Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, New York, to parents Melvine Love Bellanfanti, a Jamaican housekeepter, and Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr., of Martinique, who worked as a chef for the National Guard. Belafonte grew from being a troubled youth to an award-winning entertainer and world-renowned political activist and humanitarian. From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica. He returned to New York City and attended George Washington High School. In 1944 Belafonte joined the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and although Belafonte was never sent overseas, after the war ended he was able to use the G.I. Bill to pay for a drama workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan alongside fellow students Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier.
Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to occupy the White House. Obama was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was a Kenyan graduate student studying in the United States and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white American from Wichita, Kansas. The two were married on February 2, 1961 in Maui, Hawaii. In 1971, when he was ten, Obama’s mother, who had remarried and was living in Indonesia, sent him to Honolulu, Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham for several years, where he attended Punahou, a prestigious preparatory school. Obama was admitted on a scholarship with the assistance of his grandparents.
On January 20, 2009, with the Presidential swearing in of her husband Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson Obama became the first person of African American descent to become First Lady of the United States.
Obama is an accomplished professional with an impressive resume of her own. Outspoken, intelligent, and articulate, she can give passionate speeches, displaying warmth, charisma, and her ability to build an empathetic relationship with her audience. Early in her husband’s campaign for the Presidency, her forthright style sometimes resulted in “sound bites” which when taken out of context became controversial.
Born January 17, 1964 to Frasier Robinson, a pump operator for the city of Chicago’s water plant, and Marian Robinson, who spent much of Michelle’s childhood a homemaker, Michelle grew up on Chicago, Illinois' South Side, one of the nation’s poorest urban communities. Her parents strictly limited their children’s television viewing, and Michelle and her brother Craig were expected to take part in discussions around the family dinner table.Sources: Liza Mundy, Michelle, a Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008); Michelle Obama in Her Own Words, the Speeches 2008, compiled by Susan A. Jones; David Colbert, Michelle Obama, an American Story (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009); David Bergen Brophy, Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady (New York: Harper Collins, 2009); Elizabeth Lightfoot, Michelle Obama, First Lady of Hope (Guilford, Connecticut: the Lyons Press, 2009) and Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006); www.barackobama.com/about/michelle_obama.
Contributor: Affiliation: Independent Historian
Harold Mills is a boat racing pioneer and award winning driver. Born August 16, 1953 in Seattle, Washington, he spent nine years in Houston, Texas as a child. He came back to Seattle and grew up as a fan of boat racing.
In the late 1970s, up until 1985, Mills raced his own craft on the local hydroplane circuit. He won his first race in 1985, the Jim Spinner Memorial Regatta at Lake Sammamish outside Redmond, Washington. He retired from driving for the next four years, preferring to promote the sport as an organizer. In 1989, he returned to boat racing as a partner in a 7-litre boat team, From that point he continued to race through the 1990s. In 2000, he won 23 of 26 races he entered, driving a 2.5 liter modified hydroplane he called "Fast Freddy."
Harold Mills has won more than 100 races in his career. In 2001, he moved up to the Unlimited class as the first African American to pilot a turbine-powered unlimited hydroplane. In 2002 he received the Association For Diversity In Motorsports Trailblazer Award.
Alabama Congressman Artur Davis was born on October 9, 1967 in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his degree Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1990 and Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 1993. His academic career led way for his professional career as an attorney.
After graduate school, Davis received a clerkship with Judge Myron F. Thompson, one of the first black judges on the federal bench in Alabama. Davis worked as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama from 1994 to1998, fighting drugs and violence. In 1998, he worked as a litigator in private practice.
In 2002, Davis was elected Congressman of the 7th Congressional District in Alabama which includes Birmingham and counties in south-central Alabama. He was overwhelmingly reelected in 2004 and 2006. Davis was appointed to the Ways and Means committee, which oversees economic policy including tax law, trade policy, health care and Social Security. He is the tenth Alabamian to serve on this committee. Davis also serves on the Judiciary Committee, which covers immigration and criminal systems.
During his first term, Davis worked to reverse funding cuts for minority colleges like Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M. In his second term he worked to renovate public housing with the HOPE VI program.
Fredua Koranteng Adu, known to much of the world as Freddy Adu was born June 2, 1989 in the port city of Tema, Ghana. Growing up in Ghana, Freddy often received attention for his tremendous soccer skills as a youngster. Even at a young age he was asked by older kids and even adults to participate in their pick-up soccer games. Playing soccer against others who were often two or three times his age displayed his potential for soccer stardom. Today Adu is often considered one of the greatest of the youngest generation of American soccer players.
Adu’s mother Emelia Adu, provided a strong base for his young soccer career. She worked multiple jobs to provide soccer equipment for Freddy and his younger brother. She also wanted to give the Adu family a chance at higher education and prosperity. They realized this chance in November 1997 when Freddy was just eight years old. His mother and father won a Green Card lottery which allowed them to permanently relocate from Ghana to the United States. He and his family first moved to Maryland and then later to Washington DC. In 2003, Adu and his family became naturalized United States citizens.
Born in Washington, D.C. on April 27, 1969, Cory Booker is currently the United States Senator from New Jersey. Booker was raised in Harrington Park, New Jersey, a mostly white town where his parents Cary and Carolyn Booker, former civil rights activists and pioneer black executives at IBM, settled down. He attended Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan. Following his graduation he enrolled at Stanford University where he earned a B.A. in political science as well an M.A. in sociology. Booker played varsity football at Stanford and was named to the 1991 All- Pacific Ten Academic Team. Booker was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, one of few student athletes to do so, and went on to study at The Queens College in Oxford, England where he garnered his third degree, Honors History in 1994.
Following his studies at Stanford and Oxford, Booker earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1997. While there he volunteered as a big brother and was active in the Black Law Students Association. Though Booker was raised in affluence in New Jersey, following his graduation from Yale he moved to Brick Towers, a crime-ridden public housing project in Newark’s Central Ward. He became a community organizer, urging his tenant neighbors to fight crime and demand improvements in the projects.
Cory Booker, The First 100 Days: Newark, 100 Day Plan Report (Newark: Newark Public Information Office, 2006); Kendra Field, Race, Identity, and Legitimacy in Context: Cory Booker v. Sharpe James (Cambridge, Mass.: John F. Kennedy School of Government, 2002); www.corybooker.com; David Segal, "Urban Legend How Cory Booker Became Newark's Mayor: By Being Almost Too Good to Be True" The Washington Post, July 3, 2006; Kate Zernike, "Booker, Winning Rocky Senate Bid, Gets a Job to Fit his Profile," New York Times, October 16, 2013.
Deval L. Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts was elected in 2006. He became at that time only the second African American elected as a state Governor in the history of the United States. Patrick was born on July 31, 1956 in Chicago to Laurdine "Pat" Patrick and Emily Mae Wintersmith, and raised in the Robert Taylor housing project on that city’s “South Side.” His father’s career as a jazz musician (with the Sun Ra band) often took him away from home. Occasionally, Patrick travelled with his father, especially to New York City, where he often stayed with the family of the African drummer, Babatunde Olatunji and his wife Amy. After his parents were estranged, Patrick and his older sister were raised by his working mother.
Benefiting from "A Better Chance," a national non-profit organization which identified and recruited academically gifted African American students, Patrick was selected to attend Milton High School Academy. Upon his graduation in 1974 he entered Harvard University. After completing his undergraduate education at Harvard in 1978, Patrick worked for one year for the United Nations in the (pre-genocide) Darfur region of Sudan. He then returned to Harvard to earn a law degree in 1982. Two years later he married Diane Bemus, a labor and employment attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Author interviews with Deval Patrick, March 11, 2005 and December 8,
2006, "Governor-elect Deval Patrick is Named 2006 Bostonian of the
Year," Boston Globe Magazine, Special Issue, December 31, 2006: Mary
Carmichael, "Health Section," Newsweek Magazine, May 14, 2007; Office
of Governor Deval L. Patrick.
Yvette M. Jarvis has the distinction of being the first African American woman elected to serve on the Athens, Greece City Council from 2002 to 2006. Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1957, Jarvis traveled to Greece in 1982 after graduating from Boston University (Massachusetts). An accomplished basketball player, Jarvis was recruited into the Panathinaikos, becoming the first salaried female athlete in the Greek Women’s Basketball League. Jarvis quickly became well-known in Greece and used her celebrity status to spearhead social and political causes within her adoptive homeland, becoming an advocate for minority rights. Jarvis chose to participate in Greek NGOs that emphasized the rights of immigrants, women, and people with special needs.
After playing basketball for the Greek Women’s Basketball League, Jarvis became a model, a TV personality, and a professional singer. Jarvis became a celebrity presence in Greece, widely known throughout the country simply as “Yvette.”
P. Carlson, "American Aphrodite: From Modeling to TV to Politics,
Yvette Jarvis Is a Goddess in Her Adopted Homeland of Greece,
Washington Post, August 16, 2004, p. C01,
"Yvette Jarvis," Euro-American Women’s Council (2008).
In 2006 Sophia Danenberg became the first African American and first black woman from anywhere in the world to climb the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in the Himalayas.
Sophia Marie Scott was born in 1972 in Homewood, Illinois (a southern suburb of Chicago) to a Japanese mother and black father. She attended Homewood-Flossmoor High School, graduating in 1990. Danenberg then studied environmental sciences and public policy at Harvard University, graduating in 1994, before going on to Keio University in Tokyo as a Fulbright Fellow. Danenberg then began her professional career with United Technologies in Japan and China, managing energy and indoor air quality projects, before moving to Hartford, Connecticut where she worked in green technology research programs at United Technologies.
Danenberg became involved in mountaineering in 1999 after a childhood friend encouraged her to try rock climbing. During this two year period, while doing technical climbs through her local Appalachian Mountain Club Chapter, she met her future husband David Danenberg.
Carly A. Mullady, "Never Underestimate Yourself, and Never Let Others
Underestimate You," Southtown Star Newspaper, Chicago (Sunday, February
3, 2008), p. 3; Teresa Pelham, "Glastonbury Woman Makes History With
Everest Climb," The Hartford Courant (Monday, November 13, 2006);
http://www.danenberg.org/; Jeffrey Felshman, "Up Everest, Quietly" Our
Town (2006), www.ChicagoReader.com http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/ourtown/060714/everest/
Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA), founded in 1958 by Dr. James H. Robinson, is a non-profit organization which provides individuals with a seven-week experience in Africa. Founded on the principle that cultural immersion is possible through working and living inside Africa, their core values are to challenge the assumptions individuals may have about Africa and lead individuals to understand how African communities are formed. OCA facilitates cultural immersion through group travel and service activities in Africa each summer. They strive for cross-cultural communication, personal growth and promotion of the dignity of physical labor in Africa amongst educated individuals.
The Operation Crossroads Africa website available at http://www.operationcrossroadsafrica.org; Harold Isaacs, “Emergent Americans: A Report on ‘Crossroads Africa’” (New York: The John Day Company, 1961).
Robert Townsend, writer, producer, director, and actor, was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 6, 1957, the second oldest of four children to Shirley and Robert Townsend. Growing up on the Westside of Chicago, Townsend was raised by his mother in a single parent home. As a child Townsend watched TV where he learned to do impersonations of his favorite actors such as Jimmy Stewart and Bill Cosby for his family and classmates. Eventually his abilities caught the attention of Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors Guild X-Bag Theatre in Chicago and then moved him out to The Improvisation, a premiere comedy club in New York City. Townsend also had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie, Cooley High.
Townsend's comedy career began to take off at the Improvisation and he soon headed to Hollywood where he performed on comedy specials such as Rodney Dangerfield: It’s Not Easy Being Me. Townsend also landed minor role in films such as A Soldier’s Story (1984) with Denzel Washington, Streets of Fire (1984) with Diane Lane, and American Flyers, a 1985 movie staring Kevin Costner.
Robert Townsend.com, December 5, 2008,
http://www.roberttownsend.com/bio.html; Jennifer M. York, ed. Who’s Who
Among African Americans, 16th ed., (San Francisco: Thomson Gale, 2003)
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee, producer, actor, director, was born on March 20, 1957 in Atlanta Georgia. His parents are William Lee, a jazz musician and composer, and Jacqueline Shelton Lee, a teacher of art and literature. Lee, the oldest of five children in a relatively well off African American family, moved to Brooklyn when he was a child and began making amateur films by the age of twenty. His first film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, was completed while he was an undergraduate at Morehouse College. After receiving his B.A. he enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he received an M.F.A. in film production.
While at New York University Lee produced several student films and was awarded a Student Academy Award for his M.F.A. thesis film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop, a project that was broadcast by some public television stations and received notice from critics. Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983. Lee has also produced commercials for a number of companies including Nike, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry's.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, Ed., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Publisher Simon &
Schuster Macmillan, 1996); A & E, December 2, 2008,
On January 15, 2009 Roland Wallace Burris was sworn in as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Burris's appointment made him the third African American U.S. Senator from the state and the sixth black U.S. Senator in the history of the United States. The appointment, however, was marred by controversy as he was appointed to fill the Senatorial seat of President Barack Obama by Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich who had been arrested for allegedly attempting to sell that seat to the highest bidder.
New York Times.com – Man in the News – Roland W. Burris,
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/31/us/31burris.html?; Politico.com – Who
is Roland Burris? http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid; Time in
Partnership with CNN, Roland Burris, http://www.time.com/time
Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General since 2009, was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York to parents of Barbadian descent, Eric, a real estate agent and Miriam Holder, a telephone operator. Holder was raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, a community which included a number of famous African Americans such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier. Civil rights activist Malcolm X lived two blocks from young Holder and on one occasion in 1964, then recently crowned heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali entertained him and other community children on the steps of the Malcolm’s house.
Holder graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War protests and Black Power movement, he entered Columbia University where he participated in sit-ins by African American students. Holder also played collegiate basketball and became co-captain of his team. In 1973, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in U.S. history from Columbia and then entered Columbia University Law School, earning a J.D. in 1976. While in law school Holder served as a law clerk for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF).
Glenn Thrush, “The Survivor: How Eric Holder Outlasted his Many Critics”
(July/August 2014). Found in
and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/us/politics/11holder.html?_r=1; Michael D. Schear, "Holder Resigns, Setting Up Fight over Successor," New York Times, September 26, 2014, p. 1.
Patricia Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist, was born in Harlem, New York in 1942. Her parents, Rupert and Gladys Bath were both very supportive of her love for science and encouraged her to peruse a career in science. Bath's teachers throughout her early education were also supportive. Bath attended New York’s Charles Evans Hughes High School in Harlem. During her time there she excelled as a student earning herself a position after high school on a cancer research team at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital.
In 1960 she entered Hunter College in New York City obtaining a B.A in chemistry with honors four years later. Bath then enrolled in the Howard University Medical School receiving an M.D. degree in 1968. While in medical school Bath participated in a research project centered on children’s health in Yugoslavia. This experience persuaded her to make her life's work the treatment of impoverished populations around the globe through international medicine.
Ophthalmology became Bath's specialty after medical school. After working for a few years as a surgical assistant in New York hospitals, Bath went to Nigeria where she became the Chief of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital in Lagos, then the capital city. Bath became intrigued by the numerous cases of blindness she encountered in Nigeria and upon her return to the United States in 1978, founded the American Institute for Prevention of Blindness.
Otha Richard Sullivan, ed., Black Stars African American Women
Scientists & Inventors (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass A Wiley
Imprint, 2002); http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/bath.html;
Susan Rice is the current National Security Advisor for the Barack Obama Administration. She is the first African American, the third woman, and the second youngest person to hold the position. Prior to being selected by President Obama for the post, Rice served as a key foreign policy advisor for the Obama campaign during the 2008 presidential race.
Born in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 1964 to Emmett J. Rice, a Cornell University economics professor and former governor of the Federal Reserve System, and Lois Dickson Fitt, an education policy scholar, Rice was raised in the Shepherd Park community, where she attended Washington’s National Cathedral School, an elite preparatory academy. An active participant in student government, Rice was elected president of her school’s student council. In addition to excelling at basketball, Rice was a dedicated student and upon her graduation was named class valedictorian.
Rice attended Stanford University on a Truman Scholarship, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 1986. Rice was elected to Phi Beta Kappa while at Stanford. She then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving a Master’s of Philosophy Degree in 1988, and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in International Relations in 1990. In 1988 while working on her doctorate, Rice took a position as a foreign policy aide with the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign.
The first person of African descent, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics was Vonetta Flowers when she won gold in the women's bobsled event in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
http://www.vonettaflowers.com; Vonetta Flowers with W. Terry Whalin, Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2005).
The Angolan Civil War, beginning at the time of the country's independence from Portugal in 1975, was a 27-year struggle involving the deaths of over 500,000 soldiers and civilians. Initiated at the height of the Cold War, pro- and anti-communist forces in Angola set the stage for a proxy fight between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Though the fighting officially ended in 2002, Angola remains in economic and social turmoil with a massive refugee crisis and millions of landmines impeding farming practices.
Rich in diamonds and oil, Angola was one of the last African nations to receive independence from a European power. On April 25, 1974, a Portuguese military coup d’état protesting the country’s colonial practices successfully overthrew the regime. The combined forces of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA), and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) created a transitional government with the Alvor Accord of 1974.
Cassandra Quin Butt is Deputy White House Counsel to President Barack Obama on issues relating to civil rights, domestic policy, healthcare, and education. She brought seventeen years of experience in politics and policy to her position. She is a long-time friend of the President, acting as an advisor during his term in the U.S. Senate and throughout his presidential campaign. Additionally, she served as a member of the presidential transition team.
Butts was born on August 10, 1965, in Brooklyn, New York, and at age nine moved to Durham, North Carolina. She graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill with a BA in political science. While at UNC she participated in anti-apartheid protests. She entered Harvard Law School in 1988 where her friendship with future President Barack Obama began when both were filling out forms in the student financial aid line. Butts continued her activism at Harvard where she joined in protests regarding hiring practices for faculty of color. She received a JD from Harvard in 1991.
The first black woman to function as Deputy White House Counsel gradually rose to prominence Her first job was as a counselor at the YMCA in Durham, North Carolina, and after graduating from UNC she worked for a year as a researcher with the African News Service in Durham. For six years she was a registered lobbyist with the Center for American Progress (CAP), rising to Senior Vice President.
Jackson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 8, 1962, and was adopted two weeks after her birth. She grew up in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which became infamous during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her adoptive mother continued to live in New Orleans until the hurricane flooded the city. Jackson, who had planned to become a doctor, instead switched her studies to engineering and graduated summa cum laude with a BS in chemical engineering from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering in 1983. She received a masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson was one of only two women in her engineering class at Princeton.
Denise Majette, former member of Congress, attorney, judge, and politician, was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 18, 1955 to Voyd Lee and Olivia (Foster) Majette. In 1976, Majette graduated from Yale University. She earned her law degree from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina in 1979.
After graduating, Majette joined the Legal Aid Society in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. During this period, she also served on faculty at the Wake Forest Law School. Majette relocated to Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1983. During the early1980s, she held positions as a clerk and an assistant to judges. From 1989 to 1992, Majette returned to private practice as a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Jenkins, Nelson, and Welch. During this period, she also served on the boards of various community organizations. In 1992, she was named an administrative law judge at the Georgia state board of workers' compensation. The following year, Georgia Governor Zell Miller appointed her judge of the State Court of DeKalb County. Majette held the judgeship for nine years.
On December 1, 2005, Mark Mallory was sworn in as the first black mayor elected by popular vote in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three other black mayors preceded him but were chosen by the City Council. Born on April 2, 1962, and raised on the West End of Cincinnati, Mallory attended high school at the city’s Academy of Math and Science and earned a BS in administrative management from the University of Cincinnati in 1984. Before becoming Mayor of Cincinnati, Mallory replaced his father, William L. Mallory Sr., in 1994 in the Ohio General Assembly. In 1998 Mark Mallory was elected to the Ohio Senate eventually becoming the assistant minority leader.
Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento, California, was born in California's capital city in 1966. He graduated from Sacramento High School, where he led the state in basketball scoring during his senior year, with a point average of 32.5 points. Johnson then played college basketball at the University of California at Berkeley. While there he became the all-time leader in scoring for that varsity team. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1987, Johnson was drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA).
As the seventh round draft pick, Johnson was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but was quickly traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1988, where he remained for the duration of his career in the NBA. Johnson played point guard, and with his high point-scoring, was considered by many teams as a threat. The Phoenix Suns' overall record improved with his selection and so did Johnson's performance.
During his first year with Phoenix (1988-1989), Johnson was named the NBA's most improved player. He also competed in all-star games in 1990, 1991, and 1994 and played on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team (Dream Team II) which won a gold medal in Toronto, Canada in the 1994 World Championship of Basketball. Kevin Johnson officially retired from the NBA on August 8, 2000 after 13 years in the league.
Top-ranked professional female tennis player Venus Williams was born June 17, 1980 in Lynnwood, California. She is the daughter of Richard Williams and Oracene Price. Both parents coached Venus and her younger sister, Serena, who is also a top-ranked professional tennis player. Venus Williams, the second youngest of five children and whose older siblings are from Price's previous marriage, grew up in Compton, California where she began to play tennis at the age of five. After moving to West Palm Beach, Florida with her family, Williams joined professional ranks in 1994. A year later at the age of 15, the 6 ft. 1 in. child prodigy had already signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Reebok which at the time was the largest contract ever awarded to a female athlete.
Van Jones is a social-environmental activist and the Obama administration’s former “Green Czar.” He was born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother and father were a high school teacher and junior-high principal respectively. While growing up, Jones was a stereotypical “geek,” going so far as to pretend that his action figures were running public offices. Jones attended the University of Tennessee at Martin where he majored in communications and political science. It was during his freshman year in UT-Martin that Jones chose for himself the nickname “Van.” In 1990 Jones enrolled at Yale Law School.
After graduating in 1993, Jones moved to San Francisco. There he became a community organizer and set up the Bay Area organizations, PoliceWatch and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, both intended to combat police abuse. Jones also involved himself and his organization in the campaign to reform California’s juvenile detention system including the fight against the construction of a huge new juvenile detention facility in Dublin, California.
Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, playwright, novelist and activist, was born on April 15, 1958, the first of eight children, in Birmingham, England. Zephaniah grew up in Wandsworth until the age of nine when his mother, a Jamaican nurse, fled his father, a postman from Barbados. Leaving behind his twin sister Velda and other siblings, Zephaniah felt isolated as a young black dyslexic boy who encountered racism at his new school in Birmingham. He turned to writing, choosing to describe local and global issues, inspired by his Jamaican heritage and “street politics” of Birmingham. He left formal education at age 14, but built a reputation in the city as a popular dub poet, an art form which involves mixing the spoken word with reggae rhythms. Zephaniah had a troubled adolescence, which was punctuated with periods in incarceration following convictions for petty theft.
Blackpast.org (www.blackpast.org) is the largest web-based free content reference center currently on the Internet that is dedicated primarily to the understanding of African American history and the history of people of African ancestry. The website's most popular feature is an online encyclopedia which includes nearly 4,000 entries which describe people, places, and events in African American and global African history. Most of this encyclopedia content has been generated by nearly 500 volunteer contributors on four continents. That content is editorially reviewed and, if suitable, placed on the website. BlackPast.org grows daily as new entries are regularly contributed to the website and new features are added.
National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar LeBron James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to Gloria James who was sixteen and unwed . Gloria, the sole provider for her only son, worked various jobs and lived in numerous apartments with young LeBron throughout Akron.
LeBron James’s athleticism was revealed early when at age 14 he stood six feet tall and dominated his age group in football and basketball. During this period he became close friends with Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, and Romeo Travis. The five adolescents dominated basketball leagues in various community centers and became known locally as the “Shooting Stars.” All five chose to attend Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary (SVSM) Catholic High School.
The Shooting Stars saga at the SVSM became storied. Under LeBron James’s leadership the team won three Division III state titles. The team's popularity required SVSM to move their games from their high school area to the fifteen thousand seat Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron. James's fame also attracted the attention of ESPN Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the late 1990s and he was given the nickname "King James" by the sports press. The team was chronicled in the 2009 documentary More Than a Game.
Senator Scott, born on September 19, 1965 in North Charleston and grew up in this impoverished neighborhood. His parents divorced when he was seven. In order to make ends meet, his mother, Frances, worked sixteen hour days as a nurse’s assistant, a profession which she still holds. Scott’s older brother is a U.S. Army officer, stationed in Germany.
Professional basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has played for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1996 when he came to the team as an 18-year-old, the youngest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. Bryant is a long-time philanthropist, using his well-known name to fundraise for a number of causes. His stellar career was tarnished in 2003 when he was arrested for alleged sexual assault, resulting in a suit that was settled out of court a year later.
Bryant is the youngest of three children born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to former National Basketball Association player and Women’s National Basketball Association head coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. His parents named him after the popular Japanese steak of the same name. In 1983, Bryant’s father left the NBA and moved his family to Italy to play professional basketball. Young Kobe quickly adapted to his environment, learning to speak fluent Italian and Spanish. Besides learning to play basketball at an early age, Bryant also became a skilled soccer player. Following his father’s retirement from basketball in 1991, the family returned to Philadelphia.
Russell Simmons, a multimillionaire who is estimated to be the third wealthiest man in the Hip-Hop industry, just behind Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, was born on October 4, 1957 in Queens, New York City. His parents were Damian Simmons, a public school administrator, and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator. Simmons is one of four brothers. While growing up he lived a life of poverty as his block in Queens was known at that time as the area’s drug capitol. Even Simmons himself became involved with dealing marijuana in his early youth.
Simmons first became involved with hip hop music at the age of 20 when in 1977 he attended a party in a small club where an MC (Master of Ceremonies) was shouting call-and-response rhymes. Inspired by that experience, Simmons began promoting MCs, like the one from the former party, and booking them for shows. Although he lacked musical talent, Simmons felt his promotions were a way to become involved in the industry. Simmons often lost money on these early promotions but he continued to work on building successful acts and his own career.
Civic leader, activist and journalist Benjamin Jealous is the seventeenth president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With his appointment to the position in 2008, 35-yar-old Jealous became the youngest person to head the NAACP.
Benjamin Todd Jealous was born on January 18, 1973 to Ann Todd and Fred Jealous in Pacific Grove, California. His father Fred Jealous helped integrate lunch counters in the South. Ann Jealous also was a civil rights activist who worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the South in the 1960s.
By the age of fourteen Ben Jealous followed his parent’s example by working in voter registration campaigns on California’s Monterey Peninsula. Four years later, after entering Columbia University in 1990, he worked as a community organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Harlem on health care access for the poor. During his freshman year at Columbia he led protests for homeless rights and campaigned to retain full-need scholarships at the university. He was also one of a number of students suspended following their protest of the university's plans to convert Malcolm X’s assassination site at the St. Theresa Hotel in central Harlem into a research facility. Unable to attend school, Jealous moved to Mississippi in 1994 where he assisted the NAACP in preventing the state of Mississippi from closing two of its three state-funded black colleges and turning one into a prison.
LeRoy Homer, co-pilot of United Airlines Flight #93, was born on August 27, 1965 in Long Island, New York. Homer and his three sisters were raised on Long Island by their German mother, Ilse, and their African-American father who died from a stroke when Homer was twelve. Homer’s interest in airplanes started at an early age and he began taking flying lessons when he was fifteen. He joined the Air Force and after graduating from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he served as a pilot in both the Desert Shield and Desert Storm military operations in the Middle East and later flew aircraft in humanitarian operations in Somalia. Homer served seven years on active duty in the Air Force, eventually becoming a Captain before switching into the reserves, where he rose to the rank of Major.
In 1995, Homer joined United Airlines as a pilot That same year, he met his future wife, Melodie Thorpe. The two were married on May 24, 1998. Homer and his wife spent the first two years of their marriage travelling the world as he worked for United Airlines, until they were ready to start a family. In October of 2000 Homer and his wife had a daughter, Laurel.
Will Allen was born on February 8 in 1949 in Rockville, Maryland. He grew up on a small farm where his parents had moved after sharecropping in South Carolina. He attended the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Florida where he played basketball, graduating in 1971 with a B.A. That same year he turned professional and joined the Baltimore Bullets but never did play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He briefly played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with The Floridians. The remainder of his professional basketball career was spent in Belgium.
Alice Nkom broke barriers for women by becoming the first female barrister in her country of Cameroon. She is also well known among Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) activists worldwide because of her legal advocacy for gay rights.
Nkom was born in 1945 in Poutkak, Cameroon in West Africa to Martin Nkom Bayi and Alice Ngo Bikang. She was one of eleven children. Nkom pursued higher education in France at the University of Toulouse (1963-1964) and completed her studies at the Federal University of Cameroon (1968). In 1969 at the age of 24 she became Cameroon’s first female attorney. Throughout her law career Nkom has defended low income and vulnerable people, including political prisoners, street children and women. Since 1976, she has been a stakeholder in one of the most prestigious law firms in Cameroon. After seven years of marriage, Nkom went through a divorce in 1979. She has two children, Charles and Stephane, and eight grandchildren.
Marco McMillian was known primarily as the first openly-gay African American male to seek mayoral office as a Democrat in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. On February 26, 2013, McMillian was found dead the age of 34, having been beaten, dragged, and burned.
Little is known about his family history. McMillian was born to Patricia Unger in Clarksdale in 1979. He graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1997 and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the W.E.B. DuBois Honors College at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. McMillian also earned a graduate degree from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota in the area of philanthropy and development.
While living in Washington, D.C., McMillian served as an international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. where he was responsible for securing the first federal contract to raise the awareness of the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. He also served as executive assistant to the President of Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University.
Shonda Rhimes is the first African American woman to write and produce a top-10-rated show on network television. She is most known for her work writing and producing the shows Grey’s Anatomy (2005- ), Private Practice (2007- ), and Scandal (2012- ).
Rhimes was born January 13, 1970 in Chicago, Illinois as the youngest of six children. Her mother was a college professor and her father a university public information officer. She has two adopted daughters, Harper Rhimes, born in 2002, and Emerson Rhimes, born in 2012.
Rhimes graduated from Dartmouth College in 1991, earning a B.A. degree in English literature. She then attended the University of Southern California, where she earned an MFA in filmmaking in 1994. She acquired an agent based on the strength of her final film school project and was asked to write a spec script, which promptly got sold, although the movie was never filmed. One of her first jobs in film making came when she was hired to write the script for the 1998 movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
Wanda Sykes is an American actress, comedian, writer, and voice artist. She is best known for her recurring role as Barbara Baran on the CBS primetime show The New Adventures of Old Christine, and for her comedic roles in such films as Monster-in-Law and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Sykes is the daughter of Marion Louise, a retired banker, and Harry Ellsworth Sykes, a retired U.S. Army colonel. She was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on March 7, 1964, but raised in the Washington, D.C. area.
Sykes attended Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, and later Hampton University, where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Upon graduation, she worked as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) but soon realized she wanted to become an entertainer.
In 1987, at the age of 23, Sykes took to the stage for the first time in a talent show in Washington. While she did not win the contest, she honed her stand-up skills at various comedy clubs while retaining her position at NSA.
In 1992, Sykes relocated to New York to work the comedy circuit and soon got her first big break by being selected as the opening act for comedian Chris Rock at Caroline’s Comedy Club. In 1997, she joined The Chris Rock Show as a writer, made guest appearances, and won an Emmy Award for her writing in 1999.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts into a middle class family of four children, Isaacs’ parents stressed academic achievement. Her youthful ambition to become a musical comedy star was discouraged. She graduated from Classical High School in 1967 then moved to California and earned her political science degree in 1971 at Whittier College.
Aynaw lived in the hardscrabble immigrant town of Netanya. Despite having no knowledge of spoken or written Hebrew, she was transported to a Hebrew boarding school in Haifa that catered to newly arrived immigrants. Over time her competency in Hebrew steadily increased and she eventually became fluent in Yiddish as well. Aynaw was a standout student in high school who distinguished herself from the outset. She was student council president, excelled in track and field, and won first place in a national film competition that was loosely based on her own life experiences.
The Biography Channel, Raven-Symoné Synopsis (New York, NY: Arts & Entertainment Networks, 2014), retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/raven-symon%C3%A9-21303025; Damien Croghan, Raven-Symone’s Coming Out should be Celebrated, retrieved from http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/croghan-raven-symone-s-coming-out-should-be-celebrated/article_4933ebc2-1017-11e3-9f71-0019bb30f31a.html; Kimberley McLeod, ed., “Actress Raven Symone Radiates Beside Out Model AzMarie,” Elixher Magazine (September 3, 2013), retrieved from http://elixher.com/actress-raven-symone-radiates-beside-out-model-azmarie/.
Lazaro Medina was an Afro-Paraguayan who was best known as the founder and director of the Ballet Camba Cua, the only dance troupe of Paraguay based on the dances of former African slaves. Medina was also a political activist who assisted other Afro-Paraguayans who faced racial discrimination and the consequences of the confiscation of their lands by Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner in the 1980s. The ballet was named after Camba Cua, one of the few remaining Afro-Paraguayan settlements in the nation.
Little is known about Medina’s background including his parents and date of birth. Nor is there much information about his formal training. Medina founded Ballet Camba Cua in 1991 basing it partly on the recalled stories of his father who described earlier festivals of people of African descent. The Ballet was named after the Afro-Paraguayan community of Camba Cua which was founded by a group of 250 black lancers who were given land, a team of oxen, and seeds to plant aftrer they helped defeat a ruler who was sent into exile. The goal of the Ballet was to make Afro-Paraguayan culture visible and connected to the larger world of African culture.
In the extended article that appears below historians Daudi Abe and Quintard Taylor explore the history of African Americans in Martin Luther King County from 1858 to 2014. They analyze the forces which encouraged people of African ancestry to settle in the county and discuss the rapid political, social, and economic changes that its black residents have faced since the first arrival, Manuel Lopes, came to the county in 1858.
With 119,801 people of African ancestry in a total population of 1,931,249 people, Martin Luther King, Jr. County is the most populous county in the state of Washington and is home to 29% of the state’s inhabitants and half of Washington’s black population. It is also the only county in the United States named after the 20th Century civil rights icon.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.