Etta Moten, a multifaceted pioneer in the world of entertainment, was born in Weimar, Texas in 1901. She was raised as the only child of her parents, Freeman Moten, a Methodist minister, and his wife Ida Mae Norman. In 1915, Rev. Moten moved to Kansas City where Etta Moten began singing in church choirs.
Moten married one of her school teachers at the age of 17 and had three children. She divorced her husband in 1924 and asked her parents to care for her children while she went on to attend the University of Kansas to study voice and drama. While at the University of Kansas, Moten briefly joined the Eva Jessy Choir in New York before her ambitions lead her to Hollywood where she immediately embarked upon a film career that enabled her to parlay her vocal and dramatic skills in a dignified manner.
Moten made her film debut as a widow (who sang the song My Forgotten Man) in the 1933 movie The Gold Diggers. The same year, she appeared in her sophomore and final film entitled Flying Down to Rio in which her moving vocal performance of The Carioca received positive reviews. Although she did not receive billing for subsequent film roles, Moten was one of the first singers to be employed as a dub for the voices of several other leading actresses, including Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers.
Joy B. Kinnon, “Etta at 100: Etta Moten Barnett, Pioneer Actress,
Singer and Activist Celebrates Centennial,” Ebony (December 2001); Joy
B. Kinnon, “A Diva for All Times,” Ebony (March 2004); Anonymous, "KU
Fine Arts Dean Connects with Alumna Etta Moten Barnett," Collage 2:1
(Spring 2000); Stephen Bourne, “Etta Moten: Actress Who Broke the
Stereotype for Black Women in Hollywood,” The Independent (London),
January 7, 2004.
Frank Silvera was an important 20th Century actor, director, producer, and teacher. Born on July 24, 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica, he grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and went on to study law at Northeastern University Law School. He later attended Boston University, Old Vic School, and the Actors Studio before moving to New York City, New York to pursue acting.
Garland Thompson, “Who was Frank Silvera?” The Frank Silvera Writers'
Workshop Foundation, Inc. http://www.fsww.org/whois.html; “Frank
Silvera” Internet Movie Database. (Imdb.com Inc: 2009)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0798826/; David Ragan, Who’s Who In
Hollywood (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington Press, 1976); Edward Mapp,
Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, NJ: 1978).
Jim Perry was an African American cowboy and top hand, the highest-ranked cowboy, on the three million-acre XIT Ranch near Dalhart, Texas. Perry established himself as an expert roper, rider, bronc buster, cook and musician.
Perry was born on February 2, 1858, in Texas. Very little is known about his early life. Since his teens in the 1870s he worked for the Horse Shoe T Cross Ranch before joining the XIT, which was up and running by 1885. Perry helped string over seven hundred miles of barbed wire fencing along the entire XIT Ranch property by 1887 making it the largest fenced ranch in the world.
Jim Perry was regarded as such an accomplished steer roper. In his later years Perry was revered for his culinary skills as a ranch house and chuck wagon cook for the XIT. He was also quite renowned as a top fiddler, which added to his likeability for he was loved and revered by his peers.
Perry remained a loyal employee of the XIT Ranch for two decades despite the fact that his race precluded him from becoming of one of the ranch’s foremen, a position for which he was well qualified. On September 29, 1908 he married Emma Beaseley. The couple had no children. In 1918 Jim Perry died in Oldham County, Texas from a brain tumor.
Nineteen-year-old Silva was studying to be a personal assistant (secretary) and working as a shop attendant at the time of the contest. Silva was crowned Miss Belgium because of her appearance, her talent in dance, and her knowledge of a number of languages including French (her native language), Dutch, English, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean.
Inspired by his parents’ belief that education crushed barriers of bigotry, and by a teacher who told him he wrote well, Boone won a county-wide poetry contest. Soon afterward, he started East Suffolk High School’s first newspaper and while there also wrote human interest stories in the “colored section” of a white daily newspaper, his hometown Suffolk News-Herald.
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.
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, Michigan and entered Howard University in Washington, D.C. 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.
North Carolina Congressman George Kenneth Butterfield Jr. was born in Wilson, North Carolina on April 27, 1947 to a father who was a dentist and civic leader as well as the first black elected official in eastern North Carolina in the 20th century; and a mother who was a classroom teacher for 48 years.
Butterfield attended Charles H. Darden High School and graduated in 1967 before going to North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. He graduated with a sociology and political science degree in 1971. In 1974, he received his J.D. from North Carolina Central University School of Law. After serving in the United States Army for two years, Butterfield became a successful lawyer known for helping the poor people who had extraordinary legal problems. In 1988, Butterfield was appointed Superior Court Judge in Wilson County. In 2001 he was appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
History of American Negro; History of Coweta County, Georgia; Bill Banks, “Sharing Untold Stories,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution (February 1, 2001); Karen Jordan, “From a Dream to a Legacy,” The Tennessean (November 16, 2003); Karen Jordan, “Meharry Legacy Continues,” Interpreter Magazine (February-March 2004); W. Winston Skinner, “Descendant Plans Book about Pioneer Local Black Doctor,” Newnan Times-Herald (July 10, 2006); www.karenjordanwrites.com.
John Henry Merrick—insurance agent, entrepreneur, business owner—was born in Clinton, North Carolina on September 7, 1859. Merrick was born a slave; he lived with his mother Martha Merrick and a younger brother. With the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation his family was freed. When Merrick was twelve he and his family relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He got a job as a helper in a brickyard which provided support for his family. At the age of eighteen Merrick moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where he began work as a hod carrier. Merrick eventually became a brick mason and worked on the construction of Shaw University in Raleigh.
Walter B. Weare, Black Business in the New South: A Social History of
the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1973); Andrews, R. McCants “John Merrick. A
Biographical Sketch: Electronic Edition”
http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/andrews/andrews.html; "John Henry Merrick,"
in Jessie Carney Smith, Millicent Lownes Jackson and Linda T. Wynn,
eds., Encyclopedia of African American Business (Westport, Conn:
Greenwood Press, 2006)
Joseph Laroche grew up among the privileged upper class in Haiti and received his early education from private tutors.
Born October 22, 1882 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, King Daniel’s parents were King and Hattie Ganaway. He was named after his father King and his grandfather Daniel. His devout Christian faith led King in 1903 at the age of 21 to leave Tennessee to join the Christian Catholic Church, a religious community in Zion, Illinois under the leadership of John Alexander Dowie. After nine months of waiting tables there he decided to move to Chicago.
Michael A. Healy was born in Macon, Georgia, on September 22, 1839. His father, Michael Morris Healy, was an Irish immigrant planter who was born in 1795 and moved to Jones County, Georgia, in 1818 where he eventually acquired one thousand five hundred acres of land through a land lottery and purchase. Michael Healy became one of the more successful plantation owners in the county partly because of the forty-nine enslaved people who worked on his plantations. One of the enslaved was Mary Eliza Smith who became his wife and later the mother of Michael A. Healy. According to slave law at the time, Michael Augustine Healy was technically born into slavery, prompting his father to send him North for his education and future.
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.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, often called Fleet, was the first African American to play major league baseball in the nineteenth century. Born October 7, 1857, in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, Walker was the fifth of six children born to parents, Dr. Moses W. Walker, a physician, and Caroline Walker, a midwife.
Oberlin College admitted Walker for the fall 1878 semester. In 1881, he played in all five games of the new varsity baseball team at Oberlin. Before the end of the year, however, Walker left Oberlin to play baseball for the University of Michigan. In July 1882, Walker married Bella Taylor and the couple had three children.
Fleetwood Walker was able to earn money as a catcher. He played individual games for the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland (August 1881), the New Castle (Pennsylvania) Neshannocks (1882), and with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League (1883). In August 1883, Adrian “Cap” Anson, manager of the Chicago White Stockings, stated his team would not play Toledo with Walker in the lineup. Although both teams played, the incident marked the beginning of baseball’s acceptance of a color line.
David W. Zang, Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart: The Life of Baseball’s First Black Major Leaguer (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995).
Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento, California, was born in California's capital city in 1966. He graduated from Sacramento High School, where he led the state in basketball scoring during his senior year, with a point average of 32.5 points. Johnson then played college basketball at the University of California at Berkeley. While there he became the all-time leader in scoring for that varsity team. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1987, Johnson was drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA).
As the seventh round draft pick, Johnson was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but was quickly traded to the Phoenix Suns in 1988, where he remained for the duration of his career in the NBA. Johnson played point guard, and with his high point-scoring, was considered by many teams as a threat. The Phoenix Suns' overall record improved with his selection and so did Johnson's performance.
During his first year with Phoenix (1988-1989), Johnson was named the NBA's most improved player. He also competed in all-star games in 1990, 1991, and 1994 and played on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team (Dream Team II) which won a gold medal in Toronto, Canada in the 1994 World Championship of Basketball. Kevin Johnson officially retired from the NBA on August 8, 2000 after 13 years in the league.
Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes was a prominent editor, author, and civil rights activist from New Orleans, Louisiana. He is best known for his work in Plessy v. Ferguson, the most important civil rights case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th Century, and a book he authored about the history and culture of Creoles in Louisiana.
Desdunes was born November 15, 1849 in New Orleans. His father was a Haitian exile, and his mother was Cuban. Desdunes came from a family that owned a tobacco plantation and manufactured cigars. He was a law student at Straight University in the early 1870s. He also worked for the United States Customs House in New Orleans first as a messenger from 1879 to 1885, and as a clerk from 1891 to 1894, and again from 1899 to 1912.
Influential educational leader Freeman A. Hrabowski III has occupied many roles in his life, as a child civil rights activist in the 1960s, as professor, as university president, as philanthropist, and as consultant. He was born on August 13, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama to parents Maggie G. and Freeman A. Hrabowski II, who were both teachers.
Robert James Harlan was an entrepreneur, businessman, and army officer who devoted the second half of his life to political and civic service. Among his many accomplishments, in an 1879 speech before Congress titled "Migration is the Only Remedy for Our Wrongs," Harlan argued for the right of blacks to migrate wherever they chose within the United States. Within the next year, 6,000 black "Exodusters" would leave Mississippi and Louisiana for Kansas.
Harlan was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky on December 12, 1816 to a mulatto mother and a white father, Judge James Harlan. Although born enslaved, Harlan was raised in his father's home, and his keen intellect meant that he was a good fit in a household that included a future Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Harlan's half-brother, John Marshall Harlan, wrote the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Since there were no schools for African American children in Kentucky during this era Harlan was tutored by his two older half-brothers.
Robert Wood is believed to be one of the first African American mayors in the United States. He served as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1870s. Wood was born in 1844 to Susie Harris, an African American housekeeper, and Dr. Robert Wood, a white doctor from Virginia. His parents never married, but lived side by side. According to oral histories, Wood was never a slave and lived mostly with his father, a former mayor of Natchez himself.
Mississippi Governor James L. Alcorn appointed Robert Wood as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in 1869. He later was elected mayor in 1870. His election was part of the “Black and Tan Revolution,” a short-lived political shift in Mississippi in which citizens of Mississippi elected many African Americans to state offices between 1868 and 1875. At its peak in 1873, half of Mississippi's state elected officials were black.
David Duncan Collum, Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South: The
Stuff that Makes Community. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2006);
Mike Brunker, “Race, Politics and the Evolving South: A Black Mayor,
130 Years Later” MSNBC.com. Aug. 17, 2004.
Joe Atkins was born in Jefferson, Texas, on March 6, 1936, to Willie and Mable Atkins. Willie Atkins supported the family as a farmer but later moved to Dallas in 1950 where he became a plumber while Mable sold insurance. Joe’s parents recognized his aptitude and encouraged his education. He graduated from Lincoln High School in Dallas in 1954 and then moved to Arkansas to attend Philander Smith College, but after only a semester, the homesick student decided to move back to Dallas.
Claudia McNeil is best remembered for her laudatory performance as the matriarch in the stage and screen versions of Lorraine Hansberry’s widely-acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun (1961). McNeil was born in 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland to Marvin Spencer McNeil and Annie Mae Anderson McNeil. She was adopted by a Jewish family, named the Toppers, in her teenage years and briefly married by the age of 18. McNeil then worked as a registered librarian before the inception of her entertainment career.
McNeil first performed as a dancer with the Katherine Dunham troupe during the tour of South America in 1951. She later performed as a nightclub and vaudeville singer before making her acting debut in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953); and later performed in Langston Hughes’s Simply Heavenly (1957), for which she received a Tony nomination. In 1965, she appeared in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, for which she garnered the London Critics Poll Award for best actress.
Hazel Garland, “Claudia McNeil Claim’s Star’s Life Isn’t Easy,”
Pittsburgh Courier, March 17, 1962; Edward Mapp, ed., Directory of
Blacks in the Performing Arts (Meluchan, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press,
1978); Eric Pace, The New York Times Biographical Service, November 29,
Omar Ibn Said, also known as "Uncle Moreau" was unusual among enslaved people in the antebellum United States in that before he was captured he was highly educated and could read and write fluently at a time when most African slaves were illiterate. Said’s autobiography is unique because it is the only personal account of a slave written in his native language while he was in bondage in the United States.
Omar Ibn Said was born in 1770 along the Senegal River in Futa Tooro, West Africa to a wealthy Muslim family. When his father died, Said at age five was sent to a nearby town to study Islam and become a teacher. Religion was paramount in Said’s life and he was devout to the Muslim faith. With extensive religious training Said became well educated and fluent in Arabic.
“Autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831,” The
American Historical Review 30: 4 (July, 1925); http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/omar-ibn-sayyid; Sylvaine A.
Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas
(New York: New York University Press, 1998).
African American cowboy Charley Willis was recognized as a singing cowboy who authored the popular trail song, “Goodbye Old Paint.” Willis was a skilled cowhand who not only sang songs from the trail but who contributed to preserving authentic cowboy music from the era.
Charley Willis was born in 1847 in Milam County, outside of Austin, Texas. Freed after the Civil War he headed to West Texas at age eighteen and found work breaking wild horses at the Morris Ranch in Bartlett, Texas. In 1871, at age twenty-four, he rode the Chisholm Trail one thousand miles north into Wyoming Territory as a drover. Charley was musically knowledgeable and talented. He became known for the songs he brought back from the trail.
In 1885 Willis taught his favorite song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” to Morris’s seven-year-old son, Jess. As an adult Jess Morris became known as a talented fiddler, and though credited with authoring “Good-bye Old Paint,” he was quick to clarify that had he learned the song from Charley Willis as a child. In 1947 John Lomax, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist, recorded Morris singing and playing Willis’ song, “Good-bye Old Paint,” and later sent it to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress where it is preserved.
Born in Gainesville, Florida on February 7, 1882, Emma Rochelle Wheeler had gained an interest in medicine at the young age of six after her father had taken her to a white female doctor for an eye problem. Seeing the rare female doctor persuaded young Emma that she could pursue that profession as well. Emma remained friends with the physician who followed her progress through high school and later Cookman Institute in Jacksonville.
Rochelle graduated from Cookman in 1899 at the age of 17 and married Joseph R. Howard, a teacher, in 1900. Within a year of their marriage Howard fell ill with typhoid fever and died before seeing his son, Joseph Jr. Soon after her husband’s death, Wheeler moved with her son to Nashville, Tennessee where she would continue to pursue her goal of becoming a physician.
Emma Howard attended Walden University in Nashville, graduating from Meharry Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical College in 1905. The week of her commencement she married John N. Wheeler, who was also a physician. Together they would have two daughters, Thelma and Bette, and an adopted son George, who was Emma’s nephew.
Robert Browning Flippin was an important community leader and racial activist in San Francisco beginning in the 1930s through the 1950s. He was also the first African American parole officer at the California State Prison at San Quentin. The son of the black physician George Albert Flippin, Robert attended Nebraska Central College and Washington State College prior to his arrival in San Francisco. In 1936 he also studied medical technology briefly at the Northwest Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 1937 Flippin was appointed executive director of the Booker T. Washington Community Center in San Francisco, a recreation facility located in San Francisco’s Western Addition that catered to the city’s small African American population. Here, Flippin interacted with a broad array of San Francisco’s leaders and was regarded by the 1940s as one of the most respected African American leaders in the Bay Area.
The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University. At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.
Irma Jackson Cayton Wertz was a member of the first Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACS) Officer training class commissioned at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, during World War II. Born in Brunswick, Georgia, on May 8, 1911, Jackson was the product of a military household. Her family was stationed in Des Moines while her father, who served as a captain in the segregated army during World War I, attended officer’s training camp.
After graduating from Fisk University and Atlanta University, Jackson moved to Chicago, Illinois where she gained employment as a social worker in the South Parkway Community Center. There she married her first husband, Horace Cayton, a noted University of Chicago sociologist. The couple divorced in 1942.
The same year, Jackson applied for entrance into the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. After successfully passing a battery of examinations, completing a six-week training course, and taking the oath to become an officer in August of that year, Jackson was briefly assigned to the WAAC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as a recruiter. Shortly thereafter, she relocated to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where she met and married William Wertz and joined the Thirty-second WAAC Post Headquarters Company.
Robert F. Jefferson, Fighting for Hope: African American Troops of the 93rd Infantry Division in World War II and Postwar America (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008); Brenda L. Moore, To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African American WACs Stationed Overseas during World War II (New York: New York University Press, 1996).
Alice Coachman became the first African American woman from any country to win an Olympic Gold Medal when she competed at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, UK. Born November 9, 1923, in Albany, Georgia, to Evelyn and Fred Coachman, Alice was the fifth of ten children. As an athletic child of the Jim Crow South, who was denied access to regular training facilities, Coachman trained by running on dirt roads and creating her own hurdles to practice jumping.
Even though Alice Coachman parents did not support her interest in athletics, she was encouraged by Cora Bailey, her fifth grade teacher at Monroe Street Elementary School, and her aunt, Carrie Spry, to develop her talents. After demonstrating her skills on the track at Madison High School, Tuskegee Institute offered sixteen-year-old Coachman a scholarship to attend its high school program. She competed on and against all-black teams throughout the segregated South.
http://www.alicecoachman.com; Jennifer H. Landsbury, “Alice Coachman: Quiet Champion of the 1940s,” Chap. in Out of the Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes (Fayetteville, The University of Arkansas Press, 2006).
Ronald Andrew Crutcher was born on February 27, 1947, in Richmond, Kentucky, to Andrew James Crutcher and Burdella Crutcher. Following his graduation from Woodward High School in Richmond in 1965, Crutcher attended and became a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the Miami University in Ohio where he studied music and graduated cum laude in 1969. He then pursued his graduate studies at Yale University in Connecticut as a Woodrow Wilson and Ford Foundation Fellow, and in 1979 he became the first cellist to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale. Dr. Crutcher, who is fluent in German, studied music at the University of Bonn in Germany where he was supported by a Fulbright Fellowship.
Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the father of poet-playwright Joseph Seamon, Jr., distinguished himself as a playwright, poet, author, and educator. Cotter was born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1861, but was reared in Louisville. He was one of the earliest African American playwrights to be published. His father, Michael J. Cotter, was of Scots-Irish ancestry, and his mother, Martha Vaughn, was an African American. Cotter, Sr. married Maria F.
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.
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).
Actress Diahann Carroll was born July 17, 1935 in the Bronx, New York but grew up in Harlem. She received her education and her theatre training at Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts.
At the age of 19, Carroll received her first film role when she was cast as a supporting actress in the 1954 film Carmen Jones which starred Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. After her film debut Carroll starred in the Broadway musical House of Flowers. In 1959 she returned to film in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess where she performed with an all-star cast that included Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., and Pearl Mae Bailey.
In 1962 Carroll made history when she became the first African American woman to receive a Tony Award for best actress. She was recognized for her role as Barbara Woodruff in the musical No Strings. Another historical moment occurred when Carroll won the lead role for Julia in 1968, becoming the first African American actress to star in her own television series as someone other than a domestic worker. The show also broke ground by portraying Carroll as a single parent. She played a recently widowed nurse who raised her son alone. In 1968 Carroll won a Golden Globe Award for “Best Actress in a Television Series” for her work in Julia. One year later she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role in the series.
Rufus Burrow, Jr., James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 1994); Dwight N. Hopkins, Black
Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone's Black
Theology and Black Power (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999); Harry H.
Singleton, Black Theology and Ideology: Deideological Dimensions in the
Theology of James H. Cone (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002).
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.
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.
Thomas Fleming was a founding editor and columnist of one of the leading African American newspapers in California, the San Francisco-based Sun-Reporter. Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1907, Fleming migrated to Chico, California in 1918 to live with his mother upon her divorce from Thomas’s father. After working as a cook for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the 1920s, Fleming attended Chico State College in the 1930s where he studied journalism. Persistent racial discrimination limited his employment options. Aside from contributing several articles to a local San Francisco newspaper on the 1934 General Strike, he was unable to find steady work as a journalist.
World War II brought dramatic changes to the San Francisco Bay Area, including a sizable influx of African Americans who came to work in the region’s war industries. At the height of the war, in the summer of 1944, Fleming was hired as the first editor of the Reporter, a newspaper serving the burgeoning San Francisco African American community. Fleming used his new position to crusade against racism while covering local and state politics.
Antoine "Fats" Domino, early rock and roll musician, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on February 26, 1928 to Antoine Domino, a former plantation worker, and Donatile Gros, a Creole of light complexion. Fats, as he was soon called because of his weight, was raised in a large family of seven children including his four brothers and two sisters. From a young age Fats was influenced by his father, a musician who played the banjo and fiddle.
At the age of ten, Domino began to play an old piano the family purchased, learning the instrument from his older brother-in-law Harrison Werrett, who had played in a New Orleans band. Fats' passion for and expertise with the piano continued to grow. When he was fourteen he quit school and went to work as a musician. Learning songs from jukeboxes, Domino began playing at local bars and nightclubs.
Rick Coleman, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock ‘n’
Roll (Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2006); Rolling Stone, December 1, 2008,
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie McKay, Norton Anthology of African America Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002);
Freddye Scarborough Henderson, entrepreneur, columnist, and educator, was born on February 18, 1917 in Franklinton, Louisiana. She was educated in her hometown and graduated valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School in Franklinton. In 1937, Scarborough earned a B.S. in home economics from Southern University. Four years later, on July 4, 1941, she married Jacob Robert Henderson in Atlanta, Georgia. Freddye Henderson continued her educational pursuits, becoming the first African American to earn a M.S. degree in fashion merchandising from New York University in 1950.
In 1944 Henderson opened a custom dress store in Atlanta. She operated the store until 1950 when she became an associate professor of applied art and clothing at Spelman College. She also held an adjunct position during the summer months at Atlanta University. Along with her teaching duties, Henderson became fashion editor for the Associated Negro Press where she reached a national audience with her syndicated column which appeared in black newspapers throughout the country.
Furniss was the second son born to William H. Furniss and Mary Elizabeth J. Williams, in Jackson, Mississippi, on January 30, 1874. His family moved to Indianapolis when he was young, and his father became the superintendent of the Special Delivery Department of the Indianapolis Post Office. Furniss received his early education in the local city schools and then enrolled in Lincoln University (formerly the Lincoln Institute). Just before his graduation in 1891, Furniss enrolled in the Medical College of Indiana and received his medical degree in 1894, ranking second in a class of fifty-two. Furniss was the only African American in his class. While in medical school, he worked as a clerk for Dr. E. S. Elder, a prominent Indianapolis physician, to pay for his education. On October 26, 1905, he married Lillian Morris, but no children were born to this union.
Edward Rose, also known by the names Five Scalps, Nez Coupe and “Cut Nose,” was the son of a white trader father and a Cherokee and African American mother. Little else is known about his early life including where he was born. He may have spent some years working on the Mississippi River between southern Illinois and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ohio’s first African American Congressman, Louis Stokes was born to Charles and Louis Stokes on February 23, 1925 in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended its public schools before joining the United States Army in 1943. Stokes served in the army for three years and then attended Western Reserve University from 1946 to 1948 where he earned a B.A. In 1953 he received a Doctor of Law degree from Cleveland Marshall Law School of the Cleveland State University. Stokes was admitted to the Ohio bar the same year and began practicing law in Cleveland.
Best remembered for the role of Reverend Sykes in the film classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), William Walker was born in Pendleton, Indiana in 1917. The son of a freed slave, Walker was the first African American graduate of Pendleton High School. After graduating, Walker pursued an acting career and made his first film appearance as a bit player in The Killers. He went on to appear in more than 100 films and television shows although the industry limited him mainly to roles as a domestic servant.
As the racial climate in Hollywood began to improve in the 1940s, Walker graduated to portraying a wider variety of characters, including doctors and diplomats. Eventually he moved on to directing and producing films. Determined to ensure other African American actors obtained roles that portrayed the race in a true light, Walker in the late 1940s became a civil rights activist.
September 28, 2003; Affirmative Action: Through the Decades with SAG,
Writer and political activist Mariama Ba was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal to a well-to-do family. Her father worked in the French colonial administration and in 1956 became the Minister of Health of Senegal. Her mother died when she was young. Ba was raised by her maternal grandparents who emphasized conservative Muslim values. She attended a religious school, but was also educated in the French tradition. Due to the intervention of her father, she was enrolled in 1943 in the Ecole Normale (Teacher Training School) at Rufisque, a town some 25 miles away from Dakar where she received her diploma in 1947. Ba worked as a teacher from 1947 to 1959, before becoming an academic inspector. During this period, Ba had nine children with her husband, Obeye Diop. The couple separated and Ba was forced to raise her children as a single parent.
Alexander Thomas Augusta was the highest-ranking black officer in the Union Army during the Civil War . He was also the first African American head of a hospital (Freedmen’s Hospital) and the first black professor of medicine (Howard University).
Augusta was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1825 to free African American parents. He moved to Baltimore as a youth to work as a barber while pursuing a medical education. The University of Pennsylvania would not accept him but a faculty member took interest in him and taught him privately. In 1847 he married Mary O. Burgoin, a Native American. By 1850, Augusta and his wife moved to Toronto where he was accepted by the Medical College at the University of Toronto where he received an M.B. in 1856. He was appointed head of the Toronto City Hospital and was also in charge of an industrial school.
On April 14, 1863, Augusta was commissioned (the first out of eight other black officers in the Civil War) as a major in the Union army and appointed head surgeon in the 7th U.S. Colored Infantry. His pay of $7 a month, however, was lower than that of white privates. He wrote Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson who raised his pay to the appropriate level for commissioned officers.
Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black
Soldiers and White Officers (New York: Free Press, 1990); Herbert M.
Morais, The History of the Negro in Medicine (New York: Publishers Co.,
Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849. His reputation as a rider, roper and bronco-buster earned him the nicknames of the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.
In 1861 twelve-year-old Huddleston accompanied his owner, a Confederate officer, into Texas during the Civil War. After being freed at the end of the war Huddleston headed for the southern Texas-Mexico border region where he found work at a rodeo, became a stunt rider and honed his skills as a master horseman.
Richard Durham’s Destination Freedom radio program, which aired on WMAQ in Chicago, Illinois from June 27, 1948 until its cancellation in August of 1950, was unlike anything else being broadcast over the airwaves. For over two years audiences tuned in every Sunday morning and were treated to dramatized stories featuring prominent African Americans. The creator of Destination Freedom, Richard Durham, attempted to infuse each program with as much history as possible, while maintaining enough drama to keep the stories interesting enough to inspire his audience.
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.
Benjamin S. Carson, neurosurgeon and Republican Presidential Candidate in 2016, was born on September 18, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. Carson was raised in a single parent home when his father deserted the family in 1959 when he was eight years old, leaving his mother, Sonya, and his older brother, Curtis. Because of the turmoil in the family, Carson and his brother fell behind in school and he was labeled a “dummy” by his classmates in fifth grade. Once his mother saw their failing grades, she stepped in to turn their lives around. They were only allowed to watch two or three television programs a week and were required to read two books per week and write a book report for her despite her own limited reading skills. Carson developed a love for books and scholarship and eventually graduated third in his high school class. He enrolled in and graduated from Yale University and from there completed medical school at the University of Michigan after training to become a neurosurgeon.
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, CT: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Barbara Marriott, Annie’s Guests – Tales from a Frontier Hotel. (Tucson, Arizona: Catymatt Productions, 2002). Donald N. Bentz, “The Oracle Historian.” (Oracle, Arizona: Oracle Historical Society, Summer, 1982 V5, Winter, 1984-85 V7, Summer 1983 V6, Spring, 1988 V7).
Father Divine, religious founder of the International Peace Missions Movement, businessman, and civil rights activist was born George Baker in Rockville, Maryland to George and Nancy Baker. Viewed by many to be a cult leader, his doctrine was a compilation of optimistic thinking based on many widely accepted mainstream religions. Father Divine and his followers believed that he was the second coming of Christ. He required his followers to adhere to his International Modest Code which required strict commitment to a celibate lifestyle and abstinence from immoral actions.
Father Divine began receiving widespread public attention when in 1919, he and his first wife and several of his interracial religious followers moved to Sayville, New York and established a Peace Mission “heaven.” Peace Missions heavens were interracial communal living facilities that fostered Father Divine’s belief in a desegregated society and represented heaven on earth to his followers. In the 1930s Divine’s network of Peace Missions spread across the nation. His mostly white followers in Los Angeles, California and other west coast cities contrasted with the overwhelmingly black missions east of the Mississippi River. Around 1930 Father Divine moved his Peace Mission headquarters to Harlem, New York. Since the late 1940s the organization has been based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Donna Marie Christian-Christensen, the non-voting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the United States House of Representatives, was born in Teaneck, Monmouth Country, New Jersey on September 19, 1945 to the late Judge Almeric Christian and Virginia Sterling Christian. Christensen attended St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, where she received her Bachelor of Science in 1966. She then earned her M.D. degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. in 1970. Christensen began her medical career in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1975 as an emergency room physician at St. Croix Hospital. Between 1987 and 1988 she was medical director of the St. Croix Hospital and from 1988 to 1994 she was Commissioner of Health for the Virgin Island. During the entire period from 1977 to l996 Christensen maintained a private practice in family medicine. From 1992 to 1996 she was also a television journalist.
Christensen also entered Virgin Island politics. As a member of the Democratic Party of the Virgin Islands, she has served as Democratic National Committeewoman, member of the Democratic Territorial Committee and Delegate to all the Democratic Conventions in 1984, 1988 and 1992. Christensen was also elected to the Virgin Islands Board of Education in 1984 and served for two years. She served as a member of the Virgin Islands Status Commission from 1988 to 1992.
James Finley Wilson was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1881 to Reverend James L. Wilson and Nancy Wiley Wilson. From 1922 to 1948, Wilson served consecutive terms as Grand Exalted Ruler of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks of the World (I.B.P.O.E. of W.), one of the largest African American fraternal organizations in the nation. Wilson’s accomplishments as “Grand” established him as a revered leader among his fraternal brothers and sisters and a national figure in the African American culture.
“James Finley Wilson,” Journal of Negro History 37 (1952): 356-358; “ Wilson Re-Elected Grand Exalted Ruler,” California Eagle, September 13, 1929; Rayford Logan, “James Finley Wilson,” in Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982).
Nineteenth-century lecturer and educator William G. Allen endured physical violence and barely escaped murder when he proposed marriage to the daughter of a white minister in upstate New York. Their relationship later was the inspiration for a story about interracial love by author Louisa May Alcott, herself an abolition sympathizer.
Born in Virginia in 1820, the son of a free mulatto mother and a Welsh father, Allen was orphaned as a young boy and adopted by a free African American family. His academic talents were noticed by New York philanthropist Gerrit Smith, who sponsored his education at the Oneida Institute, a progressive interracial school in upstate New York. Allen graduated in 1844 and became editor of the National Watchman, a temperance and abolitionist paper for African Americans, and then clerked for the Boston law firm of Ellis Gray Loring. While in Boston, he lectured on African American history and argued for a complete blending of the races.
Richard J. Blackett, “William G. Allen, The Forgotten Professor,” Civil
War History, 26, 39-52 (March 1980); Sarah Elbert, The American
Prejudice Against Color (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002);
Jack A. Garraty, American National Biography, Vol. 1 (New York: Oxford
Press, 1999); Jack Salzman, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture
and History, Volume 1 (New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996).
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 disease, low wages, poor rations, and unventilated quarters, they had virtually no union representation aboard ships. This began to change as part of the New Deal’s support of labor unions. In 1936 Smith supported the strike against West Coast shippers. When maritime strikes spread to the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Smith became one of the nine members of the national strike Strategy Committee.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on May 26, 1937, to Arthur and Pearl Lee Young, Robinson and his family moved to Oakland during World War II. Both parents worked at Moore Shipyard, one of numerous large shipbuilders in the area’s booming wartime economy. Along with his parents and four siblings, he lived in the Cypress Village housing projects in West Oakland, a segregated ghetto that gave birth to the Black Panther Party two decades later.
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.
Cole began her schooling at the Institute for Colored Youth and graduated in 1863. She then attended the New England Female Medical College and graduated in 1864 after completing her thesis titled “The Eye and Its Appendages.” With her graduation she became the first formally trained black woman doctor in the United States. She received a second medical degree in 1867 when she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
After graduation, Cole went to work at Elizabeth Blackwell’s Infirmary for Women and Children in New York. After gaining experience there, she moved to Columbia, South Carolina to practice but then later returned to Philadelphia. Cole also set up practices in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. during her medical career.
Historians have documented the arrival of black people in Britain as members of the Roman Army. The first reference to a black African in Britain in the historical record is at a Roman military settlement at Carlisle, in ca. 210 AD. Shortly after, in the years 253-58 AD, Hadrian's Wall on the Empire's northern frontier was guarded by a division raised in North Africa. Other Africans were brought to Britain at various times although the continuous presence of black people in Britain is traced to 1555, when Africans arrived in the company of a London merchant.
John Blanke, a black trumpeter, was a regular musician at the courts of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. Musicians' payments were noted in the accounts of the Treasurer of the Chamber, who was responsible for paying the wages. There are several payments recorded to a “John Blanke, the blacke trumpeter.” This trumpeter was paid 8d [8 pence] a day, first by Henry VII and then from 1509 by Henry VIII.
Trévigne taught at the Catholic Indigent Orphan School in New Orleans, a school dedicated to providing free education to African American orphans.
Iain Cameron Williams, Underneath A Harlem Moon: the Harlem to Paris
Years of Adelaide Hall (London: Continuum, 2002);
Carl Brewer, mayor of Wichita, Kansas, is a native of that city. Brewer, who was born in 1957, is the first African American to be elected as the mayor of the largest city in Kansas. He previously served on the Wichita City Council from 2001 to 2007. Brewer is the second African American to hold the post of Mayor. A. Price Woodard served as mayor from April 14, 1970 to April 13, 1971.
Brewer was raised in Wichita, and attended North High, where he graduated in 1975. After high school, he attended Friends University, also located in Wichita. Prior to serving on the city council, Brewer was employed as a Spirit Operations Manager for Boeing aerospace manufacturing, a Manufacture Engineer for Cessna aviation, and as a Captain for the Kansas Army National Guard. Brewer is also a member of multiple organizations, including the Arkansas Valley Masonic Lodge, the African American Catholic Council, the National Guard Association, and the Boeing Management Association.
Carl Brewer began serving on the Wichita City Council in 2001, representing District 1. He is a member of many governmental associations: the National League of Cities Board of Directors, the National Black Caucus, the Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to name a few.
Lonnie Smith was a well-known dentist in Houston, Texas, an officer in the Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a civil rights activist. He is best known for his role in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case bearing his name, Smith v. Allwright.
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.
Ralph Metcalfe, was an outstanding U.S. sprinter, track coach, and politican born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in Chicago, Illinois. During Metcalfe’s years as a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1932 through 1934, he was arguably the world’s fastest human. His strong finishes earned him four Olympic medals (gold, 2 silver, and bronze), eight Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles, and six National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles from 1932 through 1936. Perhaps Metcalfe’s most interesting moments in track were not his wins but his virtual dead heat second place finishes in the 100 meter dash at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics at Los Angeles, California and Berlin, Germany to rivals Eddie Tolan and Jesse Owens, respectively.
David Ruggles, abolitionist, businessman, journalist and hydrotherapist, was born in 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut. He attended the Sabbath School for the poor which admitted people of color starting in 1815. In 1827 he left Connecticut for New York City where he operated a grocery store for the next four years. He then quit the grocery business to open his own bookshop in early 1834. Ruggles is generally known as the first African American bookseller. While working at the bookstore he extended many publications and prints promoting the abolition of slavery and in opposition to the efforts of the American Colonization Society which promoted black settlement in Liberia. Ruggles also took on job printing, letterpress work, picture framing, and bookbinding to augment his income. In September 1835, a white anti-abolitionist mob burned his store.
In 1833 Ruggles began to travel across the Northeast promoting the Emancipator and Journal of Public Morals, an abolitionist weekly. Ruggles, who wrote articles and pamphlets and gave lectures denouncing slavery and Liberian colonization, made him a figure of rising prominence in abolitionist circles in the late 1830s.
Samuel Cornish, an abolitionist and editor, was born in Sussex County, Delaware and raised in Philadelphia and New York City. Since both of his parents were free African Americans Cornish was born free. After graduating from the Free African School in Philadelphia Cornish began training to become a Presbyterian minister and was ordained in 1822. Shortly afterward he moved to New York City where he organized the first black Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.
In addition to his duties as pastor, Cornish also became a journalist. Working with fellow African American John B. Russwurm, he founded the first African American newspaper in the United States, Freedom’s Journal. Cornish was the senior editor of the paper while Russwurm served as junior editor. The first issue appeared in New York City on Friday, March 16, 1827. After living in a world dominated by white media, Cornish and Russwurm stated in their first editorial, “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long have the public been deceived by misrepresentations, in things that concern us dearly…,” clearly showing their intentions of publishing the news without white bias against the African American news.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, eds., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Simon & Schuster
Macmillan, 1996); Lerone Bennett Jr., Pioneers in Protest (Chicago:
Johnson Publishing Company Inc., 1968).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spencer Williams is widely known for his portrayal of the character Andy in the controversial 1950s television comedy series Amos ‘n Andy. His contributions to the world of film and television, however, far surpassed the limitations of the popular but widely criticized Amos ‘n Andy sitcom. Born July 14, 1893 in Vidalia, Louisiana, Williams moved to New York City during his teens and studied comedy under vaudeville comedian Bert Williams.
He attended the University of Minnesota, but interrupted his studies to serve several years in the United States Army during and after World War I. After being honorably discharged from the service in 1923, Williams returned to New York City and concentrated on a career in show business. He eventually landed a job with Christie Studios in Hollywood, where he co-wrote and appeared in Paramount Pictures’ first all-black talking film, Melancholy Dame (1928). He was subsequently retained as a consultant, continuity writer, and performer for the Christie Comedies – a comedy series that focused on black life in urban Alabama.
Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia
(New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); Thomas Cripps, Black Film as
Genre (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978); Wheeler Dixon, The
“B” Directors: A Biographical Directory (Metuchen, New Jersey:
Scarecrow, 1985); Phyllis Klotman, Frame By Frame: A Black Filmography
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978); Henry T. Sampson, Blacks
in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films (Metuchen, New Jersey:
Scarecrow, 1977); Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon &