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People

Silvera, Frank (1914–1970)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Frank Silvera as Don Sebastian Montoya in the High Chaparra
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Frank Silvera was an important 20th Century actor, director, producer, and teacher.  Born on July 24, 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica, he grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and went on to study law at Northeastern University Law School. He later attended Boston University, Old Vic School, and the Actors Studio before moving to New York City, New York to pursue acting.

Sources: 

Garland Thompson, “Who was Frank Silvera?” The Frank Silvera Writers'
Workshop Foundation, Inc
. http://www.fsww.org/whois.html; “Frank
Silvera” Internet Movie Database.  (Imdb.com Inc: 2009)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0798826/; David Ragan, Who’s Who In
Hollywood
(New Rochelle, NY: Arlington Press, 1976); Edward Mapp,
Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, NJ: 1978).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Matzeliger, Jan E. (1852-1887)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Rachel Kranz, The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1992), pp. 102-103; A Salute to Black Scientists & Inventors (Chicago: Empak Publishing Company), 1993, pp. 22-23.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Anderson, Marian (1897-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Raymond Arsenault, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America (New York: Bloomsbury Press_, 2009); Russell Freedman, The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights (New York: Clarion Books, 2004)
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Cooper, Anna Julia Haywood (1858-1964)

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

Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was a writer, teacher, and activist who championed education for African Americans and women. Born into bondage in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, she was the daughter of an enslaved woman, Hannah Stanley, and her owner, George Washington Haywood.

In 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, Anna began her formal education at Saint Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute, a coeducational facility built for former slaves. There she received the equivalent of a high school education.

Sources: 
Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); Paula J. Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: HarperCollins, 2001); Kimberly Springer, “Anna Julia Haywood Cooper,” in African American Lives, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Wormley, James (1819-1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Washington D.C. on January 16, 1819, James Wormley was the son of free-born citizens Lynch and Mary Wormley. As a young boy, Wormley’s first job was working with his family’s hackney carriage business. This job would help Wormley gain skills and an appreciation for hard work involved in business ownership which he put to good use in post-Civil War Washington.

After owning a successful restaurant, Wormley decided to purchase a hotel in 1871 which he called the Wormley House. Located near the White House, at the southwest corner of 15th and H Streets Northwest, Wormley House soon became popular among the wealthy and politically prominent in the nation’s capital.  Wormley’s experience as caterer, club steward and traveler in Europe helped him to perfect his culinary skills while his keen eye for detail ensured that his hotel guests were satisfied during their stay. The hotel was most famous for its well-managed rooms, early telephone and the dining room where Wormley served European-style dishes.

Wormley also became active in Washington, D.C. community politics. On July 21, 1871, Wormley led a successful campaign to persuade Congress to fund the first public school for the city’s African Americans. The school, named after Wormley, was built in Georgetown at 34th and Prospect Streets.  Despite Congress’s allocation local politics delayed the opening of the school until 1885.
Sources: 
Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington. (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999); Nicholas E. Hollis, “A Hotel for the History Books” Washington Post, (March 18, 2001); http://www.culturaltourismdc.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wortham, Anne (1941 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Anne Wortham
Anne Wortham, a prolific academic who has opposed aspects of the traditional civil rights movement, was born on November 26th 1941 in Jackson, Tennessee. The first of five children, she was raised in the segregated South where her parents instilled in her religious beliefs and the importance of education, self-reliance and self-improvement. As a youngster Wortham took piano lessons and developed a life-long interest in classical music and opera as a result of listening to radio broadcasts of performances of the Metropolitan Opera.  Her mother died when she was ten years old, and Wortham adopted the homemaker role and cared for her family while attending school and graduating high school as an honor student.

In 1959 Wortham began studying at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) with the goal of becoming a secondary school teacher. While in college she participated in Operations Crossroads Africa in Ethiopia during summer 1962.  Following graduation, from 1963-1965, she was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania. Seeing the lack of economic development in Africa, Wortham began to question the rhetoric of the U.S. civil rights movement and forged her own ideas about freedom. Through her exploration of the writings of philosopher Ayn Rand and economist Ludwig von Mises Wortham grappled with the alienation she felt from those around her who wished to see any black person as an embodiment of the race, without considering the possibility of diverse backgrounds and views among blacks. 
Sources: 
Anne Wortham, The Other Side of Racism: A Philosophical Study of Black Race Consciousness (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1981); Karen Reedstrom, “Interview with Anne Wortham” Full Context Magazine, March 1994; Patrick Cox, “I’m not Supposed to Exist,” Reason Magazine August 1984; Clarence Thomas, “With Liberty…for all,” Lincoln Review, Winter-Spring, 1982.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Hyman, John Adams (1840-1891)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Adams Hyman was born into slavery on July 23, 1840 in Warren County, North Carolina. Hyman's thirst for knowledge resulted in him being sold away from his family for attempting to read a spelling book that was given to him by a sympathetic white jeweler. He continued to seek knowledge at his new residence in Alabama and was sold again for fear that he would influence other slaves. Hyman was sold eight more times for his attempts to educate himself.  

At the age of 25 Hyman was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment and returned to his family in North Carolina. He quickly enrolled in school where he received an elementary education. Hyman also became a landowner and merchant.  Hyman, a Mason, soon emerged as a leader of the post-Civil War North Carolina black community.  

By 1868 John Hyman was an active member of the Republican Party.  Despite intimidation attempts by the Ku Klux Klan, Hyman and 132 other Republicans were elected to a constitutional convention which crafted a new constitution for the state of North Carolina.  The Constitution called for public education available to all students and voting rights for African American men.   
Sources: 
Stephen Middleton, ed. Black Congressmen During Reconstruction (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002); George W. Reid, “Four in Black: North Carolina’s Black Congressmen, 1874-1901” Journal of Negro History 64 (Summer 1979): 229-43; http://bioguide.congress.gov.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cain, Herman (1945- )

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

Herman Cain, Republican Party activist and 2012 Presidential candidate is also a newspaper columnist, popular radio talk show host in Atlanta, and former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, a Pillsbury subsidiary.  Cain was born on December 13, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Luther and Lenora Cain.

Cain graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1967, with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Mathematics. He received a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Purdue University, in 1971, while working as a mathematician for the U.S. Navy.   

In 1977 Cain joined the Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis. Within five years he had risen to the position of Vice-President of Corporate Systems and Services, making him, at 32, the youngest vice president in the history of the corporation. In 1982 he moved to the Burger King subsidiary of Pillsbury, where he gained a reputation for turning around struggling companies. Four years later Cain led a group of investors in purchasing faltering Godfather's Pizza from Pillsbury.    Rather than investing more money in marketing as traditional business models advised, he focused on improving service to customers. His strategy worked and Godfather’s became a success.  Cain stepped down as Godfather's CEO in 1996.

Sources: 
“Herman Cain: Possible ‘Dark Horse’ 2012 GOP Presidential Candidate,” http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/07/11/herman-cain-possible-dark-horse-2012-gop-presidential-candida/; American Visions, April/May 1995, p 41; New York Times, April 8, 1994, p. 18; January 8, 1995, p. 11; January 10, 1995, p. 15; July 28, 1996, p. 5; . Herman Cain's official website.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Texas

Smith, Ada “Bricktop” (1894-1984)

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

Walls, Josiah Thomas (1832–1905)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
First elected to the Congress in 1870, Josiah T. Walls became Florida’s first elected African American Congressman. Walls was born a slave in Winchester, Virginia on December 30, 1842.  He was conscripted by the Confederate Army and captured in Yorktown by Union forces in 1862.  Walls then enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops Infantry Regiment in 1863 where he rose in rank to First Sergeant.  Prior to his discharge from the Army in 1865, Walls married Helen Ferguson of Newnansville, Florida

After leaving the U.S. Army Walls settled in Alachua County, Florida and became active in local politics.  After passage of the U.S. Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, Walls joined the newly formed Republican Party in Florida.  He was an elected delegate to the 1868 state constitutional conventions and shortly afterward was elected to the lower house of the State Legislature in 1868.  He advanced to the State Senate representing the 13th District, which was mostly Alachua County, in 1869.  
Sources: 
Maurice Christopher, Americas Black Congressman (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1971); http://inst.sfcc.edu/~stuorg/bsu/FEB2004/josiahwalls.html
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Fraser, Sarah Loguen (1850-1933)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sarah Fraser, born Sarah Marinda Loguen, was the first female African American to graduate from the Syracuse University College of Medicine. She was also one of the first African American female physicians specializing in obstetrics and pediatrics.

Sarah Loguen was born on January 29, 1850, in Syracuse, New York, the fifth of eight children to the Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen, a former slave and prominent abolitionist, and his wife, Caroline Loguen, the daughter of prominent local abolitionists. Her father started the first school for black children in the Syracuse area and used his home as a safe house for hundreds of slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.  In 1868 Rev. Loguen became a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church the same year Sarah graduated from high school.

Sources: 
American National Biography, http://www.anb.org/articles/13/13-02676.html; Journal of the National Medical Association, 92:3 (March 2000); Celebrating Sarah Loguen Fraser, Hobart & William Smith Colleges, http://www.hws.edu/academics/english/fraser.aspx; Dr. Sarah Loguen’s Dominican Republic, Upstate Medical College, http://issuu.com/upstate/docs/loguen-puerto_1-6.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rush, Bobby L. (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Congress
Bobby Lee Rush was born in Albany, Georgia on November 23, 1946. He graduated from Marshall High School in that city at the age of seventeen and soon afterwards enlisted in the United States Army.  Rush served in the Army from 1963 to 1968 when he was honorably discharged.

Rush relocated in Chicago where he attended Roosevelt University.  He received a B.A. degree with honors in 1973. Twenty-one years later (1994) he received a master’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 1998 Rush received a second master’s degree in theological studies from McCormick Seminary and soon afterwards became an ordained Baptist minister.

While in college Rush became a political activist and soon devoted himself to Chicago’s civil rights movement.  He first joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1968 but soon afterwards became a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party.  Rush ran the Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children program and also organized a free medical clinic.  The clinic developed the nation’s first mass testing program for sickle cell anemia while simultaneously raising awareness of the disease’s impact on African Americans in Chicago.
Sources: 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lavizzo, Dr. Philip V. (1917-1972)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Photo Courtesy of Lavizzo Family"
Dr. Philip V. Lavizzo, one of the first African American doctors to practice surgery in the Pacific Northwest, was born in 1917.  Very little is known about his early life.  He graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee and initially practiced medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana

While in New Orleans, Dr. Lavizzo developed a national reputation as a medical innovator. He coauthored “Observations on the General Adaptation of Syndrome: Surgery as Measured by the Eosinophil Response.” This prized paper was delivered at the first annual Charles Drew Memorial Forum in August 1951.

Sources: 
Philip Lavizzo and Matthew Walker, “Observations on the General Adaptation Syndrome: Surgery as Measured by the Eosinophil Response,” Journal of the National Medical Association 1952, Mar. Vol. 44, No. 2 (March 1952), pp, 87-96, found in http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2617112/; Thomas J. Ward, Black Physicians in the Jim Crow South (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central College

Butterfield, George Kenneth, Jr. (1947– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

North Carolina Congressman George Kenneth Butterfield Jr. was born in Wilson, North Carolina on April 27, 1947 to a father who was a dentist and civic leader as well as the first black elected official in eastern North Carolina in the 20th century; and a mother who was a classroom teacher for 48 years.

Butterfield attended Charles H. Darden High School and graduated in 1967 before going to North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated with a sociology and political science degree in 1971. In 1974, he received his J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law. After serving in the United States Army for two years, Butterfield became a successful lawyer known for helping the poor people who had extraordinary legal problems. In 1988, Butterfield was appointed Superior Court Judge in Wilson County.  In 2001 he was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wertz, Irma Jackson Cayton (1911-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Irma Cayton Wertz on right, 1942
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Irma Jackson Cayton Wertz was a member of the first Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACS) Officer training class commissioned at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, during World War II.  Born in Brunswick, Georgia, on May 8, 1911, Jackson was the product of a military household.  Her family was stationed in Des Moines while her father, who served as a captain in the segregated army during World War I, attended officer’s training camp.  

After graduating from Fisk University and Atlanta University, Jackson moved to Chicago, Illinois where she gained employment as a social worker in the South Parkway Community Center. There she married her first husband, Horace Cayton, a noted University of Chicago sociologist. The couple divorced in 1942.

The same year, Jackson applied for entrance into the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps.  After successfully passing a battery of examinations, completing a six-week training course, and taking the oath to become an officer in August of that year, Jackson was briefly assigned to the WAAC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as a recruiter. Shortly thereafter, she relocated to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where she met and married William Wertz and joined the Thirty-second WAAC Post Headquarters Company.

Sources: 

Robert F. Jefferson, Fighting for Hope:  African American Troops of the 93rd Infantry Division in World War II and Postwar America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Brenda L. Moore, To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race:  The Story of the Only African American WACs Stationed Overseas during World War II (New York: New York University Press, 1996).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Xavier University

Coachman, Alice Marie (1923-2014)

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

Alice Coachman became the first African American woman from any country to win an Olympic Gold Medal when she competed at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, UK. Born November 9, 1923, in Albany, Georgia, to Evelyn and Fred Coachman, Alice was the fifth of ten children. As an athletic child of the Jim Crow South, who was denied access to regular training facilities, Coachman trained by running on dirt roads and creating her own hurdles to practice jumping.

Even though Alice Coachman parents did not support her interest in athletics, she was encouraged by Cora Bailey, her fifth grade teacher at Monroe Street Elementary School, and her aunt, Carrie Spry, to develop her talents. After demonstrating her skills on the track at Madison High School, Tuskegee Institute offered sixteen-year-old Coachman a scholarship to attend its high school program. She competed on and against all-black teams throughout the segregated South.

Sources: 

http://www.alicecoachman.com; Jennifer H. Landsbury, “Alice Coachman: Quiet Champion of the 1940s,” Chap. in Out of the Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes (Fayetteville, The University of Arkansas Press, 2006).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fullerton

Royall, Belinda (1712- ? )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Belinda Royall Petition, 1783
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Massachusetts Spy, May 29, 1873; Helene Ragovin, "The Untold Story of the Royall House Slaves," The Tufts Journal, http://tuftsjournal.tufts.edu/archive/2002/august/calendar/royall2.shtml."The Mark of Belinda Royall," Medford Historical Society, http://www.medfordhistorical.org/belinda.php
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Coffin, Alfred O. (1861- ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Although he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in a field of the biological sciences, Alfred Oscar Coffin ended his career as Professor of Romance Languages at Langston University in Oklahoma.  Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi on May 14, 1861, Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University and his master’s and Ph.D. in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889.  Beginning in 1887, Coffin taught for two years at Alcorn Agricultural & Mechanical College in Mississippi.  From 1889 to 1895 he was Professor of Mathematics and Romance Language at Wiley University in Marshall, Texas where he found time to write a treatise on the native plants there.  Back at Alcorn A&M from 1895 to 1898 he worked as the campus disbursement agent.  From 1898 to 1909 Coffin was a public school principal in San Antonio, Texas and in Kansas City, Missouri.  Starting in 1910 for several years he worked as an advance agent for Blind Boone Concert Company, promoting the blind ragtime musician.
Sources: 
Who’s Who of the Colored Race (Chicago: F. L. Mather, 1915); Harry H. Greene. Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (Boston: Meador Pub. Co., 1946); http://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/coffin.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Cayton, Horace Roscoe, Jr. (1903-1970)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Horace Roscoe Cayton, Jr., was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton and the grandson of Hiram R. Revels, the first black U.S. Senator. After graduation from Seattle's Franklin High School and the University of Washington, Cayton attended the University of Chicago. It was in Chicago that his career as a sociologist was defined. He was "determined to learn all there was about the Negro community." Teaching assignments at Tuskegee and Fisk University broadened his knowledge.


Returning to Chicago after his teaching sojourns, one of his first in-depth research efforts was interviewing black policemen on Chicago's police force. His first book, written in collaboration with economics professor George S. Mitchell, was Black Workers and the New Unions. Cayton and Clair St. Drake, a social anthropologist, co-authored Black Metropolis which was published in 1945. The book was based largely on data collected from a major research project ostensibly developed to investigate juvenile delinquency but was, in reality, a vehicle to study the social structure of Chicago's entire black community (Cayton-Warner Research Project). Still considered a landmark study, Black Metropolis won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book published on race relations.

Sources: 
Horace R. Cayton, Long Old Road (New York: Trident Press, 1965); Margaret Walker, Richard Wright Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A Critical Look at His Work (New York: Warner Books, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation (AAAHRP)

McNeil, Joseph Alfred (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
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

Pico, Pio de Jesus (1801-1894)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pio Pico was the last governor of Mexican California. He was of African, Indian and Spanish ancestry. He was born in San Gabriel in 1801 and resided there until his father’s death in 1819; he then moved to San Diego. It is not clear how he became California’s governor in 1845. Some accounts state that he took over Governor Manuel Micheltorena’s position in 1845 “following a revolt that ended with a bloodless artillery duel near Cahuenga Pass that forced out Governor Manuel Micheltorena.” As governor, Pico participated in the final process of the secularization of the California missions. There are different interpretations of this measure by the Mexican government: one asserts that it was part of the liberal discourse of the post-independence movement in Mexico; another asserts that it was a desperate measure intended to obtain revenue by selling the missions for the impending conflict with the United States over California. In any event, Pio Pico finalized the sale of the missions on October 28, 1845. Pico was said to have taken the final steps of the sale to obtain revenues to pay for maintaining order in Baja California, forestalling the United States imperialistic advance. Upon the loss of Mexico’s Southwestern territories to the United States, Pico escaped to Mexico, only to return to California two years later.
Sources: 
Jessie Elizabeth Bromilow, “Don Pio de Jesus Pico: His Biography and Place in History,” Master of Arts Thesis, University of Southern California, August, 1931. Pio de Jesus Pico (1808-1894), San Diego Historical Society; http://www.sandiegohistory.org/bio/pico/picopio.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

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

Blige, Mary J. (1971- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
When Mary J. Blige was born on January 11, 1971 in Bronx, New York, few observers would have imagined her becoming one of the most successful rhythm and blues (R&B) artists within a musical world increasingly dominated by hip-hop. Blige's father abandoned the family when she was four.  She and her mother and sister moved to the Schlobam Housing Project in the Bronx and became one of thousands of impoverished single-parent families in New York’s public housing system. Blige was sexually assaulted as a child and later dropped out of high school.

In 1988 Blige recorded a demo in a shopping mall self-recording booth. The demo made its way to Uptown Records in Harlem and she signed a recording contract a year later. For her first album, Blige was guided by then little-known producer Sean Combs. Her debut album What's the 411? changed the sound of both hip-hop and soul for artists in both of the genres. The album integrated soul and rap music. Blige's raw singing and rugged image reflected her project-raised youth.  Her song would also be sampled by other rap artists including The Notorious B.I.G., which added to her streetwise credibility.

Mary J. Blige would record another six albums, all of which achieved spectacular success, reaching platinum (over one million albums sold) status. Along with commercial success Blige has also earned a number of awards including two NAACP image awards, and six Grammys.
Sources: 
Terrell Brown, Mary J. Blige (New York: Mason Crest, 2006); Joan Morgan, "What You Never Knew About Mary," Essence Magazine Online, November, 2001. 15 Mar. 2007, http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_7_32/ai_79547861; Stacia Proefrock, "Mary J. Blige" Allmusic.com 15 Mar. 2007, http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:8u66mpp39f7o~T1
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hutton, Ina Ray, née Odessa Cowan (1916–1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Susan Stordahl Porter
Ina Ray Hutton led the Melodears, one of the first all-female swing bands to be recorded and filmed.  She passed as white throughout her musical career, as the leader of several bands from the 1930s through the 1960s.  But when Hutton was a child, United States Census records called her and her family “negro,” and “mulatto,” when the Bureau used that term.  Her family occasionally appeared in the society pages of a black newspaper.  As of this writing, other biographies of Hutton do not acknowledge her black heritage.

Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago, Illinois on March 13, 1916.  Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman.  By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.  That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.  When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.
Sources: 
Author interview of Susan Stordahl Porter, January 26, 2011.  US Census 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 3, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_312; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 135; Image: 882. US Census 1930; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 419; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 85; Image: 53.0; Nora Douglas Holt, “Dancing Dolls a Success,” The Chicago Defender (July 14, 1923, p. 5);  Kristin A. McGee, Some Liked It Hot: Jazz Women in Film and Television, 1928-1955 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Blassingame, John W. (1940-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Wesley Blassingame was one of the preeminent scholars in the study of enslaved African Americans.  His early monographs The Slave Community (1972) and Black New Orleans, 1860-1880 (1973) shattered racist and stereotypical portrayals of African American life by using testimony and evidence left by blacks themselves, evidence which had been largely ignored or dismissed by earlier historians.  With his edited volume, New Perspectives on Black Studies (1972), Blassingame helped to define the developing field of African American Studies.  A prolific scholar, Blassingame also co-wrote and edited, and co-edited many other works.  Among his important contributions are The Frederick Douglass Papers, Antislavery Newspapers and Periodicals, and Slave Testimony.
Sources: 
Robert L. Paris, “John W. Blassingame: March 23, 1940-February 13, 2000,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 86, No. 3, (summer, 2001), pp.422-423. “In memoriam: John Wesley Blassingame,” Department of African American Studies, www.yale.edu/afamstudies/jwb.html; “Historian John Blassingame, Pioneer in Study of Slavery, Dies,” Yale Bulletin & Calendar, February 25, 2000 Volume 28, Number 22.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Muholi, Zanele (1972-)

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

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

Reid, Philip (1820-1892)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Statue of Freedom on the U.S. Capitol Dome
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Craftsman Philip Reid is best known as the enslaved African who worked on the casting of the Statue of Freedom which sits atop the Capitol building housing the United States Congress.  Reid is the most famous of the enslaved workers who comprised 50% of the workforce which built the structure that currently houses the United States Senate and House of Representatives.  
Sources: 
Ernest B. Furgurson, Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War (New York: Vintage, 2005); Jesse J. Holland, Black Men Built the Capitol: Discovering African-American History In and Around Washington, D.C. (Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot, 2007); Wevonneda Minis, “Magazine Highlights Charleston Connection to Bronze Cast,” The Charleston Post and Courier, March 24, 2009, http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20090324/PC1205/303249915 ; Peter Zavodnyik, The Rise of the Federal Colossus: The Growth of Federal Power from Lincoln to F.D.R. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Meriwether, Louise Jenkins (1923- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
  
Louise Jenkins Meriwether, a novelist, essayist, journalist and social activist, was the only daughter of Marion Lloyd Jenkins and his wife, Julia.  Meriwether was born May 8, 1923 in Haverstraw, New York to parents who were from South Carolina where her father worked as a painter and a bricklayer and her mother worked as a domestic. 

After the stock market crash of October 24, 1929, Louise’s family migrated from Haverstraw to New York City.  They moved to Brooklyn first, and later to Harlem.  The third of five children, Louise grew up in the decade of the Great Depression, a time that would deeply affect her young life and ultimately influence her as a writer.

Despite her family’s financial plight, Louise Jenkins attended Public School 81 in Harlem and graduated from Central Commercial High School in downtown Manhattan. In the 1950’s, she received a B.A. degree in English from New York University before meeting and marrying Angelo Meriwether, a Los Angeles teacher.  Although this marriage and a later marriage to Earle Howe ended in divorce, Louise continues to use the Meriwether name.  In 1965, Louise earned an M.A. degree in journalism from the University of California at Los Angeles. 
Sources: 
Louise Meriwether, Daddy Was a Number Runner (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2002); Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?:  Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Texas Southern University

Adams, Alma Shealey (1946-)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Congresswoman Alma Shealey Adams currently represents North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.  She is the 100th woman elected to that legislative body and the second African American woman, after Eva Clayton, to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Congress.  
Sources: 
"Alma Adams for Congress: About Alma," http://almaadamsforcongress.com/about; "Full Biography: Congresswoman Alma Adams, December 11, 2014, http://adams.house.gov/about/full-biography; Alice Ollstein, "Meet Alma Adams, Who Becomes The 100th Woman In Congress Today," ThinkProgress, November 12, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/election/2014/11/12/3591247/alma-adams-100th-woman-congress/.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Cooper, John W. (1873-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
John W. Cooper and Sam Jackson
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John W. Cooper was an African American ventriloquist, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1873.  After losing both of his parents at a very young age, Cooper received his education at Professor Dorsey’s Institute in Brooklyn.  There he developed into a budding entertainer and took a special interest in ventriloquism, a craft he learned from an unidentified white man whom he met at a Sheepshead Bay racetrack.  

Cooper, who was also a singer, joined “The Southern Jubilee Singers.”  While touring with the group he also developed his ventriloquism act, writing and performing his own material before mostly white audiences.  “Fun in a Barber Shop” became one of his most famous acts.  Cooper portrayed six different puppet characters, each with his own voice performed by Cooper himself.

In 1902, when he was twenty-nine, Cooper had his first big break in ventriloquism while traveling with Richards and Pringles Minstrels.  In that year he was recognized by the Daily Nonpariel, a leading entertainment magazine, as the best ventriloquist of that era.    Cooper went on to create another act with a black ventriloquist puppet named Sam Jackson.  Cooper and Sam traveled all over the United States during the next two decades.  By the start of World War I he began performing at veteran hospitals, service clubs, and military camps.  
Sources: 
C. B. Davis, “Reading the Ventriloquists’ Lips: The Performance Genre behind the Metaphor” (TDR 1988-), 42: 4 (Winter 1998); Dan Willinger, “Ventriloquists Vaudeville Years,” Ventriloquist Central: A Tribute to Ventriloquism,” http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com/tribute/vaudeville/vaudeville.htm; Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Pippin, Horace (1888-1946)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust
Horace Pippin, a soldier in World War I and later a painter, was born on February 22nd, 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, but his family moved to Goshen, New York when he was three. His grandparents were slaves, and his parents worked as domestics. Pippin attended public schools and therefore segregated schools while living in New York.

By the age of 10, Pippin became disenchanted with school and left to work menial jobs. When World War I began, Pippin quickly enlisted with the all-black 15th New York National Guard Regiment which was renamed the 369th Infantry Regiment when it arrived in France in 1918. Pippin fought in the war with his unit, and was awarded the Purple Heart for the injury he received. He was shot and crippled in his right shoulder by German soldiers. Pippin later remarked that the war supplied him with the inspiration and imagery that allowed him to paint.

After returning to the United States, Pippin married a widow, Ora Jennie Featherstone Wade, and together they returned to West Chester, Pennsylvania. Pippin worked odd jobs including in an iron foundry and helping his wife deliver the laundry she did. He sometimes sang in a choir.
Sources: 
Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); Meet Horace Pippin, http://www.nga.gov/education/classroom/counting_on_art/bio_pippin.shtm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Cone, James Hal (1938 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Rufus Burrow, Jr., James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 1994); Dwight N. Hopkins, Black
Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone's Black
Theology and Black Power
(Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999); Harry H.
Singleton, Black Theology and Ideology: Deideological Dimensions in the
Theology of James H. Cone
(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Saro-Wiwa, Kenule “Ken” Beeson (1941-1995)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr., In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son's Journey to Understanding His Father's Legacy (South Royalton: Steerforth, 2001); Craig W. McLuckie (ed.), Ken Saro-Wiwa: Writer and Political Activist  (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2000); http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/sarowiwa-daniels-2733; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/business/global/09shell.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Fraser-Reid, Bertram O. (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

In the early 1990s Bertram Oliver Fraser-Reid was being touted as the first person of African descent to have a serious chance at winning the Nobel Prize in a branch of science.  In fact, this native of Coleyville, Jamaica, born February 23, 1934, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998.  Fraser-Reid was awarded his B.Sc. (first-class honors) and M.Sc. degrees at Queen’s University in Canada in 1959 and his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Alberta in 1964.  From 1964 to 1966 he was a postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College, the University of London where he studied under Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Barton.  He was a chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo from 1966 to 1980, at the University of Maryland from 1980 to 1982, and from 1985 until his retirement in 1996 he was Professor of Chemistry at Duke University. 

In retirement Fraser-Reid founded the non-profit Natural Products/Glycotechnology Research Institute Inc., operating in Pittsboro, North Carolina, dedicated to studying carbohydrate chemistry/biology that relates to tropical parasitic diseases in Third World countries and specifically targeting the development of a carbohydrate-based vaccine to fight malaria.  Some of Fraser-Reid’s earlier work focused on transforming sugars into complex noncarbohydrate compounds and linking sugars into biologically active compounds to produce oliogosaccharides which could impact the combating of devastating diseases.

Sources: 
American Men & Women of Science. 21st Ed. Vol. 2. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 2003). CBFSA News (December-March 1990).
http://www.takingitglobal.org/express/panorama/article.html?ContentID=5431.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

George, Sugar T. (1827-1900)

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

Sugar T. George a.k.a. George Sugar was born in approximately 1827, as a slave in the Muskogee Nation. This former slave emerged as a tribal leader. By the time of his death in 1900, Sugar T. George was also said to have been the "wealthiest Negro in the [Indian] Territory."

George escaped from bondage when in November 1861, Opothleyohola, an Upper Creek chief, led 5,000 Creeks, 2,500 Seminoles, Cherokees, and other Indians, and approximately 500 slaves and free blacks from Indian Territory into Kansas to avoid living under the domination of Pro-Confederate Indian leaders during the Civil War. George joined the Union Army in Kansas, serving in Company H of the 1st Indian Home Guards.  Because of his natural skills as a leader and his literacy he quickly became a First Sergeant in his unit.  George acted as the unofficial leader of Company H, taking charge after the white officer and Indian officer had been dismissed for improper behavior.

Sources: 
Documents found in Civil War Pension File of Sugar T. George; Claims of the Loyal Creeks, RG 75 National Archives; Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma LDS Microfiche #6016976 Volume 111---Cemeteries.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Cobb, W. Montague (1904–1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
William Montague Cobb was born in Washington, D.C. in 1904. He earned his B.A. from Amherst College in 1925 and continued his research in embryology at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory. Cobb then went to Howard University, and earned his medical degree in 1929. Cobb was given an offer by Howard to “name a position” he wanted to teach. He chose the newly emerging discipline of physical anthropology (human evolutionary biology, physical variation). Before setting up his own lab, Cobb went to Western Reserve University in Cleveland to study under T. Wingate Todd, a progressive leader in the new field.

In 1932 Cobb returned to Howard as a professor of physical anatomy, where he continued to teach until his death in 1990. A prolific writer, he authored 1,100 articles on a variety of physical anatomy topics and issues relating to African American health. Cobb is considered to be one of the most influential scholars in physical anatomy. To Howard, he left a considerable collection of more than 700 skeletons and the complete anatomical data for nearly 1,000 individuals.
Sources: 
Lesley M. Rankin-Hill and Michael L. Blakey, “W. Montague Cobb (1904-1990): Physical Anthropologist, Anatomist, and Activist,” American Anthropologist (March 1994): 74-96; Kyle Melvilee, “W. Montague Cobb.” Anthropology Biography Web. 2001. University of Minnesota, Mankato. 15 June 2006. http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/abcde/cobb_w.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Lewis, Kossola Cudjo (c. 1841–1935)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Courtesy Erik Overbey Collection
University of South Alabama Archives
Sources: 
Sylviane A. Diouf, Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America (NY: Oxford University Press, 2007); http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1403
Contributor: 

Cochran, Johnnie, Jr. (1937-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Johnnie Cochran Jr. was born on October 2, 1937 in Shreveport, Louisiana into a family descended from slaves.  His father was an insurance salesman and his mother sold Avon products. When he was a young boy, his family moved to Los Angeles, California where he grew up in an affluent and stable household with parents who stressed education and a color-blind attitude towards the world.  Cochran attended public schools where he excelled.  While his family was well-off, he always managed to find friends who had more than he did and seeing this pushed him even harder.

Cochran attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree.  From there he went to the Loyola Marymount University School of Law where he graduated in 1962 with a law degree.  After passing the California Bar exam in 1963 Cochran began working as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles.  In 1965 he formed his own law firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans where he dealt with criminal and civil cases.  In 1966, he fought a case on behalf of a young black man who was shot by Los Angeles police officers while trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital.  Cochran argued unsuccessfully that the police had used unnecessary violence.
Sources: 
Johnnie Cochran, A Lawyer’s Life (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002); http://authors.aalbc.com/johnnie_cochran.htm; http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9542444.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jacobs, Alma S. (1916-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Librarian Alma Smith Jacobs was the first African American to serve as the Montana State Librarian. She was a lifelong advocate of free access to library resources and was active in local and state civil rights causes.

Alma Victoria Smith Jacobs was born in Lewistown, Montana on November 21, 1916. She was one of five children born to Martin Luther Smith, a cook for the Great Northern Railroad, and Emma Louise Riley Smith, a prolific quilter whose work is registered with the Montana Historic Quilt Project.  When she was six, her family moved to Great Falls, Montana. After high school, she received a scholarship to Talladega College in Alabama and graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology in 1938.

While Alma Smith Jacobs aspired to become a social worker, she was offered a job as a clerical assistant in the Talladega College library.  She remained there for eight years as assistant librarian. During that time she received a scholarship to Columbia University’s prestigious library school, and she traveled back and forth to New York City during the summers to take courses, earning a B.A. in library science in 1942. In 1946 Jacobs returned to Great Falls as a catalog librarian and later served as library director for the city’s public library from 1954 to 1973. During the 1960s, Jacobs was instrumental in the construction of the Great Falls Public Library building that opened in 1967.
Sources: 
Lelia Gaston Rhodes, A Critical Analysis of the Career Backgrounds of Selected Black Female Librarians (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1975); Lucille Smith Thompson and Alma Smith Jacobs, The Negro in Montana, 1800-1945 (Helena: Montana State Library, 1970); Travis Coleman, “Great Falls Library dedicates arch to pioneering black librarian, leader,” Great Falls Tribune (June 21, 2009); Michele Fenton, Little Known Black Librarian Facts http://www.indianablacklibrarians.org/Little%20Known%20Black%20Librarian%20Facts%202011.pdf.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Norton, Ken (1943-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Ken Norton, Going the Distance (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 2000); www.ibhof.com; www.boxrec.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Scott, Benjamin Franklin (1922-2000)

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

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

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

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

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

Powell, William James “Bill” (1916-2009)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Bill Powell was the first African American to design, construct, and own a professional golf course in the United States. In 1946, Bill and his wife Marcella did most of the landscaping by hand when they transformed a 78-acre dairy farm to a nine-hole golf course located near East Canton, Ohio.

William James “Bill” Powell was born on November 16, 1922, in Greenville, Alabama, but grew up in Minerva, Ohio. Powell worked as a caddy as a youth. Then, after high school, he played golf on the Wilberforce University team before serving in World War II with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

In 1946, after Powell returned home from the war, the segregationist policies of the time prevented him from golfing on a public golf course in Ohio, so he decided to build his own course. He was denied a G.I. loan but was able to get financial support from his brother and two African American physicians and bought a dairy farm outside East Canton so he could open a golf course that would welcome players of all races.
Sources: 
Larry Dorman, “After Battling Racism, Veteran Found Peace on His Golf Course,” The New York Times, August 8, 2009; Richard Goldstein, “African-American Golf Pioneer Bill Powell Dies at 93,” The New York Times, January 1, 2010.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Cassey, Joseph (1789-1848)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
The Cassey House, Philadelphia
Image Courtesy of Janine Black
Joseph Cassey was born in the French West Indies in 1789.  He arrived in Philadelphia sometime before 1808.  Cassey prospered in the barber trade and as a perfumer, wig-maker, and money-lender.  His barbershop was located a block from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  Cassey amassed an estimated $75,000 fortune by the 1830s to become, after lumber merchant Stephen Smith, the second wealthiest African-American in Philadelphia.

Cassey bought and sold real estate, often with business partner, Robert Purvis, another notable African American Philadelphian.  A Bucks County farm outside Philadelphia jointly owned by Cassey and Purvis was visited frequently by abolitionists and women’s rights advocates including Lucretia Mott who described her stay there as an occasion where she was entertained handsomely. 

Joseph Cassey owned numerous Philadelphia rental properties including a small apartment in the rear courtyard of what would become the “Cassey House,” at 243 Delancey Street.  Joseph’s son, Francis eventually bought the Cassey House and the other houses facing the courtyard at a sheriff’s sale.  The Cassey House remained in the Cassey family for 84 years and was home to three generations of Casseys.
Sources: 
Joseph Cassey’s Will, W8-1948, will book #20, page 38, Register of Wills, Philadelphia City Hall; The Cassey Family Bible (1700s), in the care of Dianna Ruth Cassey, Warner, New Jersey; Charles H. Wesley, "The Negro in the Organization of Abolition," Phylon 2:3 (1941):223-235; George Washington Williams, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves (New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons: The Knickerbocker Press, 1882); Joseph Willson, The Elite of Our People: Joseph Willson's Sketches of Black Upper-Class Life in Antebellum Philadelphia (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000); M. H. Bacon, But One Race: The Life of Robert Purvis (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007); M. R. Small and E. W. Small, "Prudence Crandall, Champion of Negro Education," The New England Quarterly 17:4 (1944)506-529.  Philip Lapsansky, Chief of Reference, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Nov. 1, 2007; http://www.yale.edu/glc/crandall/01.htm , (9/25/07); http://negroartist.com/writings/jamesforten.htm (9/14/2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Temple University

Jackson, James Albert “Billboard” (1878–1960)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
James Albert “Billboard” Jackson was a critic, reporter, editor, spokesman, actor, and booster of black entertainment. Jackson, the eldest of 14 children of Abraham V. Jackson and Nancy Lee Jackson, was born on June 20, 1878 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. He attended public schools in Bellefonte, but left home at a young age to pursue a career in entertainment. He married Gabrielle Hill in 1916 and they raised a son, Albert Jackson, Jr.

By the end of the second decade of the 20th century Jackson had become one of the first African Americans to recognize the importance of entertainment in the African American consumer market.  In 1920 he was named the first African American editor of the Negro Department of Billboard magazine, hence, his nickname. Billboard magazine, located in New York City, New York, was then the largest theatrical paper in the world. Nonetheless they wanted to increase their circulation by reaching the new consumer market of African Americans who were part of the Great Migration to Northern cities.
Sources: 

"Billboard Jackson Historical Marker," Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Eastern Region, http://www.pbseast.org/billboard-jackson-historical-marker/; Anthony D. Hill, Pages from The Harlem Renaissance, A Chronicle Of Performance (New York: Peter Lang International Academic Publisher, 2006); Jason Chambers, Madison Avenue and the Color Line, African Americans in the Advertising Industry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

Zulu, Shaka (1787-1828)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Shaka Zulu established the Zulu Empire and revolutionized warfare in Southern Africa in the early 19th Century.  Shaka was born in 1787. His father, Senzangakhona, was a minor chief of one of the Zulu-speaking clans and his mother, Nandi, was daughter of Chief Mbhengi of the rival clan.  Shaka’s birth was considered a sin because his parents were from different clans. Due to pressure from tribal leaders Shaka’s parents separated resulting in the exile of him and his mother from his father’s clan. Shaka’s mother returned to her Elangeni where she was shunned.  Consequently, her son Shaka was harassed, tormented, and neglected.

As Shaka grew older, he recalled with anger his tormenting by Elangeni members.  Upon reaching manhood he deserted the Elangeni and became affiliated with the Mthethwa clan. He served as a warrior for six years under the reign of Dingiswayo, the Mthethwa’s chief. Dingiswayo was impressed by Shaka’s courage and endurance and remained with the Mthethwa until he learned of the death of his father, Senzangakhona, in 1816.

Shaka claimed his father’s chieftaincy with military assistance from Dingiswayo.  With his experience learned from the Mthethwa, he transformed his clan’s military from a largely ceremonial force into a powerful army capable of both defense and aggression.
Sources: 
Carolyn Hampton, “Shaka Zulu,” in New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds., (New York: Scribner’s, 2008); Alonford James Robinson, “Shaka,” in Africana, the Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience. Ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wood, Robert (1844 - ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Natchez, Mississippi in the 1870s
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Robert Wood is believed to be one of the first African American mayors in the United States.  He served as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1870s.  Wood was born in 1844 to Susie Harris, an African American housekeeper, and Dr. Robert Wood, a white doctor from Virginia.  His parents never married, but lived side by side.  According to oral histories, Wood was never a slave and lived mostly with his father, a former mayor of Natchez himself.  

Mississippi Governor James L. Alcorn appointed Robert Wood as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in 1869.  He later was elected mayor in 1870.  His election was part of the “Black and Tan Revolution,” a short-lived political shift in Mississippi in which citizens of Mississippi elected many African Americans to state offices between 1868 and 1875.  At its peak in 1873, half of Mississippi's state elected officials were black.  

Sources: 

David Duncan Collum, Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South: The
Stuff that Makes Community.
(Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2006);
Mike Brunker, “Race, Politics and the Evolving South: A Black Mayor,
130 Years Later” MSNBC.com. Aug. 17, 2004.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Foxx, Redd (1922-1991)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 
Redd Foxx and Norma Miller, The Redd Foxx Encyclopedia of Black Humor (Pasadena: W. Ritchie Press, 1977); "Foxx, Red," American National Biography , Volume 8 (1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Ailey, Alvin (1931-1989)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Alvin Ailey, Photo by Eric N. Hong

Alvin Ailey was born in Rodgers, Texas during the Great Depression. He overcame racism, poverty, and homophobia to become one of the most celebrated choreographers in American history. His single teenage mother Lula Ailey washed clothes, picked cotton, and worked in domestic service in various Texas towns. In Milano, Texas, Ailey attended Mount Olive Baptist Church, spending joy-filled hours that would shape his signature masterpiece, Revelations, 24 years later.

Sources: 
Thomas De Frantz, Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey’s Embodiment of African American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press. 2004); Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater webpage: http://www.alvinailey.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

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

Ottley, Vincent Lushington (“Roi”)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 Vincent Lushington “Roi” Ottley was born in Harlem in 1906 to parents Jerome P. and Beatrice (Brisbane) Ottley who were immigrants from Grenada.  Ottley attended New York City public schools where he became known as an exceptional athlete in basketball, baseball and track. Ottley won a track scholarship to St.
Sources: 
Donald Paneth, The Encyclopedia of American Journalism (New York: Facts on File publications, 1983), 358; http://web.sbu.edu/friedsam/archives/ottley/biography.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Murray, Albert (1916-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Albert Murray, an African American novelist, jazz critic, professor, and essayist, was born in Nokomis, Alabama on May 12, 1916.   His birth parents were Sudie Graham and John Young but he was adopted by Hugh and Mattie Murray and grew up in Magazine Point, Alabama. 

Sources: 
Albert Murray and John F. Callahan, eds., Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (New York: The Modern Library, 2000); Roberta S. Maguire, Conversations with Albert Murray (Mississippi: The University Press of Mississippi, 1997); http://www.tuskegee.edu/Global/story.asp?S=1260209; http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=9002879; Mel Watkins, "Albert Murray, Essayist Who Challenged the Conventional, Dies at 97, Books Section, New York Times, August 20, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Williams, Marguerite Thomas (1895-1991?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Marguerite Thomas Williams, born in 1895, was the first African American (male or female) to earn a Ph.D. in geology.  Like Roger Arliner Young, Williams was mentored by African American biologist Ernest Everett Just.  
Sources: 
Wini Warren, “Marguerite Thomas Williams: Geologist,” in Black Women Scientists in the United States (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999); https://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/marguerite_williams.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Emecheta, Florence Onye Buchi (1944- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Through her personal struggles and exceptional writing abilities, Florence Onye Buchi Emecheta has constructed a collection of literary works that reflect the lives of African women.  Emecheta was born on July 21, 1944 in Yaba, Nigeria into a family with strong ties to their cultural traditions.  Although both of her parents died early on in her childhood, they had already demonstrated to their daughter the art of storytelling.  After their deaths, Emecheta's aunt began to shape her literary imagination and writing style.  

After earning a scholarship Emecheta graduated from the Methodist girls’ high school in Lagos.   When she was unable to attend the The University of Ibadan (UI), she married Sylvester Onwordi in 1960, at the age of 16.  After working for the American Embassy in Lagos for two years and bearing two children, she followed her husband to London, UK.  Within the next few years, she gave birth to three more children while supporting the family financially.  She began to write in her spare time.
Sources: 
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 67, Buchi Emecheta (Thomson Gale, 2006), reproduced in Biography Resource Center (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010), http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC; Buchi Emecheta, Head Above Water (Ibuza, Nigeria: Ogwugwu Afor, 1984); Kwame Anthony Appiah & Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Paula C. Barnes in Magill’s Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition, Buchi Emecheta (Salem Press, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Jackson, Lydia Flood (1862-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lydia Flood Jackson was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage in California for African American women and other people of color. The outspoken activist was the first black student to attend an integrated public school in Oakland, California.

Flood’s mother, Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood, led the 19th Century campaign for desegregated education in California and founded the state’s first African American school in Sacramento in 1854.  Her father Isaac Flood, one of the first African American residents of Oakland, California, also fought for education and equality for blacks.

Sources: 
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, CT: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trailblazers of California (New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1919); “Elizabeth Flood’s School: Oakland’s First African American Institution” (Oakland Heritage Alliance News, Winter 1992-93); George F. Jackson, Black Women Makers of History (Sacramento: Fong & Fong, 1977).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Taylor, Moddie Daniel (1912-1976)

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

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

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

Raymond, Guadalupe Victoria Yolí (1936-1992)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Guadalupe Victoria Yolí Raymond, known popularly as “La Lupe,” was a Cuban and Cuban American singer and dancer.  She was born in San Pedrito, a locality within Santiago de Cuba, Oriente Province, Cuba on December 23, 1936.

Yolí grew up in an impoverished family.  Her parents divorced when she was nine, and thereafter she lived with her father and stepmother.  In 1955, her family moved to Havana, where she won a radio contest as a teenager.

She began singing in Havana during the 1950s, achieving popularity by 1957.  In 1958, she finished a teaching degree and began teaching in Havana.  In the same year she married Eulogio Reyes and they formed a musical trio, Los Tropicuba.  In 1960, she divorced Reyes and began her solo career.  She was successful enough to eventually buy her own club in Havana.

Yolí, however, ran afoul of the Cuban Revolution.  In 1961, she was summoned to a radio station and ordered to leave the nation.  Her style of performing, deemed “Lupismo,” was now considered unacceptable.  Her performance style has been described in terms of both a liberated sexuality and of religious possession, specifically pertaining to Santería.
Sources: 
Frances R. Aparicio and Wilson A. Valentín-Escobar, “Memorializing La Lupe and Lavoe: Singing Vulgarity, Transnationalism, and Gender,” Centro Journal 16.2 (Fall 2004); Jon Pareles, “La Lupe, a Singer, Is Dead at 53; Known as 'Queen of Latin Soul',” New York Times (March 7, 1992); Vernon W. Boggs, Salsiology: Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City, (New York: Excelsior Music Publishing Company, 1991); Frances R. Aparicio, Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press and University Press of New England, 1998); Jeanne Schmartz, “La Lupe,” Women in Salsa, Master Thesis in Musicology, by Jeanne Schmartz (University of Amsterdam, 2009). URL: http://www.academia.edu/1790527/women_in_salsa_final_version_small; Vanessa Knights, “Tears and Screams: Performances of Pleasure and Pain in the Bolero,”  Queering the Popular Pitch, edited by Sheila Whiteley and Jennifer Rycenga (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Smalls, Robert (1839-1915)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, on April 5, 1839 and worked as a house slave until the age of 12. At that point his owner, John K. McKee, sent him to Charleston to work as a waiter, ship rigger, and sailor, with all earnings going to McKee. This arrangement continued until Smalls was 18 when he negotiated to keep all but $15 of his monthly pay, a deal which allowed Smalls to begin saving money. The savings that he accumulated were later used to purchase his wife and daughter from their owner for a sum of $800. Their son was born a few years later.
Sources: 
Okon Edet Uya, From Slavery to Public Service, Robert Smalls 1839-1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); Dorothy Sterling, Captain of the Planter: The Story of Robert Smalls (New York: Pocket Books, 1978); Edward A. Miller, Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839-1915 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995); http://www.robertsmalls.org/; http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000502.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Short, Robert “Bobby” Waltrip (1924-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Recording artist and three-time Grammy award nominee Bobby Short, a self-taught piano prodigy during his childhood, was regarded as the quintessential sophisticated cabaret and supper-club vocalist and piano player of his time.  Short, who learned to play piano by ear at the age of four, performed intimate renditions of American song standards over seven decades, and for 36 of those years, from 1968 through 2004, Short and his jazz combo had a long-term contract at the exclusive Café Carlyle in New York. Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and Duke Ellington were Short’s favorite composers, and he was especially known for his interpretations of the sophisticated and witty compositions by Cole Porter. Short’s repertoire of African American songwriters included Eubie Blake, Billy Strayhorn, Fats Waller, Bessie Smith, and Andy Razaf.
Sources: 
Enid Nemy, “Bobby Short, Icon of Manhattan Song and Style, Dies at 80,” New York Times, March 21, 2005; Dennis McLellan, “Black Bobby Short, 80; Cabaret Performer Symbolized a Sophisticated Musical Era,” Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Owens, Major Robert (1936- )

Vignette Type: 
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

Vashon, George B. (1824-1878)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
George Boyer Vashon, attorney, scholar, essayist and poet, made noteworthy contributions to the fight for emancipation and education of blacks. He was born on July 25, 1824, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the third child and only son of an abolitionist, John Bethune Vashon. At the age of 16, Vashon enrolled in Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio.  On August 28, 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with valedictory honors, becoming the college’s first black graduate. Five years later, Vashon was awarded a Master of Arts degree in recognition of his scholarly pursuits and accomplishments.  

After returning to Pittsburgh, he studied law under Judge Walter Forward, a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics. After two years of reading law, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar. His application was denied on the grounds that colored people were not citizens.  This inequitable act led to Vashon’s decision to emigrate to Haiti. Before leaving the United States, Vashon went to New York to take the bar examination, which he successfully completed on January 10, 1848, thus becoming the first black lawyer in New York.
Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982); Benjamin Griffith Brawley, Early Negro American Writers (Salem: Ayer Publishing, 1968); Paul N. D. Thornell, “The Absent Ones and the Providers: A Biography of the Vashons,” Journal of Negro History, 83:4 (1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

McNeil, Claudia (1917-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Courtesy of ©Bettmann-Corbis

Claudia McNeil is best remembered for her laudatory performance as the matriarch in the stage and screen versions of Lorraine Hansberry’s widely-acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun (1961).  McNeil was born in 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland to Marvin Spencer McNeil and Annie Mae Anderson McNeil. She was adopted by a Jewish family, named the Toppers, in her teenage years and briefly married by the age of 18. McNeil then worked as a registered librarian before the inception of her entertainment career.

McNeil first performed as a dancer with the Katherine Dunham troupe during the tour of South America in 1951. She later performed as a nightclub and vaudeville singer before making her acting debut in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953); and later performed in Langston Hughes’s Simply Heavenly (1957), for which she received a Tony nomination.  In 1965, she appeared in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, for which she garnered the London Critics Poll Award for best actress.

Sources: 

Hazel Garland, “Claudia McNeil Claim’s Star’s Life Isn’t Easy,”
Pittsburgh Courier, March 17, 1962; Edward Mapp, ed., Directory of
Blacks in the Performing Arts
(Meluchan, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press,
1978); Eric Pace, The New York Times Biographical Service, November 29,
1993.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Said, Omar Ibn (1770-1864)

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

Omar Ibn Said, also known as "Uncle Moreau" was unusual among enslaved people in the antebellum United States in that before he was captured he was highly educated and could read and write fluently at a time when most African slaves were illiterate.  Said’s autobiography is unique because it is the only personal account of a slave written in his native language while he was in bondage in the United States.

Omar Ibn Said was born in 1770 along the Senegal River in Futa Tooro, West Africa to a wealthy Muslim family.  When his father died, Said at age five was sent to a nearby town to study Islam and become a teacher.  Religion was paramount in Said’s life and he was devout to the Muslim faith.  With extensive religious training Said became well educated and fluent in Arabic.  

Sources: 

“Autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831,” The
American Historical Review
30:  4 (July, 1925); http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/omar-ibn-sayyid; Sylvaine A.
Diouf,   Servants of Allah:  African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas
(New York: New York University Press, 1998).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Augusta, Alexander T. (1825-1890)

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

Alexander Thomas Augusta was the highest-ranking black officer in the Union Army during the Civil War .  He was also the first African American head of a hospital (Freedmen’s Hospital) and the first black professor of medicine (Howard University).

Augusta was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1825 to free African American parents.  He moved to Baltimore as a youth to work as a barber while pursuing a medical education.  The University of Pennsylvania would not accept him but a faculty member took interest in him and taught him privately.  In 1847 he married Mary O. Burgoin, a Native American.  By 1850, Augusta and his wife moved to Toronto where he was accepted by the Medical College at the University of Toronto where he received an M.B. in 1856.  He was appointed head of the Toronto City Hospital and was also in charge of an industrial school.  

On April 14, 1863, Augusta was commissioned (the first out of eight other black officers in the Civil War) as a major in the Union army and appointed head surgeon in the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry.  His pay of $7 a month, however, was lower than that of white privates.  He wrote Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson who raised his pay to the appropriate level for commissioned officers.  

Sources: 

Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black
Soldiers and White Officers
(New York: Free Press, 1990); Herbert M.
Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine (New York: Publishers Co.,
1968);
http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2200/sc2221/000011/000018/p...

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brace, Jeffrey (1742?-1827)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Jeffrey Brace Descendants: Ronald Jeffrey Brace, Sr.;
Rhonda Marie Brace; and Jeffrey Sylvester Brace, Jr.
Image courtesy of Rhonda Marie Brace
Born in West Africa Jeffrey Brace (born Boyrereau Brinch) was enslaved at the age of sixteen and transported to Barbados, where he was sold to a ship captain from Connecticut who used him as an enslaved sailor-soldier during the Seven Years War.  At the war’s end he was transported to Connecticut and sold to a Yankee Puritan. In 1777, after enduring several sadistic masters, Brace enlisted the Continental Army. Six years later he was honorably discharged with a badge of merit.  In 1784, after persuading his master to manumit him, Brace headed for Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal.  In Poultney, Vermont, he married, bought a farm, and raised a family.

Through hard work and persistence Jeffrey and his wife Susan achieved a modicum of stability but also suffered profound injustice.  Susan had two children from a previous marriage who were forced by powerful white people to work in their households as indentured servants. Around 1802, when neighbors attempted to force the children that Jeffrey and Susan had together into indentured servitude, the family decided to sell their farm and move to northern Vermont.

Sources: 
Jeffrey Brace as told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, The Blind African Slave; or Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace Ed. Kari J. Winter.  (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York at Buffalo

Terrell, Mary Church (1863-1954)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Mary Church Terrell, A Colored Woman in a White World (Humanity Books, 2005); Cynthia Neverdon-Morton, “Mary Church Terrell,” in African American Lives, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rustin, Bayard (1910-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Walter Naegle
Bayard Rustin was one of the most important, and yet least known, Civil Rights advocates in the twentieth century. He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania and raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandmother, Julia, was both a Quaker and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Quakerism, and NAACP leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, who were frequent visitors, proved influential in Rustin's life.  

Rustin attended Wilberforce University (1932-1936) and Cheyney State Teachers College (1936), in each instance without graduating. After completing an activist training program conducted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), he moved to Harlem, New York in 1937. In Harlem, he enrolled at the City College of New York, began singing in local clubs with black folksingers including John White and Huddie Ledbetter, became active in the efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys, and joined the Young Communist League, motivated by their advocacy of racial equality.
Sources: 
John D'Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004); Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997); James Haskins, Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Hyperion, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Taylor, Susan (Susie) Baker King (1848-1912)

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

Born on the Grest Farm in Liberty County, Georgia, on August 6, 1848, Susie Baker King Taylor was raised as an enslaved person.  Her mother was a domestic servant for the Grest family.  At the age of 7, Baker and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Savannah. Even with the strict laws against formal education of African Americans, they both attended two secret schools taught by black women. Baker soon became a skilled reader and writer.

By 1860, having been taught everything these two black educators could offer, Baker befriended two white individuals, a girl and boy, who also offered to teach her lessons even though they knew it violated Georgia law and custom.

Sources: 
Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman’s Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Zephaniah, Benjamin (1958 - )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, playwright, novelist and activist, was born on April 15, 1958, the first of eight children, in Birmingham, England. Zephaniah grew up in Wandsworth until the age of nine when his mother, a Jamaican nurse, fled his father, a postman from Barbados. Leaving behind his twin sister Velda and other siblings, Zephaniah felt isolated as a young black dyslexic boy who encountered racism at his new school in Birmingham. He turned to writing, choosing to describe local and global issues, inspired by his Jamaican heritage and “street politics” of Birmingham. He left formal education at age 14, but built a reputation in the city as a popular dub poet, an art form which involves mixing the spoken word with reggae rhythms. Zephaniah had a troubled adolescence, which was punctuated with periods in incarceration following convictions for petty theft.

Sources: 
Benjamin Zephaniah’s profile on “Contemporary Writers”: http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth105; Benjamin Zephaniah’s official website: http://benjaminzephaniah.com/biography/; “The interview: Benjamin Zephaniah” by Lynn Barber, published in The Observer, January 2009: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/18/benjamin-zephaniah-interview-poet.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Bath, England

Bosley, Freeman Roberson, Jr. (1954- )

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


Freeman Roberson Bosley, Jr., is the first African American Mayor of St. Louis, Missouri.  Bosley was born in St. Louis on July 20, 1954, the son of Freeman Roberson and Marjorie Bosley.  His father, a long-time alderman in St. Louis, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1985.  Bosley received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Affairs in 1976 and a Juris Doctor (law) degree in 1979 from St. Louis University.  Active in politics as both an undergraduate and a law student, Bosley served as the clerk of the Circuit Courts for eleven years, beginning in 1982, and was the city of St. Louis’s Democratic Party chairman from 1991 to 1993.

In 1993, at the age of 38, Bosley, a Democrat, was elected mayor defeating a relatively unknown Republican, John Gorman, and two independent candidates by winning 67 percent of the vote.  He won the Democratic primary over frontrunner Thomas Villa and his 1 million dollar campaign war chest by going door-to-door in African American, white, and racially-mixed neighborhoods accompanied by his wife and their two-year-old daughter.  His platform promoted racial harmony, reduced crime, and improved public schools.  He also proposed to allocate more funds for neighborhood redevelopment.  
Sources: 
Source: Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), pp. 30-31.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

Dawson, Mary Lucinda (1894–1962)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mary Lucinda Cardwell Dawson was a leader in the campaign to promote African American participation in and appreciation of opera.  Cardwell was born in 1896 in Madison, North Carolina, the second of six children.  In the early 1900s, her family became part of the African American migration from the rural South to the urban North when they settled in Homestead, Pennsylvania, an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh.

As with many young African American musicians, Mary Cardwell began singing in her family’s church.  She graduated with degrees in piano and voice from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1925 at the age of 31.  At the time she was the only African American in her class.  After further studies in Chicago and New York, she married Walter Dawson, a Master Electrician, in 1927, and returned to Pittsburgh.

For the next 14 years Dawson trained hundreds of young, often impoverished African Americans to sing the operas.  Her students included school children, laborers, and domestics who often bartered services for their lessons.  She directed a 500-voice ensemble which won national awards in 1935 and 1937.  In 1939, her students performed at the New York World’s Fair.    
Sources: 
“Founding of the National Negro Opera Foundation,” www.nationaloperahouse.org/past.html; “Radiating a Hope:  Mary Cardwell Dawson as Educator and Activist,” by Karen M. Bryan, JSTOR: Journal of Historic Research in Music Education, Vol.25, No.1 (Oct 2003); “An Irrepressible Voice,” http://www.post-gazette.com/magazine/19990801opera1.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dede, Edmund (1827-1903)

Vignette Type: 
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

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

Gibson, Robert “Bob” (1935- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Famous Major League baseball pitcher Robert “Bob” Gibson was Pack and Victoria Gibson’s seventh child born November 9, 1935 in Omaha, Nebraska. Pack died three months before Bob Gibson was born.  Young Gibson suffered with asthma, pneumonia, rickets, hay fever, and a rheumatic heart. He and his family lived in a four bedroom dilapidated frame house in North Omaha and later moved to a segregated government housing project.

By high school Gibson had overcome most of his childhood illnesses and become a multisport athlete at Omaha Technical High School. By his senior year, however, he concentrated on baseball, and in 1952 the Kansas City (Missouri) Monarchs attempted to sign the seventeen year old.  When he graduated one year later the St. Louis Cardinals attempted to sign him to a minor league contract. He declined, opting to attend Creighton University in Omaha which extended him a scholarship to play basketball.  He would become Creighton’s first African American athlete to play both varsity basketball and baseball.

Sources: 
David L. Porter, "Bob Gibson" in Frank J. Olmstead, ed., African American Sports Greats: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995); John C. Skipper, "Robert Gibson" in A Biographical Dictionary of the Baseball Hall of Fame (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000); Tim Wendel, Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball-- and America—Forever (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2012).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Walker, Alice M. (1944- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Steve Exum

The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.

Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University.  At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.

Sources: 
Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983); Henry L. Gates and Anthony Appiah, eds., Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (New York: Amistad, 1993); Lovalerie King, “Alice Walker” in Encyclopedia of African American Literature, Ed. Wilfred D. Samuels (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Calhoun, William Henry (1890–1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Courtesy of The Black Heritage
Society of Washington"
Dr. William Henry Calhoun, a prominent early 20th century Seattle, Washington physician, was born on December 29, 1890 in Jackson, Tennessee.  Little is known about his parents or his childhood.  

Calhoun attended Meharry Medical School located in Nashville, Tennessee.  The college was established in 1876 (just 14 years before he was born) as the Medical Department of Central Tennessee College.  It was one of the first medical schools in the South for African Americans, although Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C., was the first, chartered in 1868.

Following his graduation from Meharry Medical College in the early 1920s, Dr. Calhoun migrated to Seattle, Washington.  In the early Seattle years, he practiced medicine from the Chandler Annex located on East Madison Street.  He and his wife, Verna, lived in an apartment above his office.

Sources: 
Geraldine Rhodes Beckford, Biographical Dictionary of American Physicians of African Ancestry 1800-1920, (New York: Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers 2011); “William H. Calhoun,” American Medical Association Masterfile, 1906-1969; http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/physician-data-resources/physician-masterfile.page; James N. Simms, Simms Blue Book and National Negro Business and Professional Directory (Chicago: James N. Simms, Publisher, 1923); “Joyner, Robert Nathaniel M.D. (1913-1999),” HistoryLink, http://www.historylink.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bishop, Sanford Dixon, Jr. (1947--)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Ownership: Public Domain
Georgia Congressman Sanford Dixon Bishop Jr. was born on February 4, 1947, in Mobile, Alabama to Minnie B. Slade, who was a librarian and Sanford Dixon Bishop, who was the first president of the Bishop State Community College. Bishop attended public schools until his entrance into Morehouse College in Alabama. He received a B.A. in 1968 in political science and then attended Emory University Law School, where he received his J.D. in 1971. Bishop also served the United States Army in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. After receiving his J.D., Bishop started a private practice in Columbus, Georgia and in 1977 was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives where he served until 1990.  That year he entered the Georgia Senate. In 1992 Bishop won election to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He still serves in that body.

Bishop, a Democrat, represents the 2nd District of Georgia.  He is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and is also a part of the Blue Dog Democrats, a group of moderate to conservative Democrats in Congress whose goal is to move the Democratic Party further to the right. Since 2003 he has served on the House Committee on Appropriations, sitting on the Subcommittee for Defense, the Subcommittee on Military Construction / Veterans Affairs and the Subcommittee on Agriculture.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wilson, James Finley (1881--1952)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

James Finley Wilson was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1881 to Reverend James L. Wilson and Nancy Wiley Wilson. From 1922 to 1948, Wilson served consecutive terms as Grand Exalted Ruler of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World (I.B.P.O.E. of W.), one of the largest African American fraternal organizations in the nation. Wilson’s accomplishments as “Grand” established him as a revered leader among his fraternal brothers and sisters and a national figure in the African American culture.   

Sources: 

“James Finley Wilson,” Journal of Negro History 37 (1952): 356-358; “ Wilson Re-Elected Grand Exalted Ruler,” California Eagle, September 13, 1929; Rayford Logan, “James Finley Wilson,” in Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Allen, William G. (1820- ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Nineteenth-century lecturer and educator William G. Allen endured physical violence and barely escaped murder when he proposed marriage to the daughter of a white minister in upstate New York.  Their relationship later was the inspiration for a story about interracial love by author Louisa May Alcott, herself an abolition sympathizer.  

Born in Virginia in 1820, the son of a free mulatto mother and a Welsh father, Allen was orphaned as a young boy and adopted by a free African American family. His academic talents were noticed by New York philanthropist Gerrit Smith, who sponsored his education at the Oneida Institute, a progressive interracial school in upstate New York.  Allen graduated in 1844 and became editor of the National Watchman, a temperance and abolitionist paper for African Americans, and then clerked for the Boston law firm of Ellis Gray Loring.  While in Boston, he lectured on African American history and argued for a complete blending of the races.

Sources: 

Richard J. Blackett, “William G. Allen, The Forgotten Professor,” Civil
War History
, 26, 39-52 (March 1980); Sarah Elbert, The American
Prejudice Against Color
(Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002);
Jack A. Garraty, American National Biography, Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford
Press, 1999); Jack Salzman, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture
and History, Volume 1
(New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Fauset, Crystal Bird (1894–1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Crystal Bird Fauset with Eleanor Roosevelt
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Eric Ledell Smith, "Crystal Bird Fauset Raises Her Voice for Human Rights," Pennsylvania Heritage 13: 1 (Winter 1997)34-39; Nancy Joan Weiss, Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983); American Friends Service Committee website, afsc.org (Philip Clark); Explorepahistory.com (2009, WITF).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex (England)

Bryan, Andrew (1737-1812)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

First named First Colored Baptist Church and located in Savannah, Georgia, First African Baptist Church traces its roots to December 1777, and is officially designated the oldest African American church in the United States.  George Liele, the Church’s founder, continued to evangelize and baptize both the free and enslaved black populations of the Savannah area during the rest of the Revolutionary War period.  One of those enslaved people was Andrew Bryan.  Liele baptized Andrew Bryan, who was born in 1737, and his wife Hannah in 1782.

When David George and George Liele, along with hundreds of blacks, evacuated Savannah with the British in July 1782, Bryan remained and retained spiritual leadership of the First Colored Baptist Church.  Andrew Bryan was allowed to preach by his master, Jonathan Bryan of Brampton Plantation, and became an ordained minister on January 20, 1788.  The First Colored Baptist Church became certified by the Georgia Baptist Association in May 1790 and pre-dated the establishment of the white Baptist Church in the city by five years.  Andrew Bryan remained the church’s pastor until his death in 1812.

Sources: 
Africans in America, PBS Online, July 22, 2006; Walter H. Brooks, D. D., A History of Negro Baptist Churches in America (Washington, D.C.: Press of R. L. Pendelton, 1910) © 2004 University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Online July 22, 2005, http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/brooks/brooks.html.  New York Public Library Digital Library Collections Records, First African Baptist Church Records, 1873-1977, http://digilib.nypl.org/dynaweb/ead/scm/scmgfabc/@Generic__BookTextView/136;pt=114
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Haynes, Inez Maxine Pitter (1919-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes, the middle sibling of the Pitter sisters, was born February 06, 1919 to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter, in Seattle, Washington.  In 1936 she graduated from Garfield High School and entered the University of Washington as a pre-nursing major, later changing to sociology.  As with her sisters, she had struggled in the University of Washington both because of the Great Depression and racial discrimination.  

While both of her sisters experienced similar challenges, Inez Pitter suffered the added component of skin color. She was brown-skinned, while they were both fair-skinned.   The College of Nursing refused to admit her because of her race.  The Dean of Nursing insisted that as an African American she could not stay in the same room as white nurses in Harborview Hall, the required dormitory for nursing students, and thus could not complete the program.  
Sources: 
Juana R. Royster Horn, “The Academic and Extracurricular Undergraduate Experiences of Three Black Women At The University of Washington 1935 To 1941,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1980)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

King, Marjorie Edwina Pitter (1921-1996)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Marjorie Edwina Pitter King, the youngest of the Pitter sisters, was born March 8, 1921, to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter, in Seattle, Washington. When she graduated from Garfield High School, she joined her sisters at the University of Washington to study for an accounting degree in the College of Economics and Business. Like her father, she had a passion for numbers, business and the value of a dollar. So, to help the family with college expenses for her and her sisters, she came up with an entrepreneurial venture called “Tres Hermanas,” or “Three Sisters.” Together they earned money by typing, printing and writing speeches to help pay for their books, tuition and the like. Aside from having fun with her sisters, she enjoyed herself at the University. She worked for a sociology professor who counseled students in and outside of his discipline, including Pitter (later King). According to her, he always seemed to have a receptive ear for her concerns and tried to advise her as best he could, knowing little about her major. Commercial Law, Anthropology and Statistics were her three most enjoyable courses, because of the creative manner in which they were taught—interactive, with a team approach.

Sources: 
Juana R. Royster Horn, “The Academic and Extracurricular Undergraduate Experiences of Three Black Women At The University of Washington 1935 to 1941,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1980).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Tyson, Neil de Grasse (1958- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Sources: 

A. G. Gaston, Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston (Birmingham: Southern University Press, 1968); Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines, Black Titan, A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire (New York: One World/Ballantine, 2003). 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Woodson, Carter G. (1875-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Ancella Bickley Collection,
West Virginia State Archives
Historian Carter G. Woodson was born to poor, yet land-owning, former slaves in New Canton, Virginia on December 19, 1875.  During the 1890s, he hired himself out as a farm and manual laborer, drove a garbage truck, worked in coalmines, and attended high school and college in Berea College, Kentucky—from which he earned a B.L. degree in 1903.  In the early 1900s, he taught black youth in West Virginia.  From late 1903 until early 1907, Woodson worked in the Philippines under the auspices of the US War Department.  Woodson then traveled to Africa, Asia, and Europe and briefly attended the Sorbonne in Paris, France.  In 1908, he received an M.A. degree in History, Romance languages, and Literature from the University of Chicago.  In 1912, while teaching in Washington, D.C., he earned his doctorate in history from Harvard University. 
Sources: 
Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, The Early Black History Movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Jacqueline Goggin, Carter G. Woodson:  A Life in Black History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); and Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, “Willing to Sacrifice”:  Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, and the Carter G. Woodson Home (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Michigan State 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)

DuSable, Jean-Baptiste-Point (1745-1818)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 Jean-Baptiste-Point DuSable, a frontier trader, trapper and farmer was the first resident of what is now Chicago. There is very little definite information on DuSable’s past. He was born free around 1745 in St. Marc, Saint-Dominique (Haiti). His mother was an African slave, his father a French mariner. DuSable traveled with his father to France, where he embarked on a fruitful education.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Detter, Thomas (1821- ? )

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

Thomas Detter, Nellie Brown, or the Jealous Wife with other Sketches (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996); William L. Andrews, Francis Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Richardson, Gloria (1922- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Gloria Richardson and Protestors facing
National Guard Troops
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Gloria Hayes Richardson was born on May 6, 1922 in Baltimore, Maryland to parents John and Mabel Hayes.  During the Great Depression her parents moved the family to Cambridge, Maryland, the home of Mabel Hayes.  Young Gloria grew up in a privileged environment.  Her grandfather, Herbert M. St. Clair, was one of the town’s wealthiest citizens.  He owned numerous properties in the city’s Second Ward which included a funeral parlor, grocery store and butcher shop.  He was also the sole African American member of the Cambridge City Council through most of the early 20th Century.  

Gloria attended Howard University in Washington at the age of 16 and graduated in 1942 with a degree in sociology.  After Howard, she worked as a civil servant for the federal government in World War II-era Washington, D.C. but returned to Cambridge after the war.  Despite her grandfather’s political and economic influence, the Maryland Department of Social Services, for example, refused to hire Gloria or any other black social workers.  Gloria Hayes married local school teacher Harry Richardson in 1948 and raised a family for the next thirteen years.  
Sources: 
Peter Levy, Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2003); Jeff Kisseloff, Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s: An Oral History (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007); http://www.abbeville.com/civilrights/washington.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Fishburne, Lillian E. (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Lillian E. Fishburne, the first African American woman to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, was born on March 25, 1949 in Patuxent River, Maryland. Fishburne was raised in Rockville, Maryland where she attended Richard Montgomery High School.  In 1971, she graduated from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. In February 1973, Fishburne became an Ensign after graduating from the Women Officers School at Newport, Rhode Island.

Fishburne’s first naval assignment was at the Naval Air Test Facility, Lakehurst, New Jersey, as a Personnel and Legal Officer.  From August 1974 to November 1977, Fishburne was an Officer Programs recruiter in Miami, Florida. For the next three years, 1977 to 1980, Fishburne was the Officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Base.
Sources: 
Joan Potter, ed., African American Firsts: Famous, Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2009); William Stewart, 1st ed., Admirals of the World: A Biographical Dictionary, 1500 to the Present (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2009); Bethanne Kelly Patrick, “Rear Adm. Lillian Fishburne” Navy Daughter Rose To Become Service's First Female African-American Flag Officer,” 2009, Accessed Nov 22, 2010, http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent?file=ML_fishburne_bkp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Savage, Augusta (1892-1962)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Imae Ownership: Public Domain
African American sculptor, teacher, and advocate for black artists Augusta Savage was born Augusta Christine Fell in Green Cove Springs, Florida on February 29, 1892, the child of Edward Fells, a laborer and Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. Her daughter, Irene Connie Moore, was born when Savage was 16, in the first of her three marriages. She retained the last name of her second husband, a carpenter named James Savage; they were divorced in the early 1920s.  

After moving to Harlem in New York in 1921, Savage studied art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art where she finished the four-year program in three years. She was recommended by Harlem librarian Sadie Peterson (later Delaney), for a commission of a bust of W.E.B. DuBois.  The sculpture was well received and she began sculpting busts of other African American leaders, including Marcus Garvey.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); David C. Driskell, The Other Side of Color (Rohnert Park, California: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2001); http://www.biography.com/search.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Knox, Lawrence Howland (1906-1966)

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

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

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

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

West, Cornel Ronald (1953-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Cornel West is one of the most recognizable and preeminent intellectuals of his generation.  West has authored 19 books and edited another 13.  He is best known for his book Race Matters (1994) and in his role as a public intellectual.  West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard with an A.B., Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, (1973) and obtained his M.A. (1975) and Ph.D. in Philosophy (1980) at Princeton.  West has received more than 20 honorary degrees and an American Book Award. Professor West is currently the Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary of New York City.

Cornel Ronald West was born on July 2, 1953 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The West family moved to Sacramento, California in 1958.  West’s father, Clifton L. West, Jr., graduated from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and worked as a civil servant.   His mother, Irene West, an elementary school teacher and principal, was so admired that the City of Sacramento named the Irene B. West Elementary School in her honor.
Sources: 
Cornel West, and David Ritz, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud: A Memoir (Carlsbad: Smiley Books, 2009); Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience (Basic Civitas Books: New York, 1999); http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cornel_West;
http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cornel-west-obama-a-republican-in-blackface-black-msnbc-hosts-are-selling-their-souls/
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Bechet, Sidney (1897-1959)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet was one of the most important soloists of early jazz.  Together with Louis Armstrong, he was the first to develop the loose, fluid rhythmic style that set jazz apart from ragtime and that came to be known as “swinging.”  

Sidney Joseph Bechet was born on May 14, 1897 to a middle-class Creole family in New Orleans.  He began playing clarinet at age six, and although he studied briefly with such legendary early New Orleans clarinetists as George Baquet and Lorenzo Tio, Jr., he was mostly self taught.  By the age of twenty, when he left New Orleans for Chicago, Bechet had played with nearly every major figure in early jazz, including Joseph “King” Oliver, Bunk Johnson, and Freddie Keppard.

In 1919, composer and conductor Will Marion Cook asked Bechet to join his Southern Syncopated Orchestra on a tour of Europe.  Upon hearing Bechet for the first time, Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet called him “an artist of genius.”  While in London with Cook’s group, Bechet purchased a soprano saxophone, which soon became his primary instrument, although he continued to play clarinet as well.
Sources: 
Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968); James Lincoln Collier, “Bechet, Sidney”, Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 7 January 2008), http://www.grovemusic.com ; http://www.sidneybechet.org
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Carnegie Hall

McHenry, Donald Franchot (1936 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ambassador Donald McHenry at the United Nations, ca. 1980
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Donald McHenry is a diplomat, scholar, corporate governor and educator who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN).  Because the hospitals of his home town, East St. Louis, Illinois, where he would grow up, were segregated, McHenry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 13, 1936. After his parents divorced he and his two siblings were raised by their mother.

McHenry received his bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in 1957, and his master’s degree from Southern Illinois University in 1959. He found his niche in diplomacy and international affairs between 1963 and 1971, while working at the U.S. Department of State in its Office of Dependent Area Affairs. While there, he received its Superior Honor Award in 1966.
Sources: 
Partnership for a Secure America http://www.psaonline.org/userdata_display.php?modin=51&uid=21; J. S. Morris and J. G. Cook, Africa Policy in the Clinton Years: Critical Choices for the Bush Administration (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Affairs, 2001); and Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project. Interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy, March 23, 1993 and October 1, 1998.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

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

Nascimento, Milton (1942- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Milton Nascimento, famous Brazilian singer and composer, was born in October 26, 1942 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After the death of his biological mother, Maria do Carmo Nascimento, Milton Nascimento moved with his adoptive family, Lilia Silva Campos and Josino Brito Campos, to the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Milton Nascimento’s career included collaboration with the exponents of Brazilian popular, jazz, and reggae music. He also played with foremost musicians in Europe and the United States.
Sources: 
Marcos Napolitano, “A Invenção da Música Popular Brasileira: um Campo de Reflexão para a História Social,” in Latin America Music Review, v. 19, n.1 (Spring-Summer 1998), pp. 92-105; Gerad Buehage, “Rap, Reggae, Rock or Samba: the Local and the Global in Brazilian Popular Music (1985-1995),” in Latin America Music Review, v. 27, n.1 (2006), pp. 79-90;  Itaú Cultural, Dicionario Cravo Albin da Música Popular Brasileira (2002), available at http://www.dicionariompb.com.br/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Domino, Antoine "Fats" (1928- )

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

Antoine "Fats" Domino, early rock and roll musician, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 26, 1928 to Antoine Domino, a former plantation worker, and Donatile Gros, a Creole of light complexion.  Fats, as he was soon called because of his weight, was raised in a large family of seven children including his four brothers and two sisters.  From a young age Fats was influenced by his father, a musician who played the banjo and fiddle.

At the age of ten, Domino began to play an old piano the family purchased, learning the instrument from his older brother-in-law Harrison Werrett, who had played in a New Orleans band.  Fats' passion for and expertise with the piano continued to grow.  When he was fourteen he quit school and went to work as a musician.  Learning songs from jukeboxes, Domino began playing at local bars and nightclubs.

Sources: 

Rick Coleman, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’
Roll
(Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2006); Rolling Stone, December 1, 2008,
http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/fatsdomino/biography

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rollins, Sonny (1930- )

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

Richard Palmer, Sonny Rollins The Cutting Edge (New York, London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004); http://www.sonnyrollins.com/bio.php, http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/rol0gal-1

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Smith, Amanda Berry (1837-1915)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Amanda Smith, An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist (1921); Adrienne M. Israel, Amanda Berry Smith: From Washerwoman to Evangelist (1998); Priscilla Pope-Levison, Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists (2004.)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian, Seattle Pacific University

Abbott, Robert Sengstacke (1870-1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Roi Ottley, The Lonely Warrior; The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott (Chicago: Regnery Co., 1955);
Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);
http://www.pbs.org/blackpress/news_bios/defender.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Chisholm, Shirley (1924-2005)

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

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, an advocate for minority rights, became the first black woman elected to Congress in 1969 and later the first black person to seek a major party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency. She represented New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and when initially elected, was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard-of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee. By the time she left that chamber, she had held a place on the prized Rules and Education and Labor Committees.

Sources: 
Sources: W. A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds. Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981); Jessie Carney Smith, ed. Black Firsts: 4000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events (Canton, Missouri: Visible Ink Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Cliff, Jimmy Chambers (1948- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in St. Catherine, Jamaica on April 1, 1948 as James Chambers, the ska-reggae musician proved to be an accomplished performer at an early age. At age 14, Chambers moved to Kingston and took the surname Cliff as a proclamation of the heights he would reach. In Kingston, Cliff recorded two unsuccessful singles before he met Leslie Kong, a producer and founder of the record label, Beverly’s. On Kong’s label, Cliff released the 1962 hit, Hurricane Hattie and numerous other recordings throughout the rest of the 1960s. Cliff moved to the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, at the beckoning of Island Records but continued to work closely with Kong. The songs he released seeded the development of ska in Jamaica and England.

Cliff’s song, Waterfall, won the Brazilian International Song Festival in 1967 and in 1968, he moved to that nation because it seemed receptive to his music. He followed up Waterfall with the release of the protest song, Vietnam.  In 1970, he enjoyed new success with his cover of the Cat Stevens song, Wild World.
Sources: 
Dave Thompson, Reggae and Caribbean Music: Third Ear: The Essential Listening Companion (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2001); http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:hifuxqq5ldfe~T1.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Savage, W. Sherman (1890-1981)

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

Born on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on March 7, 1890, William Sherman Savage was forced to withdraw from primary school at age 11 to help his family in the fields, but he never gave up his dream of attaining a full education.  Finally finishing elementary school in Richmond and high school in Baltimore, he earned an A.B. from Howard University in 1917.  After teaching at high schools in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, Savage obtained a permanent teaching post at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1921, where he would remain for thirty-nine years.  Along the way, he took time off to earn an M.A. in History at the University of Oregon in 1925, and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1934.  His was the first doctorate in History awarded by OSU to an African American and among the earliest awarded to any African American in History by a predominately white university.
Sources: 
Lorenzo Greene, “W. Sherman Savage,” Journal of Negro History (1981);  “Savage, William Sherman,” in W. A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1981); “African-American History,” Department of History, Ohio State University; Archives and Special Collections, University of Oregon.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Campanella, Roy (1921–1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Willie Mays and Roy Campanella
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Roy Campanella was an African American baseball player who helped break the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB), becoming the first African American catcher in MLB when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Campanella, nicknamed “Campy,” was born on November 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to John Campanella, an Italian American father, and Ida Campanella, his African American mother.  Because he was racially classified as black he was forced to play in the Negro Leagues until 1947.  

Campanella started his baseball playing career with a semi-pro team in 1937, named the Bacharach Giants.  He dropped out of school when he was 16 years old when he was offered a contract in the Negro National League with the Baltimore Elite Giants.  In the years 1942-1943, he played for the Monterrey Sultans in the Mexican League following a dispute with the Baltimore Elite Giants’ manager.  

In 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen saw Campanella playing as a catcher for an African American all-star team.  He signed Campanella, giving him a spot with the Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, the AAA Nashua (New Hampshire) Dodgers.  The Nashua Dodgers became the first AAA integrated professional baseball team when they signed Campanella.
Sources: 
Roy Campanella, It’s Good to Be Alive (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959); Donald Honig, The Greatest Catchers of All Time (New York: Brown, 1991); http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=roy_campanella_1921
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Kennedy, Adrienne (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Adrienne Kennedy has earned a place as one of contemporary America’s most renowned and admired African American authors, lecturers and playwrights. Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 13, 1931 to Cornell Wallace and Etta (Haugabook) Hawkins. Kennedy spent her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended public schools.  She graduated from Ohio State University with a B.A in Education in 1953. In May of that same year she wed Joseph C. Kennedy with whom she had two children. After the birth of her oldest son, Kennedy continued to pursue her education by attending Columbia University (1954-56), the American Theatre Wing, the New School of Social Research, and Circle in the Square Theatre School. Kennedy also participated in Edward Albee's Theatre Workshop, in New York City.

Kennedy is most known for her role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.  She was a founding member of the Women’s Theatre Council in 1971.  Her publications include An Evening with Dead Essex, The Owl Answers, Deadly Triplets, and A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White. Other writings include the autobiographical works, Funnyhouse of a Negro and Pale Blue Flowers.  
Kennedy also served as editor of Black Orpheus: A Journal of African and Afro-American Literature.
Sources: 
"Adrienne Kennedy" in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press);
“Adrienne Kennedy” <http://www.upress.umn.edu/misc/kennedy/kennedy.html>
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Delaney, Harold (1919-1994)

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

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

Amazons (Ahosi) of Dahomey

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The Amazons of Dahomey were a military corps of women appointed to serve in battles under the direction of the Fon king, who ruled over a nation that included much of present-day southern Togo and southern Benin.  They emerged during the Eighteenth Century and were finally suppressed during the 1890s. The Amazons were chosen from among the nominal wives of the king, called “Ahosi.”  Estimates of the number of women soldiers vary by accounts, yet some scholars believe the numbers to have ranged over time from several hundred to a few thousand women soldiers.

The Fon women’s army had three main wings: the right and left wings, and the elite center wing or Fanti.  Each of these wings had five subgroups: the artillery women, the elephant huntresses, the musket-bearing frontline group, the razor women, and the archers.  They served in battles in conjunction with male troops.
Sources: 
Stanley B. Alpern, Amazons of Black Sparta: the Women Warriors of Dahomey (New York: New York University Press, 1998); David E. Jones, Women Warriors: a History  (Washington, DC: Brassey’s, 1997); Robert B. Edgerton, Warrior Women: The Amazons of Dahomey and the Nature of War (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hayden, Earl Robert (1913-1980)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The son of Asa and Ruth Sheffey who named him Asa Bundy at birth, poet Robert Hayden was born in Detroit, Michigan and reared in “Paradise Valley,” an inner city ghetto.  Adoptive parents, William and Sue Ellen Westerfield Hayden, gave him the name by which he is known.  A graduate of Detroit City College (now Wayne State University), Hayden earned a M.A. degree in English from the University of Michigan, where on two occasions (1938 and 1942), he received the Avery Hopkins awards for poetry

During the Great Depression Hayden worked as a researcher for the Federal Writers’ Project, an experience that exposed him to writers such as Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Margaret Walker, and gave him a great appreciation for African history and folk culture.  In 1940 Hayden married Erma Inez Morris and converted to the Baha’i faith. After teaching at Fisk University for twenty-three years, Hayden returned to the University of Michigan, to end his teaching career where he began it.    
Sources: 

Mark A. Sanders, “Robert Hayden,” in The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, William L. Andrews, et al., eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Darwin T. Turner, ed., Black American Literature: Poetry (Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company, 1969).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

St. Benedict the Moor (1526-1589)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Benedetto Manasseri, an Italian of African descent, was born near Messina, Italy to Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri in 1526. His parents, captured as slaves from Africa in the early 16th century, were brought to San Fratello, near Messina.  They converted to Catholicism and, due to their loyalty to the Church, obtained their son Benedict’s freedom at birth. Benedict did not attend school because his family was impoverished. When Benedict worked as a shepherd in his youth, he would give any extra money he could to the poor. At age twenty-one Benedict was befriended by a nobleman, Jerome Lanze, who encouraged the youth to join a society of hermits under the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi. Upon becoming a member of this enclave Benedict gave the few possessions he had accumulated to the poor. Eventually he became one of Lanze’s principal advisors and, when he was about twenty-eight years old, Benedict succeeded Lanze as superior of the Franciscan-affiliated group of hermits.

During the third Council of Trent in 1564 Pope Pius IV decided to disband the hermit societies, whereupon he encouraged their communities to join the Franciscan orders. When Benedict became a member of the Order of Friars Minor he was sent to Palermo, to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus.

Sources: 
http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=871; http://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/st-benedict-the-moor.html; Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States. (New York: Crossroad, 1990).
Affiliation: 
University of Texas, El Paso

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

Fowler, John W. “Bud” (1858-1913)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born John W. Jackson, in Fort Plain, New York, on March 16, 1858, Fowler spent much of his boyhood in Cooperstown, N.Y. where organized baseball maintains its Hall of Fame and museum. Coincidentally Fowler is argued to be one of the first professional black baseball players, when in 1872 he joined a white team in New Castle, Pennsylvania for a salary.  For the next two and a half decades, Fowler played across the country where black players were allowed to play, from Massachusetts to Colorado and briefly in Canada. He played in crossroad farm towns and in mining camps, in pioneer Western settlements and in larger Eastern cities.  Like many ball players of his day, Fowler could play most any position, but it was as a second baseman and pitcher where he excelled at best.  His habit of calling teammates and other players “Bud” led to his nickname.

Organized baseball was just being structured during the turn of the century and Fowler was one of sixty black players who played in white leagues across the country. In the early days of baseball there was no official color line, and he played in organized baseball with white ball clubs until the color line became entrenched around 1900. Until 1895 Fowler he was usually the only black player on an all-white team.
Sources: 
Ralph J. Christian, “Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Payer and the 1885 Keokuks,” Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87:1 (2006); Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Walker, William (1917-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Screen Actors Guild Archives
William "Bill" Walker Collection

Best remembered for the role of Reverend Sykes in the film classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), William Walker was born in Pendleton, Indiana in 1917. The son of a freed slave, Walker was the first African American graduate of Pendleton High School. After graduating, Walker pursued an acting career and made his first film appearance as a bit player in The Killers. He went on to appear in more than 100 films and television shows although the industry limited him mainly to roles as a domestic servant.

As the racial climate in Hollywood began to improve in the 1940s, Walker graduated to portraying a wider variety of characters, including doctors and diplomats.  Eventually he moved on to directing and producing films. Determined to ensure other African American actors obtained roles that portrayed the race in a true light, Walker in the late 1940s became a civil rights activist.  

Sources: 

http://www/whenmoviesweremovies.com/hoosieractors4.html. Accessed
September 28, 2003; Affirmative Action: Through the Decades with SAG,
http://www.sag.org/diversity/diversehistory.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Meek, Kendrick (1966- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Kendrick Meek, former highway patrolman, Florida state representative, and state senator, has served in the United States House of Representatives as a Democratic representative from Florida’s 17th District since 2003. Meek was born on September 6, 1966 in Miami, Florida, and is the son of former U.S. Representative Carrie Meek, who also represented Florida’s 17th District before her son took over her position.

Meek’s childhood was influenced by his mother’s role as an elected official.  He remembers sleeping under his mother’s desk at the Florida House Office Building on days when she worked late. Carrie Meek, whose grandmother was a slave, was the first African American elected to Congress from Florida since the Reconstruction. Kendrick Meek as a teenager understood her important symbolic role to the entire African American population of the state.  

Despite dyslexia, Meek worked his way through high school and attend Florida A&M University on a football scholarship. He graduated in 1989 with a degree in science.

After graduating, Meek joined the Florida Highway Patrol and was assigned to the security detail for Democratic Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay. Meek used the opportunity to further his knowledge of state politics, often attending political meetings when he was off duty.  During his four year career with the Florida Highway Patrol, Meek became the first African American to reach the rank of captain.
Sources: 
Tristram Korten, “The Meek Shall Inherit the House,” Miami New Times, 7-18-2002; Richard C. Cohen, “The Buddy System,” National Journal 39:46/47 (Nov. 17, 2007); http://kendrickmeek.house.gov; http://www.votesmart.org/bio.php?can_id=BS026295;
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Williams, Spencer (1893-1969)

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

Spencer Williams is widely known for his portrayal of the character Andy in the controversial 1950s television comedy series Amos ‘n Andy.  His contributions to the world of film and television, however, far surpassed the limitations of the popular but widely criticized Amos ‘n Andy sitcom. Born July 14, 1893 in Vidalia, Louisiana, Williams moved to New York City during his teens and studied comedy under vaudeville comedian Bert Williams.

He attended the University of Minnesota, but interrupted his studies to serve several years in the United States Army during and after World War I. After being honorably discharged from the service in 1923, Williams returned to New York City and concentrated on a career in show business. He eventually landed a job with Christie Studios in Hollywood, where he co-wrote and appeared in Paramount Pictures’ first all-black talking film, Melancholy Dame (1928). He was subsequently retained as a consultant, continuity writer, and performer for the Christie Comedies – a comedy series that focused on black life in urban Alabama.

Sources: 

Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia
(New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); Thomas Cripps, Black Film as
Genre
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978); Wheeler Dixon, The
“B” Directors: A Biographical Directory
(Metuchen, New Jersey:
Scarecrow, 1985); Phyllis Klotman, Frame By Frame: A Black Filmography
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978); Henry T. Sampson, Blacks
in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films
(Metuchen, New Jersey:
Scarecrow, 1977); Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1994).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Delany, Henry Beard (1858-1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Henry Beard Delany is known for his contributions in architecture and for being the first African American bishop elected in North Carolina and the second in the United States. Delany was born on February 5th 1858 in Saint Mary’s, Georgia of slave parents, Thomas Delany, a ship and house carpenter, and Sarah, a house servant.  Delany grew up in Fernandina, Florida where he received his earliest formal education.  He and his brothers also learned brick laying and plastering trades from their father.  In 1881 Delany entered Saint Augustine’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina where he studied theology.  After graduating in 1885, he joined the college faculty, remaining there until 1908.  He also married Nannie James Logan of Danville, Virginia, another St. Augustine's faculty member, who taught home economics and domestic science.  The couple had ten children including Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth who became famous with their 1993 joint autobiography Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.

Delany joined Raleigh’s Ambrose Episcopal Church, and in June 1889 was ordained a deacon of the church.  Three years later he was ordained as a priest.  He steadily rose in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, becoming Archdeacon in 1908 and Bishop in 1918.

Sources: 

Sarah Louise Delany and Annie Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth,
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First Hundred Years (New York:
Kodansha International, 1993); Dreck Spurlock Wilson, African-American
Architects: a Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945
(New York: Routledge,
2004); http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc2/NF00000181_00001.html

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, James Nathaniel ["Jim"] (1936- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Nathaniel Brown was born February 17, 1936, in St. Simon Island, Georgia. A talented athlete from an early age, Brown earned 13 letters playing a variety of sports at Manhasset High School in New York.

Brown attended Syracuse University in New York where he played football, basketball, ran track, and played lacrosse. As a senior in 1956-7, Brown was a unanimous All-American in football and a second-team All-American in lacrosse, and remains the only athlete to be inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame for both sports, as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Cleveland Browns selected Jim Brown as their number one pick in the 1957 NFL draft, and the rookie would capture the league rushing title, Rookie of the Year honors, as well as earn the league Most Valuable Player award. Over the next eight years, Brown would lead the league in rushing seven more times, be elected to every Pro Bowl, and win another Most Valuable Player award in 1965.  Some of his most notable records include career rushing yards (12,312) and average gain per attempt (5.2 yards). In nine seasons as a premier fullback, he never missed a game.

Sources: 
Pro Football Hall of Fame, http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=33; Schwartz, Larry. Jim Brown Was Hard to Bring Down. ESPN.com Special, http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Brown_Jim.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bethune, Mary Jane McLeod (1875-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership:  Public Domain
Mary McLeod Bethune was a prominent educator, political leader, and social visionary whose early twentieth century activism for black women and civil rights laid the foundation for the modern civil rights era.  Inspired by leaders such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Josephine St. Pierre-Ruffin, Bethune mobilized African American women’s organizations to challenge racial injustice and demand first class citizenship.
Sources: 
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/peopleevents/pande05.html; http://www.nps.gov/mamc/historyculture/people_marymcleodbethune.htm; Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, Essays and Selected Documents (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); John Hope Franklin (ed.), Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 191-220; Darlene Clark Hine (ed.), The African-American Odyssey (New York: Prentice Hall, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Quarles, Benjamin A. (1904-1996)

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

Noted historian, scholar, and educator Benjamin Author Quarles was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 23, 1904.  His father, Arthur Benedict Quarles was a subway porter and his mother, Margaret O'Brien Quarles, was a homemaker. In his twenties, Quarles enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, 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 in Madison, Wisconsin, where he earned an M.A. in 1933 and a Ph.D. in American History in 1940. 

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 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1984). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Forman, James (1928-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Civil rights leader and political activist James Forman was an instrumental leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), sending demonstrators to the South for the Freedom Ride protests. Forman, who was born in Chicago, Illinois on October 4th, 1928, lived with his grandmother in Mississippi until the age of six when he returned to live with his mother and stepfather in Chicago. Forman used his stepfather’s surname Rufus until, as a teen, he met his real father Jackson Forman, a cabdriver.

He graduated with honors from high school and entered the Air Force, stationed in Okinawa during the Korean War. In 1952, he enrolled in the University of Southern California. During his second semester, Forman was a victim of brutality: accused of a robbery he did not commit, he was taken to a police station and beaten by two Los Angeles police officers. The incident caused Forman to have a mental breakdown, and he returned to Chicago. After his recovery he enrolled in Roosevelt University received a bachelor’s of arts degree 1957.
Sources: 
James Forman, Making of Black Revolutionaries (Open Hand Publishing, Inc., 1985); Joe Holley, “Civil Rights Leader James Forman Dies,” The Washington Post (January 11, 2005);http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1621-2005Jan11.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Leonard, “Sugar” Ray (1956 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Clay Moyle
Ray Leonard was born on May 17, 1956 in Wilmington, North Carolina. At age 20 he captured a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Exceptionally fast with his fists and quick on his feet, the charismatic youngster turned professional and immediately became one of the sports biggest draws with his crowd pleasing style.

Adopting the name “Sugar” in tribute to Sugar Ray Robinson, Leonard captured his first title when he defeated WBC welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez in 1979. He won 22 fights before suffering his first professional defeat to Roberto Duran in June 1980 when he attempted to stand toe to toe and slug it out with his more experienced opponent. Five months later he regained the title from Duran by changing his tactics and relying upon his superior boxing skills, frustrating his opponent so badly that the latter quit in the middle of the eighth round.

In 1981 Leonard moved up in weight and added the Junior Middleweight title by defeating Ayube Kalule, and later that year unified the welterweight title with a 14-round TKO of the highly regarded Tommy Hearns. He then retired for the first time in 1982 after suffering a detached retina.
Sources: 
www.boxrec.com; Sam Toperoff, Sugar Ray Leonard and Other Noble Warriors (New York: McGraw-Hill Company,1986).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, James Lloyd (1920-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership:
Public Domain
James Lloyd Jackson was one of the little known heroes of the D-Day Landing at Normandy Beach in France in 1944.  Jackson was born in Lakeland, Florida on February 25, 1920 to Essie May Holly and Amos Jackson. He graduated from Lakeland High School in 1938. For the next five years he worked for the Lakeland Fertilizer Company.

Jackson joined the U.S. Army in 1943 as a private.  In 1944, just a year after joining the military, Sergeant James Jackson led a unit of the 531st Combat Engineers onto Normandy Beach at dawn in preparation for the much larger invasion that was to follow. Jackson's unit also captured German soldiers including Max Schmeling, the boxer who fought Joe Louis in 1937 and 1938. Jackson's unit continued to work in battlefield settings for the rest of World War II.  

James Jackson decided in 1945 to make the Army a career. In 1951 he was promoted to second lieutenant while serving in Korea.  On December 27, 1953 Jackson married Octavia Mills, a former elementary school teacher from Oklahoma. The couple had five children.  

At the end of the Korean War Jackson used his years in the military to further his education.  While in the Army and stationed at various posts, Jackson studied at the University of Maryland, the University of Puget Sound, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and finally Western Washington University where he received a Bachelor of Science in 1975.  
Sources: 
National Archives and Records Administration, Jackson Family Records.
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

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

Frazier, Kenneth C. (1954- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Kenneth C. Frazier is the first African American President of Merck & Co., a major pharmaceutical corporation. Frazier was elected by the Board of Directors to be the next CEO on May 1, 2010, and assumed the post on January 1, 2011.  

Kenneth Frazier was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Otis and Clara Frazier on December 17, 1954. Along with his three siblings, Frazier was raised by his father after his mother passed when he was 12 years old. His father, Otis, migrated to Pennsylvania at age 14. With the equivalent of a third grade education, Otis Frazier worked most of his life as a custodian for the U.S. Parcel Service.  

Kenneth Frazier graduated from high school at age 15.  He hoped to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point. Denied entry due to his young age, he instead entered the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1975. Immediately afterward he enrolled in Harvard Law School where he graduated with his Juris Doctorate degree in 1978.

Sources: 
"Kenneth C. Frazier," Penn State Black History / African American Chronicles. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014; Kenneth C. Frazier," Businessweek.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014; "Master of the Game," Law.com. The Minority Law Journal, 13 Feb. 2002; "A Dose of Optimism," Harvard Law School Bulletin. N.p., 2011.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Father Divine (1879-1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Father Divine in Parade
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Father Divine, religious founder of the International Peace Missions Movement, businessman, and civil rights activist was born George Baker in Rockville, Maryland to George and Nancy Baker.  Viewed by many to be a cult leader, his doctrine was a compilation of optimistic thinking based on many widely accepted mainstream religions.  Father Divine and his followers believed that he was the second coming of Christ.  He required his followers to adhere to his International Modest Code which required strict commitment to a celibate lifestyle and abstinence from immoral actions.

Father Divine began receiving widespread public attention when in 1919, he and his first wife and several of his interracial religious followers moved to Sayville, New York and established a Peace Mission “heaven.”  Peace Missions heavens were interracial communal living facilities that fostered Father Divine’s belief in a desegregated society and represented heaven on earth to his followers.  In the 1930s Divine’s network of Peace Missions spread across the nation.  His mostly white followers in Los Angeles, California and other west coast cities contrasted with the overwhelmingly black missions east of the Mississippi River.  Around 1930 Father Divine moved his Peace Mission headquarters to Harlem, New York.  Since the late 1940s the organization has been based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sources: 
Jill Watts, God, Harlem U.S.A.: The Father Divine Story (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992); Robert Wiesbrot, Father Divine and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Brea College

Silva, Tatiana (1985- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Tatiana Silva Braga Tavares is best known as the woman who was crowned Miss Belgium in 2005 and who represented Belgium in the Miss World competition in Sanya, China later that year.  Silva was born in the Brussels suburb of Uccle on February 5, 1985.   She was born into a middle class family.  Her mother is from Belgium and her father is Cape Verdean.  

Nineteen-year-old Silva was studying to be a personal assistant (secretary) and working as a shop attendant at the time of the contest.  Silva was crowned Miss Belgium because of her appearance, her talent in dance, and her knowledge of a number of languages including French (her native language), Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean.

Sources: 
Catherine Delvaux, “Stromae et Tatiana Silva ont rompu,” http://www.7sur7.be/7s7/fr/1527/People/aticle/detail/1622464/2013/04/26Stromae-et-Tatiana-Silva-ont-rompu.dhtml; Anaïs Lefebure, Miss France: l’histoire d’un mythe (Paris: JOL Press, 2014).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Emeritus Professor, University of Paris

Christensen, Donna Marie (1945–)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of the
U.S. House of Representatives
Photography Office

Donna Marie Christian-Christensen, the non-voting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States House of Representatives, was born in Teaneck, Monmouth Country, New Jersey on September 19, 1945 to the late Judge Almeric Christian and Virginia Sterling Christian. Christensen attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she received her Bachelor of Science in 1966. She then earned her M.D. degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1970. Christensen began her medical career in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1975 as an emergency room physician at St. Croix Hospital. Between 1987 and 1988 she was medical director of the St. Croix Hospital and from 1988 to 1994 she was Commissioner of Health for the Virgin Island.  During the entire period from 1977 to l996 Christensen maintained a private practice in family medicine.  From 1992 to 1996 she was also a television journalist.

Christensen also entered Virgin Island politics.  As a member of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, she has served as Democratic National Committeewoman, member of the Democratic Territorial Committee and Delegate to all the Democratic Conventions in 1984, 1988 and 1992.  Christensen was also elected to the Virgin Islands Board of Education in 1984 and served for two years.  She served as a member of the Virgin Islands Status Commission from 1988 to 1992. 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University Of Washington

Ferris, William Henry (1874-1941)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

William Henry Ferris was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 20, 1874 to David Henry, a volunteer for the Union Army during the Civil War, and Sarah Anne Jefferson Ferris. After high school, Ferris attended Yale University, where he was heavily influenced by polymath William Graham Sumner – a staunch Social Darwinist who firmly believed that the privileged social classes owed nothing to the underprivileged ones.  

After graduating in 1895, William Ferris worked as a freelance writer and lecturer and studied for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School until 1899.  In 1900, he received a Master of Arts in Journalism from Harvard, and went on to teach at Tallahassee State College in Florida and Florida Baptist College (1900-1901) and Henderson Normal School and Kittrell College in North Carolina (1903-1905).  

In 1905, Ferris served a five-year term as Pastor of the Congregational Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.  In 1910, after being ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, he engaged in mission work in Lowell and Salem, Massachusetts.  

Sources: 

Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996); “William Henry Ferris,” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (Oct., 1941), pp. 549-550; Rayvon Fouche, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bishop, Maurice (1944-1983)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Maurice Bishop, revolutionary and Grenadian Prime Minister, was born in Dutch Aruba May 29, 1944 to Grenadian parents Rupert and Alimenta Bishop. The family moved to Grenada in 1950 to benefit from the economic prosperity of the time, and there Bishop grew up, excelling in his schooling. He moved to London (UK) in 1963 and attended the University of London for his law degree. He went on to practice law for two years in London, showing much interest in politics. He married Angela Redhead in 1966 and had two children, John and Nadia.

Sources: 

Erick Langer and Jay Kinsbruner, Encyclopedia of Latin American History
and Culture, Vol. 1
(Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008); Colin
Palmer, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Vol. 1
(Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006);
http://www.thegrenadarevolutiononline.com.

Sullivan, Louis Wade (1933- )

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

After witnessing poverty and discrimination in Depression-era Georgia, Louis Wade Sullivan committed his career to education and public service, rising to become Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush.  He also was the founder and long-time president of Morehouse College School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Louis Wade Sullivan was born in Atlanta in 1933, but when his family moved to a small Georgia farming community that did not offer educational opportunities for African Americans, he was sent to live with relatives in Savannah where he could attend school.  After graduating at the top of his high school class, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, earning a B.S. in the premedical program in 1954.  He then received a scholarship to Boston University School of Medicine, where he was the only African American in his class.  He graduated third in his class, earning an M.D. (cum laude) in 1958.  During his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, Sullivan conducted research into the correlation between blood and diseases.  He made several discoveries concerning alcohol and blood health, and subsequently conducted further medical research at Harvard Medical School and a number of other institutions during the following decades.  In 1976, he helped found the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools to promote a national minority health agenda.

Sources: 
Louis Wade Sullivan, America's Ailing Families: Diagnosing the Problem, Finding a Cure (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1992); Marilee Creelan, “Louis Sullivan,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia (Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Foster, Andrew "Rube" (1879-1930)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Andrew Rube Foster was born in Calvert, Texas, on September 17, 1879.  The son of Andrew and Sarah Foster, Rube started a baseball tradition that would be followed by his brother Willie Bill Foster.  Rube quit school after the eighth grade, barnstorming with the Waco Yellow Jackets, an independent black team in 1897.  By 1902, Rube’s baseball abilities gave him an opportunity to play with the Chicago (Illinois) Union Giants.  After a short stint with Union Giants, Rube played for the Cuban X-Giants.  In 1903, Rube Foster was the top pitcher in black baseball, and was the pitcher of record as the Cuban X-Giants won the Black World Series.  Rube sometimes played with white semi-pro teams and exhibition games against white players. Rube established himself as the premier pitcher challenging major league pitchers such as Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown, and Cy Young.  Honus Wagner stated that Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all times and one of the smartest pitchers he had ever seen.

Sources: 
Robert Charles Cottrell, The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant (New York: New York University Press, 1970).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Augusta State University

Ball, James Presley(1825-1904)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The daguerreotypist James Presley (J.P.) Ball was born in 1825 in Virginia, probably a freeman.  As a young man he learned daguerreotyping and opened his first studio in Cincinnati, Ohio at age twenty.  The city was a center for anti-slavery activity as well as the photographic arts, and Ball became a leader in both.  He wrote and published a pamphlet depicting the horrors of slavery to accompany a large panorama in his gallery, and served as the official photographer for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  By the 1850s, his business had achieved tremendous success.  Frederick Douglass, Jenny Lind, and the orator Henry H. Garnet, among other notables, sought out his services, and he became quite affluent.  
Sources: 
Deborah Willis, J. P. Ball: Daguerrean and Studio Photographer (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, Mahalia (1911-1972)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Laurraine Goreau, Just Mahalia, Baby: The Mahalia Jackson Story (Waco: World Books, 1975).
Affiliation: 
Tuskegee University

Brown, Grafton Tyler (1841-1918)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Grafton Tyler Brown was a cartographer, lithographer, and painter, widely considered the first professional African American artist in California. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1841, Brown learned lithography in Philadelphia and then became part of a cohort of African Americans who sought better economic and social opportunities in the West during the 1850s.
Sources: 
Thomas Riggs, ed., The St. James Guide to Black Artists (Detroit: St James Press, 1997); www.californiahistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/gtb.html; www.washingtonhistory.org/wshm/newsroom/grafton_brown.htm.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Espy, Mike (1953- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Alphonso Michael Espy in 1986 became the first black Congressman elected from Mississippi since John R. Lynch, who served during Reconstruction.  He was also the first African American to hold the post of Secretary of Agriculture.  Mike Espy was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He received a B.A. from Howard University in 1975 and then attended law school at the University of Santa Clara where he received his J.D. degree in 1978. Espy returned to Mississippi after law school and worked as an attorney for Central Mississippi Legal Services from 1978 to 1980.  Between 1980 and 1984 Espy served as assistant secretary of the Public Lands Division for the State of Mississippi and then took the post of assistant State Attorney General for Consumer Protection, a position he held until 1985.
Sources: 
Charles Christian, Black Saga: The African American Experience (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995); bioguide.congress.gov; www.answers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

West, Allen (1961- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
http://innovation.cq.com/newmember/2010elexnguide.pdf. (Accessed November 24, 2010);  "U.S. officer fined for harsh interrogation tactics," CNN, December 13, 2003; Catalina Camia, "GOP Rep. Allen West draws fire for Muslim comments," USA Today, (February 2, 2011), http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/02/rep-allen-west-islam-2012-elections-/1. (Accessed February 2, 2011). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Texas

Jones, Barbara Ann Posey (1943 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1958, Barbara Ann Posey, then a high school student, emerged as one of the most important youth leaders in the campaign which began that year to desegregate the major public accommodations in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Posey’s public stand against racial injustice began when she was fifteen and already a leader in the Oklahoma City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Youth Council which initiated sit-ins at lunch counters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  These sit-ins predated the more famous Greensboro college student sit-ins by two years. 

Throughout her life, Posey has been a leader in education, women’s issues, and civil rights.  Posey was born to Mr. and Mrs. Weldon Posey in Oklahoma City in 1943. As a teen, she attended Douglas High School in Oklahoma City, graduating in June 1960. She later attended the University of Oklahoma.
Sources: 
Paulette Olson and Zahren Emami, eds., Engendering Economics: Conversations with Women Economists of the United States (New York: Routledge, 2002). www.tulsalibrary.org/research/ok/women.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Central University (Oklahoma)

McCree, Wade Hampton, Jr. (1920-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library,
Wayne State University
Wade Hampton McCree, Jr. was a noted American attorney, jurist, and law professor. Born to educated parents in Des Moines, Iowa, his father, Wade Hampton McCree, Sr., was an alumnus of Fisk University and had a respected career as a pharmacist and later as United States Narcotics Inspector. His mother, Lucretia Harper McCree, was a graduate of Simmons College and became a teacher.  
Sources: 
Leonard W. Levy, Kenneth Karst, and Adam Winkler, Encyclopedia of the American Constitution (Detroit:  MacMillan Reference USA, 2000), 1704-5;
Federal Judicial Center website, www.fjc.gov; www.oxfordaasc.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

Lee, Andrea (1953- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Expatriate novelist, journalist, and memoirist Andrea Lee was raised in a well-to-do African American family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The youngest of three children, her father was a Baptist minister and her mother an elementary school teacher.  The product of private school education, she recalls both writing fiction and desiring to live in Europe since childhood. Her privileged upbringing did not completely shelter her from discomfiting incidents in racially integrated schools which led her to revisit issues pertaining to racial and national identity in later writings.
Sources: 
Mar Gallego, “Lee, Andrea,” African American National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2008); Milena Vercellino,“Andrea Lee,” retrieved at  http://www.theamericanmag.com/article.php?article=556&p=full
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Blanke, John (16th Century)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
John Blanke, Musician at the
Court of Henry VIII
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Historians have documented the arrival of black people in Britain as members of the Roman Army. The first reference to a black African in Britain in the historical record is at a Roman military settlement at Carlisle, in ca. 210 AD. Shortly after, in the years 253-58 AD, Hadrian's Wall on the Empire's northern frontier was guarded by a division raised in North Africa. Other Africans were brought to Britain at various times although the continuous presence of black people in Britain is traced to 1555, when Africans arrived in the company of a London merchant.

John Blanke, a black trumpeter, was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII.  Musicians' payments were noted in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber, who was responsible for paying the wages. There are several payments recorded to a “John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter.” This trumpeter was paid 8d [8 pence] a day, first by Henry VII and then from 1509 by Henry VIII.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Cook, Will Mercer (1903-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Will Mercer Cook served as the United States ambassador to the Republic of Niger from 1961 to 1964. Cook directed U.S. economic, social, and cultural programs in Niger, which included the Peace Corps. During the mid-1960s he also became the special envoy to Gambia and Senegal.

Will Mercer Cook was born on March 30, 1903, in Washington, D.C., to Will Marion Cook, a composer and Abbie Mitchell Cook, an actress and classical singer.  Cook had one sibling, Abigail, an older sister. During his childhood, he frequently traveled with his family as they performed at various venues throughout the United States and abroad.  Jazz superstar Duke Ellington lived on the same block in Cook’s middle class Washington, D.C. neighborhood.    

Sources: 
Mercer Cook and Dantes Bellegarde, eds., The Haitian American Anthology: Haitian Readings from American Authors (Port-au Prince, Haiti: Imperimerie de l’Etat, 1944); “Will Mercer Cook, 84, Ambassador, Educator, Dies,” Jet, 73 (October 26, 1987);
Office of the Historian -Department History - People – Cook, Mercer: http://www.history.state.gov.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Molyneux, Thomas (1784–1818)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Fred Henning, Fights For The Championship, Volume II (London: Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette, 1899); Henry Miles, Pugilistica, Volume I (London: Weldon & Co., 1880); http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/tom-mol.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Shepard, James Edward (1875-1947)

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

In 1910 James Edward Shepard founded North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, North Carolina. Shepard was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina along with eleven other siblings. His father was Reverend Augustus Shepard and his mother was Harriet E. Shepard. Shepard received his education through the North Carolina public school system. He worked as a pharmacist for a short time after graduating from Shaw University in 1894 after receiving his Ph.G. (Graduate Pharmacist) degree. James Shepard married Annie Robison in 1895 and the couple had two children.

In 1898 Shepard along with John Merrick established North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham. Eventually Shepard founded Farmers and Mechanics Bank in Durham as well.

Sources: 

Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); "The History of North Carolina Central University,” http://www.nccu.edu/discover/history.cfm.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jennings, Thomas L. (1791- 1856)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Thomas L. Jennings was the first black man to receive a patent. The patent was awarded on March 3, 1821 (US Patent 3306x) for his discovery of a process called dry-scouring which was the forerunner of today’s modern dry-cleaning.  Jennings was born free in New York City, New York in 1791.  In his early 20s he became a tailor but then opened a dry cleaning business in the city.  While running his business Jennings developed dry-scouring.   

The patent to Jennings generated considerable controversy during this period.  Slaves at this time could not patent their own inventions; their effort was the property of their master. This regulation dated back to the US patent laws of 1793.  The regulation was based on the legal presumption that "the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual.” Patent courts also held that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not own rights to their inventions. In 1861 patent rights were finally extended to slaves.  

Sources: 

Mary Bellis, Thomas Jennings: Thomas Jennings was the first African
American to receive a patent
,
http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bljennings.htm; Joan Potter, African American Firsts (New York: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Buthelezi, Mangosuthu Gatsha (1928 - )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

Image ownership: Public Domain

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Zulu Chief and one of the founders of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), was born August 27, 1928 in Mahlabathinni, Natal. He was a descendent of the Zulu royal family, his mother being the granddaughter of King Cetshwayo. Buthelezi attended Impumalanga Primary School and then went on to study at Adams College in Amanzimtioti. In 1948 he attended Fort Hare University, where he would begin his lifelong involvement in politics by joining the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and participating in sit-in demonstrations which would lead to his expulsion from the University.

Sources: 

Ben Temkin, Buthelezi: A Biography (London: Frank Cass, 2003); LA Times Website: http://articles.latimes.com/1992-02-14/local/me-2176_1_los-angeles-times.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Sussex, England

Owen, Chandler (1889-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
"Chandler Owen," in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds. (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

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

Evers, Medgar (1925-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 Medgar Evers, at the time of his assassination in 1963, was the Field Secretary for the Mississippi NAACP and thus one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in that state. Evers was born on July 2, 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. Evers was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Normandy in the following year. After his discharge from the service, Evers enrolled at Alcorn College.
Sources: 
Medgar Wiley Evers, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: a Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005); http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/evers_medgar/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Lucy, William "Bill" (1933- )

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

Labor union organizer and leader Bill Lucy was born on November 26, 1933 to Joseph and Susie Lucy in Memphis, Tennessee.  Raised in Richmond, California, Lucy studied civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1950s.  He then joined the U.S. Navy in 1951.

Sources: 
William Lucy, Interview by Everett J. Freeman, 1986, Michigan State University; Michael Honey, Going Down Jericho Road:  The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign (New York:  W.W. Norton and Company, 2007).

 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Sellers, Cleveland (1944- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Cleveland L. Sellers, Jr.
Cleveland Sellers was born on November 8, 1944 in Denmark, South Carolina.  Cleveland became interested in the Civil Rights Movement with the murder of Emmett Till in 1955.  In 1960 at 15, he organized his first sit-in protest at a Denmark, South Carolina lunch counter, just two weeks after the infamous Woolworth’s sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Sellers’s enthusiasm for the movement was tempered by his father’s adamant opposition to his participation.  Sellers entered Howard University in 1963 and concentrated on his studies in compliance with his father’s wishes until his sophomore year.  In 1964 he returned to protest activity and joined Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)  In 1965, Sellers became the program director of SNCC after his successful work with the voter registration in Mississippi.
Sources: 
Cleveland Sellers, The River of No Return (New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1973); http://www.depauw.edu/news/index.asp?id=13829.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Johnson, Anthony (? – 1670)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Anthony Johnson's Virginia and Maryland:
Map of Colonial Settlement by 1700
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Anthony Johnson was the first prominent black landholder in the English colonies.  Johnson arrived in Virginia in 1621 aboard the James.  It is uncertain if Johnson arrived as an indentured servant or as a slave, early records list him as “Antonio, a Negro.”  Regardless of his status, Johnson was bound labor and was put to work on Edward Bennett’s tobacco plantation near Warresquioake, Virginia.  In March of 1622 local Tidewater Indians attacked Bennett’s plantation, killing fifty-two people.  Johnson was one of only five on the plantation who survived the attack.  

In 1622 “Mary, a Negro Woman” arrived aboard the Margrett and John and like Anthony, she ended up on Bennett’s plantation.  At some point Anthony and Mary were married; a 1653 Northampton County court document lists Mary as Anthony’s wife.  It was a prosperous and enduring union that lasted over forty years and produced at least four children including two sons and two daughters.  The couple was respected in their community for their “hard labor and known service,” according to court documents.  
Sources: 
T.H. Breen, Stephen Innes, “Myne Owne Ground”: Race and Freedom on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, 1640-1676 (New York: Oxford U Press, 2004); Peter Wood, Strange New Land, Africans in Colonial America (New York: Oxford U Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Hill, Oliver White (1907-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, attorney Oliver W. Hill spent more than 60 years in a practice devoted to civil rights causes. He was in the forefront of the legal effort to desegregate public schools, participating in the series of lawsuits that were consolidated to become the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregated schools.

Oliver White Hill was born Oliver White on May 1, 1907 in Richmond, Virginia. When he was a baby, his father left; later his mother Olivia remarried and he took the last name of his stepfather, Joseph C. Hill. The family moved to Roanoke, Virginia, and then to Washington, D.C. where he graduated from Dunbar High School. After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree at Howard University, he graduated in 1933 from Howard University Law School, second in his class only to his friend Thurgood Marshall. In Richmond, Hill founded his first law firm, Hill, Martin and Robinson, and joined with Charles Hamilton Houston on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) legal team.
Sources: 
Oliver W. Hill, The Big Bang: Brown v. Board of Education and Beyond, the Autobiography of Oliver W. Hill, Sr. (Winter Park, Florida: Four-G Publishers, 2000); Alan Govenar, Untold Glory, African Americans in the Pursuit of Freedom, Opportunity, and Achievement (New York: Harlem Moon, 2007); http://www.pbs.org/beyondbrown/history/oliverhill; http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/06/washington/06hill; http://www.brownat50.org/Brown/Bios/BioOliverhill.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Carter, George Sherman (1911-1998)

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

George Sherman Carter, research chemist, was born on May 10, 1911 in Gloucester County, Virginia. Carter, called Sherman, was one of four boys and one girl born to George Peter and Emily Maude Carter.  Not much is known of Carter’s childhood or of his move north but in 1936 Carter began his studies at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he majored in biology.  Carter was very active in the school community, joining Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the track team, the New York Club and Wissenschaft Verein (Science Club).  After graduation in 1940 Carter attended Columbia University’s Teachers College as well as the College of the City of New York.

Carter married Kathleen Francis and the two of them had a daughter, Beverly Kathleen. In 1943 Carter was hired at Columbia University in New York to work in tandem with the University of Chicago studying nuclear fission. This project was set up by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the famed Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb.  While at Columbia, Carter worked for Isidor Isaac Rabi, who led the Columbia group of scientists.  That group included William and Lawrence Knox.

Sources: 
“George Sherman Carter, noted chemist and Harlem resident, dies at 87,” New York Amsterdam News (Dec. 9, 1998); George S. Schuyler, “Negro Scientists Played Important Role in Development of Atomic Bomb,” The Pittsburg Courier (Aug. 18, 1945); Lincoln University Alumni Magazine (Lincoln University, 1946); www.dailypress.com, Obituaries (Dec. 11-20, 1998)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Woodard, Isaac (1919-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Isaac Woodard, Jr. Escorted by Joe Louis
and Unidentified Man, 1946
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1946, U.S. Army Sergeant Isaac Woodard challenged a Greyhound Bus driver while traveling from Georgia to North Carolina after being discharged from service in World War II.  Police officers who met him at the next stop brutally attacked him and left him permanently blinded. The attack on Woodard and similar stories of mistreatment of other black servicemen returning from the war let to new national pressures on racial segregation and discrimination and to the integration of the Armed Services in 1948.
Sources: 
“The Isaac Woodard Case,” The Crisis 53 (September 1946);  Lynda G. Dodd, “Presidential Leadership and Civil Rights Lawyering in the Era Before Brown,” Indiana Law Journal 85 (Fall 2010): John Egerton, Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994);  Andrew H. Myers, “Resonant Ripples in a Global Pond:  The Blinding of Isaac Woodard,” available at:  http://faculty.uscupstate.edu/amyers/conference.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University

Peterson, Oscar Emmanuel (1925-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Oscar Peterson was born on August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec. He grew up in Place St-Henri, a bustling Montreal district with a small but close knit black community. Considered by many to be one of the greatest jazz piano players of all time, Peterson performed at thousands of live concerts to audiences worldwide in a career that lasted more than sixty-five years.

Peterson’s dazzling technique combined with a unique style made him one of the most influential jazz pianists in the world. The Montreal native developed a following for his brilliant playing early in his life, and he credited many teachers including his sister, brother, and pianist and composer Paul de Marky, with giving him the inspiration and instruction needed to pursue a career that made him one of Canada’s national treasures.

The pianist’s international breakthrough came after he accepted an invitation from the American jazz impresario Norman Granz to be in the audience at Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) presentation at Carnegie Hall in September of 1949. Granz brought Peterson on stage as a surprise guest.  Peterson received critical acclaim for his performance, which launched his career.

Some of Peterson’s most legendary works include “Canadiana Suite” which features jazz themes inspired by various Canadian cities and regions, and his Hymn to Freedom.
Sources: 
The Regina Leader Post (24 December 2007); Oscar Peterson, A Jazz Odyssey: A Biography of Oscar Peterson (New York: Continuum-Bayou Press Ltd, 2002); Gene Lees, The Will to Swing (Rocklin, California: Prima Publishing & Communications, 1990).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Staples, George McDade (1947-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownershp: Public Domain"
George McDade Staples was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda, where he served from 1998 to 2001.  He was later appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as ambassador to Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.  He served in that post between 2001 and 2004.

Staples was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1947.  He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Southern California and an M.A. in Business from Central Michigan University. He and his wife, Jo Ann Fuson Staples, have one daughter, Catherine.  The couple have a permanent home in Pineville, Kentucky.
Sources: 
The American Academy of Diplomacy, http://www.academyofdiplomacy.org/members/bios/Staples.html; U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/staples-george-mcdade.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

Ruggles, David (1810-1849)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

David Ruggles, abolitionist, businessman, journalist and hydrotherapist, was born in 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut. He attended the Sabbath School for the poor which admitted people of color starting in 1815. In 1827 he left Connecticut for New York City where he operated a grocery store for the next four years.  He then quit the grocery business to open his own bookshop in early 1834.  Ruggles is generally known as the first African American bookseller. While working at the bookstore he extended many publications and prints promoting the abolition of slavery and in opposition to the efforts of the American Colonization Society which promoted black settlement in Liberia.  Ruggles also took on job printing, letterpress work, picture framing, and bookbinding to augment his income.  In September 1835, a white anti-abolitionist mob burned his store. 

In 1833 Ruggles began to travel across the Northeast promoting the Emancipator and Journal of Public Morals, an abolitionist weekly. Ruggles, who wrote articles and pamphlets and gave lectures denouncing slavery and Liberian colonization, made him a figure of rising prominence in abolitionist circles in the late 1830s. 

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

Cornish, Samuel Eli (1795-1858)

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

Samuel Cornish, an abolitionist and editor, was born in Sussex County, Delaware and raised in Philadelphia and New York City.  Since both of his parents were free African Americans Cornish was born free.  After graduating from the Free African School in Philadelphia Cornish began training to become a Presbyterian minister and was ordained in 1822.  Shortly afterward he moved to New York City where he organized the first black Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  

In addition to his duties as pastor, Cornish also became a journalist.  Working with fellow African American John B. Russwurm, he founded the first African American newspaper in the United States, Freedom’s Journal. Cornish was the senior editor of the paper while Russwurm served as junior editor. The first issue appeared in New York City on Friday, March 16, 1827.  After living in a world dominated by white media, Cornish and Russwurm stated in their first editorial, “We wish to plead our own cause.  Too long have others spoken for us.  Too long have the public been deceived by misrepresentations, in things that concern us dearly…,” clearly showing their intentions of publishing the news without white bias against the African American news.

Sources: 

Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, eds., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History
(New York: Simon & Schuster
Macmillan, 1996); Lerone Bennett Jr., Pioneers in Protest (Chicago:
Johnson Publishing Company Inc., 1968).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Sayers, Gale Eugene (1943 - )

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

Gale Sayers and Al Silverman, I Am Third (New York: Viking Press, 1970); George Sullivan, Power Football: The Greatest Running Backs (New York: Atheneum, 2001); "Gale Sayers: Pro Football's Rambling Rookie," Ebony 21: 3 (1966): 70-76.; The Topeka Capital-Journal, August 31, 2009; http://www.answers.com/topic/gale-sayers

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Baraka, Amiri (1934-2014)

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

Everett Leroi Jones, poet, playwright, activist, and educator, was born on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey to Coyt Leverrette Jones and Anna Lois Jones.  He attended primary and secondary schools in Newark and in 1954 he earned a B.A. in English from Howard University.  Jones joined the military that same year, serving three years in the Air Force as a gunner. 

Following his honorable discharge, Jones he settled in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan where he socialized with Beatnik artists, musicians, and writers.  While living in the Village, he also met and married Hettie Cohen, a Jewish writer.  The couple co-edited the progressive literary magazine Yugen.  They also founded Totem Press, which published the works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other political activists.

Sources: 

Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 181; http://www.amiribaraka.com/

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

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

Just, Ernest Everett (1883-1941)

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

Dr. Ernest E. Just was one of the first African Americans to receive worldwide recognition as a scientist.   Born August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina,  Just was only four years old when his father, Charles Fraser Just, died in 1887.  Due to mounting debt, his mother, Mary Just, moved with her children from Charleston to James Island, a Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina to work in its phosphate mines.  While on the Island, Mary Just became a highly respected leader of the community and convinced a number of residents on the Island to purchase land and start their own community.  The residents renamed the community, Maryville, in her honor.

Sources: 
Kenneth Manning, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); "Ernest Everett Just," in Kwame Anthony Appiah & Henry Louis, Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Sankara, Thomas (1949-1987)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Thomas Sankara, political leader of Burkina Faso in the 1980s, was born on December 21, 1949 in Yako, a northern town in the Upper Volta (today Burkina Faso) of French West Africa. He was the son of a Mossi mother and a Peul father, and personified the diversity of the Burkinabè people of the area. In his adolescence, Sankara witnessed the country’s independence from France in 1960 and the repressive and volatile nature of the regimes that ruled throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Sources: 

Pierre Englebert, Burkina Faso: Unsteady Statehood in West Africa (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996); Thomas Sankara, Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution, 1983-87 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1988); Victoria Brittain, “Introduction to Sankara and Burkina Faso,” Review of African Political Economy, No. 32 (April 1985).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Mortimer, Prince (ca. 1724-1834)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Born in West Africa, Prince Mortimer was captured by slave traders as a young boy. After enduring a brutal passage to the Americas, he arrived in Connecticut around 1730.  In the late 1750s he was sold in Middletown, Connecticut to Philip Mortimer, who trained him to work as a spinner of ropes.  Alternately dubbed “Guinea” and “Prince Negro,” Prince in time became a valuable senior spinner in Mortimer’s prosperous ropework.  During the American Revolution Prince served various officers and was sent on errands by George Washington.  

Although many Connecticut slaves were freed after their Revolutionary service, Prince was not.  His sufferings as a slave were compounded by yaws, a painful tropical disease similar to leprosy that caused cartilage to deteriorate and left terrible scars.  He would have been freed upon Philip Mortimer’s death in 1794 had not Mortimer’s son-in-law, George Starr, contested and succeeded in overturning Mortimer’s will. In December 1811, at the age of 87, Prince was accused of poisoning his new master, Captain George Starr, and was sentenced to life in prison.  His fellow slave, Jack Mortimer, also was accused.
Sources: 
Denis R Caron, A Century in Captivity: The Life and Trials of Prince Mortimer, a Connecticut Slave (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2006).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
State University of New York at Buffalo

Montgomery, John Leslie “Wes” (1925-1968)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Washington DC
Jazz Network

Wes Montgomery was a jazz guitarist whose natural genius and distinctive sound earned him recognition as one of the most important jazz musicians of the 20th century. Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana into a musically inclined family. Although he was given his first instrument as a child, Montgomery’s interest in guitar would not be ignited until he was 19 years old and married. After first hearing records from swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, he bought an affordable guitar and amplifier and taught himself how to play.  Partly in order to lower the volume for neighbors and because he found it awkward to use a pick, he soon adopted his own style of using his right thumb to pluck the strings. Although somewhat unconventional, the softer and deeper tone it produced still serves as one of his trademarks.

Sources: 
Charles Alexander, Masters of Jazz Guitar (London: Balafon Books, 1999); Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, & Brian Priestly, Jazz: The Essential Companion (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987); Leonard Feather, The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon Press, 1955); Leslie Gourse, Fancy Fretwork: The Great Jazz Guitarists (1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Fauset, Jessie R. (1882-1961)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jessie Redmon Fauset, known as the “Midwife of the Harlem Renaissance,” was born in Fredericksville, Camden County, New Jersey on April 27, 1882 to Redmon and Annie Seamon Fauset.  She was the seventh addition to an already large family. At a very early age Fauset lost her mother, and was raised by her father, a prosperous Presbyterian minister. Fauset’s father made sure his daughter had a well-rounded childhood and education.

In 1900, Jessie Fauset graduated with honors from the renowned Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) High School for Girls and was the only African American in her graduating class. Following her graduation, Fauset received a scholarship to attend Cornell University in New York, and in 1905 made history again by becoming the first black woman accepted into the university chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious academic honor society. Fauset graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in classical languages from Cornell University in 1909.  Twenty years later she received a Master of Arts Degree in French from the University of Pennsylvania.
Sources: 
Abby Arthur Johnson, “Literary Midwife: Jessie Fauset and the Harlem Renaissance,” in The Harlem Renaissance: A Gale Critical Companion (Detroit: Gale, 2003); Carole Marks and Diana Edkins, The Power of Pride: Style Makers and Rule Breakers of the Harlem Renaissance (New York: Crown, 1999); “Jessie Redmon Fauset" in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002).
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Massie, Samuel Proctor (1919-2005)

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

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

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

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

Tharpe, Rosetta Atkins [Sister Rosetta] (1915-1973)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist of gospel, jazz, blues, and rock-and-roll.  She was born on March 20, 1915 near Cotton Plant, Arkansas to Katie (née Harper) Bell Nubin and Willis B. Atkins.  Her mother, a mandolin-playing evangelist in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), toured with P.W. McGhee’s revivals in Southeastern states before moving with her daughter to Chicago in 1921.  There, mother and daughter performed together at the Fortieth Street Church of God in Christ (now Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ).   She also toured as a teenager with her mother as a COGIC evangelist across the country.

On November 17, 1934, at the age of 19, Rosetta Atkins married Pastor Thomas J. Thorpe, a COGIC minister.  She toured with him and her mother until 1938.  By October 1938, she had separated from her husband, moved to New York, and begun working at the Cotton Club.  She remained there until 1940.  

Tharpe made her first gospel recordings for the Decca label on October 31, 1938.  Two months later on December 23, 1938 she performed at Carnegie Hall in John Hammond’s first “From Spirituals to Swing” concert, and again at the second one of 1939.

Between 1938 and 1941 she performed at various venues around New York including the Paramount Theater, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Apollo Theater with bandleaders Cab Calloway and Louis Jordan.  
Sources: 
Gayle Wald, Shout, Sister, Shout!:  the Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007); Gayle Wald, “Tharpe, Sister Rosetta,” Encyclopedia of the Blues (New York: Routledge, 2006); Hilary Moore, “Tharpe, Sister Rosetta,”  Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music (New York: Routledge, 2005); Paul Oliver and Howard Rye, "Tharpe, Sister Rosetta," The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz Volume 3 (London: Macmillan Publishers, 2002); Bill Carpenter, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005); Gayle Wald, “Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Timeline: The Years of Sister Rosetta Tharpe,” PBS American Masters, Film: The Godmother of Rock & Roll. URL: <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/sister-rosetta-tharpe/timeline-the-years-of-sister-rosetta-tharpe/2487/>
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Smiley, Tavis (1964- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The third of ten children, Smiley was born in Gulfport, Mississippi on September 13, 1964, to Joyce Marie and Emory G. Smiley. At the age of two, he and his family moved to Indiana when his father, an Air Force non-commissioned officer, was transferred to Grissom Air Force Base in Bunker Hill, Indiana.  His mother is a Pentecostal minister. Upon graduation from Maconaquah High School, Smiley attended Indiana University, where he was involved in student government and became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. After reconsidering a decision to drop out of college at the end of his junior year, he interned as an aide to Tom Bradley, the first African-American mayor of Los Angeles. Smiley returned to Indiana University after the internship, receiving his bachelor’s degree in law and public policy in 1986. Upon graduation, he served as an aide to Mayor Bradley until 1990.
Sources: 
Tavis Smiley and David Ritz, What I Know for Sure: My Story of Growing Up in America (New York: Doubleday, 2006); Tavis Smiley, The Covenant with Black America (Third World Press, 2006); http://www.pri.org/smiley.html ; http://gale.cengage.com/free_resources/bhm/bio/smiley_t.htm ; http://www.answers.com/topic/tavis-smiley#top
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Antioch University Seattle

Gordon, Walter Arthur (1894-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Walter Arthur Gordon, attorney and civil rights activist, was born on October 10, 1894, in Atlanta, Georgia, to Henry B. and Georgia Bryant Gordon.  He was the son of a Pullman porter and the grandson of slaves. His family moved to Riverside, California, in 1904. He graduated from Riverside Polytechnic High School in 1913.

In 1914, Gordon entered the University of California at Berkeley. He was an intercollegiate boxer and wrestler, winning the state championship in both categories. He also played every position except center on the offensive and defensive lines of the varsity football team. Gordon was named to the annual football All-American team in 1918, the second African American to receive the award.
Sources: 
Alvin Shuster, “New Governor of Virgin Islands Is Sworn in by the Chief Justice,” New York Times, October 8, 1955; “Walter A. Gordon of Virgin Islands,” New York Times, April 6, 1976; Jonathan Wafer, “Walter Gordon,” Riversider.org; Rodolfo F. Acuna, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, 7th ed. (Boston: Longman, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Los Angeles

Stokes, Louis (1925- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of
Representatives Photography Office
Ohio’s first African American Congressman, Louis Stokes was born to Charles and Louis Stokes on February 23, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended its public schools before joining the United States Army in 1943. Stokes served in the army for three years and then attended Western Reserve University from 1946 to 1948 where he earned a B.A.  In 1953 he received a Doctor of Law degree from Cleveland Marshall Law School of the Cleveland State University. Stokes was admitted to the Ohio bar the same year and began practicing law in Cleveland.

Louis Stokes became active in the civil rights movement and political affairs in the 1960s. He became a member of the executive committee of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and was also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.  Stokes served as vice president of the Cleveland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1965-66, and as chairman of its Legal Redress Committee for five years.
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

Taylor, Michelle (1992- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Michelle Taylor is a 22 year old African American woman who was crowned Miss Alaska in 2013. Taylor was the first black woman to hold that title. After winning the title of Miss Alaska, she went on to compete in the national contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

A native of Anchorage, Alaska, Taylor attended the University of Alaska at Anchorage at the time of the pageant where she majored in hotel and restaurant management.  Her childhood ambition, however, was to be a gymnast.

Taylor’s exceptional academic ability was evident long before she began college. While in high school, she was awarded $11,000 for graduating in the top ten percentile of Alaskan high school students.  Because of her strong academic ability Taylor received financial aid and scholarship offers from a number of colleges and universities, but decided on the University of Alaska at Anchorage because of its generous scholarship offer as well as her proximity to family and friends.   
Sources: 
www.missamerica.org; Student Spotlight: Michelle Taylor, Green and Gold News, September 3, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

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

Berry, Halle (1968- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Halle Berry, who was born Maria Halle Berry, is a multiracial model, actress, and former beauty queen who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1968.  Her mother Judith Hawkins Berry, who is white, worked as a psychiatric nurse in a Cleveland hospital.  Berry’s African American father, Jerome Berry, was an attendant at the same hospital.  Berry’s parents divorced when she was four and she was subsequently raised by her mother.    

Halle Berry grew up in an African American neighborhood in her younger years, but then her mother Judith relocated the family to a white neighborhood.  Berry attended Bedford High in Cleveland and quickly became involved in cheerleading and the school newspaper.  She was also class president, a member of the honor society, and Prom Queen of her class.  Berry became Miss Teen Ohio in 1985 which led her to winning the Miss Teen All-American title the same year and then Miss Ohio in 1986.  Berry came in second place in Miss USA in 1986 and was the first African American to compete for the Miss World competition in 1986.  
Sources: 
"Celebrity Central Halle Berry." Halle Berry: People.com. 2008, http://www.people.com/people/halle_berry; Dominick Wills, "Halle Berry Biography," Tiscali Film & TV., http://www.tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/film/biographies/halle_berry_biog.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mitchell, John, Jr. (1863–1929) and the Richmond Planet (1883 -1996)

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

John Mitchell, Jr. edited and published the Richmond Planet newspaper from one year after its founding in 1883, until his death in 1929.  He was known as the “fighting editor” for his writing against racism.

In 1863, John Mitchell, Sr. and his wife Rebecca were living on the Lyons family estate in Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond.  The Mitchells were slaves; John was a coachman and Rebecca was a seamstress.  On July 11, 1863, they had John, Jr., the first of two sons.  After the Civil War, the Mitchell family moved to Richmond, where Rebecca and John, Jr. continued to work for the Lyons family.

Mitchell graduated high school at the top of his class in 1881.  He taught in Virginia Public Schools until state politics led to the firing of many black teachers, including him.

In 1883 the black lawyer Edwin Archer Randolph founded the Richmond Planet.  After just a year, the newspaper was in the red and on the verge of collapse.  Mitchell led a group of former teachers who resurrected it.

Sources: 

Ann Field Alexander, Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting
Editor,”
John Mitchell Jr., Charlottesville: University of Virginia
Press (2002); Richmond Planet, Richmond, Virginia (1884 – 1929);
William J. Simmons, Men of Mark, Cleveland: George M. Rewell & Co
(1887).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Davis, Ernie (1940-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ernie Davis with the Heisman Trophy, 1961
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ernie Davis is best known for being one of the greatest football players in college football history and the first black person to win the Heisman trophy. In the process, Davis became an icon for an integrated America and for African Americans achieving the American Dream in a manner similar to Jackie Robinson desegregating Major League Baseball in 1947.

Ernie Davis was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, and raised in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and Elmira, New York. At the Elmira Free Academy he was a standout academically and athletically where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He earned All-American honors in football in his junior and senior years at the Academy. As a result, Davis was offered over 50 scholarships. He chose Syracuse University (SU) at the request of SU alum and football legend, Jim Brown. At Syracuse he was immediately compared to Brown.  He was promoted to the varsity team as a freshman and given Brown’s number 44—which started SU’s storied tradition of legendary players (usually running backs) wearing and passing down number 44.

Sources: 

Robert C. Gallagher, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008); Universal Pictures, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008); Syracuse University, Ernie Davis: A Tribute to the Express (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/ernie.aspx); Syracuse University, “The Legend of 44” (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/legend_of_44.aspx); and Gary and Maury Youmans, The Story of the 1959 Syracuse University National Championship Football Team (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Hendrix, Jimi (1942-1970)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Legendary self-taught, left-handed guitarist Jimi Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, the son of Lucille Jeter Hendrix and Al Hendrix.  Jimi grew up in poverty but he loved science fiction, art, nearby Lake Washington and music, especially the R&B masters, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. By high school he was an accomplished guitarist.  Hendrix left high school to join the 101st Airborne so he could jump out of airplanes.

After his stint with the U.S. Army Jimi resumed his musical career and eventually played with some of the best rhythm and blues bands in the U.S. at the time.   In early 1964 he moved to New York, was hired by the Isley Brothers, and then he toured with Little Richard and Ike and Tina Turner.  By 1965 he set off on his own as Jimi James and the Blue Flames.  Hendrix applied blues harmony to rock progressions and played psychedelic rock solos in the middle of blues classics. By 1966 he had mastered techniques of sound distortion by using a fuzz box that made a “light string sound heavy and a heavy string sound like a sledgehammer” and by overdriving his amplifier. He played the guitar with his teeth, behind his back and under his legs.

Sources: 
Charles R. Cross, Room Full of Mirrors, A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (New York: Hyperian, 2005); Mary Willix, Jimi Hendrix Voices from Home  (Seattle: Creative Forces Publishing, 1996); Bill Milkowski, “Jimi the Composer,” Guitar World, March 1988; James A. Hendrix, My Son Jimi (Seattle: AIJ Enterprises, 1999); Harry Shapiro & Caesar Glebbeek, Electric Gypsy, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990);  Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm and Blues (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Reynolds, Melvin Jay “Mel” (1952- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Politician, scholar and professor, Mel Reynolds was born on January 8, 1952, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, to parents J.J. and Essie May Reynolds.  Reynolds attended John Marshall High School on the Westside of Chicago where he developed impressive academic credentials.  He then enrolled in Chicago City College and later completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Philosophy from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1974. In 1979, Reynolds won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in England. Reynolds also graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago, were he became a political science professor. While on the faculty he created the Community Economic Development Education Foundation.

Reynolds, a rising star in Illinois’ Second Congressional District, defeated incumbent Congressman Gus Savage in 1992 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1995.

In August of 1994, Reynolds was indicted for having sex with Beverly Heard, a 16 year old campaign volunteer.  In November of 1994, Reynolds, who claimed that the charges were racially motivated, was re-elected.  However, he was later convicted on 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. Groups such as the National Organization for Women called for the voluntary resignation of Reynolds. On October 1, 1995, he resigned his seat.

Sources: 
Clinton Commutation Grants, January 2001, University of Pittsburgh Law School; Interview with Mel Reynolds, Chicago Reporter, January 2001.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago

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

Walker, A'Lelia (1885–1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
A’Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker (New York: Scribner, 2001); Nancy Kuhl, Intimate Circles:  American Women in the Arts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003; http://www.madamcjwalker.com/bios/alelia-walker/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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.
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

Fitzgerald, Ella (1917-1996)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ella Fitzgerald was a female jazz singer considered without equal at the height of the jazz era.  Her voice had an amazing and vibrant range that allowed her to sing nearly every jazz style.  Ella was also an accomplished composer and bandleader who performed into the 1990s.

Born in Newport News, Virginia on April 25, 1917, Ella  grew up in Yonkers, New York in poverty.  She developed a love of music from a young age and at 17 won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem with her rendition of “Judy” that earning her a week’s engagement at the prestigious entertainment venue.  Additionally she was noticed by jazz drummer Chick Webb.
Sources: 
Michael Erlewine, All Music Guide to Jazz (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 1998); Tonya Bolden, The Book of African American Women (Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1996); http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/fitzgerald_e.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Mosley, Walter (1952- )

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

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

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

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

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

Richmond, Cedric Levon (1973- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the
U.S. House of Representatives
Cedric Richmond is the U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes much of New Orleans. Richmond, a Democrat, won the post after more than a decade of service in the Louisiana House of Representatives.

Born September 13, 1973, his mother was a public school teacher and a small business owner, and his father died when he was seven years old.  Growing up in East New Orleans he played baseball at Goretti playground and was inspired by his coaches there, which later influenced him to coach Little League Baseball at Goretti starting in 1989, at the age of 16.

Richmond graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1991, and earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He completed his Juris Doctorate at Tulane University School of Law, passed the Louisiana Bar Exam, and worked as an attorney at the New Orleans law firm of Gray & Gray. During this period he was elected president of the Louis A. Martinet Legal Foundation. Richmond also graduated from the Harvard University Executive Education Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1997.
Sources: 
Douglas Brinkley, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (New York: Morrow, 2006); Ebony magazine, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Co. January 2001); http://richmond.house.gov/about/full-biography ; http://www.cedricrichmond.com/about-cedric
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

Robinson, Eddie (1919-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
With 408 career victories at Grambling State University, Eddie Robinson is the most successful football coach in Division I history. In 1985 he surpassed Paul William “Bear” Bryant’s record set at Alabama with 324 wins.  Under Robinson, the Grambling Tigers posted three undefeated seasons, seven single-loss seasons, and set an all-time NCAA Division I-AA record 27 consecutive winning seasons from 1960 to 1986.  Robinson’s teams won 17 championships in Southwestern Atlantic Conference and 9 Black College National Championships. Under his tenure, more than 80 players joined the National Football League (NFL) including Charlie Joiner, Willie Brown, and Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to lead a National Football League (NFL) team to a Superbowl victory (the Washington (D.C.) Redskins over the Denver (Colorado) Broncos in 1988).
Sources: 
Michael Hurd, Black College Football, 1892-1992: One Hundred Years of History, Education, and Pride (Virginia Beach, Va.: The Donning Co. Pub., 1993); James Haskins, "Eddie Robinson" in James Haskins, ed., One More River to Cross: The Stories of Twelve Black Americans (New York: Scholastic, 1992); "National Football Foundation, “College Football Hall of Fame,” http://www.footballfoundation.org/Programs/CollegeFootballHallofFame/SearchDetail.aspx?id=70042; David L. Porter, "Eddie Robinson,” in James D. Whalen, ed., African American Sports Greats: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Harrison, Samuel (1818-1900)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Samuel Harrison, a minister, political activist, and former slave, became one of Berkshire County, Massachusetts’s most ardent abolitionists. Harrison was born enslaved in Philadelphia in 1818 but he and his mother were freed in 1821.  Shortly afterwards the widowed mother and her son moved to New York City. When Harrison was nine years old, he returned to Philadelphia to live with an uncle. 

Throughout his childhood, Harrison worked as an apprentice to his uncle in a shoemaking shop, learning a trade that would support him for years. He also attended church services with his mother regularly, and it was during his adolescence that Harrison decided to become a Presbyterian minister. 

Samuel Harrison tried hard to educate himself. In 1836, he enrolled in a manual school run by the abolitionist Gerrit Smith in Peterboro, New York. After only a few months, he transferred to the Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio (now Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio), an institution known for its abolitionist sympathies.   Financial difficulties, however, forced him to return to Philadelphia in 1839.

Soon after returning to Philadelphia, Harrison married Ellen Rhodes who he had known since the two were children. Over the next twenty years, Ellen gave birth to thirteen children, seven of whom died in early childhood.

Sources: 
Samuel Harrison, An Appeal of a Colored Man to his Fellow Citizens of a Fairer Hue in the United States (Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Chickering & Axtell, 1877); Samuel Harrison, Rev. Samuel Harrison, His Life Story, As Told By Himself (Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Privately printed, 1899); Dennis Dickerson, "Reverend Samuel Harrison: A Nineteenth Century Black Clergyman,” in Black Apostles at Home and Abroad: Afro-Americans and the Christian Mission from the Revolution to Reconstruction, edited by David W. Wills and Richard Newman (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Dudley, Edward Richard (1911-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Edward Dudley was the first black American to lead a U.S. Mission abroad with the rank of Ambassador. Dudley was born on March 11, 1911 in South Boston, Virginia to Edward Richard and Nellie (Johnson) Dudley. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1932, Dudley briefly taught in a one-room Virginia school. He later moved to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in Howard University’s dentistry program. After deciding dentistry was not for him, Dudley moved to New York City, New York, eventually enrolling at St. John’s University where he earned a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree in 1941.  While at St. John’s he served on its prestigious Law Review.
Sources: 
The New York Times, February 11, 2005; “Black Chiefs of Mission Oral History Project, Judge Edward Richard Dudley,” Phelps Stokes Fund, April 3, 1981; Pioneering African Americans in the Courts and the Legal Community Past and Present  (New York: Unified Court System of New York, February 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training

Clarke, Yvette Diane (1964– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Yvette Diane Clarke Website

Yvette Diane Clarke won her first political office when she was elected a member of the New York City Council representing part of Brooklyn in 2001. Clarke succeeded her mother, former City Councilmember, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the New York City Council.  

Clarke was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 21, 1964. She attended New York’s public schools and then entered Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1986.

Clarke served as the first Director of Business Development for the Bronx Empowerment Zone where she administered the $51 million budget that resulted in the revitalization and economic development of the South Bronx.  Clarke also chaired the powerful Contracts Committee and co-chaired the New York City Council Women's Caucus.

In 2006 Clarke was elected to the United States Congress to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District.  She holds the seat first won by Shirley Chisholm in 1970.  Chisholm was the first African American woman and the first Caribbean American elected to Congress.

Clarke is currently a member of three House committees and two subcommittees within each committee. Her House committee assignments are as follows: Education and Labor Committee, Homeland Security Committee, and the Small Business Committee.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Burroughs, Margaret (1917-2010 )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Margaret Burroughs at Texas A&M University,
March 2006
Image Ownership: Public Domain

In 1961, Margaret Burroughs and her husband, Charles Burroughs founded the Ebony Museum of Chicago, later called the DuSable Museum of African American History.  The DuSable is the oldest museum of its type in the United States.

Margaret Burroughs was born Margaret Taylor on November 1, 1917 in Saint Rose, Louisiana.  Her parents, Alexander and Octavia Taylor, moved to Chicago and young Margaret completed her education in the city’s public schools, graduating from Englewood High School in 1933.  She earned her teacher’s certificate in 1937 from Chicago Normal College. She continued her education at Chicago Teachers College as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a B.E. in Art Education in 1946, followed by an M.A. in 1948.

Taylor married artist Bernard Goss in 1939.  The couple had one daughter, Gayle.  Through the 1940s Taylor Goss taught in Chicago’s schools and in 1947 produced her first children’s book, Jasper, the Drummin’ Boy.  She and Goss divorced and on December 23, 1949, she married Charles Gordon Burroughs.  

Sources: 

Sterling Stuckey, Life with Margaret: The Autobiography of Dr. Margaret Burroughs (New York: In Time Publishing & Media Group, 2003); www.fineartstrader.com; http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/akaauthors2/Taylor.htm.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hayford, Adelaide Smith Casely (1868-1960)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford in 1903
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford was a Victorian feminist who dedicated her life to the education of girls in Sierra Leone.  Born on June 2, 1868 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Casely Hayford was the second youngest of seven children of parents William Smith Jr. and Anne Spilsbury.  Her prosperous, educated family was part of the Freetown Creole elite.  When Adelaide was four years old her family moved to England where she was raised and educated.  Her mother died soon afterwards.  Raised by her father, Hayford excelled in her studies.  When she turned 17 she was sent to Germany to study music.  In 1888 Casely Hayford moved back to England where she joined her father and new English stepmother.  In 1892, 24-year-old Hayford moved to Freetown to try teaching as a career.  This experience gave her an opportunity to study the education systems in West Africa

Sources: 

Cromwell, Adelaide M., An African American Feminist: The Life and Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868-1960 (London: Frank Cass & Co. LTD., 1986); Desai, Gaurav, “Gendered Self-Fashioning: Adelaide Casely Hayford’s Black Atlantic,” Research in African Literatures 35:3 (Fall 2004).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Washington, Walter Edward (1915-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Walter Washington Sworn in as Mayor of
Washington D.C., 1967
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Walter Edward Washington, attorney and politician, was born in Dawson, Georgia, on April 15, 1915 to Willie Mae and William L. Washington.  After his mother’s death in 1921, Washington moved with his father to Jamestown, New York.  Washington excelled academically and athletically in the public school. His trumpeting skills in school also earned him the nickname Duke II.   In 1934, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Washington earned his B.A. degree in 1938 and his law degree from the same institution in 1948.  While attending law school, Washington met and married Benetta Bullock.

Following law school, Washington was employed as a supervisor for the District of Columbia’s Alley Dwelling Project.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Washington the executive director the National Capitol Housing Authority, becoming the first African American to hold that position.

Sources: 
Michael W. Williams, ed., The African-American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1993, 1st edition): 1667; R. Kent Rasmussen, ed., The African-American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 2001, 2nd edition): 1625; Donna M. Wells, Washington History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2004), 4-15.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Bertonneau, E. Arnold (1834-1912)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
“Image Courtesy of Thomas F. Bertonneau”
Sources: 
Eric Foner (ed.), Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996); James G. Hollandsworth, Jr, The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998); and Charles Vincent, Black Legislators in Louisiana During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Nicholas Brothers

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Fayard Nicholas (1914-2006)
Harold Nicholas (1921-2000)

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, whose careers spanned over six decades, made up one of the most beloved dance teams in the history of dance, The Nicholas Brothers. They were best known for their unforgettable appearances in more than 30 Hollywood musicals in the 1930s and 1940s including Down Argentine Way (1940), Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Stormy Weather (1943). Their artistry, choreographic brilliance, and unique style -- a smooth mix of tap, jazz, ballet and acrobatic moves -- entertained and astonished vaudeville, theatre, film and television audiences all over the world.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Malcolm X (1925-1965)

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

Malcolm X, one of the most influential African American leaders of the 20th Century, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925 to Earl Little, a Georgia native and itinerant Baptist preacher, and Louise Norton Little who was born in the West Indian island of Grenada.  Shortly after Malcolm was born the family moved to Lansing, Michigan.  Earl Little joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) where he publicly advocated black nationalist beliefs, prompting the local white supremacist Black Legion to set fire to their home.  Little was killed by a streetcar in 1931. Authorities ruled it a suicide but the family believed he was killed by white supremacists.

Sources: 
Robert L. Jenkins and Mafanya Donald Tryman, The Malcolm X Encyclopedia (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002); Eugene V. Wolfenstein, The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Karl Evanzz, The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1992); Malcolm X with Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Grove Press, 1965).   
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Howard, Rebecca Groundage (1827-1881)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Rebecca Howard, an outstanding hotelier and cook, was one of Olympia, Washington's earliest businesswomen. Born in 1827 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Groundage married Alexander Howard, a local cooper, in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1843. By 1859 Rebecca and her husband had moved to Olympia and opened a hotel and restaurant in what would come to be known as the Pacific House Building on Main Street (now Capitol Way). In 1860 Rebecca Howard advertised the building as the “Pacific Restaurant.”

Memoirs of visitors to Olympia record the fine inn keeping provided by Mrs. Howard. The Howard’s hotel and restaurant was frequented by legislators and visitors to the city including President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy in 1880. When the building was razed in 1902, the Olympia, Washington Standard said that the Pacific Hotel was the leading hotel on Puget Sound under “the ministration of Rebecca Howard, …whose wit and humor…made the Pacific an oasis in the then desert of travel.”
Sources: 
Records of "Mrs. Rebecca H. Howard, 1862-1883.” Compiled 1999. Unpublished manuscript, available at Southwest Regional Archives, Olympia and Olympia Timberland Library.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Olympia Heritage Commission

Leighla Frances Whipper (1913-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis
Leighla Frances Whipper, author, songwriter, and restaurateur, was born on September 22, 1913 in Athens, Georgia into a prestigious family that encompassed the wide ranging areas of literature, theater, medicine, and social activism.  Leighla was the daughter of the noted Hollywood actor Leigh Whipper and Virginia Eva Wheeler, a talented dancer in the chorus lines of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s. She was the niece of Dr. Ionia Rollin Whipper, founder of the Ionia Rollin Whipper Home in Washington, DC.

Her grandmother, author Frances Anne Rollin, was the author of the earliest published diary by a black southern woman, and the author of the first full-length biography –  The Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delaney which appeared (1868) – by an African American.   

Leighla was a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. and a member of the prestigious social and literary organization, the Stylus Club there. In 1942 she moved to New York City where she worked as a journalist and literary editor for The People's Voice and other periodicals. Subjects among her memorable interviews in Washington, D.C. and New York City were actors Mary Pickford and Lon Chaney, dancer Josephine Baker and spiritual leader Father Divine.
Sources: 
Lelia Frances Whipper, The Pretty Way Home (New York: iUniverse, 2003), Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color (New York: Random House Books: 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Gibson, Kenneth A. (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Newark Museum
Kenneth Allen Gibson, the first African American mayor of Newark, New Jersey, was born in 1931 in the town of Enterprise, Alabama.  He graduated from high school in Enterprise in 1950 and joined the U.S. Army as a civil engineer.  He remained in the Army until 1958. After his discharge, he took a job as a New Jersey State Highway Patrol trooper while simultaneously attending Newark College. Gibson graduated with a B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1963.

After college Gibson took an engineering position for the Newark Housing Authority where he oversaw urban renewal projects from 1960-1966. In 1966, he became Newark’s chief structural engineer. He was also the head of Newark’s Business and Industry Coordinating Council and served as vice president of the United Community Corporation, which fought poverty in Newark during that time.
Sources: 
Colin Palmer, Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History (Missouri: Thomson Gale, 2006); Alston Hornsby Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.answers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bonga, Stephen (1799–1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of William L. Katz

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

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

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

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

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

Condé, Maryse (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Sources: 
Leah Hewitt, Autobiographical Tightropes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Françoise Pfaff, Conversations with Maryse Condé (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Armstrong Atlantic State University

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

Ferbos, Lionel Charles (1911- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
New Orleans, Louisiana trumpeter Lionel Charles Ferbos was born in in the city’s Creole 7th Ward on July 17, 1911.  His father was Louis Ferbos, a tinsmith, and his mother was Rosita Ferbos. Lionel had two siblings.  As a child, he had asthma and was advised not to play any wind instrument.  However, in 1926 he saw Russian orchestra leader Phil Spitalny’s all-girl orchestra and decided to become a musician.  Ferbos studied with Professor Paul Chaligny, who taught him to read music, and he subsequently continued to study with trumpeter Albert Snaer.  Ferbos was enumerated as a musician in the 1930 census and like most musicians of that time he always kept a manual job.  At Haspel’s Clothing Factory he met seamstress Marguerite Gilyot, who became his wife in 1934.  They had two children, actor Lionel Jr, (1939–2006) and Sylvia Schexnayder (b. 1941).  He later joined his father’s business and became a master tinsmith.
Sources: 
Al Rose & Edmond Souchon, A Family Album (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967); Lionel Ferbos: 100 Years Young, http://www.myneworleans.com/My-New-Orleans/April-2011/Lionel-Ferbos-100-Years-Young/; Ancestry.com, 1930 United States Federal Census about Lionel Ferbos.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Gaye, Marvin Pentz, Jr. (1939-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born on April 2, 1939 in Washington, D.C. Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. was named after his father, a minister of the apostolic church.  From a young age, the church played a large role in Gaye’s music career.  He began his musical profession in his father’s church choir and began playing the organ and drums.  After several years in the church, in 1957 Gaye left his father’s church and joined a group known as the Marquees.  After a year, the group was guided by the producer and singer Harvey Fuqua who inspired Marvin’s musical career.  When Fuqua moved to Detroit to further pursue his music, Gaye went with him.  In Detroit, Harvey was able to join forces with another music talent, Berry Gordy, where Gaye became a session drummer and soloist for the Motown Records label.

Shortly after in 1961, Gaye married Berry Gordy’s sister Anna Gordy.  During this same year, Gaye was also offered a solo recording record with Motown Records.  In the first year of his solo contract, Marvin was a jazz singer, but was soon persuaded to sing Rhythm and Blues (R&B).  His first hit single was “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” which became a top 10 selling hit on the R&B charts.  By 1965, Gaye became known as Motown’s best selling male vocalist and had added to the charts the famous song “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” followed by two more number one selling R&B hits, “I'll Be Doggone” and “Ain't That Peculiar.” 
Sources: 
Michael Eric Dyson, Mercy Mercy Me (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005);  
http://www.marvingayepage.net/biography/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Brown, Gayleatha Beatrice (1947-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
On July 2, 2009 President Barack Obama appointed Gayleatha Beatrice Brown to be the United States ambassador to Burkina Faso, a nation in West Africa.  This was her second ambassadorial appointment. Previously, Brown had been appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Benin, a post she held from 2006 to 2009.
Sources: 
“Ambassador Gayleatha B. Brown,” http://web.archive.org/web/20090922093219/http://cotonou.usembassy.gov/bio.html; “Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown,” U.S. Department of State Archive, http://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/70159.htm.
Contributor: 
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

McCall, Carl H. (1935- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Carl McCall, former comptroller for the State of New York, was the first African American nominated by the Democratic Party for the office of governor.  McCall lost the election to Republican incumbent governor George Pataki.  As comptroller from 1994 to 2002, McCall was the first African American to win statewide office in New York. 

McCall was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1935.  In 1958 he graduated from Dartmouth College and then attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  McCall eventually received an M.A. degree from Andover-Newton Theological School located in Massachusetts. 

In 1994, in his first bid for statewide office, McCall was elected New York comptroller.   McCall was reelected in 1998 winning over one million votes. As comptroller McCall, the state’s chief fiscal officer, audited the state government and public authorities of New York and served as the state’s sole pension fund trustee.

Before his election as comptroller McCall had established a long and distinguished career in public service.  He was deputy administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration from 1966 until 1969.  In 1975 he was elected to the New York State Senate representing Harlem.  In 1982, McCall was the unsuccessful candidate for Lieutenant Governor running on a ticket with Mario Cuomo for Governor.  Cuomo won his race and appointed McCall to serve as the State Commissioner of Human Rights. 

Sources: 
Elizabeth Benjamin, "Daily News." Elizabeth Benjamin, The Daily Politics. New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/2008/03/mccall-agrees-no-charges-for-s.html, "Black History Month: H. Carl McCall: New York State comptroller. 2003,” http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2002/black.history/stories/15.mccall/index.html;“H. Carl McCall,” Top Blacks, http://www.topblacks.com/government/h-carl-mccall.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Blayton, Jesse B., Sr. (1879-1977)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph of Jesse Blayton,
Atlanta University Photographs,
Atlanta University Center
Robert W. Woodruff Library

Jesse B. Blayton, Sr., was a pioneer African American radio station entrepreneur.  Blayton founded WERD-AM in Atlanta, Georgia on October 3, 1949 making him the first African American to own and operate a radio station in the United States.

Jesse Blayton was born in Fallis, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1879. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1922 and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia to establish a private practice as an accountant. Blayton passed the Georgia accounting examination in 1928, becoming the state's first black Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and only the fourth African American nationwide to hold the certification.

Blayton also taught accounting at Atlanta University where he encouraged younger blacks to enter the profession.  He had little success. Blayton later recalled that much of his recruiting difficulty came from the students' knowledge that no white-owned accounting firms would hire them and his, the only black-owned firm in the South, was small and had few openings. A decade after Blayton became a CPA there were still only seven other blacks in the U.S. who had achieved that status.  

Sources: 

William Barlow, Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1999); Theresa A. Hammond, A White-Collar
Profession: African American Public Accountants since 1921
(Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); "WERD" in the New
Georgia Encyclopedia (online), http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Houston, Charles Hamilton (1895-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Charles Hamilton Houston, a renowned civil rights attorney, was widely recognized as the architect of the civil rights strategy that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.  He was also a mentor to Thurgood Marshall who successfully litigated the pivotal Brown case.

Houston was born on September 3, 1895 in Washington, DC to parents William Houston, an attorney, and Mary Houston, a hairdresser and seamstress. He attended M Street High School (later Dunbar High School) in Washington, DC. Following graduation, he enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts where he was the only black student in his class. Houston was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society there. Upon graduating in 1915, he was selected to deliver that year’s valedictory address.

After graduating from Amherst, Houston returned to Washington.  He joined the U.S. Army in 1917 and was trained in the all-black officers training camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1917. Houston was later deployed to France. While there, Houston and his fellow black soldiers experienced racial discrimination which deepened his resolve to study law.
Sources: 
William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996); Rawn James, Jr., Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation (New York, Berlin, London: Bloomsbury Press, 2010); Carole Boston Weatherford, Great African-American Lawyers: Raising the Bar of Freedom (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

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