Clara Mae Luper was born in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, to Ezell and Isabell Shepard on May 3, 1923. She attended all-black schools and was bussed several miles to Grayson High School where she graduated in a class of five. After graduating from the segregated Langston University, Luper became the first African American student to enroll in the history department at the University of Oklahoma, earning a master’s degree in 1951.
Luper was one of the early leaders in the civil rights movement in Oklahoma during the 1950s. She taught history in various Oklahoma City public schools for forty-one years and became the sponsor of the Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council. In 1958, working with this group, she led the earliest “sit-ins” in Oklahoma and some of the first in United States. Through these protests she and other civil rights activists succeeded in integrating many public facilities in Oklahoma City and across the state by 1964.
Booker T. Washington is one of the most controversial and dominant figures in African American history. According to his autobiography Up From Slavery (1901), he did not know the exact year, date, and place of his birth or his father’s name. Yet, it is widely understood that he was born enslaved on April 5, 1856 in Hale's Ford, Virginia . His mother’s name was Jane and his father was a white man from a nearby plantation. At the age of 9, Washington was freed from slavery and moved to West Virginia. He had always been known as simply “Booker” until he decided to add the name “Washington” after feeling the pressure to have two names when he started grammar school.
At the age of 16, Washington began college at the Hampton Normal and Agriculture Institute in Hampton , Virginia. He also attended Wayland Seminary from 1878 to 1879 before returning to teach at Hampton. As a result of a recommendation from Hampton officials, he became the first principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University), which opened on July 4, 1881; he remained in this capacity until his death in 1915.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 4, 1927 to Reverend Whitfield and Captilda Nottage, C. DeLores Tucker attended the highly competitive Philadelphia High School for Girls and then matriculated to Temple University where she studied finance and real estate. In 1951 she married businessman William Tucker and became an activist who at the time was counted among the 100 most influential black Americans.
A successful realtor during the 1950s, Tucker became involved in civil rights activities. In the 1960s she served as an officer in the Philadelphia NAACP and worked closely with the local branch president and activist Cecil Moore to end racist practices in the city’s post offices and construction trades. Tucker gained national prominence when she led a Philadelphia delegation on the celebrated Selma to Montgomery march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the decade’s end, Tucker’s expertise as a fund raiser for the NAACP, coupled with her Democratic Party affiliation, enabled her to be appointed chair of the Pennsylvania Black Democratic Committee.
Charles Henry Langston, the grandfather of poet Langston Hughes, was born a free man on a Virginia plantation in 1817 to Captain Ralph Quarles and Lucy Jane Langston, Quarles’ mulatto slave. He had two brothers, John Mercer (who would become a Virginia Congressman in 1888) and Gideon. After the death of his father in 1834, Charles inherited a large part of his father’s estate, and he went to be educated at Oberlin College in 1842 and 1843.
The liberation of the accused fugitive slave John Price in 1858 helped Charles Langston emerge as a prominent public figure and champion for the cause of anti-slavery. In a bold act of defiance, Charles led a group of white and black abolitionists to rescue John Price from federal authorities after he was arrested for allegedly violating the fugitive slave act. Charles Langston was tried and convicted for his part in this event. Langston’s conviction proved so unpopular in the area that he was freed before serving his full sentence. He would later use this experience to argue that if black people are not able to serve on juries, then they are not tried by their peers.
Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem, New York, Belafonte grew from being a troubled youth to an award winning entertainer and world renowned political activist and humanitarian. 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.
Belafonte's career as an entertainer had a rocky start, but in the 1950s he found great success. In the first half of 1956 alone Belafonte had three top-ten albums, the most notable being Calypso, which spent 31 weeks at number one and helped him gain the title King of Calypso. Music was not his only successful endeavor in entertainment; Belafonte also became well known for his works on film, television, and Broadway.
Hester Jeffrey, an organizer and activist who became involved in the women’s movement in the city of Rochester, New York, was born in Norfolk, Virginia around 1842. Jeffrey was the daughter of free parents Robert and Martha Whitehurst. In 1860 Jeffrey, along with her brother and sister, moved to Boston to live with their uncle Coffin Pitts. In 1865 she married Jerome Jeffrey, the son the Rev. Roswell D. Jeffrey, in Boston. Rev. Jeffrey was a political activist who stored the printing press of Frederick Douglass’s North Star in the basement of the Favor Street A.M.E. Church in Rochester, New York.
Hester Jeffrey founded a number of local African American women’s clubs among the growing African American community in Rochester in the early 1890s. In 1897, Jeffrey was appointed to serve on the (Frederick) Douglass Monument Committee, to raise funds for a statue that was going to be erected in Rochester, New York, in the honor of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, journalist, and champion of woman’s suffrage. After the commemoration of the Douglass Monument, Hester Jeffrey emerged as a leader in Rochester’s African American community. Jeffrey founded two women’s organizations, the Climbers and the Hester C. Jeffrey Club. The Jeffrey Club was an organization to raise funds for colored women to take classes at the Mechanics’ Institute (now called the Rochester Institute of Technology).
Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); http://www.blackinventor.com/pages/jamesforten.html; http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USASforten.htm.
Albert Cleage, jr., or Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman, Black Nationalist and civil rights activist, was one of the most prominent black religious leaders in America. Agyemen preached a form of nationalism within the black community that stressed economic self-sufficiency and separation that relied on a religious awakening among black people.
Albert Cleage, Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on June 13, 1911. Cleage graduated from Wayne State University in 1937, earning a B.A. in sociology, and a M.A. in Divinity from Oberlin School of Theology in 1943. Cleage married Doris Graham and had two daughters. Cleage and Graham later divorced in 1955. Cleage ran for governor of Michigan in 1962 under the Freedom Now Party, and was a candidate in the Democratic primary for U.S. Representative from Michigan, 13th District, in 1966. Cleage later changed his name to Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman.
Stephen Smith was born into slavery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. At 21 he purchased his freedom for $50 and soon afterwards began to ally with the abolitionist cause that he would support through most of his adult life. In 1830 Smith became the chairman of the African American abolitionist organization in Columbia, Pennsylvania while developing a successful lumber business. The Columbia Spy reported that in 1835 his success “…excited the envy or hatred of those not so prosperous and of the ruling race.” In that year unknown persons vandalized his office and destroyed his papers, records and books. Shortly after this incident, Smith moved to Philadelphia where he again entered the lumber business and after a few years regained his prosperity.
Teacher, author, clergyman, and civil rights leader, Thomas McCants Stewart was born in Charleston on December 28, 1853, to George Gilchrist and Anna Morris Stewart. Young Stewart attended the Avery Normal Institute before enrolling in Howard University in 1869. Although only fifteen when he arrived on Howard’s campus, Stewart, nonetheless, distinguished himself as a student and contributed occasional articles to the Washington New National Era, an African American newspaper.
Yet Stewart grew increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of instruction at Howard and became one of the first black students to enroll in the University of South Carolina at Columbia in 1874. In December 1875, Stewart graduated with Bachelor of Arts and L.L.B. degrees.
After graduation, Stewart married Charlotte Pearl Harris and taught mathematics at the State Agricultural and Mechanical College in Orangeburg between 1877 and 1878. He also he joined the law firm of South Carolina Congressman Robert Brown Elliott. In 1877 Stewart became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and three years later was appointed pastor of the Bethel AME Church in New York in 1880.
William C. Nell was an African American civic activist, abolitionist, and historian. Born and raised in Boston, Nell was the son of William Guion Nell, a prominent tailor and black activist. William C. Nell was introduced to racial inequality and black activism from birth. In the 1830s, he became politically active as a member of the Juvenile Garrison Independent Society where he wrote plays and hosted political debates while being mentored by William Lloyd Garrison. Nell was a printer’s apprentice for Garrison’s newspaper, the Liberator. Nell came of age in the 1840s, as a leader in the campaign to desegregate the Boston railroad (1843) and Boston performance halls (1853). He was also a founding member of the New England Freedom Association in 1842, a black Boston organization that assisted fugitive slaves in their efforts to gain freedom.
Nell’s activism had its greatest impact in ending segregation in Boston’s public education system. This campaign began in 1840, as Nell co-authored a petition to the Massachusetts Legislature that had over 2000 signatures from the black Boston community demanding school integration. Nell’s efforts to desegregate Boston’s schools initiated a century-long nationwide campaign which climaxed in Brown v. Board of Education (1954-55).
Cyril Briggs was a pioneering civil rights activist, journalist, black nationalist, and member of the American Communist Party. Born in 1888 on the Eastern Caribbean island of Nevis, Briggs immigrated to New York City in 1905 and joined a burgeoning community of radical West Indian intellectuals in Harlem. In 1912 be was hired at the New York Amsterdam News where he voiced support for World War I and Woodrow Wilson's anti colonial doctrine of self-determination, which he saw as validating his own radical vision of African American self-rule. Further radicalized in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, Briggs started publishing his own periodical, the Crusader, in September 1918 and one month later founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). Incorporating Marxist class-consciousness under the banner of "Africa for Africans," the Crusader and the ABB became vehicles for Briggs' distinctive merger of interracial revolutionary socialism with black nationalism and anti colonialism.
Even before finishing graduate school Elijah Walter Miles had a record of civil disobedience in support of civil rights objectives. Born in Hearne, Texas on May 4, 1934, Miles received his bachelor’s degree from the Prairie View A&M University in 1955. A two-year stint as an officer in the U.S. Army preceded graduate study at Indiana University where he was in the forefront of a campaign to desegregate public accommodations in the city of Bloomington.
After receiving his doctorate in political science at Indiana University in 1962 Miles taught for three years as a professor at Prairie View and directed a successful boycott of white-owned businesses in nearby Hempstead, Texas. Later, during his one-year stay at the University of North Carolina, Miles agitated for better off campus housing.
Miles arrived at San Diego State University in 1967, and at the time was the institution’s only African American professor. Gracious, loyal, and affable but fearless, Miles immersed himself in the affairs of the city and the university, oftentimes working effectively behind the scenes to bring about change. Off campus he became chairman of the board of the San Diego Urban League. He was also a member of the San Diego Blue Ribbon Commission for Charter Review and was appointed to a panel of the California Board of Education. Miles was chairman of the board of the San Diego Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and served on the organization’s national board.
Asa Philip Randolph, born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, was one of the most respected leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century. Randolph was a labor activist; editor of the political journal the Messenger, organizer of the 1941 March on Washington which resulted in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), and architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Randolph was the son of Rev. James William Randolph, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a seamstress. The family moved to Jacksonville two years after his birth. In 1907, Randolph graduated as the valedictorian of Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, Florida, and worked a series of menial jobs while pursuing a career as an actor. He moved to New York in 1911, and after reading W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk decided to devote his life to fighting for African American equality. In 1914, Randolph married Lucille E. Green, a Howard graduate and entrepreneur whose economic support allowed Randolph to pursue Civil Rights full-time. The couple did not have any children.
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.
Although he never held public office, George S. Jeffrey barber, orator, and post-reconstruction civil rights leader, emerged as one of the most important African American political figures in late 19th Century Connecticut. Jeffrey was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1830, to free parents George W. and Mary Ann (Campbell) Jeffrey. By 1851, Jeffrey settled in Meriden, Connecticut and became a successful barber. Nine years later he married Martha Agnes Williams who by the late 1870s established a successful hairdressing emporium.
A radical theoretician, anti-colonialist, labor organizer, and civil rights activist, Harry Haywood was one of the most prominent and influential African American Communists of the twentieth century. Haywood, the son of former slaves, was born in South Omaha, Nebraska in 1898. He migrated to Chicago after serving in World War I and organized community defense during the 1919 Chicago race riot. In 1922 he joined the African Blood Brotherhood and in 1925 became an official member of the CPUSA.
John Campbell Dancy, Jr.
Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper and Row, 1987); Elaine Sue Caldbeck, “A Religious Life of Pauli Murray: Hope and Struggle,” Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 2000; http://www.wvu.edu/~lawfac/jelkins/lp-2001/murray.html; http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmurrayA.htm
The paper attacked racial injustice, particularly lynching in the south. The Defender did not use the words "Negro" or "black" in its pages. Instead, African Americans were referred to as "the Race" and black men and women as "Race men and Race women." Many places in the south effectively banned the paper, especially when, during World War I, Abbott actively tried to convince southern blacks to migrate to the north. Abbott managed to get railroad porters to carry his papers south and he ran articles, editorials, cartoons — even train schedules and job listings — to convince the Defender’s southern readers to come north. The “Great Northern Migration,” as it was called in the Defender, resulted in more than one million blacks migrating north, about 100,000 of them coming to Chicago. The Defender was passed from person to person, and read aloud in barbershops and churches. It is estimated that at its height each paper sold was read by four to five African Americans, putting its readership at over 500,000 people each week.
Born in 1920 in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, Percy Steele was one of eight children. Steele graduated from North Carolina Central College in Durham, North Carolina, after which he attended Atlanta University, where he completed a Master’s degree. From 1945 to 1946, he was a staff member and organization secretary for the Washington, D.C. Urban League.
Franklin McCain grew up in Washington, D.C. but returned to his native North Carolina to attend college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. McCain and his roommate, David Richmond, had followed the progress of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama and felt that they should do something to contribute to the movement for social change. On Monday February 1, 1960 McCain joined the rest of the “A & T Four” (Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. and Richmond) in sitting-in at a segregated F.W. Woolworth lunch counter. The following day, two dozen students from North Carolina A & T and Bennett College joined the protest. By the end of the week 3,000 students were picketing in downtown Greensboro. The movement rapidly spread to fifty-four cities in nine other southern states.
James Arthur Baldwin, fiction writer, essayist, dramatist, and poet, was born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1942, he began his formal career as a writer. Baldwin was inspired by Richard Wright, despite his being called to the ministry at age fourteen in the Pentecostal faith and church dominated by his father, David Baldwin.
Although James Baldwin emerged as a major American literary voice by 1953 when he published his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, his candid and militant essays found in Nobody Knows my Name (1961) and The Fire Next Time (1963) identified his writing with the emerging Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Baldwin stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, when the civil rights leader delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
One of the original Greensboro four who took part in the Woolworth sit-ins, David Leinail Richmond is often described by those who were closest to him as “gentle, intelligent, generous to a fault, and able to take a stand.” He was born in Greensboro and graduated from Dudley High School. At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now University) he majored in business administration and accounting. He got married while still at “A&T” and was immediately faced with the demands of his classes and the needs of his family, as well as the curious celebrity that went with the movement.
David Richmond began to fall behind in his class work, cutting back on his course load, and as time went by he left A&T before receiving his degree. After leaving A&T, he became a counselor-coordinator for the CETA program in Greensboro. He lived in the mountain community of Franklin for nine years, then returned to Greensboro to take care of his parents and work as a housekeeping porter for Greensboro Health Care Center. In 1980, the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce awarded him the Levi Coffin Award for “leadership in human rights, human relations, and human resources development in Greensboro.” He was married and divorced twice and has two children with Yvonne Bryson.
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was a writer, teacher, and activist who championed education for African Americans and women. Born into bondage in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, she was the daughter of an enslaved woman, Hannah Stanley, and her owner, George Washington Haywood.
In 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, Anna began her formal education at Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, a coeducational facility built for former slaves. There she received the equivalent of a high school education.
Anna Haywood married George A.G. Cooper, a teacher of theology at Saint Augustine’s, in 1877. When her husband died in 1879, Cooper decided to pursue a college degree. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio on a tuition scholarship, earning a BA in 1884 and a Masters in Mathematics in 1887. After graduation Cooper worked at Wilberforce University and Saint Augustine’s before moving to Washington, D.C. to teach at Washington Colored High School. She met another teacher, Mary Church (Terrell), who, along with Cooper, boarded at the home of Alexander Crummell, a prominent clergyman, intellectual, and proponent of African American emigration to Liberia.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, an advocate for minority rights, became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1969 and later the first black person to seek a major party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency. She represented New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and when initially elected, was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee. By the time she left that chamber, she had held a place on the prized Rules and Education and Labor Committees.
Chisholm was born in Brooklyn as the eldest of four daughters of Caribbean immigrants. She received her B.A. degree from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in 1946 and she earned her M.A. degree from Columbia University in 1952 while working as a nursery school teacher, director of a child care center and later as an educational consultant with the city’s child care department. In 1964, she began her political career as a member of the New York State legislature as an assemblyperson. After four years there, she was elected on the Democratic ticket to serve in the U.S. Congress. She served two terms and in 1972 ran in the New York Democratic primary for president of the United States, establishing another first for black women.
Gloster B. Current, former NAACP Director of Branch and Field Services, and member of the “old guard” of NAACP Civil Rights activists, was born in 1913 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State University and his Master’s Degree in public administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and shortly thereafter would begin his involvement with the NAACP that would continue for the rest of his life.
James Meredith, Three Years in Mississippi (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966); http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/meredith_james/
Roscoe Dunjee was a prolific journalist and civil rights activist. He was the son of Rev. John William Dunjee, a Baptist minister, and Lydia Ann Dunjee. Although his father was born in Jefferson County, West Virginia, Roscoe worked for various African American newspapers in Oklahoma while attending Langston University.
In 1915, Dunjee founded his own newspaper in Oklahoma City entitled the Black Dispatch which became one of the most prominent black newspapers in America. Throughout his life, in the Black Dispatch Dunjee wrote confrontational editorials attacking the institution of Jim Crow, encouraged African Americans to vote and fight for their Civil Rights, and named his paper the Black Dispatch because whites had degraded the term to refer to African Americans as gossipers and liars. Dunjee chose to invert the term “black dispatch” as something honorable concerning the image of African Americans.
Revels Cayton, born in Seattle, Washington, was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton, and the grandson of U.S. Senator Hiram Revels. As a highly respected labor leader, he served as Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco District Council of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific and, later, the business agent for the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union.
Appiah, Kwame and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia
of the African & African American Experience, Vols. 1-5 (New York:
Basic Civitas Books 2004); http://www.exploredc.org/index.php?id=381
Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis in 1928, she received the nickname “Maya” from her brother Baldwin. At the age of four Maya and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. A couple of years later they moved back to St. Louis to live with their mother, but were soon returned to Stamps after Maya was molested by her mother’s boyfriend and turned mute. After her return to Stamps Maya Johnson began to read voraciously and listen intently to everything that happened around her. By high school, her voice had returned.
Johnson, then 15, and her brother were reunited with their mother who was now living in San Francisco. One year later she graduated from high school while pregnant. In the years after her son, Clyde, was born Johnson worked variously as cook, dancer, driver, and singer. She was also married briefly in 1952 to Anastasios Angelopulos, a Greek sailor.
In 1954 Johnson became a professional actor when she joined the traveling production of Porgy and Bess. She adopted the name Maya Angelou by combining her nickname with a shortened version of her ex-husband’s last name. After visiting 22 countries for performances, Angelou quit the show after her son became ill. She and Clyde returned briefly to San Francisco but then moved to New York City where she joined the Harlem Writers Guild to hone her writing skills.
Ruth Edmonds Hill, ed., The Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler, 1991); Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967 (New York: New York University Press, 1967); http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_109.html
“Few Employers Permit Racism, Bureau Decides,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 1, 1957; “Discrimination Rating Denied by Negro Leader,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 2, 1957; “Reverend Sims is Elected Action Council Chief,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 20, 1969; http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=8007 ; ttp://www.metrokc.gov/exec/backgrnd.htm ; ttp://www.metrokc.gov/exec/news/2000/0627001.htm, On the death of Lydia Sims see Spokesman Review, June __, 2012.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., an African American Congressman, represented Illinois’ Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from December 12, 1995 to November 21, 2012. On March 11, 1965, in Greenville, South Carolina, in the middle of the voting rights campaign, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. was born to renowned activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Jacqueline Jackson. The younger Jackson’s political career has been deeply impacted by his educational upbringing and his family’s activism.
In 1987, Jackson earned a Business Management Bachelor of Science Degree from North Carolina A & T State University, where he graduated magna cum laude. In 1990, he graduated from the Chicago Theological Seminary earning a Master of Arts Degree in Theology. Three years later Jackson graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law with a Juris Doctorate.
Before his election to Congress in 1995, Jackson served as the National Rainbow Coalition’s National Field Director, registering millions of new voters. In the 1980s he led protests against South African apartheid. In 1986, Jackson spent his 21st birthday in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. for participating in an anti-apartheid protest at the South African Embassy.
On June 24, 1878, she married Republican senator Blanche K. Bruce, a political leader and plantation owner from Mississippi and the only black United States senator. After touring Europe they established residence in Washington, D.C. With Josephine Bruce a cultured and charming hostess, the Bruce home became a center of Washington social life. Though Blanche Bruce's term ended in 1880 he received political appointments in Washington enabling the couple to remain active in social and community life.
Born August 9, 1884 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Daisy Lampkin became one of the most highly acclaimed African American women of her time. While Lampkin is best known for becoming the first women to be elected to the national board of the NAACP, she spent much of her life rallying for racial and gender equality.
Lampkin’s social and political activism began shortly after graduating from high school. After migrating to Pittsburgh, Lampkin worked as a motivational speaker for housewives and organized women into consumer protest groups. In addition, as an active member of the Lucy Stone Women’s Suffrage League and the National Suffrage League, Lampkin rallied for women’s right to vote. Understanding the challenges specific to African American women, she also became involved with the National Association for Colored Women (NACW), and was later named national organizer and chair of the executive board.
Due to Lampkins exceptional activism for African Americans, she was profiled in the Pittsburgh Courier in December of 1912. In response, Lampkin became a strong advocate of the Courier and even received a cash prize in 1913 for selling the most subscriptions. After several years of investing time and money to this newspaper, Lampkin was elected vice-president of the Courier Publishing Company in 1929.
Tyree Scott was a Seattle civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry. Scott was born in Hearne (Wharton County), Texas and before moving to Seattle in 1966, he served in the U. S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. His father was an electrician in Seattle who found that jobs in the construction industry were off limits to blacks, limiting his ability to compete for large contracts. In 1969, when Seattle’s Model Cities Program was attracting large federal contracts, the anti-poverty agency encouraged black contractors to organize in order to gain access to them.
Eric Pace, "James M. Nabrit Jr. Dies at 97; Led Howard University" New York Times (Published Tuesday December 30, 1997); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina in 1933, Nina Simone began playing the family piano at the age of three. Her mother Mary Kate Waymon, a minister and choir director at a Methodist church in Tyron, interpreted her daughter’s gift as a God-given talent. Waymon began to study piano at age six with Muriel Massinovitch, an English pianist and Bach devotee married to a Russian painter husband. Waymon credited “Miss Mazzy” for teaching her to understand Bach; she credited Bach for dedicating her life to music. The lessons were paid for by family friends including a white couple in the town. Eunice’s father, John Divine Waymon, had been an entertainer before he chose to move his family to Tyron, a North Carolina resort town, and set up a barbershop and dry cleaners to support his family. In her autobiography – I Put a Spell on You, the Autobiography of Nina Simone – Waymon describes her relationship with her father as loving and supportive and Tyron as “uncommon” for a southern town because blacks and whites lived together in a series of circles around the center of town, which allowed them to mingle and form friendships.
Born into poverty and racial segregation in Meridian, Mississippi in 1912, Ted Watkins became a civil rights and union activist and led an anti-poverty agency in Los Angeles, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC). Watkins left Mississippi as a young man to avoid a lynching and headed west to the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles. After arriving in Los Angeles, Watkins began working for Ford Motor Company and joined the local United Auto Workers (UAW) chapter. He rose through the union ranks and by the early 1950s had become an international representative for UAW. Watkins and his wife, Bernice, also became active in the United Civil Rights Committee, a Los Angeles civil rights organization, and the Watts chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. was born on May 5 in Franklin County, Virginia to former slaves of African American, Native American, and German ancestry. He was raised in a family of 17 children.
During his youth, Powell lived a reckless life filled with gambling. At the age of 19, Powell experienced a religious conversion to Christianity at a revival meeting. After failing to gain entrance into Howard University School of Law, he decided to study religion. In 1888, he enrolled in a theology program at Wayland Seminary and College in Washington, D.C. earning his degree in 1892.
In July 30, 1889, Powell married Mattie Fletcher. They had two children: Blanch and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Powell held several ministerial positions. In 1893 he became pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Under his leadership, the once small congregation of 25 increased to 600 members.
In 1908, Powell became pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in lower Manhattan. His energetic preaching style attracted over 1,500 members. Powell’s conservative social message warned against social immorality, but his liberal activist preaching urged black parishioners to engage in protest against racial discrimination.
Clark not only taught young students, but she held informal literacy classes for adults. She also pushed an education and equal rights agenda in numerous organizations such as the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), Federation of Women’s Clubs, Council of Negro Women, and, most importantly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Keith Ellison was born on August 4, 1963 in Detroit, Michigan. He was raised Catholic in a middle class family which included five sons. His father was a psychiatrist and his mother was a social worker. Since childhood Ellison was involved with the civil rights movement and even worked with his grandfather in Louisiana for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1981 Ellison graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. Six years later he graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a B.A. in economics. While attending Wayne State University, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam. After graduation Ellison attended the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1990 he graduated with a degree of Juris Doctor.
Ellison began his professional career at the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist and Vennum. He worked there for three years as a litigator specializing in criminal defense, civil rights, and employment. After leaving Lindquist and Vennum Ellison became executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis. He then returned to private practice by joining Hassan & Reed where he specialized in trial practice.
Martiga Lohn, “Islamic Convert Wins House Nomination,” The Associated Press, September 14, 2006; Frederic J. Frommer, “Rep. Ellison Wants Forces Out of Iraq,” The Associated Press, January 10, 2007; Congressional Biography:
Ray Merriwether, prominent Seattle African American architect, real estate developer, and newspaper owner, was born in Taylor, Texas to Colie and Annie Merriwether. After graduating from high school Merriwether attended barber school and served a short time in the United States Navy.
In 1943, Merriwether entered Howard University where he became president of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He earned a Civil Engineering degree from Howard in 1947. Later that year he moved to Seattle, Washington and began his career with the City of Seattle’s Building Department as a Structural Plan Examiner. Merriwether was the third black engineer to work in Seattle. In 1949, at the age of 25, Merriwether built his first new apartment building, the 18-unit Chrystal Arms followed by the Chrystal Plaza, and another 18 units the next year. Both buildings were named for his daughter, Chrystal. These were soon followed by three more apartment buildings with a total of 54 units.
In 1938, Horne moved to Hollywood where she was cast in several movies. Years later Horne recalled, "In every other film I just sang a song or two; the scenes could be cut out when they were sent to local distributors in the South. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to act."
The life of the Revered C.T. Vivian is practically the story of the modern black freedom struggle. Vivian actively participated in the Nashville desegregation movement, Freedom Rides, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and other chapters of the fight for equal rights.
Born Boonville, Missouri on July 28, 1924, Vivian moved with his mother to Macomb in rural west-central Illinois a few years later. Vivian spent his formative years there, in a tiny black community, graduating from high school in 1942. He soon enrolled at Western Illinois University, also in Macomb, though he moved to Peoria before finishing his degree.
In 1947 Vivian participated in his first civil rights protest, successfully desegregating Peoria’s lunch counters. Also while in Peoria, Vivian met and married Octavia Geans of Pontiac, Michigan. They are still married and had six children together; Vivian also has a child from an earlier relationship.
The widow of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King became a forceful public figure and important leader in the civil rights movement. She made numerous contributions to the struggle for social justice and human rights throughout her life.
Coretta Scott was born the second of three children to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott in Heiberger, Alabama on April 27, 1927. She spent her childhood nearby on a farm owned by her family since the Civil War. During the Depression, Coretta and her siblings picked cotton in order to help support the family. This appeared to be the beginning of her determination to further her education.
“Coretta Scott King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies” The New York Times (31 January 2006); Coretta Scott King, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Holt, 1969; rev.ed., Henry Holt, 1993); http://www.civilrightsleader.com/coretta_scott_king.htm.
The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University. At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.
Father Divine, religious founder of the International Peace Missions Movement, businessman, and civil rights activist was born George Baker in Rockville, Maryland to George and Nancy Baker. Viewed by many to be a cult leader, his doctrine was a compilation of optimistic thinking based on many widely accepted mainstream religions. Father Divine and his followers believed that he was the second coming of Christ. He required his followers to adhere to his International Modest Code which required strict commitment to a celibate lifestyle and abstinence from immoral actions.
Father Divine began receiving widespread public attention when in 1919, he and his first wife and several of his interracial religious followers moved to Sayville, New York and established a Peace Mission “heaven.” Peace Missions heavens were interracial communal living facilities that fostered Father Divine’s belief in a desegregated society and represented heaven on earth to his followers. In the 1930s Divine’s network of Peace Missions spread across the nation. His mostly white followers in Los Angeles, California and other west coast cities contrasted with the overwhelmingly black missions east of the Mississippi River. Around 1930 Father Divine moved his Peace Mission headquarters to Harlem, New York. Since the late 1940s the organization has been based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Daniel A. P. Murray was born on March 3, 1852 in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of nine he left Baltimore to live in Washington, D.C., where his brother managed the U.S. Senate restaurant. In 1871 Murray acquired a job as a personal assistant to the librarian of Congress, Ainsworth R. Spofford. Under Spofford's tutelage Murray gathered invaluable research skills and learned several languages. In 1879 he married Anna Evans, an Oberlin College graduate whose uncle and cousin had taken part in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Two years later, in 1881, he advanced to assistant librarian of the Library of Congress, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1923.
Robert Carter enrolled at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania at the age of 16 and completed his degree four years later. In 1937 he entered Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. After completing his law degree at Howard Carter earned his LLM (Master of Laws) degree at Columbia University after writing a thesis that would later define the legal strategy of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on the right to freedom of association under the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Carter was drafted into the Army in 1941 and first encountered racism. After serving in the Army Air Corps, he was discharged from the service in 1944. Carter was then offered a job with the NAACP’s legal staff headed by chief counsel Thurgood Marshall. Carter accepted and became Marshall’s chief legal assistant in the fight against Jim Crow laws across the South. Carter served for example as the lead attorney of the Sweatt v. Painter Texas desegregation case in 1950.
Harry Clay Smith was a newspaper editor and politician, born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on January 28, 1863. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio at an early age and stayed in the area for the remainder of his life. After graduating from Cleveland’s Central High School in 1882, he established the Cleveland Gazette, and became the publisher and editor of the newspaper for nearly sixty years. The Gazette was a popular eight-page weekly that published local black activities and events in the greater Cleveland area, as well as many other cities in Ohio. Readership was at a steady 10,000 before World War I and circulated within the state of Ohio and parts of the Midwest.
Smith used the Cleveland Gazette to promote civil rights issues and engage in politics. Smith lobbied the state government of Ohio to do more to preserve the civil rights of African Americans. Using the Gazette as a medium to communicate to the masses, Smith attacked segregation and racial discrimination. He advocated three strategies to challenge racial discrimination: political pressure, legal action and boycotts. He was in particular, an ardent supporter of the campaign to desegregate Ohio schools in 1887.
Plaintiff for a landmark Supreme Court case, Homer A. Plessy was born on March 17, 1863 in New Orleans. He was a light-skinned Creole of Color during the post-reconstruction years. With the aid of the Comité des Citoyens, a black organization in New Orleans, Homer Plessy became the plaintiff in the famous Plessy v. Ferguson case decided by the US Supreme Court in May 1896. The decision established the “separate but equal” policy that made racial segregation constitutional for the next six decades.
In order to challenge the 1890 Louisiana statute requiring separate accommodations for whites and blacks, Homer Plessy and the Comité des Citoyens used Plessy’s light skin to their advantage. On June 7, 1892 Plessy bought a first class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway. He took a vacant seat in a coach reserved for white passengers. When Plessy was ordered to leave, he disobeyed. Policemen arrived and threw Plessy off the train and arrested him and threw him into jail. He was charged with violating the Louisiana segregation statute of 1890.
Ida Alexander Gibbs Hunt, teacher, Pan-Africanist and civil rights leader, was born on November 16, 1862 in Victoria, British Columbia. Her parents were Mifflin Wistar Gibbs and Maria Alexander. Ida Gibbs studied in the Oberlin Conservatory of Music from 1872 to 1876. She then went to local public schools from 1876 to 1879. For her senior year of high school, Gibbs attended the Oberlin College’s Preparatory Department and stayed on as a college student. She completed her college education at Oberlin College in 1884, receiving both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Eng
James Poindexter clergyman, abolitionist, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Richmond Virginia in 1819. He attended school in Richmond until he was about sixteen when he started to apprentice as a barber. In 1837 Poindexter married Adelia Atkinson and the coupled moved to Columbus, Ohio where they remained for the rest of their lives.
In Columbus Poindexter joined the Second Baptist Church, a small black church in the city. He officiated at the services until an ordained Baptist minister could be found. In 1847 when a recently arrived black family joined the church, Poindexter and others learned they had been slaveholders in Virginia. Poindexter and forty other Second Baptist Church members withdrew in protest and formed the Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. Poindexter led this church for the next ten years until the congregation rejoined the Second Baptist Church in 1858. Poindexter, now an ordained minister, became the pastor of the combined church and remained in this position until his resignation in 1898.
South Carolina Congressman George Washington Murray was born near Rembert, Sumter County, South Carolina, on September 22, 1853 to slave parents. He attended public schools, the University of South Carolina, and the State Normal Institute at Columbia, where he graduated in 1876. After graduating, Murray taught school and worked as a lecturer for the Colored Farmers’ Alliance for 15 years. In 1890 he became an inspector of customs at the port of Charleston. Two years later in 1892, Murray, a Republican, was elected to represent South Carolina’s 7th Congressional District which included Charleston.
Murray took his seat in the Fifty-third Congress on March 4, 1893. He immediately focused his efforts on protecting black voting rights in the South at a time when growing numbers of black voters were being excluded from the polls. Murray was also a member of the Committee on Education. He also took a seat on the Committee on Expenditures in the Treasury Department.
George W. Murray fought Jim Crow laws which undermined the efforts of black people to improve their status. As a member of Congress he urged funding for the Cotton States and International Exhibition in Atlanta in 1895 to make the white South and the wider nation aware of black achievements. Ironically Booker T. Washington would become famous at that Exposition by criticizing the efforts of African American politicians like Murray to concentrate on voting rights.
Marion Barry Jr., an activist and politician, was born on March 6, 1936, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents, Marion Barry and Mattie Barry, were sharecroppers; the family lived in relative poverty. When Marion was eight years old, his mother took the family to live in Memphis, Tennessee.
Berry graduated from high school in Memphis and then in 1958 earned his bachelor’s degree at Le Moyne College, a small black college in the city. He received a master’s degree in organic chemistry from Fisk University in Nashville in 1960. Barry then completed three years of a doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Tennessee.
Barry’s studies were abandoned as he became immersed in the civil rights struggle. In 1960, at age of 24, Marion Barry became the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Berry worked with SNCC in the South until 1965 when he moved to Washington, D.C. to open that’s city’s SNCC office. Berry soon became a well-known local activist, leading civil rights demonstrations. In 1967 Berry cofounded with Mary Treadwell (who would become his first wife) Pride, Inc., a federally funded job training program for unemployed black men.
Vincent G. Harding, civil rights leader, teacher, scholar, engaged citizen, and seeker is especially noted for his close association with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his decades of social justice work. Harding was born on July 25, 1931 in Harlem. His mother Mabel Harding was one of the most influential people in his life. In 1960, he married Rosemarie Freeney Harding (1930-2004) in Chicago. The couple had two children, Rachel and Jonathan.
Harding’s education includes a City College of New York B.A. in History in 1952; Columbia University M. S. in Journalism in 1953 and a University of Chicago M. A. in History in 1956 followed by a Ph.D. in History nine years later. Harding is the author of numerous books, including There Is a River (1981), Hope and History (1990), and Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (1996). Harding taught at University of Pennsylvania, Spelman College, Temple University, Swarthmore College, Pendle Hill Study Center, and Iliff School of Theology.
Vincent and Rosemarie Harding moved to the U.S. South in 1961 for direct involvement in the black freedom struggle. In the 1960s Harding assisted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a variety of ways but most notably in the writing of King’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech. Vincent Harding served as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center’s first director in 1968 and one year later established and directed the Institute of the Black World, both in Atlanta.
Elaine Jones, the first woman to administer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF), was born in Norfolk, Virginia on March 2, 1944, the daughter of a railroad porter and a school teacher. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970, becoming the first African American to graduate from that school.
After graduation Jones turned down a job offer with a Wall Street (New York) law firm to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, earning thirty percent less than she had been offered by the other firm. The LDF was founded in 1940 by Jones’s mentor and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to provide legal assistance to the nation’s Civil Rights Movement. It became independent of the NAACP in 1957.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Religious leader Barbara Clementine Harris was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Walter and Beatrice (Price) Harris on June 12, 1930. After graduating from the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising and Journalism, she joined Joseph V. Baker Associates, Inc., a black-owned public relations firm in Philadelphia. She became president of the company in 1958 but left ten years later to become director of the Community Relations Department of the Sun Oil Company.
Meanwhile, Harris, an Episcopalian, was a volunteer at her church and in local jails and prisons. In 1960 she joined the activist Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. That church had become a center for the civil rights movement then evolving in Philadelphia, supported both local protests and the national movement. Harris led a church delegation that marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma in 1965. Three years later the church hosted a national convention of the Black Panther Party (BPP), which attracted ten thousand people.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006); “Biography of Bishop Harris,” Episcopal Diocese of Washington, http://www.edow.org/diocese/bishops/harris_bio.html.
William Henry Ferris was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 20, 1874 to David Henry, a volunteer for the Union Army during the Civil War, and Sarah Anne Jefferson Ferris. After high school, Ferris attended Yale University, where he was heavily influenced by polymath William Graham Sumner – a staunch Social Darwinist who firmly believed that the privileged social classes owed nothing to the underprivileged ones.
After graduating in 1895, William Ferris worked as a freelance writer and lecturer and studied for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School until 1899. In 1900, he received a Master of Arts in Journalism from Harvard, and went on to teach at Tallahassee State College in Florida and Florida Baptist College (1900-1901) and Henderson Normal School and Kittrell College in North Carolina (1903-1905).
In 1905, Ferris served a five-year term as Pastor of the Congregational Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1910, after being ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, he engaged in mission work in Lowell and Salem, Massachusetts.
Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996); “William Henry Ferris,” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (Oct., 1941), pp. 549-550; Rayvon Fouche, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003).
Thomas Arnold Hill, early leader of the National Urban League, was born in 1888 in Richmond, Virginia to Reuben and Irene Robinson Hill. He studied at Richmond Business School and received his Bachelor of Art degree at Virginia Union University in 1911. Hill then studied sociology and economics at New York University.
In 1914, Hill was hired by the New York City branch of the National Urban League (1912) where he worked as personal secretary of Eugene Kinkle Jones. He soon joined forces with Jones and fellow League workers to create additional leagues in neighboring cities.
With the onset of the Great Migration during World War I, Hill recognized the need for a local affiliate in Chicago, a common destination for many of the migrants. In 1917, he opened the Chicago Urban League and served as its first executive secretary. During the bloody Chicago Race Riot (1919), Hill transformed the Chicago office into an emergency center to help mollify anger, improve race relations, provide assistance to those adversely affected, and disseminate information.
Nancy Weiss, The National Urban League, 1910-1940 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974), p. 176-201; “T. Arnold Hill,” The Journal of
Negro History, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct. 1947), pp. 528-529; Rayford Logan
and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Arvah E. Strickland, History of the
Chicago Urban League (Urbana and London: The University of Illinois
Press, 1966), p. 26-28.
Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet was the first African American female principal in the New York public schools. The eldest of eleven children, she was born Minsarah Smith in Brooklyn in 1831. Her parents, Sylvanus and Ann Smith, were prosperous farmers of African, European, and Native American ancestry. Sarah S.T. Smith was the older sister of Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918), the first African American female in New York state to graduate with a medical doctorate (M.D.).
Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Women (Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1992); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Joel Fluellen, an instrumental figure in the fight to end Hollywood bias during the 1940’s and 1950’s, was born in 1908 in Louisiana. Prior to beginning his acting career, Fluellen resided in Chicago where he worked as a milliner and store clerk. After appearing on stage in New York, he relocated to Hollywood in the early 1940’s and gained his first role as a bit player in Cabin in the Sky (1943).
“Joel Fluellen; Actor fought Hollywood bias,” Los Angeles Times,
February 7, 1990, p. A18; "Joel Fluellen 81, A longtime actor in Films
and TV,” New York Times, "February 7, 1999; p. B7; Donald Bogle,
Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, (New York: Amistad Press, 1997); Edward
Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts: First Edition, (New
Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1978).
Attorney, civil rights and human rights activist, Fred D. Gray, was born on December 14, 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama to Nancy and Abraham Gray. The youngest of five children, he and his siblings were raised in a shotgun house in a segregated black section of the city.
In 1947, Gray attended the Nashville Christian Institute. After completing seminary, he enrolled at Alabama State College, where he paid for his education by working as a district manager of the Alabama Journal. In 1951, Gray entered law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his degree in 1954 and opened a law office in his hometown of Montgomery.
Fred Gray, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System (Montgomery, Alabama: Black Belt Press, 1995). Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); http://www.fredgray.net/background.html.
Businesswoman, politician, and civil rights activist, Mae Street Kidd, was born February 8, 1904 in Millersburg, Kentucky to a black mother and white father. Kidd’s biological father refused to acknowledge her as his daughter. She attended a segregated black primary school in her community. As a teenager, Kidd enrolled at Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville, Kentucky, a boarding school for African Americans.
After completing school, Kidd moved to Louisville. She became a successful life insurance agent at the black owned Mammoth Life Insurance Company. During World War II, Kidd served with the American Red Cross in England. Following the war, she became an entrepreneur, opening a cosmetic and an insurance company in the Midwest.
Wade Hall, Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae
Street Kidd (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1997); George
C. Wright, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality,
1890-1989, Vol. 2 (Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992);
Actor-turned casting agent Ben Carter often portrayed an obliging domestic in Hollywood films, but later became one of the few African American agents in the movie capital dedicated to promoting and enhancing the careers of some of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors and actresses of color – including Hattie McDaniel, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Lena Horne, and the Dandridge Sisters.
Born in 1907, the Fairfield, Iowa native began his career as a comedian and Broadway performer in New York. He relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1930s and first worked as an unbilled player in movies. By the mid-1930s, Carter had become one of the first African American performers to sign a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox studios. Known for his wiry hair and bugged eyes, Carter appeared in several movies over a two-decade period, including Gone With the Wind (1939), Maryland (1940), Tin Pan Alley (1940), and several of Monogram Studio’s Charlie Chan series. In addition to frequently appearing in films, Carter earned a less than reputable name for himself due to his demeaning film roles.
Susan McHenry, “The Black Side of the Early Silver Screen,” Essence, April 2001; Anonymous, “Notables Attend Final Rites of Ben Carter, Noted Actor,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 28, 1946; Donald Bogle, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography (New York: Amistad Press Inc., 1997.
Aaron Henry and Constance Curry, Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995).
The National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, Inc. (NACWC), was established in July 1896 as a merger between the National League of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women. The merger enabled the NACWC to function as a national umbrella group for local and regional Black women’s organizations.
The NACWC adopted the motto of “Lifting as We Climb,” promoting self-help among women. During the early years of the organization, the largely educated and middle-class constituency supported temperance, positive images of women through moral purity, and women’s suffrage, issues also pursued by white women’s groups. However, unlike those groups, the NACWC saw their organization in terms of gender and race; viewing their women’s movement as a way to uplift black women, men, and children. For example, the NACWC saw the struggle for suffrage as the right to vote not just for women, but also for black men still disfranchised through the political maneuverings of whites.
Lillian Serece Williams and Randolph Boehm, Records of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, 1895-1992, A Microfilm Project of University Publications of America, Microfilm Reels; Elizabeth Davis, Lifting as They Climb (Washington D.C.: NACW, 1933); Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894-1994 (New York: Norton, 1998).
Carl Murphy, publisher, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 17, 1889. In 1892, his father, John Henry Murphy edited and published the first issue of the paper the Baltimore Afro-American. Murphy went to high school in Baltimore and after graduating attended Howard University receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1911. He then moved to Harvard were he received his Masters in German in 1913, he continued his studies in Germany before returning to the United States to become an assistant professor at Howard University’s German department.
Murphy became editor of the Baltimore Afro-American due to the poor health of his father in 1918. Later, after his father passed away in 1922 Murphy became the leader of one of the most influential African American publications in the United States. At the peak of its circulation the Baltimore Afro-American reached over 200,000 people, and Murphy helped the paper grow in size so that by the end of his time at the paper in 1961, it had expanded to cover Newark, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, Ed., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Publisher Simon &
Schuster Macmillan, 1996); Black Press USA, December 5, 2008,
Heman Marion Sweatt was a postal worker from Houston, Texas, who in 1950 integrated the University of Texas Law School. Sweatt was born on December 11, 1912 in Houston, Texas. He was the fourth child of James Leonard and Ella Rose Sweatt. In 1930, he graduated from Jack Yates High School and earned a degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1934. Soon after, Sweatt returned to Houston and worked as a mailman.
Michael L. Gillette, Michael L., "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert ed. Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981); http://txtell.lib.utexas.edu/stories/s0010-full.html.
Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, born in Atlanta, Georgia on April 25, 1942, was a civil rights leader. Robinson, the second oldest of seven children born to Alice and John T. Smith, was raised in Atlanta’s black middleclass neighborhood of Summerhill. She graduated from Price High School in 1958 and earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Spelman College in 1965. Robinson’s exposure to racial discrimination in her city, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins in February 1960, all influenced her to become involved in the civil rights movement.
In April 1960, Robinson attended a mass meeting for college students at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina. At this meeting and under the guidance of South Christian Leadership Conference representative, Ella Baker, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded. Robinson was designated a SNCC field representative and assisted in organizing chapters in Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville Tennessee, and Macomb, Mississippi.
Cynthia Griggs Fleming, Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson (Lanham, Md: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998). Bettye Collier Thomas, and V.P. Franklin, Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2001). Howard Zinn, SNCC, the New Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964); James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Washington, DC: Open Hand Publishing, 1985).
Eldridge Cleaver, author and civil rights activist, was born on August 31, 1935 in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. Cleaver, a child of six, lived in a household where his father abused his mother. The Cleavers moved to Phoenix and finally settled in Los Angeles where Cleaver spent much of his childhood in and out of reform schools for petty crimes. In 1957, at the age of 22, he was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder and sent first to California’s San Quentin Prison and then transferred to Folsom Prison. As an inmate, Cleaver spent most of his time reading works by Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Karl Marx, and Richard Wright. He was also inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X who was assassinated during his incarceration. Their writings influenced him to write, in prison, a collection of essays on race and the black revolution. Those essays were published as the book Soul on Ice in 1968, two years after his release from prison.
Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1968); Joseph Peniel E., Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour (New York: Henry Holt And Company, 2006).
Mary Burnett Talbert, clubwoman and civil rights leader, was originally born Mary Burnett on September 18, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio, to Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett. Mary Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at the age of sixteen and in 1886 graduated from Oberlin College with a literary degree at nineteen. Shortly afterwards, Burnett accepted a teaching position at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas and quickly rose in the segregated educational bureaucracy of the city. In 1887, after only a year at Bethel University, Burnett became the first African American woman to be selected Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School. Four years later in 1891, however, Burnett married William H. Talbert, an affluent business man for Buffalo, New York and resigned her position at Little Rock High School and moved to her husbands hometown. One year later Mary B. and William Talbert gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Sarah May Talbert.
Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926); Rayford Logan, ed., Dictionary of American Negro Biography, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982); Lillian Serece Williams, Strangers in the Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African American Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
Charles Sherrod was a key civil rights leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose leadership led to the Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. Born in extreme poverty to his fourteen-year old mother in 1937 in St. Petersburg, Virginia, he worked to help support six younger children. Sherrod worked his way through Virginia Union College, receiving a B.A. in 1958 and a Bachelors of Divinity in 1961. He joined SNCC in 1960, participating in the organization's first demonstrations and voter registration drives.
In October 1961, Sherrod became the first field secretary and SNCC director of southwest Georgia. He and Cordell Reagon opened an SNCC office near the all-black Albany State College. On November 1, they launched a student sit-in at the bus terminal station to test the recently enacted law desegregating bus and train terminals. When local law enforcement officials blocked the demonstrators, the single protest became the two-year Albany campaign. It eventually led to multiple protests by thousands of students as well as the involvement of Dr. Martin Luther King, a public plea from President John F. Kennedy to city officials, and resolution of the issue by local black leaders to resolve the issue. Ultimately the civil rights activists organized by Charles Sherrod would prevail.
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the
1960s (New York: Harvard UP, 1981); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African
American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);
John Anthony Copeland was a mulatto, born free in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 15, 1834 to John Anthony Copeland, a slave, and Delilah Evans, a free woman. Copeland spent much of his early life in Ohio and attended Oberlin College. While residing in Oberlin, Ohio, Copeland became an advocate for black rights and an abolitionist. In 1858 he participated in assisting John Price, a runaway slave seeking his freedom. This act became famous as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, where abolitionists boldly aided slaves in violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Law.
Once released from jail, Copeland joined John Brown’s group that planned to attack the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Copeland was recruited to join Brown's group by Lewis Sheridan Leary. He and Leary, along with three other African Americans, Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, and Shields Green took part in what they hoped would be Brown's slave manumitting army. Like Brown and the other followers, Copeland believed that if the group seized weapons at Harpers Ferry and then marched south, they would created a massive slave uprising that would free all of the nearly four million African Americans in bondage.
Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New York: The New Press, 2006; Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Peggy A. Russo, and Paul Finkelman, Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005); http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/main/index.php?q=node/5478
Frank Silvera was an important 20th Century actor, director, producer, and teacher. Born on July 24, 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica, he grew up in Boston and went on to study law at Northeastern University Law School. He later attended Boston University, Old Vic School, and the Actors Studio before moving to New York City to pursue acting.
Silvera joined a group of actors called the American Negro Theatre in Harlem, which produced the successful Broadway and internationally-acclaimed play “Anna Lucasta.” With that success, Silvera migrated to elite inner circles of theatre groups of the time. His handsome attributes, multi-lingual abilities, and his last name which suggested a Portuguese Jewish heritage, helped him rise through the ranks of actors despite the prevalence of racism and discriminatory social practices during that era.
Garland Thompson, “Who was Frank Silvera?” The Frank Silvera Writers'
Workshop Foundation, Inc. http://www.fsww.org/whois.html; “Frank
Silvera” Internet Movie Database. (Imdb.com Inc: 2009)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0798826/; David Ragan, Who’s Who In
Hollywood (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington Press, 1976); Edward Mapp,
Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, NJ: 1978).
Dickerson was born in Canton, Mississippi in 1891. He attended the University of Illinois and served during World War I as an infantry lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces. In 1920 he became the first African American to receive a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. The following year Dickerson helped found Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and became its general counsel. By the early 1940s Supreme Life, as it was then known, was the largest African American owned business in the North. Part of its success stemmed from the still segregated American society. White insurance companies generally refused to insure African Americans or employ them. Supreme Life filled that void. The company was particularly helpful to African Americans in the Great Depression when it provided mortgage loans to struggling families. Dickerson became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Supreme Life in 1955 and remained in that position until 1971 when he became chairman of the Board of Directors.
Seattle newspaper publisher Chris H. Bennett was born in Waynesboro, Georgia in 1943. He spent four years in the Air Force before attending Everett Community College in Everett, Washington, where he played football. Bennett then worked for the African American newspaper The Facts before leaving to start Seattle Medium.
Twenty-seven-year-old Bennett founded Seattle Medium newspaper in 1970, locating it in an office above a dry-cleaning shop. He promoted the Medium as a weekly African American paper that focuses on community and local news in the Seattle area. Its masthead slogan reads, "A message for the people, by the people."
Himanee Gupta, "Chris Bennett: Publisher Uses Media as Mediums for his Message," Seattle Times (February 26, 1990); www.seattlemedium.com.