Elizabeth Catlett Mora was a prominent black political expressionist sculptor and printmaker in the 1960s and 1970s. Catlett was born to John and Mary Catlett who were public school teachers in Washington, D.C. She was the youngest of three children. After graduating from Dunbar High School in the District of Columbia in 1933, she studied design and drawing at Howard University, also in Washington, D.C. She graduated cum laude in 1935, after changing her major to painting and studying with Lois Mailou Jones among other art professors. In 1940, Catlett became the first student to receive a master’s of fine arts in sculpting from the University of Iowa.
Catlett then briefly studied ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1941, followed by the study of lithography at the Arts Students League in New York City between 1942 and 1943, during which time she was briefly married to fellow artist Charles White. She also studied individually with Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine in 1943.
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.
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.
When African American enslaved people were set free on June 19, 1865, The Yates family moved to Houston where he became drayman and Baptist preacher. As a minister, Yates did missionary work among the freedmen and women who were rapidly moving into Houston immediately after the Civil War. When the first black Baptist church (Antioch Missionary Baptist Church) was organized in Houston in January, 1866, he became its founding pastor. By 1875, the Antioch congregation, almost all of whom were former slaves, had erected a brick church edifice. With Yates at the helm of Antioch, the church had become influential in the political, social and cultural life of black Houston.
Willard Johnson was awarded his Bachelor’s at KU in 1924 and then taught biological science courses at Rust College in Mississippi. In 1928 he completed a year of graduate work in bacteriology at the University of Chicago. In 1929, he joined the faculty of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in Nashville where he and his bride, Dorothy N. Stovall, of Humboldt, Kansas, had their first son, Richard E. He headed the Biology Department and taught zoology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, physiology, botany, hygiene and bacteriology. In 1932 he did further graduate study at Emporia State College in Kansas.
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).
Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849. His reputation as a rider, roper and bronco-buster earned him the nicknames of the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.
In 1861 twelve-year-old Huddleston accompanied his owner, a Confederate officer, into Texas during the Civil War. After being freed at the end of the war Huddleston headed for the southern Texas-Mexico border region where he found work at a rodeo, became a stunt rider and honed his skills as a master horseman.
Huddleston straddled both sides of the law. For a time he and a young Mexican bandit named Terresa survived as rustlers stealing horses in Mexico and selling them in Texas. Huddleston later joined a cattle drive heading northwest to Brown’s Hole in the Colorado-Wyoming area around 1871. The 6’2” Huddleston briefly found success mining gold and silver then claimed his partner cheated him out of his earnings.
After a tumultuous love affair with a Shoshone Indian woman in 1875, Huddleston joined the infamous Tip Gault Gang, a cattle and horse rustling outfit of southeastern Wyoming. After narrowly escaping death he went further west and started a new life as a hard-working man. He changed his name to Isom Dart and made a living as a bronco buster.
Korla Pandit, the first African American to have his own television show, was a composer, organist and pianist who starred in TV’s first all-music series. He was known as the godfather of “Exotica,” a musical genre that became popular in the 1950s. In order to garner the kind of success which would have been inaccessible had he simply played himself, in 1939 he became Juan Rolando, a man of Mexican heritage, and in 1948 he became Korla Pandit, a Brahmin Indian.
Pandit, one of seven children, was born John Roland Redd on September 16, 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Doshia O’Nina Johnson Redd and Rev. Ernest S. Redd, Sr., a Baptist minister. The Redd family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, before John Roland was a year old, and by the time he was two his musical skills were evident. From 1931 the Redd family lived in Columbia, Missouri. Shortly after high school in 1938 John Roland got his first job in radio with Central Broadcasting Company in Des Moines, Iowa.
Yuka Yamaguchi’s Art Blog, Korla Pandit: Dreamy & Hypnotic Hammond Organ, http://www.plastiquemonkey.com/2007/11/16/korla-pandit-dreamy-hypnotic-hammond-organ/; Find A Grave Memorial, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6980; http://www.spaceagepop.com/pandit.htm
The Jamaican born Wilfred A. Domingo was part of an influential community of West Indian radicals active in Harlem's New Negro movement in the early 20th century. A member of the Socialist Party and a journalist by trade, Domingo contributed to Cyril Briggs' Crusader and A. Philip Randolph's Messenger, along with a host of other community publications. He became the first editor of Marcus Garvey's New World and played a key role in shaping Garvey's race-conscious, nationalist ideology. However, as a class-conscious member of the Socialist Party, Domingo clashed with Garvey's capitalist orientation and ultimately broke with the UNIA. At the same time, Domingo was frustrated with the Socialist Party's failure to make African American rights a priority and drifted toward Briggs' more militant African Blood Brotherhood, which was closely aligned with the Communist Party in the early 1920s.
In the 1930s Domingo became increasingly focused on his homeland and the issue of Jamaican independence. In 1936 he cofounded the Jamaica Progressive League in Harlem, which agitated for Jamaican self-rule, universal suffrage, unionization, and the organization of consumer cooperatives. Domingo returned to Jamaica in 1938 to join Norman Manley's People's National Party and served as vice-chair of the Trades Union Advisory Council. After returning to New York in 1947, Domingo broke with the PNP. Wilfred A. Domingo died in Harlem in 1968.
Gertrude E.H. Bustill Mossell was a teacher, author and journalist born on July 3, 1855 in Philadelphia. The daughter of Charles and Emily Bustill, she came from a prominent family. She attended public schools in Philadelphia and eventually the Institute for Colored Youth and the Robert Vaux Grammar School. Upon graduation, Bustill delivered the class oration entitled, “Influence.”
“Influence” so impressed African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, editor of the denomination’s newspaper, The Christian Recorder, that he published the oration there and invited Bustill to contribute poetry and essays to the newspaper.
During the 1870’s Bustill taught for seven years at public schools in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. She also simultaneously maintained her career in journalism; Bustill was a contributor to the Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia Independent and Philadelphia Echo on issues related to African American women. Eventually she contributed to the New York Age, the Indianapolis World as well as the A.M.E. Church Review.
Actress Theresa Harris once shared with a reporter that her “greatest ambition was to be known someday as a great Negro actress.” Harris was born in 1911 in Houston, Texas to Anthony and Ina Harris. Her father was a construction worker and her mother was a well-known dramatic reader and school teacher. In the late 1920s, her family relocated to Southern California, where Harris graduated from Jefferson High School with scholastic honors and then studied music at the University of Southern California Conservatory of Music and Zoellner’s Conservatory of Music. She briefly pursued a career in theatre, gaining her most acclaimed role as the title character in the Lafayette Player’s musical production of Irene.
Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994);
Earl J. Morris, “Wrath of Fans Hits ‘Grapes of Wrath Type of Publicity
on Actress Theresa Harris,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 27, 1940;
Madison Harry, "Madison Harry Digs Out the Story of the Rocky Success
Which Has Led to Theresa Harris' Success,” Pittsburgh Courier, October
John Nobles was a black pioneer who mysteriously came to own a large swath of land in the 1930s in the Coachella Valley, California. This happened at a time when the sale of land to blacks was prohibited by land deed restrictions.
The story of Nobles’ life, where he was from and why he came to Indio, California, has been lost, disappearing with family members and friends who have died or moved away. What documented history that has been found indicates he was considered an Indio pioneer who helped fellow black Americans settle in the area. He owned a ranch at a time when it was unheard of for blacks to own land, then he sold or rented parts of his property to other blacks so they could build homes and establish roots in the area.
The present site of the Coachella Valley Historic Museum was the former home of Dr. Reynaldo Carreon, the area’s first doctor who opened a hospital in 1933. In the late 1930s the Carreon ranch was given to John Nobles and his wife Miranda. Thus began the creation of the John Nobles Ranch neighborhood. Along with white families, many blacks came to the Coachella Valley from Texas and Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl years.
John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil was born November 13, 1911, in Carrabelle, Florida. Working with his father on a Florida celery farm when he was 13, the young O’Neil said to himself “Damn. There’s got to be something better than this.” After traveling to West Palm Beach to see Rube Foster’s baseball team at the Royal Poinciana Hotel, O’Neil decided baseball was going to be his way out.
O’Neil’s professional career began in 1937 with a short stint with the Memphis Red Sox. Later that season O’Neil would sign with the Kansas City Monarchs, where he would spend the rest of his playing career. In 1942 O’Neil led the Monarchs in a four-game sweep of the Homestead Grays in the league championship, batting with a .353 average. In two different seasons, 1940 and 1946, O’Neil won the league batting title, hitting .345 and .350.
In 1948 O’Neil replaced Frank Duncan as manager of the Kansas City Monarchs. As a manager and scout, O’Neil sent more African Americans to the Major Leagues in his career than any other individual, including future Hall-of-Famers like Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. O’Neil was renowned for his knowledge of the game, but also for his leadership of younger players, and he never lost a contest when selected to manage a team in the All-Star games of 1950, 1953, 1954, and 1955.
The only break in O’Neil’s baseball career came with a two year tour with the United States Navy from 1944 to 1945. In 1956, O’Neil was hired as a scout by the Chicago Cubs, and in 1962 the Cubs made him the first African American manager of a major league team.
Peter Salem was born a slave to Jeremiah Belknap at Framingham, Massachusetts about 1750. Belknap sold Salem to Lawson Buckminister some time before the Revolutionary War. Buckminister allowed Salem to enlist in the Massachusetts Minutemen. According to one story, his master freed him upon his enlistment. Another account states that Peter changed his name to Salem when he was freed. Some have attempted to link Peter’s last name with the Arabic “Saleem” (one who is peaceful); however there is no concrete evidence that this is the case.
Salem served at Concord, Saratoga and Stony Point. He is traditionally given credit for the slaying of British Major Pitcairn at Bunker Hill. Pitcairn had ordered the colonists to surrender. Salem shot him in answer. In the ensuing confusion, the Americans were able to take the field. Pitcairn died of his wounds. The gun attributed to Salem’s deed is part of the museum collection at Bunker Hill.
Lauded for her masterful performance in her only film, Lucia Lynn Moses began her show business career as a chorus girl at New York’s legendary Cotton Club in the early 1920s and went on to perform in the theater. She made her film debut when David Starkman, the Caucasian owner and founder of the Philadelphia-based Colored Player’s Film Corporation (a largely white-owned and operated company that initially had a predominately white clientele but chose to cater to the growing population of African American theater goers rather than relocate) teamed up with black vaudevillian Sherman Dudley to recruit a group of black actors to appear in the company’s silent race films. Because Oscar Micheaux, leader of race films, was also producing all-black cast, silent films with themes examining intra-racial conflict, The Scar of Shame is widely mistaken as being a Micheaux film.
Lucia Lynn Moses was the daughter of Minister W.H. Moses of the New York National Baptist Church. Against her father’s wishes, Lucia and her two sisters Ethel (later a leading lady and sex symbol in Micheaux’s films) and Julia (later a Broadway performer), pursued show business careers and became part of the Cotton Club Girls lineup.
Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies introduction to Scar of Shame,
2004; Anonymous, “Cotton Club Girls,” Ebony, April 1949, Vo. 4, No. 6,
Bret Wood, "The Scar of Shame,"
The first person of African descent, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics was Vonetta Flowers when she won gold in the women's bobsled event in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
http://www.vonettaflowers.com; Vonetta Flowers with W. Terry Whalin, Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2005).
Labor union organizer and leader Bill Lucy was born on November 26, 1933 to Joseph and Susie Lucy in Memphis, Tennessee. Raised in Richmond, California, Lucy studied civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1950s. He then joined the U.S. Navy in 1951.
Charles Lewis was a sailor and soldier during the American Revolutionary War. Lewis was born sometime around 1760 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Bel Aire, the Lewis Family Plantation owned by John Lewis. John and a free mulatto woman, Josephine Lewis, were the parents of Charles and his younger brother, Ambrose. Lewis and his brother were born free but their mother was indentured to John Lewis.
On April 15, 1776, Charles Lewis and his brother entered into the naval service of Virginia when they served on board the Galley Page, a warship commanded by Captain James Markham. On March 20, 1778, they entered the Naval Service of the United States when they joined the crew of the USS Dragon commanded by Captain Eleazor Callender.
Egbert Austin "Bert" Williams was born in New Providence, Nassau on November 12, 1874. When he was eleven or twelve his family settled in Riverside, California, and it was not long before Williams became attracted to show business. In 1893 Williams got his start in show business and one of his first jobs was with a minstrel group called Martin and Selig's Minstrels. While in this group Williams met George Walker, a song-and-dance man with whom Williams soon formed an illustrious partnership called Williams and Walker.
Throughout his career Williams achieved many firsts. In 1901 he became the first African American to become a best selling recording artist, and in 1902 he became an international star with his performance in the show In Dahomey, the first black musical to be performed on Broadway. Also, in 1910 Williams became the first black to be regularly featured in a Broadway revue when he joined the Ziegfeld Follies, and he even came to claim top billing for the show.
Henry Jackson Jr., better known as Henry Armstrong, was born on December 12, 1912, in Columbus, Mississippi to a sharecropper of black, Indian and Irish descent, and a mother who was a full-blooded Iroquois Indian. At age four his family moved to St. Louis, where he was raised by his grandmother and father after his mother died. It was on the streets of St. Louis that young Henry learned to defend himself from gangs and first displayed a natural affinity for fighting.
While Henry dreamed of going to college to become a doctor he was forced to become the head of the household at the young age of 18 when his father’s health deteriorated and he was no longer able to work. Turning to boxing, Henry failed to qualify for the upcoming Olympics, and began his professional boxing career in 1931 under the name of Melody Jackson. He later adopted the last name of a friend, and changed his last name to Armstrong.
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.
Sammy Davis Jr. was born on December 8, 1925 in Harlem, New York. His parents, Sammy Davis Sr., an African American, and Elvera Sanchez, a Cuban American, were both vaudeville dancers. They separated when young Davis was three years old and his father took him on tour with a dance troupe led by Will Mastin. Davis joined the act at a young age and they became known as the Will Mastin Trio. It was with this trio that Davis began a lucrative career as a dancer, singer, comedian, actor, and a multi-instrumentalist.
During World War II Davis joined the army, where he for the first time confronted racial prejudice. In the service he joined an integrated entertainment Special Services unit, and found that while performing the crowd often forgot the color of the man on stage.
North Carolina Congressman George Kenneth Butterfield Jr. was born in Wilson, North Carolina on April 27, 1947 to a father who was a dentist and civic leader as well as the first black elected official in eastern North Carolina in the 20th century; and a mother who was a classroom teacher for 48 years.
Butterfield attended Charles H. Darden High School and graduated in 1967 before going to North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated with a sociology and political science degree in 1971. In 1974, he received his J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law. After serving in the United States Army for two years, Butterfield became a successful lawyer known for helping the poor people who had extraordinary legal problems. In 1988, Butterfield was appointed Superior Court Judge in Wilson County. In 2001 he was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
On May 13, 2008, Assemblywoman Karen Bass was elected the 67th Speaker of the California State Assembly. Bass is the first African American woman in U.S. History to earn this prestigious position in any government branch and is the first black woman elected speaker in California.
Born on October 3, 1953 in Los Angeles, California to Dewitt and Wilhelmina Bass, Karen grew up in the Venice-Fairfax district. After graduating from Hamilton High School, Bass attended California State University, Dominguez Hills where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Bass then earned a Physician’s Assistant Certificate from the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine, where she later worked as a Physician’s Assistant, nurse, and instructor at the university’s medical center.
Bass’s daily encounters with disadvantaged patients prompted her to found the Community Coalition after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. This non-profit organization is dedicated to improving the lives of South Los Angeles residents by eliminating liquor stores and low-rent motels from the neighborhoods, removing cigarette and alcohol billboards near public schools, and increasing the number of Laundromats and grocery stores available to residents.
Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass-California State Assembly Democratic Caucus,
“Biography,” http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/A47/biography.htm (Accessed September 5, 2008); Karen Bass Speaker of the Assembly, http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/speaker/default.aspx (Accessed September 11, 2008); Nancy Vogel, “Assembly Speaker Sworn In; L.A. Democrat Karen Bass, The First Black Woman To Hold The Post, Says She'll Focus On The budget Crisis,” Los Angeles Times, May 14, 2008, pg. B3; Jim Sanders and Shane Goldmacher, “L.A.’s Bass to Become New Assembly Leader,” Sacramento Bee, February 28, 2008.
Jewel Stradford Rogers Lafontant Mankarious, civil rights leader, high-ranking U.S. Presidential appointee, and lawyer was born on April 28, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois. Her parents, Aida Arabella Cartera and attorney C. Francis Stradford, helped to influence Mankarious's decision to become a lawyer.
In 1942 Jewel Stradford graduated from Oberlin College, receiving her bachelor’s degree in political science. That same year she became a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality. Stradford attended the University of Chicago Law School and in 1946 became the first woman of any race to receive a J.D. from that institution.
In 1946 Stradford married John W. Rogers, a juvenile court judge. The couple had a son, John W. Rogers Jr., who later became the founder of Ariel Capital Management, the largest black-owned investment firm in the nation. Jewel and John Rogers divorced in 1961. Later that year she married H. Ernest Lafontant who died in 1976. She remarried in 1989, this time to Naguib S. Mankarious.
BNET. Jewel Lafontant Mankarious, prominent attorney and civil rights
crusader dies at age 75. <
Betty Gabrielli, Oberlin College online: Press Releases. Oberlin
College Archive Opens Jewel Lafontant Mankarious papers. <
_press_release.html.>; Eric Pace, Jewel Lafontant-Mankarious, Lawyer
and U.S. Official, Dies. The New York Times. <
9907EED9153DF930A35755C0A961958260.>; Jewel Stradford LaFontant
Biography. <a href="http://biography.jrank.org/
pages/2625/LaFontant-Jewel-Stradford.html">Jewel Stradford LaFontant
Bernard Anthony Harris Jr. is a scientist, surgeon, astronaut, entrepreneur, and leader. He is best known for having been the first African American to walk in space, and developing the non-profit known as the Harris Foundation.
A marine biologist, academic, and administrator, Samuel Milton Nabrit was born in Macon, Georgia, to James Madison Nabrit and Gertrude West in 1905. Upon completing his elementary and high school education, he entered Morehouse College in 1921. There he earned the B.S. degree in Biology in May 1925 and spent the summer teaching at his alma mater. His stay at Morehouse was short lived because in September, 1925, he entered the University of Chicago where he pursued a master’s degree. Five years after completing his M.A. in 1927, Nabrit became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences when he graduated from Brown University in 1932.
Joycelyn Elders, the former U.S. Surgeon General, was born Minnie Lee Jones in Schaal, Arkansas on August 13, 1933 to Curtis and Hailer Jones; she added the name Joycelyn when she was in college. As the eldest of eight children of sharecroppers, Joycelyn Elders experienced extreme poverty in segregated rural Arkansas. At age fifteen, Elders earned a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1952, she received a Bachelor of Science degree and a medical degree in 1960 from Philander Smith and the University of Arkansas Medical School, respectively.
Jazz pianist virtuoso, organist, composer and grand entertainer, Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller was born on May 21, 1904 in Harlem, New York. He became one of the most popular and influential performers of his era and a master of stride piano playing, finding critical and commercial success in both the United States and abroad, particularly in Europe. Waller was also a prolific songwriter, with many of his compositions becoming huge commercial successes. His technique and attention to decorative detail influenced countless jazz pianists including Art Tatum, Count Basie, and Thelonius Monk.
Charles Spurgeon Johnson, one of the leading 20th Century black sociologists, was born in Bristol, Virginia on July 24, 1893. After receiving his B.A. from Virginia Union University in Richmond, he studied sociology with the noted sociologist Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago where he earned a Ph.D. in 1917. Initially a friend of historian Carter G. Woodson, he did collaborative work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History until his relationship with Woodson deteriorated.
Johnson, however, was able to attract research funding from white philanthropic organizations such as the General Education Board, Phelps-Stokes Fund, Rosenwald Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation which allowed him to study the social condition of Black communities suffering under Jim Crow. That research ensured that Johnson would emerge by the 1920s as the nation's foremost scholar in the field of Black Sociology.
August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, Black Historians and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Earnest W. Burgess, Elmer A. Carter, and Clarence Faust, “Charles S. Johnson, “Social Scientist, Editor, and Educational Statesman,” Phylon, 17 (Winter, 1956); Joe M. Richardson, A History of Fisk University-1865-1946 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980) ; Patrick J. Gilpin, “Charles S. Johnson, An Intellectual Biography” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1973)
Texas cowboy Robert Lemmons was one of the greatest mustangers of all time. He became a legend in his day by perfecting his unique method of catching wild mustang horses.
Robert Lemmons was born a slave in Lockport, Caldwell County, Texas in 1848. He moved to Dimmit County, Texas; then a sparsely uninhabited land overrun by wild horses. Lemmons gained his freedom at the end of the Civil War at age seventeen. He found employment with Duncan Lammons, a man who taught him about horses and gave Robert the surname “Lemmons,” (a variant spelling that evolved over the years). Robert Lemmons farmed, hauled supplies, and went on cattle drives for Duncan Lammons.
No other cowboy equaled Lemmons in capturing mustangs, which were in high demand for roundups during the cattle drive era of the 1870s and 1880s. Lemmons usually worked alone totally isolating himself from humans to gain a mustang herd's trust and thereby infiltrate the heard. He then uprooted the herd hierarchy by mounting the lead stallion and then taking control of the herd, which followed him into a pen on a nearby ranch.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first President of post-Apartheid South Africa, was born on the 18th of July 1918 in Qunu in the Transkei. His father was a counselor to the paramount chief of Thembuland, and young Nelson seemed destined to inherit the counsellorship. But he had his mind set on law and service outside of royalty.
After his secondary education, Mandela entered the University College of Fort Hare, where he was elected to the students’ representative council. Expelled in 1940 for organizing boycott, Mandela moved to Johannesburg where he completed the Bachelor’s degree. He also began studying law at the University of Witwatersrand.
Peter Williams Jr., clergyman, abolitionist, and opponent of colonization was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey around 1780. His family moved to New York City, where he first attended the New York African Free School operated by the Manumission Society. He was also taught privately by Episcopal Church leader, the Reverend Thomas Lyell. Williams joined a group of black Episcopalians who worshiped at New York’s Trinity Church on Sunday afternoons. There lay leader John Henry Hobart confirmed and tutored Williams as well as other future Episcopal clergymen. Hobart also officiated at Williams wedding. When Hobart died Williams was elected by the congregation as lay reader and licensed by the bishop.
In 1818 Williams led the other African American Episcopalians in creating their own church, St. Philip’s African Church. The new church was recognized by the Episcopal Church on July 3, 1819 as one of the earliest predominately black Episcopal Churches in the United States. On July 10, 1826, Peter Williams Jr. was advanced to the priesthood, becoming the second African American so ordained.
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
Gloria Naylor, a major 20th century writer of African American literature, was born on January 25, 1950 in New York City to Roosevelt and Alberta Naylor. She was born just six weeks after her parents moved to the city from Robinsville, Mississippi, to escape the racially segregated South. It is that combination of her family's Southern roots and her on upbringing in the urban North that influenced her writing.
Naylor, an avid reader and writer in her teenage years, graduated with honors from Andrew Jackson High School in the Bronx, New York in 1968. She immediately went on a mission to North Carolina and Florida as required by her Jehovah's Witness faith. Returning to New York City in 1975, Naylor enrolled in Medgar Evers College where she studied nursing. Soon later transferred to Brooklyn College where she studied English.
John Henry "Pop" Lloyd was born April 25, 1884, in Palatka, Florida. Reportedly discovered by baseball legend Rube Foster, Lloyd would begin his professional career with the Cuban X-Giants, where fans would give him the nickname “El Cuchara” (“The Shovel”) due to his steady hands and ability to grab any ground ball coming at him. His tremendous play at shortstop would be matched by only one other player, Hall-of-Famer Honus Wagner, who declared “it is a privilege to have been compared to him.”
Beginning play in America in 1910 for Fosters Chicago Leland Giants, Lloyd was an amazing all-around player. On offense in the “deadball” era of baseball, Lloyd hit with skilled accuracy, but could deliver power when needed. On defense, Lloyd was the most dominating shortstop in the Negro Leagues, whose quickness and intensity could not be matched.
In 1918 Lloyd became player-manager of the Brooklyn Royal Giants, and spent the next few years jumping around teams until settling with the Hilldale Daisies in 1922. The next year Lloyd batted a sensational .418 and lead Hilldale to the inaugural pennant of the Eastern Colored League. He would move after that season, however, to the Bacharach Giants due to reported disputes with management.
Yuri Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara in 1921 and raised in San Pedro, California, in a small working-class neighborhood. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the life of Yuri’s family took a turn for the worse. Her father, a first-generation Japanese immigrant, was arrested by the FBI. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 ordering the removal of persons of Japanese descent from “strategic areas,” Yuri and her family were sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Due to these events, Yuri started seeing the parallels between the treatment of African Americans in Jim Crow South and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in remote internment camps during World War II. Subsequently she decided to devote her life to struggles against racial injustice.
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998; Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995); Jessie Carney Smith, (editor). Epic Lives One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993).
Philip U. Effiong, In Search of a Stylistic Model for Modern African-American Drama: The example of Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange (Paulette Williams), and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993); Sandra L. Richards, Conflicting Impulses in the Plays of Ntozake Shange (St. Louis: St. Louis University Press, 1983); Arlene Elder, “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo: Ntozake Shange’s Neo-Slave/Blues Narrative,” African American Review (1992); Rutgers University “Women of Color, Women of Words.” http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~cybers/shange2.html
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
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.
BNET, The activists: John W. Rogers Jr. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m 1365/is_7_38/ai_n24360086>; John W. Rogers Jr. Biography. 1958- Investor, business executive. <a href="http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2767/Rogers-John-W-Jr.html">John W. Rogers Jr. Biography; Who Runs GOV. John W. Rogers Jr. <http://www.whorunsgov.com /Profiles/John_W._Rogers_Jr.
Eric Walrond was an Afro-Caribbean-American fiction writer and journalist of the Harlem Renaissance era. Born December 18, 1898, in Georgetown, British Guyana, Walrond would write short stories with the interwoven themes of immigration, racial pride, and discrimination as he captured the early urban experience of Caribbean-born immigrants in America during the 1920s. Although Walrond’s work has been largely overlooked, his book, Tropic Death (1926) is considered a major contribution to the cultural and literary style of the Harlem Renaissance.
Walrond lived in Guyana until 1905, when his mother, Ruth, moved the family to Barbados in 1906. Walrond began his formal education at St. Stephen's Boys' School near Bridgetown, Barbados. The disruptive impact that European colonialism had on the lives of many Afro-Caribbean people can be seen early on in Walrond’s life, as his father deserted the family and went to Panama to find work on the building of the Canal. After being forced to sell their property in Barbados, the Walrond family joined twenty thousand West Indians who went to Panama looking for work. They moved into the U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone in 1911 to find jobs and their missing father and husband. Ruth located Walrond's father but they were unable to reconcile. The family remained in the Canal Zone struggling to earn a living in the impoverished and racially segregated city of Colon, Panama.
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.
Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, nicknamed the Black Eagle, was born in Trinidad on January 5th, 1897. In 1922, when he was 25 years old, he flew over parades in support of Marcus Garvey. He subsequently took flying lessons from Air Service, Inc., and purchased a plane to fly to Africa. After flying to Roosevelt airfield, when he attempted to depart in July 1924, the plane crashed and burned. He survived and spent the next month in a Long Island hospital. In 1929, he did succeed in a Trans-Atlantic flight two years later than Charles Lindberg.
Born May 3, 1933, into poverty in racially segregated Barnwell, South Carolina, James Brown became the most assertively black rhythm and blues singer ever accorded mainstream acceptance before audiences throughout the world.
Arrested for breaking and entering at age 15, Brown’s early run-ins with the authorities served as his initiation into the rough edges of the black experience that were eventually reflected in both his pleading ballads and aggressive in-your-face funk. Brown’s rough musical style and sensual, suggestive lyrics are even credited with ushering in the age of Hip-Hop. His almost primal renditions of “Please, Please, Please,” his first hit in 1956, and later “Bewildered” and “Prisoner of Love” contrasted vividly with the serene and controlled deliveries of artists such as Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Dionne Warwick.
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.
Bishop, a Democrat, represents the 2nd District of Georgia. He is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and is also a part of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats in Congress whose goal is to move the Democratic Party further to the right. Since 2003 he has served on the House Committee on Appropriations, sitting on the Subcommittee for Defense, the Subcommittee on Military Construction / Veterans Affairs and the Subcommittee on Agriculture.
The 1927 Times of London obituary noted of Florence Mills, “There is no doubt that she was a real artist full of individuality and intelligence, and her premature death is a sad loss to the profession.” Florence Mills was an internationally-recognized and multifaceted performer who paved the way for other black female stars during the Harlem Renaissance.
Born Florence Winfrey in 1896, in Washington, D.C. to former slaves Nellie and John Winfrey, Mills moved with her parents to New York City in 1905. To help her financially struggling family, Mills and her two older sisters created “The Mills Sisters,” a dance and singing troupe that performed in theatres in Harlem, New York.
The year 1921 marked a triumphant period for Mills. She married Ulysses “Slow Kid” Thompson (a member of a jazz band known as the Tennessee Ten) and made her debut in the hit musical Shuffle Along – a victorious, all-black cast, musical comedy created by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake.
Bill Egan, Florence Mills: Harlem Jazz Queen (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004); http://www.florencemills.com/biography.htm.
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
Journalist and nurse Ruth Carol Taylor became the first African American airline flight attendant in the United States when she joined Mohawk Airlines in 1958. While she is most commonly known for her achievement in the airline industry, she spent much of her career as an activist for minority and women’s rights.
Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts on December 27, 1031 to Ruth Irene Powell Taylor, a nurse, and William Edison Taylor, a barber. When Ruth was young, her family moved to a farm in upstate New York. She attended Elmira College in New York and in 1955 graduated from the Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City as a registered nurse. After working for several years as a nurse, Taylor decided to break the color barrier that existed in the career of airline stewardesses.
Dred Scott, was an enslaved person noted mainly for the unsuccessful lawsuit brought to free him from bondage. The decision rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 in the Dred Scott case, said that no blacks slave or free were U.S. citizens and allowed slavery in all U.S. territories. The decision helped propel the United States toward the Civil War.
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.
John Roy Lynch, congressman, soldier and author was born in Concordia Parish, Louisiana on September 10, 1847 to Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant and Catherine White, a slave. Lynch’s father died soon after his birth. Lynch and his mother were then traded to a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. During the Civil War, Lynch became free when he fled the plantation and to serve as a cook for the 49th Illinois Volunteer Regiment.
During Reconstruction, Lynch joined the Republican Party in Mississippi. After working as assistant secretary for the Republican State Convention, Lynch became the Justice of the Peace in Natchez County, Mississippi. In November 1869 at the age of 22, Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. Three years later, in 1872 he was named Speaker of the House.
Vincent G. Harding, civil rights leader, teacher, scholar, engaged citizen, and seeker was 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, Illinois. The couple had two children, Rachel and Jonathan.
Compared at the time to his more famous colleague, Paul Robeson, and heralded by major publicity outlets of his day as one of black America’s most exceptional baritone vocalists, singer-actor Kenneth Spencer was one of the most prominent black artists of the early 20th Century. Spencer was born in Los Angeles, California in 1913. He studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1938.
Early in his career, Spencer performed as a baritone singer on a variety of network radio stations while working odd jobs to supplement his income. Determined to advance his career, Spencer traveled and performed with the St. Louis Opera Company and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Eventually he became a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen,
N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978); Thomas Cripps, Making Movies Black (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Professional basketball player Julius Winfield Erving II, respected by teammates and the fans alike, is best known for his on-court flair and inventive movements, introducing the slam dunk into the game of professional basketball. Erving, nicknamed “Dr. J,” was born on February 22, 1950 in Roosevelt, New York. He began his professional career in the American Basketball Association (ABA) for the Virginia Squires (1971-1973) and later the New York Nets (1973-1976). From 1976 to 1987 he played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Philadelphia 76ers.
While playing basketball at Roosevelt High School, Erving's teammates nicknamed him “The Doctor”, which later was changed to “Dr. J”. Erving attended the University of Massachusetts for his college career under Coach Jack Leaman. After two years of NCAA College Basketball, Erving averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds per game.
In 1971, he left college and joined the Virginia Squires in the ABA. After two seasons with the Squires, Erving entered the NBA Draft where he was picked 12th by the Milwaukee Bucks. However, Erving tried to sign with the Atlanta Hawks but due to legal issues Erving was required to play another season in the ABA. The Virginia Squires sold Erving's contract to the New York Nets before the 1973 season.
Richard Theodore Greener, a native of Philadelphia, became the first African American to graduate from Harvard College. He later served the United States in diplomatic posts in India and Russia. Greener lived in Boston and Cambridge as a child and entered Harvard in 1865 and received an A.B. degree from the institution in 1870. After graduation he was appointed principal of the Male Department at Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth which later became Cheyney University. Three years later Greener became professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of South Carolina where he also served as librarian and taught Greek, Mathematics and Constitutional Law. While there Greener entered the Law School and received an LL.B degree in 1876.
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.
Hervey served with Company F of the 59th United States Infantry (USCI) formerly 1st Tennessee Colored Infantry, volunteering from his home in Water Valley, Mississippi, at La Grande, Tennessee June 1863. While in military service, Gilford was involved in a number of battles including the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads on June 10, 1864 near Tupelo, Mississippi and the repulse of Nathan Bedford’s attack on Memphis on August 21, 1864. Hervey was injured during the war which prompted his claim for a pension. He was discharged from military service on January 31, 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee.
After his discharge Hervey became a minister and resided in several states including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, and California before migrating to Seattle in 1915. During those years he married three times and had one child, a son named Carey, by his first wife, Annie Rankin. Hervey maintained his Seattle residence for five years. He died, however, in a hospital in Sedro Woolley, Washington on September 8, 1920. As a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), Hervey was eligible for burial in Seattle’s GAR Cemetery located on Capital Hill. Hervey is one of three known African American Civil War soldiers buried there.
Eartha Mae Kitt was born on January 26, 1928, in North, South Carolina. Her sharecropper parents abandoned Kitt and her half-sister as young children, forcing them to live with a foster family until they moved to New York City to live with their aunt in 1938.
Until the age of fourteen, Kitt attended Metropolitan High School in New York City where she was recognized for her talents in singing, dancing, baseball, and pole-vaulting. She met Katherine Dunham when she was sixteen, and toured Mexico, South America, and Europe as a dancer in Dunham’s troupe. Kitt remained in Paris after the tour, entertaining audiences across the world with her provocative dancing and singing.
Kitt was offered her first role in the theater in 1951 when Orson Wells cast her as Helen of Troy in his stage production Faust. Kitt won critical reviews for her performance, which led to her role in Leonard Stillman’s New Faces Broadway revue. She released a best-selling Broadway album after the show to kick off her record career.
Rose McClendon was an African American actress born in South Carolina in 1884. McClendon’s original name was Rosalie Virginia Scott. Her parents were Sandy and Tena Scott. In 1890 McClendon’s parents worked for a well established family as a housekeeper and coachman in New York City. McClendon received her education through the public schools in New York where acting became her main focus of interest.
In October 1904 Scott married Henry Pruden McClendon who was trained as a chiropractor but who could only find work as a Pullman porter. Together they moved from lower Manhattan to Harlem where McClendon was actively involved in the St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church often using her theatrical talent.
After studying by scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts between 1916 and 1918, McClendon gave her first stage performance in 1919 in the play, Justice. She would eventually perform in other productions including In Abraham’s Bosom, Porgy and Bess, and Deep River. Along with McClendon’s acting and directing in 1935 she and Dick Campbell created the Negro People’s Theatre.
Robert Townsend, writer, producer, director, and actor, was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 6, 1957, the second oldest of four children to Shirley and Robert Townsend. Growing up on the Westside of Chicago, Townsend was raised by his mother in a single parent home. As a child Townsend watched TV where he learned to do impersonations of his favorite actors such as Jimmy Stewart and Bill Cosby for his family and classmates. Eventually his abilities caught the attention of Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors Guild X-Bag Theatre in Chicago and then moved him out to The Improvisation, a premiere comedy club in New York City. Townsend also had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie, Cooley High.
Townsend's comedy career began to take off at the Improvisation and he soon headed to Hollywood where he performed on comedy specials such as Rodney Dangerfield: It’s Not Easy Being Me. Townsend also landed minor role in films such as A Soldier’s Story (1984) with Denzel Washington, Streets of Fire (1984) with Diane Lane, and American Flyers, a 1985 movie staring Kevin Costner.
Robert Townsend.com, December 5, 2008,
http://www.roberttownsend.com/bio.html; Jennifer M. York, ed. Who’s Who
Among African Americans, 16th ed., (San Francisco: Thomson Gale, 2003)
Tommie Smith is best known as a world class sprinter and for protesting (along with John Carlos) U.S. racism and human oppression on the winner’s podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Smith was born in Clarksville, Texas, and raised in Lemoore, California. His family worked as field laborers. In 1963, Smith became a student-athlete at San Jose State University (SJS) to escape picking cotton and grapes for a living. While there he emerged as a world-class sprinter and concurrent record holder in eleven track and field events. Smith also became politically active, beginning with a sixty mile sympathy march from San Jose to San Francisco for the southern civil rights movement on March 13 and 14, 1965.
Marco McMillian was known primarily as the first openly-gay African American male to seek mayoral office as a Democrat in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. On February 26, 2013, McMillian was found dead the age of 34, having been beaten, dragged, and burned.
Little is known about his family history. McMillian was born to Patricia Unger in Clarksdale in 1979. He graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1997 and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the W.E.B. DuBois Honors College at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. McMillian also earned a graduate degree from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota in the area of philanthropy and development.
While living in Washington, D.C., McMillian served as an international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. where he was responsible for securing the first federal contract to raise the awareness of the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. He also served as executive assistant to the President of Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University.
James P. Murray, Black Movies/Black Theatre. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). “Clarence Muse” in “The Black Perspective in Music,” (Foundation for Research in the Afro-American Creative Arts, 1980)
John E. (Jack) Nail, a successful Harlem realtor, was born in New London, Connecticut in 1883. His parents, Elizabeth and John B. Nail, moved to New York City where the senior Nail bought a hotel, restaurant, and billiard parlor after working for a time in a gambling house. His entrepreneurial endeavors made an early impression on John as he was growing up.
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);
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.
Rev. Samuel Johnson was a nineteenth-century Anglican priest and historian of the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. Samuel Johnson is most noted for his manuscript, The History of the Yorubas, which was posthumously published in 1921.
Born to Henry and Sarah Johnson, in Hasting, Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1846, Samuel Johnson’s father was originally from the nation of Oyo in what is now southwestern Nigeria. Henry Johnson claimed to be a descendent of Abiodun, the last great king of Oyo. Captured by slavers, he was later liberated by the British Royal Navy and brought to Freetown, Sierra Leone. There he joined other "recaptives" who had grown large enough in number to dominate the politics and culture of the British Colony by the 1850s.
In 1857 Henry and Sarah Johnson moved with their four sons to the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Mission in Ibadan in what is now southeastern Nigeria. The Society believed that by training recaptives in Christianity and Western values and then dispatching them across West Africa as ministers and teachers, it would undermine the ongoing slave trade and check the spread of Islam in the region.
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.
Born in Anniston, Alabama in 1940, Gorden’s family moved shortly afterward to Atlanta, Georgia. Gorden was the fourth of five children and was raised by his childless aunt, who lived around the corner from his family. When she moved to Battle Creek, Michigan to marry, he went with her. There he attended the local high school and excelled in both academics and athletics. He was in the National Honor Society and played on an all-city basketball team.
Gorden had been attending a local junior college in 1958 when he was notified about his appointment to West Point as a cadet. He received the call from a lawyer from his hometown who in turn had been contacted by the area’s Congressman about the appointment. Gorden was to be the only black cadet in his class.
William H. Crogman was born on the West Indian island of St. Martin’s in 1841. At age 12 he was orphaned; by age 14, he took to the sea with B.L. Bommer where he received an informal but international education as he traveled to such places as Europe, Asia, and South America. After the urging of Mr. Bommer, in 1868 he entered Pierce Academy in Massachusetts. Throughout his schooling experience he was an exceptional and advanced student. At Pierce he was considered the top student as he mastered in one quarter what usually took students two quarters to complete. Later as a student of Latin at Atlanta University, he completed the four-year curriculum in three years.
Isaac Murphy was born on April 16, 1861 as Isaac Burns near Frankfort, Kentucky on a farm to parents James Burns and a mother whose name is unknown. Murphy was the first American jockey elected to Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York and only one of two black jockeys (Willie Simms is the other) to have received this honor.
Burns’s father, a free black man, was a bricklayer and his mother was a laundrywoman. During the civil war his father joined the Union Army and died in a Confederate prisoner of war camp. After his father’s death, Burns and his mother moved to live with her father, Green Murphy, a bell ringer and auction crier, in Lexington, Kentucky. Isaac Burns changed his last name to Murphy once he started racing horses as a tribute to his grandfather.
Donna Marie Christian-Christensen, the non-voting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States House of Representatives, was born in Teaneck, Monmouth Country, New Jersey on September 19, 1945 to the late Judge Almeric Christian and Virginia Sterling Christian. Christensen attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she received her Bachelor of Science in 1966. She then earned her M.D. degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1970. Christensen began her medical career in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1975 as an emergency room physician at St. Croix Hospital. Between 1987 and 1988 she was medical director of the St. Croix Hospital and from 1988 to 1994 she was Commissioner of Health for the Virgin Island. During the entire period from 1977 to l996 Christensen maintained a private practice in family medicine. From 1992 to 1996 she was also a television journalist.
George Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah, born in the slums of Monrovia, Liberia on October 1, 1966, is considered one of the best soccer players on the African continent. For much of his youth, he was raised by his grandmother, Emma Klonjlaleh Brown, who provided for Weah while allowing him to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional soccer player.
Weah played for Monrovia teams including the Young Survivors, Bongrange Company, Mighty Barolle, and Invincible Eleven before leaving Africa for Europe. In 1987, at the age of 21, Weah signed for the French Ligue 1 giants, AS Monaco. Throughout his career at the club Weah scored 55 goals in 155 appearances from 1987 to 1992. From Monaco he played on a series of other European teams including Paris St. Germain (1992-1995), AC Milan (1995-1999), Chelsea (1999-2000), Manchester City (2001) and Olympic Marseille (2001-2002). Over his 15-year career in Europe, Weah amassed an astonishing 172 goals.
Henry Winter, “On The Spot: George Weah,” London (?) Daily Telegraph, January 22, 2000; Michael Lewis, “Guiding light: player, coach, and financier, George Weah means everything to Liberian soccer--and Liberia means everything to Weah,” Soccer Digest Magazine, January 2002.
Patricia Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist, was born in Harlem, New York in 1942. Her parents, Rupert and Gladys Bath were both very supportive of her love for science and encouraged her to peruse a career in science. Bath's teachers throughout her early education were also supportive. Bath attended New York’s Charles Evans Hughes High School in Harlem. During her time there she excelled as a student earning herself a position after high school on a cancer research team at Yeshiva University and Harlem Hospital.
In 1960 she entered Hunter College in New York City obtaining a B.A in chemistry with honors four years later. Bath then enrolled in the Howard University Medical School receiving an M.D. degree in 1968. While in medical school Bath participated in a research project centered on children’s health in Yugoslavia. This experience persuaded her to make her life's work the treatment of impoverished populations around the globe through international medicine.
Ophthalmology became Bath's specialty after medical school. After working for a few years as a surgical assistant in New York hospitals, Bath went to Nigeria where she became the Chief of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital in Lagos, then the capital city. Bath became intrigued by the numerous cases of blindness she encountered in Nigeria and upon her return to the United States in 1978, founded the American Institute for Prevention of Blindness.
Otha Richard Sullivan, ed., Black Stars African American Women
Scientists & Inventors (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass A Wiley
Imprint, 2002); http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/bath.html;
Edward Franklin Frazier, the most prominent African American sociologist of the 20th Century, was born on September 24, 1894 and died on May 17, 1962. Best known for his critical work on the black middle class, Black Bourgeoisie (1957), Frazier was also a harsh critic of Jim Crow as the great inhibitor of the American Dream for the “American Negro.”
Frazier was born to James H. and Mary Clark Frazier. His father worked as a bank messenger and his mother was a housewife. Both parents stressed the worth of education as a path to freedom and as an instrument to fight for social justice.
James D. Lynch, a Reconstruction era politician, is best known for his position as Secretary of the State of Mississippi from 1869 to 1872. Lynch was the first African American to hold a major political office in that state. Born in 1838 in Baltimore, Maryland, his father was white merchant and minister and his mother was a slave.
Lynch received an early education at an elementary school taught by the Reverend Daniel Payne of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, and was then send to Meriden, New Hampshire to attend the Kimball Union Academy. After studying for only two years he moved to Indianapolis and began preaching at a small church in the town of Galena, Indiana.
After the Civil War, Lynch joined other religious missionaries in South Carolina. As an official of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, he helped establish churches and schools for African American adults and children between 1865 and 1866.
Lynch eventually turned to politics believing that the freedmen’s political rights equally important as the development of their religious faith. In 1867 he was elected the Vice President of the first Republican State Party Convention in Mississippi. By 1869 he had become the most prominent African American politician in Mississippi and, after his nomination by the Republican Party and an exhaustive campaign; Lynch was elected Secretary of State.
Actress Diahann Carroll was born July 17, 1935 in the Bronx, New York but grew up in Harlem. She received her education and her theatre training at Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts.
At the age of 19, Carroll received her first film role when she was cast as a supporting actress in the 1954 film Carmen Jones which starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. After her film debut Carroll starred in the Broadway musical House of Flowers. In 1959 she returned to film in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess where she performed with an all-star cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Mae Bailey.
In 1962 Carroll made history when she became the first African American woman to receive a Tony Award for best actress. She was recognized for her role as Barbara Woodruff in the musical No Strings. Another historical moment occurred when Carroll won the lead role for Julia in 1968, becoming the first African American actress to star in her own television series as someone other than a domestic worker. The show also broke ground by portraying Carroll as a single parent. She played a recently widowed nurse who raised her son alone. In 1968 Carroll won a Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress in a Television Series” for her work in Julia. One year later she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the series.
Robert Morris became one of the first black lawyers in United States after being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Morris was born in Salem, Massachusetts on June 8, 1823. At an early age, Morris had some formal education at Master Dodge’s School in Salem. With the agreement of his family, he became the student of Ellis Gray Loring, a well known abolitionist and lawyer.
Shortly after starting his practice in Boston, Morris became the first black lawyer to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client in the history of the nation. A jury ruled in favor of Morris’s client, though the details of the trial are unknown. Morris, however, recorded his feelings and observations about his first jury trial:
"There was something in the courtroom that made me feel like a giant. The courtroom was filled with colored people, and I could see, expressed on the faces of every one of them, a wish that I might win the first case that had ever been tried before a jury by a colored attorney in this county…"
Vehemently opposed to slavery, he worked with William Lloyd Garrison, Ellis Loring and Wendell Philips and others to oppose the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. On February 15, 1851 with the help of Lewis Hayden, Robert Morris managed to remove from the court house, newly arrested fugitive slave Shadrack and helped him to get to Canada and freedom. Arrests were made but Morris and the others were acquitted of the charges.
Clay J. Smith, Jr., Emancipation: Making of the Black Lawyer 1844 -1944 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995); Rayford W. Logan and Michael Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography; (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982).
Benjamin Bradley was the first person to develop a working model of a steam engine for a war ship. Born in Maryland around 1830 Bradley was owned by an unidentified slaveholder in Annapolis, Maryland. While living in Annapolis Bradley worked for a printing company at a young age. At the age of 16 he demonstrated his great skill in mechanical engineering. He constructed a model of a steam engine out of two pieces of steel, a gun barrel, and pewter. Impressed by this feat, his master arranged for Bradley to work at the Department of Natural and Experimental Philosophy at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Bradley became the first African American to hold any but menial posts at the Naval Academy.
Bradley learned to read and write at the Academy. In time he became an assistant who set up experiments for the Academy's faculty. While working at the Naval Academy he sold his first small steam engine to a Midshipman living in Annapolis. This engine was powerful enough to run a small boat. Bradley used this money to expand on his findings and create an even larger model.
Michael Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1993); Jim Haskins, Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions (New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc., 1991).
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.
Willard Christopher Smith, Jr., better known as Will Smith, actor, rap and recording artist, was born in Wynnefield, Pennsylvania on September 25, 1968. His father, Willard Christopher Smith, is an entrepreneur and engineer, and his mother, Caroline Bright Smith, is a public school administrator. Raised in a middle-class “Baptist” home, his parents sent Will to Overbrook High School, a Catholic school, where they felt he would get the best education. In high school, his precociousness sometimes got him in trouble, but his charm, good-natured personality, quick-wittedness, good looks, and award-winning smile easily got him off the hook, and he soon won the nickname, “Prince.” As a senior with high SAT scores, Smith had an offer to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after high school, but he opted out of college to pursue what had already become a successful career in entertainment.
Robert Tanner Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846. His formerly enslaved parents took the surname “Freeman” as did countless other people after gaining their freedom from bondage. As a child, Robert befriended Henry Bliss Noble, a local white dentist in the District of Columbia. Freeman began working as an apprentice to Dr. Noble and continued until he was a young adult. Dr. Noble encouraged young Robert to apply to dental colleges.
Two medical schools rejected Freeman’s application but with the encouragement of Dr. Nobel who had contacts at Harvard Medical School, Freeman applied there. Initially rejected, he was accepted into Harvard Medical School in 1867 at the age of 21, after a petition by Dean Nathan Cooley Keep to end the school’s historical exclusion of African Americans and other racial minorities.
Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi was born on January 19, 1926 in the city of Hamburg, Germany. The son of the German nurse Bertha Baetz and the Liberian businessman Al-Hajj Massaquoi, Hans-Jürgen spent the first years of his life with the family of his paternal grandfather, Momolu Massaquoi, the Consul General of Liberia in Germany. When political turmoil broke out in the ambassador's homeland in 1929, he and his son Al-Hajj returned to Liberia, leaving Bertha Baetz and her son Hans-Jürgen in Germany.
Accustomed to the luxurious lifestyle of their African protector, Massaquoi and his mother soon had to face the harsh reality of their new lower-class daily existence. Things got worse when Hitler and his Nazi Party came into power in January 1933. Facing increasing racial hostility, Massaquoi tried to blend into Nazi society but was doomed to failure because of his dark complexion. As a non-Aryan he was refused entry into the Hitler Youth and a higher education. Instead, he served an apprenticeship as a machinist and pursued his hobby, boxing, which later made him good friends with boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Massaquoi survived the war in Hamburg, despite facing both racial hatred from the Germans and the Allied bombing raids of 1943 that reduced vast parts of the city to rubble.
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.
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee, producer, actor, director, was born on March 20, 1957 in Atlanta Georgia. His parents are William Lee, a jazz musician and composer, and Jacqueline Shelton Lee, a teacher of art and literature. Lee, the oldest of five children in a relatively well off African American family, moved to Brooklyn when he was a child and began making amateur films by the age of twenty. His first film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, was completed while he was an undergraduate at Morehouse College. After receiving his B.A. he enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he received an M.F.A. in film production.
While at New York University Lee produced several student films and was awarded a Student Academy Award for his M.F.A. thesis film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop, a project that was broadcast by some public television stations and received notice from critics. Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983. Lee has also produced commercials for a number of companies including Nike, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry's.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, Ed., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Publisher Simon &
Schuster Macmillan, 1996); A & E, December 2, 2008,
A. G. Gaston, Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston (Birmingham: Southern University Press, 1968); Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines, Black Titan, A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2003).
Marjorie Judith Vincent, the fourth African American to be crowned Miss America, was born on November 12, 1964 in Oak Park, Illinois. She was Miss America 1991. Vincent is the daughter of Lucien and Florence Vincent of Cap Haitien, Haiti. Vincent’s parents migrated to the United States in the early 1960s and Marjorie was the first of their children to be born on American soil. During her youth, Vincent attended Chicago catholic schools and took piano and ballet lessons. In the mid 1980s she entered DePaul University as a music major, eventually switching to business in her third year and graduating in 1988. The money she earned from beauty pageants enabled her to fund her education.
After failing to win twice at the state level, once as Miss North Carolina and as Miss Illinois, the third time was the charm as she became Miss Illinois 1990. Winning at the state level allowed her to move on to the national competition in Atlantic City. During the September 1990 pageant she performed the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op.66) by Chopin. Vincent wowed the audience with her proficiency and went on to win the crown of Miss America 1991. She succeeded another black woman, Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990. Her victory marked the first time there were back-to-back black Miss Americas.
Russell Simmons, a multimillionaire who is estimated to be the third wealthiest man in the Hip-Hop industry, just behind Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, was born on October 4, 1957 in Queens, New York City. His parents were Damian Simmons, a public school administrator, and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator. Simmons is one of four brothers. While growing up he lived a life of poverty as his block in Queens was known at that time as the area’s drug capitol. Even Simmons himself became involved with dealing marijuana in his early youth.
Simmons first became involved with hip hop music at the age of 20 when in 1977 he attended a party in a small club where an MC (Master of Ceremonies) was shouting call-and-response rhymes. Inspired by that experience, Simmons began promoting MCs, like the one from the former party, and booking them for shows. Although he lacked musical talent, Simmons felt his promotions were a way to become involved in the industry. Simmons often lost money on these early promotions but he continued to work on building successful acts and his own career.
John Russwurm was a man ahead of his time. Centuries before scholars began debating such issues as “hegemony” and “the social construction of race,” Russwurm understood how the powerful used media to create and perpetuate destructive stereotypes of the powerless. He set out to challenge this practice, via a brand new form of media: African American journalism.
Although he helped to change the terms of debate on race in America, Russwurm was not a native of America. Born in Jamaica on October 1, 1799, he moved to Quebec as a child and then to Maine, where he attended Bowdoin College and wrote term papers on Toussaint L‘Ouverture, fiery leader of the Haitian Revolution. In 1826 Russwurm became only the second African American in the U.S. to earn a college degree. His graduation speech focused on the Haitian revolution.
The next year he moved to New York, where he met Samuel Cornish, an African American Presbyterian minister and editor. On March 16, 1827, Cornish and Russwurm published the first issue of Freedom’s Journal. White publishers -- specifically Mordecai Noah of the New York Enquirer – had long denigrated and attacked free blacks. Freedom’s Journal took direct aim at them.
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.
Henry Adams was a Louisiana leader who advocated the emigration of southern freed blacks to Liberia after emancipation. Born a slave in Newton County, Georgia on March 16, 1843, Henry Adams was originally born as Henry Houston but changed his name at the age of seven. His enslaved family was relocated to Louisiana in 1850 and lived there until 1861.
Adams married a woman named Malinda during his enslavement and the couple had four children. Unlike most enslaved people, Adams and his wife were able to acquire property during the Civil War.
Born in 1900, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Effa Brooks began her life in controversy. Her mother, Bertha Brooks, a white woman married to Benjamin Brooks, a black man, claimed Effa resulted from an affair with her white employer, John Bishop. There is no other evidence to corroborate Effa’s paternity, however, Benjamin Brooks filed and prevailed in a lawsuit against John Bishop for alienation of his wife’s affections. Effa, believed her mother’s claim and noted Bishop as her father throughout the duration of her life.
Growing up with her biracial siblings and a black stepfather, Effa Manley continually walked the line between black and white. Sometimes defined by others as black, sometimes as white, Effa used her ambiguous status to her advantage. As a young adult she worked, as a white woman, in a department store in New York City, though she lived in predominantly black neighborhoods and married black men.
Her second marriage of four was the lengthiest. Abraham Manley, whom she met at the 1932 World Series, was a “numbers banker” and at least fifteen years her senior. They remained married until Abraham’s death in 1952.
Amy Essington, “‘She Loved Baseball’: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues,” Chap. in Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 275-295; James Overmyer, Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles, (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 1998).
Rhythm and blues (R&B), jazz, and blues singer Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles to Dorothy Hawkins, who at the time was sixteen years old and unmarried.
Channing H. Tobias acquired fame through his work with the YMCA. Born in Augusta, Georgia on February 1, 1882 to Fair and Bell Robinson Tobias, young Channing received his bachelor’s degree from Paine College in 1902. Tobias left Georgia to study religion at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey. After spending time at the University of Pennsylvania, Tobias returned to Paine and served as a professor of Biblical Literature. Meanwhile, Tobias received a doctorate in Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary.
As early as 1905 Tobias joined the YMCA and eventually became Secretary of the National Council. He also served the organization as the student secretary for the International Committee. In 1923 Tobias was appointed Senior Secretary in the Department of Interracial Services within the Colored Work Department, a position he held for twenty-three years. As head of the Interracial Services Division, Tobias strenuously endeavored to enhance race relations in the United States and abroad. As a member of the Executive Committee of the National Interracial Conference and as the associate director of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, Tobias campaigned to promote interracial cooperation and redress racial grievances. His crowning public achievement in interracial affairs occurred when he became a delegate and speaker at the 1926 World Conference in Finland.
Ida Bell Robinson grew up in Pensacola, Florida, the seventh of twelve children born to Robert and Annie Bell. After her conversion as a teenager at an evangelistic street meeting, she led prayer services in homes. In 1909 she married Oliver Robinson, and they soon relocated to Philadelphia for better employment opportunities. She did street evangelism in Philadelphia under the auspices of The United Holy Church of America. In 1919, the church ordained her and appointed her to a small mission church, where she was successful in pastoral ministry and itinerant evangelism.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Tresse, Black Americans in Congress 1870-1989 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1990); James Q. Wilson, “Two Negro Politicians: An Interpretation.” Midwest Journal of Political Science 4, November 1960: 346-69.
Richard Henry Austin was born on May 6, 1913 in Stouts Mountain, Alabama, the son of Richard H. and Leila (Hill) Austin. Austin shined and sold shoes while studying at the Detroit Institute of Technology at night. After graduating from the Institute in 1937, he became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 1941 (the first African American to do so in Michigan), and founded his own accounting firm. Austin then helped other blacks in the Detroit area form businesses, foundations, and civic groups.
Richard Austin also became very active in political and civil rights groups in Detroit. In 1969, he was almost elected the city’s first black mayor. He led in the primary but was defeated by a margin of 51 to 49 percent in the general election. Two years later, however, Austin garnered a 300,000 vote majority over his opponent to become Michigan’s first African American Secretary of State. He was subsequently reelected four times.
Yvette Diane Clarke won her first political office when she was elected a member of the New York City Council representing part of Brooklyn in 2001. Clarke succeeded her mother, former City Councilmember, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the New York City Council.
Clarke was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 21, 1964. She attended New York’s public schools and then entered Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1986.
Clarke served as the first Director of Business Development for the Bronx Empowerment Zone where she administered the $51 million budget that resulted in the revitalization and economic development of the South Bronx. Clarke also chaired the powerful Contracts Committee and co-chaired the New York City Council Women's Caucus.
In 2006 Clarke was elected to the United States Congress to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District. She holds the seat first won by Shirley Chisholm in 1970. Chisholm was the first African American woman and the first Caribbean American elected to Congress.
Clarke is currently a member of three House committees and two subcommittees within each committee. Her House committee assignments are as follows: Education and Labor Committee, Homeland Security Committee, and the Small Business Committee.