Everett Leroi Jones, poet, playwright, activist, and educator, was born on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey to Coyt Leverrette Jones and Anna Lois Jones. He attended primary and secondary schools in Newark and in 1954 he earned a B.A. in English from Howard University. Jones joined the military that same year, serving three years in the Air Force as a gunner.
Following his honorable discharge, Jones he settled in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan where he socialized with Beatnik artists, musicians, and writers. While living in the Village, he also met and married Hettie Cohen, a Jewish writer. The couple co-edited the progressive literary magazine Yugen. They also founded Totem Press, which published the works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other political activists.
Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 181; http://www.amiribaraka.com/
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the father of poet-playwright Joseph Seamon, Jr., distinguished himself as a playwright, poet, author, and educator. Cotter was born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1861, but was reared in Louisville. He was one of the earliest African American playwrights to be published. His father, Michael J. Cotter, was of Scots-Irish ancestry, and his mother, Martha Vaughn, was an African American. Cotter, Sr. married Maria F.
John Seamon Cotter, Jr., a talented playwright, journalist, and poet, was born and reared in Louisville, Kentucky. The son of journalist, playwright, poet, teacher and community developer Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the younger Cotter’s education began with his sister Florence Olivia teaching him to read. Cotter graduated from Louisville’s Central High School in 1911, where his father was the school principal and his teacher. His mother, Maria F. Cox, was also a teacher at the school. Cotter attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for two years before being stricken with tuberculosis, a disease that earlier claimed the life of his sister Florence in 1914.
Joseph Cotter, Jr., completed a collection of one-act plays and poetry during the last seven years of his life. He also wrote one play, On the Fields of France, a protest play in one act which was published in 1920 after his death. It followed the last hours of two American army officers, one black, one white, both mortally wounded, who ultimately died hand in hand on a battlefield in northern France wondering why they could not have lived in peace and friendship in the United States. Cotter wrote two other plays, The White Folks’ Nigger and Caroling Dusk which were never published. Cotter died of tuberculosis in Louisville in 1919 at the age of 24.
Wallace Thurman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 16, 1902 to Beulah and Oscar Thurman. He was reared by his maternal grandmother, Emma Jackson, who was among the founders of Calvary Baptist Missionary Church—the first black church in Utah. Young Thurman lived for a time in Boise, Idaho, Chicago, and Omaha before returning to Salt Lake City when he was 12. Despite his family’s residence in a state politically and culturally dominated by the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), Thurman was recognized for his brilliance at West High School and the University of Utah, where he was a pre-med major. In 1922, he transferred to the University of Southern California to study journalism but dropped out without receiving a degree. While in Los Angeles he worked at the post office where he met aspiring novelist Arna Bontemps. Thurman and Bontemps worked together on The Pacific Defender, a black newspaper, and they started an artistic journal, Outlet.
Relocating to Harlem in 1925, in part as a result of his friendship with Bontemps, Thurman founded a second magazine, The Looking Glass, and became managing editor of The Messenger, the journal of Harlem’s radical Socialists led by Asa Philip Randolph. Thurman also worked as a ghost writer for the magazine True Story. In 1928 Thurman became the first black reader at Macaulay, a major New York publishing company.
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1940); Eleonore van Notten, Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994); Lawrence T. Potter, Jr., “Wallace Thurman,” in Encyclopedia on African American Writers, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.
Upon graduating the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics (now Wellesley College) in 1902, Angelina embarked on a career teaching English in Washington, D.C. that would last until 1926. It is during her teaching career that she begins to write. Her poetry, short stories and essays were published in The Crisis, Alain Locke’s The New Negro, in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk and in Robert Kerlin’s Negro Poets and Their Poems.
Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html
Philip U. Effiong, In Search of a Stylistic Model for Modern African-American Drama: The example of Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange (Paulette Williams), and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993); Sandra L. Richards, Conflicting Impulses in the Plays of Ntozake Shange (St. Louis: St. Louis University Press, 1983); Arlene Elder, “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo: Ntozake Shange’s Neo-Slave/Blues Narrative,” African American Review (1992); Rutgers University “Women of Color, Women of Words.” http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~cybers/shange2.html
Leslie Pinckney Hill was an educator, author, poet, dramatist, and community leader. He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on May 14, 1880 to Samuel H. Hill, a former slave, and Sarah E. Hill. He received his primary education in Lynchburg, where as a child he played the trumpet and visualized a career in music. His family eventually moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where he transferred to the local high school. Due to accelerated study, he was able to skip his junior year and graduated close to the top of his class in 1898.
In 1899 Hill enrolled at Harvard University where he had a scholarship and also worked as a writer and waiter. On the debate team, during his junior year he won second place in the Boylston Prize oratory competition. In 1903 Hill was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated cum laude in his class. In 1904, he also received his master's degree in education from Harvard.
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