A comprehensive list of notable black multilingual historical figures.
Please check back regularly as this page is updated as more information becomes available.
Anita Florence Hemmings became the first black graduate of Vassar by passing for white as an ethnically ambiguous looking mixed race student. She spoke seven languages including Latin, French and Ancient Greek.
Angela Davis, civil rights activist and educator, speaks English, French and studied German at the University of Frankfurt.
Carter G. Woodson is a history and the father of black history month as he created its predecessor Negro History Week. He spoke English, Spanish and French, learning Spanish and French within 1 year. He then carried on his legacy by teaching Spanish and French to others.
Dame Mary Eugenia Charles was the first elected female head of government in the Americas as the Prime Minister of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), the first female lawyer of Dominca as well as having the longest held term as the female head of government for 15 years. She spoke Kweyol and English fluently.
Marian Anderson was the first black person to sing with the New York Metropolitan Opera company. Due to the Jim Crow laws in the U.S. that wouldn’t let her be great, she, like Josephine Baker, headed for Europe to become successful. In her pursuit of success in Europe, she studied French, Italian and learned German while living in Berlin.
Mary Church Terrell, a civil rights activist, founding member of the NAACP and educator, spoke English, French, German and Italian.
Michaëlle Jean is the former Governor General of Canada, a viceroy position (think quasi-head of state), a politician and former journalist. She speaks English, French, Spanish, Italian and Haitian Creole fluently.
Nina Simone, a singer and civil rights activist, with many homes in different countries, considered southern France her main home, singing and speaking in French.
Dr. Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka is Tanzanian politician and diplomat. She became the first highest ranking woman in the UN system with the title Under-Secretary-General. She speaks French, Swahili, Swedish, Haya and English.
Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro is a Tanzanian politician and diplomat. She was the third to reach the status of highest ranking woman in the UN system holding the title of Deputy Secretary-General from 2007-2012. She speaks German, Swahili and English.
Graça Machel (born Graça Simbine), is the only woman in history to have been the first lady to two separate publics, first lady of Mozambique as the wife of then president Samora Machel and later as the first lady to South Africa while married to then president Nelson Mandela during his presidency (she was his third wife). She studied German at the University of Lisbon and in addition to her native Shangaan, she also speaks French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Italian. Isabel Dos Santos, Angolan + Russian, richest black woman in the world and daughter of the President of Angola, she speaks several languages including Portuguese and English.
Mbande Nzinga (Jinga), Angolan queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms who spoke her native tongue (presume to be Kimbundu) and Portuguese.
Winnie Mandela, former first lady of South Africa (Mandela's second wife), activist and politician, speaks English and Xhosa. Chloe Mortaud is an Americo-French pageant winner, with dual citizenship (US and France) and identifies as black. She speaks English, French, Spanish & Chinese.
Denny Mendez, an Afro-Italian actress, TV personality of Dominican origin and the first black Miss Italy, speaks Italian, Spanish and English. May Ayim, the late Afro-German poet of Ghanaian origin, educator and activist, spoke German and English.
Bessie Coleman was the first black woman AND Native American descent international pilot license. She spoke English & French.
Colin Powell, former commander of the U.S. Armed Forces command, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, speaks Yiddish and English.
Assata Shakur (née JoAnne Deborah Byron), is an activist and former Black Panther leader. She lives in exile in Cuba and as a result, speaks Spanish and English.
Liya Kebede is an Ethiopian supermodel, the first woman of color to represent the Estée Lauder brand and a UN Goodwill Ambassador with the World Health Organization. She speaks English, Amharic, French and some Italian.
Mother Nature (born Wangari Maathai), is the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She speaks Kikiyu, Kiswahili, English and studied German at two German universities.
Denny Mendez (born Denny Andreína Méndez de la Rosa), is the first black Miss Italy. She speaks Spanish, Italian and English.
William Edward Burghardt "W.E.B." Du Bois was a civil rights activist, author, Pan-Africanist, editor, sociologist and co-founder of the NAACP. He spoke French and English. He also studied in Germany and presumably picked up some German.
Maria Borges is an Angolan model, the first model ever to walk a Victoria’s Secret fashion show with natural Afro hair and the first African woman of the century to grace the cover of Elle magazine. She speaks Portuguese & English.
Eartha Kitt was a singer, actress, dancer and activist of German, Cherokee and African descent. She sang in seven languages and was rumored to have spoken 3 additional languages besides the French & German she knew.
Richard Wright was an author, journalist and poet. He spoke conversational French & English.
Pedro Albizu Campos was a Puerto Rican politician, attorney and polyglot of African Descent. He spoke English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Latin and ancient Greek.
Mariane van Neyenhoff Pearl is a French journalist, reporter, columnist, and writer. She is most known as the wife of the Wall Street Journalist, Daniel Adam, who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists. She speaks Spanish, French and English.
Katharina Oguntoye is an Afro-German writer, historian, poet and activist of Nigerian descent and is known for her contribution to the black feminist movement in Germany. She speaks English & German.
Jose Francisco Pena Gomez was an Afro-Dominican leader of the Revolutionary Party of Haitian descent. He spoke Spanish, French, Italian, English, German, Portuguese and Russian.
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a Puerto Rican historian, scholar, writer, archivist, translator and activist of African & German descent who was involved in the Harlem renaissance. He spoke Spanish, English and French.
Surya Bonaly is a five time European Champion figure skater of African descent and French origin. She was the only female figure skater to ever do a backflip, and the only figure skater EVER to do a "Bonaly", which is a backflip that lands on one blade while doing a split. She speaks French and English.