Odessa Brown, for whom the Children’s Clinic in Seattle is named, was born April 30, 1920, in Des Arc, Arkansas. She moved to Seattle in 1963 after receiving training as a licensed beautician at the C. J. Walker Beauty School in Chicago. A mother of four, she supported her family by working as Community Organizer for the Central Area Motivation Program beginning in 1965, and as a beautician. Brown was a staunch supporter of a health care facility for children in the Central Area. She worked tirelessly in this mostly African American neighborhood to make residents aware of the health needs of the area and to express these needs to the planners at Seattle Model Cities, a federally-funded anti-poverty agency.
Odessa Brown was a quiet, private person but when she spoke people listened, particularly when it concerned health care for children. Her efforts persuaded Seattle Model Cities to develop a children’s clinic to serve the city’s Central District. During her campaign for the clinic, few friends or associates were aware of her battle with leukemia which she had fought during her years as a CAMP community organizer. Brown died on October 15, 1969. When the time came to name the children’s clinic after it opened its doors in 1970, there was never a question but that it be named the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.
Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).
Keith Ellison was born on August 4, 1963 in Detroit, Michigan. He was raised Catholic in a middle class family which included five sons. His father was a psychiatrist and his mother was a social worker. Since childhood Ellison was involved with the civil rights movement and even worked with his grandfather in Louisiana for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1981 Ellison graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. Six years later he graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a B.A. in economics. While attending Wayne State University, Ellison converted from Catholicism to Islam. After graduation Ellison attended the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1990 he graduated with a degree of Juris Doctor.
Ellison began his professional career at the Minneapolis law firm of Lindquist and Vennum. He worked there for three years as a litigator specializing in criminal defense, civil rights, and employment. After leaving Lindquist and Vennum Ellison became executive director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis. He then returned to private practice by joining Hassan & Reed where he specialized in trial practice.
Martiga Lohn, “Islamic Convert Wins House Nomination,” The Associated Press, September 14, 2006; Frederic J. Frommer, “Rep. Ellison Wants Forces Out of Iraq,” The Associated Press, January 10, 2007; Congressional Biography:
Educator Ruth Braswell Jones was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on November 21, 1914, the seventh daughter, of William and Arkaanna (Sanders) Braswell. Her education includes a diploma with distinction from Brick Junior College, Brick, North Carolina, in 1933 and a B.S. degree in Education with distinction from Elizabeth City State Teachers College, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in 1948. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, awarded her the M.S. degree in Education in 1960.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Christopher Paul Gardner entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and writer was born on February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gardner, never knowing his father, lived periodically with his mother, Bettye Jean Triplett, as well as in foster homes.
After high school, he joined the navy and then moved to San Francisco where he worked for a medical research associate and scientific medical supply distributor. In 1977, he married Sherry Dyson. In 1981 they separated, but did not divorce until 1990. In 1981, Gardner’s girlfriend, Jackie, gave birth to their son Christopher Gardner, Jr. Nineteen months later, Jackie left him and their son.
In 1982, Gardner earned a spot in the Dean Witter Reynolds training program for future stockbrokers. Unable to sustain their home on the trainee salary, Gardner and his son became homeless. After he completed his training at Dean Witter Reynolds, Gardner was noticed by Gary Shemano who offered him a job at Bear Stearns & Co. With the new position, Gardner was able to find housing for himself and his son. From 1983-1987 Gardner worked at Bear Stearns & Co. where he became the top earner. In 1987, he opened his home-based brokerage firm, Gardner Rich, in Chicago. During one of Jackie’s visits to her son in 1985, their daughter Jacintha Gardner was conceived.
Christopher Gardner, Quincy Troupe and Min Eichler Rivas, The Pursuit of Happyness (New York: Amistad, 2006); Christopher Gardner and Min Eichler Rivas, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in the Pursuit of Happyness (New York: HarperCollins, 2009); Andrew Barber, "Christopher Gardner," ATrader, (December 2006/January 2007), p. 92. http://atrader.com/Christopher_Gardner.html: “Biography: Christopher Gardner.” http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com /main/biography.htm.
During his rookie season, a Knicks official nicknamed Frazier, “Clyde” after the infamous 1930s bank robber Clyde Barrow. The name stuck as Frazier personified African American pride and culture in the early 1970s. His stylish dress and his cool demeanor on and off the court resembled some of the popular characters in Blaxploitation movies of the era such as John Shaft in Shaft and Priest in Superfly.
As a Knick, Frazier played in seven NBA All-Star Games and named to four All-NBA First Teams and seven NBA All-Defensive First Teams. While with the Knicks, Frazier also set team highs for points scored, games played, and assists. He led the team to its only NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.
Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, New York, to parents Melvine Love Bellanfanti, a Jamaican housekeepter, and Harlod George Bellanfanti, Sr., of Martinique, who worked as a chef for the National Guard. Belafonte grew from being a troubled youth to an award winning entertainer and world renowned political activist and humanitarian. From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica. He returned to New York City and atended George Washington High School. In 1944 Belafonte joined the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and although Belafonte was never sent overseas, after the war ended he was able to use the G.I. Bill to pay for a drama workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan alongside fellow students Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier.
Belafonte's career as an entertainer had a rocky start, but in the 1950s he found great success. In the first half of 1956 alone Belafonte had three top-ten albums, the most notable being Calypso, which spent 31 weeks at number one and helped him gain the title King of Calypso. Music was not his only successful endeavor in entertainment; Belafonte also became well known for his works on film, television, and Broadway.
Johnson Chesnutt Whittaker, the second black cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born a slave in 1858 in South Carolina to an enslaved mother, Maria J. Whitaker and her free husband, James Whitaker. (Later in life he added a second “t” to his name). By October 1869, Whitaker attended a freedmen’s school in Camden, where he received lessons for five years. In the fall of 1874 he became one of the first African American students to enter the University of South Carolina. Whittaker was an exceptional student, academically ahead of most of his classmates; he averaged 94 percent in all his courses at the University. After befriending Richard T. Greener, his professor, Whitaker was nominated to attend West Point. He arrived there on his birthday, August 23, 1876.
Sam Lucas, one of the most respected and celebrated entertainers of his time, is credited with breaking barriers for black actors and becoming the first African American actor to star in a “white” feature film. Lucas is best remembered for his comic and dramatic roles performed on the minstrel circuit and Broadway stages, and by the end of his career, a major motion picture.
Lucas was born Samuel Mildmay in Washington, Ohio in 1840. He began singing and playing the guitar as a teenager and went on to establish a reputation as a performer while working as a barber. After the Civil War when African American performers (in blackface) were allowed to work in minstrel shows, Lucas joined traveling black companies and sang on the Ohio River steamboats. Lucas built a reputation as the best all-around entertainer in the business and was empowered to select his own shows which allowed him to star with the most successful black minstrel companies as a comedian and singer.
Mel Watkins, On the Real Side, (New York: Simon & Schuster); David
Pilgrim, “The Tom Caricature,” http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/tom/,
December 2000, Ferris State University, Rapids, Michigan: Jessie Carney
Smith, Notable Black Men. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1999); Phyllis
R. Klotman, African Americans in Cinema: The First Half Century,
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).
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.
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.
Poet, novelist, musician, and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1948 to parents Bobbie Scott Heron, a librarian, and Giles (Gil) Heron, a Jamaican professional soccer player. He grew up in Lincoln, Tennessee and the Bronx, New York, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Heron attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received an M.S. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.
By age 13, Scott-Heron had written his first collection of poems. He published his first novel, The Vulture, a murder mystery whose central themes include the devastating effects of drugs on urban black life, in 1968 at age 19. Four years later, Scott-Heron published his second novel, The Nigger Factory (1972), which, set on the campus of a historically black college (HBCU), focused on the conflicting ideology between the more traditionally Eurocentric-trained administrators; the younger, more nationalistic students—founders of Members of Justice for Meaningful Black Education (MJUMBE); and the more moderate students and their leader, Earl Thomas.
Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.
Upon graduating the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics (now Wellesley College) in 1902, Angelina embarked on a career teaching English in Washington, D.C. that would last until 1926. It is during her teaching career that she begins to write. Her poetry, short stories and essays were published in The Crisis, Alain Locke’s The New Negro, in Countee Cullen’s Caroling Dusk and in Robert Kerlin’s Negro Poets and Their Poems.
Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html
Albert Irving Cassell, a prominent African American architect, planner, engineer, educator, and entrepreneur, was born on June 25, 1895 in Towson, Maryland. His parents were Albert and Charlotte Cassell. Albert’s father was a coal truck driver and trumpet player and his mother washed laundry to help with the family finances. Albert himself had three wives and children by each of them for a total of six children and two step-children. Cassell’s education began in a Baltimore public elementary and high school. He later moved to Ithaca, New York and enrolled in a city high school there. He was admitted into Cornell University for college, where he worked on campus to pay for his tuition.
Before Cassell could complete his college education, he served in the United States Army during World War I from 1917-1918. Commissioned a second lieutenant in the heavy field artillery, he served as a training officer in France. After his brief stint in the military, he returned to Cornell University and completed his bachelor architectural degree in 1919. His first project included the design of five buildings at the Tuskegee Institute with fellow architect William A. Hazel. In 1920 he designed silk mills and other industrial plants in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Later that year Cassell joined the Architecture Department of Howard University as an assistant professor.
Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III, was an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and social critic who revolutionized the comedy world in the 1960s and 1970s. He became famous for colorful, irreverent and often vulgar language as he comically described the major issues of the period. Pryor won an Emmy award in 1973 and five Grammy Awards between 1974 and 1982.
Richard Pryor was born on December 1, 1940 and raised in Peoria, Illinois. Abandoned by his parents when he was 10, Pryor and three other siblings were raised in his grandmother’s brothel. As a youth, he was raped by a teenaged neighbor and molested by a Catholic priest. He was expelled from school at the age of 14 and began working as a janitor, meat packer, and truck driver. Pryor served in the U.S army spending most of that time in an army prison for assaulting a fellow soldier while stationed in Germany. In 1960, Pryor married Patricia Price and they would had his first child, Richard Jr. The couple divorced in 1961.
Official Website: http://www.richardpryor.com; Richard Pryor: Stand-Up
Philosopher, City Journal, Spring 2009:
Ancestry: http://www.progenealogists.com/pryor/; American Masters:
Jane Mersky Leder and Howard Schroeder, Walter Payton (Mankato, Minn.: Crestwood House, 1986); Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Villard, 2000); http://www.bearshistory.com/lore/walterpayton.aspx
A native of Missouri, Himes spent most of his childhood in southern towns and cities where his father taught in the mechanical departments of African American colleges. He graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio. After a 1928 robbery Himes spent seven and one-half years in prison. While in prison he published fiction in a number of newspapers and magazines, including Esquire. Frustrated by employment discrimination in Ohio as the United States mobilized for World War II, Himes decided to move to Los Angeles.
Born on January 28, 1981 in Villa Clara, Cuba, the Cuban born player Maykel Galindo has made a name for himself among the American soccer ranks over the last several years. Galindo started playing soccer when he was eight years old. He soon became an exceptional youth player and was selected to play on the Cuban national soccer team.
Galindo made his youth national team debut in January of 2002 in a match against Guatemala. Three years later he was on the senior squad which competed in the 2005 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup which was to be played in the United States. On July 9, 2005 when Cuba played Costa Rica at Quest Field in Seattle, Washington, Galindo scored Cuba’s only goal in a losing contest. Later that evening in his hotel, Galindo contacted American officials and defected to the United States.
Beau Dure, “Cuba's Maykel Galindo finds USA, MLS to his liking,” USA Today, August 22, 2007; Elisa Han, “Cuban Defector talks about his Ordeal,” King 5 News, July 15, 2005; Maykel Galindo Bio, http://chivas.usa.MLSnet.com.
Lieutenant General Frank E. Peterson Jr., the first black general in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born in 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He earned his Bachelor of Science in 1967. He received a Master’s in International Affairs in 1973. Both degrees came from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He also attended the Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico, Virginia and the National War College in Washington, D.C.
Frank Peterson joined the Navy as an electronics technician in 1952. Motivated by the story of Jesse Brown, the Army aviator who was shot down and killed over North Korea, Peterson applied for and was accepted into the Naval Aviation Cadet Corps. In 1952 Peterson completed his training with the Corps and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He became the first black pilot in the Marine Corps.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed
Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press,
1997); Jessie Carney Smith, Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink
Press, 2003); Jonathan Sutherland, African-Americans at War (Santa
Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004).
David Satcher, physician, educator, and administrator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, on March 2, 1941 to Wilmer and Anne Satcher. In 1963 Satcher graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He earned a M.D. and Ph.D. in cytogenetics from Case Western Reserve University in 1970.
In 1979 Satcher became a professor and later chair of the Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice at Morehouse School of Medicine. In the early 1980s, he also served on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health and the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he developed and chaired the King/Drew Department of Family Medicine. While in his position, Satcher negotiated the agreement with the UCLA School of Medicine and the Board of Regents that created a medical education program at King/Drew. In this new program, he directed sickle cell research. In 1982, Satcher began his five year presidency at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Alexis Herman, US Secretary of Labor, political activist, civic leader, social worker, and entrepreneur, was born on July 16, 1947 in Mobile, Alabama to politician Alex Herman and educator Gloria Caponis. Herman graduated from Heart of Mary High School in Mobile in 1965 and enrolled in Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and then Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama before transferring to St. Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969. She joined the Gamma Alpha Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta during her college years and supported this sorority throughout her career.
Orenthal James Simpson was born July 9, 1947, in San Francisco, California. A troubled youth, poor grades and violent behavior kept Simpson from earning any college scholarship offers while attending high school. Simpson was highly recruited, however, after breaking several junior college records, and he would earn a scholarship to the University of Southern California.
In his second season at USC, Simpson set NCAA records for rushing yards in a season (1709) and carries (355) on his way to winning the national championship. Simpson won the 1968 Heisman Trophy by the largest voting margin ever.
The Buffalo Bills selected Simpson as the number one overall pick in the 1969 NFL draft. The first three NFL seasons were uneventful for the young Simpson, as coaches were hesitant to make Simpson a star. Beginning in 1972, however, Simpson’s abilities would not be ignored, as he led the league in rushing for four out of five seasons from 1972-1976. In 1973 Simpson won the NFL Most Valuable Player award while breaking the record for rushing yards in a season with 2003, and he remains the only player to rush for over 2000 yards in a fourteen game season. After he retired from professional football Simpson pursued a moderately successful acting career.
Leading 20th Century black historian Rayford Whittingham Logan was born on January 7, 1897 in Washington, D.C. to working class parents, Arthur C. and Martha Whittingham Logan. Rayford Logan spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. While in high school, he was taught by Carter G. Woodson. A bright student, Logan was honored with a scholarship to Williams College where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1917. Immediately, he joined the U.S. Army in World War I and like many black veterans of that era, was disillusioned as he witnessed the racism perpetrated against black troops by white officers.
Ray Merriwether, prominent Seattle African American architect, real estate developer, and newspaper owner, was born in Taylor, Texas to Colie and Annie Merriwether. After graduating from high school Merriwether attended barber school and served a short time in the United States Navy.
In 1943, Merriwether entered Howard University where he became president of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. He earned a Civil Engineering degree from Howard in 1947. Later that year he moved to Seattle, Washington and began his career with the City of Seattle’s Building Department as a Structural Plan Examiner. Merriwether was the third black engineer to work in Seattle. In 1949, at the age of 25, Merriwether built his first new apartment building, the 18-unit Chrystal Arms followed by the Chrystal Plaza, and another 18 units the next year. Both buildings were named for his daughter, Chrystal. These were soon followed by three more apartment buildings with a total of 54 units.
Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1976); Edward David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Ula Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); and Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (London: Cass, 1967).
John Wesley Cromwell was a historian, editor, educator and lawyer who was born into slavery on September 5th, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the youngest child of Willis Hodges Cromwell and Elizabeth Carney Cromwell, who had twelve children. In 1851 Willis Cromwell obtained his family’s freedom and they moved to West Philadelphia. John attended Bird’s Grammar School at the age of ten and the Institute for Colored Youth in 1856. He graduated in 1864 and taught briefly in Colombia, Pennsylvania.
Cromwell returned to Virginia in 1865 at the age of eighteen and opened a private school for freedmen in Portsmouth, which was eventually taken over by the American Missionary Association. He returned to Philadelphia and worked with the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. In December of 1865, the principal of the Association recommended Cromwell to teach in the American Missionary Association’s freedman’s schools being formed across the South. Cromwell taught briefly in Maryland and Virginia through 1867.
John Wesley Cromwell soon got involved with local politics in Virginia. In 1867 he was named a delegate to the first Republican convention in Richmond. He was also named clerk in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1868.
John Carter Leftwich was born on June 6, 1867 in Forkland, Alabama. The first son of Frances Edge and Lloyd Leftwich, one of Alabama’s last black Reconstruction Era state senators, John graduated from Selma University in 1890. As a young man, Leftwich held a deep admiration for Booker T. Washington, and wrote to him constantly for aid and advice. In 1897, possibly with Washington’s support, Leftwich was appointed Alabama’s Receiver of Public Money by President William McKinley. During this time Leftwich also founded an all-black town named Klondike. In 1902, however, Leftwich lost the support of Washington. Later that year Alabama blacks were disfranchised. These events led Leftwich to migrate to Oklahoma Territory to begin anew.
Leigh Whipper, the first black member of the Actors’ Equity Association (1913), was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1876. His father, William J. Whipper, was a Pennsylvania entrepreneur and abolitionist before the Civil War and later a member of two Constitutional Conventions during the Reconstruction era. His mother, Frances Rollin Whipper, was a writer. Whipper attended public school in Washington, D.C. After leaving Howard University Law School in 1895, he immediately joined the theater.
Never a drama student, Whipper honed his acting abilities by observing the techniques of some of the most established actors of his day and interpreting the voices of some of his favorite writers, including Paul Laurence Dunbar. By the turn of the century, he had made his first Broadway appearance in Georgia Minstrels and went on to appear in classical Broadway productions of Stevedore, Of Mice and Men, and Porgy. Whipper achieved national fame for his characterization of the Crabman of the Catfish Row in Porgy, interposing into his part the Crabman’s Song. It was later incorporated into the film version.
Leigh Whipper Papers, 1861–1963, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library; “Leigh Whipper, 98, Character Actor,” The New York Times, Sunday, July 27, 1975, p. 35.
David Nelson. Crosthwait Jr. was a African American inventor who is known for creating the heating system for Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Crosthwait was born on May 27th 1898 in Nashville Tennessee. He grew up in Kansas City, Kansas where he attended an all-black school.
From a young age Crosthwait trained to become an engineer. His parents and teachers were very encouraging and challenged him to do experiments and to make designs. Crosthwait upon graduating from high school in Kansas City in 1908 received a full academic scholarship to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He gradated in 1913 from Purdue at the top of his class and received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
Later on Crosthwait moved to Marshalltown, Iowa to work for Dunham Company where he designed and installed heating systems. He also was in charge of diagnosing heating systems problems when they weren’t working properly. He rose through company ranks and was promoted to supervisor. While at the Dunham Company Crosthwait designed the heating system for Rockefeller Center and New York’s City’s Radio City Music Hall. Although these were his most noted projects, Crosthwait was patented for 39 United States inventions and received 80 international patents for his work on heating systems, refrigeration, vacuum pumps, and temperature regulating devices.
Otha Richard Sullivan, Black Stars: African American Inventors (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998); http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/services/patents-trademark/blkinvetors.
In 1853, the Lumbee Indians, a triracial people who are descendants of several southeastern Indian tribes, whites, and African Americans, named themselves after the Lumber River, which flows through their homeland in North Carolina. According to the Lumbee historian Adolph Dial, they are also descended from the “lost” Roanoke colonists, who took up residence with American Indians farther inland.
Billie Holiday is considered by many to be the greatest and most famous jazz vocalist of the 20th century. Her difficult life of poverty, abusive relationships, and drug abuse, helped give her voice a deep, raw emotion that was expressed in the music she sang.
Billie Holiday was born Eleanor Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia to a teenaged mother. She changed her name in her teens, choosing her first name after a favorite movie actress Billie Dove, and adopting the surname of her absent musician father Clarence Holiday. Holiday’s early life of poverty eventually led her to prostitution. However, she was discovered by John Hammond in an audition and began to sing in Harlem night clubs in 1933.
Harry Herbert Pace was the founder of the first black record company, Pace Phonograph Corporation which sold recordings under the Black Swan Records label. He was born on January 6, 1884 in Covington, Georgia the son of Charles Pace and Nancy Ferris Pace. His father, a blacksmith by trade, died while Harry was still an infant leaving him to be raised by his mother. Pace graduated from elementary school when he was twelve and finished at Atlanta University seven years later as valedictorian. W.E.B. Du Bois was one of his instructors. After graduation he worked in a printing company. He also worked for banking and insurance companies first in Atlanta and later in Memphis.
In 1912, after moving to Memphis, Pace met W.C. Handy. The two men became friends, writing songs together. During this period Pace met and later married Ethlynde Bibb. Pace and Handy formed the Pace and Handy Music Company together and work with composers such as William Grant Sill and Fletcher Henderson. Pace moved to New York to manage the sheet music business but later decided to form a record company.
Pace Phonograph Corporation Inc. was founded in March, 1921 with $30,000 in borrowed capital. The label Black Swan Records was named after Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield a famous 19th Century entertainer known as the “Black Swan” for her singing.
Jitu K. Weusi, The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records, http://www.redhotjazz.com/blackswan.html; Joan Potter, African American Firsts, (New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002).
George Putnam Riley, a native of Boston, participated in both the California and Canadian Northwest Territory Gold Rushes. In 1869, Riley along with 14 other Portland, Oregon residents--11 African American men, two African American women, and one white man--formed the Workingmen’s Joint Stock Association (WJSA). The members pooled funds to purchase real estate that was divided proportionately. George P. Riley, WJSA president, was dispatched to Washington Territory to search for property. In August, the Association purchased the eastern half of the 20-acre Hanford Donation Claim in Seattle, Washington for $2,000 [in] gold coin. The tract was legally given the name, “Riley’s Addition to South Seattle.” The original purchase, in the present-day Beacon Hill neighborhood, presently embraces the four blocks bordered by South Forest and South Lander, between 19th and 21st Avenues South.
The origins of Tacoma, Washington’s African American population can also be traced to the arrival of George P. Riley in 1869. Riley and his associates purchased 67 acres of land in Tacoma, legally called the Alliance Addition but pejoratively labeled the “Nigger Tract.” Interestingly, none of the WJSA members, except Riley, ever actually set foot in Tacoma. However, the Alliance Addition would become the spatial basis for Tacoma’s African American community--the Hilltop neighborhood as it is presently known.
Isaac Myers, a labor leader and mason, was born in Baltimore on January 13, 1835. He was the son of free parents but grew up in a slave state. Myers received his early education from a private day school of a local clergyman, Rev. John Fortie, since the state of Maryland provided no public education for African American children at the time. At 16 years, he became an apprentice to James Jackson, a prominent black Baltimore ship caulker. Four years later Myers was supervising the caulking of clipper ships operating out of Baltimore.
During the Civil War Myers worked as a porter and shipping clerk for a grocer and then returned to his original profession as a caulker. Soon after the war ended, Myers found himself unexpectedly unemployed when a group of white caulkers protested the employment of black caulkers and longshoremen. In response to the strike, Myers proposed the creation of a union for black caulkers.
Legendary actor Ernest Anderson gained notoriety for his monumental performance in the 1942 film In This Our Life – a single, supporting role that facilitated the alteration of negative depictions presented of African Americans in Hollywood film. Born in 1916 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Anderson was educated at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. and Northwestern University’s School of Drama and Speech.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Anderson moved to Hollywood where he worked as a service man for Warner Brothers studio before receiving his debut role in In This Our Life. It was Bette Davis, the film’s protagonist, who arranged Anderson’s interview for the part of Perry Clay – an aspiring lawyer who is falsely placed at the center of a hit-and-run scandal committed by a spoiled Southern woman.
The script originally called for Anderson’s character to comply with the dialectical speech patterns Hollywood filmmakers forced African Americans to deliver during the pre-World War II era. But after Anderson argued the integrity of the part, director John Huston empowered him to present the character with dignity, intelligence, and emotion.
Carlton Jackson, Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel (Lanham: Madison Books, 1990); Thomas Cripps, Making Movies Black (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1993); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).
Tyree Scott was a Seattle civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry. Scott was born in Hearne (Wharton County), Texas and before moving to Seattle in 1966, he served in the U. S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. His father was an electrician in Seattle who found that jobs in the construction industry were off limits to blacks, limiting his ability to compete for large contracts. In 1969, when Seattle’s Model Cities Program was attracting large federal contracts, the anti-poverty agency encouraged black contractors to organize in order to gain access to them.
Marshall Burchard, Sports Hero, Reggie Jackson (New York: Putnam, 1975); Reggie Jackson and Mike Lupica, Reggie: The Autobiography (New York: Villard Books, 1984): Edward J. Rielly, Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2000); http://www.nndb.com/people/404/000022338/
Fredi Washington was an actress and founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America as well as a journalist for People’s Voice. Born in Savannah, Georgia, Washington moved as a child to New York and began her professional career as a chorus dancer in the stage production of Shuffle Along in 1924. Fredi Washington appeared opposite Paul Robeson in the Frank Dazey’s 1926 play, Black Boy. Washington then left the United States with Al Moiret in 1927 and formed the dance duo, “Moiret and Fredi.” They toured clubs in Paris, Monte Carlo, London and Berlin for two years.
Patrick Vieira, one of Europe’s leading soccer players, was born in the Cape Verdean community of Dakar, Senegal, on June 23, 1976. He left Senegal at the age of eight when his family moved to Europe and settled in Dreux, in northwest France. Soon after their arrival the family became citizens of France.
Vieira began his professional soccer career playing for several local youth clubs in France. Then in 1993, at age 17, he joined AC Cannes Soccer Club. The French club provided an atmosphere for the young 6-foot-4 center midfielder to advance. After three seasons with AC Cannes, Vieira signed with AC Milan, one of the leading clubs in Italy. Although he hoped to break through to the first team in the 1995-96 season, Vieira spent much of his time on the reserve squad.
Trevor Huggins, “Vieira out of crunch Italy clash,” Four Four Two Magazine, June 16, 2008; Patrick Vieira, “Vieira,” The Orion Publishing Group, November 2006.
After graduation, Barrett, now married, began a career in criminal justice. She worked as a criminal justice planner in East Point, College Park, and Hapeville, Georgia.
Lieutenant General Julius Wesley Becton Jr. was born on June 29, 1926 to Julius and Rose Becton in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father worked as a janitor in their apartment building. His mother was a housekeeper and laundress. In December 1943, Julius Becton joined the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserves. After graduating high school in 1944, Becton joined the active army. It was Becton’s hope that he would become a pilot but was ruled ineligible because of astigmatism.
Though the Army was segregated in 1944, Officer Candidate School was not. Julius Becton and sixteen other African American candidates completed OCS in 1945 and were commissioned as second lieutenants. Shortly after his commissioning, Lt. Becton was assigned to serve in the Philippines.
Upon his return from the Philippines, Becton left the army and attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1948, after President Harry S. Truman had desegregated the military, Becton was accepted for active duty once again and remained in the Army until 1983. During that period he saw combat duty in Korean and Vietnam. He was also stationed in Germany, the Philippines, France, the Southwest Pacific, and `Japan during his service. Steadily moving up the ranks, in 1972, Becton was promoted to Brigadier General.
Lt. General Julius W. Becton Jr., Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant (Annapolis, MD: Naval
Institute Press, 2008); Clyde McQueen, The Black Army Officer
(Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008); Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass:
Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States
(Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); Jessie Carney Smith,
Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2003).
Jesse Brown, wounded veteran and government official, was born on March 27, 1944 to Lucille Brown in Detroit, Michigan. His single-parent mother raised him in Chicago. Brown first attended Roosevelt University in Chicago and later graduated from Kennedy- King College in that same city.
In 1963, Brown enlisted into the United States Marine Corps. During the Vietnam War, he was seriously wounded while patrolling near DaNang. The injury left his right arm completely paralyzed. For his sacrifice, Brown received the Purple Heart and an honorable discharge.
In 1967, Brown found employment at the Chicago Bureau of the Disabled American’s Veterans (DAV). Six years later in 1973, Brown had been promoted to supervisor of the appeals office for the DAV headquarters in Washington, D.C. Within ten years, Brown became headquarters manager. In 1988, he became the DAV’s first African American executive director. In this position, he often testified on veteran health issues before Congress. He challenged Congress’s efforts to decrease veteran’s benefits and criticized the deterioration of the veteran’s hospital system. While at the agency, he also created the system for health officials to diagnose and treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical side effects of Agent Orange.
Ewart Guinier, labor activist and political candidate, was the first chairman of Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department. Born in Panama in 1910, Guinier migrated to the United States in 1925 and attended high school in Boston, Massachusetts. After his acceptance into the Harvard University Class of 1933, Guinier was denied a scholarship because he allegedly did not submit a photograph with his application and because of his race he was not permitted to reside in the all-white dormitories. Guinier nonetheless started classes at Harvard but dropped out in 1931 due to the high tuition costs. He transferred to the City University of New York where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1935. He later received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1939 and his law degree from New York University in 1959.
Guinier served in Hawaii as a warrant officer in the segregated United States Army during World War Two. He met his future wife Genii Paprin, a young woman of Jewish descent, at a Labor Canteen in Honolulu in August 1945. Even though interracial marriages were illegal in most states at that time, the couple married in October of that year. They moved to Hollis, Queens in 1956 and were the first racially-mixed family in their neighborhood. Together they raised three daughters, Lani, Saury, and Marie Guinier.
Henry Brown, born enslaved in 1816 to John Barret, a former mayor of Richmond, eventually married another slave named Nancy and the couple had three children. Brown became an active member of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church where he was known for singing in the choir. In 1848 Brown’s wife and children were abruptly sold to away to North Carolina. Using “overwork” (overtime) money, Brown decided to arrange for his freedom.
He constructed a wooden crate three feet long and two feet six inches deep with two air holes. With help from Philadelphia abolitionists, he obtained a legal freight contract from Adams Express. This freight company with both rail and steamboat capabilities arranged to ship his package labeled “Dry Goods” to Philadelphia. The package was a heavy wooden box holding Brown’s 200 pounds.
Oscar Charleston was born October 14, 1896, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Growing up as a batboy for the local Indianapolis ABC’s, Charleston was a runaway who joined the Army at age 15. Stationed in the Philippines, Charleston was given the opportunity to play baseball and run track for the Army, where he ran the 220-yard dash in 23 seconds. While there, Charleston was allowed to play in the usually all-white Manila League.
Returning home in 1915, Charleston played for his hometown ABC’s. In one of many public outbursts resulting from his infamously bad temper, Charleston was suspended during his rookie season for arguing with an umpire, and was held on a $1000 bond. The next season, Charleston had a crucial role in the ABC’s Black World Series win over the Chicago American Giants, batting .360 in seven of the ten games.
After short stints with various teams from 1918-1920, Charleston would return to the ABC’s after the forming of the Negro National Leagues. In 1921, Charleston led the League in hitting (.426), triples (10), home runs (14), and stolen bases (28). Often compared to greats like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, Charleston dominated the League with his combination of hitting for both power and accuracy, his tremendous speed both in the outfield and while base running, and for his trademark intensity.
Gloster B. Current, former NAACP Director of Branch and Field Services, and member of the “old guard” of NAACP Civil Rights activists, was born in 1913 and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He received his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia State University and his Master’s Degree in public administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and shortly thereafter would begin his involvement with the NAACP that would continue for the rest of his life.
James Theodore Holly emigrationist, missionary, and bishop, was born in Washington, D.C on October 3, 1829. At age fourteen his family relocated to Brooklyn, New York. His father taught him the shoemaking trade. Then in 1848 he began working as an abolitionist with Lewis Tappan, one of the nation’s leading anti-slavery activists. In 1850 Holly and his brother Joseph opened their own boot making shop.
In 1851, James and Charlotte Holly were married in New York but they soon moved to Windsor, Canada, just across the border from Detroit. The Hollys remained in Windsor until 1854. While there James Holly helped former slave Henry Bibb edit his newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. Holly also endorsed the Refugee Home Society and organized the Amherstburg Convention of free blacks in Canada.
Before leaving for Canada, Holly had joined the Protestant Episcopal Church. He became a church deacon in 1855 then in the following year a priest. Even as he continued his religious activities, Holly was drawn toward emigration, believing that African Americans had no future in the United States. In 1854 he was a delegate to the first Emigration Convention in Cleveland. The next year he represented the National Emigration Board as commissioner.
In 1856 Holly returned to the United States, settling in New Haven, Connecticut where he was the priest of St. Luke’s Church and teacher in public and private schools until 1861.
Frank A. Rollin, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany Boston:
Lee and Shepard, (1868); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations
of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics: 2004); Eric
Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction 1863-1877 (New York: Harper
Collins, 1990); Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers; Three Lives (New
York: Feminist Press, 1979); www.Freedmansbureau.com
Broadway stage comedian Tim Moore, whose career as an entertainer spanned more than 50 years, is best remembered as George “Kingfish” Stevens on the classic Amos 'n' Andy series. Born in Rock Island, Illinois in December 1888, Moore began his career dancing on the sidewalks of his home town for money.
He later entered the vaudeville circuit when he teamed with Romeo Washburn, another black performer from Rock Island. Their traveling act became known as the “Gold Dust Twins.” Moore eventually went solo and toured British music halls for nearly two years. He then joined a medicine show that played vacant lots across the Midwest. He also worked as a fly-shooer in a stable, a boxer, fight manager, and a horseracing jockey.
By 1913, Moore had earned $110,000 as a prizefighter and manager. With his earnings he launched a new career as a theater producer. In 1921 Moore created his most successful production, Tim Moore’s Chicago Follies Tour, which ran for the next four years. Later in the decade he returned to acting, performing in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds in 1928 and Harlem Scandals four years later. By the mid-1940s, Moore now nearly 60, retired and returned to his hometown to, as he stated, “spend more time with my people.”
Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994); Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press Inc., 1978).
Lawyer, judge and businessman Samuel Riley Pierce, Jr., was the first African American partner in a major New York law firm, the first African American member of a Fortune 500 board, and one of the first African Americans to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. His career ended when he was investigated for corruption while serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Ronald Reagan.
Pierce was born in 1922 in Glen Cove, New York. He received a football scholarship to Cornell University. After serving in World War II, where he was the only black American agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, he returned to Cornell and graduated with honors in 1947, then earned a J.D. from Cornell Law School and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law.
After the fugitive slave law was enacted in 1850, Bibb emigrated to Ontario, Canada with his wife for fear of being enslaved for a second time. In Canada, Bibb and his wife helped to establish a Methodist Church and a day school that Mary Miles Bibb operated. In January 1851, Bibb published the first copy of his bimonthly abolitionist newspaper, Voice of the Fugitive. He used the paper to organize abolitionists in an attempt to help other African Americans immigrate to Canada. Bibb was instrumental in organizing the Refugees’ Home Society that had by his death in 1854 purchased almost 2000 acres of land and allocated 25 acre plots to 40 immigrants.
Kirke Smith was born July 22, 1865 in Montgomery County, Virginia. He graduated from Berea College in1894 and earned an M.A. degree from the University of Michigan. In 1894, Smith became the Superintendent of the Lebanon Colored Schools and the following year, Superintendent of Principals in the Lebanon, Kentucky school system, a post he held for fifteen years. During this period he also became an ordained minister.
On January 12, 1904, Democratic representative Carl Day, of Breathitt, Kentucky, introduced House Bill 25, “An Act to prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school.” The so-called Day Bill was aimed at Berea College since separate public schools for blacks and whites had been the law in the state for some time. After a lawsuit to defend its interracial educational policy was defeated in the courts, Berea raised funds to establish a new school for blacks. From 1910-1912, the trustees employed Rev. Kirke Smith and Rev. James Bond, the grandfather of Julian Bond, to raise money for the new school which would be named Lincoln Institute.
Born into poverty and racial segregation in Meridian, Mississippi in 1912, Ted Watkins became a civil rights and union activist and led an anti-poverty agency in Los Angeles, the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC). Watkins left Mississippi as a young man to avoid a lynching and headed west to the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles. After arriving in Los Angeles, Watkins began working for Ford Motor Company and joined the local United Auto Workers (UAW) chapter. He rose through the union ranks and by the early 1950s had become an international representative for UAW. Watkins and his wife, Bernice, also became active in the United Civil Rights Committee, a Los Angeles civil rights organization, and the Watts chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Appiah, Kwame and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia
of the African & African American Experience, Vols. 1-5 (New York:
Basic Civitas Books 2004); http://www.exploredc.org/index.php?id=381
Heman Marion Sweatt was a postal worker from Houston, Texas, who in 1950 integrated the University of Texas Law School. Sweatt was born on December 11, 1912 in Houston, Texas. He was the fourth child of James Leonard and Ella Rose Sweatt. In 1930, he graduated from Jack Yates High School and earned a degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1934. Soon after, Sweatt returned to Houston and worked as a mailman.
Michael L. Gillette, Michael L., "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert ed. Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981); http://txtell.lib.utexas.edu/stories/s0010-full.html.
James Michael Brodie, Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1993); The HistoryMakers, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/ralph-gardner-chavis-38.
Langston Hughes's work inspired Attaway to start writing in high school, an avocation he continued while studying at the University of Illinois. When his father died in 1931, Attaway took a two-year leave of absence from school. Traveling around the country, Attaway worked a variety of jobs, including seaman, dockworker, and salesman.
After Attaway returned to college in 1933, he wrote the play Carnival (1935) for his sister Ruth's theatre group which was first staged at the University of Illinois. The same year, Attaway also became involved in the Federal Writers Project (FWP). Through the FWP, he met Richard Wright, who would become an important literary influence and friend. In 1936, he earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois and Challenge published his short story, "The Tale of the Blackamoor."
Henry Green Parks, Jr. was a successful African American businessman who founded Parks Sausage Company in Baltimore, Maryland. Parks was born on September 29, 1916 in Atlanta, Georgia to Henry Green Parks, Sr., and Gainelle Williams. Parks was taken to Dayton, Ohio when he was six months old and was raised by his maternal Grandmother.
Raised in Dayton, Parks attended public schools, and then enrolled in Ohio State University in Columbus, graduating with honors from University College of Commerce in 1939 with a B.S. degree in Marketing. He also became the first African American on Ohio State University’s swim team.
The Biography Channel, Raven-Symoné Synopsis (New York, NY: Arts & Entertainment Networks, 2014), retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/raven-symon%C3%A9-21303025; Damien Croghan, Raven-Symone’s Coming Out should be Celebrated, retrieved from http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/croghan-raven-symone-s-coming-out-should-be-celebrated/article_4933ebc2-1017-11e3-9f71-0019bb30f31a.html; Kimberley McLeod, ed., “Actress Raven Symone Radiates Beside Out Model AzMarie,” Elixher Magazine (September 3, 2013), retrieved from http://elixher.com/actress-raven-symone-radiates-beside-out-model-azmarie/.
Edward P. McCabe was an African American politician and businessman most notable for his promotion of black settlement in Oklahoma and Kansas. Born in 1850 in Troy, New York, McCabe would attend school until his father’s death when he left school to support his family as a clerk on Wall Street. In 1872, he earned a job as a clerk in Chicago. Two years later, McCabe left Chicago for Kansas and arrived in the growing black community of Nicodemus in 1878.
In Nicodemus, McCabe established himself as an attorney and land agent. When Graham County was established in 1880, McCabe was appointed temporary clerk and officially elected as county clerk the next year. In 1882, he successfully stood as the Republican candidate for state auditor, a victory which made him the most important black office holder outside of the south. However, as Nicodemus’s fortunes reversed and the town began to hemorrhage residents, McCabe left first for Washington and then for Oklahoma.
Amha Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, was proclaimed ruler of the state three times, first in 1960 then in 1975 and finally while in exile in 1989. Selassie was born Asfaw Wossen Tafari in the walled city of Harrar in August 1916 to Dejazmach Tafari Makonnen, then the governor of Harrar and future emperor of Ethiopia, and his wife Menen Asfaw. Amha Selassie became Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen of Ethiopia when his father was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930.
In December 1960, the Imperial Guard launched a coup and seized power in Ethiopia while the emperor was on a visit to Brazil. The coup leaders compelled the 44 year old crown prince to read a radio statement in which he accepted the crown in his father’s place and announced a government of reform. However, the regular army and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church refused to accept the new government, and the leader of the church, Patriarch Abune Baslios, issued an anathema against all those who cooperated with the coup leaders. Emperor Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia and the army stormed the palace, where members of the government were being held prisoner by the Imperial Guards.
Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007).
On June 24, 1878, she married Republican senator Blanche K. Bruce, a political leader and plantation owner from Mississippi and the only black United States senator. After touring Europe they established residence in Washington, D.C. With Josephine Bruce a cultured and charming hostess, the Bruce home became a center of Washington social life. Though Blanche Bruce's term ended in 1880 he received political appointments in Washington enabling the couple to remain active in social and community life.
Osborne Perry Anderson was one of the five African American men to accompany John Brown in the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859. Anderson was a free-born black abolitionist, born in West Fallow Field, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1830. Along with John Anthony Copeland Jr., another member of the Brown raiding party, Anderson attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He later moved to Chatham, Canada, where he worked as a printer for Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, The Provincial Freeman. In 1858 Anderson met John Brown and eventually became persuaded to join his band of men determined to attack Harpers Ferry.
One year after meeting John Brown, on October 16, 1859 Anderson took part in Brown’s radical scheme to free the United States of slavery. Like Brown and the other followers, Anderson believed that if the group seized weapons at Harpers Ferry and then marched south, they would create a massive slave uprising that would liberate all of the nearly four million African Americans in bondage.
Osborne Perry Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry: A Narrative of
Events at Harper's Ferry with incidents Prior and Subsequent to its
Capture by Captain John Brown and His Men (Boston: Privately Printed,
1861); Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, Prophets of Protest:
Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New York: The New
Press, 2006); Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of
African American History Told by Those Who Lived It (New York:
Doubleday, 2000); Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman, Terrible Swift
Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005);
“Obituary,” The Huronite (Huron, South Dakota, June 5, 1955, p. 1); A. Dunkle and V. Smith, The College on the Hills: A Sense of South Dakota State University History (Brookings, SD: SDSU Alumni Association, 2003); Ruth Hill, Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, CT: Meckler, 1990); Charles Johnson, African Americans and ROTC (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2002); Monroe Mason and Arthur Furr, The American Negro Soldier with the Red Hand of France (Boston: Cornhill Co., 1920).
Juanita Long Hall, an actor and singer, was born in Keyport, New Jersey on Nov. 6, 1901 to an African-American father, Abram Long, and an Irish American mother, Mary Richardson. Raised by maternal grandparents, Long attended New York City’s Julliard School of Music. While a teenager, she married Clement Hall, who died in 1920s. The couple had no children.
Hall’s early career was in singing and choir directing. From 1935 to 1944 she directed the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Chorus. From 1941 to 1942 she also directed the Westchester (New York) Chorale and Dramatics Association. In the early 1940s she led the Juanita Hall Choir, which performed on radio with Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith and in 1949 the Juanita Hall Choir performed in the film, Miracle in Harlem.
In 1935 Hall performed with the Lafayette Players, an African American theatrical troupe. Her first major acting role came in 1943 when she appeared on Broadway in The Pirate. Other Broadway acting opportunities came and she performed in Sing Out, Sweet Land, Saint Louis Woman, Deep Are the Roots, The Secret Room, Street Scene, and The Ponder Heart, all between 1943 and 1956.
Robert A. Pinn, attorney, and Civil War hero, received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Pinn was born free to William and Zilphia Broxton-Pinn, in Stark County, Ohio on March 1, 1843. His father William Pinn escaped from slavery and fled to Ohio at the age of eighteen. He worked on farms for several years before marrying Zilphia Broxton, a white resident of Stark County. Pinn and his nine siblings were born on the family farm in Stark County. He married Emily J. Manzilla, in 1867, and the couple had one child, a daughter, Gracie Pinn-Brooks.
Pinn attempted to join the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War but was blocked from enlisting because of his race. He joined the 19th Ohio Infantry in 1861 as a civilian worker, marched south with the regiment, and despite his non-military status, fought at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee in 1862. Afterwards he fought in several other engagements although not an enlisted soldier. President Abraham Lincoln authorized the use of African American troops in combat after issuing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Pinn then joined the 5th United States Colored Troop (USCT), Infantry Regiment (also known as the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry) in Massillon, Ohio, on September 5, 1863.
James P. Thomas, a noted African American barber and businessman, was born in 1827 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the mulatto son of a famous antebellum judge, John Catron (one of the justices in the Dred Scott case), and a slave mother, Sally Thomas, who purchased James’s freedom when he was six years old. However, under Tennessee law, he remained a slave as long as he resided in the state. Therefore, he was not legally freed until March 6, 1851.
Hilda Simms was born Hilda Moses to Emile and Lydia Moses in 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She briefly studied teaching at the University of Minnesota before relocating to New York where she met and married William Simms and gained professional acting experience at Harlem's American Negro Theater.
In 1943, two years after dissolving her marriage to William, Simms made her debut in the title role of the theatrical play Anna Lucasta, becoming the first leading African American actress to appear in the Broadway hit production. Originally written for an all-white cast, Simms portrayed a middle-class woman struggling to regain her respectability after falling into a life of prostitution. The theatrical version of Anna Lucasta is considered the first drama featuring African American actors to explore a theme un-related to racial tensions. When the play toured abroad, Simms maintained the title role while enjoying a dual singing career in Paris. During the British tour of the play, Simms met and married actor Richard Angarola.
The couple returned to the states in the 1950s and Simms embarked on a brief film career. Her first role was as co-star to heavy-weight boxing champion Joe Louis. She played the boxer' wife in The Joe Louis Story (1953). Her only other movie role was that of the hatcheck girl in Black Widow (1954).
Hilda Simms Papers, New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research; William Grimes, “Hilda Simms, Actress, Dies at 75; Broadway Star of Anna Lucasta,” New York Times, February 8, 1994; “U.S. Refuses Actress Passport; ‘I’m No Benedict Arnold,’ Cries Hilda Simms on Ban,” Pittsburgh Courier, September 10, 1960.
Eric Pace, "James M. Nabrit Jr. Dies at 97; Led Howard University" New York Times (Published Tuesday December 30, 1997); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Victory: The Rise and Fall of the White Primary in Texas (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003).
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie McKay, Norton Anthology of African America Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002);
The legend of Prester John, a wealthy Christian king with a kingdom somewhere outside of the Western European realm, pervaded European thought throughout the Middle Ages. The limited understanding of the unexplored regions of the world and the inability to find his kingdom resulted in shifting versions of the legend. Over the course of the Middle Ages, Europeans believed his kingdom existed in the Far East, India, and, finally, the interior of Africa.
The origin of the legend of Prester John is traced to Bishop Otto of Freising in the 12th century. According to the bishop, Prester John descended from one of the three Magi mentioned in the Nativity story of the Bible. The emergence of the legend coincided with the first Crusades of European armies into the Near East. The legend then seems to indicate a hope for a powerful kingdom that could serve as an ally in the European campaign to recapture Jerusalem. The prospect of a Christian king seemed realistic enough that, in the in the 12th century, Pope Alexander III sent a message by envoy to the fabled king; the messenger, however, never returned. In 1165, a letter sent to several European capitals from an Ethiopian ruler fueled the legend; this letter reportedly became known as a letter from Prester John. This letter established a concrete connection between Prester John and Africa.
Edwin Thomas Pratt had been a leader in Seattle, Washington’s civil rights movement for a decade when he was assassinated at the front door of his home on January 26, 1969. At the time, Pratt was Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League. His murder remains unsolved.
Pratt was born in 1930 into a tight-knit community of Bahamian immigrants in Coconut Grove, Florida, a Miami suburb. His parents, Miriam and Josephus Pratt, raised five children. Josephus was a construction laborer and Miriam was a housekeeper and laundress in the hotel industry.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay. At the age of 12 Clay began training as a boxer. During his teen years he won several Golden Gloves titles and other amateur titles. At the age of 18 he won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics and then turned professional. In one of the most famous boxing matches of the century, Clay in 1965 stunned the world by beating apparently invincible world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in six rounds.
After defeating Liston, Clay announced his conversion to Islam and joining of the Nation of Islam (NOI) under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. Clay also announced he changed his name to Muhammad Ali. As a member of the NOI, Ali was mentored early on by the organization’s most charismatic leader, Malcolm X.
Thomas Arnold Hill, early leader of the National Urban League, was born in 1888 in Richmond, Virginia to Reuben and Irene Robinson Hill. He studied at Richmond Business School and received his Bachelor of Art degree at Virginia Union University in 1911. Hill then studied sociology and economics at New York University.
In 1914, Hill was hired by the New York City branch of the National Urban League (1912) where he worked as personal secretary of Eugene Kinkle Jones. He soon joined forces with Jones and fellow League workers to create additional leagues in neighboring cities.
With the onset of the Great Migration during World War I, Hill recognized the need for a local affiliate in Chicago, a common destination for many of the migrants. In 1917, he opened the Chicago Urban League and served as its first executive secretary. During the bloody Chicago Race Riot (1919), Hill transformed the Chicago office into an emergency center to help mollify anger, improve race relations, provide assistance to those adversely affected, and disseminate information.
Nancy Weiss, The National Urban League, 1910-1940 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1974), p. 176-201; “T. Arnold Hill,” The Journal of
Negro History, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct. 1947), pp. 528-529; Rayford Logan
and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Arvah E. Strickland, History of the
Chicago Urban League (Urbana and London: The University of Illinois
Press, 1966), p. 26-28.
Ishmael Reed is an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, satirist, editor, publisher, and poet. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 to Henry Lenoir and Thelma Coleman. Lenoir and Coleman moved to Buffalo, New York where Reed grew up. When his mother divorced Lenoir and married Bennie Reed, Ishmael took his stepfather's last name.
Reed enrolled in Millard Fillmore College in New York in 1956, taking night courses. Eventually he transferred to day classes at University of Buffalo with the encouragement of his English instructor. He attended the University of Buffalo between 1956 and 1960. Unfortunately due to financial reasons Reed withdrew and did not receive a degree. Although later, in 1995, the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo) awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Letters. In 1962 Reed moved to New York's Lower East Side and started a career as a journalist. In 1967, after he published his first novel, The Freelance Pallbearers, Reed moved to San Francisco, California.
Caroline Bokinsky, “Ishmael Reed.” Dictionary of Literary Biography:
American Poets Since WWII. Vol. 5 Part 2, Donald J. Greiner, Editor,
(Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980); Joyce Pettis, “Ishmael Reed.”
African American Poets: Lives, Works, and Sources. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002); Robert Elliot Fox, Modern American
Poetry: About Ishmael Reed's Life and Career. University of Illinois at
retrieved on 2009-03-04;
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.
Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was a highly decorated Navy Officer who pioneered the way with a multitude of firsts for African Americans in the military. Some of his most notable achievements included, being the first African American Navy Vice Admiral, the first African American to command a Navy warship, the first African American to command a warship during combat, the first African American to command a Navy Fleet, and the first African American to obtain Flag Rank in the military. His decorations include the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal.
Samuel Gravely was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 4, 1922. He attended Virginia Union University for three years, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans in 1906. Postponing his education, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1942 where he trained as a fireman apprentice.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/samuel-gravely.htm.
Guy Bluford, a member of the SDS-8 space shuttle Challenger crew in 1983, was the first African American in space. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bluford was interested in math and science and knew he wanted to work in aerospace engineering before graduating high school. His high school counselor suggested that college was not for him. Refusing the advice, Bluford became the only black engineering student at Pennsylvania State University in 1960. Undaunted, he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering in 1964 and went through pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona where he received his pilot wings one year later. Before being sent to Vietnam in 1967, Bluford felt the sting of racial discrimination when his family was denied housing on base. He flew 144 combat missions with the 557th Squadron in Vietnam.
After serving his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bluford worked as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and started graduate studies at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1972. He received a M.S. in aerospace engineering in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1978. The same year, he was one of the thirty-five selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut training program out of 10,000 applicants.
Alfred Phelps Jr., They Had a Dream: The Story of African American
Astronauts (Novato: Presidio, 1994); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates Jr., eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African
American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Bennie G. Thompson, United States Representative from Mississippi's Second Congressional District, is the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and as such is one of the most influential African American members of Congress.
Thompson was born in Bolton, Mississippi on January 28, 1948 to Will Thompson, an auto mechanic, and Annie Lauris Thompson, a teacher. He earned a BA in political science from Tougaloo College in 1968, and then earned MS and MA degrees from Jackson State University in 1972. He worked for one year as a school teacher in Madison, Mississippi after graduating from Tougaloo.
Myles Anderson Paige, the first African American to be appointed a New York City Criminal Court Judge, was born on July 18, 1898 in Montgomery, Alabama. Paige was a star football player at Howard University, graduating from the Washington D.C. institution with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. While at Howard he joined Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Paige served in the United States Army during the World War I as captain of the 369th regiment. Paige’s ascension to captain was swift and impressive considering he began his military career as a corporal in September of 1917 and was promoted to second lieutenant a week later. The following week he became first lieutenant and before the end of September he was captain and company commander.
In 1921 Paige entered the Columbia University Law School and received his LLB degree in 1924. In 1926 he was a founding member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s Alpha Gamma Lambda graduate chapter as well as its first chapter president from 1927 to 1930. Paige later served as 19th General (national) President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity from 1957 to 1960. Also in 1940 Paige received an honorary doctor of law degree from Howard University, rounding out his education.
John Francis Wheaton was a late 19th Century and early 20th Century lawyer and a politician. Wheaton ran for elective office in three states and was the first African American to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
John Francis Wheaton was born on May 8, 1866 to Jacob and Emily Wheaton in Hagerstown, Maryland. He graduated from the high school division of Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1882. During the decade after his graduation Wheaton worked as a public school teacher, then attended Dixon Business College in Illinois, and later moved to Washington D.C., where he worked as a clerk for the United States Congress until 1892. In 1889, Wheaton married Ella Chambers and the couple had two sons, Layton J. and Frank P. Wheaton.
Wheaton graduated from Howard’s Law Department in May 1892 and set up a practice in Hagerstown. He was only the fourth African American to pass the bar and practice law in Maryland and the first outside Baltimore.
In 1893, however, Wheaton moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota where he worked as a clerk in the state legislature and also as a deputy clerk in the Minneapolis municipal courts. The following year he became the first African American to graduate from the University of Minnesota Law School.
Lionel Leo Hampton, bandleader, jazz percussionist and vibraphonist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908. Hampton and his mother Gertrude moved to Chicago after the death of his father, Charles Hampton, a promising pianist and singer, in World War I. At the age of 15 Hampton began his career as a drummer in the Les Hite Band. The band relocated to Los Angeles in the late 1920s and became a regular attraction at the city’s Cotton Club.
During a 193o recording session at NBC studios in Los Angeles Louis Armstrong and Hampton teamed to record jazz albums featuring Hampton on the vibraphone which would become his signature instrument. By the mid-1930s the “King of Vibes” joined the Benny Goodman Orchestra which was one of the first racially integrated jazz acts. By the 1940s Hampton left Goodman to form the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.