Black Nobel Prize Winners

Toni Morrison, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Olga Besnard /
Toni Morrison, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Olga Besnard /

The Nobel Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious awards, which was established by Alfred Nobel in 1895. It is a set global award bestowed in numerous categories by the Norwegian and Swedish institutions in recognition of scientific, cultural or academic advancements. The Prize was first issued for achievements in Peace, Medicine or Physiology, Literature, Chemistry, and Physics in 1901. The Prize in Economics was introduced in 1969. As of 2019, the Nobel Prize had been won by 916 individuals, and this includes 16 black recipients.

Black Nobel Prize winners


Sir William Lewis is the only black individual to win a Nobel Prize in this category. Lewis was a renowned economist who was recognized for his contributions in economic development. Lewis was the first black person to study in the LSE (London School of Economics), and after graduating, he worked at the LSE from 1940 to 1948. Sir William served as an economic advisor of various Caribbean and African countries. Some of Sir William’s great works include the theory of Economic growth and the Lewis model.


12 out of the 16 black Nobel laureates were awarded Nobel Peace Prize. The first black Nobel Peace Prize winner was Bunche Johnson. Ralph received the Prize for his contribution in the late 1940s mediations in Israel. The first black African to get this award was Albert Luthuli in 1960. Luthuli was awarded this Prize for the role he played in the non-violent movement against apartheid. Nelson Mandela received his award in 1993 right before he became the first black president of South Africa. Kofi Annan got his award in 2001 when he was t Secretary-General of the UN. Two black Nobel laureates (Ellen Sirleaf and Barack Obama) were presidents when they were awarded the Nobel Prize while Ahmed Abiy was a Prime Minister.


The first black recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature was Oluwole Soyinka from Nigeria in 1986. Soyinka is a renowned poet, essayist, and playwright, who played a crucial role in the political history of Nigeria and its struggle for independence. The second black Nobel winner in this category was Derek Walcott from Saint Lucia. Derek Walcott was a playwright and poet, who won the Nobel Prize in 1992. The third black individual to win this award is Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison was a renowned American college professor, book editor, essayist, and novelist.

Black Female Prize Nobel Laureates

Only four black women have won the Nobel Prize since its inception. The first black female Nobel winner was Toni Morrison in 1993, followed by Wangari Maathai. Wangari Maathai became the first black African-woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004. Maathai is the only environmentalist to ever win this award. Ellen Sirleaf won her Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 when she was the president of Liberia. Ellen is also the first female African president. The fourth African woman to win this Prize is Leymah Gbowee from Liberia. Gbowee is a peace activist who led the women’s non-violent peace movement that helped end the Second Civil War in her country in 2003.

Black Nobel Prize Winners

RankLaureateCountryYearPrize Type
1Ralph BuncheUnited States1950Peace
2Albert John LuthuliSouth Africa1960Peace
3Martin Luther King, Jr.United States1964Peace
4W. Arthur LewisSaint Lucia1979Economics
5Desmond TutuSouth Africa1984Peace
6Wole SoyinkaNigeria1986Literature
7Derek WalcottSaint Lucia1992Literature
8Toni MorrisonUnited States1993Literature
9Nelson MandelaSouth Africa1993Peace
10Kofi AnnanGhana2001Peace
11Wangari MaathaiKenya2004Peace
12Barack ObamaUnited States2009Peace
13Ellen Johnson SirleafLiberia2011Peace
14Leymad GboweeLiberia2011Peace
15Denis MukwegeDemocratic Republic of the Congo2018Peace
16Abiy AhmedEthiopia2019Peace

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