Death – notable Black figures who passed away in 2021

Death – Obituary






In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

– Mahatma Gandhi, activist

From lives cut short to violence or disease to elders who passed peacefully in their sleep, 2021 saw its share of painful goodbyes. Here we’ve highlighted just a few notable national figures who left this world in 2021, but whose legacies will continue to live on.

(Top row, l-r): Baseball and civil rights giant Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron died on January 22 at age 86; pioneering movie icon Cicely Tyson, 96, passed away from heart problems on January 28; Mary Wilson of The Supremes fame, passed away on February 8 at age 76; Vernon Jordan, the former National Urban League president and civil rights icon died on March 1 at 85; rap icon DMX, whose real name was Earl Simmons, died of a heart attack on April 9; Paul Mooney, 79, known as the “godfather of Black comedy,” died at home on May 19 of a sudden heart attack.

(Middle row, l-r): Veteran actor Clarence Williams of “Mod Squad” and “Purple Rain” fame, died on June 4 at age 81 from colon cancer; actress Suzzanne Douglas, 64, star of “The Parent ‘Hood” and numerous other movies, died of cancer on July 6; actor Charlie Robinson, 75 of “Night Court” fame, died of cardiac arrest on July 11; rapper Biz Markie, 57, known for playful rhymes and beatboxing, died on July 16 due to complications of diabetes; TV and film actor Michael K. Williams, 57, of “The Wire” fame died on September 6 of an accidental drug overdose; General Colin Powell, 84, passed away on October 18 due to complications of COVID-19.

(Bottom row, l-r): Ronnie Wilson, 73, multi-instrumentalist, who founded the famed Gap Band with brother Charlie Wilson, died of a stroke on November 3; Memphis rapper Young Dolph, 36, born Robert Thornton Jr., was shot and killed on November 17; pioneering designer Virgil Abloh passed away at age 41 on November 28 after privately battling cancer; legendary golfer Lee Elder, the first Black player to compete in the Masters, died on November 28 at age 87; trailblazing feminist, author, professor, and social activist bell hooks, 69, also known as Gloria Jean Watkins, died of kidney failure on December 15; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 90, who earned the moniker “the nation’s conscience” for fighting South Africa’s apartheid, died after a long battle with prostate cancer on December 26.

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What Is An Obituary

In national newspapers an obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a prominent person. Although it tends to focus on positive aspects of the subject’s life this is not always the case. According to Nigel Farndale, the Obituaries Editor of The Times: “Obits should be life affirming rather than gloomy, but they should also be opinionated, leaving the reader with a strong sense of whether the subject lived a good life or bad; whether they were right or wrong in the handling of their public affairs.”

In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.