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Never Too Late: African Americans Making Their Mark

Check out this list of notables who achieved great success after age 50

  • Thibault Camus/AP

    Toni Morrison

    The acclaimed author was 62 when, in 1993, she became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her impressive body of work includes the novels The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved.

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  • Don West/Fotografiks

    Hubert Jones

    In 2003, Jones was 69 when he founded the Boston Children’s Chorus, which includes young people of different ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. Its mission combines artistic excellence and an agenda for social change. The group has performed all over the world.

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  • CBS/Courtesy Everett

    Vinnette Carroll

    At 50, Carroll became Broadway’s first African-American woman director with her musical revue Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. She is also known for Your Arms Too Short to Box With God, which she brought to the Great White Way three times.

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  • Larry Hardy/The Times and Democrat

    Joe Thomas Sr.

    At 55, Thomas made history in 2016 as Division I college football’s oldest player ever.  The father of Green Bay Packers linebacker Joe Thomas Jr. took to the field with South Carolina State University to beat Savannah State. The team presented him with the game ball.

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  • Suzanne Plunket/AP

    Gordon Parks

    A renowned photographer, Parks was 57 when he became the first African-American to direct a major Hollywood movie with The Learning Tree in 1969. He followed the success of that film with the groundbreaking box office hit Shaft in 1971.

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  • J.Gwen Berry/The Palm Beach Post/ZumaPress/Alamy

    Estella Mims Pyfrom

    In 2009, at age 72, Pyfrom started Estella’s Brilliant Bus, a mobile learning lab outfitted with more than a dozen computer stations. It travels to underserved and under-resourced communities in Florida’s Palm Beach County to provide children access to technology and educational training. Pyfrom started the nonprofit using about $900,000 of her retirement savings.

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  • Robert Deutschman

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  • AP

    Thurgood Marshall

    At 59, Marshall became the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and joined the court in October 1967. He served for 24 years until his retirement in 1991. As a civil rights attorney, Marshall successfully argued one of the most important cases of the 20th century, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine in educational facilities for black students.

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  • George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images

    Cheryl Boone Isaacs

    In 2013, Isaacs became the first African-American to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at age 64. The public relations executive was also the first black woman to head a major studio’s marketing operation when she joined New Line Cinema in 1997.

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  • Dawn M. Blackman Sr.

    Dawn M. Blackman Sr.

    In 2003, Blackman first started gardening in Champaign, Ill., with neighborhood children. The project turned into the Randolph Street Community Garden, and at 55, the former caterer and dress shop owner became the garden steward in 2006. The project is making a difference in the community, located in a “food desert” where fresh, affordable produce is difficult to find.

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  • Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Laurel Richie

    At 52, Richie became president of the WNBA in 2011, making her the first African American to head a national sports league. Before joining the WNBA, the Ohio native was chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts USA and was a senior partner at the advertising agency giant Ogilvy and Mather.

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