Americans perceived as the most “down” with black folks, Loop21.com has decided to put together a list of the white Americans who have genuinely had the greatest impact on the lives of black Americans in the last century. Some played key roles in altering America’s laws to end legalized racial inequality, while others have helped increase the cultural influence of black Americans through the arts and entertainment, but all have made significant contributions to the black experience in America, whether they know it or not. (And in some cases, whether we want to admit it or not.)
The Rolling Stones, rock band (Active: 1962-the present)
Like many white artists of that era, (including their contemporaries, the Beatles), the Rolling Stones’ early work consisted primarily of songs originally recorded by black artists which they subsequently introduced to mainstream white audiences. The band’s first single was a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Come on,” while the group’s first hit was a cover of “It’s all over now,” by Bobby and Shirley Womack. But unlike some of the other non-black artists of that era, the Stones have remained loyal and vocal champions of the black artists that influenced their work and success, among them Muddy Waters and Little Walter.
Grace Mirabella (1930-the present) and Anna Wintour, (1949-the present) Fashion Editors
In 1974 Grace Mirabella became the first editor at American VOGUE to break the cover color barrier when African-American model Beverly Johnson graced the fashion bible’s cover. Mirabella’s successor Anna Wintour, one of the most powerful women in fashion in the world, has since overseen a number of covers featuring a diverse array of black women, among them Oprah Winfrey and First Lady Michelle Obama. Wintour also made history by featuring black women on the cover of the magazine’s September issue, first placing supermodel Naomi Campbell on the cover in 1988 (which Wintour has admitted sparked controversy) and later placing Halle Berry on the cover in 2010. Wintour is also credited with helping to establish black editors Andre Leon Talley and Edward Enninful as two of the most influential people in an industry not known for its diversity.
President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and Sen. Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)
President John F. Kennedy made civil rights a cornerstone of his presidency (referencing the importance of civil rights legislation in a 1963 speech) but was assassinated before seeing many of the goals he pursued come to fruition. As the Kennedy administration’s Attorney General, his brother Bobby Kennedy played a crucial role in shepherding his brother’s civil rights agenda, using his power as the nation’s highest ranking law officer to dispatch U.S. Marshals to protect Freedom Riders and working with his brother and his successor, President Johnson on the creation and passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Tinker Hatfield, (1955?-the present) Designer
Hatfield may just be the most influential designer in the history of Black America. Since joining Nike in 1981 Hatfield has designed 15 pairs of the iconic Air Jordan line. It’s been reported that when Hatfield first presented his original Air Jordan design to Michael Jordan, it brought a tear to the basketball legend’s eye. The Air Jordan line is at least partly responsible for elevating the role of high-end sneakers in fashion. For his contributions Hatfield was designated one of the most influential designers of the century by Fortune magazine.