Granville T. Woods was a prominent inventor and electrical engineer who developed over 50 significant patents over the course of his life. Because of his significant electrical inventions he is known as the “Black Edison.”
James Nathaniel Brown was born February 17, 1936, in St. Simon Island, Georgia. A talented athlete from an early age, Brown earned 13 letters playing a variety of sports at Manhasset High School in New York.
Brown attended Syracuse University in New York where he played football, basketball, ran track, and played lacrosse. As a senior in 1956-7, Brown was a unanimous All-American in football and a second-team All-American in lacrosse, and remains the only athlete to be inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame for both sports, as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.
The Cleveland Browns selected Jim Brown as their number one pick in the 1957 NFL draft, and the rookie would capture the league rushing title, Rookie of the Year honors, as well as earn the league Most Valuable Player award. Over the next eight years, Brown would lead the league in rushing seven more times, be elected to every Pro Bowl, and win another Most Valuable Player award in 1965. Some of his most notable records include career rushing yards (12,312) and average gain per attempt (5.2 yards). In nine seasons as a premier fullback, he never missed a game.
Born in Virginia in 1854, Olivia A. Davidson, the daughter of an ex-slave and freeborn mother, was the seventh of ten children. The family moved from Virginia to southern Ohio in 1857, then moved to the northern part of the state in Albany and Athens after her father’s death. The later move had a significant influence on her development as she attended the Enterprise Academy, which was owned, operated, and controlled by African American educators. Also, the Albany area was a focal point for anti-slavery sentiment, the site for three routes of the Underground Railroad, and it provided Davidson with the opportunity to interact with many Oberlin College graduates and faculty as well as African American activists.
Malcolm X, one of the most influential African American leaders of the 20th Century, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925 to Earl Little, a Georgia native and itinerant Baptist preacher, and Louise Norton Little who was born in the West Indian island of Grenada. Shortly after Malcolm was born the family moved to Lansing, Michigan. Earl Little joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) where he publicly advocated black nationalist beliefs, prompting the local white supremacist Black Legion to set fire to their home. Little was killed by a streetcar in 1931. Authorities ruled it a suicide but the family believed he was killed by white supremacists.
James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens is best known for his remarkable athletic performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he won four gold medals. Owens was born near Oakville, Alabama, on September 12, 1913, the twelfth child of sharecroppers Henry Cleveland and Mary Emma Owens. Owens, the youngest child, was spared much of the difficult farm work because of his persistent pneumonia which nearly killed him twice in his young life.
In 1922 Henry and Emma Owens moved north to Cleveland, Ohio. The move immediately exposed young Owens to regular schooling and participation in athletics. During his senior year at East Technical High School Owens ran the 100-yard sprint in 9.4 seconds, tying the national record at the time and garnering his first national attention.
After completing high school in 1933 Owens attended Ohio State University at a time when the institution offered no athletic scholarships. He worked part-time to support himself through college as he continued to set records on the track field. On May 25, 1935 during the National Intercollegiate Championship at Ann Arbor, Michigan Owens set four new world records in the 100 yard sprint, the long jump, the 220 yard sprint, and the 220 yard low hurdles.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay. At the age of 12 Clay began training as a boxer. During his teen years he won several Golden Gloves titles and other amateur titles. At the age of 18 he won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy and then turned professional. In one of the most famous boxing matches of the century, Clay in 1965 stunned the world by beating apparently invincible world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in six rounds.
After defeating Liston, Clay announced his conversion to Islam and joining of the Nation of Islam (NOI) under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. Clay also announced he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. As a member of the NOI, Ali was mentored early on by the organization’s most charismatic leader, Malcolm X.
Carl B. Stokes, lawyer, anchorman, U.S. diplomat and the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, was born on June 21, 1927 to Charles and Louise Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1944, Stokes dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and worked briefly for Cleveland-based aerospace and automotive company Thompson Products/TRW before enlisting in the US Army in 1945. Returning to Cleveland in 1946 after his discharge, he reentered high school and earned his diploma in 1947 before enrolling in West Virginia College. Stokes transferred to Western Reserve University and then the University of Minnesota, from which he received his BA in 1955. Stokes returned to Cleveland where he completed law school at Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1958. He was hired as an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County for four years before establishing his own firm, Stokes, Stokes, Character, and Terry in 1962 with his brother, Louis Stokes.
Captain H. Ford Douglas was born in Virginia in 1831 to a white man named William Douglas, and an enslaved mother named Mary. He escaped from slavery sometime after his fifteenth birthday, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
Working as a barber, the self-educated Douglas was active in the free black community of Cleveland, especially its state convention movement. His first state meeting was at Columbus in 1850, at which time Douglas was already gaining attention for his outstanding oratorical talents. He appeared at the Ohio State Convention again 1851 and 1852, arguing that African Americans would never gain equality in the United States, and advocating African American emigration. Douglas supported William Lloyd Garrison’s view that the United States Constitution was a proslavery document because it did not exclusively prohibit slavery. He claimed it was written with the intention of continuing slavery. Douglas also felt African-Americans allowed slavery to continue by remaining in the United States and making themselves subject to the U.S. Constitution.
At the 1854 National Emigration Convention, Douglas emerged as a prominent speaker with his defense of emigration. He moved to British-controlled West Canada after the convention and in 1856 became a proprietor of the Provincial Freedom, a Canadian newspaper promoting antislavery and emigrationist principles. Through the newspaper Douglas promoted Canada as a place where blacks could live under a government which protected them. He married Statira Steele in October 1857, with whom he had one child.
George Washington Williams was a 19th century American historian most famous for his volumes, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880; as Negroes, as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens (1882), and A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion (1887).Williams was born in 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania and lived there until 1864, when at the age of 14 and lacking virtually any education he left home to join the Union Army. Engaged by the soldier’s lifestyle, he followed this by fighting in Mexico in the overthrow of Maximilian.
James Madison Bell, poet, orator and activist was born in Gallipolis, Ohio on April 3, 1826. Bell lived in Ohio most of his life although he briefly resided in Canada and California before eventually returning to Ohio. When Bell was 16 he moved to Cincinnati to live with his brother-in-law George Knight who taught him the plastering trade. Knight and Bell were talented plasterers who in 1851 were awarded the contract to plaster the Hamilton County public buildings.
On November 9, 1847, Bell married Louisiana Sanderlin. The couple eventually had seven children and lived in Cincinnati until 1854 when they moved to Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Chatham was a major destination for the Underground Railroad, and while there Bell became involved in abolitionist activities and later returned to Cincinnati to continue his antislavery work.
Although he supported himself primarily as a plasterer, Bell soon became known for his speeches and poems which he used in the campaign against slavery. His most famous poem, “The Day and the War,” was read at Platt’s Hall in Cincinnati in January 1864 for the Celebration of the first Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Bell dedicated “The Day and the War” to friend and fellow abolitionist John Brown who was executed in 1859 for his role in the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
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.
The date of birth for Julia Ringwood Coston, one of the first black women to edit a magazine, is unknown. We do know that she was named after Ringwood farm in Warrenton, Virginia, where she was born. While she was still an infant, Ringwood moved to Washington D.C. with her family and attended public schools there. She had almost completed school when her mother died and she was forced to withdraw.
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.
Boxing promoter Don King was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931. The son of a steelworker who died in a smelter explosion, King’s earliest success was the result of his ownership of a popular tavern, where many top black musicians performed, and an illegal bookmaking operation. In 1966, he fatally stomped a former employee named Sam Garrett over Garrett’s failure to pay off a $600 loss. Initially found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, King’s sentence was mysteriously reduced by the presiding Judge, Hugh Corrigan. He served only three years and eleven months. Ten years later, when Corrigan ran for the Court of Appeals, King arranged for heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali to campaign on his behalf.
King used his prison time constructively, absorbing everything he read in books concerning some of histories greatest thinkers. Once he was released, he used his friendship with rock ’n’ roll songwriter/performer and boxing enthusiast, Lloyd Price, to form relationships with Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter Don Elbaum to promote a boxing exhibition involving Ali in Cleveland for the benefit of a local hospital. King, his primary motives notwithstanding, was a natural born promoter. As a larger than life figure, King was a shrewd businessman. Watching in awe, Elbaum told him that with his personality, and boxing’s need for a black promoter, King could take over all of boxing.
Jack Newfield, Only in America. The Life and Crimes of Don King (New
York: William Morrow and Company, 1995); Arne K. Lang, Prize-Fighting.
An American History (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2008)
Rowan was born August 11, 1925, in the mining town of Ravenscroft, Tennessee. When he was a baby his family moved to McMinnville, Tennessee, because his parents thought its lumberyards offered more opportunity. His father, Thomas, stacked lumber for construction, and his mother, Johnnie, cleaned houses, cooked, and did laundry for wealthier families. They had five children. The Rowan family home had no electricity, running water, telephone, nor even a clock. One of young Carl's teachers encouraged him to read and write as much as possible, even going to the library for him because, as a black person, Rowan wasn't allowed to check out books for himself. He graduated at the top of his high school class.
Carl Rowan, Breaking Barriers: a Memoir (Boston: Little, Brown 1991); Cynthia Kirk, “Carl Rowan: The Life Story of an Influential Newsman,” People in America, Voice of America (May 14, 2005); J.Y. Smith, “Columnist Carl Rowan Dies at 75,” The Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2000; p. A1.
Jane Edna Hunter is most famous for founding the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA) in 1913. Hunter was born on December 13, 1882 in Pendleton, South Carolina to Harriet Millner, a free-born daughter of freed slaves, and Edward Harris, the son of a slave woman and a plantation overseer. Edward Harris died when Jane was ten years old, and her mother urged her into a loveless marriage with Edward Hunter, a man 40 years older than she was. The arrangement collapsed fourteen months after the wedding, and Jane Edna Hunter never married again.
Hunter migrated to Cleveland Ohio, arriving in 1905 as a 23 year old single African American woman. Hunter founded the PWA to aid and assist other single, newly arriving African American women. She led the Association until her retirement in 1946. The PWA was the first institution designed to meet the needs of African American migrants and became, by 1927, the single largest private African American social service agency in Cleveland. The Cleveland PWA also became the largest residence for single African American women in the nation and served as the model for similar projects throughout the urban North.
Jane Edna Hunter, A Nickel and a Prayer (Nashville: Parthenon Press,
1940); Virginia R. Boynton, "Jane Edna Harris and Black Institution
Building in Ohio" in Warren R. Van Tine and Michael Dale Pierce,
Builders of Ohio: A Biographical History, (Columbus: Ohio State
University Press, 2003); Women in History, Jane Edna Hunter biography
Last Updated: 1/25/2008, Lakewood Public Library, Date accessed
Sam Lucas, one of the most respected and celebrated entertainers of his time, is credited with breaking barriers for black actors and becoming the first African American actor to star in a “white” feature film. Lucas is best remembered for his comic and dramatic roles performed on the minstrel circuit and Broadway stages, and by the end of his career, a major motion picture.
Lucas was born Samuel Mildmay in Washington, Ohio in 1840. He began singing and playing the guitar as a teenager and went on to establish a reputation as a performer while working as a barber. After the Civil War when African American performers (in blackface) were allowed to work in minstrel shows, Lucas joined traveling black companies and sang on the Ohio River steamboats. Lucas built a reputation as the best all-around entertainer in the business and was empowered to select his own shows which allowed him to star with the most successful black minstrel companies as a comedian and singer.
Mel Watkins, On the Real Side, (New York: Simon & Schuster); David
Pilgrim, “The Tom Caricature,” http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/tom/,
December 2000, Ferris State University, Rapids, Michigan: Jessie Carney
Smith, Notable Black Men. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1999); Phyllis
R. Klotman, African Americans in Cinema: The First Half Century,
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).
Moses Fleetwood Walker, often called Fleet, was the first African American to play major league baseball in the nineteenth century. Born October 7, 1857, in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, Walker was the fifth of six children born to parents, Dr. Moses W. Walker, a physician, and Caroline Walker, a midwife.
Oberlin College admitted Walker for the fall 1878 semester. In 1881, he played in all five games of the new varsity baseball team at Oberlin. Before the end of the year, however, Walker left Oberlin to play baseball for the University of Michigan. In July 1882, Walker married Bella Taylor and the couple had three children.
Fleetwood Walker was able to earn money as a catcher. He played individual games for the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland (August 1881), the New Castle (Pennsylvania) Neshannocks (1882), and with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League (1883). In August 1883, Adrian “Cap” Anson, manager of the Chicago White Stockings, stated his team would not play Toledo with Walker in the lineup. Although both teams played, the incident marked the beginning of baseball’s acceptance of a color line.
David W. Zang, Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, trade unionist, Pan-Africanist and authoritarian leader, was born on January 9, 1922 at Faranah, Guinea, a town on the banks of the Niger River. His parents, Alpha Touré and Aminata Fadiga, were peasant farmers of the Malinké ethnic group. Sékou Touré was first educated at the local Koranic school and pursued further studies at the regional school of Kissidougou, south Guinea. In 1938, he was expelled from school in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, for leading a hunger strike. He continued educating himself through correspondence courses while taking on various jobs.
Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, Pan-African history: political figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (New York: Routledge, 2003); Ibrahima Baba Kaké, Sékou Touré: le héros et le tyran (Paris: Jeune Afrique livres, 1987).
The first African American professional football player, Charles W. Follis, was born February 3, 1879, in Cloverdale, Virginia. The Follis family moved to Wooster, Ohio, where he attended Wooster High School and participated in organizing and establishing the first varsity football team. He played right halfback and served as team captain on a squad that had no losses that year.
In1901, Follis entered the College of Wooster. Rather than playing football for the college, he played for the town’s amateur football team – the Wooster Athletic Association, where he earned the nickname of the “Black Cyclone from Wooster.”
In 1902, Frank C. Schieffer, manager of the Shelby Athletic Club secured employment for Follis at Howard Seltzer and Sons Hardware Store in rural Shelby, Ohio. The six-foot, 200-pound Follis played for Shelby in 1902 and 1903.
Milton Roberts, “Charles Follis: First Black Pro Gridder Labored in
Obscurity,” Black Sports 4 (November 1975); Charles K. Ross, Outside
the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National
Football League (New York: New York University Press, 1999); Edna and
Art Rust, Jr., Art Rust’s illustrated History of the Black Athlete
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985).
Howard Swanson was an African American composer best known for his art songs based on the poetry of Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Swanson was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 18, 1907. Born in a middle class home, Swanson's family sent his two older brothers to college which was for the time unusual.
Swanson’s music career started after the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1916. As a young boy he often sang in his church, sometimes performing duets with his mother. In 1925 when he was 18, Swanson's father died which immediately and dramatically changed the family's circumstances. Howard Swanson now had to earn money to support the family. After high school graduation he worked in the Cleveland Post Office.
In 1927, as his circumstances improved, Swanson decided to continue his education. He attended the Cleveland Institute of Music where he studied piano, eventually graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in music theory a decade later. In 1939 he received a Rosenwald Fellowship which allowed him to study in Paris, France with famed music instructor Nadia Boulanger. Swanson had planned to pursue graduate studies in Paris but in 1940 he was forced to evacuate Paris as the German Army overran France.
Samuel A. Floyd, International Dictionary of Black Composers (Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999}; http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com; http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2699.
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
Ernie Davis is best known for being one of the greatest football players in college football history and the first black person to win the Heisman trophy. In the process, Davis became an icon for an integrated America and for African Americans achieving the American Dream in a manner similar to Jackie Robinson desegregating Major League Baseball in 1947.
Ernie Davis was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, and raised in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and Elmira, New York. At the Elmira Free Academy he was a standout academically and athletically where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He earned All-American honors in football in his junior and senior years at the Academy. As a result, Davis was offered over 50 scholarships. He chose Syracuse University (SU) at the request of SU alum and football legend, Jim Brown. At Syracuse he was immediately compared to Brown. He was promoted to the varsity team as a freshman and given Brown’s number 44—which started SU’s storied tradition of legendary players (usually running backs) wearing and passing down number 44.
Robert C. Gallagher, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008); Universal Pictures, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008); Syracuse University, Ernie Davis: A Tribute to the Express (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/ernie.aspx); Syracuse University, “The Legend of 44” (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/legend_of_44.aspx); and Gary and Maury Youmans, The Story of the 1959 Syracuse University National Championship Football Team (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003).
James Michael Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1993); The HistoryMakers, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/ralph-gardner-chavis-38.
Wilberforce University was established near Xenia, Ohio in 1856 as a joint venture between the Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Named after 18th century abolitionist William Wilberforce, it was the first private, historically black university in the United States. It was built to support the abolitionist cause and to offer African Americans a college education. Many of its original students were the biracial children of Southern white slave owners.
Jesse Moorland was an educator, minister, and a philanthropist, but was most renowned for his extensive work with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Born on September 10, 1863, in Coldwater, Ohio, he was the only child of a local farmer, William Edward Moorland and his wife, Nancy Jane Moorland. He was raised by his grandparents after his mother passed away and his father decided to leave him in their care. His grandparents sent him to a local school in Coldwater and then later to the Northwestern Normal School in Ada, Ohio.
In 1886, Moorland married Lucy Corbin and the couple began teaching together in Urbana, Ohio. They later moved to Washington, D.C. to continue their studies at Howard University. Moorland studied theology and graduated with his Master’s degree in 1891. In the same year, Moorland also became an ordained minister in the Congregational Church and was appointed Secretary of the Colored Branch of the YMCA in Washington, D.C. Two years later, he resigned from the YMCA and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become pastor of Howard Chapel. In 1896, he moved again to become pastor at Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1887, the Ohio General Assembly established a separate institution to be housed on the Wilberforce campus known as the Combined Normal and Industrial Department. The state-supported school was to focus on training blacks for work in industrial trades and as school teachers. Although the Combined Normal and Industrial Department imposed no restrictions on the race or sex of its students, it was understood that the Department was intended primarily to serve Ohio's African American community.
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.
Political activist Kathryn Magnolia Johnson was born on December 15th, 1878 in Darke County, Ohio. She was the daughter of Walter and Lucinda Jane McCown Johnson. Kathryn Johnson graduated at the top of her high school class in New Paris, Ohio in 1895 and worked as a teacher in both Ohio and Indiana between 1898 and 1901. In 1902 she graduated from Wilberforce University with a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. She taught at the State Normal School for Negroes in Elizabeth City, North Carolina from 1904 to 1905 before spending a year as Dean of Women at Shorter College, a predominately black institution in Little Rock, Arkansas that was the site of bloody racial riots during Johnson’s tenure.
Working as a Kansas City high school teacher in 1910, Johnson became one of the first members of the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, 1909- ). She left teaching to serve as sales representative for the NAACP’s journal, Crisis. After three years, Johnson became a branch organizer, helping to establish dozens of branches of the NAACP throughout the South. Johnson excelled, and the organization grew rapidly in the region that had the majority of African Americans. Despite her success, she began to openly criticize the fact that whites had virtually all of leadership roles within the NAACP. Johnson was let go by the NAACP in 1916 although it is not clear whether the reason was for her criticism of whites’ roles within the organization.
Professional basketball player Oscar Palmer Robertson, nicknamed the “Big O,” was known as the most complete basketball player, with an excellent combination of scoring, passing, and rebounding skills. He still owns the record for most triple-doubles in a career with 181. Robertson played with the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks in the National Basketball Association (NBA) most of his professional career.
Robertson was born on November 24, 1938 in Charlotte, Tennessee. He grew up in poverty in Indianapolis and attended Crispus Attucks High School, then a segregated all-black school. As a high school basketball player he led Crispus Attucks to two Indiana State Championships (1955-1956) during his junior and senior years and was named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball.”
After high school he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati and made a major impact in college basketball, winning the scoring title and being named an All-American and College Player of the Year in each of his three seasons (1957-1959). After college, Robertson played for the 1960 United States Olympic basketball team. He was named the co-captain of the USA team along with Jerry West and led them to an Olympic gold medal.
Oberlin College which was named Oberlin Collegiate Institute until 1850, is a private liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio. In 1833, Presbyterian ministers John Jay Sipherd and Philo P. Stewart founded the institution as a college preparatory institute to promote Christian values. Oberlin's progressive history began during the antebellum period. In 1835 it became the first predominantly white collegiate institution to admit African American male students and two years later it opened its doors to all women, becoming the first coeducational college in the country. In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson earned a B.A. degree in education from Oberlin, becoming the first African American woman to earn a degree from an American college. Other black women had graduated earlier but did not receive the collegiate degree (BA). Oberlin continued to be an important institution for African Americans for the next century. By 1900, one third of all black professionals in the U.S. had undergraduate degrees from Oberlin.
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.
Robert A. Pinn, attorney, and Civil War hero, received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Pinn was born free to William and Zilphia Broxton-Pinn, in Stark County, Ohio on March 1, 1843. His father William Pinn escaped from slavery and fled to Ohio at the age of eighteen. He worked on farms for several years before marrying Zilphia Broxton, a white resident of Stark County. Pinn and his nine siblings were born on the family farm in Stark County. He married Emily J. Manzilla, in 1867, and the couple had one child, a daughter, Gracie Pinn-Brooks.
Pinn attempted to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War but was blocked from enlisting because of his race. He joined the 19th Ohio Infantry in 1861 as a civilian worker, marched south with the regiment, and despite his non-military status, fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in 1862. Afterwards he fought in several other engagements although not an enlisted soldier. President Abraham Lincoln authorized the use of African American troops in combat after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Pinn then joined the 5th United States Colored Troop (USCT), Infantry Regiment (also known as the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) in Massillon, Ohio, on September 5, 1863.
Caroline Gray was 35, uneducated, and unable to read or write when she moved from Clarksville, Tennessee to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867, with her four children. In Ohio, Gray supported the family by working as a seamstress and housing foster children. All the Gray children contributed to the family’s income. While in high school, Rollins worked as a seamstress and dressmaker and in the dental office of Jonathan and William Taft. Ida Gray graduated from Gaines Public High School in 1887 when she was 20 years old.
Broadway performer and film actress, Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1924 to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Wallace. Her mother was a domestic and her father worked as a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Dee's father married Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.
Desperate for better job opportunities, the family moved to New York City, New York, and settled in Harlem. Determined not to allow their children fall victim to drugs, crime, and other vices of urban life, the parents introduced Dee and her siblings to the arts, including music and literature. Young Ruby became a passionate student of poetry and as a teenager began submitting poetry to The Amsterdam News.
Ruby Wallace attended the academically rigorous Hunter High School and while there decided to pursue an acting career. After graduating from Hunter High in 1940, she enrolled in Hunter College, graduating with a degree in French and Spanish in 1944. While at Hunter College, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and married blues singer Frankie Dee. The couple soon divorced but Dee kept the last name and made it her career name.
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