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People

Bonga, Stephen (1799–1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of William L. Katz

Stephen Bonga was part of a prosperous Minnesota fur trading family, the first African American residents of that state. Fluent in Native American languages, Stephen and his brothers traveled as translators and voyageurs throughout the upper Great Lakes region of the Midwest.

Bonga was born in June 1799 on the shores of Lake Superior in the area joining present-day Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.  He was the son of Pierre Bonga and his Native American Ojibwe wife, Ogibwayquay, and he was grandson of Jean and Marie Jeanne Bonga, who had lived as slaves at the fur trading depot of Michigan’s Mackinac Island.  

As a young man, Bonga was sent to Albany, New York to become a Presbyterian missionary.  Although he later left the seminary to join the family fur trading business, Stephen was known throughout his life for his piety and in 1881 helped organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in Superior, Wisconsin.

Stephen Bonga, along with his brothers George and Jack, are listed as American Fur Company representatives visiting the Grand Portage fort along Lake Superior during the winter of 1823 and 1824.  Stephen was a clerk for the company until 1833 and traveled frequently along the upper Midwest’s trade water routes.

Sources: 
“Letters on the Fur Trade,” Minnesota Historical Collections 37: (1910):132–206; Teresa A. Carbone, Eastman Johnson, and Patricia Hills, Eastman Johnson: Painting America (Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1999); Henry Schoolcraft, Henry R. Schoolcraft's "Narrative Journal of Travels", edited by Mentor L. Williams and Philip P. Mason, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1992); William Warren, History of the Ojibway People (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1885); Martin Hintz, Wisconsin Portraits: 55 People Who Made a Difference (Black Earth, WI: Trails Books, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Freeman, Elizabeth (Mum Bett) (1742-1829)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Elizabeth Freeman was born into slavery in Claverack, New York in 1742. During the 1770s, she lived in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, a prominent citizen who at that time also served as a judge of the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Colonel Ashley purchased Freeman from a Mr. Hogeboom when she was six months of age.  Upon suffering physical abuse from Ashley’s wife, Freeman escaped her home and refused to return. She found a sympathetic ear with attorney Theodore Sedgwick, the father of the writer Catherine Sedgwick. Apparently, as she served dinner to her masters, she had heard them speaking of freedom—in this case freedom from England—and she applied the concepts of equality and freedom for all to herself.

Sources: 
Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1989);
“The Mum Bett Case,” Massachusetts Constitution Judicial Review, http://www.mass.gov/courts/jaceducation/constjuslavery.html#d ; Gay Gibson Cima, “Phillis Wheatley and Black Women Critics: The Borders of Strategic Visibility,” Theater Journal 52:4 (2000), 465-495.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Allen, Will (1948 -)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Will Allen
Will Allen, son of a sharecropper, former professional basketball player, ex-corporate sales leader and now farmer, is recognized as one of the preeminent thinkers of our time on agriculture and food policy. Allen is the founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc., a farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is widely considered the leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture.

Will Allen was born on February 8 in 1949 in Rockville, Maryland.  He grew up on a small farm where his parents had moved after sharecropping in South Carolina. He attended the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Florida where he played basketball, graduating in 1971 with a B.A. That same year he turned professional and joined the Baltimore Bullets but never did play in the National Basketball Association (NBA). He briefly played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) with The Floridians. The remainder of his professional basketball career was spent in Belgium.

Sources: 
Will Allen, The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities (New York: Gotham Books, 2012); “Will Allen: Urban Farmer,” MacArthur Foundation, 2008, http://www.macfound.org/fellows/70/; Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009; Growing Power, Inc., http://www.growingpower.org/; Roger Bybee, "Growing Power in an Urban Food Desert," Yes! Magazine, February 13,2009; Van Jones, "Will Allen," TIME Magazine, May 10, 2010.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

Gloster, Hugh (1911-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Hugh Gloster (left) with Student Frank T. Bozeman at Morehouse Graduation, 1986
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Dorothy Granberry, Dr. Hugh Gloster Interview, Atlanta, GA 1990; William Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life  (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Bridges Research

Rollins, Ida Gray Nelson (1867-1953)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ida Gray Nelson Rollins, the first African American Woman dentist, was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, on March 4, 1867.  She became an orphan when her mother, Jennie Gray, died in her early teens.  Rollins’ white father, whose name is not known, played no role in her childhood or education.  After her mother’s death, Ida was raised by her aunt, Caroline Gray, who had three other children, one boy and two daughters.  

Caroline Gray was 35, uneducated, and unable to read or write when she moved from Clarksville, Tennessee to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867, with her four children.  In Ohio, Gray supported the family by working as a seamstress and housing foster children. All the Gray children contributed to the family’s income. While in high school, Rollins worked as a seamstress and dressmaker and in the dental office of Jonathan and William Taft.  Ida Gray graduated from Gaines Public High School in 1887 when she was 20 years old.

Sources: 
Joan-Yevette Campbell, In Search of Respect and Equality (Lexington, Kentucky: Independent Publisher, 2013); Jesse Carney Smith, Black First: 4000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2003); Gale Contemporary Black Biography: Ida Gray Nelson Rollins: http://www.answers.com/topic/ida-gray-nelson-rollins; Contemporary Black Biography, 2004 | Janet Stamatel, “Gray (Nelson Rollins), Ida 1867-1953," http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2874300038.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Murphy, Isaac Burns (1861-1896)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
David Reed, “High Tributes Paid To Murphy,” The Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), May 5, 1967, p. 13;  Stephen P. Savage, “Isaac Murphy: Black Hero in Nineteenth Century American Sport, 1861-1896,” Canadian Journal of History and Physical Education 10 (1979):15-32; Robert Fikes, Jr, “Issac Murphy”  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Patsi B. Trollinger, Perfect Timing: How Isaac Murphy Became One of the World's Greatest Jockeys (New York: Viking Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Trench, Robert K. (1940-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
 
While a professor of biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Robert Kent Trench earned the reputation as the world’s leading expert on corals and their symbiotic algae, more specifically strains of zooxanthellae adaptation to certain coral species.  Born on August 3, 1940 in Belize City, British Honduras, he studied at the University of the West Indies, Oxford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on invertebrate zoology in 1969.  

Trench’s areas of expertise encompassed coral reef ecology, physiology, biochemistry, phylogenetics of symbiosis, and intercellular recognition phenomena.  He taught for four years at Yale University before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 1976.  The author of several dozen scientific papers, in 1994 his groundbreaking description of metabolite flux from kleptochloroplasts to host won him the coveted Miescher-Ishida Prize for outstanding contribution to the field of endocytobiology.  A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Trench retired from university teaching in the year 2000.
Sources: 
American Men & Women of Science. 14th Ed. Vol. 7 (1979).
http://www.globalcoral.org/corals_and_coral_reefs.htm

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Carter, W. Beverly (1921-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
William Beverly Carter at Lincoln University,
1943

Ambassador William Beverly Carter is the first Ambassador-at-Large, and the second African American, to be appointed an ambassador by three Presidents. In 1972, President Richard M. Nixon appointed him ambassador to Tanzania. Four years later, President Gerald R. Ford named him ambassador to Liberia. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him U.S. Ambassador-at-Large.

Carter, born in 1921 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, was raised in nearby Philadelphia after the age of four. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in biology from Lincoln University in 1944, and his Law degree from Temple University in 1947.  One of his Lincoln classmates was future Ghanaian head of state Kwame Nkrumah.

Sources: 
Celestine Tutt, “Ambassador William Beverly Carter, Jr,” (http://adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Carter,%20William%20Beverly%20Jr.toc.pdf); “Beverly Carter, 61; Held High Positions as a U.S. Diplomat,” (Obituary) New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/11/obituaries/beverly-carter-61-held-high-positions-as-a-us-diplomat.html; U.S. State Department, “African American Chiefs of Mission,” http://www.state.gov/s/d/rm/rls/perfrpt/2008/html/112198.htm; Brian C. Aronstam, “Out of Africa,” Stanford Magazine, http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=42098.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Haile Mariam, Lt. Col. Mengistu (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mengistu Haile Mariam, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Ethiopian Army, led a coup which ousted Emperor Haile Selassie from power in 1974.  Mengistu took control of the government and served as its Communist head of state in Ethiopia from 1977 to 1991. He formally assumed power as chair of the Worker’s Party, head of state and Derg (military junta) chairman in 1977.  In fact Mengistu had wielded behind-the-scenes power since the coup of 1974. Under Mengistu, Ethiopia received aid from the Soviet Union, other members of the Warsaw Pact, and Cuba.

Opposition against Mengistu’s regime emerged with a rebellion against the new government between 1977 and 1978.  The government suppressed the rebellion and in the process generated thousands of casualties, estimated at 100,000 killed or disappeared. In response the anti-Mengistu Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) launched a guerilla struggle that would last until the overthrow of Mengistu’s regime in 1991.
Sources: 
Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Grimke, Angelina Weld (1880-1958)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.

Sources: 

Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Poitier, Sidney (1927 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Sidney Poitier from
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Image ©Bob Adelman/Bettmann/Corbis
Award winning actor, director, and author, Sidney Poitier broke racial barriers and stereotyping in the film industry to become the leading African American male actor of the 20th Century.  In a career that spanned 57 years, Poitier was a featured performer or starred in 48 films and directed six.  
Sources: 
Aram Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004; Sidney Poitier, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000); Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West, The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country (New York: Free Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Archer, Dennis (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Alston Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.answers.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

McKinney, Nina Mae (1913-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Ruth Harriet Louise

Nina Mae McKinney, one of the first African American leading actresses in Hollywood, was born Nannie Mayme McKinney in 1913. The Lancaster, South Carolina native was reared by her great-aunt, Carrie Sanders on the Estate of Colonel LeRoy Sanders, where her family had worked for many generations. She attended Lancaster Industrial School until the age of 13 before relocating to New York to live with her mother, Georgia Crawford McKinney. As an early teen, McKinney performed in Harlem’s nightclubs and eventually on Broadway in the Lew Leslie musical review, Blackbirds of 1928.

Her celebrity began at the age of 16 when director King Vidor, impressed by her vitality in Blackbirds of 1928, hired her to parlay her multi-talented abilities as an actress, dancer, and vocalist in the musical film, Hallelujah (1929). McKinney’s effervescent performance as the seductress, “Chick,” brought her immediate success. Yet despite rave reviews for her vivacious performance and a resulting five-year contract with MGM, McKinney’s career faltered during an era when Hollywood declined to position black actresses in dignified roles.

Sources: 

Louise Pettus, Sandlapper: The Magazine of South Carolina. “Lancaster’s Celebrated Film Star. 1999; Darlene Clarke Hine, Elsa Barkely Brown, et. al. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 2 (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1993).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Kinchlow, Ben (1846?-1939?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ben Kinchlow began life as a free black in Texas, when most African Americans were slaves. After the Texas Revolution, the new Republic legalized slavery and free African Americans were at risk of being sold back into slavery. Ben’s mother, Lizaar Moore, a half-white slave woman obtained her freedom from Sandy Moore, in Wharton County and in 1847 with one year old Ben and her other son journeyed to Mexico.

The family settled in the border area of Matamoros where Lizaar worked washing clothes, charging $2.50 a dozen for men’s clothing and $5.00 for women’s. Young Ben learned to ride and break horses and stayed in Mexico about twelve years before moving to Brownsville, where he lived until emancipation.

Working on the Bare Stone Ranch, Kinchlow became acquainted with Captain Leander McNelly and, at nineteen became a guide for McNelly working without pay. So began the Texas Ranger life of the earliest known African American with the Special Force or McNelly’s Rangers. When McNelly died Kinchlow returned to working cattle and breaking horses. He worked on the Banqueta Ranch as well as the King Ranch with horse breaking his main responsibility. Then he moved onto Matagorda County where worked as a cowhand on the Tres Palacios Ranch. He worked for twelve years getting fifty cents a head for every Maverick he roped and branded.

Sources: 
John H. Fuller, “Ben Kinchlow: A Trail Driver on the Chisholm Trail,” Sara R. Massey, ed., Black Cowboys of Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000), 99-116.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Southworth, Lou (ca. 1830-1917)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Lou Southworth
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Lou Southworth, who became noted as a rare former Oregon slave, was born in Tennessee around 1830.  His father’s name was Hunter, but he was born into slavery and took the surname of his master, James Southworth.  His early life was spent in Franklin County, Missouri.

Emigrating to Oregon with his mother and James Southworth in the 1850s, Lou lived with his master on an abandoned claim and then moved to Jacksonville, mining gold and saving money toward his freedom. He fought in the Rogue River Indian Wars in the late 1850s rather than give up his rifle to a company of volunteers who were short of weapons and demanded it.  He also became known in Southern Oregon as a musician, playing his violin for local gatherings.

After his mother’s death at the age of seventy, Southworth moved to Yreka, California where he played the violin for local dancing schools, earning enough money to complete the purchase of his freedom, $1000 in all, between 1858 and 1859.

Sources: 

Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon (Portland: Georgian Press, 1980); George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, supplement series 1, Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Oregon and Washington Narratives (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977), Vol. 2; Peggy Baldwin, "A Legacy Beyond the Generations," Genealogical Forum of Oregon,  2006.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Portland (Oregon) Community College

Kirk, Ronald (1954-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ronald "Ron" Kirk is the U.S. Trade Representative for U.S. President Barack Obama.  Kirk was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 18, 2009, and officially sworn in two days later.  Kirk is the 16th trade representative and the first African American to hold the Cabinet-level post.  As trade representative, he serves as the president's principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson.  He is also responsible for the development of U.S. trade policy and the oversight of existing trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Kirk was born in 1954 in Austin, Texas.  He received a BA degree in political science and sociology from Austin College in 1976 and then went on to the University of Texas Law School where he received a J.D. three years later. While attending law school, he accepted an internship with the Texas Legislature.  After graduating, Kirk worked for Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as an aide and later was appointed Texas Secretary of State by Texas Governor Ann Richards, also a Democrat.

In 1995, Kirk, in his first bid for public office and with major support from the local business community, ran for mayor of Dallas, Texas.  He won a landslide victory, securing 62% of the vote to become mayor.  During his mayoral campaign, Kirk promoted racial harmony in a city that had experienced considerable racial tension.
Sources: 
“United States Representative Ron Kirk,” Office of the United States Trade Representative, http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/biographies-key-officials/united-states-trade-representative-ron-kirk; Alston Hornsby Jr., and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots (Montgomery, AL: E-Book Time LLC, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Sefolosha, Thabo (1984– )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Thabo Sefolosha, the first Swiss-born National Basketball Association (NBA) player, was born May 2, 1984, in Vevey, Switzerland, to Patrick Sefolosha, a South African musician, and Christine Sefolosha, a Swiss painter. Sefolosha is a member of the Swiss National basketball team and currently plays for the Atlanta (Georgia) Hawks.  

Sefolosha started playing basketball at age eleven and soon became one of the best players in Switzerland. After playing two years in the First League there, he took his talent to France, where he played for Elan Chalon, one of the top basketball teams in Europe. His career culminated in his third season, as he was picked to play in the all-star game and was regarded as one of the best players in Europe. From there, Sefolosha played one season in Italy before entering the NBA in 2006.  

Sources: 
James C. McKinley Jr., “Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks Player, Is Acquitted of All Charges,” New York Times, October 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/nyregion/thabo-sefolosha-atlanta-hawks-player-is-acquitted-of-all-charges.html; Anne E. Stein, “Thabo Sefolosha: Coming to America,” Bulls.com, 09/14/2006, http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/sefolosha_feature_060914.html; Michael McCann, “Examining Thabo Sefolosha’s lawsuit vs. NYC, NYPD: Five Biggest Questions,” SI.com, 10/22/2015, http://www.si.com/nba/2015/10/22/thabo-sefolosha-new-york-city-police-civil-lawsuit-atlanta-hawks.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Moorland, Jesse (1863–1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jesse Moorland was an educator, minister, and a philanthropist, but was most renowned for his extensive work with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  Born on September 10, 1863, in Coldwater, Ohio, he was the only child of a local farmer, William Edward Moorland and his wife, Nancy Jane Moorland.  He was raised by his grandparents after his mother passed away and his father decided to leave him in their care.  His grandparents sent him to a local school in Coldwater and then later to the Northwestern Normal School in Ada, Ohio.  

In 1886, Moorland married Lucy Corbin and the couple began teaching together in Urbana, Ohio.  They later moved to Washington, D.C. to continue their studies at Howard University.  Moorland studied theology and graduated with his Master’s degree in 1891.  In the same year, Moorland also became an ordained minister in the Congregational Church and was appointed Secretary of the Colored Branch of the YMCA in Washington, D.C.  Two years later, he resigned from the YMCA and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become pastor of Howard Chapel.  In 1896, he moved again to become pastor at Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sources: 
Eric Bennett, Africana (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Dwight Burlingame, Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (California: ABC-CLIO, 2004); http://www.aaregistry.com/detail.php?id=1141 (Accessed December 16, 2009)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Jill E. (1950- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jill Elaine Brown became the first African American woman to serve as a pilot for a major U.S airline when she was hired by Texas international Airlines at the age of 28. Her passion for flying began as a teenager, leading her into the U.S. Navy flight training program where she became its first African American female trainee in 1974.

Brown was born in 1950 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father Gilbert Brown owned a construction company, and her mother Elaine was an art teacher in the Baltimore school district. The family owned a farm in West Virginia, and by the age of nine Brown had learned to operate a tractor and perform what her father termed “men’s work.” When she turned 17, the entire Brown family took flying lessons. Brown devoted all of her free time to learning how to fly and became the first in her family to receive a pilot's license. Her first solo flight was in a Piper J-3 Cub. When the family acquired its own plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee 180D, she became particularly popular with friends whom she took up on short flights. Brown described these flights as trips on Brown's United Airlines.  

Sources: 
Caroline Fannin, Betty Gubert, and Miriam Sawyer, African Americans in Aviation and Space Science (Westport, CT: Oryx Press, 2002); Michele Burgen, "Winging It at 25,000 Feet," Ebony (August 1978); Justia.com, http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F3/132/36/469707/; The Bessie Coleman Foundation, http://bcal.clubexpress.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Sembene, Ousmane (1923-2007)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ousmane Sembène, prolific writer and film producer, was born in January 1923 in Ziguinchor, Senegal.  Official documents were rare in 1920s French colonies, so even though Sembène was officially listed as born on the eighth of January, he says that it is likely that he was actually born eight days earlier.

Sembène was born a French citizen, thanks to his father Moussa Sembène, a fisherman who was from the region Senegal where such citizenship had been extended in the 19th Century. His mother was Ramatoulaye Ndiaye. His parents were together only briefly, and Sembène was raised by his maternal grandmother after his mother moved to Dakar.

Sources: 
Brian Cox, African Writers (New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997); Samba Gadjigo, Ousmane Sembène: the Making of a Militant Artist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010); Annet Busch and Max Annas, Ousmane Sembène: Interviews (Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Scott, Emmett J. (1873-1957)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Emmett J. Scott and Booker T. Washington
Image Ownership: Public Domain

A native of Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott garnered a reputation as Booker T. Washington’s chief aide.  He was also the highest ranking African American in the Woodrow Wilson’s Administration.  The son of ex-slaves, Scott was born in 1873.  In 1887, he entered Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, eventually leaving school in his third year.  Soon he worked at the Houston Post, first as a sexton, and later as a copyboy and journalist. In 1893 Scott, along with Charles N. Love and Jack Tibbit, formed the Texas Freeman, Houston’s first African American newspaper.  Scott also worked for Galveston, Texas, politician and labor leader, Norris W. Cuney. 

Sources: 
Thelma Scott Bryant, Pioneering Families of Houston (Early 1900s) as Remembered by Thelma Scott Bryant (Houston: n. p., 1991); Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Jr., “The Business Life of Emmett Jay Scott,” Business History Review, 77 (Winter 2003), 57-68; Barbara L. Green, “Emmett Jay Scott,” in The New Handbook of Texas, Vol.. 5 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996), 935.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Sam Houston State University

Kelley, William Melvin (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
William Melvin Kelley is a renowned African American author known for his experimental style and exploration of African American cultural identity.  Born on November 1, 1937 in the Bronx, New York, to Narcissa Agatha Kelley and William Kelley, an editor, he attended the elite Fieldston School and was accepted to Harvard University in 1957.  It was at Harvard, studying under novelist John Hawkes and poet Archibald MacLeish, that Kelley published his first short story.  

Kelley’s professional career blossomed in the 1960s and his writing appeared in a host of periodicals such as the Saturday Evening Post, Mademoiselle, Negro Digest, and Esquire. The author’s principal works were also published during this prolific decade, including a collection of short stories, Dancers on the Shore (1964), and the novels A Different Drummer (1962), A Drop of Patience (1965), d?m (1967), and Dunfords Travels Everywheres (1970).  

Critics have noted the influence of James Joyce and William Faulkner on Kelley’s style.  Distinctive elements of Faulkner, for example, can be seen in the interrelated cast of characters which appear in Kelley’s novels, as well as his use of a fictional Southern state for the setting of his texts.  The author’s application of language on the other hand has drawn comparisons to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  
Sources: 
Michel Fabre, “William Melvin Kelley and Melvin Dixon: Change of Territory,” From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991); Robert E. Fleming, “Kelley, William Melvin,” The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, (New York: Oxford Press, 1997); Jill Weyant, “The Kelley Saga: Violence in America.” CLA Journal 19 (1975): 210-220.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Till, Emmett Louis (1941-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Emmett Till was a fourteen year-old African American boy who was tortured and killed in Money, Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly insulting a white woman.  Born in Chicago, Illinois, Till lived with his mother, Mamie Till. His father, Louis Till, died while serving in the U.S. Army in Italy in 1945. In the summer of 1955, Till went to visit with his 64 year old great-uncle, Mose Wright and family. Before leaving home, Till’s mother instructed him to follow Southern customs and mind his manners, but having grown up in a Northern city like Chicago, Till was unaware of the legacy of lynching and the rigid social caste system in the South. 
Sources: 

“The Murder of Emmett Till,” The American Experience, pbs.org; Ruth Feldstein, “I Wanted the Whole World to See’: Race, Gender, and Constructions of Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till” in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, Joanne Jay Meyerowitz, ed., (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); Mamie Till Bradley, “Speech given at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Baltimore, Maryland, Oct. 29, 1955,” in Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965, eds., Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon, (Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2009).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Knox, Clinton E. (1908–1980)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownershp: Public Domain"
Clinton Everett Knox was the first African American secretary to the United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and former United States Ambassador to the countries of Dahomey (Benin) and Haiti.

Clinton E. Knox was born May 5, 1908, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of five children born to Estella Briggs Knox and William J. Knox Sr.  Knox’s older brother, William J. Knox, Jr., was one of the scientists who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II.  His other older brother, Dr. Lawrence Howland Knox, was a noted chemist.

Sources: 
The Clinton Knox Family Papers, 1909-1989, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana); Wade Baskin and Richard N. Runes, Dictionary of Black Culture (New York: Philosophical Library, 1973); Who’s Who Among Black Americans (Northbrook, Illinois: Gale Research, Inc., 1977); U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian, http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/knox-clinton-everett.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Nash, Charles Edmund (1844-1913)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Republican Charles Edmund Nash served in the 44th Congress as Louisiana’s only black representative. Nash was born in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1844. Before his time in Congress Nash attended common schools, was a bricklayer in New Orleans, and had enlisted as a private for the U.S. volunteers in July of 1863. He was later promoted to Sergeant Major, but his military service proved to be disastrous as he lost the lower third of his right leg just before the Civil War’s end.

As a result of his military service and strong support of the Republican Party, he was appointed to the position of night inspector in the New Orleans Customs House – a powerful post in the local political machine. In 1874 he was elected, uncontested, to the House of Representatives from the 6th Congressional District.

Despite his easy election, Nash made little political impact during his time in Congress.  He was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor.  On June 7th, 1876 Nash made the only major address during his term as Congressman.  His speech condemned the violent and anti- democratic actions of some Southern Democrats, called for greater education among the populace, and also for increased racial and political peace especially in the South.

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, DC; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1982).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Ali, Muhammad [aka Cassius Clay] (1942- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous professional boxer in the 20th Century and the only fighter to win the heavyweight championship three times, was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay.  At the age of 12 Clay began training as a boxer.  During his teen years he won several Golden Gloves titles and other amateur titles.  At the age of 18 he won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy and then turned professional.  In one of the most famous boxing matches of the century, Clay in 1965 stunned the world by beating apparently invincible world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in six rounds.

Sources: 
David Remmick, King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero (New York: Vintage Books, 1999); Hana Yasmeen Ali, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Paul, Thomas, Sr. (1773-1831)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Home of Thomas Paul, Boston
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Thomas Paul was the eldest of six sons born into a free Black family in Exeter, New Hampshire.   Educated at a Baptist school in Hollis, NH, Paul pursued a career in the ministry as did three of his brothers.  He enjoyed a reputation as an eloquent speaker and traveled throughout New England as a guest preacher.  In 1804, he received his ordination.  The following year, he married Catherine Waterhouse and had three children, Ann Catherine, Susan, and Thomas, Jr.

Shortly after moving his family to Boston, Thomas Paul, Sr. was installed as the first pastor of the First African Baptist Church in December in 1806.  He served this congregation until 1829, two years before his death.  

Paul was a leader in the movement to establish independent Black churches in the United States.  He assisted the Black Baptists in New York City in the establishment of the African Baptist Society, which later evolved into the Abyssinian Baptist Church.  Paul’s church took on several names between 1806 and the early 1830s, including the Independence Baptist Church, the Abolition Church, and, finally, St. Paul’s.  

During his ministerial career, the Rev. Paul also pursued foreign missionary work. In 1815, he traveled to Haiti under the auspices of the Massachusetts Baptist Society, where he stayed for six months.  Unable to communicate in French, Paul met with limited success in his ability to convert Haitians.
Sources: 
J. Marcus Mitchell, “The Paul Family,” Old Time New England, LXIII(Winter, 1973): 74-76, Rayford W. Logan and Winston, Michael R., eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography (NY: Norton, 1982), 482-3, James Oliver Horton & Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Minkins, Shadrach (1814?-1875)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia (the actual year is uncertain), Shadrach Minkins spent the first thirty years of his life in his hometown, but in May of 1850 he decided to run for freedom and escaped to Boston, where he became a waiter.

At that time, about 2,500 blacks lived in Boston. Runaway slaves found refuge there with fellow runaways, and a population of active black and white abolitionists. Most slaves who reached Boston expected the strong anti-slavery community would protect them and that they would be able to hide or blend in without being recaptured. The other option for fugitives was to pass through Boston to another safe location using the Underground Railroad.

The Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850, however, undermined Boston’s reputation as a save haven.  This law allowed slave owners, or their representatives, to reclaim runaway slaves, with proof of ownership, throughout the United States.  Slave-catching now carried the force of law which meant all law-enforcement agencies throughout the North were required to assist those seeking fugitives. Law enforcement officers were required to arrest and hold any suspected fugitives and assist their return to slaveholders.  

On February 15, 1851, Minkins was captured by two Boston police officers while he worked at Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House. While he was being taken to the courthouse, word spread and hundreds of black and white abolitionists crowded into the courthouse.
Renowned abolitionist lawyers Robert Morris, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Ellis Gray Loring, and Samuel E. Sewall came to Minkins’ assistance, but under the Fugitive Slave Act, his seizure was legal.
Sources: 
Gary Lee Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Williams, Smokey Joe (1886-1946)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born Joseph Williams in Sequin, Texas on April 6, 1886, Smokey Joe Williams (also known as Cyclone Joe Williams) has been argued to be one of the greatest of the black baseball pitchers. In 1952, when the Pittsburgh Courier asked a panel of black veterans and sports writers to name the best black pitcher of all time, Smokey Joe Williams was the winner 20-19, over Satchel Paige. He stood 6’ 5” with a variety of power pitches but was best known for his fastball. He began to pitch around the San Antonio region in 1905 and compiled a record of 28-4. In 1907, he played for the San Antonio Broncos as a pitcher-outfielder, winning 20 and losing 8. In 1909, when Rube Foster, “The Father of Black Baseball,” brought his Leland Giants through San Antonio, he saw Williams pitch against Foster’s team and was amazed at his arresting speed, Williams and his team beat the Giants 3-0. When the Giants left, they took Williams north with them.

On October 24, 1912, Williams faced the National League champion New York Giants in an exhibition game. The Giants were coming off from a World Series loss against the Boston Red Sox. Williams shut out the Giants with only four hits for a 6-0 victory. By 1913, Williams won four and lost one against the white big leaguers.  At a time when professional baseball was not integrated and black teams were considered semi-pro, the victory over the Giants gave Williams and his team considerable national exposure.
Sources: 
John B. Holway, Negro League Pioneers (Connecticut: Meckler Books, 1988); Robert Peterson, Only the Ball was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jackson, Jesse Louis. Jr. (1965- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jesse Jackson, Jr., an African American Congressman, represented Illinois’ Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from December 12, 1995 to November 21, 2012. On March 11, 1965, in Greenville, South Carolina, in the middle of the voting rights campaign, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. was born to renowned activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Jacqueline Jackson. The younger Jackson’s political career has been deeply impacted by his educational upbringing and his family’s activism.

In 1987, Jackson earned a Business Management Bachelor of Science Degree from North Carolina A & T State University, where he graduated magna cum laude. In 1990, he graduated from the Chicago Theological Seminary earning a Master of Arts Degree in Theology. Three years later Jackson graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law with a Juris Doctorate.

Before his election to Congress in 1995, Jackson served as the National Rainbow Coalition’s National Field Director, registering millions of new voters.  In the 1980s he led protests against South African apartheid. In 1986, Jackson spent his 21st birthday in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. for participating in an anti-apartheid protest at the South African Embassy.

Sources: 
U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.: Representing the People of the 2nd District of Illinois, www.house.gov/jackson/Bio.shtml; Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.: Congressman, Second Congressional District of Illinois, www.jessejacksonjr.org; and Mema Ayi and Chicago Defender, Jackson Jr. bails on mayoral run; says with Dems in control he can do more for Congress, www.chicagodefender.com/page/local.cfm?ArticleID=7561
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Lucas, Sam (1840-1915)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Sam Lucas, one of the most respected and celebrated entertainers of his time, is credited with breaking barriers for black actors and becoming the first African American actor to star in a “white” feature film. Lucas is best remembered for his comic and dramatic roles performed on the minstrel circuit and Broadway stages, and by the end of his career, a major motion picture.

Lucas was born Samuel Mildmay in Washington, Ohio in 1840. He began singing and playing the guitar as a teenager and went on to establish a reputation as a performer while working as a barber. After the Civil War when African American performers (in blackface) were allowed to work in minstrel shows, Lucas joined traveling black companies and sang on the Ohio River steamboats. Lucas built a reputation as the best all-around entertainer in the business and was empowered to select his own shows which allowed him to star with the most successful black minstrel companies as a comedian and singer.

Sources: 

Mel Watkins, On the Real Side, (New York: Simon & Schuster); David
Pilgrim, “The Tom Caricature,” http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/tom/,
December 2000, Ferris State University, Rapids, Michigan: Jessie Carney
Smith, Notable Black Men. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1999); Phyllis
R. Klotman, African Americans in Cinema: The First Half Century,
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Carey, Archibald J., Sr. (1868-1931)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Rev.
Sources: 
Allan Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); Christopher Robert Reed, Black Chicago's First Century (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005); http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4159/Carey-Archibald-J-Sr-1868-1931.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Otis, Clarence (1956– )

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Corporate CEO Clarence Otis was born April 11, 1956, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His father, Clarence Otis Sr., worked as a janitor while his mother, Calanthus Hall Otis, stayed home to raise their three children. The family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, California, when Otis was four years old. Although Watts was at the time a sprawling ghetto that in 1965 would become the site of the Watts riot, Clarence Otis Sr. drove the family through Beverly Hills to show his children that a different life was possible. Otis credits these drives, as well as a stable family life, for keeping him away from the gang activity prevalent in Watts.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles Pierce College

Fuller, Hoyt W. (1923-1981)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Atlanta University
Photographs,  Atlanta University Center,
Robert W. Woodruff
Library

Hoyt W. Fuller, editor and writer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1923. After an illness caused his mother, Lillie Beatrice Ellafair Thomas, to become an invalid and after the death of his father, Thomas Fuller, in 1927, Fuller went to live with his aunt in Detroit, Michigan.  As a child, Fuller often returned to Atlanta to visit his grandmother, who encouraged him to explore black culture.

Fuller attended Wayne State University, graduating in 1950 with a BA in literature and journalism.  Fred Williams, a local amateur historian of Detroit’s black community, became Fuller’s mentor while he attended Wayne State.  Aside from giving Fuller readings about Africa and African Americans, Williams also brought Fuller along on his research trips to interview older members of the black community.  After graduation, Fuller pursued a career in journalism.  He worked at the Detroit Tribune (1949-1951), the Michigan Chronicle (1951-1954), and Ebony magazine (1954-1957).
Sources: 
Hoyt W. Fuller, Journey to Africa (Chicago: Third World Press, 1971); Dudley Randall, ed., Homage to Hoyt Fuller (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1984); “Hoyt Fuller,” in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Galamison, Milton A. (1923-1988)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Milton Galamison (left) with Picketers in New York, Feb. 3, 1964
Image ©Bettmann/Corbis

Milton Arthur Galamison, minister and civil rights activist, was the leader of New York City’s school integration movement in the 1960s.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, where he experienced poverty and hostile racial relations that influenced his later activism, Galamison received a B.A. with honors at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1945. He began his activism in Brooklyn, where he was appointed minister to the Siloam Presbyterian Church in 1948. As a prestigious institution long associated with activist ministers, the church offered Galamison a platform for his future involvement in improving education for minority children in public schools.

In 1955, Galamison was elected chair of the education committee of the Brooklyn branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Under his  leadership, the branch became a noted advocate for working class black and Puerto Rican parents who fought for quality education for their children.

Sources: 
Clarence Taylor, “Robert Wagner, Milton Galamison, and the Challenge to New York City Liberalism,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 31:2 (July 2007); Alexander Urbiel, “City Schools as Mirrors of Modern Urban Life,” Journal of Urban History 27:511 (May 2001); Clarence Taylor, Knocking At Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Taylor, Moddie Daniel (1912-1976)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center,
National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution
Moddie Daniel Taylor, a chemist by training, was a member of the small, elite group of African American scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the code name for the top-secret effort to create an atomic bomb during World War II.  Taylor was born in Nymph, Alabama on March 3, 1912, the son of Herbert L. Taylor and Celeste (Oliver) Taylor.  The Taylors later moved to St. Louis where Herbert worked as a postal clerk.  Moddie Taylor attended Charles H. Sumner High, graduating in 1931.  He then attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he majored in chemistry.  Taylor graduated in 1935 as the valedictorian of his class.

Moddie Taylor began his teaching career at Lincoln University the same year, working as an instructor until 1939 and then as an assistant professor from 1939 to 1941 while enrolled in the University of Chicago graduate program in chemistry.  He received an M.S. from the University in 1939 and a Ph.D. in 1943.

Taylor married Vivian Ellis in 1937.  The couple had one son, Herbert Moddie Taylor.
Sources: 
Kenneth R. Manning, “Science and Opportunity,” Science, Volume 282 (November 6, 1998): 1037-1038; “Scientists in the News,” Science, Volume 131 (May 20, 1960): 1513-1514; “Records of Meetings,” Daedalus, Volume 86 (September, 1956): 137-16; Ebony, January 1961; "Moddie Taylor Biography," BookRags.com, http://www.bookrags.com/biography/moddie-taylor-woc/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

Garland, Walter Benjamin Stephen (1913-197?)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

Veteran of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Walter Garland was born in New York City on 27 November 1913.  After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, he enrolled at Brooklyn College where he studied mathematics.  Garland joined the Communist Party in 1935 and became active in the National Negro Congress.  When the International Brigades formed to fight for Republican Spain, Garland volunteered , sailing for France in January 1937.

Sources: 
Danny Duncan Collum (editor) and Victor A. Berch (chief researcher), African Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do” (New York, New York: G.K. Hall & Co, 1992); William L. Katz, Fraser M. Ottanelli, and Christopher Brooks, “African Americans in the Spanish Civil War,” Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives at New York University (<https://www.alba-valb.org >, November 2006); James Yates, Mississippi to Madrid (Seattle, Washington: Open Hand Publishing, 1989).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Motley, Willard (1909-1965)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Novelist Willard Motley was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 14, 1909 to parents Florence “Flossie” Motley, his mother, and a man referred to by the family only as “Bryant,” who was his biological father. Bryant was a 36-year-old Pullman porter living in the Motley family home at the time. His mother was the daughter of Archibald, a Pullman porter and Mary “Mae” Frederica Huff Motley, a public school teacher, both of whom hastily married his 14 year old mother to Bryant during her pregnancy so that Willard Motley’s birth would not be illegitimate.  After the birth, the marriage was annulled.

Willard Motley was told growing up that his grandparents, Archibald Sr. and Mary, were his parents, and his mother, Florence, was his sister. Willard Motley and his uncle, Archibald Motley Jr., who would later become a prominent artist, were raised as brothers. Bryant impregnated Flossie again, resulting in the birth of his sister, Rita Motley who was also raised as a child of Mary and Archibald Motley, Sr.

Sources: 
Alan Wald, “Willard Motley,” Writers of the Black Chicago Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011); http://libguides.niu.edu/motley;http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-06-26/features/9406260209_1_black-kids-chicago-post-chicago-defender.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Thomas, Vivien (1910-1985)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Described as the “most untalked about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community,” by Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Vivien Thomas received an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1976, and while this was undoubtedly memorable, the decades which preceded this moment were equally unforgettable. In Nashville, Tennessee, this high school honors graduate dreamed of becoming a physician. Thomas, a skilled carpenter, saved for seven years to pay for his education. However, he lost his savings during the Great Depression.  Beginning in 1930, he worked at Vanderbilt University's Medical School as a laboratory assistant to Alfred Blalock, a white physician who became a pioneer in cardiac surgery. Blalock mentored Thomas and taught him to conduct experiments.
Sources: 
Vivien Thomas, Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/partners/today/t_views.html.
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Rodman, Dennis Keith (1961- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman, 2013
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dennis Keith Rodman, hall of fame basketball player, actor, and self-appointed political emissary, was born in on May 13, 1961 in Trenton, New Jersey to Philander and Shirley Rodman. Shortly after Dennis was born, Philander left the family and eventually settled in the Philippines. After moving to the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, Shirley Rodman worked numerous jobs while struggling to provide for Dennis and his two older sisters, Kim and Debra.

In high school both Kim and Debra Rodman developed into standout basketball players, earning college scholarships. Kim attended Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas and Debra played on two national championship teams at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Louisiana. Both Rodman sisters were All-Americans in college.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central Community College

Pinchback, Pinckney Benton Stewart (1837-1921)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was born on May 10, 1837 to parents William Pinchback, a successful Virginia planter, and Eliza Stewart, his former slave. The younger Pinchback was born in Macon, Georgia during the family’s move from Virginia to their new home in Holmes County, Mississippi.  In Mississippi, young Pinchback grew up in comfortable surroundings on a large plantation.  At the age of nine, he and his older brother, Napoleon, were sent by his parents to Ohio to receive a formal education at Cincinnati’s Gilmore School. Pinchback’s education was cut short, however, when he returned to Mississippi in 1848 because his father had become seriously ill.  When his father died shortly after his return, his mother fled to Cincinnati with her children for fear of being re-enslaved in Mississippi.  Shortly thereafter, Napoleon became mentally ill, leaving 12 year old Pinckney as sole-provider for his mother and four siblings.  
Sources: 
James Haskins, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Fagen, David (1875- ?)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
David Fagen was the most celebrated of the handful of African American soldiers who defected to the Filipino revolutionary army led by Emilio Aguinaldo during the Filipino American War of 1899-1902.  Fagen was born in Tampa, Florida around 1875. Details of his life remain sketchy. His father was a merchant and a widower. For a time he worked as a laborer for Hull’s Phosphate Company.

On June 4, 1898 at the age of 23, Fagen enlisted in the 24th Infantry, one of the four black regiments of that time that was coincidentally based in Tampa. Fagen would see combat a year later as he shipped off from San Francisco, California to Manila on June 1899. By then, the Filipino American war had been raging for four months, as Filipino patriots sought to defend their newly established Republic which they had won in a revolution against Spain. Fagen was soon in combat against Filipino guerillas in Central Luzon. Reports indicate that he had constant arguments with his commanding officers and requested to be transferred at least three times which contributed to his growing resentment of the Army.
Sources: 
Michael C. Robinson and Frank N. Schubert, “David Fagen: an Afro-American Rebel in the Philippines, 1899-1901,” The Pacific-Historical Review, vol. 44, No. 1, (Feb. 1975), pp.68-83.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Nix, Robert Nelson Cornelius, Sr. (1898-1987)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Robert Nelson Cornelius Nix, Sr. was born on August 9, 1905 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where his father, Nelson, was dean of South Carolina State College. Nix graduated from Townsend Harris High School in New York City, and then from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1921. In 1924, he received his law degree from University of Pennsylvania and began practice in Philadelphia the following year. Nix became active in Democratic politics and was elected a committeeman from the Forty-fourth Ward in 1932. From 1934 to 1938 he held a series of positions in a private law firm, in the Pennsylvania State Department of Revenue as special deputy attorney general, and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as special assistant deputy attorney general.  In 1956 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

After Representative Earl Chudoff resigned his Fourth Congressional District seat to become a Philadelphia judge, Nix defeated two opponents in a special election to fill the vacancy and was sworn on May 20, 1958.  Nix was the first African American to represent Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990; www.bioguide.congress.gov
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, William Wells (1814?-1884)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
William Wells Brown was an African American antislavery lecturer, groundbreaking novelist, playwright and historian.  He is widely considered to have been the first African American to publish works in several major literary genres. Known for his continuous political activism especially in his involvement with the anti-slavery movement, Brown is widely acclaimed for the effectiveness of many of his writings.  
Sources: 
William E. Farrison, William Wells Brown: Author and Reformer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969); Paul Jefferson, The Travels of William Wells Brown (New York: Markus Wiener, 1991); Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jessye, Eva (1895-1992)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Eva Jessye was a pioneer in the world of African American music and is recognized as the first black woman to receive international distinction as a choral director. She was born in Coffeyville, Kansas on January 20, 1895 to Albert and Julia Jessye, but was raised by various relatives after her parents’ separation. Influenced by the singing of her great-grandmother and great-aunt, Jessye developed an early love of traditional Negro spirituals. At the age of thirteen, she attended Western University in Kansas City, Kansas where she studied poetry and oratory. In addition to singing in Western’s concert choir, she gained experience coaching several male and female student choral groups.
Sources: 
R. Marie Griffith and Barbara Dianne Savage, eds., Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Jeffrey Lehman, ed., The African American Almanac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hemings, Sally (1773-1835)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Hemings-Jefferson Descendants, 2001
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sally Hemings was born into slavery in Virginia, probably at Guinea Plantation in Cumberland County, the youngest of six children of Elizabeth Hemings allegedly fathered by her white master John Wayles. Her mother was herself the child of an enslaved African woman and an English sea-captain, making Sally three-fourths white in ancestry.

On Wayles’ death in 1773, the Hemings family was inherited by Martha, his eldest legitimate child, and brought to the Monticello plantation of Thomas Jefferson whom Martha had married the previous year.  There the children grew up as house slaves staffing Monticello during the years that encompassed Martha Jefferson’s death in September 1782 and Jefferson’s departure to Paris, France on diplomatic service in 1784.  Three years later, Sally Hemings traveled to France as companion and maid to Jefferson’s eight-year-old daughter Maria, staying until 1789.  
Sources: 
Fawn Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (New York: Norton, 1974); Annette Gordon-Read, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997); Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf, eds., Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Pryor, Richard (1940–2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III, was an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and social critic who revolutionized the comedy world in the 1960s and 1970s. He became famous for colorful, irreverent and often vulgar language as he comically described the major issues of the period.  Pryor won an Emmy award in 1973 and five Grammy Awards between 1974 and 1982.

Richard Pryor was born on December 1, 1940 and raised in Peoria, Illinois. Abandoned by his parents when he was 10, Pryor and three other siblings were raised in his grandmother’s brothel. As a youth, he was raped by a teenaged neighbor and molested by a Catholic priest. He was expelled from school at the age of 14 and began working as a janitor, meat packer, and truck driver. Pryor served in the U.S army spending most of that time in an army prison for assaulting a fellow soldier while stationed in Germany. In 1960, Pryor married Patricia Price and they would had his first child, Richard Jr. The couple divorced in 1961.

Sources: 

Official Website: http://www.richardpryor.com; Richard Pryor: Stand-Up
Philosopher, City Journal, Spring 2009:
http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_2_urb-richard-pryor.html; Pryor’s
Ancestry: http://www.progenealogists.com/pryor/; American Masters:
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/newhart_b.html

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Davis, Shani (1982- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of BET Interactive
Shani Davis became the first African American to win a gold medal an individual event in the Winter Olympics and the first African American male to win a gold when he competed in the men’s 1,000-meter speedskating championship in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turino, Italy.

Born August 13, 1982in Chicago, Illinois, Shani Davis learned to roller skate at the age of two, Davis switched to ice skating when he was six and soon afterwards started training as a speed skater.  He eventually joined the Evanston Speedskating Club and entered competitions. At the age of 10, Davis and his mother moved from Hyde Park in the South Side of Chicago to Rogers Park on the north side to be closer to the training center in suburban Evanston. His mother, a legal secretary, paid for his equipment, training and travel to competitions.

Davis won national age group championships in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2003 and won a North American Championship in 1999. For three years in a row, from 2000 to 2003, Davis qualified in short-track and long-track for the Junior World Teams. In 2002, Davis qualified for the Olympic games, the first African American Olympic speed skater for the United States.
Sources: 
http://www.shanidavis.org; Tracey Robinson-English, “Shani Davis: Soul on Ice; How a Mother Raised a Champion,” Ebony (May 2006): 174-181.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Long Beach

Lynch, Loretta Elizabeth (1959- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Attorney and public prosecutor Loretta Elizabeth Lynch was born on May 21, 1959 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her father was a Baptist minister and her mother was an English teacher and school librarian. Lynch received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1981. Three years later, she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School.

Lynch joined the New York City, New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel in 1984. Six years later, she became a drug and crime prosecutor in the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. From 1994 to 1998, she directed the Long Island office and worked on several cases involving corruption in the government of Brookhaven, New York.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Los Angeles

Olden, Georg (1920-1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
The graphic designer George Elliot Olden, known for his work in television and advertising, was born in Birmingham, Alabama on November 13, 1920. Olden’s father, James Clarence Olden, was a Baptist minister and his mother, Sylvia Ward Olden, was a music teacher. When he was only a few months old, Olden’s family moved to Washington, D.C. so his father could serve as a minister in the Plymouth Congregational Church. Then, in 1933, Olden’s father mysteriously left his family in the same year that Olden began attending all-black Dunbar High School where he was first exposed to cartooning and art.
Sources: 
Jason Chambers, “Meet One of the Pioneering Blacks in the Ad Industry,” Advertising Age, February 16, 2009; Julie Lasky, “The Search for George Olden,” in Graphic Design History (New York: Allworth Press, 2001); Julie Lasky, “Georg Olden Biography,” AIGA, The Professional Association for Design, 2007, http://www.aiga.org/medalist-georgolden/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Danticat, Edwidge (1969 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
American novelist Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 19, 1969.  Like many Haitian families, her parents fled her homeland for the United States to escape the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime, leaving Danticat and her brother in Haiti for the time being. In 1981, when she was twelve years old, she and her brother moved to Brooklyn to be reunited with her parents and her two youngest siblings.  

Danticat attended Barnard College where she received her BA degree in French Literature in 1990.  During her time at Barnard College, she published a number of short stories in magazines such as Essence and Seventeen.  She received an MA degree at Brown University in 1993 and later used her thesis as the basis for her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which explored the immigration process to America from a child's point of view.

In 1995, Danticat published Krik? Krak!
, a collection of her short stories, which won her the Pushcart Short Stories Prize. The anthology was also a finalist for the National Book Award for that year.   Breath, Eyes, Memory was released in 1998 and soon afterward featured by Oprah's Book Club.  A year later she released her second novel, The Farming of Bones, which recounted the 1937 massacre of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic then ruled by President Rafael Trujillo.  
Sources: 
Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2006); http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0002/e1151; http://www.sflcn.com/story.php?id=7165.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Reed, Leonard (1907-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Leonard Reed, noted dancer and entertainment businessman, co-created the famous Shim Sham Shimmy tap routine that has been replicated for centuries by tappers the world over. He was also associated with Joe Louis (1914-1981) during the heavyweight boxer’s efforts to break down golf’s color barrier.

Reed was born in Lightning Creek near Nowata, Indian Territory, on January 7, 1907, to a woman who was half African American and half Native American (Choctaw and Cherokee). Reed was orphaned at the age of two when his mother died of pneumonia and was raised by a series of relatives, foster parents and guardians in Kansas City, Missouri.

As a teenager, Reed began performing the Charleston dance at carnivals in the Kansas City area.  His high school principal helped him gain entrance into Cornell University, but Reed dropped out to become a professional dancer. The blue-eyed Reed and another light-skinned African American named Willie Bryant (1908-1964) developed a successful vaudeville act, “Brains as Well as Feet,” passing as Caucasians so they could perform for all-white audiences. Together, they closed their acts with the Shim Sham Shimmy, a 32-bar tap routine. In the early 1930s, Reed and Bryant were barred from white clubs when their African American ancestry became common knowledge. Soon thereafter the duo broke up, and Reed began producing shows for black performers at famous venues like the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.

Sources: 
Rusty Frank, TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955 (New York: W. Morrow, 1990); Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman and Donald McNeilly, Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (New York: Routledge, 2007); "Tap Dance Pioneer, Producer,” Los Angeles Times (April 9, 2004); Danny Walker, “World Renowned Nowata Dancer’s Life Left Huge Legacy,” Nowata Star (April 21, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Mosley, Walter (1952- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Walter Mosley, a prominent African American novelist who specializes in criminal mystery fiction, was born on January 15, 1952 in Los Angeles to Ella and Leroy Mosley. Mosley was born in Watts but grew up from age 12 in relatively affluent West Los Angeles.  Mosley's mother was a Polish Jewish American personnel clerk and his father was an African American custodian at a public school. Mosley's father was among the first to encourage him to pursue a writing career.

In his late teens and early twenties, Mosley went through a long-haired "hippie" stage where he traveled from Santa Cruz, California to Europe and back. Soon after this phase, he attended two colleges in Vermont, graduating from the second one, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, with a Political Science degree in 1979. He entered a doctoral program in political theory but instead turned to computer programming as a career.

In 1981 Mosley moved to New York City where he began to work for Mobile Oil. He also began taking courses at City College in Harlem where his instructor, Edna O'Brien, further influenced him to pursue a career in literature.   The same year he met Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer.  They married in 1987 but divorced in 2001.

Sources: 
Walter Mosley's official website bio http://www.waltermosley.com/bio/; Hatchette Book Group website - Walter Mosley http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/waltermosley/; "Covering Mosley," The New Yorker, January19, 2004; <http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/01/19/040119on_onlineonly01?currentPage=1>
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Seacole, Mary Jane (1805 –1881)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mary Jane Grant Seacole was an early nurse in the British Empire during the 19th Century. Born in Kingston, Jamaica as Mary Grant, she was the daughter of a Scottish officer and a black mother. Mary’s mother ran a hospital/boarding house in Kingston and she, after a brief period as a servant, returned to her family home and worked alongside her mother. It was during this period that Mary's skills as a nurse were first recognised and she spent a good deal of time travelling throughout the Caribbean providing care.  Mary Jane Grant married Edwin Seacole in 1836 but he died eight years later.

In 1850, Mary Seacole resided briefly in Panama with her half brother, Edward, where they ran a hotel for travelers bound for Gold Rush California. Seacole's reputation as a nurse grew as she provided care for these mostly American travelers during several outbreaks of cholera.
Sources: 

Ron Ramdin, Mary Seacole (Life & Times) (London: Haus Publishing 2005); Jane Robinson, Mary Seacole: The Charismatic Black Nurse who became a heroine of the Crimea (London: Constable Press, 2004); http://www.maryseacole.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Latimer, Lewis H. (1848-1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848.  His parents were former slaves who escaped bondage and settled in Boston.  Abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass secured the necessary funds to obtain their freedom.  After a stint in the Union Navy during the Civil War, Latimer worked as an office assistant in the patent law firm of Crosby and Gould.  It was there that he taught himself drafting.  He quickly began to experiment with ideas for inventions. 

In 1874 Latimer received his first patent for improving the toilet paper on passenger railroad cars.  In all, he was given eight patents.  He is popularly known as the inventor who prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application for the telephone.  He eventually worked on electric lights, became superintendent of the incandescent lamp department of the United States Electric Lighting Company, and supervised the installation of light for buildings in the United States and Canada. 

In 1890 Lewis Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System.  He also served as chief draftsman for General Electric/Westinghouse Board of Patent Control when it was established in 1896.  Some of the individuals who worked with Edison formed the Edison Pioneers in 1918 to preserve memories of their early days together and to honor Edison’s genius and achievements.  Latimer was a founding member of this group and he was the only African American among them.  He died in Flushing, New York, on December 11, 1928.

Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine, and Stanley Harrold, The African-American Odyssey, Third Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), p. 408; Rayyon Fouche, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Ruth, William Chester (1882-1971)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
William Chester Ruth, 1950
Image Courtesy of Anita Wills

William Chester Ruth was an African American inventor, business owner, and community leader in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Ruth was the son of Samuel and Maria Louisa Pinn-Ruth.  The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment liberated Samuel, a former slave, when it occupied Savannah, Georgia in 1865 while Maria Louisa was born free in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  The couple was married in 1872 in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Ruth was one of twelve children, born on the family farm on July 19, 1882.

As a child, Ruth had an inquisitive nature, which led him to invent numerous pieces of farm equipment and machinery.  Although he was not well educated, he learned farming and blacksmithing from his father.  Ruth married Gertrude Miller on June 6, 1906, and they had one son, Joseph.  In 1917, the couple moved to Gap, Pennsylvania where six years later he opened Ruth’s Ironworks Shop, instantly becoming the only African American in the region to have his own manufacturing business.  Ruth designed and patented numerous agricultural devices from 1924 to 1950.   

Ruth’s first patented invention was the Combination Baler Feeder in 1924.  He sold over 5,000 Baler-Feeder machines across the U.S. Around the same time Ruth also invented the farm elevator used to transport hay to silos and in the American commercially harvested mushroom industry.  

Sources: 
“Ruth Claims Invention of Secret Weapon,” Ebony Magazine, October 1950; Joan M. Lorenz, A History of Salisbury Township (Morgantown, West Virginia: Masthof Press, 2002); Anita L. Wills, Pieces of the Quilt: The Mosaic of an African American Family (Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Somerville, John Alexander (1882-1973)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Alexander Somerville emigrated to the United States from Jamaica around 1900.  He and his wife, Vada Watson Somerville, were both graduates of the University of Southern California School of Dentistry.  Graduating with honors in 1907, he was the first black graduate, and his wife was later the first black woman graduate.  In 1914, only three years after its founding in New York City, New York, the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP was created at the home of John and Vada Somerville.  His first major business venture, the Somerville Hotel, was a principal African American enterprise on Central Avenue, in the heart of the Los Angeles African American community.  When it opened in 1928 it was one of the most upscale black hotels in the United States, and counted a number of African American celebrities among its guests.
Sources: 
John A. Somerville Biographical Sketch: http://www.jamaicaculture.org/; Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montgomery College (Maryland)

de Lavallade, Carmen Paula (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Legendary dancer, choreographer, and actor Carmen de Lavallade came to prominence in the early 1950s when black artists came into their own in the world of American dance on Broadway, in film, and on television.  

De Lavallade was born on March 6, 1931 in Los Angeles, California, to Creole parents from New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father, Leo de Lavallade, was a postman and bricklayer, and her mother, Grace Grenot de Lavallade, was in ill health for most of de Lavallade’s childhood.  With sisters Yvonne and Elaine, de Lavallade was situated as the middle daughter. Due to Grace de Lavallade’s illness and subsequent death when de Lavallade was still a teenager, it was her father, Leo, and her aunt, Adele de Lavallade Young, who reared her.  Interestingly, Aunt Adele owned the Hugh Gordon Book Shop, one of the first African American bookstores in Los Angeles.
Sources: 
“Carmen and Geoffrey: (DVD) Directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, 2009;
William Hageman, “Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade, just showing off,” Chicago Tribune, February 13, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Muse, Clarence (1889-1979)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of
SHADES  OF L.A. COLLECTION/
Los Angeles Public Library 
On October 14th, 1889 Clarence Edouard Muse was born to Alexander and Mary Muse in Baltimore, Maryland.  Muse had intended to become an attorney and earned a degree in International Law from The Dickerson School of Law in Pennsylvania in 1911.  Because of poor opportunities for African Americans in the legal profession, Muse became a performer.    

Clarence Muse toured the vaudeville circuit, composed songs, directed both theater and film, entertained as a minstrel performer, sang opera, wrote screenplays, and appeared in over 150 films.  In 1914, Muse helped pioneer the black theater movement by co-founding the all black theatre troupe, the Lafayette Theater Stock Company.  He frequently appeared with the Lincoln Players, another famous troupe from the “Harlem Renaissance.”  
Sources: 

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)

Contributor: 

Abele, Julian F. (1881-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The legacy of architect Julian Francis Abele was brought into focus in the mid-1980s when in the midst of a student protest at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, his great grandniece reminded the campus community that her long unsung ancestor was responsible for the eleven original architectural drawings for the campus.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1881, Abele was the youngest of eight children born to Charles and Mary Adelaide Jones Abele. Throgh his mother he was a descendant of Rov. Absalom Jones, the founder of the Free African Society and St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. 

Sources: 

Dreck Spurlock Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004);
http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/21458
http://www.lib.duke.edu/archives/history/julian_abele.htm

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Burnham, Forbes (1923–1985)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and President
Lyndon B. Johnson, The White House, July 21, 1966"
Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, Prime Minister of Guyana from 1966 to 1980 and then President of the nation from 1980 to 1985, was one of the Caribbean region’s most controversial political leaders. He gravitated between support for Marxist regimes such as Fidel Castro’s Cuba and anti-communist nations led by the United States. Burnham was also Prime Minister of Guyana during the last years of British colonial rule, 1964 to 1966.

Forbes Burnham was born on February 20, 1923, in Kitty, a suburb of Georgetown, the capital city. Burnham had a distinguished academic record. After finishing at the elite all-male Queen's College High School in Georgetown, he won a scholarship for study at the University of London.  In 1947 he received a law degree from the University.  

Sources: 
"Burnham, Forbes 1923–1985," Contemporary Black Biography. 2008 in  Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2506000016.html; “Forbes Burnham,” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85663/Forbes-Burnham; “Forbes Burnham,” www.encyclopedia.com, People › History › Guyana History: Biographies, “Forbes Burnham,” http://www.caribcentral.com/guyana/burnham.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Robinson, Bill “Bojangles” (1878-1949)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Bill Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878 to Maxwell and Maria Robinson.  Due to the death of both of his parents when he was an infant, Bill and his younger brother Percy were brought up by his grandmother.  As a young child, Bill was given the nickname of “Bojangles” although Robinson himself was unsure of the origin of the name. 

Sources: 
Susie Box, “National Tap Dance Day: Resonating Far and Wide” The International Tap Association Newsletter 4:1 (May-June, 1993), James Haskins and N.R. Mitgang, Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson (New York: W. Morrow, 1988); Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West, eds., The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country (New York: Free Press, 2000); http://www.tapdance.org/tap/people/bojangle.htm.  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Calloway, Nathaniel Oglesby (1907-1979)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of
Nathaniel Oglesby Calloway II
A native of Tuskegee, Alabama, Nathaniel Olgesby Calloway was a pioneer in the field of chemistry. As a child growing up in Tuskegee, he spent time with George Washington Carver, a well-known soil chemist and faculty member at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). In 1930, Calloway earned a B.S. degree in chemistry from Iowa State University. Three years later, he became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Iowa State University.

As a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at Iowa State University, Calloway studied synthetic organic chemistry, a branch of chemistry that focuses on compounds that contain the element carbon. Calloway’s Ph.D. adviser was Henry Gilman, a well-known organic chemistry professor at Iowa State University. Gilman actively recruited African American chemistry majors from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Fisk University and Tuskegee University to pursue doctorates at ISU.

After completing his doctoral studies at Iowa State University, Calloway accepted a faculty position in the Department of Chemistry at Fisk University. As a faculty member, Calloway was a very successful researcher, publishing several peer-reviewed articles in top chemistry journals such as the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Sources: 
Sibrina Collins, "The Gilman Pipeline: A Historical Perspective of African American Ph.D. Chemists from Iowa State University,” in Patricia Thiel, ed., Chemistry at Iowa State: Some Historical Accounts of the Early Years (Ames: Iowa State University, 2006); Henry Gilman Papers, University Archives, Iowa State University Library.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Musa, Mansa (1280-1337)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Fourteenth Century Italian Map of West Africa
Showing Mansa Musa 
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Mansa Musa, fourteenth century emperor of the Mali Empire, is the medieval African ruler most known to the world outside Africa.  His elaborate pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in 1324 introduced him to rulers in the Middle East and in Europe.  His leadership of Mali, a state which stretched across two thousand miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad and which included all or parts of the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, ensured decades of peace and prosperity in Western Africa. 

Sources: 
Djibril Tamsir Niane, “Mansa Musa” in New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds. (New York: Scribner’s, 2008); Djibril Tamsir Niane, Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century (London: Heinemann, 1984): David C. Conrad and Djanka Tassey Conde, Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Holiday, Billie (1915-1959)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Billie Holiday is considered by many to be the greatest and most famous jazz vocalist of the 20th century.  Her difficult life of poverty, abusive relationships, and drug abuse, helped give her voice a deep, raw emotion that was expressed in the music she sang.    

Billie Holiday was born Eleanor Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia to a teenaged mother.  She changed her name in her teens, choosing her first name after a favorite movie actress Billie Dove, and adopting the surname of her absent musician father Clarence Holiday.  Holiday’s early life of poverty eventually led her to prostitution.  However, she was discovered by John Hammond in an audition and began to sing in Harlem night clubs in 1933.

Sources: 
Michael Erlewine, All Music Guide to Jazz (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 1998); Billie Holiday with William Dufty, Lady Sings the Blues (New York: Penguin Books, 1956); Tonya Bolden, The Book of African American Women (Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1996); http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/holiday_b.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

King, Don (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Boxing promoter Don King was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931. The son of a steelworker who died in a smelter explosion, King’s earliest success was the result of his ownership of a popular tavern, where many top black musicians performed, and an illegal bookmaking operation. In 1966, he fatally stomped a former employee named Sam Garrett over Garrett’s failure to pay off a $600 loss. Initially found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, King’s sentence was mysteriously reduced by the presiding Judge, Hugh Corrigan. He served only three years and eleven months. Ten years later, when Corrigan ran for the Court of Appeals, King arranged for heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali to campaign on his behalf.

King used his prison time constructively, absorbing everything he read in books concerning some of histories greatest thinkers. Once he was released, he used his friendship with rock ’n’ roll songwriter/performer and boxing enthusiast, Lloyd Price, to form relationships with Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter Don Elbaum to promote a boxing exhibition involving Ali in Cleveland for the benefit of a local hospital. King, his primary motives notwithstanding, was a natural born promoter. As a larger than life figure, King was a shrewd businessman. Watching in awe, Elbaum told him that with his personality, and boxing’s need for a black promoter, King could take over all of boxing.

Sources: 

Jack Newfield, Only in America. The Life and Crimes of Don King (New
York: William Morrow and Company, 1995); Arne K. Lang, Prize-Fighting.
An American History
(North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2008)

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hayford, Joseph Ephraim Casely (1866-1930)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was a West African barrister, author, and political leader who dedicated his life to helping improve conditions for the people of West Africa. Casely Hayford was born on September 3, 1866, the youngest of three sons to parents Reverend John de Graft Hayford and Mary (Awuraba) Brew, both of Anomabu, Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) which was then a colony in the British Empire.  

Casely Hayford received his education at the Wesleyan Boys High School in the Cape Coast Region of Ghana and then at Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  While at Fourah Bay College Casely Hayford became a follower on the West Indian-born African educator, Edward Wilmot Blyden.  After graduation Casely Hayford worked as a high school teacher and principal of Accra Wesley High School.  

Sources: 

G.I.C. Eluwa, "Background to the Emergence of the National Congress of
British West Africa, in African Studies Review 14:2 (1971); Kwadwo
Osei-Nyame, "Pan-Africanist Ideology and the African Historical Novel
of Self-Discovery: The Examples of Kobina Sekyi and J.E. Casely
Hayford," in Journal of African Cultural Studies 12:2 (1999); Adelaide
M. Cromwell, An African American Feminist: The Life and Times of
Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868-1960
(London: Frank Cass & Co.
LTD., 1986); Gauray Desai, “Gendered Self-Fashioning: Adelaide Casely
Hayford’s Black Atlantic,” Research in African Literatures 35:3 (Fall
2004).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Gaspard, Patrick (1967- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Patrick Gaspard’s career in politics and diplomacy spans three decades. Gaspard’s work has involved him in politics at the city and national level and has put him in contact with constituencies traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. As of this writing, Gaspard serves as United States Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa.

Gaspard was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haitian parents. His father, a lawyer, moved the family to the African nation after Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba issued an appeal for French-speaking intellectuals of African descent to relocate there after the Congo’s independence. After Lumumba’s death in 1961, Gaspard’s family then moved to New York City, New York when he was three years old.   
Sources: 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Wood, Robert A. (ca. 1966– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Place Your Caption Text Here
Robert A. Wood is a diplomat who has spent his career in public affairs, helping to shape the image of the United States, and in roles that guide the country’s relations with multilateral organizations.
Sources: 
U.S. Department of State, Official Bio (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/231689.htm); Introductory Statement by Ambassador Robert A. Wood at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) Plenary, Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Prioleau, George (1856-1927)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
George Prioleau was chaplain of the 9th Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers in the late 19th century. After witnessing inequality and mistreatment of his men, he publicly challenged the hypocrisy and racial line being drawn against black soldiers.

Born in 1856 to slave parents in Charleston, South Carolina, Prioleau earned his theology degree from Wilberforce University in Ohio. He was a teacher and served as an A. M. E. pastor and denominational leader for Ohio congregations, and in 1889 he became professor of theology and homiletics at Wilberforce. Six years later, President Grover Cleveland appointed him to replace Henry Plummer as chaplain of the 9th Cavalry, U. S. Army, with a rank of captain.

In 1898 upon the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, the 9th Cavalry left the western United States for the first time in its history and was deployed to bases in Georgia and Florida for military activities in Cuba and the Caribbean.  Chaplain Prioleau was eager for an opportunity for African American soldiers to prove themselves on the field of battle, but he became ill with malaria and was unable to travel to Cuba with the rest of the 9th. Upon recovering from his illness, he served as a recruitment officer in the segregated South. While there, Prioleau was shocked by the racism the 9th faced on a daily basis.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Glasrud and Michael N. Searles, Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2007); Frank N. Schubert, Voices of the Buffalo Soldier: Records, Reports, and Recollections of Military Life in the West (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2003); Irene K. Schubert and Frank N. Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004); Richard R. Wright, Jr., Centennial Encyclopedia of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (Philadelphia, PA: A. M. E. Church, 1916); Anthony L. Powell, “An Overview: Black Participation in the Spanish-American War,” The Spanish American War Centennial Website http://www.spanamwar.com/AfroAmericans.htm; “History of Bethel A.M.E. Church,” http://www.bethelamela.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=46:history-of-bethel&catid=34:history&Itemid=59.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bullock, Charles H., Sr. (1875-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Charles Harmon Bullock was a prominent leader in the early 20th Century Colored Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) movement.  Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on March 2, 1875, the son of former slaves Burkley and Mary Washington Bullock, Charles Bullock later graduated as salutorian of his class at Jefferson Normal School on June 27, 1892.  He became a teacher in the segregated Charlottesville public schools and simultaneously worked as a correspondent for The Daily Progress, a local African American newspaper.

In 1890 the national office of the YMCA decided to create a "Colored Men's Department" which would sponsor individual Colored YMCA's across the nation.  The national office envisioned these facilities as providing temporary housing, lending libraries, swimming pools and gyms for black men along with spiritual and educational training.  In an era when black public school facilities were often inadequate and cultural and civic facilities non-existent, these Colored YMCAs provided additional educational and cultural outlets in racially-segregated communities throughout the country.  Although endorsing segregated YMCAs in the North was often controversial with many civil rights groups, Bullock and others supported segregation, which brought a degree of autonomy that many in the African American community welcomed.
Sources: 
Nina Mjagkij, Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994); “ A Brief History of the YMCA and African American Communities," Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries, http://special.lib.umn.edu/ymca/guides/afam/afam-history.phtml; "Y Head Retires after 33 Years," Baltimore Afro-American, April 6, 1935.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Henderson, Fletcher Hamilton, Jr. (1897-1952)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born December 18, 1897 to a middle class family in Cuthbert, Georgia, Fletcher Henderson grew up to become one of the key figures in the development of the form and style of the large jazz orchestra.  Despite the fact that he grew up in a family devoted to music and practiced constantly, he graduated from Atlanta University with a degree in mathematics and chemistry.  After moving to New York in 1920, however, Henderson found that a color barrier stood against his chances of becoming a chemist, and so it was at this time that he turned to his musical skills to make a living.

After a short time Henderson became a music director for Black Swan Records, and through this work he was able to assemble some of New York’s best musicians to start his own band.  In 1924 Henderson began playing in the Roseland Ballroom, and over the next ten years he helped transform the Roseland into a premier venue for jazz in New York while his band became known as the greatest jazz orchestra in the city.

Sources: 
Alyn Shipton, Jazz Makers: Vanguards of Sound  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Brown, Willa B. (1906-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Willa Beatrice Brown, one of a small group of pre-World War II black women aviators, was born in Glasgow, Kentucky on January 22, 1906.  The daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Erice B. Brown, she graduated from Wiley High School in Terra Haute, Indiana.  In 1927, Brown earned a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) and ten years later a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University.  

After briefly teaching at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois to become a social worker.  It was there, however, that she decided to learn how to fly.  In 1934 Brown began her flight instruction under the direction of John Robinson and Cornelius Coffey.  She also studied at the Curtiss Wright Aeronautical University and in 1935 earned a Masters Mechanic Certificate.  

Sources: 
Edmond Davis, Pioneering African-American Aviators featuring the Tuskegee Airmen of Arkansas (Little Rock: Aviate Through Knowledge Productions, LLC, 2012); George L. Washington, The History of Military and Civilian Pilot Training of Negroes at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1939-1945 (Washington, D.C., George L. Washington, Publisher, 1972);  Samuel L. Broadnax, Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008);
http://avstop.com/history/blackwomenpilot/willabrown.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock

Robinson, Ida Bell (1891-1946)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

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.

Sources: 
Priscilla Pope-Levison, Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists (2004).
Affiliation: 
Seattle Pacific University

Williams, Elbert (1908-1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Elbert Williams is the first known member of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to be murdered for his civil rights activities.  Williams was born on October 15, 1908, in rural Haywood County, Tennessee, the son of farmer Albert Williams and wife Mary Green Williams. In 1929 Williams married Annie Mitchell. After trying farming, the couple moved in the early 1930s to Brownsville where they worked for the Sunshine laundry until Williams’ murder in 1940.

In 1939 the Williamses became charter members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch.  On May 6, 1940, five members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote. No African American had been allowed to register to vote in Haywood County during the Twentieth Century. The next day threats began.
Sources: 
Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009); Richard A. Couto, Lifting the Veil, A Political History of Struggles for Emancipation (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1993); Raye Springfield, The Legacy of Tamar, Courage and Faith in an African American Family (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Amo, Anton Wilhelm (1703? -1753)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Anton Wilhelm Amo Statue at the
University of Halle, Germany
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Anton Wilhelm Amo, also known as Antonius Guilielmus Amo Afer ab Aximo in Guinea, was the first intellectual of African ancestry to study in Germany. He obtained a doctorate degree in philosophy and held lectures at the universities of Halle and Jena. Having spent forty years of his life in Germany, Amo returned to his place of birth where he died after 1753.

Amo was born around 1700 on the African Gold Coast in the town of Axim in present-day Ghana. Aged seven, he was brought to Amsterdam, Netherlands by the Dutch West India Company who gave him as a present to the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in Saxony. The Duke Ulrich Anton and his son Augustus Wilhelm adopted Amo, baptized him in 1707 and gave him his Christian name Anton Wilhelm. His protectors also allowed him to be educated to a point where he was able to enter the University of Halle.
Sources: 
Burchard Brentjes, Anton Wilhelm Amo: Der Schwarze Philosoph in Halle (Leipzig: Koehler & Amelang, 1976); Paulin J. Hountondji, African Philosophy: Myth and Reality (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1996); http://amo.blogsport.de/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Augsburg

Turner, Rufus P. (1907-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The unusual academic career of Rufus Paul Turner, born on Christmas Day 1907, was foreshadowed when the then 15-year-old Houston, Texas native began experimenting with crystal devises.  At age 17 he wrote the first of his nearly 3,000 articles, mostly having to do with radio electronics, which were published in magazines, encyclopedias and edited books, and as trade papers and house organs.  Some of his publications were translated into foreign languages.  

Turner’s fascination with the emerging technology of radio communication initially led him to publish articles and pamphlets on crystal diodes and, later, with the announcement of the transistor in 1948, Turner began making his own experimental devises using germanium diodes.  His May 1949 article “Build a Transistor” in Radio-Electronics, and his May 1956 article in Popular Electronics titled “Transistors Probable With a Punch” were widely read benchmark publications encouraging amateur radio construction.  
Sources: 
James A. Page and Jae Min Roh, Selected Black American, African, and Caribbean Authors (Littleton, Co.: Libraries Unlimited, 1985);
Directory of American Scholars. 6th Ed. (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1974).
http://users.arczip.com/rmcgarra2/pe051956.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Reed-Rowe, Helen (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Helen Reed-Rowe was a career diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service.  Reed-Rowe was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1949 to Gladys and John W. Reed, Sr.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland, College Park and her Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon joining the Foreign Service in 1975, Reed-Rowe first served as a desk officer for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs and as an Examiner on the Board of Examiners in the Bureau of Human Resources.
Sources: 
“Ambassadorial Nomination Statement: Helen Reed-Rowe, Ambassador-Designate to Palau,” http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm/2010/07/144997.htm; “Ambassador Helen Reed-Rowe Joins Army War College Command Team,” Army War College Community Banner, http://www.carlisle.army.mil/banner/article.cfm?id=3118; “Ambassador to Palau: Who Is Helen Reed-Rowe?” http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/ambassador-to-palau-who-is-helen-reed-rowe?news=842126; “Officially In: Helen Reed-Rowe to Koror,” Diplopundit, http://diplopundit.net/2010/05/22/officially-in-helen-reed-rowe-to-koror/; “Executive Reports of Committee,” Congressional Record, Volume 156, Number 116 (Tuesday, August 3, 2010) http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2010-08-03/html/CREC-2010-08-03-pt1-PgS6647-2.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Morgan State University

Antoine, Caesar Carpenter (1836-1921)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Caesar Carpenter "C.C." Antoine is best known as a leading African American politician in Louisiana during Reconstruction (1863-1877). Antoine was born in New Orleans to a Black father who fought the British as an American soldier at the Battle of New Orleans (1815), and to a West Indian mother. His father’s mother was from Africa and the daughter of a captured African chief. Her reputed self-purchase from slavery and accumulation of a minor fortune allowed C.C. Antoine and his father to live out their lives as free blacks.  Prior to entering politics, Antoine ran a successful grocery business in New Orleans.

In 1862, one year after the Civil War began, New Orleans was captured and occupied by Union troops, Antoine joined the Union Army and quickly rose to the rank of Captain.  From 1862 to 1865 Captain Antoine was attached to one of the nation’s first all-black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards. As Captain, Antoine recruited former bondsmen for service and developed Company I of the Seventh Native Guard primarily stationed at Brashear (now Morgan City) about 85 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Sources: 
John Andrew Prime, “Lt. Gov. C.C. Antoine: Louisiana's 3rd Black Lieutenant Governor”http://home.earthlink.net/~japrime/cwrt/antoine.htm; Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harpers Perennial, 2002); W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Touchstone, 1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Washington, Margaret Murray (1865-1925)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Margaret Murray Washington, born March 9, 1865, was one of ten children born to sharecroppers. Her father was of Irish descent and her mother was African American.  Murray attended Fisk University for eight years and graduated in 1889. The following year she became “Lady Principal” at Tuskegee Institute where she met Booker T. Washington. In 1892 she married Washington, becoming his third wife.

Murray wrote Washington’s speeches, assisted him in expanding the school, and accompanied him on lecture tours as his fame grew.  Her own presentations usually directed at audiences of African American women, promoted what she termed self-improvements in habits and hygiene.  Murray also served on Tuskegee’s executive board and later became dean of women.  In February 1892, Murray began a Tuskegee program which provided child care, education and training in literacy, home care and hygiene for women in central Alabama which she called “mother's meetings.”
Sources: 
Sources: Wilma King Hunter, “Three Women, at Tuskegee, 1825-1925: The Wives of Booker T. Washington,” Journal of Ethnic Studies 4 (September 1976); Jacqueline Anne Rouse, “Out of the Shadow of Tuskegee: Margaret Murray Washington, Social Activism, and Race Vindication,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 81, Vindicating the Race: Contributions to African-American Intellectual History (Winter-Autumn, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Connerly, Ward (1939 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Ward Connerly, Creating Equal: My Fight Against Racial Preferences (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000); Michael E. Dyson, Debating Race (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2007); Francis Beckwith and Todd E. Jones, Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination? (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997); Michael W. Lynch, “Racial Preferences Are Dead,” interview in Reason http://www.reason.com/news/show/30527.html; Barry Bearak, “Questions of Race Run Deep for Foe of Preferences.” The New York Times.  July 27, 1997,  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.htmlres=9C07E0DD153AF934A15754C0A961958260&sec.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wattleton, Alyce Faye (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Columbia University
Alyce Faye Wattleton, born in St. Louis, Missouri on July 8, 1943, became both the youngest person and the first African American president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a post she held from 1978 to 1992.  As only the second woman president of the organization (founder Alice Sanger was the first), Wattleton fought for women’s reproductive rights by expanding the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its birth control services.

Wattleton’s mother was a traveling preacher and her father a construction worker.  Wattleton moved frequently as a child and in 1959 she graduated at age 16 from Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca, Texas. In 1964 Wattleton completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at Ohio State University. Three years later she received her Masters degree in Maternal and Infant Care, and became a certified midwife through courses she completed at Columbia University in New York.
Sources: 
Loretta Ross, Marlene Gerber Fried, and Jael Silliman, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice (South End Press, 2004);
Womenshistory.about.com/od/birthcontrol/p/faye_wattleton.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Norman, Maidie (1912-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust

Maidie Norman, who appeared in more than 200 Hollywood films, was born in Georgia in 1912 to Louis and Lila Gamble. Her father was an engineer and her mother was a homemaker. Norman received a B.A. in Literature and Theatre Arts from Bennett College in North Carolina and later obtained an M.A. in Theater Arts from Columbia University in New York. While in New York, she met and married real estate broker McHenry Norman and the couple relocated to Los Angeles, where Norman began training at the Actors Laboratory in Hollywood.

Early in a career that spanned more than four decades, Norman appeared on several radio shows, including The Jack Benny Show and Amos n’ Andy, before gaining a bit role in the film The Burning Cross (1948). Shortly after her debut, Norman was regularly cast as a domestic in several film roles, but refused to deliver her lines using stereotypical speech patterns. Instead, she brought her background in theatricality to the studios where directors often empowered her to rewrite her film lines, infusing the character with more dignity and less broken English.

Sources: 

Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); “Maidie Norman,” Contemporary Black Biography. Volume 20 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1998); Maidie Norman Papers, Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Reed, George Robert (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born on October 2, 1939 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, George Robert Reed is a former American College football and Canadian Football League (CFL) player. Reed is considered one of the premier fullbacks to play in the CFL. Reed played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 13 seasons, from 1963 until his retirement in June of 1975.

Reed, whose family moved to Renton, Washington, played football at Washington State University both as fullback and linebacker between 1959 and 1963.  After his graduation in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, he came to Canada to play professional football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan. As a professional football player George Reed amassed numerous awards such as the Schenley Award for the Most Outstanding Player and set records including most rushing yards (16,116) for all of professional football.  His jersey, # 34, is permanently retired in the Canadian Hall of Fame and Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.

Sources: 
CFL.ca Network: Official site of the Canadian Football League; Graham Kelly, The Grey Cup (Red Deer, Alberta: Johnson Gorman, 1999); Graham Kelly, Green Grit: The Story of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2001) Canadian Football League facts, figures and records (Toronto: Canadian Football League, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Gardner, Christopher Paul (1954- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Christopher Paul Gardner entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and writer was born on February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gardner, never knowing his father, lived periodically with his mother, Bettye Jean Triplett, as well as in foster homes.

After high school, he joined the Navy and then moved to San Francisco, California where he worked for a medical research associate and scientific medical supply distributor. In 1977, he married Sherry Dyson. In 1981 they separated, but did not divorce until 1990. In 1981, Gardner’s girlfriend, Jackie, gave birth to their son Christopher Gardner, Jr.  Nineteen months later, Jackie left him and their son.

Sources: 

Christopher Gardner, Quincy Troupe and Min Eichler Rivas, The Pursuit of Happyness (New York: Amistad, 2006); Christopher Gardner and Min Eichler Rivas, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in the Pursuit of Happyness (New York: HarperCollins, 2009); “Biography: Christopher Gardner.” http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com/chris-gardner-biography.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Kuti, Fela (1938-1997)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Fela Kuti was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria in the year 1938 as Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-KutFela Anikuplap Kuti. He later shortened his name to Fela Kuti, as he saw his birth name as a symbol of slavery and oppression.  He also was popularly known as Fela Ransome-Kuti, the stage name he used for a number of years.  Kuti was considered both a political firebrand and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century.

Fela was born into a middle class family of Nigerian political activists.  His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a leader in the anti-colonial campaign against the British.  His father, Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was the Protestant minister and school principal who became President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers.  
Sources: 
http://africanmusic.org/artists/felakuti.html; Karl Maier, This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria (New York: Publicaffairs, 2000); Richard Nidel, World Music: The Basics (New York: Routledge, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Mabley, Jackie “Moms” (1894–1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Jackie “Moms” Mabley found fame and fortune as a stand-up comedian during the twentieth century. Beginning as a staple on the chitlin’ circuit and late night talk show favorite, she went on to become an internationally known entertainer whose career spanned five decades.

One of twelve children, Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken on March 19, 1894 to businessman and volunteer firefighter James Aiken and Mary Smith, a stay-at-home mother in Brevard, North Carolina. When Loretta was eleven, her father was killed in an explosion, and later her mother was killed on Christmas day by a truck. During her adolescence, Loretta was raped; both episodes resulted in pregnancy and the children being given up through adoption.

Mabley relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, at age fourteen and joined the black vaudeville scene as an all-around entertainer. While on this circuit, she met and fell in love with fellow performer Jack Mabley. After the short-lived love affair, she adopted his name. The sobriquet “Moms” came a short time later as other performers noticed her protection and kindness for budding entertainers.
Sources: 
Jason Ankeny and Moms Mabley, Moms Mabley biography,(San Francisco: All Media Network, LLC, 2015); Allison Keyes, "The Apollo Theater to Induct 3 Black Comedy Legends Into Its Walk of Fame: Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor will be honored the same night the legendary theater kicks off its new comedy club" http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2015/10/apollo_theater_walk_of_fame_moms_mabley_redd_foxx_and_richard_pryor_1st.html; Mekado Murphy and Whoopi Goldberg, "The Comedy Pioneer in the Floppy Hat: Whoopi Goldberg’s Documentary on Moms Mabley," http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/television/whoopi-goldbergs-documentary-on-moms-mabley.html?_r=1 Biography.com Editors, Moms Mabley Biography: Comedian (1894–1975), http://www.biography.com/people/moms-mabley-38691;  Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley, (Philadelphia: Equality Forum, 2015), http://lgbthistorymonth.com/jackie-%E2%80%9Cmoms%E2%80%9D-mabley?tab=biography.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Johnson, Nellie Stone (1905-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Social activist and black labor leader Nellie Stone Johnson was born Nellie Saunders Allen in Lakeville, Minnesota in 1905, the eldest daughter of an activist farmer, William R. Allen and a schoolteacher, Gladys Allen.  As a child, Nellie worked on her family’s farm near Hinckley, Minnesota.  On her way to and from school, she distributed flyers for the Non-Partisan League, a radical rural organization of which her father was a member.  

When she was 17, she left the farm for Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she finished high school through the GED program at the University of Minnesota in 1925.  She attended but did not graduate from the University of Wisconsin.  In 1931, Allen married Clyde Stone, an auto mechanic.  

During the Great Depression Stone worked for the Minneapolis Athletic Club.  Concerned about a pay cut food workers received in 1935, she helped found Local 665 of the Hotel and Restaurant International Union, of which she would become Vice-President.  While with the union Stone helped to start the first health and welfare program for food workers.  She was also the first woman to serve as vice-president of the Minnesota Culinary Council.  
Sources: 

Nellie Stone Johnson, Nellie Stone Johnson:  The Life of an Activist (St. Paul, MN:  Ruminator Books, 2000); Mary Christine Pruitt, “Women Unite! The Modern Women’s Movement in Minnesota” (Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1988); Monica Bauerlein, "Nellie Stone Johnson: 19005-2002: Minneapolis Loses a Legendary Figure," City Pages, April 10, 2002.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hedgeman, Anna Arnold (1899–1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Political activist and educator Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the first African American woman to serve on the cabinet of a New York mayor when she worked during the term of New York City Mayor Robert Wagner from 1957-1958. Her career spanned more than six decades as an advocate for civil rights. In 1963 she helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the March on Washington and was the only woman among the key event organizers.

Anna Arnold was born on July 5, 1899 in Marshalltown, Iowa to William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen Arnold. When Anna was a child, the family moved to Anoka, Minnesota where the Arnolds were the only black family in the community. Her father created an environment that prioritized education and a strong work ethic. Arnold learned how to read at home and was not allowed to attend school until she was seven years old.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Scott, Benjamin Franklin (1922-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born in Florence, South Carolina, October 19, 1922, Benjamin Franklin Scott was an African-American chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II.  The son of Benny and Viola Scott, Benjamin had two older sisters, Mary and Rosa.

Scott earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 from Morehouse College, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Atlanta, Georgia. Scott continued his education at the University of Chicago where he earned a Master of Science degree in 1950.

Between the years of 1943-1946, Scott worked as a chemist on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory. The Manhattan Project, one of the most important scientific projects of the 20th century, led to the development of the atomic bomb, which ended World War II. Other notable African-American scientists who worked with Scott at the Chicago laboratory include Harold Delaney, Moddie Taylor, and Jasper Brown Jeffries. Scott – like both Jeffries and Taylor – earned a graduate degree from the University of Chicago, but his came after World War II and his involvement on the Manhattan Project. 

Sources: 
Vivian Ovelton Sammons, Blacks in Science and Medicine (New York: Hemisphere Publishing, 1980); Nuclear Instrument and Chemical Company. http://national-radiation-instrument-catalog.com/new_page_40.htm; Scott, B.F. “Automatic Calculation of Specific Activities from Liquid Scintillation Counter Data Using a Desk-top Computer,” Journal of Radioanalytical Chemistry, 1968, 1(1), 61-71; Scott, B.F. and Kennally, J.R. “Oxygen-tube combustion method for liquid scintillation assay of carbon-14 and tritium,” Analytical Chemistry, 1966, 38(10), 1404-5; Driscoll, W.J.; Scott, B.F.; Huff, E.A. “Radiometric Methods for Industrial Process Control,” From the United States Atomic Energy Commission[Unclassified and Declassified Reports Published by the Atomic Energy Commission and Its Contractors](1961), 62pp; Bessie Joyce Sampson Scott, The State, May 6, 2005.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
College of Wooster

Randolph, Asa Philip (1889-1979)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
A. Philip Randolph with Eleanor Roosevelt
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Asa Philip Randolph, born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, was one of the most respected leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century.  Randolph was a labor activist; editor of the political journal the Messenger, organizer of the 1941 March on Washington which resulted in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), and architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 

Randolph was the son of Rev. James William Randolph, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a seamstress.  The family moved to Jacksonville two years after his birth.  In 1907, Randolph graduated as the valedictorian of Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, Florida, and worked a series of menial jobs while pursuing a career as an actor. He moved to New York in 1911, and after reading W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk decided to devote his life to fighting for African American equality. In 1914, Randolph married Lucille E. Green, a Howard graduate and entrepreneur whose economic support allowed Randolph to pursue Civil Rights full-time. The couple did not have any children.

Sources: 
Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2006); Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (New York: NYU Press, 2006); Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Sharpe, Samuel (ca. 1780-1832)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Samuel Sharpe on the $50 Jamaican Banknote
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Samuel “Sam” Sharpe (or “Daddy Sharpe”) led a rebellion which led to the end of legal slavery in the British colony of Jamaica.  Records of who his parents were have been lost.  Sharpe was a slave of an English attorney and namesake who practiced in Montego Bay.

Sharpe was baptized and subsequently became a lay deacon and leader of the congregation at the Burchell Baptist Church.  Because the British allowed slaves to hold religious meetings, Sharpe started preaching about freedom from slavery. In 1831 the British Parliament began discussing the abolition of slavery throughout the Empire, and that displeased many Jamaican planters. Sharpe followed the Parliament arguments by reading local and foreign newspapers, and he made certain his congregation was apprised of the latest news concerning the abolition debates.
Sources: 
Jamaican National Library http://www.nlj.gov.jm/content/sam-sharpe-1; Junius P. Rodriguez, ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion  (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2006); Delroy Reid-Salmon, Burning for Freedom: A Theology of the Black Atlantic Struggle for Liberation (Kingston, W.I. Ian Randle Publishers, 2012).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Morial, Ernest Nathan (1929-1989)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in New Orleans, Ernest Morial grew up in the city’s Seventh Ward.  His father was a cigar maker and his mother was a seamstress.  Graduating from Xavier University, a historically black Catholic institution, he became the first African American to receive a law degree from Louisiana State University.  Battling segregation in the courtroom, he was elected president of the local NAACP chapter, and later elected to the Louisiana State legislature, becoming the first black member since Reconstruction.  Later, he became the first Juvenile Court judge, and the first Circuit Court of Appeals judge of his race in Louisiana.   
Sources: 
Edward M. Meyers, Rebuilding America’s Cities (New York, 1986); Arnold Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon, Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montgomery College (Maryland)

Perry, Cynthia Shepard (1928- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Cynthia Shepard Perry, a Republican and 25 year career diplomat, has served three Republican presidents. President Ronald Reagan appointed her as Chief of Education and Human Resources of the U.S. Agency for International Development where she served from 1982 to 1986, and named her Ambassador to Sierra Leone from 1986 to 1989. 

President H.W. Bush appointed her ambassador to Burundi where she served from 1989 to 1993.  President George W. Bush appointed her as U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Tunis, Tunisia in 2001.  As director, she promoted microlending projects for small start-up loans, especially for women. In addition, she analyzed African loan requests for schools, bridges, and projects to reduce poverty.
Sources: 
Council of American Ambassadors, http://www.americanambassadors.org/; “George Bush,  Nomination of Cynthia Shepard to be United States Ambassador to Brunei,” Nov. 7, 1980, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/; Charles Stuart Kennedy, “Ambassador Cynthia Perry,” Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, March 21, 1999; Cynthia Shepard,  All things Being Equal: A Woman’s Journey  (New York: Stonecrest International, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central College

Long, Jefferson Franklin (1836-1907)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jefferson Franklin Long, a Republican who represented Georgia in the 41st Congress, was the first black member to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives, and was the only black representative from Georgia for just over a century. Long was born a slave in Knoxville, Georgia on March 3, 1836. Little is known of his early years, however by the end of the civil war he had been educated and was working as a tailor in the town of Macon. He was prosperous in business and involved in local politics.

By 1867 he had become active in the Georgia Educational Association and had traveled through the state on behalf of the Republican Party.  He also served on the state Republican Central Committee.  In 1869 Long chaired a special convention in Macon, Georgia which addressed the problems faced by the freedmen.

In December of 1870 Georgia held elections for two sets of congressional representatives – one for the final session of the 41st Congress (the first two of which Georgia had missed due to delayed readmission to the Union), and one for the 42nd Congress, set to begin in March of 1871. Georgia Republicans nominated Long, an African American, to run for the 41st congress, while Thomas Jefferson Speer, a white American, was chosen to run for the 42nd. Long was elected on January 16th, 1871.

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, DC; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1982).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Fletcher, Arthur (1924-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Arthur Fletcher is perhaps best known as the Father of Affirmative Action for his authorship of the Revised Philadelphia Plan, which required federal government contractors to hire ethnic minorities.

Sources: 
Author interview of Arthur Fletcher (Washington, June 4, 2003); Arthur Fletcher, The Silent Sellout: Government Betrayal of Blacks to the Craft Unions (New York: Third Press, 1974); Kevin Merida, “The Firm Founder of Affirmative Action,” The Washington Post (June 13, 1995, p. C1); Michelle O'Donnell, “Arthur Fletcher, G.O.P. Adviser, Dies at 80,” The New York Times (July 14, 2005, p. C17).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Straker, David Augustus (1842-1908)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
David Augustus Straker, author, lawyer, and politician, was born and raised in Bridgetown, Barbados, where he achieved success as a teacher and principal at St. Mary’s Public School.  In 1868 he moved to Kentucky, where he taught at a freedman’s school for one year.  He entered Howard University in 1869, graduating two years later with a degree in law.  

Straker returned to Kentucky but when he was unable to find work as a lawyer, he took a position as a postal clerk.  During this time he married Annie M. Carey and authored numerous editorials for Frederick Douglass’s New National Era, gaining him national exposure.  In 1875 he resigned his postal position to join a law firm in Charleston, South Carolina, where he and his wife relocated.  

A staunch Republican, Straker was first elected to public office in November, 1876 as the Orangeburg County Representative in the lower house of the state legislature.  Redeemer Democrats, however, refused to seat him and his fellow Republicans the following year as they anticipated the end of Reconstruction in the state.  Undeterred, Straker continued to run for office and was reelected by the citizens of Orangeburg County in 1878 and 1880 even as the Democrats continued to deny him his seat in the legislature.    
Sources: 
Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Dictionary of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); Edwin S. Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Dixon, Sheila (1953- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gerald G. Jackson, We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore (U.S.: Beckham Publications Group, 2005); http://baltimore.about.com; http://www.ci.baltimore/md/.us.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Varick, James (1750-1827)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James Varick was the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Varick was born to a slave mother near Newburgh, New York. His father was Richard Varick, a free black man who was originally from Hackensack, New Jersey. Varick grew up with his parents in New York City, where it is thought that he may have attended the Free School for Negroes. After this schooling, Varick was trained in the trade of shoemaking.

In 1766, Varick, now free, joined the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church, which had a predominately white congregation.  Eventually Varick became a minister and was licensed to preach at John Street Church.  Although he was not the main minister, his appointment to the pulpit as the Church’s first black preacher caused considerable racial tension and calls for racial segregation of the congregation.  Eventually black parishioners were forced to sit in the galleries or the back row seating. Incensed at this change in church policy Varick and thirty other black members withdrew from the church in 1796.

In 1790, Varick married Aurelia Jones. The couple had seven children, four of whom survived into adulthood. During this time Varick worked as a shoemaker and a tobacco cutter in order to support his family.
Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Anne H. Pinn and Anthony B. Fortress, Introduction to Black Church History (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Thomas, William Hannibal (1843-1935)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
William Hannibal Thomas
at Otterbein College, 1922
Image Ownership: Public Domain
William Hannibal Thomas was born in Pickaway County, Ohio, on May 4, 1843 to free black parents.  During his early childhood Thomas’s family moved frequently in search of economic advancement before returning to Ohio in 1857.  As a teenager Thomas performed manual labor, attended school briefly, and broke the color line by entering Otterbein University in 1859.  Thomas’s matriculation at the school sparked a race riot and he withdrew.  Denied entry to the Union Army in 1861 because of his race, Thomas served briefly as principal of Union Seminary Institute, a manual training school near Columbus, Ohio.

After twenty-two months’ service as a servant in two white Union regiments, in 1863 Thomas enlisted in Ohio’s first all-black military unit, the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  Appointed sergeant, he became a decorated combat solider.  At Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in February 1865 Thomas received a gunshot wound in the right arm that resulted in its amputation.  He suffered pain and medical complications from this wound for the remainder of his life.
Sources: 
John David Smith, Black Judas:  William Hannibal Thomas and “The American Negro” (Athens:  University of Georgia Press, 2000; Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, 2002); John David Smith, “The Lawyer vs. the Race Traitor:  Charles W. Chesnutt, William Hannibal Thomas, and The American Negro,” Journal of The Historical Society, 3:2 (Spring 2003); http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/thomas/menu.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Pace, Harry (1884-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Harry Herbert Pace was the founder of the first black record company, Pace Phonograph Corporation which sold recordings under the Black Swan Records label. He was born on January 6, 1884 in Covington, Georgia the son of Charles Pace and Nancy Ferris Pace. His father, a blacksmith by trade, died while Harry was still an infant leaving him to be raised by his mother. Pace graduated from elementary school when he was twelve and finished at Atlanta University seven years later as valedictorian.  W.E.B. Du Bois was one of his instructors.  After graduation he worked in a printing company.  He also worked for banking and insurance companies first in Atlanta and later in Memphis.   

In 1912, after moving to Memphis, Pace met W.C. Handy. The two men became friends, writing songs together. During this period Pace met and later married Ethlynde Bibb. Pace and Handy formed the Pace and Handy Music Company together and work with composers such as William Grant Sill and Fletcher Henderson. Pace moved to New York to manage the sheet music business but later decided to form a record company.

Pace Phonograph Corporation Inc. was founded in March, 1921 with $30,000 in borrowed capital. The label Black Swan Records was named after Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield a famous 19th Century entertainer known as the “Black Swan” for her singing.

Sources: 

Jitu K. Weusi, The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records, http://www.redhotjazz.com/blackswan.html; Joan Potter, African American Firsts, (New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cotten, Elizabeth “Libba” (c. 1892-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten , an American folk and blues musician, made her professional debut in 1959 at the age of 67. Discovered by the musically renowned Seeger family in the 1950s, Cotten was soon recognized for her unique self-taught guitar and banjo picking style and her songs "Freight Train," "Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie" and "Shake Sugaree."

Born in 1892 (though some sources state 1893 or 1895) near Chapel Hill, North Carolina to a musically inclined family, Elizabeth Nevills started singing and performing pre-blues, finger-picked music at a young age. Secretly borrowing her brother's banjo, the left-handed Nevills taught herself to play the right-handed instrument by turning it upside down and playing the bass with her fingers and the treble with her thumb, inadvertently creating a unique picking style that was later referred to as "Cotten Picking." She bought her first guitar when she was 11 years old and continued to employ her upside-down picking technique.

Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, ed.,  Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); Bruce Bastin, Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1986); http://facstaff.unca.edu/sinclair/piedmontblues/cotten.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jacobs, Louisa Matilda (1833–1917)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Jean Fagan Yellin
Louisa “Lulu” Matilda Jacobs, teacher, equal rights activist, and entrepreneur, was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina, on October 19, 1833. She was the daughter of congressman and newspaper editor Samuel Tredwell Sawyer and his mixed-race enslaved mistress Harriet Jacobs.  
Sources: 
Harriet Jacobs, ed. Jean Fagan Yellin, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000); Jean Fagin Yellin, Kate Culkin, Scott Korb, eds.,  Harriet Jacobs Family Papers (Chapel Hill: UNC Press 2008); Annie Wood Webb Papers, private collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Missouri History Museum Archives, St. Louis.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Anderson, Caroline Still Wiley (1848-1919)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Caroline Still Wiley Anderson, physician and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to William and Letitia Still.  Supporting his family through coal mining investments and a stove store, William Still, a prominent antebellum abolitionist, helped escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad.  He wrote about these fugitive slaves in his book The Underground Railroad.  

Caroline Still attended Mrs. Henry Gordon’s Private School, The Friends Raspberry Alley School, and the Institute for Colored Youth.  At sixteen, she went to Oberlin College where she was the only black woman in her class.  After graduating from Oberlin College’s Literary Course in 1868, Still moved back to Philadelphia to teach.  In 1869, she married Edward A. Wiley, a former Alabama slave, who she met at Oberlin.  Before Wiley’s death in 1873, they had two children, William and Letitia. Caroline Wiley left Philadelphia for Washington, D.C. and Howard University where she was hired to teach music, drawing, and elocution.

Once there she decided to become a medical doctor.  After attending Howard University Medical School for one term, Wiley transferred to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1876.  She graduated in the spring of 1878 and then interned at Boston’s New England Hospital for Women and Children.  When she returned to Philadelphia in 1879, she became one of the state’s first black female doctors.
Sources: 
Margaret Jerrido, “Caroline Still Anderson,” in Notable Black American Women, ed. Jessie Carney Smith (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1996); Darlene Clark Hine, “Co-Laborers in the Work of the Lord: Nineteenth-Century Black Women Physicians,” in ‘Send Us a Lady Physician’: Women Doctors in America, 1835-1920, ed. Ruth J. Abram (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1985);  Susan Wells, Out of the Dead House: Nineteenth Century Women Physicians and the Writing of Medicine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dumas, Alexandre (Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie), (1802 – 1870)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Alexandre Dumas père, prolific playwright, novelist, travel writer and historian, was born on the 24th July 1802 to Marie Louise Labouret and her husband Thomas Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, who was a military general under Napoleon I. Dumas’ paternal grandfather was the Marquis Antoine-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie who fell in love with and married Dumas’ grandmother, Marie Louise Cessette Dumas, an African-Caribbean slave from San Domingo (now Haiti).
Sources: 
F.W.J. Hemmings, The King of Romance: A Portrait of Alexandre Dumas (Hamish Hamilton, London: 1979); G.R. Pearce, Dumas Pere: Great Lives (The Camelot Press Ltd., London & Southampton, 1934); The Alexandre Dumas pere website, www.cadytech.com/dumas/biographie.php; The Literary Network, www.online-literature.com/dumas (Jalic Inc. 2000-2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Delaney, Harold (1919-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 24, 1919, Harold Delaney was one of several African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project in World War II.  The eldest child of William and Henriette Delaney, Harold had four sisters, Mildred, Gertrude, Laura, and Ethel, and a brother, William.

Delaney studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and earned his B.S. and M.A. degrees in 1941 and 1943, respectively. In March 1943, Delaney co-authored an article with his graduate adviser, Dr. Robert Percy Barnes, and with Dr. Victor Julius Tulane and Dr. Stewart Rochester Cooper in the Journal of Organic Chemistry, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. Tulane and Cooper were also faculty members in the Department of Chemistry at Howard University. In November 1943, Delaney published a second article with Barnes in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, another prestigious peer-reviewed journal.  Publication of these two articles completed the requirements for Delaney’s M.A. degree. In addition, Barnes, Tulane, and Rochester were highly productive chemistry researchers publishing several peer-reviewed journal articles.  Barnes authored approximately 40 scientific articles during his career. This is significant because peer-reviewed scientific articles are considered the “currency of science.”
Sources: 
Harry W. Greene, Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (Boston: Meador Publishing, 1946); Beyond Small Numbers: Voices of African American Ph.D. Chemists (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 2005); W. Saxon, “Harold Delaney, Educator, 74 and Wife, Geraldine, Are Slain,” The New York Times, Aug 9, 1994, p B10; “Harold and Geraldine Delaney; Slain Couple Were Educators,” The Washington Post, Aug 7, 1994, p B6; K. Heise,  “Harold Delaney And Wife, Geraldine,” Chicago Tribune. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-08-11/news/9408110021_1_mr-delaney-chicago-state-university-interim-president (accessed Jul 20, 2011); "Nephew convicted of murdering his uncle, Dr. Harold Delaney, gets death sentence," Jet, FindArticles.com. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n4_v89/ai_17801936/ (accessed Jul 21, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
College of Wooster

Nell, William C. (1816-1874)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

William C. Nell was an African American civic activist, abolitionist, and historian. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Nell was the son of William Guion Nell, a prominent tailor and black activist. William C. Nell was introduced to racial inequality and black activism from birth. In the 1830s, he became politically active as a member of the Juvenile Garrison Independent Society where he wrote plays and hosted political debates while being mentored by William Lloyd Garrison.  Nell was a printer’s apprentice for Garrison’s newspaper, the Liberator. Nell came of age in the 1840s, as a leader in the campaign to desegregate the Boston railroad (1843) and Boston performance halls (1853). He was also a founding member of the New England Freedom Association in 1842, a black Boston organization that assisted fugitive slaves in their efforts to gain freedom.

Sources: 
“William Cooper Nell (1816 - 1874),” in Boston African-American National Historic Site, National Park Service, (2002); William C. Nell, “The Triumph of Equal School Rights in Boston,” in Philip S. Foner and Robert James Branham (eds.), Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900 (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Strayhorn, Billy Thomas (1915-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Billy Thomas Strayhorn was a black gay composer and arranger who influenced the American jazz movement with his pioneering efforts. While largely unknown in his lifetime, his complex arrangements and classical components continue to inspire generations of jazz musicians. His work has been translated into French and Swedish.

Born on November 29, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio, Strayhorn joined his four older living siblings (four others died). His parents were Lillian Young Strayhorn and James Nathaniel Strayhorn. The family struggled financially. After living in several cities in Strayhorn’s early life, they settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1924. Strayhorn attended Westinghouse High School there as well as the Pittsburgh Musical Institute for piano lessons and classical music study. To help him escape his abusive father and to nurture Strayhorn’s budding musical talent, his mother sent him on extended visits to his grandparents’ home in Hillsborough, North Carolina.
Sources: 
David Hajdu, Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (New York: North Point Press, 1996);
http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/billystrayhorn/film.html; http://www.billystrayhorn.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Thurman, Wallace (1902-1934)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1940); Eleonore van Notten, Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994); Lawrence T. Potter, Jr., “Wallace Thurman,” in Encyclopedia on African American Writers, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2007).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Medina, Lazaro (1965 -2013)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"

Lazaro Medina was an Afro-Paraguayan who was best known as the founder and director of the Ballet Camba Cua, the only dance troupe of Paraguay based on the dances of former African slaves. Medina was also a political activist who assisted other Afro-Paraguayans who faced racial discrimination and the consequences of the confiscation of their lands by Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner in the 1980s. The ballet was named after Camba Cua, one of the few remaining Afro-Paraguayan settlements in the nation. 

Little is known about Medina’s background including his parents and date of birth.  Nor is there much information about his formal training.  Medina founded Ballet Camba Cua in 1991 basing it partly on the recalled stories of his father who described earlier festivals of people of African descent.  The Ballet was named after the Afro-Paraguayan community of Camba Cua which was founded by a group of 250 black lancers who were given land, a team of oxen, and seeds to plant aftrer they helped defeat a ruler who was sent into exile. The goal of the Ballet was to make Afro-Paraguayan culture visible and connected to the larger world of African culture.

Sources: 
Monica Bareiro, "Kamba Cua, Tapping of Pride and Culture," ABC Color, http://www.abc.com.py/edicion-impresa/suplementos/abc-revista/kamba-cua-tamborileo-de-orgullo-y-cultura-1200345.html; John M. Lipski, “Afro-Paraguayan Spanish: The Negation of Non-Existence," Journal of Pan African Studies 2.7, 2008; Kwekudee, "The Irresistible and Expert Drumming and Dancing African Descendants in South America, Trip Down Memory Lane, http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2014/06/afro-paraguayans-afro-poaraguayos.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Kitt, Eartha Mae (1928-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.  

Sources: 
Lisa E. Rivo, “Eartha Mae Kitt,” Africana: Encyclopedia of The African and African American Experience, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; http://www.oxfordaasc.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/article/opr/t0001/e0338?hi=1&highlight=1&from=quick&pos=1
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Aldridge, Ira (1807-1867)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ira Frederick Aldridge was the first African American actor to achieve success on the international stage. He also pushed social boundaries by playing opposite white actresses in England and becoming known as the preeminent Shakespearean actor and tragedian of the 19th Century.
Sources: 
Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2007); Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge: The Early Years, 1807-1833 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011); Bernth Lindfors, Ira Aldridge: The Vagabond Years, 1833-1852 (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2011); Herbert Marshall, Ira Aldridge: Negro Tragedian (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1993); Anthony D. Hill, An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2007.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mfume, Kweisi (Frizzel Gray) (1948 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of
Representatives Photography Office
Kweisi Mfume was born as Frizzel Gray in Baltimore, Maryland on October 24, 1948, the eldest of four children.  Gray experienced a troubled childhood with the abandonment of his father and death of his mother as well as economic instability, but made a successful return to his academic studies in 1971.

Gray legally changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, “conquering son of kings”, in the early 1970s.  He obtained his GED, and began his studies at the Community College of Baltimore, where he served as the head of its Black Student Union and the editor of the school newspaper. He attended Morgan State University in Baltimore where he graduated magna cum laude in 1976 with a Bachelor of Urban Planning degree. Mfume then received an M.A. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1984.

In 1979 Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1979.  While on the city council, Mfume helped enact legislation which divested Baltimore of investments in companies doing business in South Africa.

In 1985 when Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District Representative Parren J. Mitchell announced his retirement from Congress, Kweisi Mfume ran for the seat the following year and was successful in both the primary and general election.  
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990); www.bioguide.congress.gov; M. Elizabeth Paterra, Kweisi Mfume: Congressman and NAACP Leader (Berkeley Heights, N.J: Enslow, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Leftwich, John C. (1867-1923)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Carter Leftwich was born on June 6, 1867 in Forkland, Alabama.  The first son of Frances Edge and Lloyd Leftwich, one of Alabama’s last black Reconstruction Era state senators, John graduated from Selma University in 1890.  As a young man, Leftwich held a deep admiration for Booker T. Washington, and wrote to him constantly for aid and advice.  In 1897, possibly with Washington’s support, Leftwich was appointed Alabama’s Receiver of Public Money by President William McKinley.  During this time Leftwich also founded an all-black town named Klondike.  In 1902, however, Leftwich lost the support of Washington.  Later that year Alabama blacks were disfranchised.  These events led Leftwich to migrate to Oklahoma Territory to begin anew.

Sources: 
Melissa Stuckey, “‘All Men Up’: Race, Rights, and Power in the All Black Town of Boley, Oklahoma, 1903-1939” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Batson, Flora (1864-1906)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Flora Batson was an internationally acclaimed concert singer of the nineteenth century whose talent and prestige earned her the title “Queen of Song.” She was born on April 16, 1864 in Washington, D.C., to Mary A. Batson, a Civil War widow. Mother and daughter moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1867 when Batson was three years old.

Growing up, Batson sang in local choirs, and starting in 1878 she sang for Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for two years. Declining an offer to study music on a full scholarship at Storer College, Batson continued her singing career under the management of social reformer Thomas Doutney at various temperance revivals. One such performance in New York City, New York’s Masonic Temple in 1885 launched her professional career. To much critical acclaim, she sang "Six Feet of Earth Make Us All One Size" for ninety consecutive nights and caught the attention of John G. Bergen, the white manager of the all-black Bergen Star Concert Company. She accepted his invitation into the company, and by 1887 she had achieved national fame as its leading soprano.
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women (Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1991); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Asante, Molefi Kete/Arthur Lee Smith Jr. (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Molefi Kete Asante (Arthur Lee Smith, Jr.), an educator, was born in Valdosta, Georgia, the son of Arthur Lee and Lillie B. (Wilson) Smith. In 1964 he received a B.A. degree (cum laude) from Oklahoma Christian College.  He was awarded an M.A. degree the following year from Pepperdine College.  In 1968 he earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of California at Los Angeles.  

While at Southwestern Christian College, Asante met Essien Essien, a Nigerian scholar, who inspired Asante to learn more about Africa.  After completing his undergraduate degree, Smith undertook studies of African languages and literature. He began to visit Africa frequently and spent a year on the continent in 1982, while serving as director of the English language journalism curriculum at the Zimbabwe Institute of Mass Communications.
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), p. 12-14.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College

Mathis, Johnny (1935 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

John “Johnny” Royce Mathis, singer, was born in Gilmer, Texas on September 30, 1935, the fourth of seven children born to Clem, a chauffeur and handyman, and Mildred, a maid.  The Mathis family moved to San Francisco, California's Fillmore District when Mathis was a young child.  When Clem Mathis, who had worked for a time in vaudeville, recognized his son's musical talent, the family scraped together $25, bought a piano and began teaching him songs and routines. Soon afterwards young Mathis started performing in church and school shows.

At the age of thirteen Mathis began taking lessons with Connie Cox, a San Francisco music teacher, paying for his training by working in the Cox home.  Mathis studied with Cox for the next six years, receiving voice training in classical music including opera

Sources: 

J. Green, "Forever Johnny: What It Takes to Maintain the Mathis Lifestyle," New Yorker Magazine, July 3, 2000: 54-58.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Lewis, Hylan Garnet (1911-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis"
Hylan Garnett Lewis was a distinguished sociologist and pioneer in the field of community studies whose work helped guide the study of American race relations for more than half a century. Throughout his life, Lewis analyzed, and sought remedies for, the problems of the poor and unemployed. He also studied discrimination against people of color in corporate employment, foster care, and schools.

Hylan Lewis was born on April 4, 1911 in Washington, DC, one of five children of Ella Wells and high school principal Harry Whythe Lewis. His early years were spent in Washington and Hampton, Virginia; and in1932 he received a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University.

He was an Instructor of economics at Howard University, switching to sociology after meeting E. Franklin Frazier there in 1935. That year, he married Leighla Frances Whipper, a writer and Graduate Student at Howard. The couple had one child, Carole Ione. The marriage ended in divorce, and a second marriage to Audrey Carter produced a son, Guy Edward.

Lewis earned his masters in 1936 at University of Chicago and was a Rosenwald Fellow from 1939-1941. He subsequently worked for the Office of War Information and had appointments at Talladega University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Hampton University.
Sources: 
Hylan Lewis; Blackways of Kent (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, S.C., 2008); Carole Ione; Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

McGann, C. Steven (1951 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
C. Steven McGann joined the Foreign Service in 1992 and has since attained the status of Career member, Senior Foreign Service, with the rank of Minister-Counselor (FE-MC).  His overseas posts have included Taiwan, Zaire, South Africa, Australia, and Kenya.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bruce, Samuel (Sam) Martin (1915–1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
In 1942 Sam Martin Bruce was a second lieutenant assigned to the 99th Pursuit Squadron, a unit piloted by men who were part of the Tuskegee Airmen. They were the African American pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and other personnel responsible for keeping the planes in the air. From 1941 to 1946, nearly one thousand airmen were trained at Tuskegee.   

The 99th Pursuit Squadron was the first all-African American pursuit squadron. They were the direct result of the constant pressure on the Franklin Roosevelt Administration from African Americans demanding a larger role in the military and an end to the ban on black pilots. In 1940 the federal government created the Tuskegee Airmen program and located it at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama. Members of the 99th Pursuit Squadron were some of the first Tuskegee airmen to complete their training and be sent to Europe after the United States entered World War II.
Sources: 
Jerry Large, “Saluting a Seattle WWII Tuskegee Airman,” The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/saluting-a-seattle-wwii-tuskegee-airman/; “Bruce, Samuel M., 2nd Lt.,” Together We Served, http://airforce.togetherweserved.com/usaf/servlet/tws.webapp.WebApp?cmd=ShadowBoxProfile&type=Person&ID=172042; “Northwest Connection: The Tuskegee Airmen,” 4 Culture, http://www.naamnw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/NAAM.TuskgeeHiRes2bestcopy1.pdf; “Airmen History,” Tuskegee Airmen Inc. Same Bruce Chapter, http://sambrucetai.org/about-tuskegee-airmen/; “A Brief History,” Tuskegee Airmen Inc., http://tuskegeeairmen.org/explore-tai/a-brief-history/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

West, Togo D., Jr. (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Togo D. West Jr., attorney and government official, was born on June 21, 1942 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Togo D. West, Sr. and Evelyn Carter West. In 1959 he graduated as valedictorian from Atkins High School in that same city.   In 1965, West enrolled at Howard University, earning his B.S. degree in electrical engineering.  He switched to law and earned a J.D. degree from Howard University Law School in 1968, graduating first in his class.  After he completed law school, West clerked for a federal judge in the Southern district of New York.  

During the early 1970s, West served in the United States Army as a judge in the Judge Advocate General Corps.  For his outstanding military service, West earned both the Legion of Merit award and the Meritorious Service Medal.  Government officials recognized West’s distinguished military service and in 1973, he was appointed by President Gerald Ford as Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice.  In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed West as general counsel to the Navy and in 1979, West served as Deputy Secretary to the Secretary of Defense and general counsel to the Department of Defense from 1980 to 1981.

In 1981, West retired from government to become managing partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm, Patterson, Belknap, Webb, and Tyler.  In 1990, West became the senior vice president for the Arlington, Virginia-based Northrop Corporation, a military aircraft manufacturer.

Sources: 
Mary Kalfatovic, “West, Togo D. Jr.” Contemporary Black Biography (Detroit: Gale Research, 1998); Washington Post, November 22, 1996, p. l; November 23, 1996, p.9; http://www.nytimes.com/2000/07/11/us/va-secretary-resigning.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Peters, Thomas (1738-1792)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Monument in Honor of Black Loyalists, Nova Scotia
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Africa and enslaved in America, Thomas Peters is best known for his influence in settling Canadian blacks in the African colony of Sierra Leone. The earliest documentation of Peters’ life is as a 38-year-old slave in North Carolina.  When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Peters escaped to British-occupied territory.
Sources: 
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2005); James W. St G. Walker, “Peters (Petters), Thomas”, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (2000) http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=2115&interval=25&&PHPSESSID=njv4l5j5dglrp8buu4elf70is1.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Carson, Andre (1974 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Andre Carson Congressional Website, http://carson.house.gov; Reuters,http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN1164415020080312
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Gordon, Dexter (1923-1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Dexter Gordon was a pioneering jazz saxophonist who made a career of expertly blending rhythm and romance on the bandstand and the silver screen. Nicknamed "Long Tall Dex" for his 6-foot 5-inch frame, the Los Angeles native was born on Feb. 27, 1923. Gordon's father, Dr. Frank Gordon, M.D., was one of the first prominent African American physicians in Los Angeles and counted Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton among his patients.

Young Gordon took up the clarinet at the age of 13 before switching to saxophone (initially alto, then tenor) at 15. His big break came in 1940 at the age of 17 when he joined Lionel Hampton’s band. From 1943 to 1944 he was featured in the bands of Louis Armstrong, Billie Eckstine and Fletcher Henderson. Gordon made his first recordings under his own name in 1945 when he signed with the Savoy label.  
By 1945, Gordon had moved to New York City where he began performing and recording with Charlie Parker. Gordon also was famous for his saxophone duels with fellow tenor sax player Wardell Gray. They recorded several albums between 1947 and 1952. In 1955 Gordon wrote the musical score for the Broadway play The Connection.

Sources: 
Stan Britt, Long Tall Dexter: A Critical Musical Biography of Dexter Gordon (London: Quartet Books, 1989); Roland Baggenaes, Jazz Greats Speak: Interviews with Master Musicians (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hopkins, Sam “Lightnin’” (1912-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter, was born in Centerville, Texas in 1912 to sharecropping parents whose exact identities are unknown. At eight, Hopkins met legendary bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson at a social function in Buffalo, Texas. An accomplished guitarist for his age, Hopkins started to play along with Jefferson’s set, unbeknownst to the blind bluesman. Jefferson stopped the set and called for the intruding guitar player to reveal himself, which Hopkins promptly did. Astonished by Hopkins’ age, Jefferson encouraged him to continue accompanying him, as long as he could “play it right.”

After his meeting with Jefferson, Hopkins felt the blues to be his calling. He continued playing at informal gatherings and social functions throughout Texas. In the early 1930s, Hopkins settled in Houston's primarily black Third Ward and played on the road across Texas, often accompanied by his older cousin, Alger “Texas” Alexander. Despite rumors of Hopkins having been at Huntsville, the state penitentiary, which enhanced his credibility as a blues musician, there is no record of his ever having served time in the Texas prison system.
Sources: 

Alan Govenar, Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2010); Jason Rewald, “Lightnin’ Hopkins: New Facts Emerge,” http://www.tdblues.com/?p=842; Bill Dahl, “Lightnin’ Hopkins: AllMusic Biography,” http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lightnin-hopkins-p87808/biography
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Florida

Farrakhan, Louis Abdul (1933- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Louis Abdul Farrakhan was born on May 11, 1933 in Bronx, New York as Louis Eugene Walcott.  Walcott, who grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, excelled as a musician, singer and track star.  He attended a Boston-area school for gifted children and was given national exposure at age 14 when, as one of the first African Americans to appear on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, he won the competition for that episode.  After high school Walcott attended Winston-Salem Teachers College for two years and then worked as a calypso guitarist-singer. Walcott joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1955 and changed his name to Louis X and later Louis Farrakhan.  Initially he was a follower of Malcolm X, but became a competitor in the period before Malcolm’s assassination in 1965.

Sources: 
Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience, (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 732, 33; Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “Providence, Patriarchy, Pathology: Louis Farrakhan's Rise & Decline,” New Politics, vol. 6, no. 2 (new series), whole no. 22, Winter 1997. http://www.wpunj.edu/~newpol/issue22/chajua22.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Fishburne, Laurence (1961- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Actor Laurence Fishburne III was born on July 30, 1961 in Augusta, Georgia to parents Laurence Jr. and Hattie, a corrections officer and a schoolteacher. After the couple separated Hattie moved young Fishburne to Brooklyn, New York where the two lived with her mother.

Fishburne’s first acting role was at age twelve in the soap opera One Life to Live. His first role in a feature film was in the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me (1975).  At age fifteen Fishburne auditioned for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam-war epic Apocalypse Now. He lied about his age, got the role, and spent two years in the Philippines with the cast and crew filming the movie, which was released in 1979. He had roles in two more Coppola films, Rumble Fish (1983) and Cotton Club (1984).

His breakout role was in John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz in the Hood, where he played a young father in South Central Los Angeles. The following year, Fishburne made his Broadway debut in Two Trains Running, for which he won the Tony Award and several other awards for best actor.  In 1993 Fishburne won an Emmy for his role in the television series Tribeca directed by Robert De Niro. In the same year he played Ike Turner alongside Angela Bassett as Tina Tuner in What’s Love Got to Do with It, and both actors received Academy Award nominations for their roles.
Sources: 
"Laurence Fishburne," Bio.com, A&E Networks Television, 2012; Steven Otfinoski, African Americans in the Performing Arts (New York: Facts on File, 2003); Patrick L. Stearns, "Laurence Fishburne," Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Pegg, John Grant (1869-1916)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Owneship: Public Domain
John Grant Pegg was born around 1869 in Virginia.  He began his career in about 1890 as a Pullman porter, working out of Chicago. It was there that he met Mary Charlotte Page of Kansas, a seamstress. After their marriage they moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1898.  Pegg became involved in Omaha politics as a Republican committeeman who became known informally as the “councilman for the Black community.”  In 1910 Pegg became the first African American appointed Inspector of Weights & Measures for the City of Omaha.  His work in the black community led him to be known as a “race man” dedicated to improving the African American section of Omaha’s population. Pegg, for example, was a Shriner and a member of the local Masonic Lodge.

The Kincaid Homestead Act of 1904 opened up thousands of acres of northern Nebraska for homesteaders.  In 1911, John Pegg sponsored a number of black settlers who went by wagon out to Cherry County, Nebraska to homestead.  Among them were his brother Charlie Pegg and his nephew James. They homesteaded land in John Pegg’s name in Cherry County although John Pegg never lived on the homestead. His brother and nephew operated a cattle ranch that supplied beef to the South Omaha packing plants.  John Grant Pegg died in 1916 in Omaha.
Sources: 
Personal letters and journal entries of William Gaitha Pegg, son of John Grant Pegg, 1982.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Vanoye Aikens (1917-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Vanoye Aikens was a star dancer and choreographer for the famous Katherine Dunham Dance Company. The Dunham Company popularized African American dance and pioneered the Dunham Technique, which combined Caribbean and African dance with European ballet.
Sources: 
"Katherine Dunham dancer Vanoye Aikens dies at 96," Wall Street Journal, 28 August 2013; Mr. Vanoye Aikens: In His Own Words, DVD, directed by Terry Carter (2006, Los Angeles, CA: Kaye Lawrence Dunham, 2007); Vèvè  A. Clark, “On Stage with the Dunham Company: An Interview with Vanoye Aikens,” in Kaiso!: Writings by and about Katherine Dunham, edited by Vèvè A. Clark and Sara E. Johnson (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Simone, Nina (1933-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You, the Autobiography of Nina Simone (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press,1993); Sylvia Hampton, David Nathan, and Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone: Breakdown and Let it All Out (London: Sanctuary Publishing Limited, 2004); Jody Kolodzey, “Remembering Nina Simone,” Culture, May 5, 2003; Adam Shatz, “Nina Simone Obituary,” The Nation, May 19, 2003; Roger Nupie, Dr. Nina Simone Biography: http://www.ninasimone.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Walker, Margaret (1915-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Dr. Margaret Abigail Walker Alexander's contributions to American letters--four volumes of poetry, a novel, a biography, and numerous critical essays--mark her as one of this country's most gifted black intellectuals. These accomplishments are even more remarkable given that she achieved most of them after 1943 when she was a college professor, wife, and mother of four children. Despite the cumulative demands of these pursuits, Walker prevailed, and left a nurturing literary legacy.

Walker was born on July 7, 1915, in Birmingham, Alabama. Her father, a well educated minister, and her mother, a music teacher, provided an environment in which their daughter thrived. In 1931 she met Langston Hughes, who encouraged her to seek an education outside the South. Walker completed her B.A. at Northwestern University (Illinois) when she was only nineteen, and while living in Chicago she was affiliated with several important writing groups. During the Depression, she worked for the Federal Writers' Project and contributed a dialect piece, "Yalluh Hammuh," whose folk hero would later appear in For My People (1942). As a member of the South Side Writers Group, Walker was a close colleague of Richard Wright. Walker completed her M.A. at the University of Iowa by writing For My People, a work for which she later became the first African American to win the Yale Younger Poets award.  Her Ph.D. dissertation, also at Iowa, became her highly acclaimed Jubilee.
Sources: 
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/walker/bio.htm ; William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, Trudier Harris, eds., The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Lewis, Arthur W. (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Arthur W. Lewis was a career foreign officer who served in diplomatic missions in Eastern Europe and Africa before retiring in 1987.  He also played a significant role in expanding opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities in the American diplomatic corps.

Before entering the Foreign Service, Lewis spent 23 years in the U.S. Navy.  A student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Lewis enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and served until 1966.  He returned to Dartmouth to work with the N.R.O.T.C. and teach Naval Science while still on active duty.  He completed a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in Government while at Dartmouth in 1966.

In 1966, Lewis joined the United States Information Agency (USIA), a Cold War-era diplomatic agency intended to promote American culture abroad. Lewis chose to work with the USIA because he believed he would have more direct engagement with foreign nationals than in the State Department.  With the support of the Ford Foundation, Lewis in 1967 created an expanded minority recruitment program for the USIA, targeting African American, Latino, and Native Americans enrolled in universities around the nation.  The program brought students to Washington, D.C. for expanded training in history, language, and international affairs as preparation for successfully completing the Foreign Services entrance exam.

Sources: 
“Duggan and Others Exit Reagan Administration But Blacks Remaining Want More Posts,” Jet 67 (February 25 1985); “Ex-Navyman Named U. S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone,” All Hands (November 1983), http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/archpdf/ah198311.pdf; “Nomination of Arthur Winston Lewis To Be United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone,” April 11, 1983,  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=41167; Transcript, Ambassador Arthur W. Lewis Interview, 6 September 1989, by Charles Stuart Kennedy for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, http://www.adst.org/OH%20TOCs/Lewis,%20Arthur%20W%20.toc.pdf.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Southwestern State University

Towns, Edolphus (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Office of
Representative Edolphus Towns
Currently in his 13th term in Congress, Edolphus Towns is a Democratic Representative from the State of New York.  Towns was born in Chadbourn, North Carolina on July 21, 1934, and attended the public schools of Chadbourn before graduating with a B.S. degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in 1956. After graduating he served for two years in the U.S. Army and then taught in several New York City public schools, Fordham University, and Medgar Evars College. He received his master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University in 1973.

Between 1965 and 1975 Towns worked as program director of the Metropolitan Hospital and as assistant administrator at Beth Israel Hospital. He was also employed by several Brooklyn area healthcare and youth and senior citizen organizations.

In 1972 Towns was elected Democratic state committeeman in Brooklyn.  Four year later, in 1976, he became the first African American Deputy Borough president of Brooklyn, a position he held until 1982. That same year Representative Frederick W. Richmond resigned from the House.  Towns won the vacated seat in the November election.   
Sources: 
http://www.house.gov/towns/bio.shtml; Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Chase, William Calvin (1854-1921)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
William Chase was born in 1854 to a free black family in Washington, D.C.  Chase was raised in integrated neighborhoods and attended local area schools including Howard University Law School.  Chase combined the practice of law with journalism for most of his career and was also active in Republican politics, serving as District of Columbia delegate to the party's national convention in 1900 and again in 1912.

William Chase is most well known for his nearly forty years of service as editor of the Washington Bee, a weekly publication that, during its run, was the oldest secular newspaper in continuous publication in the country.  As one of the great 19th-century editors, Chase served as a formidable “race man” and used his newspaper to voice a variety of opinions about all issues relating to African Americans and American race relations. William Chase’s Washington Bee was published weekly from 1882 through 1922 and documented extensive opposition to segregation and discrimination throughout the United States.  His newspaper fought for equal rights at a time when only a handful of black publications existed at all.  
Sources: 

Appiah, Kwame and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience, Vols. 1-5 (New York: Basic  Civitas Books 2004); http://www.exploredc.org/index.php?id=381

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Diop, Cheikh Anta (1923-1986)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Distinguished historian and Pan-Africanist political leader, Cheikh Anta Diop was born in Diourbel, Senegal on December 23, 1933 to a Muslim Wolof family. Part of the peasant class, his family belonged to the African Mouride Islamic sect. Diop grew up in both Koranic and French colonial schools. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in Senegal, Diop moved to Paris, where he began his graduate studies at the Sorbonne in 1946 in physics.

Sources: 
John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds., New Encyclopedia of Africa (Detroit: Thomson/Gale, c2008); Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Monk, Thelonious (1917-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk became one of the 20th Century’s most influential and innovative jazz musicians.  Born on October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, the son of Thelonious and Barbara Monk, young Thelonious Monk grew up in New York City after the family moved there in 1922 and began playing the piano without formal training.  Monk, who was raised in the midst of gospel traditions and street music, later studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.  

At age 17, Monk toured the United States as an organist with a traveling evangelist.  By the early 1940s he began working as a sideman with New York City jazz groups.  Eventually he became the house player (regular performer) at Minton's Playhouse, a legendary Manhattan nightclub. While there Monk came into contact with other musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Milt Jackson.  Along with these artists, Monk became one of the creators of the bebop jazz tradition.  
Sources: 
Amiri Baraka, (Leroi Jones), Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: William Morrow, 1963); Leslie Gourse, Straight, No Chaser: The Life and Genius of Thelonious Monk (New York: Schirmer Books, 1997).  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Ingram, Rex (1895-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection

Rex Ingram, one of the first African American male actors to serve on the Board of the Screen Actors Guild, was born in 1895 on a houseboat on the Mississippi River near Cairo Illinois. Ingram claimed to have sailed as a crewman on a windjammer after receiving a medical degree from Northwestern University in Illinois, though little is actually known about his personal life prior to his entry into acting.

Ingram’s film career began in 1918, when he made his acting debut by appearing in bit parts of Tarzan films.  He went on to appear in silent films such as The Ten Commandments (1923). Between filming, Ingram worked as a professional boxer to support himself and later appeared in a number of Broadway plays, including Porgy and Bess and Stevedore. During his Broadway interim in New York, Ingram traveled back and forth to Hollywood where he obtained small parts in a number of movies, including the 1933 film The Emperor Jones opposite Paul Robeson. His big break came when he appeared in the 1936 film Green Pastures, for which he received acclaim for his multifaceted ability to portray the characters De Lawd, Adam, and Hezdrel.

Sources: 

Rex Ingram, “I Came Back from the Dead: Actor tells of his
Determination to Return to Stardom after Period of Disaster.” Ebony,
Vol. 10, (March 1955); The New York Times, “Rex Ingram, the Actor, Dies
in Hollywood at 73,” September 20, 1969; Donald Bogle. Blacks in
American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia
, (New York: Garland
Publishing, Inc, 1988).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Copeland, John Anthony, Jr. (1836-1859)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.  

Sources: 

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

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Willis, Dorsie (1886-1977)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photo Courtesy of Boyd Hagen
Of the 167 enlisted black soldiers of the 25th Infantry discharged from the U.S. Army “without honor” by order of President Theodore Roosevelt after the shooting in Brownsville, Texas in 1906, Pvt. Dorsie Willis was the only to live long enough to see justice.

According to census records, Willis was born in Mississippi in 1886. His parents, Corsey and Dochie Willis were free born.  Willis joined Company D, 25th Infantry of the U.S. Army on January 5, 1905.  In July 1906 Willis’s battalion was sent to Fort Brown in Brownsville on the American bank of the Rio Grande and near its mouth.  His battalion replaced the white 26th Infantry.  The local residents, mostly Mexican and about 20% white, were not happy with the prospect of African American soldiers being stationed there, and the soldiers of the 25th Infantry immediately encountered harassment.  

Less than three weeks later, between 12 and 20 men shot up Brownsville, killing one civilian and badly wounding another.  Witnesses identified the shooters either as black or as soldiers, which meant the same thing since all the enlisted soldiers at Fort Brown were black. Their motive was thought to be revenge for the harassment they had suffered.  
Sources: 
Harry Lembeck, Taking On Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2015); Mary Church Terrell, “A Sketch of Mingo Saunders,” Voice of the Negro, March 1907; John D. Weaver, The Brownsville Raid (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992) John D. Weaver, The Senator and the Sharecropper’s Son: Exoneration of the Brownsville Soldiers  (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Kennard, William Earl (1957– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
William E. Kennard is a telecommunications expert, attorney, and American diplomat. He was born in Los Angeles, California, on January 19, 1957, to his father, Robert Kennard, an architect, and his mother, Helen King, an elementary school teacher. William attended Stanford University, receiving his bachelor’s degree in communications in 1978, and Yale Law School, earning his juris doctor degree in 1981. 

Kennard began his professional career as an attorney at the multinational law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson, and Hand (now DLA Piper), headquartered in New York City, New York. He left the firm as partner and member of the board. He would later establish a career in government service as a general counsel at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the regulator of the telecommunications industry, from 1993 to 1997. In 1997 President Bill Clinton tapped Kennard to become chairman of the FCC, making him the first African American in history to hold that post.

Sources: 
Congressional Record, 113 Congress (2013-014) Honoring the Public Service of Ambassador William Kennard; Federal Communications Commission (2001). Principal FCC Achievements during Chairman Kennard’s Tenure 1997-2001; Official Bio, U.S. Mission to the EU.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Perkins, John [aka "Jack Punch"] ( -1812)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
HMS Tartar, ca. 1804
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Captain John Perkins, nicknamed Jack Punch, was the first black commissioned officer in the Royal Navy. His date of birth and origins are unknown but Perkins first appeared in Navy records in 1775 when he joined as a ship’s pilot aboard HMS Antelope, the flagship of the Jamaica station. In 1778 he was put in command of the Punch schooner and in 1778 and 1779 it captured 315 enemy vessels under his leadership. He then commanded the schooner Endeavour and was promoted to commander by Admiral Sir George Rodney, the commander in chief at Jamaica. The promotion was disallowed and in 1783 at the end of the American War of Independence Perkins left the Navy and remained in reserve as a half-pay lieutenant, a practice that was common at the time. What he did between 1783 and 1790 is unknown.
Sources: 
William James, The naval history of Great Britain: from the declaration of war by France in 1793 to the accession of George IV, volume 2 & 3 (London: R. Bentley 1837); J.S. Clarke, Naval Chronicle, Volumes 17 & 27 (London: Bunney & Gold 1807 & 1812); Basil Mundy, The Life and Correspondence of the Late Admiral Lord Rodney, volume 2 (London: Kessinger Publishing Co. 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Crenchaw, Milton Pitts (1919-2015)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Tuskegee Airmen Pilots in Training, ca. 1942,
Milton Crenchaw is in the Cap in the Middle
Image Courtesy of Edmund Davis
Milton Crenchaw was the only civilian flight instructor (of the first class) for the Tuskegee Airmen. He was the first Arkansas African American to be called a Tuskegee Airman.

Milton Pitts Crenchaw was born on January 13, 1919 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Ethel Pitts Crenchaw, a beautician, and Reverend Joseph C. Crenchaw. Milton Crenchaw studied auto mechanics at Dunbar Junior College and in 1939 enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Tuskegee Institute in 1939. He was in the school’s pilot training program and did not continue his studies after earning his pilot’s license.  

Sources: 

Robert A. Rose, D.D.S., Lonely Eagles, (California: Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, Los Angeles Chapter, 1976); Charles Dryden,  A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman, (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1997); Edmund Davis, Pioneering African American Aviators Featuring the Tuskegee Airmen (Little Rock: Aviate Through Knowledge Productions, 2012); http://www.lwfaam.net/ww2/aaf_66th_ftd/66th.htm; http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4925; http://earlyaviators.com/eanderso.htm; http://www.central.aero/about-us/.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arkansas Baptist College

Grant, George Franklin (1847-1910)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Dr. George Franklin Grant was the first African American professor at Harvard. He was born in Oswego, New York to former slaves. When he was fifteen years old a local dentist, Dr. Albert Smith, hired him as an errand boy. He soon became a lab assistant, and Dr. Smith encouraged him to pursue a career in dentistry. In 1868 he and Robert Tanner Freeman, another son of former slaves, became the first blacks to enroll in Harvard Dental School. After receiving his degree in 1870, he became the first African American faculty member at Harvard, in the School of Mechanical Dentistry, where he served for 19 years.

While there he specialized in treating patients with congenital cleft palates. His first patient was a 14 year-old girl, and by 1889 he had treated 115 cases. He patented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device that allowed patients to speak more normally. He was a founding member and president of the Harvard Odontological  Society, and, in 1881, he was elected President of the Harvard Dental Association.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Muholi, Zanele (1972-)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of Zanele Muholi
Zanele Muholi is one of the most prominent lesbian activists in South Africa and a world-renowned, award-winning photographer. She is a trailblazer with her images of black lesbians in candid yet intimate poses. She challenges the manner in which black women’s bodies have heretofore been represented in documentary photography. Muholi describes her work as visual activism and an important component in helping create post-apartheid equality.

Muholi was born in 1972 in Umlazi, Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa to Ashwell Banda Muholi and Bester Muholi. She is one of five children. Muholi’s 2008 photographic exhibit, “‘Massa’ and Mina(h),” chronicled the life and story of her mother who worked for 42 years as a domestic housekeeper for the same family.
Sources: 
Gabi Ngcobo, “Zanele Muholi,” ArtThrob (December 2006); Claire Breukel, “Depicting an Existence So Far Violently and Blaringly Erased” (interview), Hyperallergic (January 17, 2012); Matt McCann, “Theft Stalls, but Does Not Stop, A Project,” The New York Times (May 23, 2012); http://www.zanelemuholi.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

Barnett, Ida Wells (1862-1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Linda O. McMurry, To Keep the Waters Troubled: the Life of Ida B. Wells, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); John Hope Franklin and August Meier, Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Tiffany, Cyrus (1738-1818)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
It is presumed that Silas or Cyrus Tiffany, an African American, was the son of Nathan Tiffany and Sarah Harvey and was born in 1738.  Little is known of Cyrus Tiffany’s early life.  Historic references show that Tiffany was a Revolutionary War Fifer, perhaps as one of the members of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment where enlistment provided complete freedom to those formerly enslaved.

Census documents place Tiffany in Taunton, Bristol County, Massachusetts in 1790 and there again in 1810 and show that he collected a Revolutionary War pension.  Charles Atwood writes of Cyrus being a “notable and respected resident of Taunton” who “owned and resided in a small cottage in Town with a wife and son.”
Sources: 
Charles Atwood, Reminisces of Taunton (Taunton, Massachusetts: The Taunton Massachusetts Old Colony Historical Society, 1880); Gales and Seaton, 1834 American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, Issue 23 (Google eBook); http://history.goerie.com/2013/09/09/brig-lawrence-muster-roll-killed-wounded-prizes-awarded/; David Curtis Skaggs and Gerald T. Altoff, A Signal Victory: The Lake Erie Campaign, 1812-1813 (Washington: Naval Institute Press, 1997); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997); US Navy Casualty Record Book, 1776-1941, US National Archives.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Brown, Elaine (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
From 1974 to 1977, Elaine Brown was Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party.  She is the second woman behing Kathleen Cleaver to have held that position.  As a Panther, Brown also ran twice for a position on the City Council of Oakland, California.  Since the 1970s she has been active in prison and education reform and juvenile justice.

Born in heavily black and impoverished North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1943, Brown attended a predominantly white experimental elementary school where she studied ballet and classical piano.  Brown’s childhood was starkly divided between the comfort of her schooling and the realities of her home life.  Following high school Brown entered Temple University but left the campus for Los Angeles, California before the end of her first year.  
Sources: 
Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Elaine Brown, The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); http://www.elainebrown.org/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Philander, S. George (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Samuel George Harker Philander is Knox Taylor Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University.  Born in Caledon, Republic of South Africa on June 25, 1942, he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cape Town in 1962 and his Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1970 with a thesis titled “The Equatorial Dynamics of a Homogeneous Ocean.”  After completing a year as a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he spent six years as a research associate in the Geophysics Fluid Dynamics Program at Princeton University where in 1990 he became a professor in the Department of Geosciences.  

Philander has been a visiting professor at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, a distinguished visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology, a consultant to the World Meteorological Organization in Switzerland, and a trustee of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.  
Sources: 
American Men & Women of Science. 21st Ed. Vol. 5. (New York: Bowker, 2003); http://www.aos.princeton.edu/faculty/philander.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Stith, Charles R. (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Charles Richard Stith, a diplomat, minister, professor, and urban reformer, presently serves as the Director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University in Massachusetts. In 1998, President Bill Clinton named him ambassador to Tanzania.
Sources: 
“The Director,” BU African Presidential Center, http://www.bu.edu/apc/about-the-center/the-director/; Council of American Ambassadors, “Charles R. Stith” (2013) http://www.americanambassadors.org/members/charles-r-stith; “From tension and hostility to an era of more interracial peace,” Boston Globe, January 16, 2015, http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/01/16/from-tension-and-hostility-era-more-interracial-peace/8sVmDw1r0mxJL0uDF6uOBL/story.html; “Our History,” Union United Methodist Church, http://unionboston.org/about/history.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Dunn, Oscar J. (ca. 1825-1871)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper’s Perennial, 2002); W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Touchstone, 1995); “Lieut.-Gov. Oscar J. Dunn—Cause of His Death—Some Reminiscences of His Career” The New York Times, November 28, 1871.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Jacobs, Harriet (c.1815-1897)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, Harriet Ann Jacobs was the daughter of slaves, Delilah and Daniel Jacobs.  Harriet Jacobs is best known for her autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, edited by white abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, and published in 1852.   Using the pseudonym “Linda Brent,” Jacobs tells the story of her life as a slave of a “Dr. Flint,” to whom she was willed as a young girl after her mistress died.  At this point in her young life, Harriet encountered unceasing sexual advances from Flint.  She escaped Flint’s household in 1835, but remained nearby, living in an attic for several years in order to stay near her son.  She made her final escape in 1842 and was able to reunite with her children. She settled in Rochester, New York, where she joined the network of abolitionists.  At the urging of white abolitionist Amy Post, Jacobs wrote her autobiography.  Still pursued by slave catchers, Jacobs fled to Massachusetts.
Sources: 
Jean Fagan Yellin, “Harriet Ann Jacobs,” in Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. I (New York: Carlson, 1993), 627-29; Harriet Brent Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861); and Dorothy Sterling, ed., We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Waldon, Alton Ronald, Jr. (1936–)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of 
Representatives Photography Office
Alton Ronald Waldon Jr. was the first African American Congressman elected from Queens, New York.  Waldon was born in Lakeland, Florida on December 21, 1936. He attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, New York and after graduation in 1954 joined the United States Army.  Discharged in 1959 Waldon attended John Jay College in New York City where he received a Bachelor of Science in 1968.  He received a J.D. from New York Law School in 1973.

While still in college Waldron joined the New York City Housing Authority’s police force in 1962 and served until 1975 when he was appointed deputy commissioner of the State Division of Human Rights. He also served as assistant counsel for the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

In 1982 Waldon was elected to represent the Thirty-third District in the New York Assembly, where he served until his election to Congress.

On April 10, 1986, Sixth District Congressman Joseph Addabbo died in office.  In the special election that followed in June, Waldon defeated Floyd H. Flake, a prominent African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, and was sworn into Congress on June 10, 1986. He was seated on the Committee of Education and Labor and the Committee on Small Business.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) http://bioguide.congress.gov/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Burke, Yvonne Braithwaite (1932- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born Perle Yvonne Watson on October 5, 1932 in Los Angeles, California, Yvonne Burke became the first black woman elected to the California legislature (1966), the first black woman elected to Congress from California (1972), and the first black woman to serve as Chair of the Los Angeles County Supervisors (1993).

Educated in Los Angeles public schools, Burke received her B.A. degree from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1953. Three years later, Burke received a J.D. from the University of Southern California School of Law.  Soon afterwards she entered private practice.

Before her election to the state Assembly in 1966, Burke was a hearing officer for the Los Angeles Police Commission and Deputy Corporation Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles.  She served as an attorney for the McCone Commission which investigated the Watts Riots.   

In 1972, California Assemblywoman and Congressional Candidate Yvonne Burke was selected to address the Democratic National Convention meeting in Miami Beach, Florida in 1972.  With such prominent national exposure she easily won her Congressional Seat for California’s 28th District.  Burke served in Congress until 1979. In 1978 she ran for California Attorney General, losing to Republican George Deukmejian in the first political defeat of her career.  Following the defeat, Burke was appointed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1979, a post she held until 1980.
Sources: 
bioguide.congress.gov; http://burke.lacounty.gov/Pages/Biobb.htm;
Yvonne Bynol, Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture (Soft Skull Press, 2004); Pamela Lee Gray, “Yvonne Braithwaite Burke: The Congressional Career of California’s First Black Congresswoman, 1972-1978” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1987).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Tucker, Lorenzo (1907-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

In an era when both movies and audiences were segregated, Lorenzo Tucker became African America’s leading man. Tucker was born in Philadelphia in 1907 to parents John and Virginia Lee Tucker. Lorenzo Tucker studied photography in trade school and briefly attended Temple University, where he appeared in plays. He went on to work as a straight man in minstrel shows with blue’s singer Bessie Smith and actor/comedian Stepin’ Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry).

It was during a performance that pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux spotted Tucker and persuaded him to consider acting in movies. In 1927, Tucker made his debut in Micheaux’s A Fool's Errand. Tucker appeared in subsequent films in which he portrayed distinguished characters, such as a motion picture producer in The Wages of Sin (1928); a captain in A Daughter of the Congo (1930); and a lawyer in The Black King (1932). In 1933, he received his first minor Hollywood role in The Emperor Jones (1933) starring Paul Robeson.

Sources: 

Richard Grupenoff, The Black Valentino (Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1988); Anonymous, “Black Valentino.” Vinyard Gazette, June 8, 1976; Burt Folkart, “Lorenzo Tucker, 'Black Valentino,' Dies,” Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1986, p.28.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Gibbs, Mifflin Wistar (1823-1915)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 17, 1823, Mifflin Wistar Gibbs apprenticed as a carpenter. By his early 20s he was an activist in the abolition movement, sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass and helping in the Underground Railroad. Black intellectual ferment of the era gave him a superb education outside the classroom, and he became a powerful writer. In 1850 he migrated to San Francisco, California; starting as a bootblack, he was soon a successful merchant, the founder of a black newspaper, Mirror of the Times, and a leading member of the city’s black community.

Sources: 
Crawford Kilian, Go Do Some Great Thing: The Black Pioneers of British Columbia (Vancouver BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 1978); Tom W. Dillard, “The Black Moses of the West: A Biography of Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, 1823-1915.” (M.A. Thesis, University of Arkansas, 1975.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Capilano College (British Columbia)

Crosthwait, David Nelson Jr. (1898-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. was a African American inventor who is known for creating the heating system for Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York.  Crosthwait was born on May 27th 1898 in Nashville, Tennessee.  He grew up in Kansas City, Kansas where he attended an all-black school.  

From a young age Crosthwait trained to become an engineer.  His parents and teachers were very encouraging and challenged him to do experiments and to make designs.  Crosthwait upon graduating from high school in Kansas City in 1908 received a full academic scholarship to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  He gradated in 1913 from Purdue at the top of his class and received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  

Sources: 

Otha Richard Sullivan, Black Stars: African American Inventors (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Soyinka, Wole (1934- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of Harvard University
Akinwande Ouwole "Wole" Soyinka, the first African writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (1986) was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria on July 13, 1934.  His father, Canon S.A. Soyinka, was an Anglican minister and his mother, Grace Eniola, was the daughter of an Anglican minister.
Sources: 
Biodun Jeyifo, Wole Soyinka: Politics, Poetics and Post Colonialism (New York: Cambridge Press, 2004); http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/soyinka/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911–2015)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Amelia Boynton Robinson (in Blue) at the 50th Anniversary of
the Selma to Montgomery March, 2015

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Although most known for widely-publicized photographs that depicted her assault during the 1965 Bloody Sunday civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, Amelia Boynton Robinson lived a long life of civil rights activism in both Georgia and Alabama. Her critical role promoting African American voting rights in the South remains undervalued in published histories of the Civil Rights Movement, but Ava DuVernay’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated film Selma provided some renewed recognition on the eve of Boynton Robinson’s death.
Sources: 
Amelia Boynton Robinson, Bridge Across the Jordan (Washington, D.C.: Schiller Institute 1991);  Denise L. Berkhalter, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” Crisis 112 (March/April 2005); Margalit Fox, “Amelia Boynton Robinson, a Pivotal Figure at the Selma March, Dies at 104,” New York Times, August 26, 2015; and “Amelia Boynton Robinson and the Dallas County Voters League (DCVL),” at: https://www.teachingforchange.org/boynton-robinson-and-dcvl.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University

Current, Gloster B. (1913-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Musician, clergyman and civil rights supporter Gloster B. Current was instrumental in the growth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP, founded 1909).  Born in 1913 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to John T. Current and Earsy Bryant, Gloster grew up Chicago and Detroit. He earned a BA degree from West Virginia State College in 1941 and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Wayne State University in 1950.  

Current’s role with the NAACP spanned 37 years between 1936 and 1978.  He began his career with a position with the organization’s youth council in Detroit.  Two years later, he married Leontine Turpeau Current (later Kelly), who would become the first African American woman elected bishop in a mainstream denomination. They had three children and before divorcing.

Three years into his NAACP service, Current became vice chairman of national college chapters and chair of the central youth council committee.  He later held positions in the national office as a deputy to the executive director and served most of his time as director of branch and field services, supervising all NAACP membership, field service, and organizational activities.  

Sources: 
Angella P. Current, Breaking Barriers: An American Family and Methodist Story (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001); “Gloster B. Current, Civil Rights Leader and Former NAACP executive dies” Jet Magazine (July 21 1997); Lawrence Van Gelder, “Gloster B. Current, 84, Leader Who Helped Steer N.A.A.C.P,” New York Times, July 9, 1997; “Gloster B. Current, ‘Marching Soldier’,” The Crisis 87:10 (December 1980).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Watkins, Dr. Levi, Jr. (1944-2015)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. was a cardiac surgeon who, in 1980, performed the first implantation of an automatic defibrillator into a human heart. He was also a professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sources: 
Carl Schoettler, “Memories of King's lessons Protégé: Dr. Levi Watkins Jr. once benefited firsthand from the teachings of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” (The Baltimore Sun, January 15 1997); “Footprint Through Time: Levi Watkins Jr.” (PBS: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/partners/legacy/l_colleagues_watkins.html)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sydney, Australia

Knox, Lawrence Howland (1906-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of 

Dr. Lawrence Howland Knox, noted chemist, was born on September 30, 1906 in New Bedford, Massachusetts to William Jacob and Estella Knox.   Knox was one of five children, two girls and three boys, and remarkably for that time, all of the boys earned PhDs; the oldest brother, William Jr. also earned a PhD in chemistry, and the younger brother, Clinton, earned a PhD in history.

Knox attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine for his undergraduate schooling.  He majored in chemistry and played on the school football team.  He graduated in 1928 and began teaching chemistry at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.  After teaching at Morehouse for two years Knox attended Stanford and in 1931 attained his Master’s degree.  That same year he married his wife, Hazel and the two had one son.  After receiving his Master’s degree, Knox began teaching at the Agriculture and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, and in 1933 he transferred to North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham.  In 1936 he took another break from teaching and began working for his doctorate at Harvard.  In 1940 he achieved a PhD in organic Chemistry and went back to teaching at North Carolina College.

Sources: 
Leon Gortler and Stephen J. Weininger, “Chemical Relations:  William and Lawrence Knox, African American Chemists” Chemical Heritage Foundation www.chemicalheritage.org; American Men of Science (New York: Jacques Cattel Press, 1955).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Holland, Endesha Ida Mae (1944-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.

Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.

This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.

Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University, Antioch McGregor University

Isaacs, Cheryl Boone (1949---)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Veteran publicist Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American to serve as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, followed the path of her pioneering sibling as a top-tier executive in the Hollywood motion picture industryAshley A. Boone Jr. (1939-1994), her brother, had been the most distinguished African American working at several studios, capping his career in 1979 as president for distribution and marketing at 20th Century Fox.

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts into a middle class family of four children, Isaacs’ parents stressed academic achievement.  Her youthful ambition to become a musical comedy star was discouraged.  She graduated from Classical High School in 1967 then moved to California and earned her political science degree in 1971 at Whittier College.

Sources: 
Mollie Gregory, Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003); Who’s Who in America (New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who’s Who, 2009); http://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2013/07/springfields_cheryl_boone_isaa.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Charles, Ezzard Mack (1921-1975)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ezzard Charles, also known as “The Cincinnati Cobra,” was a quiet, modest individual who went on to become a relatively unheralded world heavyweight champion. Born in Lawrenceville, Georgia on July 7, 1921, Ezzard moved to Cincinnati at the age of nine to live with his grandmother. He began boxing as an amateur in his teens and won the AAU National middleweight title in 1939. He turned professional in March of 1940. His early bouts were against the top middleweights and light heavyweights in the world. A clever boxer, over the course of his professional career he defeated many of boxing’s greatest fighters including Charley Burley, Joey Maxim, Archie Moore (three times), “Jersey” Joe Walcott, Gus Lesnevich, and Joe Louis.

His professional career was interrupted for two years in 1944 and 1945 when he served a stint in the army during World War II.  Upon the completion of his service he returned to boxing in 1946 and defeated Archie Moore, Lloyd Marshall, and Jimmy Bivins to earn a number two ranking in the light heavyweight class. He fought a total of five light heavyweight champions, defeating four of them, but never received an opportunity to fight for the division’s title. Despite this, many consider him one of the greatest light heavyweight fighters of all time on the basis of his record in that weight class.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Wanda L. Nesbitt (1956-- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Wanda L. Nesbitt holds the rank of Career Minister in the U.S. Foreign Service.  She joined the United States Foreign Service in 1981. She was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar by President George W. Bush and served in that capacity from 2001 to 2004.  President Bush appointed her ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire where she served from 2007 to 2010.  In 2010 President Barack Obama appointed her ambassador to Namibia.   

Her previous Consular assignments included Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (1982-1983); Paris, France (1983-1985); Kigali, Rwanda (1997-1999), and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1999-2001).
Sources: 
Noel Brinkerhoff, “Ambassador to Namibia: Who is Wanda Nesbitt?” AllGov.com, July 10, 2011; Wanda L. Nesbitt, “Jonas Savimbi and UNITA’s Struggle for Independence in Angola,” National War College, Washington, D.C, 1997, U.S. Department of State Archive, Jan. 20, 2001 to 2009, www.State.gov; “U.S. Ambassador Reacts to Editorial Opinion” Africa News Service, Feb. 3, 2012, “U.S. Ambassador to Cote D’Ivoire,” State Magazine, Dec. 2, 2007; “U.S. Signs Open Skies Agreement with Madagascar,” Africa News Service, March 12, 2004.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central College

Johnson, Willard, Sr. (1901-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
(Image Courtesy Willard Johnson, Jr.)
Willard Johnson, bacteriologist, science educator, business proprietor, was born in Leavenworth Kansas, the third of the eleven children of Joseph Johnson and Hattie McClanahan. Taught by his high school’s founder, Blanche Kelso Bruce, nephew of the Reconstruction era Senator of the same name, he was the first in his family to go to college. Johnson attended Kansas University (KU), where he joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. In 1922, he was admitted to the Kansas University Medical School. Probably the second African American ever admitted, Willard struggled through nearly three years of medical course work but did not transfer to a black medical school to finish as KU required at the time.

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.

Sources: 
Willard Johnson Family Papers in the possession of the author; The Kansas Collection of The Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas; Kansas City Call, May 7, 1937, October 28, 1938; Amber Reagan-Kendrick, “Ninety Years of Struggle and Success: African American History at the University of Kansas, 1870-1960,” (doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Johnson, Jack (1878-1946)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jack Johnson, the first African American and first Texan to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, was born the second of six children to Henry and Tiny Johnson in Galveston on March 31, 1878.  His parents were former slaves.  To help support his family, Jack Johnson left school in the fifth grade to work on the dock in his port city hometown.  In the 1890s Johnson began boxing as a teenager in "battles royal" matches where white spectators watched black men fight and at the end of the contest tossed money at the winner.

Johnson turned professional in 1897 but four years later he was arrested and jailed because boxing was at that time a criminal sport in Texas.  After his release from jail he left Texas to pursue the title of “Negro” heavyweight boxing champion. Although he made a good living as a boxer, Johnson for six years sought a title fight with the white heavyweight champion, James J. Jeffries.  Jeffries denied Johnson and other African American boxers a shot at his title and he retired undefeated in 1904. 

Sources: 
Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson is a Dandy (New York: Chelsea House, 1969); Al-Tony Gilmore, "Bad Nigger!" The National Impact of Jack Johnson (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1975); Thomas R. Hietala, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2002); http://www.pbs.org/unforgivableblackness/about/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Harrison, Hubert Henry (1883-1927)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Photographs and Prints
Division, Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture, The New York Public Library, 
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Hubert Henry Harrison, author, lecturer, editor, and labor leader, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now United States Virgin Islands) on April 27, 1883.  Upon the completion of his elementary schooling in 1900, he moved to New York City, New York.  There he took on various service-oriented positions, including that of telephone operator and hotel bellman.  Beginning in 1901 he attended an evening high school program, finishing at the top of his class in 1907.  After graduation Harrison became a postal clerk. 

Sources: 
Louis J. Parascandola, “Look for Me All Around You,” Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005), pp. 131-34; Jeffrey B. Perry, A Hubert Harrison Reader (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

O’Leary, Hazel Rollins Reid (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S.
Department of Energy
The first and only woman to hold the position of U.S. Secretary of Energy, Hazel Rollins Reid was born May 17, 1937 in Newport News, Virginia.  During this time of public school segregation, Reid’s parents, hoping for better schooling opportunities, sent their daughter to live with an aunt in New Jersey. There Reid attended a school for artistically gifted students.

Reid entered Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee in 1955 and graduated with honors four years later. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society at Fisk.  Seven years later she received a law degree from Rutgers University and soon became an attorney in the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office.

By the early 1970s Reid moved to Washington, D.C., where she became a partner at Coopers and Lybrand, an accounting firm. Soon she joined the Gerald Ford Administration as general counsel to the Community Services Administration which administered most of the federal government’s anti-poverty programs.  President Ford later appointed Reid director of the Federal Energy Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs. In this position she became well known as a representative of the concerns of consumers who challenged the power and influence of the major energy producers.
Sources: 
United States, Congress, Senate, Committee of Energy and Natural Resource Hazel R. O’Leary nomination: hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Unites States Senate, One Hundred Third Congress, first session, on the nomination of Hazel R. O’Leary, to be Secretary, Department of Energy, January 19,1993 (Washington: U.S. G.P.O, Supt. Of Docs., Congressional Sales Office, 1993); Mary Anne Borrelli, The President’s Cabinet: Gender, Power, and Representation (Boulder, Colorado: L. Rienner Publishers, 2002); http://www.dom.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Evans, Melvin Herbert (1917–1984)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain
Melvin Herbert Evans was born on August 7, 1917, in Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. He attended public schools until entering Howard University where he received his B.S. in 1940.  In 1944 he received his M.D. from Howard College of Medicine, whereupon he served in a variety of medical and public health posts at hospitals and institutions in the United States until 1959.  From 1959 to 1967 Evans served as a health commissioner in the Virgin Islands.  In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Evans, a Republican, as Governor of the Virgin Islands.  In 1970, after the Virgin Islands Elective Governor Act allowed for the election of a governor by the territory’s residents, Evans became the first popularly elected governor, serving for five years. Afterward, he was a Republican National Committeeman for the Virgin Islands from 1976 to 1980.
Sources: 
Bruce Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1990);  http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=E000254.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Barrett, Jacqueline Harrison (1940- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Jacqueline Harrison, the Sheriff of Fulton County (Atlanta), Georgia, was born on November 4, 1940 in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Cornelius and Ocie Perry Harrison. In 1972, she earned her bachelor's degree in sociology, concentrating in criminology. She received a master's degree in criminology from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1973.

After graduation, Barrett, now married, began a career in criminal justice. She worked as a criminal justice planner in East Point, College Park, and Hapeville, Georgia.

Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, "From the Grassroots" Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), p. 16-18.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College / University of Mississippi

Sweatt, Heman Marion (1912-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Heman Sweatt in Law School Registration Line,
University of Texas, Sept. 19, 1950.
Image courtesy of the Center for American History,
The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Student Media,
The Daily Texan. Prints and Photographs Collection,
CN 00323a.

Heman Marion Sweatt was a postal worker from Houston, Texas, who in 1950 integrated the University of Texas Law School.  Sweatt was born on December 11, 1912 in Houston, Texas.  He was the fourth child of James Leonard and Ella Rose Sweatt.  In 1930, he graduated from Jack Yates High School and earned a degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1934. Soon after, Sweatt returned to Houston and worked as a mailman.  

Sources: 

Michael L. Gillette, Michael L., "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert ed. Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981); http://txtell.lib.utexas.edu/stories/s0010-full.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Tutu, Osei Kofi (c. 1680-1717)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
The Golden Stool of the Ashanti Empire
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Kevin Shillington, Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005); John Iliffe, Africa: the History of a Continent (New York : Cambridge University Press, 1995); S.N. Eisenstadt, The Early State in African Perspective: Culture, Power, and Division of Labor (New York : E.J. Brill, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Thompson, John Wendell (1949– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Born April 24, 1949, to working-class parents in Fort Dix, New Jersey, John Wendell Thompson climbed the high-tech world’s business ranks from entry level sales to executive positions at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) and Symantec Corporation for a combined forty years. In 2014 however he became only the second chairman of the board at Microsoft Corporation, replacing the corporation’s co-founder, William Henry “Bill” Gates III. Thompson’s rise was even more remarkable, given that only a handful of tech industry CEOs are African American and only 1.5 percent of high-tech employees are African American.
Sources: 
Lean’tin Bracks, African-American Almanac: 400 Years of Triumph, Courage and Excellence (Canton: Visible Ink Press, 2011); Alan Hughes, “The Best CEO in Silicon Valley,” Black Enterprise magazine (September 2004); http://www.bet.com/news/national/2014/02/05/thompson-becomes-first-black-chairman-of-microsoft-s-board.html; http://fortune.com/2014/02/07/who-is-john-thompson/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Taylor, Robert Robinson (1868-1942)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Architect and educator Robert Robinson Taylor was the first African American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  He is the father of architect and Chicago business leader Robert Rochon Taylor (1899-1957) and the great-grandfather of Valerie Jarrett (1956-  ), senior advisor to President Barack Obama (1961-  ). With a professional career as an architect and instructor that spanned four decades from 1893 to 1933, Taylor influenced generations of future African American architects in the United States.  

Robert Robinson Taylor was born on June 8th, 1868, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His father, a carpenter, and his mother were former slaves. Taylor’s earliest formal education occurred at Wilmington’s Williston School and the all-black Gregory Normal Institute (1868-1921), sponsored by the American Missionary Association (1846-?).  He entered MIT’s School of Architecture in 1888 and in 1892 was MIT’s first black graduate.
Sources: 
Dreck Spurlock Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004); Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee; Its Story and Its Work (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1900); Clarence G. Williams, “From 'Tech' to Tuskegee: The Life of Robert Robinson Taylor,1868-1942,” http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/mithistory/blacks-at-mit/taylor.html; “MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections: An MIT Chronology” http://libraries.mit.edu/archives/timeline/index.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Boston King (c. 1760-1802)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Boston King Book Cover
Image Courtesy of History Collection, Nova Scotia Museum
Boston King, one of the pioneer settlers of Sierra Leone, was born enslaved on the Richard Waring plantation near Charleston, South Carolina around 1760. Through the age of 16, King was trained as a house servant before being sent to apprentice as a carpenter in Charleston. In 1780, when British troops occupied Charleston during the American Revolution, King fled to the British garrison and gained his freedom.  King was first a servant to British officers but like many black male Loyalists he joined the British Army. He worked mostly as a carpenter but on one occasion he carried an important dispatch through enemy lines, which saved 250 British soldiers at Nelson’s Ferry, South Carolina. Later, as a crewmember on a British warship, King participated in the capture of a rebel ship in Chesapeake Bay.
Sources: 
Boston King, Memoirs of the life of Boston King (Halifax: Nimbus Publishing, 2003); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2006); Joe Lockard and Elizabeth McNeil, eds. “Annotated Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, a Black Preacher originally published in The Methodist Magazine” (Arizona State University Antislavery Literature Project, n.d.), http://antislavery.eserver.org/narratives/boston_king/bostonkingproof.pdf/; James W. St G. Walker, “King, Boston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=2489.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Massie, Samuel Proctor (1919-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born in 1919 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Samuel Proctor Massie was as one of the few African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project during World War II.  He later became a distinguished professor of chemistry.

Massie graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock at the age of 13.  At age 18, he earned his bachelor’s in science and was summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1937.  With a scholarship from the National Youth Administration he earned a master’s degree in chemistry at Fisk University in 1940 when he was only 21 years old.  Massie said his desire to find a cure for his father's asthma spurred him to become a chemist.

As he neared the completion of his doctorate in chemistry at Iowa State University in 1942, Massie lost his draft deferment.  When he was about to be drafted in his home state of Arkansas, his major professor at Iowa State, Henry Gilman, who was already working on the Manhattan Project, assigned Massie to his research team.  Massie performed his research at Iowa State University from 1942 to 1946 where he helped in the development of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb.   
Sources: 
Samuel Proctor Massie (with Robert C. Hayden), Catalyst: The Autobiography of an American Chemist (Laurel, Md.: S.P. Massie, 2001); Neal Thompson, "The Chemist: An Interview with Samuel P. Massie," American Legacy 7 (Spring 2001); "Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr.," The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4443; “Obituary,” Jet, May 9, 2005, 24.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

Singleton, Benjamin "Pap" (1809-1892)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Sources: 
Nell Irvine Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1976); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West 1528-1900 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998); "The "Exodusters" Movement" in The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide to the Study of Black History & Culture,  http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/afam009.html; Lin Frederickson, "He Was Once a Slave" on the Kansas Memory Blog of the Kansas Historical Society, http://www.kansasmemory.org/blog/post/73490075
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lemon, Don (1966- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Don Carlton Lemon is a prominent, award-winning black television anchor in the United States. In 2011, he publicly came out as a gay man. In so doing, he became the most prominent African American journalist to announce his sexual orientation and was immediately considered a major role model for other gay men of color.

Lemon was born on March 1, 1966 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to a single working mother. His father, known only as Mr. Richardson, played a positive role in Lemon’s young life. He and his sisters, Yma and Leisa, grew up in west Baton Rouge and Port Allen. They lived there with their mother and grandmother until 1976 when his mother married Lemon’s step-father. As an adult, Lemon reported that at the age of five he was sexually abused by a teenage male neighbor.

Lemon enrolled at Louisiana State University in 1984 but did not complete his studies. He moved to New York City in 1990 and entered the broadcasting field. His first job there was as a reporter for the Fox Affiliate, WNYW. Lemon graduated from Brooklyn College in Broadcast Journalism in 1996. He then moved to Birmingham, Alabama to anchor the news at Fox’s WBRC. St. Louis, Missouri was his next stop where he anchored and reported for KTVI.
Sources: 
David Taffet, “Don Lemon: Gay rights are civil rights,” Dallas Voice (January 25, 2013), http://www.dallasvoice.com/don-lemon%E2%80%88gay-rights-civil-rights-10137593.html; http://www.lgbthistorymonth.com/don-lemon.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

White, Walter F. (1893-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Walter Francis White was a leading civil rights advocate of the first half of the twentieth century.  As executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1931 to 1955, he was one of the major architects of the modern African American freedom struggle.

White, whose blond hair and blue eyes belied his African American ancestry, was born in Atlanta, Georgia on July 1, 1893, the fourth of seven children.  His parents, George W. White, a graduate of Atlanta University and a postal worker, and Madeline Harrison White, a Clark University graduate and school teacher, were solidly middle class at the time when the vast majority of Atlanta blacks were working class.
Sources: 
“Walter White (1893-1955),” The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University), http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/white-walter.cfm, accessed January 1, 2014; Walter F. White, A Man Called White: The Autobiography of Walter White (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995); The New Georgia Encyclopedia:
http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-747.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Brown, Grafton Tyler (1841-1918)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Grafton Tyler Brown, the most successful African American artist in the 19th Century west, lived his adult life as a white man.  This says more about America’s racial structure than it does about his choice to pass for white.  Brown was born on February 22, 1841 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to light-skinned Thomas and Wilhelmina Brown, the first of four sons.

In 1858, Grafton Brown arrived in Sacramento, California, where he worked as a hotel steward. One year later, the widely-read Sacramento Union noticed a “Good Painting,” Grafton Brown’s depiction of the British steamship Great Eastern. The next year, judges at the State Agricultural Fair praised Brown’s “inborn and self-taught style” that produced a “nicely drawn” railroad engine.

Encouraged by this early recognition, Brown moved to San Francisco where he failed to indicate that he was “colored.” Here, his work came to the attention of Charles Kuchel, formerly the foremost lithographer during the 1850s. Lithography is today known as “offset printing;” Brown drew with a grease pen on polished limestone.
Sources: 
Robert J. Chandler, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014); Lizetta LeFalle-Collins, “Grafton Tyler Brown: Selling the Promise of the West,” International Review of African American Art 12: 1(1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, Rev. Mance (1931-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Rev. Mance Jackson (seated in front) as
Rev. Samuel McKinley Speaks
Image Courtesy of Seattle P-I Collection, Museum of
History & Industry (1986.5.5923.4)
Sources: 
Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (United States of America: University of Washington Press, 2003); http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/lifestyle/59696_blackhistory26.shtml.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hansberry, Lorraine (1930-1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lorraine Hansberry was one of the most significant and influential playwrights of the 20th Century. Her landmark play A Raisin in the Sun, which opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York City in 1959, was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. Hansberry’s account of the struggles of an urban black family was an overnight success, running some 530 performances, and winning a New York Drama Critics Circle Award and four Tonys for Best Play, Director, Actress and Actor. It is generally credited with breaking down the racial barriers to Broadway, and ushering in a new era of opportunity for black women playwrights. The play was made into a movie in 1961 with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil reprising their roles, and Ms. Hansberry writing the screenplay.
Sources: 
Anthony D. Hill, An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Gray, William Herbert, III (1941–2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Office of
Representative Gray

William Herbert Gray III was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 20, 1941. His mother, Hazel Yates Gray, was a high school teacher. His father, William Herbert Gray Jr. was a Baptist Minister and over his career, the president of two Florida colleges. Upon taking a job as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, William H. Gray Jr. moved his family to the Philadelphia area. Following in his father’s footsteps, Gray became an assistant pastor of a church in Montclair, New Jersey, after graduating from Franklin and Marshal College in 1963. Gray received a master of divinity degree in 1966 from Drew Theological School. He became senior minister at his church that same year.  In 1970, Gray earned a degree in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. As a Baptist minister Gray became involved in the fair housing campaign in New Jersey.  In one instance Gray successfully sued a landlord who had refused to rent to him because of his race.

After his father died in 1972, William Gray returned to Philadelphia and became the minister of Bright Hope Baptist Church. Four years later, Gray made his first run for Congress in 1976, campaigning on his experience of promoting fair housing. He lost to incumbent Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Nix in the Democratic Primary but won his second bid in 1978 ending Nix’s 20 year tenure in Congress.   

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990; "Gray, William Herbert, III," in Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr, eds.,  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition. Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/article/opr/t0002/e1710;
“William H. Gray, III Bio and Photo,” The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., http://www.ncccusa.org/news/2000GA/gray.html .
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Hubert (H. Rap) /Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
H. Rap Brown succeeded Stokely Carmichael as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was a prominent figure in the Black Panther Party. A leading proponent of Black Power and a polarizing media icon, Brown symbolized both the power and the dangers – for white Americans and for radical activists themselves – of the civil rights movement's new militancy in the late 1960s.

Brown was born in 1943 and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  In 1960 he joined the Non-Violent Action Group (NAG) and moved to Washington, D.C. In 1964 he became NAG chairman. His activities with NAG soon drew him to SNCC, which was then engaged in voter-registration drives in the Deep South. Brown quickly distinguished himself as a charismatic leader and effective organizer. He was appointed director of voter registration for the state of Alabama in 1966 and replaced Carmichael as national chairman a year later.
Sources: 
James Haskins, Profiles in Black Power (New York:  Doubleday & Co. 1972), 217-238; H. Rap Brown and Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Die Nigger Die! A Political Autobiography (Lawrence Hill Books, 1969); Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, "H. Rap Brown/Jamil Al-Amin: A Profoundly American Story," The Nation, February 28, 2002; http://www.thenation.com/doc/20020318/thelwell
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cook, Will Marion (1869-1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Will Marion Cook was a talented musician, conductor, and composer born on January 27, 1869 in Washington, D.C. to John Hartwell Cook and Marion Isabelle Lewis. From 1884 to 1887 Cook studied violin at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.  He then studied abroad for two years from 1887 to 1889 at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in Germany, training under Heinrich Jacobsen.

Like Harry T. Burleigh, Cook had also studied under Czech composer Antonin Dvorák at New York’s National Conservatory of Music, and was similarly inspired to experiment with compositions that maintained the integrity of the Negro spiritual. In 1898 Cook’s first composed score, for the show Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk, met with critical acclaim. The show’s successful run at the Casino Roof Garden Theatre in New York established Cook as a gifted composer. He made history with Clorindy by becoming the first African American to conduct a white theater orchestra. In 1899 he married Abbie Mitchell, the show’s leading actress. They had two children together, Will and Marion, but separated in 1906.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Arrington, Richard (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Richard Arrington, the first African American mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, was born in Livingston, Alabama on October 19, 1934 to sharecroppers.  He received a Bachelor's degree from Miles College (Alabama), a M.A. in Biology from the University of Detroit in Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Zoology and Biochemistry from the University of Oklahoma

Before becoming mayor of Birmingham in 1979, Arrington taught at his alma mater, Miles College, the University of Alabama, and the University of Oklahoma.  He also served for nine years as the Executive Director of the Alabama Center of Higher Education, a consortium of eight black colleges in the state of Alabama. From 1971 to 1979, he was a member of Birmingham's city council.
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), p. 11-12.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College/University of Mississippi

Anderson, Ernest (1916-2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Legendary actor Ernest Anderson gained notoriety for his monumental performance in the 1942 film In This Our Life – a single, supporting role that facilitated the alteration of negative depictions presented of African Americans in Hollywood film. Born in 1916 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Anderson was educated at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. and Northwestern University’s School of Drama and Speech.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Anderson moved to Hollywood where he worked as a service man for Warner Brothers studio before receiving his debut role in In This Our Life. It was Bette Davis, the film’s protagonist, who arranged Anderson’s interview for the part of Perry Clay – an aspiring lawyer who is falsely placed at the center of a hit-and-run scandal committed by a spoiled Southern woman.

The script originally called for Anderson’s character to comply with the dialectical speech patterns Hollywood filmmakers forced African Americans to deliver during the pre-World War II era. But after Anderson argued the integrity of the part, director John Huston empowered him to present the character with dignity, intelligence, and emotion.

Sources: 

Carlton Jackson, Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel (Lanham: Madison Books, 1990); Thomas Cripps, Making Movies Black (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1993); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dickerson, Earl Burrus (1891-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Earl Dickerson in His Law Office, 1921
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Earl Burrus Dickerson was a member of President Roosevelt’s Fair Employment Practices Commission between 1941 and 1943 and a prominent civil rights attorney in Chicago.  He was also one of the founders of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. 

Dickerson was born in Canton, Mississippi in 1891.  He attended the University of Illinois and served during World War I as an infantry lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces. In 1920 he became the first African American to receive a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.  The following year Dickerson helped found Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and became its general counsel.  By the early 1940s Supreme Life, as it was then known, was the largest African American owned business in the North.  Part of its success stemmed from the still segregated American society.  White insurance companies generally refused to insure African Americans or employ them.  Supreme Life filled that void.  The company was particularly helpful to African Americans in the Great Depression when it provided mortgage loans to struggling families.  Dickerson became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Supreme Life in 1955 and remained in that position until 1971 when he became chairman of the Board of Directors. 

Sources: 
Robert J. Blakely and Marcus Shepard, Earl B. Dickerson: A Voice for Freedom and Equality (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2006); 1,000 Successful Blacks, The Ebony Success Library, v.1 (Chicago, Johnson Pub. Co., 1973); Ebony (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1946 & 1947); Jet (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1979).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Reed, Frankie A. (1954- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Frankie Annette Reed is a career Foreign Service officer who has held a variety of diplomatic postings in Europe, Africa, and Pacific Island nations.   Between 2011 and 2013, she served as concurrent Ambassador to the Republic of the Fiji Islands, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu, and the Republic of Kiribati.  Reed was also promoted in 2011 to her current standing as a Minister-Counselor within the Senior Foreign Service.
Sources: 
“An Interview with Frankie A. Reed, U.S. Ambassador to Fiji,” http://thepolitic.org/an-interview-with-frankie-a-reed-u-s-ambassador-to-fiji/ ); “Howard Alumna Reed Sworn in as Ambassador to Fiji,” http://www.howard.edu/newsroom/releases/2011/20110929HowardAlumnaReedSworninasAmbassadortoFiji.htm;  and “U.S. Consul General Frankie A. Reed,”
http://melbourne.usconsulate.gov/consul_general.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University

Ellison, Marvin (1966– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Marvin Ellison is the current CEO of J.C. Penney. He is the first African American CEO of the company in its one-hundred-fourteen-year history, and as of 2016 is one of only six African American CEOs to run a Fortune 500 company. J.C. Penney ranks two hundred fiftieth of the Fortune 500 corporations.

Ellison was born in 1966 in Haywood County, Tennessee, and grew up in Brownsville, a small town about sixty miles northeast of Memphis, Tennessee. He was born to working-class parents and was the middle child of seven siblings. Neither his mother nor father graduated from high school, although his father had stable employment as a door-to-door insurance salesman.

Ellison’s early life was marked by poverty and the limitations of living in rural and impoverished Haywood County, Tennessee. Despite this, Ellison was accepted into the University of Memphis as a business major in 1984. During his five and a half years at the University of Memphis, he worked various odd jobs in order to pay his tuition and support himself. These jobs included graveyard shifts at a convenience store, janitorial work at a women’s department store, and driving a plumbing supplies truck in the summer. Ellison graduated with a Business Administration degree in Marketing. He later earned his MBA at Emory University.
Sources: 
Maria Halkias, “Marvin Ellison’s Story is Classic J.C. Penney,” The Dallas Morning News, June 22, 2015, http://www.dallasnews.com/business/retail/20150622-marvin-ellisons-story-is-classic-j.c.-penney.ece; Angela Wilson, “J.C. Penney Appoints its First Black CEO, Marvin Ellison,” Uptown, October 14, 2014, http://uptownmagazine.com/2014/10/jcpenney-first-black-ceo-marvin-ellison/ “JCPENNY Names Marvin Ellison President and CEO-Designee,” Company News, October 13, 2014, http://ir.jcpenney.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=70528&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1976923; David Thomas, “Former Brownsville Resident is JCPenney CEO, The Jackson Sun, November 19, 2015, http://www.jacksonsun.com/story/news/2015/11/19/former-brownsville-resident-jcpenney-ceo/76074334/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Gloucester, Elizabeth A. Parkhill (1817-1883)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Elizabeth A. Parkhill Gloucester, the wife of the Rev. Dr. James Gloucester, was an abolitionist, a supporter of the Underground Railroad, business owner, and considered one of the wealthiest women of her race at the time of her death in 1883. 

Born in Virginia to a free woman, Elizabeth Parkhill moved to Philadelphia at the age of six after her mother's death. Before her death, Elizabeth’s mother had arranged for her to live in the home of Rev. John Gloucester, founder of the first black Presbyterian Church in the United States.  She was raised along with his ten children as part of the family.

By the time she was 21, Elizabeth worked as a domestic for John Cook, a prominent Philadelphia Quaker. A few years later she became reacquainted with one of the children she grew up with, James Gloucester, and after a short courtship, the two were married in 1838. James worked in Philadelphia as a teacher and Elizabeth had taken some of her savings and opened a second hand clothing shop. James, also an ordained Presbyterian minister, was offered the opportunity to start a new church and the couple relocated to New York City, New York in 1840. Together they had six children; Emma, Stephen, Elizabeth, Eloise, Charles, and Adelaide.
Sources: 
Montrose Morris, “Walkabout: The Gloucester Family of Brooklyn, Part 1” (Brownstowner.com, October 9, 2012), http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/10/walkabout-the-gloucester-family-of-brooklyn-part-1/; In pursuit of freedom, Abolitionist biographies, http://pursuitoffreedom.org/abolitionist-biographies/; Chuck Taylor, “Heights History: Gloucester’s Remsen House @ Remsen & Clinton Streets” (October 10, 2012), http://brooklynheightsblog.com/archives/49051; Edward Rothstein, “When Slavery and Its Foes Thrived in Brooklyn ‘Brooklyn Abolitionists’ Reveals a Surprising History” (Jan 16, 2014), http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/arts/design/brooklyn-abolitionists-reveals-a-surprising-history.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Carruthers, George (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
The physicist and inventor George Carruthers, known for inventing the ultraviolet camera and spectrograph, was born on October 1, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Carruthers is the oldest of four siblings. Carruthers’s father, George Carruthers, Sr., died when Carruthers was only 12 years old. However, before his death the senior Carruthers, a civil engineer in the United States Army, played a significant role in Carruthers’s budding interest in science. For example, Carruthers had built his own telescope from cardboard tubing and mail-order lenses from the money he had made as a delivery boy at the age of 10 years old.

Following the loss of his father, Carruthers’s mother, Sophia Carruthers, moved the family to Chicago, Illinois in search of employment.  She eventually worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Carruthers’s love for science remained strong, eventually becoming one of only a handful African American students to attend Chicago’s Englewood High School. During his time at Englewood, Carruthers won three science fair awards.

Sources: 
Kamau Rashid, Jacob H. Carruthers and the African-Centered Discourse on Knowledge, Worldview, and Power (London: Pluto Press, 2004); George Carruthers, Rocket Observation of Interstellar Molecular Hydrogen (Washington, D.C.: E.O. Hulburt Center for Space Research, 1970); Donna McKinney, NRL’S Dr. George Carruthers Honored with National Medal of Technology and Innovation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Research Laboratory, 2013).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Carson, Julia May Porter (1938–2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Julia May Porter Carson, one of the first African American women to represent Indiana in Congress, was born Julia May Porter on July 8, 1938. She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but in her early childhood she moved with her mother to Indianapolis, Indiana, where Carson would spend the remainder of her life.  Porter's single mother, Velma, worked as a domestic and Julia as a child worked part-time waiting tables, delivering newspapers, and harvesting crops to supplement the family income.

In Indianapolis, Carson attended Crispus Attucks High School, at the time a segregated school, along with future basketball star Oscar Robertson. She later studied at Martin’s University in Indiana, and attended Indiana University in Bloomington.   

Married early in life, Carson and her husband divorced leaving her to raise two children as a single mother.  In 1965 Carson left college to work as a secretary for the United Auto Workers but switched career paths in the 1960s when newly elected Indiana Representative Andrew Jacobs, Jr., hired her to work in his office. This would prove a fateful career move as in 1972 Jacobs encouraged Carson to run for the Indiana legislature. She won the campaign and held her first elective office.  
Sources: 
Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008) http://www.govtrack.us/congress/person.xpd?id=400067, Civic Impulse, LLC; http://www.nndb.com/people/101/000035993/, Soylent Communications (2009); http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/c000191/, Washington Post Company, (2009)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Grigsby,Jefferson Eugene, Jr. (1918 – )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of J. Eugene Grigsby
Artist and academic Jefferson Eugene Grigsby, Jr., was born on October 15, 1918 in Greensboro, North Carolina. His interest and enjoyment in art and creativity began in childhood and was later pursued through formal education. He earned a BA from Morehouse College in 1938 and an MA from Ohio State University in 1940. Grigsby continued his studies at Arizona State University, Columbia University, the American Artists School in New York, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, France. In 1963 Grisby was awarded a Ph.D from New York University.

In 1942, after the United States entered the World War II, Grigsby volunteered for the U. S. Army. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. After the war he returned to teach in Phoenix, Arizona at Carver High School, which was an all black institution until the Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in 1954. At this point Grigsby moved to Phoenix Union High School where he stayed for eleven years before joining Arizona State University’s School of Art in 1966 where he remained for two decades.
Sources: 
Eugene Grigsby’s official website: http://eugenegrigsbyjr.wordpress.com/; Heddenart Gallery website: http://www.heddenartgallery.com/Eugene_Grigsby_Bio.html; Thomas Riggs, ed., “Jefferson Eugene Grigsby, Jr.”, St. James Guide to Black Artists (Detroit: St. James Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Nobles, John (c. 1880s-c. 1940s)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Map of the Coachella Valley
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Xochiti Pena, “Black pioneer's legacy faded, but not forgotten,” Desert Sun, February 25, 2011; Xochiti Pena, “Neighborhood faces extinction,” Desert Sun, September 13, 2010.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Prince, Lucy Terry (c. 1732-1821)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
John Saillant, Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753-1833 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York at Buffalo

Smith, Ada “Bricktop” (1894-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ada “Bricktop” Smith Performing
in a Paris Nightclub, 1925
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith (“Bricktop”), vaudevillian actress, singer, nightclub owner, and international celebrity host, was born August 14, 1894 in Alderson, West Virginia, to Thomas and Hattie Thompson Smith. Her father passed away in 1898 and Mrs. Smith moved Ada and her three older siblings to Chicago, where her mother managed rooming houses and worked as a maid. Smith began performing at the age of five, playing Harry in Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Haymarket Theater in Chicago. By age 14 Smith earned a permanent chorus role at the Pekin Theatre. A truancy officer tracked her down, however, and she was forced to quit performing and return to school.
Sources: 
Bricktop and James Haskins, Bricktop (New York: Atheneum, 1983); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., "Bricktop (Ada Smith)," Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (Brooklyn: Carlson, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Horse, John (1812?-1882)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Horse, also known as Juan Caballo, John Cowaya, or Gopher John was the dominant personality in Seminole Maroon affairs for half a century.  He counseled Seminole leaders, served as an agent of the U.S. government, and became a Mexican Army officer.  He served the Seminole Maroons as warrior, diplomat, and patriarch, and represented their interests in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City.  He fought against the United States, the French, and Indians and survived three wars, four attempts on his life, and the grasp of slavehunters.
Sources: 
Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., Africans and Seminoles: From Removal to Emancipation (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2001), and Kevin Mulroy, Freedom on the Border: The Seminole Maroons in Florida, the Indian Territory, Coahuila, and Texas (College Station: Texas A& M Press, 1993).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Southern California

Colvin, Claudette (1935- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Claudette Colvin, a nurse’s aide and Civil Rights Movement activist, was born on September 5, 1939 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents were Mary Jane Gadson and C.P. Austin, but she was raised by her great-aunt and great-uncle, Mary Ann Colvin and Q.P. Colvin. Claudette Colvin and her guardians relocated to Montgomery when she was eight. She later attended Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery.  

On March 2, 1955, 19-year-old Colvin, while riding on a segregated city bus, made the fateful decision that would make her a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. She had been sitting far behind the seats already reserved for whites, and although a city ordinance empowered bus drivers to enforce segregation, blacks could not be asked to give up a seat in the “Negro” section of the bus for a white person when it was crowded. However, this provision of the local law was usually ignored. Colvin was asked by the driver to give up her seat on the crowded bus for a white passenger who had just boarded. She refused.
Sources: 
Ruth E. Martin, "Colvin, Claudette," African American National Biography, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Darlene Clark Hine, et al., The African American Odyssey (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, 2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Johnson, Robert (1911-1938)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Robert Johnson was the eleventh child of Julia Major Dodds.  Born out of wedlock, Johnson did not take the Dodds name. He grew up with his mother in Hazlehurst, Mississippi but soon moved up to live with his father, Charles Dodds, in Memphis. Charles Dodds changed his last name to Spencer and so Robert was known in his younger years as Robert Spencer. Around 1918, Johnson moved to an area around Robinsonville and Tunica, Mississippi to rejoin his mother who had remarried. Not much is known about Johnson’s childhood other than he was always interested in music. People in the Delta who knew Johnson claimed played the diddley bow when he was younger. A diddley bow is wire attached to nails sticking out of houses. A person could then hit the wire with a stick and use an empty bottle that slides along the wire to change the pitch.
Sources: 
Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989); Barry Lee Pearson and Bill McCulloch, Robert Johnson: Lost and Found (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Patricia R. Schroeder, Robert Johnson: Mythmaking and Contemporary American Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Johnson, Mordecai Wyatt (1890-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was born in Paris, Tennessee in 1890, the son of a former slave. He graduated from what is now Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1911 where he became an accomplished orator and debater.  Johnson was also a student athlete who played football and tennis. Johnson was hired by Morehouse soon after his graduation to teach history, English and economics. Later Johnson served as dean of the college for two years.

Mordecai Johnson later enrolled in the Rochester Divinity School in upstate New York while serving as pastor at a nearby church. In 1922, when he graduated from Harvard Divinity School, Johnson was chosen to give the commencement address which he titled: "The Faith of the American Negro.” Four years later Mordecai Johnson was appointed the thirteenth and first permanent African American president of Howard University, a position he held for the next thirty-four years.

Under Johnson, Howard became one of the nation’s leading universities and, certainly, the leading African American university. He was responsible for raising substantial sums from both Congress and private donors. The number of faculty tripled, the salaries doubled, academic and admission requirements were toughened, and Johnson insisted on devoting resources to accreditation of Howard’s graduate and professional schools.

Sources: 
Richard I. McKinney, Mordecai, The Man and His Message: The Story of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1997);
http://howard.edu/library/Reference/Cybercamps/camp2001/studentwebs/Shayna/default.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Render, Arlene (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Arlene Render became a Foreign Service officer in 1970 and has since served in many influential positions in the U.S. Department of State, including as Director of the Office of Central African Affairs, and ambassador to Gambia, Zambia, and Ivory Coast.  In 1994-1995, Render played a significant role in seeking to limit the emerging violence of the Rwandan Genocide

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Render completed her Bachelor of Science degree from West Virginia State College in 1965 before earning a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan in 1967.  When she joined the Foreign Service in 1970, she was one of only 37 African American career Foreign Service officers. 

Sources: 
“Appointments,” U.S. State Department, 1997, http://www.state.gov/1997-2001-NOPDFS/publications/statemag/statemag_nov-dec/statemag_aug/appoint2.htm; “Arlene Render,” https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/render-arlene; “At Risk Liberian Refugees Reach Safety,” U.S. Refugee Admissions Program News, Volume 1, Issue 2 (7 November 2003), http://2001-2009.state.gov/g/prm/rls/27435.htm; “Key Diplomat's Personal Notebook Sheds Light on Inner Workings of US Government Response to Genocide Unfolding in Rwanda in 1994,” The National Security Archive, George Washington University, 30 January 2015, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB500/; “The President Names Ambassador to Zambia,” 13 May 1996, http://clinton6.nara.gov/1996/05/1996-05-13-render-named-ambassador-to-zambia.html; “Zambia,” Human Rights Watch World Report 1998,  http://www.hrw.org/legacy/worldreport/Africa-13.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University

Alexander, Lincoln MacCauley (1922-2012)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lincoln Alexander, prominent attorney and politician, was born on January 21, 1922 in Toronto, Ontario, the son of West Indian immigrants. His mother was a maid, and his father a carpenter by training.  In Canada, however, he had to work as a railway porter, which in those days was one of the few jobs available to a man of colour.

In 1942 Alexander joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served in Europe during World War II. Following the war, he attended McMaster University in Hamilton, receiving a degree in History and Political Economics in 1949. Continuing his education, he graduated in 1953 with a law degree from Osgood Hall Law School in Toronto. Initially, employment proved difficult when many established law firms turned him away.  In 1954 Alexander joined the first interracial law firm in Canada, Miller, Tokiwa and Isaacs in Hamilton.  In 1962 he became a partner in the firm and three years later was appointed Queen’s Counsel.
Sources: 
Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, Go to School, You’re a Little Black Boy (Toronto: Dundurn, 2006); Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997); http://www.ParliamentofCanada.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Lafon, Thomy (1810-1893)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Alecia P. Long, The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans, 1965-1920 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004); August Meier, Negro thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1988); http://odyssey-house.com; http://realtytimes.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1906-2001)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Scholar, African traditionalist poet, and Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal. His father, Basie Diogoye Senghor, was a Malinké landowner. His mother, Gnilane Bakhoum, came from a Christian Fulani family. They gave Senghor a European name to reflect both the noble Serer culture they identified with, as well as their Catholic faith. Senghor grew up with his father’s four wives and his twenty-four siblings.

At the age of seven, Senghor was sent to a Catholic mission school, where he first learned French. At 13, he decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. He attended Libermann seminary in Dakar but in 1926, dissuaded by the seminary, switched to the secondary school Lycée Van Vollenhoven. He graduated from high school with honors and his classical languages teacher persuaded the colonial administration to grant Senghor a scholarship to pursue literary studies in France.

Sources: 
Melvin Dixon, Léopold Sédar Senghor: The Collected Poetry, Trans. by Melvin Dixon (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Bearden, Romare (1912-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art

Romare Bearden was an accomplished 20th Century African American artist who  specialized in paintings and collages, but who also produced works in the performing arts and literature.

Sources: 

Ruth Fine with Mary Corlett, The Art of Romare Bearden (New York: National Gallery of Art in association with Harry Abrams, 2003); Dick Russell, Black Genius and the American Experience (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998); http://www.beardenfoundation.org; http://www.courses.vcu.edu/ENG-mam/

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Polk, Oscar (1900-1949)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photo Courtesy of
the Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs
Division, Carl Van
Vechten Collection

Actor Oscar Polk began his career in the early 1930s as a stage performer in the musical production of Swingin’ the Dream, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream. The Arizona native studied dancing at Jack Blue’s Dance Studio and later became a tap dance instructor. He made his film debut in 1936 as Gabriel the Angel in The Green Pastures, an adaptation of the play by Marc Connelly. The Green Pastures was perhaps Polk’s most pivotal film role.

Subsequently, he appeared in the film It’s a Great Life (1936), Oscar Micheaux’s 1937 film Underworld, and primarily race (all-black cast) films until actor turned casting agent Ben Carter arranged for Polk the substantial role of the house servant, Pork, in the 1939 classic Gone With the Wind.  Polk co-starred with Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen.

Sources: 

Donald Bogle, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography, (New York: Amistad Press,
1997; Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life
Together
, (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.,1998; Edward
Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, 1st edition, (Lanham,
Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1978).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian