Howard University is known for producing notable black alumni since its founding in 1867. These alumni are celebrated for their historic accomplishments and tremendous skills in their fields of endeavor. Here is a brief list of five celebrity alumni of Howard University that showcase the institution's core values of excellence, leadership, service, and truth.
Vice President Kamala Harris attended Howard University for her undergraduate degree from 1982-1986. During her time on campus, she served as a COAS Freshman Council Representative, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and a member of the debate team. After graduating from Howard University with a Bachelor's in Political Science and Economics, Harris went on to earn her J.D. from Hastings College in 1989 and began her career as a deputy district attorney in Oakland, California.
She made history in 2016 by becoming the first woman of color to be elected as California's Attorney General and continued to make history when she became the first African-American and Indian American woman to be elected as the Vice President of the United States in 2020.
Former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was a student of Howard University’s Law School after being denied entry into The University of Maryland's Law School back in the 1930’s. While a student at Howard University School of Law, Marshall was mentored by the Dean of the School of Law Charles Hamilton Houston. Houston instructed his students to become “social engineers,” using the law as a tool to advocate for civil rights. He graduated in 1933 at the top of this class and acted on Houston's teachings.
After graduation, he became the chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was pivotal in several Supreme Court cases that led to landmark decisions on civil rights and desegregation. In 1967, Marshall became the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court and served for 24 years until his retirement in 1991. During his time as a justice, he continued to advocate for civil rights and equality, leaving a lasting impact on the legal landscape of the United States.
A product of Howard University Fine Arts College, Chadwick Boseman received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Directing in 2000. During his time at Howard, Boseman wrote and directed several plays, showcasing his talent and passion for the arts. After graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue acting and eventually landed roles in television shows like “Law & Order” and “CSI: NY”. In 2013, Boseman's career skyrocketed when he was cast as Jackie Robinson in the film “42”. This role not only showcased his acting abilities but also highlighted his commitment to telling stories that shed light on social issues and historical figures.
After several successful roles in both film and television, Boseman landed the leading role in Marvel's blockbuster film “Black Panther” in 2018. The film was a major success, earning over $1.3 billion at the box office and becoming a cultural phenomenon for its representation of African culture and empowerment of marginalized communities.
In addition to his acting career, Boseman also used his platform to advocate for important causes. He was involved in various charity work and even collaborated with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to meet and inspire children battling cancer. Boseman also spoke out on issues of race and equality, using his voice to bring attention to important social issues.
Boseman passed away in 2020 after a private four-year battle with colon cancer. In honor of Boseman, Howard renamed the fine arts building the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.
The accomplished actress graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard in 1970 with her undergraduate degree. She then went on to earn her Master's degree in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama. Rashad began her career in theater, appearing in several Broadway productions including “Into the Woods” and “Jelly's Last Jam”.
After gaining recognition for her work in theater, Rashad landed a role as Clair Huxtable on the hit sitcom “The Cosby Show”. The show was groundbreaking for its portrayal of a successful Black family and Rashad's character became an iconic figure in American television.
Rashad continued to have a successful career on both stage and screen, appearing in numerous films and television shows. In 2004, she made history by becoming the first Black woman to win a Tony Award for “Best Actress” for her role in the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun”.
She returned to Howard in 2021 after being appointed as Dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. As the Dean of Fine Arts, Rashad led the department to significant advancements during her tenure. One notable accomplishment was securing a $5.4 million gift from Netflix to establish The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship provides incoming theater students with a four-year scholarship covering the full cost of University tuition. Additionally, Rashad played a key role in hiring distinguished faculty members within the department.
It was announced that Rashad will be stepping down from her role as Dean of Fine Arts at the conclusion of the 2023-2024 school year.
Taraji P. Henson
A Washington D.C. native, Taraji P. Henson earned her Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Drama from Howard in 1995 prior to moving to Los Angeles, California to pursue her very successful career in acting. Henson's career took off in 2001 when she landed a role on the movie “Baby Boy” and has since appeared in several more iconic films such as “Hustle and Flow”, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, and most notably, her Academy Award-nominated performance in “Hidden Figures”.
Aside from her film career, Henson has also made a name for herself in television. She starred as Detective Joss Carter on the hit show “Person of Interest” and gained widespread recognition for her role as Cookie Lyon on the hit drama series “Empire”. Her portrayal Cookie Lyon earned her multiple award nominations.
Henson continuously gives back to her alma mater,most recently returning to campus early in September to connect with the next generation of Bison. She also served as a speaker at Howard University's 2022 Spring Commencement.