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People

Brown, Odessa (1920-1969)

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

 

Odessa Brown, for whom the Children’s Clinic in Seattle is named, was born April 30, 1920, in Des Arc, Arkansas.  She moved to Seattle in 1963 after receiving training as a licensed beautician at the C. J. Walker Beauty School in Chicago.  A mother of four, she supported her family by working as Community Organizer for the Central Area Motivation Program beginning in 1965, and as a beautician.  Brown was a staunch supporter of a health care facility for children in the Central Area.  She worked tirelessly in this mostly African American neighborhood to make residents aware of the health needs of the area and to express these needs to the planners at Seattle Model Cities, a federally-funded anti-poverty agency. 

Odessa Brown was a quiet, private person but when she spoke people listened, particularly when it concerned health care for children.  Her efforts persuaded Seattle Model Cities to develop a children’s clinic to serve the city’s Central District.  During her campaign for the clinic, few friends or associates were aware of her battle with leukemia which she had fought during her years as a CAMP community organizer.  Brown died on October 15, 1969.  When the time came to name the children’s clinic after it opened its doors in 1970, there was never a question but that it be named the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

Sources: 
Odessa Brown (1920-1969)

Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).


Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Ellison, Keith M. (1963- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Keith Ellison was born on August 4, 1963 in Detroit, Michigan.  He was raised Catholic in a middle class family which included five sons.  His father was a psychiatrist and his mother was a social worker.  Since childhood Ellison was involved with the civil rights movement and even worked with his grandfather in Louisiana for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1981 Ellison graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy.  Six years later he graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a B.A. in economics.  While attending Wayne State University, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam.  After graduation Ellison attended the University of Minnesota Law School.  In 1990 he graduated with a degree of Juris Doctor.

Ellison began his professional career at the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist and Vennum.  He worked there for three years as a litigator specializing in criminal defense, civil rights, and employment.  After leaving Lindquist and Vennum Ellison became executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis.  He then returned to private practice by joining Hassan & Reed where he specialized in trial practice.

Sources: 

Martiga Lohn, “Islamic Convert Wins House Nomination,” The Associated Press, September 14, 2006; Frederic J. Frommer, “Rep. Ellison Wants Forces Out of Iraq,” The Associated Press, January 10, 2007; Congressional Biography:
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=E000288

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Winfrey, Oprah (1954 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Repeatedly on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Oprah Winfrey is a television host, media mogul – in television, radio, film, and print – and philanthropist.  Forbes magazine included her in its 2003 list of America’s billionaires, the first African American woman to become one.

The “Oprah Winfrey Show” is in its 22nd season, and is syndicated to 214 United States stations, and 139 countries. Launched in April 2000, O, The Oprah Magazine, has a current circulation of 2.3 million monthly readers, and is considered one of the most successful magazine launches in publishing history. In 2004, a companion publication, O at Home, made its debut.  
Sources: 
Susan Altman, The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage, Facts on File, Inc., p. 277 (New York, 1997); William Andrews, et al., The Concise Oxford Guide to African American Literature, Oxford University Press, pp. 31, 209-12, 389, 444 (New York, 2001); www.oprah.com; www.biography.com; www.achievement.org; www.freshthinkingbusiness.com/oprah-winfrey 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bailey, Pearl Mae (1918–1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Pearl Bailey, Between You and Me: A Heartfelt Memoir on Learning, Loving and Living (New York: Doubleday, 1989); Morgan Monceaux, Jazz: My Music, My People (New York: Knopf, 1994); Darryl Lyman, Great African-American Women (New York: Gramercy Books, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Brown, William Wells (1814?-1884)

Vignette Type: 
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.  

Brown was born to a white father and enslaved mother on a plantation outside of Lexington, Kentucky, most likely in 1814.  He spent his childhood and much of his young adult life as a slave in St. Louis, Missouri working a variety of trades.  Brown slipped away from his owner's steamboat while it was docked in Cincinnati and thereafter declared himself a free man on New Year’s Day 1834.  Shortly thereafter he was taken in and helped to safety by Mr. and Mrs. Wells Brown, a white Quaker family. William would adopt their names in respect for the help they provided him.   

William Wells Brown settled briefly in Cleveland, Ohio where he married a free African American woman.  They had two daughters.  Later Brown moved his family to Buffalo, New York where he spent nine years working both as a steamboat worker on Lake Erie and a conductor for the Underground Railroad.  
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

Jones, Ruth Braswell (1914-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Educator Ruth Braswell Jones was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on November 21, 1914, the seventh daughter, of William and Arkaanna (Sanders) Braswell. Her education includes a diploma with distinction from Brick Junior College, Brick, North Carolina, in 1933 and a B.S. degree in Education with distinction from Elizabeth City State Teachers College, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in 1948. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, awarded her the M.S. degree in Education in 1960.

Sources: 

Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).

Contributor: 

Hemings, Sally (1773-1835)

Vignette Type: 
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 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

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 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.

In 1982, Gardner earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program for future stockbrokers. Unable to sustain their home on the trainee salary, Gardner and his son became homeless. After he completed his training at Dean Witter Reynolds, Gardner was noticed by Gary Shemano who offered him a job at Bear Stearns & Co. With the new position, Gardner was able to find housing for himself and his son. From 1983-1987 Gardner worked at Bear Stearns & Co. where he became the top earner. In 1987, he opened his home-based brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago. During one of Jackie’s visits to her son in 1985, their daughter Jacintha Gardner was conceived.

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); Andrew Barber, "Christopher Gardner," ATrader, (December 2006/January 2007), p. 92. http://atrader.com/Christopher_Gardner.html: “Biography: Christopher Gardner.” http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com /main/biography.htm.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Nelson, Prince Rogers ("Prince," "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince") (1958 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Prince Rogers Nelson, songwriter, singer, producer, and all-round musical icon, was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Music was a part of Prince’s family; his father, John Nelson, was a jazz pianist whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Nelson, was a vocalist. Prince’s home life, however, was turbulent, and he left home at the age of 12 and was adopted into another family.

From a young age Prince began to teach himself many musical instruments, including the drums, bass, and guitar. While in high school he joined the band “Grand Central” along with Andre Anderson and Charles Smith (who was later replaced by Morris Day). Prince left school at age 16, by which point he had already begun helping to create what would become known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” characterised by industrial-sounding drum machines and synthesizer riffs.

By 1976 Prince was working as a session guitarist for Minneapolis Sound 80 Studios and by 1977, at age 19, he had signed a contract with Warner Records. During this, the early part of his career, Prince  and his “Minneapolis Sound” made the biggest impact on the R&B charts with his debut album For You, the single, Soft and Wet, being particularly popular.
Sources: 
Jason Draper, Prince: Life & Times (London: Jawbone Press, 2008); Alex Hahn, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince (New York: Billboard Records, 2004); Craig Werner, A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race, and the Soul of America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006); Last.fm website, www.last.fm/music (2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Johnson, Linton Kwesi (1952– )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Linton Kwesi Johnson, political activist, poet and reggae artist, was born in Chapelton, Jamaica in 1952. After his parents’ divorce, Johnson was raised by his grandmother. Johnson left his small parish in 1963 and moved to London, UK to be with his mother, where he attended Tulse Hill secondary school.
Sources: 
Linton Kwesi Johnson’s profile on “Contemporary Writers”: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth58; “I did my own thing” interview with Linton Kwesi Johnson by Nicholas Wroe, published in “The Guardian,” March 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/mar/08/featuresreviews.guardianreview11.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Frazier, Walt (1945- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
National Basketball Association star player Walt “Clyde” Frazier Jr., was born the oldest of nine children in Atlanta, Georgia on March 29, 1945. While attending the segregated Howard High School in Atlanta, Frazier excelled in football, baseball, and basketball. Despite receiving football scholarships from elite colleges, Frazier accepted a basketball scholarship from the lesser known Southern Illinois University. Frazier led the school to its first National Invitation Tournament championship in 1967. Following his senior year, the two-time All-American became the New York Knickerbockers first-round choice and the fifth overall pick that same year.

During his rookie season, a Knicks official nicknamed Frazier, “Clyde” after the infamous 1930s bank robber Clyde Barrow. The name stuck as Frazier personified African American pride and culture in the early 1970s. His stylish dress and his cool demeanor on and off the court resembled some of the popular characters in Blaxploitation movies of the era such as John Shaft in Shaft and Priest in Superfly.

As a Knick, Frazier played in seven NBA All-Star Games and named to four All-NBA First Teams and seven NBA All-Defensive First Teams.  While with the Knicks, Frazier also set team highs for points scored, games played, and assists. He led the team to its only NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

Sources: 
Jack Friedman, “Belatedly Learning That Father Knows Best, Walt Frazier III Tries to Be a Clyde Off the Old Block” People, 27 February 1989; Sarah Kershaw, “Walt Frazier Buys Three Harlem Penthouses,” New York Times, 24 September 2010.http://www.nba.com/history/players/frazier_bio.html
Contributor:
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Lofton, Ramona ["Sapphire"] (1950- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ramona Lofton, better known as Sapphire, is a self-admitted bisexual, novelist, poet, and performance artist. She gained prominence for her 1996 debut novel, Push, and other works that focus on the alarming realities of inner city life.

Lofton was born on August 4, 1950 in Fort Ord, California, the second oldest of four children born to military parents. Her father was an army sergeant and her mother was a soldier in the Women's Army Corps. Throughout her childhood, her family maintained a middle-class façade while hiding incest and alcoholism.

When Lofton was thirteen, her father retired from the Army and moved the family to Los Angeles. Her mother, who was battling alcoholism, did not join them and instead abandoned the family. Years later they reconnected, but her mother succumbed to alcoholism in 1986.  That same year Lofton’s homeless brother was murdered in a Los Angeles park. Their deaths later played pivotal roles in Lofton's emerging writing career.

Lofton dropped out of high school and moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, briefly studying chemistry and dance at the City College of San Francisco, before adopting what she described as a hippie lifestyle.  She moved to New York City in 1977, where she supported herself by working as a housekeeper and as a topless dancer.
Sources: 
Claude J. Summers and Sapphire, eds., An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture (Chicago: GLBTQ, Inc., 2011), Retrieved from ww.glbtq.com/social-sciences/lofton_l.html; Marq Wilson, A Push out of Chaos: An Interview with Sapphire (Storrs, Connecticut: Melus, 2012); Elizabeth McNeil, Un-"Freak"ing Black Female Selfhood: Grotesque-Erotic Agency and Ecofeminist Unity in Sapphire's Push (Storrs, Connecticut: Melus, 2012).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Belafonte, Harry (1927- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of ©Bettmann/CORBIS

Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, New York, to parents Melvine Love Bellanfanti, a Jamaican housekeepter, and Harlod George Bellanfanti, Sr., of Martinique, who worked as a chef for the National Guard. Belafonte grew from being a troubled youth to an award winning entertainer and world renowned political activist and humanitarian.  From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica.  He returned to New York City and atended George Washington High School. In 1944 Belafonte joined the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and although Belafonte was never sent overseas, after the war ended he was able to use the G.I. Bill to pay for a drama workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan alongside fellow students Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier. 

Belafonte's career as an entertainer had a rocky start, but in the 1950s he found great success.  In the first half of 1956 alone Belafonte had three top-ten albums, the most notable being Calypso, which spent 31 weeks at number one and helped him gain the title King of Calypso. Music was not his only successful endeavor in entertainment; Belafonte also became well known for his works on film, television, and Broadway.

Sources: 
James Robert Parish and Michael R. Pitts, Hollywood Songsters:  Singers Who Act and Actors Who Sing (New York: Routledge, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Miller, Kelly (1863-1939)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Dr. Scott W. Williams, “Kelly Miller,” Mathematics of the African Diaspora, http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/special/miller_kelley.html (Accessed September 7, 2010); Carter G. Woodson, “Kelly Miller,” Journal of Negro History 25 (January, 1940): 126-138; August Meier, "The Racial and Educational Philosophy of Kelly Miller, 1895-1915," Journal of Negro Education 29 (July, 1960): 121-27; William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 71-72, 96, 283-284.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Stanford University

Hunter, Alberta (1895-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Alberta Hunter was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but left for Chicago, Illinois at age 11 after her father died. She peeled potatoes in a boarding house until she could find a job singing blues, the first opportunity was at a Chicago brothel, as entertainment for the prostitutes and their clients. Hunter was always sure to send part of her money back to Memphis to support her mother.

Hunter gradually worked her way up to Chicago’s prestigious Dreamland Café, singing for King Oliver’s Band for five years. It was at the Dreamland where Hunter was first discovered by talent scouts for Paramount Records in July 1922.  She later recorded for Black Swan, Okeh, and Victor where she established herself as an extraordinary singer and songwriter.
Sources: 
Keith Shadwick, The Encyclopedia of Jazz and Blues (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Quintet Publishing, 2001); http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9041562/Alberta-Hunter
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Quarles, Benjamin A. (1904-1996)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Benjamin A. Quarles was born in Boston, where his father worked as a subway porter.  In his twenties, Quarles enrolled at Shaw University, the oldest historically black college in the South, where he earned a B.A. in 1931.  From Shaw, Quarles went to the University of Wisconsin, where he earned an M.A. in 1933 and a Ph.D. in 1940.  While finishing the latter, he taught at his alma mater (1935-1939), and at Dillard University.  After rising to full professor and dean at Dillard, Quarles relocated in 1953 to Morgan State College (now University) in Baltimore, and remained there for the rest of his academic career.  At Morgan, Quarles reached near legendary status as the long-time head of the History Department, a revered teacher and counselor, an intellectual and professional mentor for two generations of African American scholars, and an internationally acclaimed historian of the black experience in the United States.
Sources: 
John Hope Franklin, “We mourn the death of Benjamin A. Quarles 1904-1996,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Winter 1996-97); Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Benjamin A. Quarles,” Negro History Bulletin (Jan-March, 1997); W.A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Rutling, Thomas (1854—1915)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Andrew Ward
Born a slave, Thomas Rutling was one of only four Fisk Jubilee Singers who remained with the company through all three of their pioneering tours between 1872 and 1877. After completing a tour of Europe he refused to return to racist America, he lived the rest of his life in Great Britain as a performer and teacher.

Rutling’s mother spent so much time hiding from her master in the wilds of Wilson County, Tennessee that he often wondered if he had been born in the woods. She was always dragged back and savagely whipped, until her owners decided to sell her. “The very earliest thing I remember was this selling of my mother,” he recalled when he was a Jubilee Singer. In middle age, Rutling could still recall the feel of the lash licking his infant arm as they struck her for clinging to him.
Sources: 
Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, Shirley Ann (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Shirley Ann Jackson
Shirley Ann Jackson, born in 1946 in Washington, D.C., has achieved numerous firsts for African American women.  She was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T); to receive a Ph.D. in theoretical solid state physics; to be elected president and then chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); to be president of a major research university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering.  Jackson was also both the first African American and the first woman to chair the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Jackson’s parents and teachers recognized her natural talent for science and nurtured her interest from a young age.  In 1964, after graduating as valedictorian from her high school, Jackson was accepted at M.I.T., where she was one of very few women and even fewer black students.  Despite discouraging remarks from her professors about the appropriateness of science for a black woman, she chose to major in physics and earned her B.S. in 1968.  Jackson continued at M.I.T. for graduate school, studying under the first black physics professor in her department, James Young.  In 1973, she earned her Ph.D.
Sources: 
Diann Jordan, Sisters in Science: Conversations with Black Women Scientists on Race, Gender and Their Passion for Science (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2006); http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/physics/jackson_shirleya.html; http://www.rpi.edu/president/profile.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Whittaker, Johnson C. (1858-1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of the New York Historical Society

Johnson Chesnutt Whittaker, the second black cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born a slave in 1858 in South Carolina to an enslaved mother, Maria J. Whitaker and her free husband, James Whitaker. (Later in life he added a second “t” to his name).  By October 1869, Whitaker attended a freedmen’s school in Camden, where he received lessons for five years. In the fall of 1874 he became one of the first African American students to enter the University of South Carolina.  Whittaker was an exceptional student, academically ahead of most of his classmates; he averaged 94 percent in all his courses at the University.  After befriending Richard T. Greener, his professor, Whitaker was nominated to attend West Point.  He arrived there on his birthday, August 23, 1876.

Sources: 
Robert Ewell Greene, Black Defenders of America, 1775-1973 (Johnson Publishing Company Inc. Chicago: 1974); John F. Marszalek, Jr., Court Martial: A Black Man in America (New York: Scribner, 1972).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Corrothers, James David (1869-1917)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Michigan in 1869, James David Corrothers became an important literary figure in the 1890s. Corrothers grew up in South Haven, a southern Michigan town established by abolitionists, fugitive slaves, and free blacks during the years before the civil war. For a time he was the only African American child in the town who attended public school on a regular basis and he often recalled confrontations with fellow white students.  

Corrothers was raised by his grandfather.  He and his grandfather moved to Muskegon when Corrothers was fourteen where he worked odd jobs to support the two of them.    When his grandfather died two years later in 1885 Corrothers moved to Indiana and then Springfield, Ohio. He waited tables, worked as a lumberjack and for a time as an amateur boxer all by his 18th birthday.  

Corrothers moved to Chicago in 1887 where he met journalist-reformer Henry Demarest Lloyd.  After reading some of Corrothers’s poetry, Lloyd persuaded the Chicago Tribune to hire the young writer.  Corrothers eventually received an assignment to write on Chicago’s black upper class. When the article he submitted was rewritten by a white reporter in black “dialect,” Corrothers quit the paper in protest.   With support from temperance leader Francis Willard and Lloyd, Corrothers entered Northwestern University in 1890.  Although he left before earning a degree, Corrothers was now sought by the major Chicago daily newspapers.  
Sources: 
Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting The Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in The Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., Black American Writing from the Nadir: The Evolution of a Literary Tradition, 1877–1915 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1989).   
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lucas, Sam (1840-1915)

Vignette Type: 
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

Cleage, Pearl (1948- )

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

Born on December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachusetts to well known black nationalist minister Albert Buford Cleage (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) and school teacher Doris Graham Cleage, Pearl Cleage grew up in Detroit and entered Howard University in 1966 to study playwriting. She transferred to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia where she earned a B.A. in 1971.  Prior to finishing her education at Spelman, Pearl Cleage married Atlanta politician Michael Lomax in 1969.  She and Lomax later divorced in 1979.  Cleage served as the press secretary and speechwriter to Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson between 1974 and 1976.  

Cleage’s writing is filled with social consciousness with a particular focus on the validation of women’s lives. Her many works include “We Don’t Need No Music” (1972) and “Deals with the Devil: And Other Reasons to Riot” (1993).  Cleage’s play, “Flying West,” which depicted the lives of black women homesteaders in 19th Century Nicodemus, Kansas, was originally commissioned and produced by the Alliance Theater Company in Atlanta, Georgia but was later performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1994.  Cleage’s 1997 book, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day received considerable attention in literary circles and became a bestseller.  

Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Ed., Notable Black American Women (New York: Gale Research, 1976); website: http://www.pearlcleage.net/
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Sands, Diana (1934-1973)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Diana Sands, 1963 (Photo permissions granted by 
Bruce Kellner, Trustee of the Estate of Carl Van Vechten)
Diana Sands, the first black actress to be cast in a major Broadway play without regard to color, was born in New York City in 1934 to Rudolph Thomas, a carpenter, and Shirley Sands, a milliner. Sands made her first stage debut in George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara at New York City's High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. After graduating from high school, Sands performed as a dancer while seeking work on Broadway. 

In 1959, she debuted on Broadway as the character Beneatha Younger, a dignified, aspiring doctor in A Raisin in the Sun. Her stage performance earned her the 1959 Outer Circle Critics' Award and her first film appearance as the same character in the 1961 film version opposite Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, and Sidney Poitier.

Sources: 
Anonymous, "Diana Sands In Death Struggle With Cancer," Jet, October 4, 1973; Anonymous, "Final Rites Held for Diana Sands," Jet, October 11, 1973; Maurice Peterson, "Diana, Diana," Essence, June 1972.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Scott-Heron, Gil (1949-2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Poet, novelist, musician, and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1948 to parents Bobbie Scott Heron, a librarian, and Giles (Gil) Heron, a Jamaican professional soccer player. He grew up in Lincoln, Tennessee and the Bronx, New York, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Heron attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received an M.S. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.

By age 13, Scott-Heron had written his first collection of poems. He published his first novel, The Vulture, a murder mystery whose central themes include the devastating effects of drugs on urban black life, in 1968 at age 19.  Four years later,  Scott-Heron published his second novel, The Nigger Factory (1972), which, set on the campus of a historically black college (HBCU), focused on the conflicting ideology between the more traditionally Eurocentric-trained administrators; the younger, more nationalistic students—founders of  Members of Justice for Meaningful Black Education (MJUMBE); and the more moderate students and their leader, Earl Thomas.

Sources: 
Hank Bordowitz, “Music Notes: Gil Scott Heron.” American Vision 13 no.3 (June 1998):40; Terry Rowden, “Gil Scott-Heron,” Encyclopedia of African American Literature Wilfred D. Samuels, ed., (New York: Facts on File, 2007): 452-454.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Chubby Checker (Ernest Evans) (1941-- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Chubby Checker, the man credited with inventing “The Twist,” was born Ernest Evans in Spring Gully, South Carolina. He moved to Philadelphia with his parents and two brothers and attended South Philadelphia High School. Evans aspired to become a performer from a young age and eventually caught a small break after graduating from high school making novelty records that were impressions of singers like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.

Evans' career took off when he met Barbara Clark, wife of American Bandstand host, Dick Clark. Barbara Clark is credited with giving young Evans his full stage name. He’d picked up the nickname ‘Chubby’ while working in a Philadelphia poultry market. When Barbara Clark met him he was working on his Fats Domino impression at the recording studio. She said “You’re Chubby Checker, like Fats Domino.” The name stuck.

With Barbara Clark's help, Evans got a job recording a Christmas greeting card for Dick Clark’s associates. This record spawned another called “The Class," which contained impressions of famous singers. It was a hit. Unfortunately, Chubby Checker fell into obscurity and his record label was ready to drop him.
Sources: 
John Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997); http://www.chubbychecker.com/bio.asp
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dede, Edmund (1827-1903)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Musician and composer Edmund Dede was born on November 20, 1827 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents were free Creoles of color who moved to New Orleans from the French West Indies around 1809. Dede took his first music lessons from his father who was a bandmaster for a local military group.

Dede soon became a violin prodigy after studying under Italian-born composer and theater-orchestra conductor Ludovico Gabici, and conductor of the New Orleans Free Creoles of Color Philharmonic Society Christian Debergue. Dede advanced his technique studies in New Orleans under Eugene Prevost, French-born winner of 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of Orchestras at the Theater d’Orleans, and Charles Richard Lambert, who was a free black musician, music teacher, and conductor from New York who had moved to New Orleans.

In 1848 Dede moved to Mexico, as did many free Creoles of color after race relations in New Orleans worsened following the end of the Mexican-American War. Dede returned to New Orleans in 1851 where he wrote and published “Mon Pauvre Coeur” (My Poor Heart), which is considered the oldest piece of sheet music published by a New Orleans free Creole of color.
Sources: 
"Edmund Dede," AfriClassical, http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/dede.html; Sybil Kein, "Composers of Nineteenth-Century New Orleans," in Sybil Kein, ed., Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000); Eleanora E. Tate, Black Stars: African American Musicians (New York: Wiley, 2000).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Raines, Franklin (1949- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Benjamin Mchie
Franklin Raines was born in Seattle on January 14, 1949, and graduated from Franklin High School in Seattle.  From here, he went to Harvard and graduated in 1971 with a B.A. in Government.  He was awarded the prestigious Rhodes scholarship and attended Oxford University for two years, returning to Harvard to earn a law degree in 1976.

Raines was hired into President Carter’s administration as the assistant director of the White House Domestic Policy Staff.  When Carter lost his reelection bid, Raines was hired as an investment banker by a Wall Street company.  He moved on to become the vice chairman at Fannie Mae.  After five years, President Clinton asked him to return to government work, and Raines accepted a decrease in salary of more than $300,000 to become the director of the Office of Management and Budget where he worked to find compromises in the budget process between the Democratic executive and the Republican Congress.
Sources: 
Charles Whitaker, “Franklin Raines: First Black Head of a Fortune 500 Corporation,” Ebony, April 2001, p. 106-112; Alton Hornsby, Jr. & Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders, p.175-176.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Johnson, Robert (1911-1938)

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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

McNeil, Joseph Alfred (1942- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
One of the four North Carolina Agricultural & Technical freshmen who initiated the Sit-In Movement at Greensboro, North Carolina. A native of North Carolina, Joseph McNeil saw Greensboro’s race relations as a mirror image of the social structure of most southern cities. McNeil recalls having discussed the issue of segregation with community members like local businessman, Ralph Johns, in the weeks before the initial protest.

McNeil -- along with Franklin McCain, Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair, Jr.), and David Richmond --  had grown frustrated with the idea that patience and long suffering alone would allow Blacks to prosper. In their Scott Hall Dormitory rooms the young men read books about Gandhi, studied the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, and debated the merits of direct action. On January 31st 1960, they agreed to stage a public act of non-compliance with segregation. The following afternoon the four met at the A & T campus library and walked together to Woolworth drug store where they broke the law by sitting at a segregated lunch counter. A national chain, Woolworth stores would feel the effects of the protest beyond Greensboro. McNeil later recalled feeling a deep sense of relief during the first day of the Sit-In campaign.
Sources: 
Frye Gaillard, The Greensboro Four: Civil Rights Pioneers (Charlotte, NC: Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2001); William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Johnson C. Smith University, respectively

Wheat, Alan Dupree (1951 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of
Representatives Photography Office
Alan Dupree Wheat, the first black Congressman from Kansas City, Missouri, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 16, 1951. He attended schools in Wichita, Kansas, and in Seville, Spain, before graduating from Airline High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, in 1968. In 1972 Wheat received a B.A. in economics from Grinnell College and then joined the Department of Housing and Urban Development as an economist. From 1973 to 1975 he worked in the same capacity for the Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City. In Jackson County, Missouri he served as an aide for county executive Mike White from 1975 to 1976.  At age 25 Wheat was elected to the Missouri General Assembly.  Wheat served three terms in the Assembly where he chaired the Urban Affairs Committee.  
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990; www.bioguide.congress.gov; Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots:" Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Shakur, Tupac (1971-1996)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Tupac Shakur, the son of two Black Panther members, William Garland and Afeni Shakur, was born in East Harlem, New York on June 16, 1971, and named after Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru II, an 18th century political leader in Peru who was executed after leading a rebellion against Spanish rule. Tupac's parents separated before he was born.  At the age of 12 Shakur performed in A Raisin in the Sun with the 127th Street Ensemble. Afeni and Tupac later moved to Baltimore, Maryland where he entered the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts as a teenager.  While at the school, he began writing raps and poetry.  He also performed in Shakespearian plays and took a role in The Nutcracker. 
Sources: 
Jonathan Jones, Tupac Shakur Legay (New York: Atria Books, 2006; Jacob Hoye, Tupac: Resurrection (New York: Atria Books, 2003; Jonathan Jones, "Tupac Comes to Life for Bay Area Teens". Northgate News Online, U.C.-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Nov. 18, 2003. Retrieved from http://journalism.berkeley.edu/ngno/stories/001588.html on Apr. 9, 2006; "Rapper Is Sentenced To 120 Days in Jail". New York Times. April 5, 1996;.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Owens, Major Robert (1936- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. HOuse of
Representatives Photography Office
Former New York Congressman Major Robert Owens was born on June 28, 1936 in Collierville, Tennessee.  He graduated from Hamilton High School in Memphis in 1952 at the age of 16.  Owens received a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College in 1956, and an M.S. in Library Science from Atlanta University in 1957. He then moved to Brooklyn, New York where he worked as a librarian.

During this time Owens became active in the Brooklyn community. In 1964 he served as the chair of the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality and vice president of the Metropolitan Council of Housing for New York City.  He was also the community coordinator of the Brooklyn Public Library from 1964 to 1966, served as the executive director of the Brownsville Community Council from 1966 to 1968.  From 1968 to 1973 Owens was commissioner of the Community Development Agency in New York City.  Between 1973 and 1975 he served as director of the community media library program at Columbia University, NY.

Major Owens was elected to the New York State Senate as a Democrat in 1974.  He remained in the State Senate until 1982 when he was elected to New York’s Eleventh Congressional District, replacing the retiring Shirley Chisholm.  With his election Owens became the only professional librarian ever elected to Congress.
Sources: 
“Major Owens – Congresspedia” http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Major_Owens; “Members of Congress: Major Owens (Biographical Information),” http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/o000159/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Grimke, Angelina Weld (1880-1958)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

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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.

Upon graduating the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics (now Wellesley College) in 1902, Angelina embarked on a career teaching English in Washington, D.C. that would last until 1926. It is during her teaching career that she begins to write.  Her poetry, short stories and essays were published in The Crisis, Alain Locke’s The New Negro, in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk and in Robert Kerlin’s Negro Poets and Their Poems.

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

Cassell, Albert I. (1895-1969)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Albert Irving Cassell, a prominent African American architect, planner, engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, was born on June 25, 1895 in Towson, Maryland.  His parents were Albert and Charlotte Cassell.  Albert’s father was a coal truck driver and trumpet player and his mother washed laundry to help with the family finances.  Albert himself had three wives and children by each of them for a total of six children and two step-children.  Cassell’s education began in a Baltimore public elementary and high school.  He later moved to Ithaca, New York and enrolled in a city high school there.  He was admitted into Cornell University for college, where he worked on campus to pay for his tuition.

Before Cassell could complete his college education, he served in the United States Army during World War I from 1917-1918.  Commissioned a second lieutenant in the heavy field artillery, he served as a training officer in France.  After his brief stint in the military, he returned to Cornell University and completed his bachelor architectural degree in 1919.  His first project included the design of five buildings at the Tuskegee Institute with fellow architect William A. Hazel. In 1920 he designed silk mills and other industrial plants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Later that year Cassell joined the Architecture Department of Howard University as an assistant professor.

Sources: 
“Albert I. Cassell & The Founders Library: A Brief History,” Howard University Website, http://www.howard.edu/library/Development/Cassell/Founders.htm; Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wattleton, Alyce Faye (1943- )

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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

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

Mitchell, Arthur Wergs (1883-1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
In 1934, Arthur Wergs Mitchell became the first African American Democrat elected to Congress from any state. Mitchell served four terms as a Representative in Congress for the state of Illinois (1935-1943). Mitchell was born near Lafayette Alabama on December 22, 1883 and was educated at Tuskegee Institute, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School. Mitchell founded the Armstrong Agricultural School in West Butler Alabama, and made his fortune in land speculation. He then moved to Chicago, Illinois specifically to challenge Republican Incumbent Oscar DePriest for Congress in the 1934 election. DePriest who was first elected to Congress in 1928, was the first African American elected to Congress from the North and the first to be elected in the 20th Century.

Mitchell was selected by the Democratic Party as a substitute candidate in Illinois’s First Congressional District when Harry Baker, winner of the Democratic primary, died before Election Day. With that selection he became the first African American endorsed by the Illinois Democratic Party for a Congressional seat who would win his election. Mitchell’s rapid rise within the party was partly because he had the support of Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly.
Sources: 
William L. Clay, Just Permanent Interests; Black Americans in Congress 1870-1992 (New York: Amistad Press Inc., 1993); http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch1.asp
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Payton, Walter Jerry (1954-1999)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Jane Mersky Leder and Howard Schroeder, Walter Payton (Mankato, Minn.: Crestwood House, 1986); Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Villard, 2000); http://www.bearshistory.com/lore/walterpayton.aspx

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Petry, Ann (1908-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the
Library of Congress
Elisabeth Petry, At Home Inside: A Daughter's Tribute to Ann Petry (Jackson:  University of Mississippi Press, 2009); Hazel Arnett Ervin, ed., The Critical Response to Ann Petry (Westport:  Praeger, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Morgan, Garrett A., Sr. (1877?-1963)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Inventor, entrepreneur, and publisher Garrett A. Morgan, Sr. received patents for a three-position traffic signal and a safety hood that was designed to aid breathing in smoke-filled areas. He gained national attention when he utilized his mask to rescue men trapped during a tunnel explosion in 1916.

Garrett Augustus Morgan was born in 1875 or 1877 in Paris, Kentucky to farmers Sydney and Elizabeth Morgan. Garrett received an elementary school education and left home at the age of 14, finding work in Cincinnati, Ohio as a mechanic. In 1895 he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked for 12 years repairing sewing machines and in 1901 invented a sewing machine belt fastener.

In 1907 Morgan established his first business, a sewing machine sales and repair shop. He soon expanded with a tailoring business and later the Morgan Skirt Factory that employed more than 30 people. His second major discovery came while exploring a way to reduce friction between sewing needles and woolen fabric. He found that a chemical solution he developed to straighten the woolen fibers of textiles also straightened hair. In 1913 he formed the G. A. Morgan Hair Refining Cream Company that sold a line of hair care products.
Sources: 
Charles W. Carey, Jr., American Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and Business Visionaries (New York: Facts On File, 2002); Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Baker, Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1906–1977)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Oberlin College Archives,
Oberlin, Ohio
Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1906, Thomas Nelson Baker was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from The Ohio State University. The third child of Rev. Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker, Sr. and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Baytop Baker, Thomas had one brother, Harry and two sisters, Edith and Ruth. Rev. Dr. Thomas Nelson Baker, Sr., was born a slave and earned a Ph.D. from Yale in 1903.

Baker studied chemistry at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio and earned his B.A. degree in 1929. He began postgraduate studies at Oberlin and earned his M.A. degree in 1930. He then taught at many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to support himself and his family. Baker was as an instructor of chemistry at Tougaloo College from 1930 to 1931, and at Talladega College from 1931 to 1932. Baker spent the majority of his academic career serving as professor of chemistry and department chair at Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). He taught there from 1932 to 1972 when he retired. Baker was listed in the American Men of Science (1957), and was a member of several organizations including Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the American Chemical Society.
Sources: 
The Ohio State University Archives; T.N. Baker, “The Molecular Size of Glycogen and of Mannan A by the Mercaptalation Method,” Ph.D. diss., The Ohio State University, 1941; Collins, S.N. “Celebrating Our Diversity: The Education of Some Pioneering African American Chemists in Ohio,” Bull. Hist. Chem., 2011, 36, pg 82-84; H.W. Greene, Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (Meador, Boston, 1946); G. Yancy, “Thomas Nelson Baker: The First African American to Receive a Ph.D. in Philosophy,” Western Journal of  Black Studies, 1997, 21, 253-260; “Deaths: Thomas N. Baker,” Advance, April 1, 1941. [Oberlin College Archives]
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
College of Wooster

Chinn, Julia Ann (ca.1790-1833)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Julia Chinn, the putative common-law wife of 9th US vice president Richard Mentor Johnson (1780-1850), was born an octoroon slave in Scott County, Kentucky.  Her parents and exact date of birth are unknown, but she was raised and educated in Johnson’s household by his mother Jemima Suggett Johnson.  By 1812, Julia had become Richard Johnson’s close companion and mother of their two daughters: Adeline J. Johnson (Scott) (ca.1812-1836) and Imogene Malvina Johnson (Pence) (1812-1885).

When Richard’s father Colonel Robert Johnson, one of the wealthiest landowners in Kentucky, died in 1815, Richard inherited Julia.  Because interracial marriage was illegal in Kentucky and emancipation would have forced Julia to leave the state, Richard M. Johnson retained the title “bachelor” and Julia remained a slave.  Rumors circulated, however, that the two had been secretly married by their Baptist minister and some contemporary newspapers referred to Julia as Johnson’s wife.
Sources: 
Ann Bevins, “Richard M. Johnson narrative: Personal and Family Life," Georgetown and Scott County Museum, 2007; “Richard Mentor Johnson, 9th Vice President (1837-1841),” United States Senate Historical Office, http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Senate_Historical_Office.htm; Carolyn Jean Powell, "What's love got to do with it? The dynamics of desire, race and murder in the slave South," PhD Diss., UMass Amherst (January 1, 2002); “The Workings of Slavery,” New York Daily Tribune, July 1, 1845.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Himes, Chester (1909-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
Courtesy of the Van Vechten Trust
Chester Himes was an important writer of fiction and autobiography. Although Himes’s most widely read novels were detective stories set in Harlem, his first two published novels reflected his experiences in Los Angeles, where he lived from 1940 until 1944.


A native of Missouri, Himes spent most of his childhood in southern towns and cities where his father taught in the mechanical departments of African American colleges. He graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio. After a 1928 robbery Himes spent seven and one-half years in prison. While in prison he published fiction in a number of newspapers and magazines, including Esquire. Frustrated by employment discrimination in Ohio as the United States mobilized for World War II, Himes decided to move to Los Angeles.

Sources: 
James Sallis, Chester Himes: A Life (New York: Walker & Company, 2001); Michael Marsh, “Chester Himes,” http://authors.aalbc.com/chesterhimes.htm .
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Western Washington University

Cayton, Susie Revels (1870-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Susie Sumner Revels, a daughter of Hiram Revels, the first U.S. Senator of African descent, arrived in Seattle, Washington from Mississippi in 1896. Her reason, she stated, during a 1936 Washington Pioneers Project interview, was "the man she was going to marry was here." He was Horace Roscoe Cayton, publisher of The Seattle Republican. The two were married on July 12, 1896.

Susie Revels Cayton soon became a leader in Seattle’s black community. She was named associate editor of The Seattle Republican and, later, contributing editor of Cayton’s Weekly. She was an active member of cultural and social organizations designed to improve the conditions of African Americans, including the "Sunday Forum," a group of black Seattleites that met on a regular basis. Along with three other black women, Susie Cayton founded the Dorcus Charity Club in response to an urgent plea to help a set of abandoned twins. The club continued its charitable work for years.
Sources: 
Ed Diaz, ed., Horace Roscoe Cayton: Selected Writings- Volumes 1-2. (Seattle: Bridgewater-Collins, 2002); Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation (AAAHRP)

Clay, William Lacy, Jr. (1956- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Willam Lacy Clay Jr. Sworn in to the 110th Congress
(January 2007)
Image Courtesy of the Office of Representative William Clay
William Lacy Clay, Jr. is the son of former Missouri Congressman William L. Clay Sr., and now holds his father’s former seat in the House of Representatives.  Clay was born on July 27, 1956 in St. Louis, Missouri, and was educated in the Silver Springs public schools of Maryland and at the University of Maryland where he received a B.S. degree in government and politics. He also earned honorary Doctorate of Laws Degrees from Lincoln University and Harris Stowe State University, and attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Before his election in 2000 to Missouri’s First Congressional District, Clay served for 17 years in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature. His achievements during this time include the establishment of Missouri’s Hate Crimes Law and the enactment of the Youth Opportunities and Violence Prevention Act; which created Youthbuild, a job training program for young adults.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Whipper, William (1804-1885)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 William Whipper was born in Little Britain, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1804. Whipper was best known for his activities promoting the abolition of slavery, temperance and “moral suasion” which he defined as the power of non-violence as the most effective way to eradicate racism in America. Whipper’s philosophy of non-violence rested on two principles. “First, to be non-violent reflected humanity’s divine essence.
Sources: 
The Columbia Spy, August 4, 1866, Jan. 29, 1870, courtesy of Lancaster Historical Society; Donald Yacovone, “The Transformation of the Black Temperance Movement, 1807-1854: An Interpretation,” Journal of Early Republic, 8:3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 281-297; and Tunde Adeleke, “Violence as an option for Free blacks in Nineteenth-Century America,” Canadian Review of American Studies, 35:1 (2005), pp.87-107.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Brown, Solomon G. (1829-1906)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Solomon G. Brown, poet, lecturer, and scientific technician, became the first African American employee at the Smithsonian Institution.  He also played a significant role in the implementation of the first electric telegraph and was well versed in the study of natural history.  

Born on February 14, 1829 in Washington D.C., Brown was the fourth of six children born to Isaac and Rachel Brown, both ex-slaves.  When his father died in 1832, the Brown family was left homeless and heavily in debt. Due to this enormous setback, Solomon was unable to attain a formal education.  

At the age of fifteen he began working at the Washington, D.C. post office where he was assigned to assist Joseph Henry and Samuel F.B. Morse in the installation of the first Morse telegraph line in the nation.  Despite his young age, Brown was one of the technicians who helped set up the telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  Brown continued to work for Samuel F.B. Morse for the next seven years.
Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982); The Smithsonian Institute Archives: http://siarchives.si.edu.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Galindo, Maykel (1981- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born on January 28, 1981 in Villa Clara, Cuba, the Cuban born player Maykel Galindo has made a name for himself among the American soccer ranks over the last several years.  Galindo started playing soccer when he was eight years old.  He soon became an exceptional youth player and was selected to play on the Cuban national soccer team.  

Galindo made his youth national team debut in January of 2002 in a match against Guatemala.  Three years later he was on the senior squad which competed in the 2005 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup which was to be played in the United States.  On July 9, 2005 when Cuba played Costa Rica at Quest Field in Seattle, Washington, Galindo scored Cuba’s only goal in a losing contest.  Later that evening in his hotel, Galindo contacted American officials and defected to the United States.

Sources: 

Beau Dure, “Cuba's Maykel Galindo finds USA, MLS to his liking,” USA Today, August 22, 2007; Elisa Han, “Cuban Defector talks about his Ordeal,” King 5 News, July 15, 2005; Maykel Galindo Bio, http://chivas.usa.MLSnet.com.

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

Peterson, Lieutenant General Frank E., Jr. (1932- )

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

Lieutenant General Frank E. Peterson Jr., the first black general in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born in 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1967. He received a Master’s in International Affairs in 1973. Both degrees came from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He also attended the Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia and the National War College in Washington, D.C.

Frank Peterson joined the Navy as an electronics technician in 1952. Motivated by the story of Jesse Brown, the Army aviator who was shot down and killed over North Korea, Peterson applied for and was accepted into the Naval Aviation Cadet Corps. In 1952 Peterson completed his training with the Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.  He became the first black pilot in the Marine Corps.  

Sources: 

Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed
Forces of the United States
(Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press,
1997); Jessie Carney Smith, Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink
Press, 2003); Jonathan Sutherland, African-Americans at War (Santa
Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Satcher, David (1941- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

David Satcher, physician, educator, and administrator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, on March 2, 1941 to Wilmer and Anne Satcher.   In 1963 Satcher graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta.  He earned a M.D. and Ph.D. in cytogenetics from Case Western Reserve University in 1970.  

In 1979 Satcher became a professor and later chair of the Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice at Morehouse School of Medicine.  In the early 1980s, he also served on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health and the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he developed and chaired the King/Drew Department of Family Medicine. While in his position, Satcher negotiated the agreement with the UCLA School of Medicine and the Board of Regents that created a medical education program at King/Drew. In this new program, he directed sickle cell research.  In 1982, Satcher began his five year presidency at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sources: 
Mike Mitka, "US Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD," Journal of the American Medical Association 280 (August 19, 1998): 590-91; Rebecca Voelker, "The Surgeon General Moves On," Journal of the American Medical Association 287 (May 1, 2002): 2199-200; Federal government official website: www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/youthviolence/satcher.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

McQueen, Thelma “Butterfly” (1911-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of www.nndb.com
Actress Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen was born in Tampa, Florida on January 8, 1911. Her father, Wallace McQueen, worked as a stevedore and her mother, Mary Richardson, was a housekeeper and domestic worker. After McQueen’s parents separated, her mother moved from job to job and McQueen lived in several cities on the East Coast before settling in Augusta, Georgia. As a young teen, McQueen moved to Harlem, New York, where her mother worked as a cook.  

McQueen enrolled in the Lincoln Training School for Nursing in the Bronx before pursuing an acting career. She joined Venezula Jones’s Youth Theatre Group in Harlem and performed in the Group’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a result of her role in the production’s “Butterfly Ballet,” she adopted “Butterfly” as her stage name.  In 1937, McQueen debuted on Broadway in Brown Sugar.  She also appeared in What a Life (1938) and the Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong musical, Swingin the Dream (1939).

McQueen received her big break in Hollywood when David O. Selznick cast the 28-year-old actor as Prissy in Gone with the Wind (1939). McQueen’s role as Prissy brought her national fame and it remains her most remembered performance.
Sources: 
Stephen Bourne, Butterfly McQueen Remembered (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008); Axel Nissen, Actresses of a Certain Character (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2007); Dwandalyn R. Reece, “Butterfly McQueen,” in African American National Biography, vol. 5, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Quarterman, Lloyd Albert (1918-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born May 31, 1918 in Philadelphia, Lloyd Albert Quarterman, a chemist, was one of the few African American scientists and technicians to work on the Manhattan Project, the top secret effort to design and build the atomic bomb during World War II.

Quarterman developed an interest in chemistry from a young age partly by using toy chemistry sets his parents gave him.  He attended St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina where he developed a reputation as a scholar and star football player.  After receiving his bachelor's degree from St. Augustine’s in 1943, he was quickly recruited by the War Department to work on the Manhattan Project.  Though he was only a junior chemist on the project, Quarterman had the opportunity to work closely with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago and with Albert Einstein at Columbia University.  

Quarterman was a member of the team of scientists who isolated the isotope of uranium (U 238) necessary for the fission process, which was essential to the creation of the atom bomb.  Once the war ended, he continued to work at the University of Chicago’s laboratory hidden beneath the campus football stadium during the war and later rebuilt in a Chicago suburb and renamed the Argonne National Laboratory.  After the war, Quarterman returned to school and earned a master of science from Northwestern University in 1952. He would return to Argonne and remain at the national laboratory for the next thirty years.
Sources: 
Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moster, African Americans in Science, Math, and Invention (New York: Facts on File, 2003); Julius H. Taylor, et al., The Negro in Science (Baltimore: Morgan State University, 1955); Ivan Van Sertima, Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern (New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1991); Stephane Groueff, The Manhattan Project: The Untold Story of the Making of the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1967).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

Herman, Alexis Margaret (1947-- )

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

Alexis Herman, US Secretary of Labor, political activist, civic leader, social worker, and entrepreneur, was born on July 16, 1947 in Mobile, Alabama to politician Alex Herman and educator Gloria Caponis.  Herman graduated from Heart of Mary High School in Mobile in 1965 and enrolled in Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and then Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama before transferring to St. Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969.  She joined the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta during her college years and supported this sorority throughout her career.

Sources: 
http://www.washingtonspeakers.com/speakers/speaker.cfm?SpeakerId=3178; http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/herman.htm; http://www.toyota.com/about/diversity/diversity_advisory_board/alexis_herman.html; http://encore.utep.edu/iii/encore/search/C__Salexis%20herman__Orightresult__U1?lang=eng&suite=cobalt
Affiliation: 
University of Texas El Paso

Simpson, O. J. (1947- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: 
Public Domain

Orenthal James Simpson was born July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, California. A troubled youth, poor grades and violent behavior kept Simpson from earning any college scholarship offers while attending high school. Simpson was highly recruited, however, after breaking several junior college records, and he would earn a scholarship to the University of Southern California.

In his second season at USC, Simpson set NCAA records for rushing yards in a season (1709) and carries (355) on his way to winning the national championship. Simpson won the 1968 Heisman Trophy by the largest voting margin ever.

The Buffalo Bills selected Simpson as the number one overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft. The first three NFL seasons were uneventful for the young Simpson, as coaches were hesitant to make Simpson a star. Beginning in 1972, however, Simpson’s abilities would not be ignored, as he led the league in rushing for four out of five seasons from 1972-1976. In 1973 Simpson won the NFL Most Valuable Player award while breaking the record for rushing yards in a season with 2003, and he remains the only player to rush for over 2000 yards in a fourteen game season.  After he retired from professional football Simpson pursued a moderately successful acting career. 

Sources: 
Pro Football Hall of Fame, http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=195
Larry Schwartz, Before Trial, Simpson Charmed America. ESPN.com Special, http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/simpson_oj.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Logan, Rayford W. (1897-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Leading 20th Century black historian Rayford Whittingham Logan was born on January 7, 1897 in Washington, D.C.  to working class parents,  Arthur C. and Martha Whittingham Logan.   Rayford Logan spent his formative years in Washington, D.C.  While in high school, he was taught by Carter G. Woodson.  A bright student, Logan was honored with a scholarship to Williams College where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1917.  Immediately, he joined the U.S. Army in World War I and like many black veterans of that era, was disillusioned as he witnessed the racism perpetrated against black troops by white officers.  

Sources: 
Kenneth Janken, Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African-American Intellectual (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press 1993); August Meir and Elliott Rudwick, Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Rayford Logan, What the Negro Wants (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press 1944); Rayford Logan, The Betrayal of the Negro (Cambridge: De Capo 1965), Rayford Logan, “Nat Turner: Fiend or Martyr?” Opportunity 9 (November  1931): 337-39.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Merriwether, Ray (1924–2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Contractor Ray Merriwether Talking with
Tenant in Front of 18-Unit Apartment
Building he Built in Seattle in 1949.
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ray Merriwether, prominent Seattle African American architect, real estate developer, and newspaper owner, was born in Taylor, Texas to Colie and Annie Merriwether.  After graduating from high school Merriwether attended barber school and served a short time in the United States Navy.

In 1943, Merriwether entered Howard University where he became president of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.  He earned a Civil Engineering degree from Howard in 1947.  Later that year he moved to Seattle, Washington and began his career with the City of Seattle’s Building Department as a Structural Plan Examiner.  Merriwether was the third black engineer to work in Seattle.  In 1949, at the age of 25, Merriwether built his first new apartment building, the 18-unit Chrystal Arms followed by the Chrystal Plaza, and another 18 units the next year.  Both buildings were named for his daughter, Chrystal.  These were soon followed by three more apartment buildings with a total of 54 units.

Sources: 
Merriwether Family Records;  Interview, Clyde Merriwether, Seattle, Washington, January 14, 2008; Interview, Chrystal Weinberg, Redmond, Washington, January 16, 2008; Clyde Merriwether, Reliant, Inc., (Seattle: Privately Published, 1987).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Antioch University Seattle

Garvey, Marcus (1887-1940)

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

Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1976); Edward David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Ula Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); and Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (London: Cass, 1967).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Cromwell, John Wesley (1846-1927)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Wesley Cromwell was a historian, editor, educator and lawyer who was born into slavery on September 5th, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the youngest child of Willis Hodges Cromwell and Elizabeth Carney Cromwell, who had twelve children. In 1851 Willis Cromwell obtained his family’s freedom and they moved to West Philadelphia. John attended Bird’s Grammar School at the age of ten and the Institute for Colored Youth in 1856. He graduated in 1864 and taught briefly in Colombia, Pennsylvania.

Cromwell returned to Virginia in 1865 at the age of eighteen and opened a private school for freedmen in Portsmouth, which was eventually taken over by the American Missionary Association. He returned to Philadelphia and worked with the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. In December of 1865, the principal of the Association recommended Cromwell to teach in the American Missionary Association’s freedman’s schools being formed across the South. Cromwell taught briefly in Maryland and Virginia through 1867.

John Wesley Cromwell soon got involved with local politics in Virginia. In 1867 he was named a delegate to the first Republican convention in Richmond. He was also named clerk in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1868.

Sources: 
Adelaide M. Cromwell, Unveiled Voices, Unvarnished Memories: The Cromwell Family in Slavery and Segregation, 1692-1972 (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2007); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Whipper, Leigh (1876-1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Leigh Whipper while making the film,
"The Oxbow Incident." 
Photo courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis

Leigh Whipper, the first black member of the Actors’ Equity Association (1913), was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1876. His father, William J. Whipper, was a Pennsylvania entrepreneur and abolitionist before the Civil War and later a member of two Constitutional Conventions during the Reconstruction era. His mother, Frances Rollin Whipper, was a writer. Whipper attended public school in Washington, D.C. After leaving Howard University Law School in 1895, he immediately joined the theater.

Never a drama student, Whipper honed his acting abilities by observing the techniques of some of the most established actors of his day and interpreting the voices of some of his favorite writers, including Paul Laurence Dunbar. By the turn of the century, he had made his first Broadway appearance in Georgia Minstrels and went on to appear in classical Broadway productions of Stevedore, Of Mice and Men, and Porgy. Whipper achieved national fame for his characterization of the Crabman of the Catfish Row in Porgy, interposing into his part the Crabman’s Song. It was later incorporated into the film version.

Sources: 

Leigh Whipper Papers, 1861–1963, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library; “Leigh Whipper, 98, Character Actor,” The New York Times, Sunday, July 27, 1975, p. 35.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

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.  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.  

Later on Crosthwait moved to Marshalltown, Iowa to work for Dunham Company where he designed and installed heating systems.  He also was in charge of diagnosing heating systems problems when they weren’t working properly.  He rose through company ranks and was promoted to supervisor.  While at the Dunham Company Crosthwait designed the heating system for Rockefeller Center and New York’s City’s Radio City Music Hall.  Although these were his most noted projects, Crosthwait was patented for 39 United States inventions and received 80 international patents for his work on heating systems, refrigeration, vacuum pumps, and temperature regulating devices.

Sources: 

Otha Richard Sullivan, Black Stars: African American Inventors (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998);  http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/services/patents-trademark/blkinvetors.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bambara, Toni Cade (1939-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Toni Cade Bambara on a
Gahnaian Stamp
Originally named Miltona Mirkin Cade at birth, Toni Cade Bambara was a civil rights activist, writer, teacher, and filmmaker.  She was born in 1939 in Harlem, New York.  At the age of six, she changed her name to Toni, and in 1970 she added the surname Bambara after finding it among her great-grandmother’s belongings.    

Bambara earned her BA in theater arts/English at Queens College in 1959, the same year she published “Sweet Town,” her first short story.  She was a social investigator from 1959 to 1961, and then worked in the psychiatry department of New York City’s Metropolitan Hospital.  During that time she studied in Florence as well as Paris, and earned an MA degree from City College of New York in 1964.  In 1965, she was hired to teach English at the City University of New York’s fledgling SEEK program for economically-disadvantaged students.  While there, she published short stories and became interested in film production.  From 1969 to 1974 she was an associate professor of English at Livingston College.
Sources: 
Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007); Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2006); Contemporary Authors (Detroit: Gale, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Smith, Zadie (1975– )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Zadie Smith, writer and essayist, was born in the London, UK borough of Brent on October 25, 1975. Smith was named Sadie by her mother, a Jamaican immigrant who arrived in London in the late 1970s, and her English father. Smith enjoyed tap dancing as a child and attended the Hampstead Comprehensive in Cricklewood, a section of London. It was here, during her adolescence, that she developed an appetite for literature and also changed her name to Zadie. Smith recalls that race was never the barrier she felt most keenly during this time. She was, however, consciously aware of not being middle class, and even more so of being a woman.

Smith began studying for an English Literature degree at King’s College, Cambridge in 1994. She excelled academically while performing part-time as a jazz singer. A year into her studies, Smith composed a story for publication as part of the “May Anthologies,” an Oxbridge creative writing collection. This entry led to a contract for her first novel, White Teeth.  The advance for the contracted book was rumoured to be worth around £250, 000. Still only twenty one, Smith graduated in 1996 from King’s with a First Class honours degree. It was also while at Cambridge that Smith met her future husband, Nick Laird. They were married in 2004 and the couple had a daughter, Katherine, in 2009.
Sources: 
Zadie Smith’s profile on “Contemporary Writers”: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth257; “She’s young, black, British – and the first publishing sensation of the millennium,” by Stephanie Merritt, published in The Observer, January 2000: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2000/jan/16/fiction.zadiesmith; “Learning Curve,” by Aida Edemarian, published in The Observer, September 2005.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Bolden Jr., Charles F. (1946-)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of NASA
Charles Frank Bolden, Jr., NASA’s first permanent black administrator, was born to Charles Frank and Ethel Bolden, both teachers, on August 19th, 1946 in Columbia, South Carolina.  He rose to the rank of Major General in the United States Marine Corps and was a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut before being named to head the U.S. space agency.

Bolden graduated from C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, S.C. in 1964.  In 1968, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Science from the United States Naval Academy.  He completed a Master’s degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California in 1977.

After completing his undergraduate studies at the United States Naval Academy, Bolden accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  After completing his flight training, he became a Naval Aviator in May of 1970.  From 1972 to 1973, Bolden flew more than 100 flights into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia while assigned at the Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong, Thailand.

Upon returning to the United States in 1973, Bolden held various Marine Corps assignments at the Marine Corps Air Stations in Los Angeles and El Toro, California.  In 1979, Bolden graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School and was then assigned to the Naval Air Test Center’s System’s Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates.  
Sources: 
Carol S. Bostch, "Charles F. Bolden Jr." University of Southern California, Dec. 23, 2009.http://www.usca.edu/aasc/Charles%20Bolden.htm ; "Charles F. Bolden Jr." Times Topics. The New York Times, 26 May 2009; http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/b/charles_f_bolden_jr/index.html; NASA - Charles F. Bolden, Jr., NASA Administrator (July 17, 2009 - Present)." NASA – Home. http://www.nasa.gov/about/highlights/bolden_bio.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Boseman, Benjamin Anthony (1840-1881)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Benjamin A. Boseman, physician, politician, and postmaster, was free born in New York in 1840 to Benjamin A. and Annaretta Boseman.  He was the oldest of five children, two girls and three boys.  Boseman grew up in Troy, New York where his father served as a steward on the steamboat Empire in the mid-1800s and then as a sutler (a civilian merchant selling provisions to the army).

Boseman was educated in the segregated schools of Troy and showed an interest in becoming a physician.  At the age of 16, he began an eight year apprenticeship in the office of prominent Troy physician Dr. Thomas C. Brinsmade, before completing his education at the Medical School of Maine at Bowdoin College, where he received his medical degree in 1864.  

With his degree in hand, Boseman turned his efforts towards obtaining a position as a surgeon with the Union Army during the American Civil War.  After writing to Acting Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes requesting a position as a surgeon with the “colored regiments,” Boseman received an appointment as a contract acting assistant surgeon.  He was assigned to a recruiting position for the United States Colored Troops (USCT) at Camp Foster in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and served for a year examining recruits and tending to sick and wounded soldiers of the 21st regiment of the USCT.  
Sources: 
Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, B.A. Boseman, Records Relating to Medical Officers and Physicians, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Record Group 94, Entry 561; William C. Hine, “Dr. Benjamin A. Boseman, Jr.: Charleston’s Black Physician-Politician,” Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Lowry, Henry Berry (c. 1846-1872)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

In 1853, the Lumbee Indians, a triracial people who are descendants of several southeastern Indian tribes, whites, and African Americans, named themselves after the Lumber River, which flows through their homeland in North Carolina.  According to the Lumbee historian Adolph Dial, they are also descended from the “lost” Roanoke colonists, who took up residence with American Indians farther inland.

Sources: 
Bruce E. Johansen and Donald A. Grinde, Jr., The Encyclopedia of Native American Biography (New York: Da Capo Press, 1997)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York, Buffalo

Clark, Kenneth (1914- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Kenneth and Mamie Clark
Image Ownership: Public domain
In the late 1930s sociologist Kenneth Clark and his wife and collaborator, Mamie Phipps Clark, began to study the self-image of black children. The Clarks were among the first to describe the “harm and benefit” thesis in the area of civil rights and desegregation law.  Attorney Thurgood Marshall and the National association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal team used the Clark’s social science studies known as the “doll tests” in numerous legal challenges to the Jim Crow system of segregation. 
Sources: 
David J. Amor, Americana: Forced Justice: School Desegregation and the Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); The African American Almanac, 9th ed. (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003); The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Judson Knight, Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2001.
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles Community College

Miller, Loren (1903-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born on January 20, 1903 in Pender, Nebraska to John Miller, a former slave, and Nora Herbaugh, a white Midwesterner, Miller was, at his death in 1967, considered one of the leading civil rights attorneys in the United States, particularly in the field of housing discrimination. Miller’s dedication to the pursuit of social justice was part of his family’s legacy. He attended the University of Kansas and Howard University, graduating in 1928 from Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, with a bachelor of laws degree.
Sources: 
Loren Miller, The Petitioners: The Story of the United States Supreme Court and the Negro (New York: Pantheon Books, 1966); H. Levett, “Coast Codging,” Chicago Defender, June 15, 1935, p. 6; P. Weeks, “New Judge Reluctant Member of Profession,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1964, E4; and E. Broady ((1991, March 25) in the Taylor Branch Papers #05047, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hayes, Charles Arthur (1918-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
African American Congressman, Charles Arthur Hayes, will forever be remembered for his commitment to legislate equal rights for black labor workers.  After noticing racism aimed toward black workers in his hometown of Cairo, Illinois, Hayes moved to Chicago and started unionizing activities in 1942.  As a unionist, he helped end discriminatory hiring practices and improved job benefits for black laborers.  Hayes also was one of the first African American leaders to address the issues facing black women in Chicago’s African American community.  

During the 1950s he helped persuade the United Packinghouse Workers (UPWA-CIO), a major, predominately white union in Chicago, to establish its headquarters in the African American community, fought against segregated housing patterns, and raised money to prosecute the murderers of Emmett Till.  Hayes later worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) in the Chicago civil rights movement.  In the 1970s and 1980s he helped found the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), assisted Operation PUSH and supported the campaigns of two black Congressmen who were elected in the state of Illinois.  In August 1983, he himself was elected to Congress in a special election to fill the vacant seat created when Harold Washington was elected Mayor of Chicago.  Hayes served in Congress for ten years.  
Sources: 
Obituary of Charles Arthur Hayes, 1997: “Congressman Charles Hayes”; http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=Hooo388.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Evans, Greene (1848-1914)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Fisk University Special Collections
Greene Evans, Fisk Jubilee Singer, Memphis City Councilman and Tennessee State Assemblyman, was born somewhere in Tennessee and emancipated after the Civil War.  Evans attended night school at a Memphis freedmen’s school until it was burned down in the Memphis Riot in 1866. After working briefly as a hotel porter, Evans proceeded to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he paid his way through school working as a groundskeeper. Dignified, fastidious and enterprising, Evans taught at a small school in the summer near the Tennessee-Mississippi border. Scrounging timber from the surrounding woods, he built his own desks, benches and a schoolhouse which at least “did not lack for ventilation, for a bird could fly through anywhere.” Evans joined the first Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1872 and he proudly participated in the first tour that took them to eight states and Great Britain.  
Sources: 
Andrew Ward, Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); United States Freedman Records, 1865-1874: Record 4836; Tennessee State Library and Archives,  http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/exhibits/blackhistory/bios/evans.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

Work, Monroe Nathan (1866-1945)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Monroe Nathan Work, a leading early 20th Century sociologist, was born on August 15, 1866 to his ex-slave parents in Iredell County, North Carolina. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Cairo, Illinois where Monroe’s father worked as a tenant farmer. They aspired to own their own land and in the early 1870s moved to Kansas and purchased a 160-acre farm in Summer County. Work received his elementary education in a local church building and stayed in Summer County to help on the farm until 1889, when his mother died and his father went to live with one of the married children.

At the age of 23 Monroe Work enrolled in high school in Arkansas City, Kansas. After graduating (third in his class), he tried teaching, preaching, and homesteading before continuing his education at the Chicago Theological Seminary. Work became disenchanted with seminary and transferred to the Sociology Department of the University of Chicago in 1898.

Work’s passion for sociology was driven by his belief that education eradicated racial prejudice.  He once noted, “In the end, facts will help eradicate prejudice and misunderstanding, for facts are the truth and the truth shall set us free.” Thus began a life long career dedicated to finding and documenting the facts of black life in the United States.
Sources: 
“Monroe Work” in Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1998); “Monroe Work” in 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

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

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

Craft, William and Ellen (1824-1900; 1826-1891)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownershp: Public Domain
William and Ellen Craft were born into slavery.  William was born in Macon, Georgia to a master who sold off his family to pay his gambling debts.  William’s new owner apprenticed him as a carpenter in order to earn money from his labor.  Ellen was born in Clinton, Georgia and was the daughter of an African American slave and her white owner.  Ellen had a very light complexion and was frequently mistaken for a member of her white family.  At the age of 11, she was given away as a wedding gift to the Collins Family in Macon, Georgia.  It was in Macon, Georgia where William and Ellen met.

In 1846 Ellen and William were allowed to marry, but they could not live together since they had different owners.  The separation took its toll and they started to save money and plan an escape.  In December of 1848, the Crafts escaped enslavement.  Ellen’s light complexion allowed her to dress as a white man.  She then claimed William was her slave.  This plan worked and they settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where they became famous because of their remarkable and romantic escape.  Their story briefly generated a sizeable income. 
Sources: 
William and Ellen Craft, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery [originally published in 1860] Miami, Florida: Mnemosyne Pub. Company, 1969); Georgia Douglas Camp Johnson, William and Ellen Craft (Alexandria, Va.: Alexander Street Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Walker, Wyatt Tee (1929- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 
Taylor Branch, At Canaan's edge America in the King years, 1965-68 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006); Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); http://canaanbaptistchurchny.org/; http://www.wyattteewalker.com/about_chrono.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Killens, John Oliver (1916-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, John Oliver Killens was an editor, essayist, activist, critic and novelist who inspired a generation of African American writers through his Harlem Writers Guild. He inspired such literary artists as Rosa Guy, Maya Angelou, Ossie Davis and Audrey Lorde. The great grandson of former slaves, whose stories he heard first hand, Killens was born in Macon, Georgia in 1916. The segregated, racist world of his youth in the South and the military during young adulthood, in which he served during World War II, became the backdrop and central themes of his work.  He attended Morris Brown College, Howard University, Columbia University and New York University.  He later taught at Fisk and Howard Universities and was writer-in-residence at New York’s Medgar Evers College.
Sources: 
Keith Gilyard, Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric And Poetics Of John Oliver Killens (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003); Ray Black, "John O. Killens," Encyclopedia of African American Literature Wilfred D. Samuels, ed., (New York: Facts on File, 2007): 300-302.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Hines, Earl “Fatha” (1903-1983)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Earl “Fatha” Hines was an African-American jazz musician who composed and played piano. Hines was born on December 28, 1903 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. Both of his parents and a number of his siblings were musicians as well. Hines started playing music when he was a young boy, taking trumpet lessons from his father. However, he felt the trumpet was too loud of an instrument, so he switched to piano after a few years. Hines attended Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where among other classes, he studied classical music.

In lieu of finishing high school, Hines moved to Pittsburgh at the age of 17 to take a job playing with Lois Deppe in a nightclub. Deppe was a well know musician around the area who took Hines to his first studio recordings in 1923.
Sources: 
http://www.jazz.com/encyclopedia/hines-earl-fatha-kenneth
http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=7642
Terry Teachout, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Walker, Thomas Calhoun (1862-1953)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Thomas Calhoun Walker, teacher, lawyer, and government official, was born into slavery on June 16, 1862 in a small cabin at Spring Hill in Gloucester County, Virginia. On January 1, 1863, when Walker was just a few months old, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves. Walker’s parents, despite their new liberty, chose to stay and work on plantations around Spring Hill.

Walker’s former owner and master died, and his son Lieutenant William J. Baytop took over the plantation.  Lieutenant Baytop and his wife had no children of their own and convinced Walker’s parents to let them keep him while he was young. The Baytops treated young Walker well. They named him Thomas after his biological father and Calhoun after South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. When he was a few years older, Walker’s father sent for him, and the Baytops returned him to his family.

Walker and his family lived near Edge Hill where they rented a two-room shed and a kitchen. The boy’s childhood ended at the age of 10 when he began working odd jobs to help support his family. Walker desperately wanted an education, but his father said that at age 10 he was too old to learn.  At 13 he could neither read nor write. But young Walker persisted and finally learned to read when a Sunday School teacher gave him a spelling book called “John Common’s Book.”
Sources: 
J. Clay Smith, Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844-1944 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993); Thomas Calhoun Walker, The Honey-Pod Tree; the Life Story of Thomas Calhoun Walker (New York: J. Day, 1958).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jordan, George (1849?-1904)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
George Jordan, buffalo soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, hailed from rural Williamson County in central Tennessee.  Enlisting in the 38th Infantry Regiment on 25 December 1866, the short and illiterate Jordan proved a good soldier.  In January 1870, he transferred to the 9th Cavalry’s K Troop, his home for the next twenty-six years.  Earning the trust of his troop commander, Captain Charles Parker, Jordan was promoted to corporal in 1874; by 1879, he wore the chevrons of a sergeant.  It was during these years that Jordan learned how to read and write, an accomplishment that certainly facilitated his advancement in the Army.

On 14 May 1880, following a difficult forced march at night, a twenty-five man detachment under Jordan successfully repulsed a determined attack on old Fort Tularosa, New Mexico, by more numerous Apaches.  The next year on 12 August, still campaigning against the Apaches, Jordan’s actions contributed to the survival of a detachment under Captain Parker when they were ambushed in Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico.  Although neither engagement received much attention initially, in 1890 Jordan was awarded a Medal of Honor for Tularosa and a Certificate of Merit for Carrizo Canyon.

By the time of his retirement in 1896 at Fort Robinson, Jordan had served ten years as first sergeant of a veteran troop renowned for its performance against the Apache and Sioux.  Jordan joined other buffalo soldier veterans in nearby Crawford, Nebraska, and became a successful land owner, although his efforts to vote bore little fruit.
Sources: 
Charles L. Kenner, Buffalo Soldiers and Officers of the Ninth Cavalry, 1867-1898: Black and White TogetherBlack Valor: Buffalo Soldiers and the Medal of Honor, 1870-1898 (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Incorporated, 1997); Frank Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldiers II: New and Revised Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004).
(Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Burke, Selma Hortense (1900-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Laurie Collier Hillstrom and Kevin Hillstrom, eds., Contemporary Women Artists (Detroit: St. James Press, 1999); Charlotte Striefer Rubinstein, American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990); http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/aavaahp.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Applegate, Joseph R. (1925-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
It is believed that linguist Joseph Roye Applegate spoke as at least 13 languages and had reading knowledge of several others.  He was born to parents who operated a boarding house in Wildwood, New Jersey on December 4, 1925.  When his family moved to Philadelphia he interacted with Yiddish and Italian schoolmates and thus developed a fascination with languages. Applegate entered Temple University in 1941 where he made the varsity fencing team and did well in modern dance.  Work interrupted his studies but he persisted and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at Temple in 1955.  Between 1946 and 1955 Applegate taught Spanish and English in vocational schools and high schools in Philadelphia and was active in teacher unionization.  

Upon completing his doctorate he was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to assist in its modern languages department’s efforts to adapt electronic methods of language translation.  In 1956 he was appointed assistant professor in the department teaching German, English to foreign students, and in 1959 was appointed director of MIT’s new language laboratory.  
Sources: 
Obituary. The Washington Post (22 October 2003); Directory of American Scholars (New York: Bowker, 1982); http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/1997/applegate-0205.html ; http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0504/0504obits.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Riley, George Putnam (1833--1905)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

George Putnam Riley, a native of Boston, participated in both the California and Canadian Northwest Territory Gold Rushes. In 1869, Riley along with 14 other Portland, Oregon residents--11 African American men, two African American women, and one white man--formed the Workingmen’s Joint Stock Association (WJSA). The members pooled funds to purchase real estate that was divided proportionately. George P. Riley, WJSA president, was dispatched to Washington Territory to search for property. In August, the Association purchased the eastern half of the 20-acre Hanford Donation Claim in Seattle, Washington for $2,000 [in] gold coin. The tract was legally given the name, “Riley’s Addition to South Seattle.” The original purchase, in the present-day Beacon Hill neighborhood, presently embraces the four blocks bordered by South Forest and South Lander, between 19th and 21st Avenues South.

The origins of Tacoma, Washington’s African American population can also be traced to the arrival of George P. Riley in 1869. Riley and his associates purchased 67 acres of land in Tacoma, legally called the Alliance Addition but pejoratively labeled the “Nigger Tract.” Interestingly, none of the WJSA members, except Riley, ever actually set foot in Tacoma. However, the Alliance Addition would become the spatial basis for Tacoma’s African American community--the Hilltop neighborhood as it is presently known.

Sources: 
Tacoma Daily Ledger, June 22, 1889, October 2, 1905. Laurie McKay, “The Nigger Tract” 1869-1905: George Putnam Riley and the Alliance Addition of Tacoma” Unpublished Paper, Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference, April 2001. pp.1, 6. Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle’s Black Victorians, 1852-1901 (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980), 105-107.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wideman, John Edgar (1941- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Edgar Wideman was born in 1941 in Washington, D.C. but grew up in the predominantly black middle class community of Homewood near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By the time Wideman was in high school, his family had moved to Shadyside, an upper middle class mostly white neighborhood where Wideman excelled as an athlete and scholar; he was a basketball player, class president, and valedictorian. In 1959 he entered the University of Pennsylvania where he majored in English and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. When Wideman graduated in 1963 he became the second African American, after Alain Locke, to receive a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University.  He graduated with an MA in eighteenth-century literature in 1966.   Between 1966 and 1967 Wideman attended the University of Iowa where he completed his first novel, A Glance Away, in 1967.

Between 1967 and 1975 Wideman was both an assistant professor and an assistant basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania.  Wideman also served as the first director of the University of Pennsylvania’s African American Studies Department. Throughout this period he continued to write.  In 1973 he published his third novel, The Lynchers, which garnered significant attention.  
Sources: 
Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Bonnie TuSmith, ed., Conversations with John Edgar Wideman (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998); The Africana Research Center, Pennsylvania Black Writers: John Edgar Wideman, Pennsylvania State University http://php.scripts.psu.edu/dept/arc//index.php.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Wyoming

Jackson, Mahalia (1911-1972)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Quintessential gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, born on October 26, 1911 to an impoverished family in New Orleans, Louisiana, was immediately exposed to the mélange of musical styles brimming from the city.  Though influenced by jazz and blues, she was drawn to gospel music and firmly established herself as a gospel singer.  Her father was a Baptist minister, and she sang fervently in the gospel choir after moving to Chicago as a teen.   

In 1929, Jackson met legendary composer Thomas A. Dorsey and toured with him for fourteen years.  She used her commanding contralto voice to move her audiences in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia.  She met Indira Gandhi while performing in India, and performed for two U.S. presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.  Her mighty voice became part of the Civil Rights Movement, for she sang at the historic March on Washington and at the funeral of her friend, Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the 1950s, Mahalia Jackson performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Newport Jazz Festival, becoming the first gospel performer to do so.  She was a Grammy award winner and was inducted into both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Months after collapsing at her final performance in Munich, Germany, she died in Chicago at the age of 60.
Sources: 
Laurraine Goreau, Just Mahalia, Baby: The Mahalia Jackson Story (Waco: World Books, 1975); www.galegroup.com/free_resources/bhm/bio/jackson_m_htm
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Rillieux, Norbert (1806-1894)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
George Meade, “A Negro Scientist of Slavery Days,” Negro History Bulletin (April 1957, pp.159-164); James M. Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (New York: Bill Adler Books, Inc., 1993); http://www.blackinventor.com/pages/norbertrillieux.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

Myers, Isaac (1835-1891)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Isaac Myers, a labor leader and mason, was born in Baltimore on January 13, 1835.  He was the son of free parents but grew up in a slave state.  Myers received his early education from a private day school of a local clergyman, Rev. John Fortie, since the state of Maryland provided no public education for African American children at the time.  At 16 years, he became an apprentice to James Jackson, a prominent black Baltimore ship caulker.  Four years later Myers was supervising the caulking of clipper ships operating out of Baltimore.

During the Civil War Myers worked as a porter and shipping clerk for a grocer and then returned to his original profession as a caulker.  Soon after the war ended, Myers found himself unexpectedly unemployed when a group of white caulkers protested the employment of black caulkers and longshoremen.  In response to the strike, Myers proposed the creation of a union for black caulkers. 

Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982); Sara Opdycke, “Myers, Isaac,” American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000); http://www.anb.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/articles/15/15-01264.html.
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

Anderson, Ernest (1916-1997)

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

Scott, Tyree (1940-2003)

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

Tyree Scott was a Seattle civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry.  Scott was born in Hearne (Wharton County), Texas and before moving to Seattle in 1966, he served in the U. S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.  His father was an electrician in Seattle who found that jobs in the construction industry were off limits to blacks, limiting his ability to compete for large contracts.  In 1969, when Seattle’s Model Cities Program was attracting large federal contracts, the anti-poverty agency encouraged black contractors to organize in order to gain access to them.

Sources: 
Mary T. Henry, “Tyree Scott (1940-2003),” HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, http://www.historylink.org/ ; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District form 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, Reginald Martinez (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 

Marshall Burchard, Sports Hero, Reggie Jackson (New York: Putnam, 1975); Reggie Jackson and Mike Lupica,  Reggie: The Autobiography (New York: Villard Books, 1984): Edward J. Rielly, Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2000); http://www.nndb.com/people/404/000022338/

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Reynolds, Grant (1908-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Who's Who Among African Americans, 16th Edition (NY: Gale Research, 2003); Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972); Nat Brandt, Harlem at War: The Black Experience in WWII (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996); Richard M. Dalfiume, Desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces: Fighting on Two Fronts 1939-1953 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969); Phillip McGuire, He, Too, Spoke for Democracy: Judge Hastie, World War II, and the Black Soldier (NY: Greenwood Press, 1988); Ancestry.com, Social Security Death Index.
Contributor: 

McKenzie, Vashti Murphy (1947- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
On July 11, 2000, journalist and clergywoman Vashti Murphy McKenzie became the first female bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In 2005 she became the denomination’s first woman to serve as Titular Head. Her commitment to community development is evident in her work with urban American cities as well as in AIDS-stricken Africa.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie was born on May 28, 1947 into a prominent Baltimore, Maryland family. Her great-grandfather John Henry Murphy, Sr. founded the Afro-American Newspaper in 1892, and her grandmother Vashti Turly Murphy was a founding member of Delta Sigma Theta, an African American college sorority. Bishop McKenzie graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland in 1978. She later earned a master’s of divinity from Howard University and a doctor of ministry from United Theological Seminary.
Sources: 
Martha Simmons and Frank A. Thomas, eds., Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010); Vashti M. McKenzie, Journey to the Well (New York: Penguin, 2003); C. Stone Brown, “The Rev. Vashti Murphy McKenzie: A Bishop for the New Millennium,” The New Crisis, November/December, 2000, pp. 29-31; “Bishop Vashti McKenzie,” The 13th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, http://www.13thame.com/index.php?page_id=about_leadership (accessed January 12, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Smith, Barbara (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the City of Albany, 
New York
Beginning in the 1970s, Barbara Smith broke new ground as a black feminist, lesbian, activist, author, and book publisher of women of color.  She and her twin sister, Beverly Smith, were born on December 16, 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Their mother, Hilda Smith, maternal grandmother, and a great aunt raised the girls there.  Smith’s activism started in high school when she participated in boycotts, marches and civil rights protests in the 1960s.

Education remained a high priority in the household.  As the first member of the Smith family to graduate from college, their mother, Hilda, expected the twins to do likewise.  She died when the twins were nine years old, and consequently Smith’s grandmother and aunt continued to stress the importance of learning and education.  Barbara Smith earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College in 1969 and her MA in 1971 from University of Pittsburgh.  She completed all but the dissertation (ABD) in her doctoral studies at the University of Connecticut (1981).
Sources: 
Paul Grondahl, “She’s Barbara Smith, Mover and ‘Maker’: Councilwoman to be Featured in New Video on Women’s Movement,” Times Union (April 5, 2012); Candace LaBalle, “Barbara Smith,” Gale Contemporary Black Biography, http://www.answers.com/topic/barbara-smith#ixzz1wWRbZ4kp; http://www.makers.com/barbara-smith.
Contributor: 

Toussaint, Pierre (ca.1781-1853) and Gaston, Marie-Rose Juliette (1786-1851)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Pierre Toussaint
Image Courtesy of New York State Historical Society
Juliette Toussaint
Image Courtesy of New York State Historical Society
Pierre Toussaint, New York society hairdresser, devout Catholic, and wealthy philanthropist, was born a third-generation elite house slave at the Bérard family plantation in Haiti.  His father’s name is not known but he took his surname in honor of revolutionary hero Toussaint L’Ouverture.  His mother Ursule was groomed as the personal maid of the Bérard matriarch; his grandmother, Zenobie Julien, nursed the Bérard children, made five voyages to France to help them adjust to their Parisian boarding schools, and continued to work for the family long after being rewarded with her freedom.
Sources: 
Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in St. Domingo (Boston: Crosbie, Nichols and Company, 1854); James Sullivan, “Pierre Toussaint: Slave, Saint and Gentilhomme of Old New York, Parts I, II, III,” November 2011 http://teaattrianon.blogspot.ca/2011/11/pierre-toussaint-slave-saint-and.html; Arthur Jones, Pierre Toussaint: A Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Young, Andrew (1932 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Andrew Young, Jr., came into prominence as a civil rights activist and close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the modern civil rights movement in the United States.  Young worked with various organizations early in the movement, but his civil rights work was largely done with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) where he served as an executive director and later executive vice president.  Young served on the Board of Directors until 1972.

Young was born into a prosperous upper-middle-class family on March 12, 1932 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Daisy Fuller, a school teacher, and Andrew Jackson Young, Sr., a Howard University-educated dentist.  Young, Sr. moved the family from Franklin, Louisiana to New Orleans.  Young, Sr., believed the move was necessary to take advantage of educational opportunities for Andrew and his younger brother Walter Young (b. 1934).
Sources: 
Andrew Young, Andrew Young: An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movements and the Transformation of America, (New York: Harper-Collins, 1996); Adam Fairclough, To Redeem the Soul of America: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987); Elizabeth Heath, “Young, Andrew,” Africana: The Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience, Eds., Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates (New York: Preseus, 1999);
www.andrewyoungfoundation.org.
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Gordon, Taylor Emmanuel (1893-1971)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Taylor Emmanuel Gordon was born in 1893 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, one of six children of a cook and a laundress.  He is best known for his career as a singer in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.  After leaving Montana in 1910 for a job in Minnesota, Gordon eventually made his way to New York. There he joined a vaudeville act called “The Inimitable Five,” and toured coast to coast.  As the Harlem Renaissance gathered steam in the mid-1920s, he found more opportunities to advance his singing career.  The most important of these was a partnership with J. Rosamond Johnson, who with his brother James Weldon Johnson, composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and compiled the classic Book of American Negro Spirituals.   Gordon joined Rosamond Johnson as a singing partner and the pair quickly achieved fame, touring the United States, France, and England.  In 1927 they gave an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall sponsored by the Urban League.  W.E.B. Du Bois wrote afterwards that “No one who has heard Johnson and Gordon sing ‘Stand Still Jordan’ can ever forget its spell.”  
Sources: 
Taylor Gordon, Born to Be, With a New Introduction by Robert Hemenway (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975).  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Brown, Willie Lewis, Jr. (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of The Nob Hill Association
This State Legislator and Mayor was born in Mineola, Texas, to Willie L. Brown, Sr., and Minnie (Boyd) Lewis on March 20, 1934. After migrating to San Francisco, California, in 1951, Brown worked as a janitor in order to subsidize his education at San Francisco State University. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Brown immediately joined the United Methodist Church, which was committed to social action, where he became the youth leader. In his attempts to make the world and himself more “comfortable,” he also participated in the San Francisco civil rights protests in the late 1950s. He earned his bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University in 1955. In 1958, he earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Hastings College Law School.

In the 1950s Brown’s prospects seemed bleak. Most San Francisco law firms barred black attorneys from employment. In addition, Hastings Law School alumni were not heavily recruited because of Bay Area law firms’ preference for Stanford and University of California-Berkeley graduates. In 1959 Brown began his own practice, Brown, Dearman & Smith, after working for a time with prominent San Francisco black attorney Terry Francois. Brown’s new firm specialized in criminal defense, real estate development, and personal injury cases.
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Affiliation: 
University of Mississippi

Washington, Fredi (1903-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

This image first appeared in the June 21, 2012 issue of
The Christian Post. Used with permission.

Fredi Washington was an actress and founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America as well as a journalist for People’s Voice. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Washington moved as a child to New York and began her professional career as a chorus dancer in the stage production of Shuffle Along in 1924. Fredi Washington appeared opposite Paul Robeson in the Frank Dazey’s 1926 play, Black Boy. Washington then left the United States with Al Moiret in 1927 and formed the dance duo, “Moiret and Fredi.” They toured clubs in Paris, Monte Carlo, London and Berlin for two years.

Sources: 
Alicia I. Rodriquez-Estrada, “From Peola to Carmen: Fredi Washington, Dorothy Dandridge, and Hollywood’s Portrayal of the Tragic Mulatto” in Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, eds., African American Women Confront the West, 1600-2000 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997).
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles Trade and Technical College

Fard, Wallace (ca. 1891-1934)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Wallace Fard, also known as W. Farad Muhammad, the Prophet, was founder the first Temple of Islam which evolved into the Nation of Islam or the Black Muslims. Authentic, documented information about Fard is very scarce and there is only a four year period (1930-1934) in which dependable information exists.

According to Fard (although there is no documentation to prove or disprove his account) he was born in Mecca to wealthy parents in the tribe of Koreish, the tribe of the Prophet Mohammad. According to FBI records Fard was born in 1891 in New Zealand. He arrived in the United States in 1913 and briefly settled in Portland, Oregon. Fard was arrested in California in 1918 for possession of alcohol (against the state law of prohibition) and again in 1926 for the possession of narcotics. After spending time in San Quentin Prison in California, Fard was released and moved to Detroit, Michigan.
Sources: 
Rayford W. 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

Vieira, Patrick (1976- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Patrick Vieira, one of Europe’s leading soccer players, was born in the Cape Verdean community of Dakar, Senegal, on June 23, 1976.  He left Senegal at the age of eight when his family moved to Europe and settled in Dreux, in northwest France.  Soon after their arrival the family became citizens of France.  

Vieira began his professional soccer career playing for several local youth clubs in France.  Then in 1993, at age 17, he joined AC Cannes Soccer Club.  The French club provided an atmosphere for the young 6-foot-4 center midfielder to advance.  After three seasons with AC Cannes, Vieira signed with AC Milan, one of the leading clubs in Italy.  Although he hoped to break through to the first team in the 1995-96 season, Vieira spent much of his time on the reserve squad.

Sources: 

Trevor Huggins, “Vieira out of crunch Italy clash,” Four Four Two Magazine, June 16, 2008; Patrick Vieira, “Vieira,” The Orion Publishing Group, November 2006.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Becton, Julius W., Jr. (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Lieutenant General Julius Wesley Becton Jr. was born on June 29, 1926 to Julius and Rose Becton in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father worked as a janitor in their apartment building. His mother was a housekeeper and laundress. In December 1943, Julius Becton joined the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserves. After graduating high school in 1944, Becton joined the active army. It was Becton’s hope that he would become a pilot but was ruled ineligible because of astigmatism.

Though the Army was segregated in 1944, Officer Candidate School was not. Julius Becton and sixteen other African American candidates completed OCS in 1945 and were commissioned as second lieutenants. Shortly after his commissioning, Lt. Becton was assigned to serve in the Philippines.

Upon his return from the Philippines, Becton left the army and attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1948, after President Harry S. Truman had desegregated the military, Becton was accepted for active duty once again and remained in the Army until 1983.  During that period he saw combat duty in Korean and Vietnam. He was also stationed in Germany, the Philippines, France, the Southwest Pacific, and `Japan during his service.  Steadily moving up the ranks, in 1972, Becton was promoted to Brigadier General.

Sources: 

Lt. General Julius W. Becton Jr., Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant (Annapolis, MD: Naval
Institute Press, 2008); Clyde McQueen, The Black Army Officer
(Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008); Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass:
Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States

(Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); Jessie Carney Smith,
Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Jesse (1944-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jesse Brown, wounded veteran and government official, was born on March 27, 1944 to Lucille Brown in Detroit, Michigan.  His single-parent mother raised him in Chicago.  Brown first attended Roosevelt University in Chicago and later graduated from Kennedy- King College in that same city.

In 1963, Brown enlisted into the United States Marine Corps.  During the Vietnam War, he was seriously wounded while patrolling near DaNang.  The injury left his right arm completely paralyzed.  For his sacrifice, Brown received the Purple Heart and an honorable discharge.

In 1967, Brown found employment at the Chicago Bureau of the Disabled American’s Veterans (DAV).   Six years later in 1973, Brown had been promoted to supervisor of the appeals office for the DAV headquarters in Washington, D.C. Within ten years, Brown became headquarters manager.  In 1988, he became the DAV’s first African American executive director.  In this position, he often testified on veteran health issues before Congress. He challenged Congress’s efforts to decrease veteran’s benefits and criticized the deterioration of the veteran’s hospital system. While at the agency, he also created the system for health officials to diagnose and treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical side effects of Agent Orange.

Sources: 
“Jesse Brown,” African American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1993); Mitchell, Locin, “I Was Just One of the 300,000,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1992: section N, pg. 22; “Jesse Brown, 58, Ex-Marine Who Headed Veteran’s Dept,” New York Times, August 17, 2002: section A, pg. 12.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Blakey, Art (1919-1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Art Blakey, jazz drummer and band leader, was born Arthur William Blakey in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on October 11, 1919.  Blakey’s father, Burtrum, who worked as a barber, left his family when Blakey was a newborn.  Blakey lost his mother, Marie Roddericker, before his second birthday.  His cousin, Sarah Oliver Parran, and his extended family raised him until he moved out to work at the local steel mill around 1932.    

As a teenager, Blakey began playing piano in Pittsburgh nightclubs. Influenced by the work of Chick Webb, Sid Catlett, and Ray Bauduc, Blakey soon started drumming. Throughout his early career, Blakey played drums for a variety of bands, including Mary Lou Williams’s twelve-piece band, the Henderson band, and the Billy Eckstine orchestra.  He met and collaborated with Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis.  Blakey’s early work reflected swing style drumming, but he later popularized hard bop, which drew on bebop, blues, gospel, and African drumming styles.

In 1948, Blakey traveled to Africa.  The trip influenced him to convert to Islam and to change his name to Abdullah Ibn Buhaina.  Soon after his return he created the Jazz Messengers with Horace Silver. In 1956, Blakey became the sole leader of the band, which played and recorded until his death. The Jazz Messengers featured and mentored many upcoming jazz musicians, including Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, and Lee Morgan among others.
Sources: 
Leslie Gourse, Art Blakey: Jazz Messenger (New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 2002); T. Dennis Brown, “Art Blakey,” African American National Biography, vol. 1, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Timothy O’Brien, “Art Blakey,” Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present, vol. 1, ed. Paul Finkelman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Guinier, Ewart (1910-1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture

Ewart Guinier, labor activist and political candidate, was the first chairman of Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department. Born in Panama in 1910, Guinier migrated to the United States in 1925 and attended high school in Boston, Massachusetts. After his acceptance into the Harvard University Class of 1933, Guinier was denied a scholarship because he allegedly did not submit a photograph with his application and because of his race he was not permitted to reside in the all-white dormitories. Guinier nonetheless started classes at Harvard but dropped out in 1931 due to the high tuition costs.  He transferred to the City University of New York where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1935.  He later received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1939 and his law degree from New York University in 1959.

Guinier served in Hawaii as a warrant officer in the segregated United States Army during World War Two. He met his future wife Genii Paprin, a young woman of Jewish descent, at a Labor Canteen in Honolulu in August 1945. Even though interracial marriages were illegal in most states at that time, the couple married in October of that year. They moved to Hollis, Queens in 1956 and were the first racially-mixed family in their neighborhood. Together they raised three daughters, Lani, Saury, and Marie Guinier.

Sources: 
Ewart Guinier, “Impact of Unionization on Blacks,” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 30:2 (Dec. 1970): 173-181 ;http://www.nytimes.com/1990/02/07/obituaries/ewart-guinier-79-who-headed-afro-american-studies-at-harvard.html; http://www.nypl.org/archives/3674; http://mvgazette.com/article.php?22763
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Brown, Henry "Box" (1816-1889)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
To escape enslavement on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia, Henry “Box” Brown in 1849 exploited maritime elements of the Underground Railroad.  Brown’s moniker “Box” was a result of his squeezing himself into a box and having himself shipped 250 miles from Richmond, Virginia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Henry Brown, born enslaved in 1816 to John Barret, a former mayor of Richmond, eventually married another slave named Nancy and the couple had three children.  Brown became an active member of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church where he was known for singing in the choir.  In 1848 Brown’s wife and children were abruptly sold to away to North Carolina.  Using “overwork” (overtime) money, Brown decided to arrange for his freedom.

He constructed a wooden crate three feet long and two feet six inches deep with two air holes. With help from Philadelphia abolitionists, he obtained a legal freight contract from Adams Express.  This freight company with both rail and steamboat capabilities arranged to ship his package labeled “Dry Goods” to Philadelphia.  The package was a heavy wooden box holding Brown’s 200 pounds.

Sources: 
Henry Brown, Narrative of the Life of Henry “Box” Brown (Manchester, England: Lee and Glynn Publisher, 1851); Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color, the Life of James Forten (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); David Cecelski, The Waterman’s Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001); Daphne Brooks, Bodies in Dissent, Spectacular Stories of Race and Freedom 1850-1910 (Duke University Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2008); Suzette Spencer, Online Encyclopedia of Virginia, August  23, 2013, http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Brown_Henry_Box_ca_1815#start_entry.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Charleston, Oscar (1896-1954)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Oscar Charleston was born October 14, 1896, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Growing up as a batboy for the local Indianapolis ABC’s, Charleston was a runaway who joined the Army at age 15. Stationed in the Philippines, Charleston was given the opportunity to play baseball and run track for the Army, where he ran the 220-yard dash in 23 seconds. While there, Charleston was allowed to play in the usually all-white Manila League.

Returning home in 1915, Charleston played for his hometown ABC’s. In one of many public outbursts resulting from his infamously bad temper, Charleston was suspended during his rookie season for arguing with an umpire, and was held on a $1000 bond. The next season, Charleston had a crucial role in the ABC’s Black World Series win over the Chicago American Giants, batting .360 in seven of the ten games.

After short stints with various teams from 1918-1920, Charleston would return to the ABC’s after the forming of the Negro National Leagues. In 1921, Charleston led the League in hitting (.426), triples (10), home runs (14), and stolen bases (28). Often compared to greats like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, Charleston dominated the League with his combination of hitting for both power and accuracy, his tremendous speed both in the outfield and while base running, and for his trademark intensity.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wright, Richard (1908-1960)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Michel Fabre, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright (New York:  William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1973); James Gregory, The Southern Diaspora (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); “Richard Wright,” Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 5 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hart, Frank “Black Dan” (1858-1908)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Frank Hart with O'Leary Championship Belt, 1881
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, the sport of “six day, go as you please” endurance racing gripped the United States and Great Britain.  The participants in these events were called pedestrians, and they were free to run or walk around an indoor track for as long as they could stay on their feet.  The top pedestrians survived on less than four hours of sleep a day and slept on cots inside the track’s oval.  Fans followed these six day contests of endurance with all the fervor of today’s NFL fans.  They also placed bets on prospective winners.

On April 10, 1880, an African American pedestrian, Frank Hart stood atop this international craze for six day racing.  His given name was Fred Hichborn but he changed it to Frank Hart when he turned professional.  Hart had just won the prestigious O’Leary Belt competition and smashed the world record, after covering 565 miles in six days of racing.  He earned about $17,000 in prize money, which was a small fortune in 1880.  As the race ended, he waved an American flag to thousands of cheering fans who packed Madison Square Garden.   Another African American, William Pegram of Boston finished second with 540 miles. Hart also competed in one of the international Astley Belt competitions, and set an American record when he won the Rose Belt in Madison Square Garden in December 1879.
Sources: 
Kastner, Charles B., Bunion Derby:  The First Footrace Across America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007); Marshall, P. S., King of the Peds (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008); Sears, Edward S., Running Through The Ages (Jefferson, North Carolina:  McFarland and Company, Inc., 2001); “Sporting Comment:  Passing of Frank Hart, Greatest Colored Pedestrian,” The Auburn Citizen, 9 February 1909.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Current, Gloster Bryant (1913-1997)

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

Gloster B. Current, former NAACP Director of Branch and Field Services, and member of the “old guard” of NAACP Civil Rights activists, was born in 1913 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan.  He received his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State University and his Master’s Degree in public administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and shortly thereafter would begin his involvement with the NAACP that would continue for the rest of his life.

Sources: 
Sources: “Gloster B. Current,” The New Crisis (Oct 1997); “Gloster B. Current Obituary,” Jet Magazine (July 21 1997); Felicia Thomas-Lynn , “Takes Five; Gloster B Current Jr,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 27, 2005);
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Holly, James Theodore (1829-1911)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Theodore Holly emigrationist, missionary, and bishop, was born in Washington, D.C on October 3, 1829. At age fourteen his family relocated to Brooklyn, New York. His father taught him the shoemaking trade. Then in 1848 he began working as an abolitionist with Lewis Tappan, one of the nation’s leading anti-slavery activists. In 1850 Holly and his brother Joseph opened their own boot making shop.

In 1851, James and Charlotte Holly were married in New York but they soon moved to Windsor, Canada, just across the border from Detroit. The Hollys remained in Windsor until 1854. While there James Holly helped former slave Henry Bibb edit his newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. Holly also endorsed the Refugee Home Society and organized the Amherstburg Convention of free blacks in Canada.

Before leaving for Canada, Holly had joined the Protestant Episcopal Church. He became a church deacon in 1855 then in the following year a priest. Even as he continued his religious activities, Holly was drawn toward emigration, believing that African Americans had no future in the United States. In 1854 he was a delegate to the first Emigration Convention in Cleveland. The next year he represented the National Emigration Board as commissioner.

In 1856 Holly returned to the United States, settling in New Haven, Connecticut where he was the priest of St. Luke’s Church and teacher in public and private schools until 1861.

Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); “Bishop James Theodore Holly.” St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, http://specbuffalo.bfn.org/bishop_holley.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Rollin, Frances Anne (1845-1901)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis
Image Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis
Sources: 

Frank A. Rollin, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany Boston:
Lee and Shepard
, (1868); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations
of American Women of Color
(New York: Harlem Moon Classics: 2004); Eric
Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction 1863-1877 (New York: Harper
Collins, 1990); Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers; Three Lives (New
York: Feminist Press, 1979); www.Freedmansbureau.com

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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, 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

Moore, Tim (1888-1958)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Radio Characters from Amos 'N' Andy,
Spencer Williams (left)
and Alvin Tim Moore (right)
Image Courtesy of ©Bettmann-Corbis 

Broadway stage comedian Tim Moore, whose career as an entertainer spanned more than 50 years, is best remembered as George “Kingfish” Stevens on the classic Amos 'n' Andy series. Born in Rock Island, Illinois in December 1888, Moore began his career dancing on the sidewalks of his home town for money.

He later entered the vaudeville circuit when he teamed with Romeo Washburn, another black performer from Rock Island.  Their traveling act became known as the “Gold Dust Twins.” Moore eventually went solo and toured British music halls for nearly two years. He then joined a medicine show that played vacant lots across the Midwest.  He also worked as a fly-shooer in a stable, a boxer, fight manager, and a horseracing jockey.

By 1913, Moore had earned $110,000 as a prizefighter and manager. With his earnings he launched a new career as a theater producer.  In 1921 Moore created his most successful production, Tim Moore’s Chicago Follies Tour, which ran for the next four years.  Later in the decade he returned to acting, performing in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds in 1928 and Harlem Scandals four years later.  By the mid-1940s, Moore now nearly 60, retired and returned to his hometown to, as he stated, “spend more time with my people.”

Sources: 

Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994); Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press Inc., 1978).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pierce, Samuel R., Jr. (1922-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
President Ronald Reagan with Samuel R. Pierce, Jr.
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Lawyer, judge and businessman Samuel Riley Pierce, Jr., was the first African American partner in a major New York law firm, the first African American member of a Fortune 500 board, and one of the first African Americans to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  His career ended when he was investigated for corruption while serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Ronald Reagan.

Pierce was born in 1922 in Glen Cove, New York.  He received a football scholarship to Cornell University.  After serving in World War II, where he was the only black American agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, he returned to Cornell and graduated with honors in 1947, then earned a J.D. from Cornell Law School and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law.

Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Ed., Notable Black American Men, “Samuel R. Pierce, Jr.,” (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999); Samuel R. Pierce, Fiscal Conservatism: Managing Federal Spending (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1988); Philip Shenon, “Samuel R. Pierce, Jr., Ex-Housing Secretary, Dies at 78,” The New York Times (November 3, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Coleman, Gary (1968-2010)

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

 Gary Coleman and Conraid Bain from
"Different Strokes" tv show
Image Courtesy of ©Bettmann-Corbis
Gary Coleman, best known for his child star status from the hit television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, was born on February 8, 1968, and raised in Zion, Illinois. A talent scout for TV producer Norman Lear spotted Coleman in a Chicago bank commercial, and at the age of 10 he was cast in the role of Arnold Jackson, the younger of two African American brothers adopted by a wealthy white man in New York City. Diff’rent Strokes, which premiered in 1978, ran for seven seasons on NBC and one season on ABC.  The last episode aired in 1986. During the show’s tenure, Coleman became famous for his signature catch-phrase, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?,” and his impeccable comedic timing. Between 1980-1984, Coleman won four consecutive People’s Choice Awards as Favorite Young TV Performer for his portrayal of the character Arnold Jackson.

Adopted by W.G. “Willie” and Edmonia Sue Coleman at four days old, Coleman was born with a congenital kidney disease for which he would later receive two transplants, one at age 5 and one at age 16, as well as recurrent dialysis throughout his life. These treatments permanently affected Coleman’s growth patterns, leaving his height as an adult at 4 feet 8 inches tall.
Sources: 
Jim Cheng, “Gary Coleman dies at age 42,” USA Today (5/28/2010); Anita Gates, “Gary Coleman, Diff’rent Strokes Star, Dies at 42,” New York Times (5/28/2010); Dennis McLellan, “Gary Coleman dies at 42; child star of hit sitcom Diff’rent Strokes,” Los Angeles Times (5/29/2010)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Gumbel, Bryant (1948- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Bryant Gumbel and Soviet Leaders on the Today Show, 1984
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Bryant Gumbel was the first African-American co-host of the National Broadcasting Company’s (NBC) The Today Show and is well known as a broadcast journalist and sportscaster.  Gumbel was born in1948 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Rhea Alice and Richard Dunbar Gumbel, a city clerk and a judge, respectively.  He grew up with two younger sisters and a younger brother, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Gumbel graduated from Maine’s Bates College in 1970 with a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts.  He first worked as a salesman for Westvaco Corporation, an industrial paper company in New York City.  He left the job after six months and, in 1971, became a sports writer for Black Sports magazine.  The following year, Gumbel became a sportscaster for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, California. In the fall of 1975, he became a co-host for NBC Sports National Football League’s pre-game show, Grandstand.  
Sources: 
"Contemporary Black Biography”: Volume 14, Profiles from the International Black Community (Book, 1997) [WorldCat.org]." WorldCat.org: The World's Largest Library Catalog. http://www.worldcat.org/title/contemporary-black-biography-volume-14-profiles-from-the-international-black-community/oclc/527366242 (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997; Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Men (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1998), Bryan Gumbel Biography, http://www.filmreference.com/film/11/Bryant-Gumbel.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Estes, Simon (1938- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Simon Lamont Estes is a prominent and critically acclaimed African American opera singer.  He has made singing appearances before six US presidents, including Barack Obama, numerous other presidents and world leaders, and dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  He has appeared in opera houses worldwide, sung under the baton of the greatest conductors of our time, has extensive recording contracts, and has received six honorary degrees and awards.

He was born to Simon Estes, Sr., a coal miner and the son of a slave, and Ruth Jeter Estes, a homemaker.  He grew up in the small south central Iowa town of Centerville.  His mother stimulated his interest in music and he began singing in church at an early age.

When he entered the University of Iowa in 1957, he was intent on becoming a doctor.  But he came to the attention of faculty member Charles Kellis, who became his first and life-long voice teacher, and who encouraged his focus on classical music.  After graduating from the University of Iowa, Mr. Estes spent a year studying at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

In April 1965, Estes made his operatic debut in Berlin, Germany with the Deutsche Oper in Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida.  He later won the bronze medal in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, Russia in 1966.  From 1965 to 2011, he has performed to great acclaim in opera houses around the world.
Sources: 
Simon Estes and Mary L. Swanson, Simon Estes: In His Own Voice, An Autobiography (Cumming, Iowa:  LMP, L.C., A. Landauer, Co., 1999);
http://wartburg.edu/estes/ (accessed 4/1/13).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bibb, Henry (1815-1854)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Henry Walton Bibb was the eldest of the seven male children of Mildred Jackson. Henry was told that his father, whom he never met, was a man named James Bibb. He grew up in bondage in the Deep South, and claims to have been owned by seven people including a Cherokee Indian. Bibb frequently attempted escape throughout his slavery years until he succeeded in emancipating himself in 1842 after the death of his owner. Once his freedom was assured, he assumed an active role in the abolitionist movement in Michigan and New England. In 1848 Henry Bibb married Mary Miles, a woman from Boston whom he met at an anti-slavery convention in New York City. Mr. Bibb is best known for his eloquent autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, which was published in New York in 1849.

After the fugitive slave law was enacted in 1850, Bibb emigrated to Ontario, Canada with his wife for fear of being enslaved for a second time.  In Canada, Bibb and his wife helped to establish a Methodist Church and a day school that Mary Miles Bibb operated.  In January 1851, Bibb published the first copy of his bimonthly abolitionist newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. He used the paper to organize abolitionists in an attempt to help other African Americans immigrate to Canada.  Bibb was instrumental in organizing the Refugees’ Home Society that had by his death in 1854 purchased almost 2000 acres of land and allocated 25 acre plots to 40 immigrants.

Sources: 
Roger W. Hite, “Voice of a Fugitive: Henry Bibb and Ante-Bellum Black Separatism,” Journal of Black Studies, 4:3 (March 1974).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Smith, Kirke (1865-1935)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Kirke Smith was born July 22, 1865 in Montgomery County, Virginia. He graduated from Berea College in1894 and earned an M.A. degree from the University of Michigan.  In 1894, Smith became the Superintendent of the Lebanon Colored Schools and the following year, Superintendent of Principals in the Lebanon, Kentucky school system, a post he held for fifteen years.  During this period he also became an ordained minister.

On January 12, 1904, Democratic representative Carl Day, of Breathitt, Kentucky, introduced House Bill 25, “An Act to prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school.”  The so-called Day Bill was aimed at Berea College since separate public schools for blacks and whites had been the law in the state for some time. After a  lawsuit to defend its interracial educational policy was defeated in the courts, Berea raised funds to establish a new school for blacks. From 1910-1912, the trustees employed Rev. Kirke Smith and Rev. James Bond, the grandfather of Julian Bond, to raise money for the new school which would be named Lincoln Institute.

Sources: 
John A. Harding, Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1934 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1997); Eric A. Smith, "Discovering History Through Genealogy: Kirke Smith and the Founding of Lincoln Institute,” Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago Newsletter  23:4 (June 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago

Watkins, Ted (1912-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Ted Watkins, Foreground, with Youth Applicants,
Watts Labor Community Action Center, 1967
Image Courtesy of HERALD EXAMINER COLLECTION/Los Angeles Public Library

Born into poverty and racial segregation in Meridian, Mississippi in 1912, Ted Watkins became a civil rights and union activist and led an anti-poverty agency in Los Angeles, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC).  Watkins left Mississippi as a young man to avoid a lynching and headed west to the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles.  After arriving in Los Angeles, Watkins began working for Ford Motor Company and joined the local United Auto Workers (UAW) chapter.  He rose through the union ranks and by the early 1950s had become an international representative for UAW.  Watkins and his wife, Bernice, also became active in the United Civil Rights Committee, a Los Angeles civil rights organization, and the Watts chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Sources: 

Robert Bauman, Race and the War on Poverty: From Watts to East L.A. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008); Robert Bauman, “The Black Power and Chicano Movements in the Poverty Wars in Los Angeles,” Journal of Urban History, 33:2 (January 2007), 277-295.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Washington State University, Tri-Cities

Cullen, Countee (1903-1946)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gerald Early, ed., My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Anchor Books, 1991); David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Alden Reimonenq, “Countee Cullen’s Uranian ‘Soul Windows,’” in Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New York: The Haworth Press, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Texas at Austin

Laney, Lucy Craft (1854-1933)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Georgia
Women of Achievement
Lucy Craft Laney, educator, school founder, and civil rights activist, was born in Georgia on April 13, 1854 in Macon, Georgia to free parents Louisa and David Laney.   David Laney, a Presbyterian minister and skilled carpenter, had purchased his freedom approximately twenty years before Lucy Laney’s birth.  He purchased Louisa’s freedom shortly after they were married. Lucy Laney learned to read and write by the age of four and by the time she was twelve, she was able to translate difficult passages in Latin including Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.
Sources: 
Asa C. Griggs, “Notes: Lucy Craft Laney,” Journal of Negro History 19 (January 1934); Mary M. Marshall, “’Tell Them We Are Rising!’ Black Intellectuals and Lucy Craft Laney in Post Civil War Augusta, Georgia” (Ph.D., dissertation, Drew University, 1998); Gloria Taylor Williams-Way, “Lucy Craft Laney, ‘The Mother of the Children of the People’: Educator, Reformer, Social Activist” (Ph.D., dissertation, University of South Carolina, 1998): Barbra McCaskill, Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem: African American Literature and Culture, 1877 (New York: New York University Press, 2006); http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9372857
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Primus, Pearl (1919-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records,
Archives Center, National Museum of
American History, Behring Center,
Smithsonian Institution
Pearl Primus, dancer and choreographer, was born on November 29th, 1919, in Trinidad. Her parents, Edward and Emily Primus, immigrated to the United States in 1921 when Pearl was still a small child.

Primus was raised in New York City, and in 1940 received her bachelor’s degree in biology and pre-medical science from Hunter College. However, her goal of working as a medical researcher was unrealized due to the racial discrimination of the time. When she went to the National Youth Association (NYA) for assistance, she was cast as a dancer in one of their plays.

Primus’s promise as a dancer was recognized quickly, and she received a scholarship from the National Youth Association’s New Dance Group in 1941. She soon began performing professionally both as a soloist and in dance groups around New York. In 1942, she performed with the NYA, and in 1943 she performed with the New York Young Men’s Hebrew Association. By 1943, she appeared as a soloist.
Sources: 
“Pearl Primus” in Britannica Encyclopedia, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/476589/Pearl-Primus; Arts Alive, “Pearl Primus,” http://www.artsalive.ca/en/dan/meet/bios/artistDetail.asp?artistID=179
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

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

Chenault, Kenneth Irvine (1951- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Kellogg School of
Management, Northwestern University
Hand-picked by his American Express predecessor, CEO Harvey Golub, to lead the company upon Golub’s retirement, Kenneth Chenault is an attorney and the CEO and chairman of American Express.  Named one of the fifty most powerful African American executives by Fortune magazine in 2001, Chenault is one of only a handful of African-American CEO’s of a Fortune 500 company.

Chenault’s solid middle-class upbringing in the mostly white neighborhood of Hempstead, Long Island may have predicted his future.  Born in Mineola, New York on June 2, 1951 to Hortenius Chenault, a dentist, and Anne N. Quick, a dental hygienist, Chenault was the second born of four children.  Both of Chenault’s parents attended Howard University and Chenault likewise enjoyed the advantages of a good education, attending the private, innovative Waldorf School in Garden City through the twelfth grade.  Chenault was captain of the track and basketball teams.  His athletic ability earned him an athletic scholarship to Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Leaving Springfield before completing his degree, Chenault transferred to Bowdoin College in Maine, earning a B.A. in history, magna cum laude, in 1973.  Chenault next attended Harvard Law School, receiving his J.D. in 1976.  Chenault’s 1977 marriage to Kathryn Cassell, an attorney with the United Negro College Fund, produced two sons, Kenneth Jr. and Kevin.  
Sources: 
Richard Sobel, “Chenault, Kenneth Irvine” African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com; “Kenneth Chenault: Corporate CEO” Cnn.com In-depth, Black History Month (February 2002), http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2002/black.history/stories/08.chenault/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gardner-Chavis, Ralph (1922- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 

James Michael Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1993); The HistoryMakers, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/ralph-gardner-chavis-38.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Tyson, Neil de Grasse (1958- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Sources: 
Alan Rake, African Leaders (London:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001); Steven Chan, Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence (Ann Arbor:  The University of Michigan Press, 2003); Andrew Norman, Robert Mugabe and the Betrayal of Zimbabwe (London:  McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Attaway, William (1911-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust
William Attaway, writer and composer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi.    His mother, Florence Parry Attaway, worked as a teacher and his father, William Alexander Attaway, was a doctor who helped create the National Negro Insurance Association.  In the 1910s, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Langston Hughes's work inspired Attaway to start writing in high school, an avocation he continued while studying at the University of Illinois.  When his father died in 1931, Attaway took a two-year leave of absence from school.  Traveling around the country, Attaway worked a variety of jobs, including seaman, dockworker, and salesman. 

After Attaway returned to college in 1933, he wrote the play Carnival (1935) for his sister Ruth's theatre group which was first staged at the University of Illinois.  The same year, Attaway also became involved in the Federal Writers Project (FWP).  Through the FWP, he met Richard Wright, who would become an important literary influence and friend.  In 1936, he earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois and Challenge published his short story, "The Tale of the Blackamoor."

Sources: 
Edward Margolies, Native Sons (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1968); Harold Bloom, ed., Modern Black American Fiction Writers (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995); Christina Accomando, "William Attaway," The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, ed. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Parks, Henry Green, Jr. (1916 –1989)

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

Henry Green Parks, Jr. was a successful African American businessman who founded Parks Sausage Company in Baltimore, Maryland.  Parks was born on September 29, 1916 in Atlanta, Georgia to Henry Green Parks, Sr., and Gainelle Williams.  Parks was taken to Dayton, Ohio when he was six months old and was raised by his maternal Grandmother.

Raised in Dayton, Parks attended public schools, and then enrolled in Ohio State University in Columbus, graduating with honors from University College of Commerce in 1939 with a B.S. degree in Marketing.  He also became the first African American on Ohio State University’s swim team.

Sources: 
Alfonso A. Narvaez, “Henry Green Parks Jr. Dies at 72; Led Way for Black Entrepreneurs,” New York Times, 26 April 1989, 5; http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4405/Parks-H-G-1916-1989.html; http://maxizip.com/2010/12/henry-green-parks-jr-biography-entrepreneur-business-executive/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Watkins, Perry (1948-1996)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Perry Watkins Signs GLAAD Poster
Image Courtesy of Karen Ocamb/
Perry James Henry Watkins was the only openly gay person discharged from the U.S. Army with full honors after serving almost two decades.  He had to fight for this distinction, suing the Army after being forced out because of his sexual orientation.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Ola Watkins gave birth to Perry on August 20, 1948, in Joplin, Missouri.  Perry’s parents divorced when he was only three.  When in junior high, his mother remarried a career military man, and they moved to Tacoma, Washington.  Throughout high school in Tacoma, Perry took dance classes, even studying at the Tacoma City Ballet.  He later earned a BA in business and theater.

Watkins’ mother influenced him strongly.  First, she accepted her son's sexual orientation.  Her emphasis on honesty played a key role in his embracing that orientation throughout his Army career.  Watkins knew growing up that he was gay.  If peers asked him, he answered truthfully. He considered the racism directed against him far more prominent than the homophobia.
Sources: 
Randy Shilts, Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993); Mary Ann Humphrey, My Country, aMy Right to Serve: Experiences of Gay Men and Women in the Military, World War II to the Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 1990); David W. Dunlap, “Perry Watkins, 48, Gay Sergeant Won Court Battle with Army,” The New York Times (21 March 1996).
Contributor: 

Pearman, Raven-Symoné Christina (1985- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman, better known as “Raven-Symoné,” is an American actress and recording artist.  Her entertainment career began when she starred in advertisements for well-known brands such as Jell-O and Cool Whip and as a young model for the Ford Modeling Company.

Pearman was born to Christopher B. and Lydia (Gaulden) Pearman on December 10, 1985 in Atlanta, Georgia.  In the late 1990s, the family moved to New York City, New York in order to improve her chances at becoming an entertainer.  At the age of four she auditioned for a role in the 1990 film Ghost Dad, but was turned down because of her young age.  She so impressed comedian and actor Bill Cosby, however, that he later cast her in his television series The Cosby Show as Olivia Kendall, the adopted daughter of the Cosby’s oldest daughter.  She was an instant hit with audiences.
Sources: 

The Biography Channel, Raven-Symoné Synopsis (New York, NY: Arts & Entertainment Networks, 2014), retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/raven-symon%C3%A9-21303025; Damien Croghan, Raven-Symone’s Coming Out should be Celebrated, retrieved from http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/croghan-raven-symone-s-coming-out-should-be-celebrated/article_4933ebc2-1017-11e3-9f71-0019bb30f31a.html; Kimberley McLeod, ed., “Actress Raven Symone Radiates Beside Out Model AzMarie,” Elixher Magazine (September 3, 2013), retrieved from http://elixher.com/actress-raven-symone-radiates-beside-out-model-azmarie/.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

McCabe, Edward P. (1850-1920)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Edward P. McCabe was an African American politician and businessman most notable for his promotion of black settlement in Oklahoma and Kansas. Born in 1850 in Troy, New York, McCabe would attend school until his father’s death when he left school to support his family as a clerk on Wall Street. In 1872, he earned a job as a clerk in Chicago. Two years later, McCabe left Chicago for Kansas and arrived in the growing black community of Nicodemus in 1878.

In Nicodemus, McCabe established himself as an attorney and land agent. When Graham County was established in 1880, McCabe was appointed temporary clerk and officially elected as county clerk the next year. In 1882, he successfully stood as the Republican candidate for state auditor, a victory which made him the most important black office holder outside of the south. However, as Nicodemus’s fortunes reversed and the town began to hemorrhage residents, McCabe left first for Washington and then for Oklahoma.

Sources: 
Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998); William Loren Katz, Black People Who Made the Old West (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Steward, Theophilus Gould (1843-1925)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Theophilus G. Steward, African Methodist Episcopal minister, U.S. Army chaplain, and historian, was born 17 April 1843 in Bridgeton, New Jersey.  Publicly educated, he entered the ministry in 1864 and immediately sought to “go South.”  His wishes were granted in May 1865 and he departed for South Carolina where he married Elizabeth Gadsen after a short courtship.  Under the direction of Bishop Daniel Payne, Steward assisted in the establishment of AME churches in South Carolina and Georgia for the next seven years.  Between 1882 and 1891, Steward performed missionary work in Haiti and served as a pastor in Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania.
Sources: 
Frank N Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldiers II: New and Revised Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004); Steward, Fifty Years in the Gospel Ministry (electronic edition hosted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2001 <http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/steward />); Steward, The Colored Regulars in the United States Army (New York, New York: Arno Press, 1969).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Collins, Barbara-Rose (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
U.S. Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 13, 1939 to Lunar N. and Vera (Jones) Richardson. Collins attended Wayne State University in Detroit. Her career began at Wayne State University where she served as business manager, worked in the Physics department, and worked in neighborhood relations. Prior to being elected to Congress, she also served as a board member in Detroit’s School Region I between 1971 and 1973.

In 1975 Collins was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives from the 21st District (Detroit) and served there until 1981. She was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1981 and served there until her election to the U.S. House. During this time (1974-1975), Collins also served as a commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Detroit. In 1985 she chaired the Detroit City Council Task Force on Teenage Violence. In 1991, Collins was elected as a U.S. Congresswoman from Michigan’s 15th District, after the death of her husband, Congressman George Collins, in a plane crash.
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Affiliation: 
University of Mississippi

Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Frederick Douglass was born into Maryland slavery in 1817 to a slave mother and a slave master father. Young Douglass toiled on a rural plantation and later in Baltimore’s shipyards as a caulker. Douglass, however, learned to read and soon sought out abolitionist literature that alleviated what he termed the graveyard of his mind. He eventually escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1838, and took the surname Douglass, which he borrowed from the Scottish romance novel, Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. Douglass’s wife, Anna, followed with their five children. She worked as a laborer in a New Bedford shoe factory while Douglass became a world renowned anti-slavery orator.
Sources: 
Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855); William J. Moses, The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978); Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (New York: Athenaeum, 1968); and Philip S. Foner, Frederick Douglass: A Biography (New York: Citadel Press, 1964).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Wilson, Lionel (1915-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Robert McG. Thomas Jr., “Lionel Wilson, 82, a Mayor of Oakland for Three Terms,” New York Times (Jan. 31, 1998), pg. A13, obituary; Lionel Wilson, “Attorney, Judge, and Oakland Mayor,” an oral history conducted in 1985 and 1990 by Gabrielle Morris, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkley, 1992, http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=hb400006hx&query=&brand=oac.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Kilpatrick, Carolyn Cheeks (1945- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House
of Representatives Photography Office
Carolyn Jean Cheeks was born on June 25, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan.  In 1972 she received a B.S. degree in education from Western Michigan University.  Five years later she received an M.S. degree from the University of Michigan.  After graduating Carolyn Cheeks taught Business Education in the Detroit Public Schools.  She also married Bernard Kilpatrick.

In 1978 Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives, a position she held for eighteen years.  While in the Michigan House she became the first African American woman to serve on its Appropriations Committee.  

In 1996 Kilpatrick was elected to Congress from Michigan’s 13th Congressional District.  There she became the first African American woman to serve on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.  She is also the first African American member of Congress to sit on the United States Air Force Academy Board which oversees the program of the U.S. Air Force Academy.   

Congresswoman Kilpatrick is now serving in her sixth term.  On December 6, 2006 she was unanimously elected Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus. Her son, Kwame, was elected to fill her Michigan House seat in 1996.  In 2001 he became at 30 the youngest Mayor of Detroit. 
Sources: 
Sources: http://www.house.gov/kilpatrick/biographt.shtml; http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=k000180
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Selassie, Amha, Emperor of Ethiopia (1916-1997)

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

Amha Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, was proclaimed ruler of the state three times, first in 1960 then in 1975 and finally while in exile in 1989.  Selassie was born Asfaw Wossen Tafari in the walled city of Harrar in August 1916 to Dejazmach Tafari Makonnen, then the governor of Harrar and future emperor of Ethiopia, and his wife Menen Asfaw. Amha Selassie became Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen of Ethiopia when his father was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930.

In December 1960, the Imperial Guard launched a coup and seized power in Ethiopia while the emperor was on a visit to Brazil. The coup leaders compelled the 44 year old crown prince to read a radio statement in which he accepted the crown in his father’s place and announced a government of reform. However, the regular army and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church refused to accept the new government, and the leader of the church, Patriarch Abune Baslios, issued an anathema against all those who cooperated with the coup leaders. Emperor Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia and the army stormed the palace, where members of the government were being held prisoner by the Imperial Guards.

Sources: 

Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Bruce, Josephine Beall Willson (1853-1923)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A clubwoman, teacher, society leader, and race activist, Josephine Beall Willson Bruce was born in Philadelphia on October 29, 1853, to Dr. Joseph Willson, a prominent dentist, and Elizabeth Harnett Willson, a singer and musician. In 1854 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio where Josephine Willson received her education. An accomplished linguist, she enjoyed literature and classical music.

On June 24, 1878, she married Republican senator Blanche K. Bruce, a political leader and plantation owner from Mississippi and the only black United States senator. After touring Europe they established residence in Washington, D.C. With Josephine Bruce a cultured and charming hostess, the Bruce home became a center of Washington social life. Though Blanche Bruce's term ended in 1880 he received political appointments in Washington enabling the couple to remain active in social and community life.

Sources: 
Bruce A. Glasrud, "Josephine Beall (Willson) Bruce," in African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem, 75-77 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993); Willard B. Gatewood, “Josephine Beall Willson Bruce,” in Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, vol. I, 187-188 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Anderson, Osborne P. (1830-1872)

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

Osborne Perry Anderson was one of the five African American men to accompany John Brown in the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859.  Anderson was a free-born black abolitionist, born in West Fallow Field, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1830.  Along with John Anthony Copeland Jr., another member of the Brown raiding party, Anderson attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.  He later moved to Chatham, Canada, where he worked as a printer for Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, The Provincial Freeman.   In 1858 Anderson met John Brown and eventually became persuaded to join his band of men determined to attack Harpers Ferry.

One year after meeting John Brown, on October 16, 1859 Anderson took part in Brown’s radical scheme to free the United States of slavery.  Like Brown and the other followers, Anderson believed that if the group seized weapons at Harpers Ferry and then marched south, they would create a massive slave uprising that would liberate all of the nearly four million African Americans in bondage.  

Sources: 

Osborne Perry Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry: A Narrative of
Events at Harper's Ferry with incidents Prior and Subsequent to its
Capture by Captain John Brown and His Men
(Boston: Privately Printed,
1861); 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://www.iath.virginia.edu/jbrown/men.html#opa

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hilliard, Earl (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

“Obituary,” The Huronite (Huron, South Dakota, June 5, 1955, p. 1);  A. Dunkle and V. Smith, The College on the Hills: A Sense of South Dakota State University History (Brookings, SD: SDSU Alumni Association, 2003); Ruth Hill, Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1990); Charles Johnson, African Americans and ROTC (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002); Monroe Mason and Arthur Furr, The American Negro Soldier with the Red Hand of France (Boston: Cornhill Co., 1920).

 

Contributor: 

Faith Ringgold (1930-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Grace Matthews
Faith Ringgold ©
Visual artist, storyteller and feminist activist, Faith Ringgold was born on October 8, 1930 in Harlem Hospital, New York City to Andrew Louis Jones, Sr. and Willie Edell Jones (Willi Posey), a fashion designer and dressmaker.  An arts graduate from City College in New York City, Ringgold was Professor of Art at the University of San Diego until retirement in 2003. She divided her residence between New York and New Jersey home/studios and Southern California.  Her international reputation reflects a broad art world appreciation initiated primarily through extensive traveling shows and appearances on university campuses.  Faith Ringgold’s versatile expression includes paintings, Tibetan-style tankas, performance art, masks, freestanding sculptures and painted quilts.  All are represented in museums nationwide and international collections.  Her publications, primarily storybooks for children, complete this impressive catalogue.  Tar Beach, which won the Caldecott Award for 1992, is acknowledged by many as a children’s classic.
Sources: 
Dan Cameron, ed., Dancing at the Louvre: Faith Ringgold’s French Collection and Other Story Quilts (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999); Donnette Hatch, “Faith Ringgold.” Encyclopedia of African American Literature, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed., New York: Facts on File, 2007): 437-438.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hall, Juanita (1901-1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Juanita Hall on the Set of South Pacific, 1958
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Juanita Long Hall, an actor and singer, was born in Keyport, New Jersey on Nov. 6, 1901 to an African-American father, Abram Long, and an Irish American mother, Mary Richardson.  Raised by maternal grandparents, Long attended New York City’s Julliard School of Music.  While a teenager, she married Clement Hall, who died in 1920s.  The couple had no children.

Hall’s early career was in singing and choir directing.  From 1935 to 1944 she directed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Chorus.  From 1941 to 1942 she also directed the Westchester (New York) Chorale and Dramatics Association.  In the early 1940s she led the Juanita Hall Choir, which performed on radio with Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith and in 1949 the Juanita Hall Choir performed in the film, Miracle in Harlem.

In 1935 Hall performed with the Lafayette Players, an African American theatrical troupe.  Her first major acting role came in 1943 when she appeared on Broadway in The Pirate.  Other Broadway acting opportunities came and she performed in Sing Out, Sweet Land, Saint Louis Woman, Deep Are the Roots, The Secret Room, Street Scene, and The Ponder Heart, all between 1943 and 1956.

Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Elsa Barkley Brown, Darlene Clark Hine, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (Eds.), Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pinn, Robert Alexander (1843-1911)

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

Robert A. Pinn, attorney, and Civil War hero, received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.  Pinn was born free to William and Zilphia Broxton-Pinn, in Stark County, Ohio on March 1, 1843.  His father William Pinn escaped from slavery and fled to Ohio at the age of eighteen.  He worked on farms for several years before marrying Zilphia Broxton, a white resident of Stark County.  Pinn and his nine siblings were born on the family farm in Stark County.  He married Emily J. Manzilla, in 1867, and the couple had one child, a daughter, Gracie Pinn-Brooks.

Pinn attempted to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War but was blocked from enlisting because of his race.  He joined the 19th Ohio Infantry in 1861 as a civilian worker, marched south with the regiment, and despite his non-military status, fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in 1862.  Afterwards he fought in several other engagements although not an enlisted soldier.  President Abraham Lincoln authorized the use of African American troops in combat after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  Pinn then joined the 5th United States Colored Troop (USCT), Infantry Regiment (also known as the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) in Massillon, Ohio, on September 5, 1863.

Sources: 
Selby Kelly, The Life of a USCT Veteran in Ohio: Robert A. Pinn’s Quest for Citizenship, Paper presented at the 94th Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Cincinnati, Ohio, Sep 30, 2009; (http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p377560_index.html, December 22, 2012); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little, Brown and Company,1953); James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Vintage Press/Random House, 2003); Civil War African-American Medal Of Honor Recipients, (http://www.buffalosoldier.net/CIVILWARAFRICAN-AMERICANMEDALOFHONORRECIPIENTS.htm, December 22, 2012)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Metcalfe, Ralph Harold (1910-1978)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ralph Metcalfe, was an outstanding U.S. sprinter, track coach, and politican born in Atlanta and raised in Chicago. During Metcalfe’s years as a student at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 1932 through 1934, he was arguably the world’s fastest human. His strong finishes earned him four Olympic medals (gold, 2 silver, and bronze), eight Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles, and six National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles from 1932 through 1936. Perhaps Metcalfe’s most interesting moments in track were not his wins but his virtual dead heat second place finishes in the 100 meter dash at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles and Berlin to rivals Eddie Tolan and Jesse Owens, respectively. Throughout Metcalfe’s amateur track career he held the 100 meter dash record at 10.30 in 1934, tying it at least eight times; and he also tied the 200 meter dash world record of 20.6 seconds. Metcalfe’s lone Olympic gold medal was won in 1936 when he ran as part of the famed 4 x 100 relay team which featured Jesse Owens. After this event Metcalfe retired from track, graduated from Marquette, and attended the University of Southern California (USC), earning a Masters in 1939.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Atkins, Hannah Diggs (1923-2010)

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

 

Sources: 
Paul English, “One Shot Transforms Woman’s Life,” The Sunday Oklahoman, November 28, 1999; Hannah Diggs Atkins Obituary, http://www.newsok.com/first-black-woman-elected-to-oklahoma-house-dies/article/3469633.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Holden, Oscar (1887-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Grace Holden
Oscar Holden, often called the patriarch of Seattle jazz, was one of the earliest of Seattle’s influential jazz musicians.  Holden was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1887. Before moving to Chicago to escape from the South, Holden had played on Fate Marable’s famous Mississippi River riverboats, where legends such as Louis Armstrong would eventually perform.  Holden’s children recall that he rarely talked about his southern life, except to say he purposely did not marry until he fled Dixie, so his children would not be born there.  

Holden played clarinet in Jelly Roll Morton’s band, and arrived with the group in Seattle in 1919.  Although the band moved on, Holden remained in the city.  He did form his own band which toured cities in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.  

Holden was a powerhouse player with a deep classical background.  Another Seattle musician, Palmer Johnson said of Holden: “Anything you set before him, he’s gone!  He had a wonderful musical education.  He was a great, great performer.”  
Sources: 

Paul De Barros, Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); Historylink interview of Oscale Grace Holden, Seattle, Washington, May 17, 2000, http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=2505.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jackson, Maynard, Jr. (1938-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The great-grandson of slaves, Maynard Jackson, Jr. was born in Dallas, Texas, on March 23, 1938.  His father, Maynard Jackson, Sr., was a leading figure in the 1930s campaign for black voting rights in Dallas and a founder of Democratic Progressive Voter’s League in 1936.  His mother, Irene Dobbs Jackson, was a professor of French at Spelman College who desegregated the Atlanta city library system.  His aunt Mattiwilda Dobbs was the first African American to sing at the La Scala Opera in Milan, Italy.  When Maynard was seven years old his father, a clergyman, moved the family to Atlanta, Georgia, where he assumed pastorship of the Friendship Baptist Church.
Sources: 
Gary Pomerantz, Where Peachtree Street Meets Sweet Auburn (New York: Scribner’s, 1996); “Former Atlanta Mayor Dies,” Michigan Daily, June 23, 2003; New Georgia Encyclopedia, “Maynard Jackson, 1938-2003”: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/government-politics/maynard-jackson-1938-2003.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Payne, Donald Milford (1934-2012)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Representative
Donald Milford Payne's Office
Donald Payne, a Democrat, was the first African American elected to Congress from the State of New Jersey.  Payne was born in Newark, New Jersey on July 16, 1934. He earned a B.A. degree in social studies from Seton Hall University in 1957 and also has honorary doctorates from Chicago State University, Drew University, Essex County College, and William Patterson University.

After graduating in 1957 Payne began working for the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), traveling around the world as its representative.  In 1970 Payne became its first African American president. From 1973 to 1981 he chaired the YMCA Refugee and Rehabilitation Committee that was based in Geneva.  In 1972 he was elected to the Essex County (New Jersey) Board of Chosen Freeholders, and became its director in 1977.

Donald Payne challenged longtime Congressional incumbent Peter W. Rodino Jr. in the Democratic primary in both 1980 and 1986 but failed both times. In 1988 however, when Rodino said he would not seek a 21st term, Payne won nomination and was elected to Congress.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990); http://www.house.gov/payne/biography/index.html.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Day, Eliza Ann Dixon ( ? - 1800's)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
A member of the John Street Methodist Church and founding member of the A.M.E. Zion Church in New York City, Eliza Day combined religious devotion with abolitionist politics.  Day was an active abolitionist who established a pattern of activism for her children.

Eliza Day was a regular participant in the abolitionist movement and had been one of many to flee an abolitionist meeting at the Chatham Street Chapel in 1833 when it was attacked by a mob. For days after the incident, as anti-abolitionist mobs ravaged the city, the Days kept their home barricaded.

Eliza struggled to support her family after her husband, John, a sail maker and veteran, died at sea in 1829.  Her eldest son supplemented her meager resources by securing a job on a ship.  She was able to provide a good education for her youngest son, William Howard Day (1825-1900), who later went on to become a minister, newspaper editor, orator, and black nationalist leader.
Sources: 
Shirley J. Yee, Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828-1860 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), and R. J. M. Blackett, Beating Against the Barriers: Biographical Essays in Nineteenth-Century Afro-American History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1986).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Thomas, James P. (1827-1913)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

James P. Thomas, a noted African American barber and businessman, was born in 1827 in Nashville, Tennessee.  He was the mulatto son of a famous antebellum judge, John Catron (one of the justices in the Dred Scott case), and a slave mother, Sally Thomas, who purchased James’s freedom when he was six years old.  However, under Tennessee law, he remained a slave as long as he resided in the state.  Therefore, he was not legally freed until March 6, 1851.

Sources: 
James Thomas, ed., Loren Schweninger, From Tennessee Slave to St. Louis Entrepreneur: The Autobiography of James Thomas  (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1984); Juliet E.K. Walker “Review,” The Journal of Southern History, 51:3 (Aug. 1985); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Crummell, Alexander (1819-1898)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Alexander Crummell, an Episcopalian priest, missionary, scholar and teacher, was born in New York City in 1819 to free black parents.  He spent much of his life addressing the conditions of African Americans while urging an educated black elite to aspire to the highest intellectual attainments as a refutation of the theory of black inferiority.

Crummell began his education at an integrated school in New Hampshire. He later transferred to an abolitionist institute in Whitesboro, New York where he learned both the classics and manual labor skills. However, after being denied admittance to the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church because of his race, Crummell was forced to study privately.  Nonetheless at the age of 25 he became an Episcopalian minister. 

From 1848 to 1853 Crummell lectured and studied in England.  He also graduated from Queens’ College, Cambridge University in 1853.  Crummell left England to become an educator in Liberia, accepting a faculty position at Liberia College in Monrovia.  From his new post, Crummell urged African Americans to emigrate to Liberia.
Sources: 
Jeremiah Moses, Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (Oxford University Press, 1989);
Pbs.org/wnet/aaword/reference/articles/Alexander_crummell.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Simms, Hilda (1918-1994)

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

Hilda Simms was born Hilda Moses to Emile and Lydia Moses in 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She briefly studied teaching at the University of Minnesota before relocating to New York where she met and married William Simms and gained professional acting experience at Harlem's American Negro Theater.

In 1943, two years after dissolving her marriage to William, Simms made her debut in the title role of the theatrical play Anna Lucasta, becoming the first leading African American actress to appear in the Broadway hit production. Originally written for an all-white cast, Simms portrayed a middle-class woman struggling to regain her respectability after falling into a life of prostitution. The theatrical version of Anna Lucasta is considered the first drama featuring African American actors to explore a theme un-related to racial tensions. When the play toured abroad, Simms maintained the title role while enjoying a dual singing career in Paris. During the British tour of the play, Simms met and married actor Richard Angarola.  

The couple returned to the states in the 1950s and Simms embarked on a brief film career.  Her first role was as co-star to heavy-weight boxing champion Joe Louis.  She played the boxer' wife in The Joe Louis Story (1953). Her only other movie role was that of the hatcheck girl in Black Widow (1954).

Sources: 

Hilda Simms Papers, New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research; William Grimes, “Hilda Simms, Actress, Dies at 75; Broadway Star of Anna Lucasta,” New York Times, February 8, 1994; “U.S. Refuses Actress Passport; ‘I’m No Benedict Arnold,’ Cries Hilda Simms on Ban,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 10, 1960.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Nabrit, James M. Jr. (1900-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
NAACP Attorneys George E. C. Hayes,
Thurgood Marshall and James Nabrit, Jr.
Sources: 

Eric Pace, "James M. Nabrit Jr. Dies at 97; Led Howard University" New York Times (Published Tuesday December 30, 1997); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).

http://www.brownat50.org/brownBios/BioJamesNabritJr.html

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Fisher, Rudolph (1897–1934)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie McKay, Norton Anthology of African America Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002);  

www.theblackrenaissanceinwashingtondc/rudolphfisher.com

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Prester John

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
1603 Dutch Map Showing the Kingdom of Prestor John in East Africa
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The legend of Prester John, a wealthy Christian king with a kingdom somewhere outside of the Western European realm, pervaded European thought throughout the Middle Ages.  The limited understanding of the unexplored regions of the world and the inability to find his kingdom resulted in shifting versions of the legend.  Over the course of the Middle Ages, Europeans believed his kingdom existed in the Far East, India, and, finally, the interior of Africa. 

The origin of the legend of Prester John is traced to Bishop Otto of Freising in the 12th century.  According to the bishop, Prester John descended from one of the three Magi mentioned in the Nativity story of the Bible.  The emergence of the legend coincided with the first Crusades of European armies into the Near East.  The legend then seems to indicate a hope for a powerful kingdom that could serve as an ally in the European campaign to recapture Jerusalem.  The prospect of a Christian king seemed realistic enough that, in the in the 12th century, Pope Alexander III sent a message by envoy to the fabled king; the messenger, however, never returned.  In 1165, a letter sent to several European capitals from an Ethiopian ruler fueled the legend; this letter reportedly became known as a letter from Prester John. This letter established a concrete connection between Prester John and Africa.

Sources: 
S.C. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, the unknown land: a cultural and historical guide (London: I.B. Tauris, 2001); Irene Waters, "Ethiopia: The Land of Prester John," The Contemporary Review 279 (2001); Johnny Wyld, "Prester John in Central Asia," Asian Affairs, 31:1 (2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bivins, Horace W. (1862-1937)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Horace Waymon Bivins, buffalo soldier, was born on May 8, 1862 in Accomack County, Virginia. His father Severn S. Bivins and his mother Elizabeth Bivins were free black farmers on Virginia's Eastern Shore. His parents taught Bivins to farm and at the age of 15 he was in charge of an 8-horse farm near Keller Station, Virginia.

Bivins, however, yearned for a life away from farming and at 17 he entered Hampton Institute in Virginia where he was first introduced to military training.  In 1887 Bivins joined the U.S. Army as a private. He was ordered to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri and assigned to Troop E, 10th U.S. Cavalry. Bivins was eventually stationed with the regiment at Fort Grant in Arizona Territory. There he took part in the campaign against Geronimo during the final days of the Apache wars in the Southwest.  An expert marksman, Bivins won eight medals and badges given by the War Department in shooting competitions between 1892 and 1894
Sources: 
Irene Schubert and Frank N. Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldiers II (Baltimore: Scarecrow Press, Inc, 2004); Ed Kemmick, “Horace W. Bivins, Much-decorated soldier served many …Years of adventure,” 2003, Accessed Dec 7, 2010, http://www.mtstandard.com/news/state-and-regional/article_e3c02099-4d74-50ec-95f3-518bdcf2c240.html; Encyclopedia, Bivins, Horace W.(1862–1937) “Soldier, Joins the Tenth Calvary, Writes about Military Life,” 2010, Accessed Dec 7, 2010, http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4119/Bivins-Horace-W-1862-1937.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Ajala, Godwin O. (1968–2001)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Godwin Ajala is remembered as a U.S. national hero who fought to save the lives of countless people as they escaped from the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001. He is also the only Nigerian listed among the nearly 3,000 people who died because of the attack.

Ajala was born in Nigeria on June 9, 1968, the son of a retailer from Ihenta, a small town in the eastern Nigerian state of Ebonyi.  At the time his region was part ofthe break-away Biafra which was in rebellion against the central Nigerian government.  Ajala came of age long after the Nigerian Civil War ended and Nigeria was reunited.  As an adult, Ajala became a lawyer in Nigeria.  His family, including his wife, Victoria, and their three children, Onyinyechi, 7, Uchechukwu, 5, and Ugochi, 1, lived in Ihenta. In 1995, Ajala emigrated to the United States to make a better life for himself and his family.
Sources: 
“Ajala: 9/11 Nigerian Hero Who Gave his Life to Save Others,” African Spotlight, 11 September 2011, available at: http://africanspotlight.com/2011/09/ajala-911-nigerian-hero-who-gave-his-live-to-save-others/;  “Godwin Ajala: An American Family Dream,” New York Times, 27 September 2011, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/27/national/portraits/POGF-1076-28AJALA.html;  Doug Tsuruoka, “Godwin Ajala, An American Success Story Cut Short; Remembering 9-11’s Heroes,” Investor’s Business Daily, 10 May 2005, available at:
http://news.investors.com/management-leaders-in-success/051005-407608-godwin-ajala-an-american-success-story-cut-short-remembering-9-11s-heroes-the-nigerian-lawyer-was-working-as-a-security-guard-until-he-could-pass-the-new-york-bar.htm

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Spraggs, Venice Tipton (1905-1956)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
The Chicago Defender Front Page, November 16, 1940
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Venice Tipton Spraggs served as the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Defender and was the first African American inducted into Theta Sigma Phi, a professional journalism fraternity.  Spraggs was born in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama to Barbara Tipton.  She attended Spelman College and married William Spraggs, a presser from Birmingham, in 1924.  The couple had no children.
Sources: 
Helen W. Berthelot, Win Some, Lose Some: G. Mennen Williams and the New Democrats (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1995); Cheryl Mullenbach, Double Victory: How African-American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013); United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930, Census Place: Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama (roll 30, page 17A, Enumeration District 0098, Image 35.0, FHL microfilm 2339765).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pratt , Edwin T. (1930-1969)

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

Edwin Thomas Pratt had been a leader in Seattle, Washington’s civil rights movement for a decade when he was assassinated at the front door of his home on January 26, 1969. At the time, Pratt was Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League. His murder remains unsolved.

Pratt was born in 1930 into a tight-knit community of Bahamian immigrants in Coconut Grove, Florida, a Miami suburb. His parents, Miriam and Josephus Pratt, raised five children.  Josephus was a construction laborer and Miriam was a housekeeper and laundress in the hotel industry.

Sources: 
Michael J. Parks, “A Decade of Involvement in Rights Movements,” The Seattle Times, February 2, 1969, p. 35; Caption, “Services Held for Pratt,” The Seattle Times, February 1, 1969, p.1; Interview by the contributor with Charles Whittle, Jr., Miami, Florida, by telephone, November 8, 2012; Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Doubleday, 2008); Interview by the contributor with Walter Frierson, Miami, Florida, by telephone, November 16, 2012; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); Nancy J. Weiss, Whitney M. Young, Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994); Interview by the contributor with (Retired) Bishop John Hurst Adams, Atlanta, GA, May 11, 2012.

 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Guerrero, Vicente (1783-1831)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Vicente Guerrero was born in the small village of Tixla in the state of Guerrero.  His parents were Pedro Guerrero, an African Mexican and Guadalupe Saldana, an Indian. Vicente was of humble origins. In his youth he worked as a mule driver on his father’s mule run.  His travels took him to different parts of Mexico where he heard of the ideas of independence. Through one of these trips he met rebel General Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon. In November 1810, Guerrero decided to join Morelos. Upon the assassination of Morelos by the Spaniards, Guerrero became Commander in Chief. In that position he made a deal with Spanish General Agustin de Iturbide.

Iturbide joined the independence movement and agreed with Guerrero on a series of measures known as “El plan de Iguala.” This plan gave civil rights to Indians but not to African Mexicans. Guerrero refused to sign the plan unless equal rights were also given to African Mexicans and mulattos. Clause 12 was then incorporated into the plan. It read: “All inhabitants . . . without distinction of their European, African or Indian origins are citizens . . . with full freedom to pursue their livelihoods according to their merits and virtues.”
Sources: 
Theodore G. Vincent, The Legacy of Vincente Guerrero: Mexico’s First Black Indian President (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001); Lane Clark, “Guerrero Vicente,” Historical Text Archive. <http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=563 >
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Cummings, Elijah E. (1951- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 18, 1951. He received a B.A. degree from Howard University (Washington, D.C.) in 1973 and a J.D. degree from the University of Maryland (College Park) in 1976. Cummings, one of seven children of working-class parents who had migrated from a farm in South Carolina, grew up in a rental house, but often recalled the family “scrimping and saving” to buy their own home in a desegregated neighborhood. When the family moved into that home in 1963, when Cummings was twelve years of age, he recalled that he had “never played on grass before.”
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
University of Mississippi

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

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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

After defeating Liston, Clay announced his conversion to Islam and joining of the Nation of Islam (NOI) under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad.  Clay also announced he changed his name to Muhammad Ali.  As a member of the NOI, Ali was mentored early on by the organization’s most charismatic leader, Malcolm X

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

Walker, Edwin Garrison (1830-1901)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Edwin Garrison Walker, leatherworker, lawyer, and politician, was born free in Boston, Massachusetts to Eliza and David Walker in 1831.  His exact date of birth is unknown.  His mother Eliza, whose last name also is unknown, was, according to most sources, a fugitive slave.  His father, David Walker, was nationally known for authoring David Walker’s Appeal, a controversial abolitionist text which was published in Boston in 1839. 

Walker was educated in Boston’s public school system and while growing up trained as a leatherworker.  He eventually owned his own shop and employed fifteen people.  Walker, along with Lewis Hayden and Robert Morris, by now all well-known Boston abolitionists, were lauded by the New England public in 1851 for their assistance in obtaining the release of Shadrach, a fugitive slave.mj

While fighting for the release of Shadrach, Walker acquired a copy of Blackstone’s Commentaries, which piqued his interest in law.  Shortly thereafter, while still a leatherworker, Walker studied law in the offices of John Q. A. Griffin and Charles A. Tweed in Georgetown, Massachusetts.  After passing his law examination with ease in May, 1861, Walker became the third African American admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.
Sources: 
William Henry Ferris, The African Abroad, or, his evolution in western civilization, tracing his development under Caucasian milieu, vol. 2 (New Haven: The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Press, 1913); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jack, Hulan Edwin (1905-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Hulan Edwin Jack was born in 1905 in St. Lucia but migrated with his parents to the United States from British Guiana (now known as Guyana).  The family settled in New York City.  

Jack, a high school dropout, eventually went to work for the Peerless Paper Box Company Inc., in New York City. He began as a janitor but eventually rose to become one of the firm’s Vice Presidents.  Jack’s interest in politics, however, emerged early.  He became active in New York City Democratic politics and earned a reputation as a loyal Tammany Hall operative.  Beginning in 1940 Jack won seven elections to the New York State Assembly representing his Harlem district.

In 1953, Jack was elected Borough President of Manhattan, becoming the first African American to hold the post.  Elected more than a decade before the rise of big city black mayors in the 1960s, Hulan Jack was the highest ranking African American municipal official in the nation.  With an annual salary of $25,000 he was also the highest paid black officeholder in the country.   

Jack served as Manhattan Borough President for nearly two terms.  His second term was marred by a 1960 Grand Jury indictment for bribery and conspiracy to obstruct justice.  He was also charged with three violations of the New York City Charter.  Hulan Jacks was convicted of the charges and resigned his position as Borough President, effectively ending his political career.    
Sources: 
http://www.time.com/magazine/article/0,9171,939089,00.html; http://www.s9.com/Biography/Jack-Hulan-Edwin-Sr; http://www.cecaust.com.au/main.asp?sub=info&id=WAMD-A3.htm
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hill, Thomas Arnold (1888-1947)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Thomas Arnold Hill, early leader of the National Urban League, was born in 1888 in Richmond, Virginia to Reuben and Irene Robinson Hill.  He studied at Richmond Business School and received his Bachelor of Art degree at Virginia Union University in 1911.  Hill then studied sociology and economics at New York University.

In 1914, Hill was hired by the New York City branch of the National Urban League (1912) where he worked as personal secretary of Eugene Kinkle Jones. He soon joined forces with Jones and fellow League workers to create additional leagues in neighboring cities.

With the onset of the Great Migration during World War I, Hill recognized the need for a local affiliate in Chicago, a common destination for many of the migrants.  In 1917, he opened the Chicago Urban League and served as its first executive secretary.  During the bloody Chicago Race Riot (1919), Hill transformed the Chicago office into an emergency center to help mollify anger, improve race relations, provide assistance to those adversely affected, and disseminate information.

Sources: 

Nancy Weiss, The National Urban League, 1910-1940 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974), p. 176-201; “T. Arnold Hill,” The Journal of
Negro History, Vol. 32, No. 4
(Oct. 1947), pp. 528-529; Rayford Logan
and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Arvah E. Strickland, History of the
Chicago Urban League
(Urbana and London: The University of Illinois
Press, 1966), p. 26-28.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brewer, John Mason (1896-1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Goliad, Texas on March 24, 1896, John Mason Brewer became one of the twentieth century’s premier African American folklorists. A poet, essayist, historian, and anthologist, Brewer earned an undergraduate degree from Wiley College in 1917 and later a graduate degree from Indiana University.  Over his career he taught on both the high school and college levels.   

Brewer worked at Samuel Huston College in Austin from 1926 to 1933 when he left to pursue additional studies and career options. He returned in 1944 to teach at Huston-Tillotson College (previously Samuel Huston College) until 1959 when he went to Livingston College in North Carolina. Brewer moved back to Texas ten years later (1969) and taught at East Texas State University until his death in 1975.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Glasrud, “From Griggs to Brewer: A Review of Black Texas Culture, 1899-1940,” Journal of Big Bend Studies 15 (2003): 195-212; James W. Byrd, J. Mason Brewer: Negro Folklorist (Austin: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1967); Kenneth W. Turner, “Negro Collectors of Negro Folklore: A Study of J. Mason Brewer and Zora Neale Hurston (Master’s thesis, East Texas State University, 1964).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Reed, Ishmael (1938 - )

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

Ishmael Reed is an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, satirist, editor, publisher, and poet. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 to Henry Lenoir and Thelma Coleman. Lenoir and Coleman moved to Buffalo, New York where Reed grew up.  When his mother divorced Lenoir and married Bennie Reed, Ishmael took his stepfather's last name.  

Reed enrolled in Millard Fillmore College in New York in 1956, taking night courses.  Eventually he transferred to day classes at University of Buffalo with the encouragement of his English instructor.  He attended the University of Buffalo between 1956 and 1960. Unfortunately due to financial reasons Reed withdrew and did not receive a degree. Although later, in 1995, the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo) awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Letters.  In 1962 Reed moved to New York's Lower East Side and started a career as a journalist. In 1967, after he published his first novel, The Freelance Pallbearers, Reed moved to San Francisco, California.

Sources: 

Caroline Bokinsky, “Ishmael Reed.” Dictionary of Literary Biography:
American Poets Since WWII. Vol. 5 Part 2
, Donald J. Greiner, Editor,
(Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980); Joyce Pettis, “Ishmael Reed.”
African American Poets: Lives, Works, and Sources. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002); Robert Elliot Fox, Modern American
Poetry: About Ishmael Reed's Life and Career
. University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign.
<http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/reed/about.htm>
retrieved on 2009-03-04;

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Wilson, Margaret Bush (1919-2009)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Robert Joiner, “Margaret Bush Wilson, hailed as civil rights ‘giant’ dies at 90,” St Louis Beacon,  August 14, 2009; Patricia Sullivan, “Margaret Bush Wilson dies at 90. First Black woman to head the National NAACP Board,” The LA Times, August 15, 2009; www.thehistorymakers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mills Brothers, The (1925-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mills Brothers with Unidentified Man in Center.
Image Courtsey of New York World's Fair 1939-1040
Records, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York
Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
The Mills Brothers, a musical quartet, originally featured John Jr. (b. 1910), Herbert (b. 1912), Harry (b. 1913), and Donald Mills (b. 1915).  Born in Piqua, Ohio, the Mills Brothers lived with their father John Hutchinson Mills, a barber, and their mother, Eathel Harrington. As children, the Mills Brothers sang at local churches. For extra money, they also sang on street corners and at May's Opera House, a local movie theater, between films. During these performances, the Mills Brothers began to develop their distinctive sound, which would later influence other doo-wop and rhythm and blues performers.  While singing four-part harmonies, John Jr. played guitar and the brothers imitated the instruments of an orchestra, such as the saxophone, trumpet, and tuba.  
Sources: 
Bruce J. Evensen, “Harry and Herbert Mills,” in African American National Biography, vol. 5, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); William Barlow and Cheryl Finley, From Swing to Soul: An Illustrated History of African-American Popular Music from 1930 to 1960 (Washington, D.C.: Elliott & Clark Pub, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Omohundro, Robert Johnson (1921-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Sargeant Memorial
Chronicles (Winter 2008),
Sargeant Memorial Room,
Pretlow Library, Norfolk, VA
Born in Norfolk, VA in 1921, physicist Robert Johnson Omohundro was one of a select few black scientists and technicians to work on the Manhattan Project and thus contribute to the development of the atom bomb during World War II.  The eldest child of Henry Omohundro and Brownie Pierce Omohundro, Robert had one sister, Gladys and four half-siblings, Joseph, Mildred, Annie Mae, and Dorothy from his father’s first marriage.

Omohundro graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia and then earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a master’s in physics from Howard University in Washington, DC.  After graduation he worked as a radio tester with the Western Electric Company.
Sources: 
Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moster, African Americans in Science, Math, and Invention (New York: Facts on File, 2003); Julius H. Taylor, et al., The Negro In Science (Baltimore: Morgan State University, 1955), Robert B. Hitchings, "Robert J. Omohundro: Local Man Works on the Manhattan Project," Sargeant's Chronicles: Vignettes About Norfolk and Virginia's History and Genealogy 2:3 (Winter 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

McHenry, Jr., Gordon (1957- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Seattle University
Gordon McHenry is a contemporary community leader in Seattle’s non-profit social services institutions. McHenry’s father, Gordon McHenry, was the first in his family to graduate from college and the first African American engineer promoted into management at the Boeing Company.  His mother, Mildred McHenry, grew up and was educated in a segregated community in Texas.  McHenry credits his parents for inspiring his deep respect for education and strong belief in community solidarity and action.

McHenry graduated with a B.S. in Political Science from Seattle University and earned his Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law School.

After graduating with his law degree, McHenry began his career as an attorney at Perkins Coie, a prestigious law firm in Seattle, Washington.  In 1988, McHenry joined Boeing, where he served for 21 years as a lawyer and then in a variety of executive leadership roles, eventually becoming director of Global Corporate Citizenship for Boeing’s Northwest region.  While at Boeing, he completed the Executive Education Program for Management Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.
Sources: 
Mac Buchman, “Solid Ground Names New Leadership Team,” Solid Ground Blog, 15 August 2012, available at: http://solidgroundblog.wordpress.com/tag/gordon-mchenry-jr/;  “Gordon McHenry Jr. Named CEO, President at Solid Ground,” Seattle Times,  2 Oct. 2012.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cuffe, Paul, Jr. (?-?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Paul Cuffe was born into a Pequot family that had intermarried with freed or escaped slaves in New England. His father, Paul Cuffe, Sr., became known for his attempt to begin an African American colony in Sierra Leone.  Paul Cuffe, Jr., made his living as a whaling harpooner and probably came to know Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick and other works.  It is probable that Melville modeled his character Queequeg, the aboriginal harpooner, after the younger Cuffe.
Sources: 
Bruce E. Johansen and Donald A. Grinde, Jr., The Encyclopedia of Native American Biography (New York: Da Capo Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York, Buffalo

Hayes, Roland (1887-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

The son of former slaves, Roland Hayes, born June 3, 1887 in Curryville, Georgia, became the first African American male to become an internationally acclaimed concert vocalist.  As a youth, he sang in his Baptist church and on street corners for tips before attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he performed and toured with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, an experience that eventually landed him in Boston.  Working odd jobs, by 1915 Hayes had saved up enough money to rent Boston’s Symphony Hall and give his first recital to an audience stunned by his masterfully executed selection of Negro spirituals, lieder and arias by Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart.  Continuing to act as his own promoter and manager, Hayes next toured the United States and England where in 1920 he performed for King George V and Queen Mary and studied lieder with Sir George Henschel. 

Returning to the United States in 1922, Hayes was flattered by glowing reviews following concerts in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.  He took additional voice lessons and there were several more tours of Europe, including a stop in the Soviet Union and a command performance for Queen Mother Maria Christina of Spain.  A rather brutal racial incident in 1942 in Rome, Georgia involving Hayes and his family persuaded him to leave his home in the segregated South.

Sources: 
MacKinley Helm, Angel Mo and Her Son, Roland Hayes (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1942);  American National Biography. Vol. 10. Oxford University Press, 1999. Internet Source: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?path=/TheArts/Music/Classical/IndividualArtists-2&id=h-1671
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Freeman, Paul (1936- )

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

Paul Douglas Freeman has conducted outstanding classical orchestras in many countries during his long career. One of the few African American conductors in the field of classical music, he is best known for his founding of the Chicago Sinfonietta, a classical orchestra widely recognized during the past 25 years for both its ethnic and racial diversity and its attempt to broaden the appeal of classical music to “non-traditional” audiences.  

Born January 2, 1936, in Richmond, Virginia, to a music-loving family of modest means, Freeman and his 11 siblings enjoyed symphony and opera radio broadcasts. Even though his father ran a small produce store, he and most of his siblings were given instruments early in their childhoods to encourage the study of classical music. Paul began piano at five, then moved on to the clarinet and cello. When his high school band conductor became ill, he directed the performance at age 17, obtaining his first experience with conducting.  

Freeman entered the Eastman School of Music on a scholarship in 1952. There he met his wife Cornelia, a piano and organ major. His BA degree in 1956 was followed a year later by an MA degree.  He then received a Fulbright Fellowship to study operatic and orchestral conducting at the Höchschule für Music in Berlin, Germany. Freeman returned to Eastman for a doctorate in music in 1963.
Sources: 
D. Antoinette Handy, Black Conductors (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1995); ‘Paul Freeman,” http://www.africlassical.com; John von Rein, “Freeman bids farewell to the orchestra he made the most diverse in the nation,” Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2011; “Music Makers: Paul Freeman,” http://www.thehistorymakers.com (video interview April 24, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Horne, Frank Smith (1899-1974)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gail Lumet Buckley, The Hornes: An American Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986); Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith and Cornel West, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey Jr., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005); Victor A. Kramer and Robert A. Russ, Harlem Renaissance Re-examined (New York: Whitston Publishing Co., 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Michaux, Solomon Lightfoot "Elder" (c.1885-1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Elder Michaux Baptisting Followers at Griffith Stadium,
Washington,D.C. n.d.
Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio,
photographers, Scurlock Studio Records,
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Solomon Michaux was a radio evangelist, entrepreneur, and founder of the Church of God Movement; he was also known as the “Happy Am I Preacher.” Michaux was born around 1885 in Buckroe Beach, Virginia into a devout family of Baptists. He grew up in Newport News, Virginia where he spent his childhood in local public schools and helping his family’s seafood business by peddling fish to local military men in nearby Camp Lee. Michaux married Eliza Pauline in 1906. They had no children.
Sources: 
Marcus H. Boulware, The Oratory of Negro Leaders: 1900-1968 (Westport: Negro Universities Press, 1969); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Stephen D. Glazier ed., Encyclopedia of African and African-American Religions (New York: Routledge, 2001)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Grimke, Archibald (1849-1930)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Moorland-Spingarn
Research Center, Howard University
Archibald Grimke was a leading intellectual, activist, and author on racial equality in early 20th Century America. Grimke was born into slavery, the son of Nancy Weston, a slave, and Henry Grimke, her owner. After his father's death, he and his brother Francis spent eight years living as freemen before his half-brother, Montague, took them as servants into his home in 1860. After suffering beatings at Montague's hand Archibald fled and hid with relatives until Charleston fell to Union forces in 1865.

Archibald Grimke attended Lincoln College in Pennsylvania, and in 1872 became one of the first African American students at Harvard Law School. Upon graduation he established a law practice in Boston, where he became an ardent supporter of suffrage for women and African Americans. From 1894 to 1898 he was consul to Santo Domingo (The Dominican Republic). In 1903 Grimke became president of the American Negro Academy, the nation's preeminent black intellectual society, a role he held until 1919.
Sources: 
Dickson D. Bruce, Jr., Archibald Grimke, Portrait of a Black Independent (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gravely, Samuel Lee (1922-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Takes Command of 3rd
Fleet, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1976
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was a highly decorated Navy Officer who pioneered the way with a multitude of firsts for African Americans in the military. Some of his most notable achievements included, being the first African American Navy Vice Admiral, the first African American to command a Navy warship, the first African American to command a warship during combat, the first African American to command a Navy Fleet, and the first African American to obtain Flag Rank in the military. His decorations include the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal.

Samuel Gravely was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 4, 1922. He attended Virginia Union University for three years, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans in 1906. Postponing his education, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1942 where he trained as a fireman apprentice.

Sources: 

Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/samuel-gravely.htm.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Aggrey, Orison Rudolph (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
U.S. Ambassador Orison Rudolph Aggrey was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, the son of James Emman Kwegyir, an African immigrant who became an American college professor, and Rose Rudolph (Douglass) Aggrey, an African American woman. He earned a B.S. degree from Hampton Institute, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1946, and an M.S. in journalism from Syracuse University (New York) in 1948. After encountering difficulty in obtaining a reporting post with a major white daily newspaper in 1950, he applied for a position with the information and cultural branch of the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. Despite his high scores on the Civil Service entrance examinations, he also encountered difficulty with his application. Aggrey was offered a post only after George L. P. Weaver, who was then assistant Secretary of Labor for international affairs (and one of the most important blacks in the administration of President Harry S. Truman), interceded on his behalf.
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. 1-3.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College/University of Mississippi

Bluford, Guion Stewart, Jr. ["Guy"] (1942- )

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

Guy Bluford, a member of the SDS-8 space shuttle Challenger crew in 1983, was the first African American in space.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bluford was interested in math and science and knew he wanted to work in aerospace engineering before graduating high school.  His high school counselor suggested that college was not for him.  Refusing the advice, Bluford became the only black engineering student at Pennsylvania State University in 1960.  Undaunted, he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering in 1964 and went through pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona where he received his pilot wings one year later.  Before being sent to Vietnam in 1967, Bluford felt the sting of racial discrimination when his family was denied housing on base.  He flew 144 combat missions with the 557th Squadron in Vietnam.    

After serving his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bluford worked as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and started graduate studies at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1972.  He received a M.S. in aerospace engineering in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1978.  The same year, he was one of the thirty-five selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut training program out of 10,000 applicants.  

Sources: 

Alfred Phelps Jr., They Had a Dream: The Story of African American
Astronauts
(Novato: Presidio, 1994); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates Jr., eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African
American Experience
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Video:

"A Conversation with Guy Bluford"

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Thompson, Bennie G. (1948- )

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

Bennie G. Thompson, United States Representative from Mississippi's Second Congressional District, is the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and as such is one of the most influential African American members of Congress.

Thompson was born in Bolton, Mississippi on January 28, 1948 to Will Thompson, an auto mechanic, and Annie Lauris Thompson, a teacher.   He earned a BA in political science from Tougaloo College in 1968, and then earned MS and MA degrees from Jackson State University in 1972.  He worked for one year as a school teacher in Madison, Mississippi after graduating from Tougaloo.

Sources: 
Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008); Dave Oblender, ed., Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 26, “Bennie G. Thompson,” (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 2005); “Bennie Thompson, Representing the Second District of Mississippi,” http://benniethompson.house.gov/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Harris, Lorenzo [“Rennie”] (1963- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Rennie Harris, hip hop dancer, artist, teacher, artistic director, choreographer, and founder of Rennie Harris Puremovement (RHPM), was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1963. At the age of 15, Harris began teaching workshops and classes at universities around the country, educating the public of the relevance of street dances from any cultural origins. He is the recipient of the Kennedy Center Master of African American Choreography award, the 2007 Governor’s Artist of the Year Award (Pennsylvania), the 2007 United States Artist Fellowship Award, and has been highlighted in Rose Eichenbaum’s Masters of Movement: Portraits of America’s Great Choreographers (2007).

A life-long Philadelphia resident, Harris formed RHPM in 1992 to counteract the commercialized stereotypes the mass-media industry presents of hip hop dance and culture. RHPM was founded on the conviction that hip hop dance provides a medium of expression for  new generations to move beyond the boundaries of racial, religious, and economic differences through the power of original movement expression. Through his choreographic works for RHPM, Harris uses the ever-evolving style of hip hop street dance to reflect the distinct dance and movement impulses of current generations, while simultaneously representing the distinctive African American traditions of the past.
Sources: 
Brenda Dixon Gottschild, “Prince Scarekrow & the Emerald City,” Dance Magazine (February 2007); Heidi Henderson, ed., Growing Place: Interviews with Artists, 25 Years at the Bates Dance Festival (Lewiston, ME: Bates Dance Festival, 2007); http://www.rhpm.org/index.php
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Paige, Myles Anderson (1898-1983)

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

Myles Anderson Paige, the first African American to be appointed a New York City Criminal Court Judge, was born on July 18, 1898 in Montgomery, Alabama. Paige was a star football player at Howard University, graduating from the Washington D.C. institution with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. While at Howard he joined Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity

Paige served in the United States Army during the World War I as captain of the 369th regiment. Paige’s ascension to captain was swift and impressive considering he began his military career as a corporal in September of 1917 and was promoted to second lieutenant a week later. The following week he became first lieutenant and before the end of September he was captain and company commander.  

In 1921 Paige entered the Columbia University Law School and received his LLB degree in 1924. In 1926 he was a founding member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Alpha Gamma Lambda graduate chapter as well as its first chapter president from 1927 to 1930.  Paige later served as 19th General (national) President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity from 1957 to 1960. Also in 1940 Paige received an honorary doctor of law degree from Howard University, rounding out his education.

Sources: 
“M. A. Paige, First Black to Be a City Magistrate,” The New York Times, April 1, 1983; Charles H. Wesley, The History of Alpha Phi Alpha : A Development in College Life (Chicago: The Foundation Publishers, 1979), Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Wheaton, John Francis (1866-1922)

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

John Francis Wheaton was a late 19th Century and early 20th Century lawyer and a politician.  Wheaton ran for elective office in three states and was the first African American to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

John Francis Wheaton was born on May 8, 1866 to Jacob and Emily Wheaton in Hagerstown, Maryland.  He graduated from the high school division of Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1882. During the decade after his graduation Wheaton worked as a public school teacher, then attended Dixon Business College in Illinois, and later moved to Washington D.C., where he worked as a clerk for the United States Congress until 1892.  In 1889, Wheaton married Ella Chambers and the couple had two sons, Layton J. and Frank P. Wheaton.

Wheaton graduated from Howard’s Law Department in May 1892 and set up a practice in Hagerstown.  He was only the fourth African American to pass the bar and practice law in Maryland and the first outside Baltimore.

In 1893, however, Wheaton moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where he worked as a clerk in the state legislature and also as a deputy clerk in the Minneapolis municipal courts.  The following year he became the first African American to graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Sources: 
"It's a Fact! (John Francis Wheaton)," Session Weekly, (St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives Information Office, February 21, 1992), 14; Marion Daniel Shutter, "John Francis Wheaton," Progressive Men of Minnesota, Marion D. Shutter, D.D. and J.S. McLain, M.A. eds., (Minneapolis: The Minneapolis Journal, 1897), 350-351.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Turner, Henry McNeal (1834-1915)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Stephen Ward Angell, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African American Religion in the South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992); Edwin S. Redkey, Black Exodus, Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1969); The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, African American Desk Reference (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1999); Kenneth Estall, ed., The African American Almanac 6th edition (Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hampton, Lionel L. (1908-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton
at Metropolitan Opera House
Courtesy of ©Bettmann-Corbis

Lionel Leo Hampton, bandleader, jazz percussionist and vibraphonist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908.  Hampton and his mother Gertrude moved to Chicago after the death of his father, Charles Hampton, a promising pianist and singer, in World War I.   At the age of 15 Hampton began his career as a drummer in the Les Hite Band.  The band relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1920s and became a regular attraction at the city’s Cotton Club. 

During a 193o recording session at NBC studios in Los Angeles Louis Armstrong and Hampton teamed to record jazz albums featuring Hampton on the vibraphone which would become his signature instrument.  By the mid-1930s the “King of Vibes” joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra which was one of the first racially integrated jazz acts.  By the 1940s Hampton left Goodman to form the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. 

Sources: 
Lionel Hampton with James Haskins, Hamp: An Autobiography (1989); Frank Tirro, Jazz: A History (1993); http://www.uidaho.edu/hampton/bio.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Evers, James Charles (1922- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James Charles Evers was born on September 11, 1922 in Decatur, Mississippi to parents Jesse Wright and James Evers.  Growing up in Mississippi during the era of Jim Crow, Evers witnessed the effects of racial discrimination and prejudice firsthand.   At the age of ten, he witnessed a horrific lynching of a black man who had been accused of insulting a white woman.  This lynching left a lasting impression on Evers, who vowed, along with his younger brother, Medgar, to exact change for the blacks of Mississippi.  
Sources: 
Charles Evers, Evers (New York: World Publishing Company, 1971); Charles Evers and Andrew Szanton, Have No Fear: The Charles Evers Story (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997); http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_people_evers.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Miles, Edward L. (1939-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Edward L. Miles
Edward L. Miles, the Bloedel Professor Emeritus of Marine and Public Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle, is a pioneer in examining and establishing international environmental policy, particularly in the area of global climate change. He was born in Trinidad, West Indies, into a “seafaring family,” and wanted to move to the United States to become a fighter pilot. Instead, in 1962 he graduated from Howard University magna cum laude with a B.A. in History. Miles received his Ph.D. in International Relations from the University of Denver in 1965. He remained a member of their faculty from 1965 to 1974 when he accepted a position as Professor of Marine Studies for the Institute for Marine Studies (now the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs), University of Washington, Seattle.

Miles’ wide range of interests led him into his pioneering work combining the physical, social and biological sciences with policy and international relations. His thrust has been to help understand and create international frameworks to help protect the global atmosphere and oceans. Miles was a key contributor to the development of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. His current research focus is to develop working policies utilizing “mitigation with adaptation” in the face of global climate change, a dilemma he calls “the single most serious problem we face in the long term.”
Sources: 
Who’s Who Among African Americans (Gale Research; Detroit, 2006);
http://www.nasonline.org/site/PageServer?pagename=INTERVIEWS_Edward_L_Miles
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hampton, Fred (1948-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Fred Hampton, deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was born on August 30, 1948 and raised in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, Illinois. In high school he excelled in academics and athletics. After Hampton graduated from high school, he enrolled in a prelaw program at Triton Junior College in River Grove, Illinois. Hampton also became involved in the civil rights movement, joining his local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His dynamic leadership and organizational skills in the branch enabled him to rise to the position of Youth Council President. There Hampton mobilized a racially integrated group of five hundred young people who successfully lobbied city officials to create better academic services and recreational facilities for African American children.

In 1968, Hampton joined the Black Panther Party (BPP), headquartered in Oakland, California. Using his NAACP experience, he soon headed the Chicago chapter. During his brief BPP tenure, Hampton formed a “Rainbow Coalition” which included Students for a Democ