Félix Houphouet-Boigny was born near Yamoussoukro, the southern part of the Ivory Coast, on October 18, 1905. His father was a Boulé tribal chief and a wealthy cocoa farmer. At five years old Houphouet-Boigny inherited his father’s chief status and his cocoa plantation. He studied at primary and secondary school in his village and graduated as a medical assistant in Dakar, Senegal. From 1925 to 1940, Houphouet-Boigny worked in medicine throughout the Ivory Coast. By 1944, his family’s plantation was prosperous and he rose into political prominence by organizing the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA), a union that defended farm workers and planters’ interests. In 1945, he was elected as the Ivory Coast’s deputy to the French Constituent Assembly.
Alfred Schmitz Shadd, a black educator, physician, farmer, politician, editor and civic leader was born in Raleigh, Ontario in 1870. He was the fourth son of Garrison and Harriet Poindexter Shadd, a distinguished abolitionist family.
Shadd planned to become a doctor but trained as a teacher in Toronto and taught in Ontario for a year before pursuing medical studies at the University of Toronto. Due to limited finances, he interrupted his medical studies and resumed teaching in 1896 in the town of Kinistino, which is now in Saskatchewan but at the time was in the Northwest Territories. After a year in Kinistino, he completed his medical studies at the University of Toronto and then returned to the Northwest Territories to practice medicine.
Colin A. Thomson, Blacks in Deep Snow: Black Pioneers in Canada (Don Mills: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1979); Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); “Saskatchewan’s great pioneer black doctor”, Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 116 (January-June 1977).
Ruby Bridges, Through My Eyes (New York: Scholastic, 1999): Jessie
Carney Smith, Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2003);
Tananarive Due is a contemporary novelist who interweaves powerful themes and dilemmas among African Americans into unconventional story-telling. Due was born in Tallahassee, Florida on January 5, 1966. Her parents, John and Patricia Stephens Due, met at Florida A&M and were civil rights activists. John was a prominent attorney who eventually headed Leon County's Office of Black Affairs while her mother participated in many protests and sit-ins that led to injuries and in one ins
Born into slavery on a plantation in Tennessee, George Washington Woodbey was largely self-educated and as young man supported himself as a miner and factory worker before becoming an ordained minister in 1874 and pastoring churches in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. By the mid-1880s Woodbey, a riveting and eloquent public speaker, had adopted the cause of social reform in America. He was Nebraska’s Prohibition Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 1890 and was the party’s candidate for Congress in 1894. Woodbey later bolted the Prohibition Party to endorse William Jennings Bryan of the Populist People’s Party in Bryan’s failed 1896 presidential campaign.
By the turn of the century Woodbey had become a committed socialist and allied himself with Eugene V. Debs’s Socialist Party. So impressed with Woodbey’s ability to captivate and inform crowds on the street corners of Omaha, A.W. Ricker, chief editorial writer for the socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason, as well as Ricker’s associates, were of the opinion that “Comrade Woodbey is the greatest of living negro in America.”
Born in Cape May, New Jersey, the early years of Jarena Lee were spent working as a domestic servant. In her twenties, she was converted, sanctified, and received a call to preach. When her request for approval to preach was rebuffed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she married an AME minister. His death within a few years of the marriage left Lee a widow with two young children. In order to support her family she renewed her request to the Rev. Richard Allen, the Bishop of the African Methodist Church who then granted her official church approval to preach.
Lee’s evangelistic meetings took place in her home city of Philadelphia and also throughout New England, Canada and west into Ohio. She recounted her meetings in her autobiography, the first to be published in the United States by an African American woman. In that autobiography, Lee frequently mentions the denominational and racial composition of her audience, which, in both cases, was quite inclusive. Between 1849 and 1857, there is no recorded history about her. The last known event in her life was a visit she made to the home of Rebecca Cox Jackson, a Shaker leader, on New Year’s Day in 1857. After that occasion, at the age of 73, nothing is known about her life or death.
One of the original Greensboro four who took part in the Woolworth sit-ins, David Leinail Richmond is often described by those who were closest to him as “gentle, intelligent, generous to a fault, and able to take a stand.” He was born in Greensboro and graduated from Dudley High School. At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College (now University) he majored in business administration and accounting. He got married while still at “A&T” and was immediately faced with the demands of his classes and the needs of his family, as well as the curious celebrity that went with the movement.
David Richmond began to fall behind in his class work, cutting back on his course load, and as time went by he left A&T before receiving his degree. After leaving A&T, he became a counselor-coordinator for the CETA program in Greensboro. He lived in the mountain community of Franklin for nine years, then returned to Greensboro to take care of his parents and work as a housekeeping porter for Greensboro Health Care Center. In 1980, the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce awarded him the Levi Coffin Award for “leadership in human rights, human relations, and human resources development in Greensboro.” He was married and divorced twice and has two children with Yvonne Bryson.
Shirley Verrett was a distinguished mezzo-soprano and soprano opera singer. Born in New Orleans on May 31, 1931, one of five children to strict Seventh Day Adventists, her father was a successful building contractor. She came from a musical family, her mother often sang in the house and her father occasionally worked as a choir director. Her parents encouraged her talent, but they disapproved of opera and hoped that she would pursue other interests. The family moved to Los Angeles where Verrett grew up.
Verrett was passionate about music but after high school, with her father’s support, she became a real estate agent. After selling houses for few years, Verrett realized that her life could only be fulfilled by pursuing singing. With help from her vocal instructor, she appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s program Talent Scouts in 1955. From this appearance she was awarded a scholarship at The Julliard School, where she studied for five years with Anna Fitziu and Marion Szekely Freschl. Verrett made her operatic debut in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in 1957. The following year she made her New York City Opera debut as Irina in Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Her European debut came in 1959 when she performed in Nabokov’s Rasputin’s Tod in Cologne, Germany.
On January 20, 2009, with the Presidential swearing in of her husband Barack Obama, Michelle Robinson Obama became the first person of African American descent to become First Lady of the United States.
Obama is an accomplished professional with an impressive resume of her own. Outspoken, intelligent, and articulate, she can give passionate speeches, displaying warmth, charisma, and her ability to build an empathetic relationship with her audience. Early in her husband’s campaign for the Presidency, her forthright style sometimes resulted in “sound bites” which when taken out of context became controversial.
Born January 17, 1964 to Frasier Robinson, a pump operator for the city of Chicago’s water plant, and Marian Robinson, who spent much of Michelle’s childhood a homemaker, Michelle grew up on Chicago, Illinois' South Side, one of the nation’s poorest urban communities. Her parents strictly limited their children’s television viewing, and Michelle and her brother Craig were expected to take part in discussions around the family dinner table.Sources: Liza Mundy, Michelle, a Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008); Michelle Obama in Her Own Words, the Speeches 2008, compiled by Susan A. Jones; David Colbert, Michelle Obama, an American Story (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009); David Bergen Brophy, Michelle Obama: Meet the First Lady (New York: Harper Collins, 2009); Elizabeth Lightfoot, Michelle Obama, First Lady of Hope (Guilford, Connecticut: the Lyons Press, 2009) and Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006); www.barackobama.com/about/michelle_obama.
Contributor: Affiliation: Independent Historian
Visual artist Lois Mailou Jones was born in 1905 in Boston, Massachusetts to Thomas Vreeland and Carolyn Dorinda Jones. Her father was a superintendent of a building and later became a lawyer, her mother was a cosmetologist. Early in life Jones displayed a passion for drawing, and her parents encouraged this interest by enrolling her in the High School of Practical Arts in Boston where she majored in art. In 1927, Jones graduated with honors from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and continued her education at the Boston Normal School of Arts and the Designers Art School in Boston.
Charles H. Rowell, “An Interview with Lois Mailou Jones.” Callaloo. 12:2 (Spring, 1989): 357 -378); Fern Gillespie, “The Legacy of Lois Mailou Jones,” Howard Magazine (Winter 1999): 8-13; Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998), http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/bios/jones-bio.htm.
Abraham Doras Shadd, the first Afro-Canadian to hold public office, was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 2, 1801. He was the grandson of a white German soldier from Hesse Kassel, Germany and a free black woman. Shadd was free born and earned a respectable living as a shoemaker, supporting his wife and thirteen children. His passion, however, was obtaining civil rights for African Americans and later Afro-Canadians and he devoted his life to the abolitionist movement which sought the immediate end of slavery.
Colin A. Thompson, Blacks in Deep Snow (Don Mills, Ontario: J.M. Dent
& Sons, 1979); Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians (Halifax: Fernwood
Matthew Henson was an American explorer who accompanied Robert Peary, most famously on an expedition intended to reach the Geographic North Pole in 1909. Subsequent research and exploration has revealed that Peary and Henson did not reach the North Pole but their failed attempt is still recognized as an important contribution to scientific knowledge.
Everett Frederic Morrow, the son of John Eugene Morrow, a library custodian who became an ordained Methodist minister in 1912 and Mary Ann Hayes, a former farm worker and maid, was born on April 9, 1909 in Hackensack, New Jersey. He graduated from Hackensack High School in 1925, where he not only served on the debate team for three years, but was their president his senior year.
Morrow attended Bowdoin College between 1926 and 1930 and at the time was one of only two African American students enrolled there. Morrow did well academically, but was forced to withdraw his senior year to help his family. He worked as a bank messenger on Wall Street and then secured a social work job. In 1935, Morrow joined the National Urban League as a business manager of Opportunity Magazine, and two years later became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), traveling across the nation to promote membership and fundraising.
John Roy Lynch, congressman, soldier and author was born in Concordia Parish, Louisiana on September 10, 1847 to Patrick Lynch, an Irish immigrant and Catherine White, a slave. Lynch’s father died soon after his birth. Lynch and his mother were then traded to a plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. During the Civil War, Lynch became free when he fled the plantation and to serve as a cook for the 49th Illinois Volunteer Regiment.
During Reconstruction, Lynch joined the Republican Party in Mississippi. After working as assistant secretary for the Republican State Convention, Lynch became the Justice of the Peace in Natchez County, Mississippi. In November 1869 at the age of 22, Lynch was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives. Three years later, in 1872 he was named Speaker of the House.
Richard Benjamin Moore, lecturer, author, political activist, and book dealer, was born in Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados, on August 9, 1893. He was born into a prosperous middle-class family, and attended James J. Lynch’s Middle Class School, a self-defined institution. His childhood experiences included very few instances of racial discrimination possibly, because of his light complexion.
Following the death of his father Richard Henry Moore, Moore and his immediate family relocated to the United States on July 4, 1909. Unknown to the Moore family, Richard Henry Moore had a number of outstanding debts, which upon his death forced their Christ Church home into foreclosure as they faced insolvency. They became some of the earliest blacks to settle in Harlem, New York, an emerging milieu of social, political, and Black Nationalist activism.
Harlem introduced Moore to the realities of European colonialism in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the injustices of Jim Crow and lynching in the American South. By his 22nd birthday Moore became a follower of Socialist and fellow West Indian émigré Hubert Henry Harrison. He became active in the 21st Assembly District Socialist Club in Harlem in 1915.
Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, was born on November 14, 1956. She is a Chicago, Illinois attorney, businesswoman, and community leader most prominently known for her role as one of the three campaign co-chairs of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 presidential campaign. Jarrett also served as co-chairperson of the Obama–Biden transition project.
Jarrett was born in Iran. Her father, Dr. James Bowman, was the director of a hospital for children in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. He later became staff physician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago. Her great grandfather, Robert Robinson Taylor, was the first black person to earn a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her grandfather, Robert Taylor, was the first African American to head the Chicago Housing Authority.
M.J. Stephey and Claire Suddath, “Valerie Jarrett,” Time Magazine. com, November 11, 2008; John King, “Obama Wants Valerie Jarrett to replace him in Senate,” CNN Politics.com, November 9, 2008; Douglas Belkin, “For Obama, Advice Straight Up: Valerie Jarrett is Essential Member of Inner Set,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2008; “Valerie Jarrett Profile,” Forbes.com, August 23, 2008; “Jodi Kanton, The New Team,” The New York Times, November 5, 2008; Liza Mundy, Michelle: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008).
A writer, an economist and an advocate for affirmative action, Andrew Felton Brimmer is best known as the first African American to hold a governorship on the United States Federal Reserve Bank.
Born in Newellton, Louisiana, Brimmer moved to Bremerton, Washington in 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in the Army two years, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. Upon his return, he enrolled at the University of Washington where he received his B.A. in Economics in 1950 and M.A. shortly thereafter in 1951. Brimmer then studied at the University of Bombay for a year and completed a Ph.D. in Economics at Harvard University in 1957.
First and foremost an economist, Brimmer promoted a monetary policy that sought to alleviate unemployment and reduce the national deficit. He also argued that racial discrimination hurt the U.S economy by marginalizing potentially productive workers.
Yvonne Jeffries Johnson, the first African American mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, was born on October 26, 1942 in Greensboro to Ruby Jeffries. She graduated from Dudley High School in 1960 and Bennett College in 1964, with a BA in Psychology. She then enrolled in Howard University and received a Graduate Fellowship in 1965. In 1978 Johnson received a Master of Science degree in Guidance Counseling from North Carolina A&T University.
Aynaw lived in the hardscrabble immigrant town of Netanya. Despite having no knowledge of spoken or written Hebrew, she was transported to a Hebrew boarding school in Haifa that catered to newly arrived immigrants. Over time her competency in Hebrew steadily increased and she eventually became fluent in Yiddish as well. Aynaw was a standout student in high school who distinguished herself from the outset. She was student council president, excelled in track and field, and won first place in a national film competition that was loosely based on her own life experiences.
Nate Long was a filmmaker, television producer, director, stuntman, actor and teacher who worked both in Hollywood and the Pacific Northwest. Long was born in Philadelphia in 1930. He joined the Air Force, became a military policeman and completed his service at Paine Field near Everett, Washington in 1965. While in the Air Force he earned a black belt in judo. Long then taught judo and karate to inner-city children through Seattle’s Central Area Motivation Project, his first post-military job.
Long’s interest soon turned to mass media and in 1970 he created Oscar Productions, a Seattle-based photography, cinematography and television production training program for inner-city high school and college students. For ten years, he and his students produced a weekly public affairs program, Action Inner City, and a monthly show titled Aggin News. Both aired on KOMO-TV. Former Seattle Mayor Norman Rice and former Fannie Mae Corporation CEO Franklin Raines were among his first students.
The date of birth for Julia Ringwood Coston, one of the first black women to edit a magazine, is unknown. We do know that she was named after Ringwood farm in Warrenton, Virginia, where she was born. While she was still an infant, Ringwood moved to Washington D.C. with her family and attended public schools there. She had almost completed school when her mother died and she was forced to withdraw.
Actress and dancer Ethel Moses, who became a leading lady in silent and sound black films, was the daughter of well-known New York Baptist Minister W.H. Moses. She began her show business career as a dancer in 1924, when she was cast with internationally-renowned entertainer Florence Mills in Dixie to Broadway. From 1928 to 1933, she along with her sisters, Julia and Lucia Lynn, performed as part of the Cotton Club Girls chorus line. In between performing at the Cotton Club, Moses appeared in Blackbirds (1926) and the Broadway Revival of Show Boat (1927).
Wanting to diversify her career in show business and inspired by her sister Lucia Lynn (who received short-lived acclaim for her performance in the 1927 silent film, The Scar of Shame) Moses delved into world of race films, first appearing in Oscar Micheaux’s 1935 crime drama Temptation. In 1936, Moses married Cab Calloway’s pianist Bennie Payne and continued to perform in nightclubs throughout Harlem, New York where her alluring features and enterprising personality made her one of Harlem’s most notable entertainers of her time. Moses was a fixture and sex symbol in a variety of Micheaux’s films during the late 1930s, appearing in Underworld (1937), God’s Stepchildren (1939), and Birthright (1939).
Yet, as the making of all-black cast independent films faded, Moses’ film career ended. By the beginning of the 1950s, she had retired and remarried, this time to Frank Ryan, a factory worker. The couple settled away from the limelight in Jamaica, Long Island.
Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978); Anonymous, “Cotton Club Girls,” Ebony, April 1949, Vo. 4, No. 6; Anonymous, “Parsons Pretty Daughter Chooses Stage Career,” The Pittsburgh Courier, October 4, 1924.
The first person of African descent, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics was Vonetta Flowers when she won gold in the women's bobsled event in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
http://www.vonettaflowers.com; Vonetta Flowers with W. Terry Whalin, Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers (Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2005).
Yuri Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara in 1921 and raised in San Pedro, California, in a small working-class neighborhood. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the life of Yuri’s family took a turn for the worse. Her father, a first-generation Japanese immigrant, was arrested by the FBI. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 ordering the removal of persons of Japanese descent from “strategic areas,” Yuri and her family were sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Due to these events, Yuri started seeing the parallels between the treatment of African Americans in Jim Crow South and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in remote internment camps during World War II. Subsequently she decided to devote her life to struggles against racial injustice.
Susana Baca, recording artist and the first Afro-Peruvian to sit as a Cabinet Minister, was born in 1944 in Chorrillos, a seaside district of Lima, Peru, to a working class family. Her father was a chauffeur and her mother worked as cook and laundress for upper class families. Baca began singing at home at a very young age, inspired by the large and festive weekly family gatherings and encouraged by her mom’s passion for various local musical genres. Her father also played the guitar. Baca grew up in a multicultural environment, not particularly aware of her “blackness,” but she clearly recalls the first moment when she felt discriminated against: while in high school, she and other non-white students were not chosen to participate on the school’s dance team because of their skin color.
Dorothy Sterling, We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984), http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_132.html
Henry “Hank” Johnson Jr. represents Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. The district includes DeKalb County, where Johnson has lived and worked for the past several decades, as well as parts of Gwinnett and Rockdale Counties. Johnson is a Democrat, and one of the first two Buddhists elected to the United States Congress.
Johnson was born in Washington, D.C. in 1954. His father worked for the Bureau of Prisons, where his position as director of classifications and paroles was the highest ever held in the Bureau by an African American up to that time. Johnson received his undergraduate degree from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1976 and his law degree from Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1979.
Frederick Randolph Moore, a political activist and journalist, was born in 1857 to his slave mother and white father in Virginia. While Moore was still very young, the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Moore attended public schools and to make money, sold newspapers on street corners.
Kenyatta was born under the name Kamau to Kikuyu parents in the town of Gatundu, Kiambu district around 1894 (the exact date of his birth is unknown). His parents died while he was young, and he then moved to Muthiga to live with his grandfather where he enrolled in the Church of Scotland’s Thogoto mission school, converted to Christianity, and was baptized as Johnstone.
Kenyatta left Thogoto in 1922 and became a clerk and water-meter reader with the Municipal Court of Nairobi. He became involved with the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA) in 1925 and resigned from his government post that same year. In 1928 Kenyatta became secretary general of the KCA and editor of its vernacular Kikuyu newspaper, Muiguithania (The Reconciler).
Keith Kyle, The Politics of the Independence of Kenya (Houndmills: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1999); Godrey Muriuki, “Kenya: Kenyatta, Jomo: Life and Government of,” in Encyclopedia of African History, ed. Kevin Shillington (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).
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).
Granville T. Woods was a prominent inventor and electrical engineer who developed over 50 significant patents over the course of his life. Because of his significant electrical inventions he is known as the “Black Edison.”
Self-trained historian, novelist, and journalist Joel Augustus Rogers spent most of his life debunking pseudo-scientific and racist depictions of people of African ancestry while popularizing the history of persons of black people around the world. Rogers was born September 6, 1883 in Negril, Jamaica. He and his siblings were raised, after their mother passed, by their schoolteacher father, Samuel John Rogers. Rogers emigrated to the United States in 1906 and Joel Rogers became a naturalized citizen in 1917. Rogers lived briefly in Chicago before eventually settling in New York City.
Born May 3, 1933, into poverty in racially segregated Barnwell, South Carolina, James Brown became the most assertively black rhythm and blues singer ever accorded mainstream acceptance before audiences throughout the world.
Arrested for breaking and entering at age 15, Brown’s early run-ins with the authorities served as his initiation into the rough edges of the black experience that were eventually reflected in both his pleading ballads and aggressive in-your-face funk. Brown’s rough musical style and sensual, suggestive lyrics are even credited with ushering in the age of Hip-Hop. His almost primal renditions of “Please, Please, Please,” his first hit in 1956, and later “Bewildered” and “Prisoner of Love” contrasted vividly with the serene and controlled deliveries of artists such as Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Dionne Warwick.
Dexter Gordon was a pioneering jazz saxophonist who made a career of expertly blending rhythm and romance on the bandstand and the silver screen. Nicknamed "Long Tall Dex" for his 6-foot 5-inch frame, the Los Angeles native was born on Feb. 27, 1923. Gordon's father, Dr. Frank Gordon, M.D., was one of the first prominent African American physicians in Los Angeles and counted Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton among his patients.
Young Gordon took up the clarinet at the age of 13 before switching to saxophone (initially alto, then tenor) at 15. His big break came in 1940 at the age of 17 when he joined Lionel Hampton’s band. From 1943 to 1944 he was featured in the bands of Louis Armstrong, Billie Eckstine and Fletcher Henderson. Gordon made his first recordings under his own name in 1945 when he signed with the Savoy label.
By 1945, Gordon had moved to New York City where he began performing and recording with Charlie Parker. Gordon also was famous for his saxophone duels with fellow tenor sax player Wardell Gray. They recorded several albums between 1947 and 1952. In 1955 Gordon wrote the musical score for the Broadway play The Connection.
Richard Robert Wright Sr., college founder and banker, was born into slavery on May 16, 1855, near Dalton, Georgia. After the Civil War ended Wright’s mother moved with her son to Atlanta, Georgia where he attended the Storrs School, an institution founded by the American Missionary Association (AMA) to educate the children of the freedpeople. Storrs was the forerunner of Atlanta University. When retired Union General Oliver Otis Howard visited the school in 1868 and asked the students what message he should take to the North, Wright replied with the words, “Sir, tell them we are rising.”
Author, commentator, speaker, political advisor, and columnist Keith Boykin was born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 28, 1965 but was raised in the suburb of Florissant, Missouri.
Boykin’s parents separated during his childhood, but he enjoyed close relationships with both sides of his family and thrived in his new environment. He excelled in school, participated in student government, and played on several sports teams. At fifteen, Boykin’s mother, a government employee, was transferred to California and he went to live with his father in Florida.
An excellent student, Boykin excelled academically at Dartmouth College where he was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, track team member, and an exchange student at the Universidad de Grenada in Spain. He graduated from Dartmouth with a B.A. degree in 1987.
Sammy Davis Jr. was born on December 8, 1925 in Harlem, New York. His parents, Sammy Davis Sr., an African American, and Elvera Sanchez, a Cuban American, were both vaudeville dancers. They separated when young Davis was three years old and his father took him on tour with a dance troupe led by Will Mastin. Davis joined the act at a young age and they became known as the Will Mastin Trio. It was with this trio that Davis began a lucrative career as a dancer, singer, comedian, actor, and a multi-instrumentalist.
During World War II Davis joined the army, where he for the first time confronted racial prejudice. In the service he joined an integrated entertainment Special Services unit, and found that while performing the crowd often forgot the color of the man on stage.
Elaine Jones, the first woman to administer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF), was born in Norfolk, Virginia on March 2, 1944, the daughter of a railroad porter and a school teacher. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970, becoming the first African American to graduate from that school.
After graduation Jones turned down a job offer with a Wall Street (New York) law firm to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, earning thirty percent less than she had been offered by the other firm. The LDF was founded in 1940 by Jones’s mentor and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to provide legal assistance to the nation’s Civil Rights Movement. It became independent of the NAACP in 1957.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru, St. Martin de Porres is best known for his charitable work. His piety allowed him access to the Dominican order of his country, and his acts of compassion for the sick became part of the justification for his canonization as the first black saint of the Americas.
Fathered by a Spaniard of noble birth, Don Juan de Porres, and born of an emancipated American black slave living in Panama, Anna Velasquez, Martin de Porres’ fair-mindedness and empathy became discernible traits at an early age.
Educated for a time in Santiago de Guayaquil, de Porres returned to Lima and by 1591 had become an apprentice to a surgeon/barber. Upon gaining knowledge of medicine, de Porres began applying his skills in healing the sick and infirmed. His work with the underclasses of Lima culminated with his decision to apply as a helper to the Convent of the Most Holy Rosary, a Dominican community. Because of his racial background, he wasn’t immediately offered the holy habit but was promoted to distributing alms, attracting large sums of donations to support his work in a Dominican infirmary. It was here where de Porres’ reputation as a “miracle healer” began.
J. W. Seabrook, “Review of Meet Brother Martin!” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (October, 1941); Gayle Murchison, “Mary Lou Williams’s Hymn Black Christ of the Andes (St Martin de Porres): Vatican II, Civil Rights, and Jazz as Sacred Music,” The Musical Quarterly, 86:4 (2002).
James D. Lynch, a Reconstruction era politician, is best known for his position as Secretary of the State of Mississippi from 1869 to 1872. Lynch was the first African American to hold a major political office in that state. Born in 1838 in Baltimore, Maryland, his father was white merchant and minister and his mother was a slave.
Lynch received an early education at an elementary school taught by the Reverend Daniel Payne of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, and was then send to Meriden, New Hampshire to attend the Kimball Union Academy. After studying for only two years he moved to Indianapolis and began preaching at a small church in the town of Galena, Indiana.
After the Civil War, Lynch joined other religious missionaries in South Carolina. As an official of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, he helped establish churches and schools for African American adults and children between 1865 and 1866.
Lynch eventually turned to politics believing that the freedmen’s political rights equally important as the development of their religious faith. In 1867 he was elected the Vice President of the first Republican State Party Convention in Mississippi. By 1869 he had become the most prominent African American politician in Mississippi and, after his nomination by the Republican Party and an exhaustive campaign; Lynch was elected Secretary of State.
Dawson was drafted into the U.S. Army while working on his undergraduate degree. He served two years of duty in both Europe and the Philippines before returning to complete his bachelor’s degree at Lincoln University.
James Madison Bell, poet, orator and activist was born in Gallipolis, Ohio on April 3, 1826. Bell lived in Ohio most of his life although he briefly resided in Canada and California before eventually returning to Ohio. When Bell was 16 he moved to Cincinnati to live with his brother-in-law George Knight who taught him the plastering trade. Knight and Bell were talented plasterers who in 1851 were awarded the contract to plaster the Hamilton County public buildings.
On November 9, 1847, Bell married Louisiana Sanderlin. The couple eventually had seven children and lived in Cincinnati until 1854 when they moved to Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Chatham was a major destination for the Underground Railroad, and while there Bell became involved in abolitionist activities and later returned to Cincinnati to continue his antislavery work.
Although he supported himself primarily as a plasterer, Bell soon became known for his speeches and poems which he used in the campaign against slavery. His most famous poem, “The Day and the War,” was read at Platt’s Hall in Cincinnati in January 1864 for the Celebration of the first Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Bell dedicated “The Day and the War” to friend and fellow abolitionist John Brown who was executed in 1859 for his role in the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
On January 15, 2009 Roland Wallace Burris was sworn in as the U.S. Senator from Illinois. Burris's appointment made him the third African American U.S. Senator from the state and the sixth black U.S. Senator in the history of the United States. The appointment, however, was marred by controversy as he was appointed to fill the Senatorial seat of President Barack Obama by Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich who had been arrested for allegedly attempting to sell that seat to the highest bidder.
New York Times.com – Man in the News – Roland W. Burris,
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/31/us/31burris.html?; Politico.com – Who
is Roland Burris? http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid; Time in
Partnership with CNN, Roland Burris, http://www.time.com/time
Matthew C. Whitaker, Race Work: The Rise of Civil Rights in the Urban West. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005).
Musician, clergyman and civil rights supporter Gloster B. Current was instrumental in the growth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP, founded 1909). Born in 1913 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to John T. Current and Earsy Bryant, Gloster grew up Chicago and Detroit. He earned a BA degree from West Virginia State College in 1941 and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Wayne State University in 1950.
Current’s role with the NAACP spanned 37 years between 1936 and 1978. He began his career with a position with the organization’s youth council in Detroit. Two years later, he married Leontine Turpeau Current (later Kelly), who would become the first African American woman elected bishop in a mainstream denomination. They had three children and before divorcing.
Three years into his NAACP service, Current became vice chairman of national college chapters and chair of the central youth council committee. He later held positions in the national office as a deputy to the executive director and served most of his time as director of branch and field services, supervising all NAACP membership, field service, and organizational activities.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to parents William and Ella Johnson, he grew up in San Bernardino, California. Johnson graduated from UC Berkeley with an A.B. in 1923 and obtained his law degree and LLD from UC Berkeley in 1929. After graduation, Johnson began his legal career in 1929 as a tax attorney and was the first African Americans hired as California State Assistant Tax Counsel. He returned to UC Berkeley in 1938 to obtain a J.S.D., a doctorate in law degree and became one of the first African Americans in the nation to hold this advanced degree. He later was recruited as a law professor at Howard University where he taught Contracts, Equity and Personal Property course.
Veteran actress Juanita Moore is fondly remembered for her tear-jerking role of Annie Johnson in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of Imitation of Life. Moore was a groundbreaking actress best known for her role as Lana Turner's character's black friend in the film. In 1960 she became only the fifth African American nominated for an Oscar. The nomination was based on her role in Imitation of Life.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1922, Moore graduated with a degree in drama from Los Angeles City College and moved to New York where she began her show business career as a nightclub singer and dancer and eventually worked as a chorus girl in New York's famed Cotton Club.
Moore eventually traveled abroad, performing in top European clubs, including the London Palladium and the Moulin Rouge in Paris, France before embarking on her film career in late 1949, making her debut as an un-credited nurse in the race-conscious film Pinky. In the early 1950s she worked in Los Angeles's Ebony Showcase, a leading black-run theater. Later in the decade she was a member of the celebrated Cambridge Players which included other up-and-coming black performers such as Esther Rolle.
Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia, (New York: Harper Collins, 1994); James R. Parish, Hollywood Character Actors, (New Rochelle, NY, Arlington House Publishers, 1978); Roy Pickard, The Oscar Stars From A-Z, (London, England: Headline Book Publishing, 1996); Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978).
BNET, The activists: John W. Rogers Jr. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m 1365/is_7_38/ai_n24360086>; John W. Rogers Jr. Biography. 1958- Investor, business executive. <a href="http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2767/Rogers-John-W-Jr.html">John W. Rogers Jr. Biography; Who Runs GOV. John W. Rogers Jr. <http://www.whorunsgov.com /Profiles/John_W._Rogers_Jr.
Moses Dickson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 5, 1824. At 16, he began a three year tour of the South which persuaded him to work for the abolition of slavery. On August 12, 1846, Dickson and twelve other men gathered in St. Louis to devise a plan to end slavery in the United States. They formed a secret organization known as the Knights of Liberty which planned to initiate a national insurrection against slavery.
Dickson married widow Mary Elisabeth Butcher Peters at Galena, Illinois on October 5, 1848. They had one daughter, Mamie Augusta, and a year later the family located permanently in St. Louis.
By 1856, according to Dickson and his followers, 47,240 members of the Knights of Liberty throughout the nation stood ready to fight for freedom. In August of that year Dickson created a smaller secret organization, the Order of Twelve, in Galena, Illinois. During the war, the Knights disbanded and many of their members joined the Union Army.
Preston Wilcox, human rights activist and professor, was a proponent of black studies and advocated community control over education. He was born in 1923 and raised in Youngstown, Ohio along with his four siblings. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, but left to serve in the United States Army. He later returned to school and completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology at City College in 1949. He later earned a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University where he taught for several years.
During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Wilcox became a prominent leader and activist for the decentralization of public schools in Central Harlem. He was a leader in the movement for community control, which placed power over education into the hands of community members. Wilcox spoke frequently at conferences sponsored by the African American Teachers Association where he helped disseminate ideas of community control to the larger public. His efforts assisted in the creation of new jobs for African American teachers, administrators, and supervisors in education.
Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison, No Mountain High Enough: Secrets of Successful African American Women (Berkeley: Conari, 1997).
Plaintiff for a landmark Supreme Court case, Homer A. Plessy was born on March 17, 1863 in New Orleans. He was a light-skinned Creole of Color during the post-reconstruction years. With the aid of the Comité des Citoyens, a black organization in New Orleans, Homer Plessy became the plaintiff in the famous Plessy v. Ferguson case decided by the US Supreme Court in May 1896. The decision established the “separate but equal” policy that made racial segregation constitutional for the next six decades.
In order to challenge the 1890 Louisiana statute requiring separate accommodations for whites and blacks, Homer Plessy and the Comité des Citoyens used Plessy’s light skin to their advantage. On June 7, 1892 Plessy bought a first class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway. He took a vacant seat in a coach reserved for white passengers. When Plessy was ordered to leave, he disobeyed. Policemen arrived and threw Plessy off the train and arrested him and threw him into jail. He was charged with violating the Louisiana segregation statute of 1890.
Colonel Stephen Blucke led an all-black Regiment that fought for the British during the American Revolution. He settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia in 1783 and became a leader in the Black Loyalist community.
During the Revolutionary War, the most famous of the Black Loyalist Military units were called the Black Pioneers, which contained a small elite band of guerrillas known as the Black Brigade. The Black Brigade fought independently and later with the all-white unit Queen’s Rangers. The supplies they seized were vital to the survival of the Loyalists in New York. In a raid on a patriot militia leader, the Brigade and leader Colonel Tye were caught in a long battle. Their target was burned after Tye’s death and Blucke – a literate, free black from Barbados and officer in the Black Pioneers – succeeded Tye as Colonel of the Brigade.
Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006); http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/confederation/023001-2125-e.html.
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).
Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, New York, to parents Melvine Love Bellanfanti, a Jamaican housekeepter, and Harold 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 attended 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.
John Campbell Dancy, Jr.
William H. Crogman was born on the West Indian island of St. Martin’s in 1841. At age 12 he was orphaned; by age 14, he took to the sea with B.L. Bommer where he received an informal but international education as he traveled to such places as Europe, Asia, and South America. After the urging of Mr. Bommer, in 1868 he entered Pierce Academy in Massachusetts. Throughout his schooling experience he was an exceptional and advanced student. At Pierce he was considered the top student as he mastered in one quarter what usually took students two quarters to complete. Later as a student of Latin at Atlanta University, he completed the four-year curriculum in three years.
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.
A successful business owner and real estate investor, Charles Owens became one of the most prominent African Americans in Los Angeles by the end of the nineteenth century. Born into slavery in Texas, Charles’s father, Robert Owens, purchased his family’s freedom and migrated to Los Angeles, California in 1850.
Campbell began his career by becoming the first black newscaster to do “straight broadcasting” in Philadelphia. He was the first black member of the Radio Television News Directors Association and became Vice President of Radio News Reel Television Working Press Association.
The widow of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King became a forceful public figure and important leader in the civil rights movement. She made numerous contributions to the struggle for social justice and human rights throughout her life.
Coretta Scott was born the second of three children to Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurray Scott in Heiberger, Alabama on April 27, 1927. She spent her childhood nearby on a farm owned by her family since the Civil War. During the Depression, Coretta and her siblings picked cotton in order to help support the family. This appeared to be the beginning of her determination to further her education.
“Coretta Scott King, 78, Widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dies” The New York Times (31 January 2006); Coretta Scott King, My Life with Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Holt, 1969; rev.ed., Henry Holt, 1993); http://www.civilrightsleader.com/coretta_scott_king.htm.
Didier Yves Drogba Tebily, international soccer star, was born March 11, 1978 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). His early childhood was spent in poverty. In an attempt to improve their son’s life, Didier’s parents sent him to France when he was just 5 years old to live with his uncle Michel Goba, an international soccer player also from the Ivory Coast. After a short three year stint in France, Didier returned to the Ivory Coast to live with his parents. But his stay would be short lived due to struggles at home. Both his parents had lost their jobs, so once again to escape poverty Didier moved to France to live with his uncle in the suburbs of Paris in 1991. In 1993 his parents followed Didier to France allowing the 15 year old to reunite with his family.The traveling over much of the course of his youth was difficult on Didier, but his hard times would become easier with the assistance of soccer.
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).
Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr. was born June 1, 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Morgan Porterfield, Sr. a barber, and Mayme Edna Morgan. Throughout his childhood the Freeman family moved often, living in Mississippi, Indiana and Chicago. Freeman showed early promise as an actor but turned down a partial drama scholarship from Jackson State University to enter the United States Air Force in 1955.
Throughout the early 1960s, after leaving the Air Force, Freeman studied acting and dance in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. It was in New York that Freeman made his professional theater debut with The Nigger Lovers, a 1967 off-Broadway play about the Civil Rights Era Freedom Riders. In 1971 Freeman broke into television, becoming widely known on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) children’s show The Electric Company, where he worked from 1971 to 1976.
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/.
Karen E. Hudson, Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style (New York: Rizzoli, 1993); “Architect Paul R. Williams,” http://www.paulrwilliamsproject.org/about/paul-revere-williams-architect/
James Monroe Whitfield, a black abolitionist and colonizationist, was born on April 10, 1822 in New Hampshire. Little is known about his early life except that he was a descendant of Ann Paul, the sister of prominent black clergyman Thomas Paul. Whitfield had little formal education. Nonetheless by the age of 16, he was publishing papers for Negro rights conventions.
Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General since 2009, was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York to parents of Barbadian descent, Eric, a real estate agent and Miriam Holder, a telephone operator. Holder was raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, a community which included a number of famous African Americans such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier. Civil rights activist Malcolm X lived two blocks from young Holder and on one occasion in 1964, then recently crowned heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali entertained him and other community children on the steps of the Malcolm’s house.
Holder graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War protests and Black Power movement, he entered Columbia University where he participated in sit-ins by African American students. Holder also played collegiate basketball and became co-captain of his team. In 1973, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in U.S. history from Columbia and then entered Columbia University Law School, earning a J.D. in 1976. While in law school Holder served as a law clerk for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF).
Glenn Thrush, “The Survivor: How Eric Holder Outlasted his Many Critics”
(July/August 2014). Found in
and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/us/politics/11holder.html?_r=1; Michael D. Schear, "Holder Resigns, Setting Up Fight over Successor," New York Times, September 26, 2014, p. 1.
Curt Flood, The Way It Is (New York: Trident, 1971); Brad Snyder, A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports (New York: Viking, 2006); Curt Flood and the Reserve Clause" in Cynthia Rose, ed., American Decades Primary Sources, Vol. 8, (Detroit: Gale, 2004).
Prominent educator Walter Eugene Massey was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on April 5, 1938. His father, Almar, was a steelworker and his mother, Essie, a teacher. Massey had an exceptional mind, even at an early age. By the time he finished 10th grade, his skills in mathematics were strong enough to earn him a college scholarship. Massey enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and graduated with a BS in math and physics in 1958.
While working on his master’s and doctorate degrees at Washington University in St. Louis, Massey conducted research on the quantum of liquids and solids. He received a PhD in 1966. Massey began his teaching career as an associate professor at the University of Illinois then moved to Brown University in 1970, becoming a full professor five years later.
New York Times bestselling author Everette “E” Lynn Harris was born June 20, 1955, in Flint, Michigan. Openly homosexual, Harris was best known for his depictions of gay African American men who were concealing or “closeting” their sexuality. Although he did not participate in gay rights activism, Harris introduced millions of readers to the “invisible life” of gay black men.
Harris grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, with his father, Ben Odis Harris, a sanitation truck driver; his mother, Etta Mae Williams, and three sisters. Harris endured a difficult childhood as his father taunted him for wanting to become a teacher while his mother suffered physical abuse. After his parents divorced in 1970, Harris discovered and was reunited with his biological father, James Jeter. The reunion, however, was short-lived, as Jeter died in an automobile accident a year later.
Harris found refuge and success in his educational pursuits. He attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and was the school’s first black yearbook editor, the first black male cheerleader and president of his fraternity. He graduated with honors in 1977 with a BA in journalism.
Born on February 6, 1898 in Moberly, Missouri, Melvin Beaunorus Tolson is known as one of the most significant African American modernist poets of his time. In addition, Tolson’s work as an educator led Langston Hughes to declare him “the most famous Negro Professor in the Southwest” in the mid-twentieth century.
Abdias do Nascimento, famous Brazilian writer, scholar, and politician, was born on March 14, 1914, in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. From a humble family, his mother, Josina, was a candy maker and his father, Bem-Bem, was a musician and shoemaker, Abdias do Nascimento joined the Brazilian Army at age 15, moving to the state capital, São Paulo, where he became politically active. In Rio de Janeiro, he founded, in 1944, the Teatro Nacional do Negro (Black National Theater). A member of Brazil’s Congress from 1983 to 1987 and a Senator in 1991, 1996-1999, Abdias do Nascimento dedicated his life to fighting racial prejudice.
Aaron Henry and Constance Curry, Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995).
Seattle newspaper publisher Chris H. Bennett was born in Waynesboro, Georgia in 1943. He spent four years in the Air Force before attending Everett Community College in Everett, Washington, where he played football. Bennett then worked for the African American newspaper The Facts before leaving to start Seattle Medium.
Twenty-seven-year-old Bennett founded Seattle Medium newspaper in 1970, locating it in an office above a dry-cleaning shop. He promoted the Medium as a weekly African American paper that focuses on community and local news in the Seattle area. Its masthead slogan reads, "A message for the people, by the people."
Himanee Gupta, "Chris Bennett: Publisher Uses Media as Mediums for his Message," Seattle Times (February 26, 1990); www.seattlemedium.com.
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.
Empress Zewditu of Ethiopia was born on April 29, 1876 as Askala Maryam in the city of Harrar in Enjersa Goro Province, Ethiopia. Her mother was Abechi, a Shewan noblewoman and her father was Menelik II, at that point the king of Shewa and the future emperor of Ethiopia.
Menelik II agreed to submit to Emperor Yohannes’s rule with the stipulation that his daughter, Zewditu, would marry Yohanne’s son and future heir Araya Selassie Yohannes. They wed in 1882 when Araya Selassie Yohannes was nine and Zewditu was six. Despite the arranged marriage Menelik II and Yohannes continued their contentious relationship until the death of Emperor Yohannes in the battle of Metemma against the Madhists of Sudan in 1889. Menelik II was soon afterwards crowned Emperor of Ethiopia.
Upon the death of Menelik II in 1913, Lij Iyasu, the son of Zewditu's half-sister Shewa Regga, assumed power. The new emperor viewed Zewditu as a threat and ordered her and her husband be taken to the countryside (Falle Province). Iyasu, however, quickly fell out of favor with the powerful nobles who insured his rule. When he was accused of flirting with Islam, Iyasu was removed from the throne and replaced by Zewditu on September 27, 1916.
Deval L. Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts was elected in 2006. He became at that time only the second African American elected as a state Governor in the history of the United States. Patrick was born on July 31, 1956 in Chicago to Laurdine "Pat" Patrick and Emily Mae Wintersmith, and raised in the Robert Taylor housing project on that city’s “South Side.” His father’s career as a jazz musician (with the Sun Ra band) often took him away from home. Occasionally, Patrick travelled with his father, especially to New York City, where he often stayed with the family of the African drummer, Babatunde Olatunji and his wife Amy. After his parents were estranged, Patrick and his older sister were raised by his working mother.
Benefiting from "A Better Chance," a national non-profit organization which identified and recruited academically gifted African American students, Patrick was selected to attend Milton High School Academy. Upon his graduation in 1974 he entered Harvard University. After completing his undergraduate education at Harvard in 1978, Patrick worked for one year for the United Nations in the (pre-genocide) Darfur region of Sudan. He then returned to Harvard to earn a law degree in 1982. Two years later he married Diane Bemus, a labor and employment attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Author interviews with Deval Patrick, March 11, 2005 and December 8,
2006, "Governor-elect Deval Patrick is Named 2006 Bostonian of the
Year," Boston Globe Magazine, Special Issue, December 31, 2006: Mary
Carmichael, "Health Section," Newsweek Magazine, May 14, 2007; Office
of Governor Deval L. Patrick.
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.
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);
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.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Tresse, Black Americans in Congress 1870-1989 (Washington: US Government Printing Office, 1990); James Q. Wilson, “Two Negro Politicians: An Interpretation.” Midwest Journal of Political Science 4, November 1960: 346-69.
Robert Russa Moton was born on the William Vaughan Plantation in 1867 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Moton attended the local freedman’s school and eventually went on to college at the Hampton Institute (now called Hampton University).
At Hampton Institute Moton distinguished himself academically and after graduation was appointed the school’s Commandant in charge of military discipline, a post he held for 25 years. Moton also became a Hampton fundraiser, traveling north to lecture on the school’s programs.
In 1915, Moton left the Hampton Institute to accept a post as Tuskegee Institute as its second president after the death of founder Booker T. Washington. Soon after his arrival Moton began to expand the Institute’s academic programs, adding a new department to educate future black school teachers. He also initiated the construction of what would become the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital which would treat African American World War I veterans. Despite local white opposition, Moton insisted that the federal hospital be staffed by black doctors, nurses, and administrators.
Bruce Kuklick, Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William
Fontaine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
Charles Sherrod was a key civil rights leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose leadership led to the Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. Born in extreme poverty to his fourteen-year old mother in 1937 in St. Petersburg, Virginia, he worked to help support six younger children. Sherrod worked his way through Virginia Union College, receiving a B.A. in 1958 and a Bachelors of Divinity in 1961. He joined SNCC in 1960, participating in the organization's first demonstrations and voter registration drives.
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the
1960s (New York: Harvard UP, 1981); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African
American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);
Edward Rudolph Bradley Jr., journalist, was born June 22, 1941, in Philadelphia. His father was a businessman and his mother a housewife. After Bradley’s parents divorced, he spent summers with his father in Detroit. He attended primary and secondary school in Philadelphia. In 1960 he attended Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and played defensive end and offensive tackle on the football team. After earning a degree in 1964 in education, Bradley taught sixth grade. He also worked nights at WDAS-FM radio in Philadelphia as a jazz disc jockey and basketball play-by-play announcer.
His first reporting assignment included the north Philadelphia riot in 1964. In 1967, WCBS Radio, an all-news station in New York City, hired Bradley. In 1971, Bradley moved to Paris and became a stringer (freelance reporter) for CBS News. Four years later he became a reporter at the CBS Washington bureau, covering Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign.
In 1976 Bradley was the first African American reporter at CBS to serve as a White House correspondent and anchor the station’s Sunday evening news program. In 1978 Bradley became a correspondent for “CBS Reports,” reporting from Cambodia, China, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.
An exceptional athlete and one of America’s leading sprinters of the 1930s, Matthew Mackenzie “Mack” Robinson, was born in Cairo, Georgia in 1912. Matthew grew up with three other siblings, including the famed Jackie Robinson. After their father left following the birth of the last child, mother Mallie Robinson decided to take her five children to California. The Robinson family, along with other migrants, moved to Pasadena by train in 1920 where the athletic careers of the Robinson brothers would blossom.
Jamaican-born Ferdinand Christopher Smith became a prominent twentieth century international labor activist and leader. At an early age Smith left Jamaica’s poor economic conditions in search of work as a migrant laborer. He spent five years in Panama, where he worked as a hotel steward and a salesman. After WWI he moved to Cuba and by 1920 was working as a ship’s steward.
In the 1920s, impressed by their commitment to racial issues, Smith joined the Communist-led Marine Workers Industrial Union. Although maritime workers faced oppressive working conditions including high rates of dise