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.
The life of the Revered C.T. Vivian is practically the story of the modern black freedom struggle. Vivian actively participated in the Nashville desegregation movement, Freedom Rides, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and other chapters of the fight for equal rights.
Born Boonville, Missouri on July 28, 1924, Vivian moved with his mother to Macomb in rural west-central Illinois a few years later. Vivian spent his formative years there, in a tiny black community, graduating from high school in 1942. He soon enrolled at Western Illinois University, also in Macomb, though he moved to Peoria before finishing his degree.
In 1947 Vivian participated in his first civil rights protest, successfully desegregating Peoria’s lunch counters. Also while in Peoria, Vivian met and married Octavia Geans of Pontiac, Michigan. They are still married and had six children together; Vivian also has a child from an earlier relationship.
Upon graduating in 1951, Mboya was given sanitary inspection duties in Nairobi. Around the same time, the anticolonial Mau Mau rebellion was erupting and much of Kenya’s trade union and political leadership were detained by British authorities. Mboya resigned from his inspector position in 1953 and began a series of full-time commitments to the growing union movement.
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.
At 17, Drogba signed his first professional contract with Levallois SC, a local club team in the northwestern suburbs of Paris. After two years with Levallois SC he signed with Le Mans in 1998 and spent four years sharpening his soccer skills. Once again Didier singed a new deal, this time with Guingamp and played just one season with club.
Richard Theodore Greener, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became the first African American to graduate from Harvard College. He later served the United States in diplomatic posts in India and Russia. Greener lived in Boston, Massachusetts and Cambridge as a child and entered Harvard in 1865 and received an A.B. degree from the institution in 1870. After graduation he was appointed principal of the Male Department at Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth which later became Cheyney University. Three years later Greener became professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at the University of South Carolina where he also served as librarian and taught Greek, Mathematics and Constitutional Law. While there Greener entered the Law School and received an LL.B degree in 1876.
Bruce Kuklick, Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William
Fontaine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
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 1963 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.
Merrick also worked as a shoe shine boy in a barbershop. When he was not shining shoes he watched and learned the trade of barbering. In 1880 his friend, John Wright, asked Merrick to join him in relocating in Durham, North Carolina to start a new barbershop business. After six months Merrick bought shares in the barbershop and became its co-owner. In 1892 Wright sold his shares to Merrick making him sole proprietor. Eventually Merrick owned eight barbershops in Durham. Responding to the prevailing racial segregation patterns, Merrick owned shops that catered exclusively to black and white customers.
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)
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.
George W. Gibbs, Jr. was the first person of African descent to set foot on Antarctica (the South Pole). He was also a civil rights leader and World War II Navy gunner.
Gibbs was born in Jacksonville, Florida on November 7, 1916. He moved to Brooklyn, New York where he enrolled in Brooklyn Technical School and later received his GED. He also served in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper and Row, 1987); Elaine Sue Caldbeck, “A Religious Life of Pauli Murray: Hope and Struggle,” Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 2000; http://www.wvu.edu/~lawfac/jelkins/lp-2001/murray.html; http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmurrayA.htm
Clara McBride Hale, founder of Hale House, a nationally recognized facility for the care of addicted children, was born on April 1, 1905 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When Hale was a youngster, her family experienced tragedy. Her father died, forcing her mother to take in lodgers to support her four children. After graduating from high school, Clara McBride married Thomas Hale and moved to New York City. Together they had two children, Nathan and Lorraine, and adopted Kenneth. Thomas died, leaving Hale to support her family as a domestic.
While raising her children in Harlem, Hale developed a deep sympathy for abandoned and neglected children. In the 1940s, she began providing short-term and long-term care for community children in her home. She also found permanent homes for homeless children and taught parents essential parenting skills. In 1960, she became a licensed foster parent, providing care for hundreds of children in her home. Hale’s success as a foster parent earned her the affectionate nickname of “Mother Hale.”
http://www.halehouse.org; Ron Alexander, “Chronicle,” New York Times, 26 Aug. 1994: 4; Diane Camper, “Mother Hale's Lasting Gift,” New York Times, 24 Dec. 1992: A16.
Cassandra Quin Butt is Deputy White House Counsel to President Barack Obama on issues relating to civil rights, domestic policy, healthcare, and education. She brought seventeen years of experience in politics and policy to her position. She is a long-time friend of the President, acting as an advisor during his term in the U.S. Senate and throughout his presidential campaign. Additionally, she served as a member of the presidential transition team.
Butts was born on August 10, 1965, in Brooklyn, New York, and at age nine moved to Durham, North Carolina. She graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill with a BA in political science. While at UNC she participated in anti-apartheid protests. She entered Harvard Law School in 1988 where her friendship with future President Barack Obama began when both were filling out forms in the student financial aid line. Butts continued her activism at Harvard where she joined in protests regarding hiring practices for faculty of color. She received a JD from Harvard in 1991.
The first black woman to function as Deputy White House Counsel gradually rose to prominence Her first job was as a counselor at the YMCA in Durham, North Carolina, and after graduating from UNC she worked for a year as a researcher with the African News Service in Durham. For six years she was a registered lobbyist with the Center for American Progress (CAP), rising to Senior Vice President.
Booker T. Washington is one of the most controversial and dominant figures in African American history. According to his autobiography Up From Slavery (1901), he did not know the exact year, date, and place of his birth or his father’s name. Yet, it is widely understood that he was born enslaved on April 5, 1856 in Hale's Ford, Virginia. His mother’s name was Jane and his father was a white man from a nearby plantation. At the age of 9, Washington was freed from slavery and moved to West Virginia. He had always been known as simply “Booker” until he decided to add the name “Washington” after feeling the pressure to have two names when he started grammar school.
James Edwards was one of the most successful African American homesteaders in the state of Wyoming. Born in Ohio on February 14, 1871, local tradition in Wyoming suggests that prior to venturing west, Edwards had served in an African American cavalry unit in Cuba, though no documentation has been found to substantiate the claim.
In 1900, Edwards accompanied his father and a group of Italian miners westward in response to eastern newspaper advertisements of work at the Cambria coal mine in Newcastle, Wyoming. After being driven away from the mine, Edwards walked south to the area near Lusk, finding work on March 31, 1903 on Eugene Bigelow Wilson and George Luther Wilson's Running Water Ranch on the Niobrara River in present day Niobrara County, Wyoming. He was regarded by the owners of the ranch as a good and trustworthy worker, sheepman, and horse trainer. Edwards worked on the Wilson Brothers’ ranch until December of 1914. By the end of his employment on the ranch he had been promoted to foreman, putting him in a supervisory role over white employees.
A radical theoretician, anti-colonialist, labor organizer, and civil rights activist, Harry Haywood was one of the most prominent and influential African American Communists of the twentieth century. Haywood, the son of former slaves, was born in South Omaha, Nebraska in 1898. He migrated to Chicago after serving in World War I and organized community defense during the 1919 Chicago race riot. In 1922 he joined the African Blood Brotherhood and in 1925 became an official member of the CPUSA.
Carl Murphy, publisher, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on January 17, 1889. In 1892, his father, John Henry Murphy edited and published the first issue of the paper the Baltimore Afro-American. Murphy went to high school in Baltimore and after graduating attended Howard University receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1911. He then moved to Harvard were he received his Masters in German in 1913, he continued his studies in Germany before returning to the United States to become an assistant professor at Howard University’s German department.
Murphy became editor of the Baltimore Afro-American due to the poor health of his father in 1918. Later, after his father passed away in 1922 Murphy became the leader of one of the most influential African American publications in the United States. At the peak of its circulation the Baltimore Afro-American reached over 200,000 people, and Murphy helped the paper grow in size so that by the end of his time at the paper in 1961, it had expanded to cover Newark, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Richmond, Virginia.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, Ed., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Publisher Simon &
Schuster Macmillan, 1996); Black Press USA, December 5, 2008,
Wanda Sykes is an American actress, comedian, writer, and voice artist. She is best known for her recurring role as Barbara Baran on the CBS primetime show The New Adventures of Old Christine, and for her comedic roles in such films as Monster-in-Law and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Sykes is the daughter of Marion Louise, a retired banker, and Harry Ellsworth Sykes, a retired U.S. Army colonel. She was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on March 7, 1964, but raised in the Washington, D.C. area.
Sykes attended Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, and later Hampton University, where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Upon graduation, she worked as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) but soon realized she wanted to become an entertainer.
In 1987, at the age of 23, Sykes took to the stage for the first time in a talent show in Washington. While she did not win the contest, she honed her stand-up skills at various comedy clubs while retaining her position at NSA.
In 1992, Sykes relocated to New York to work the comedy circuit and soon got her first big break by being selected as the opening act for comedian Chris Rock at Caroline’s Comedy Club. In 1997, she joined The Chris Rock Show as a writer, made guest appearances, and won an Emmy Award for her writing in 1999.
"Woman Architect Blazes a New Trail for Others," Amsterdam News, June 23, 1945; "Miss Beverly L. Greene," Chicago Daily Tribune, August 26, 1957; "Beverly Greene," Jet Magazine, September 5, 1957; Dreck Spurlock Wilson, African-American Architects: a Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004).
David A. Paterson, sworn in as Governor on March 17, 2008, is the first legally blind American Governor, the first black Governor of New York State, and only the fourth black Governor of any state.
Mabel Keaton Staupers, R.N., was instrumental in ending the United States Army’s policy of excluding African American nurses from its ranks in World War II. In 1948 Staupers also successfully lobbied for full integration of the American Nurses Association.
Mabel Keaton Staupers (née Doyle) was born in Barbados, West Indies on February 27, 1890 to Thomas Clarence Doyle and his wife, Pauline. In 1903 Doyle and her mother immigrated to New York City, New York, and Thomas Doyle joined them there a few years later. After gaining U.S. Citizenship in 1917, Doyle received her R.N. diploma from the Freedmen’s Hospital School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. In 1917 Doyle married James Max Keaton, a marriage that ended in divorce.
Scholar, African traditionalist poet, and Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor was born on October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal. His father, Basie Diogoye Senghor, was a Malinké landowner. His mother, Gnilane Bakhoum, came from a Christian Fulani family. They gave Senghor a European name to reflect both the noble Serer culture they identified with, as well as their Catholic faith. Senghor grew up with his father’s four wives and his twenty-four siblings.
At the age of seven, Senghor was sent to a Catholic mission school, where he first learned French. At 13, he decided to enter the Catholic priesthood. He attended Libermann seminary in Dakar but in 1926, dissuaded by the seminary, switched to the secondary school Lycée Van Vollenhoven. He graduated from high school with honors and his classical languages teacher persuaded the colonial administration to grant Senghor a scholarship to pursue literary studies in France.
Cyril Briggs was a pioneering civil rights activist, journalist, black nationalist, and member of the American Communist Party. Born in 1888 on the Eastern Caribbean island of Nevis, Briggs immigrated to New York City in 1905 and joined a burgeoning community of radical West Indian intellectuals in Harlem. In 1912 be was hired at the New York Amsterdam News where he voiced support for World War I and Woodrow Wilson's anti colonial doctrine of self-determination, which he saw as validating his own radical vision of African American self-rule. Further radicalized in the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, Briggs started publishing his own periodical, the Crusader, in September 1918 and one month later founded the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). Incorporating Marxist class-consciousness under the banner of "Africa for Africans," the Crusader and the ABB became vehicles for Briggs' distinctive merger of interracial revolutionary socialism with black nationalism and anti colonialism.
Michael Gerard Tyson was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 30, 1966. He was raised by a single mother in the slums of Brooklyn in what he described as awful living conditions, in poverty, and surrounded by peer pressure. By the time he was ten he had already developed a reputation as someone you didn’t want to tangle with, and he was cutting school, drinking, smoking, and robbing folks with his friends.
After numerous arrests Tyson was sent to a New York reform school for troubled juveniles. It was there that a former boxer, and then counselor and athletic coach, named Bobby Stewart took an interest in him and taught him how to box. Realizing Mike’s talent, Stewart arranged for him to meet with the trainer, Cus D’Amato. After watching the young boy spar D’Amato was convinced Tyson could one day become the heavyweight champion of the world. He became Tyson’s legal guardian, and an early parole was arranged. D’Amato was a big believer in the power of the mind, and he spent as much time passing along his personal philosophies to Tyson as he did the physical boxing skills.
D’Amato didn’t live to see the fulfillment of his vision, passing away on November 4, 1985, but the management team that he had put in place for Tyson, including co-managers Jim Jacobs and Bill Cayton, and the trainer, Kevin Rooney, carried out his plan. On November 22, 1986 Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in history, at the age of 20 years.
Jose Torres, Fire & Fear. The Inside Story of Mike Tyson (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1989); www.boxrec.com.
Henry Beard Delany is known for his contributions in architecture and for being the first African American bishop elected in North Carolina and the second in the United States. Delany was born on February 5th 1858 in Saint Mary’s, Georgia of slave parents, Thomas Delany, a ship and house carpenter, and Sarah, a house servant. Delany grew up in Fernandina, Florida where he received his earliest formal education. He and his brothers also learned brick laying and plastering trades from their father. In 1881 Delany entered Saint Augustine’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina where he studied theology. After graduating in 1885, he joined the college faculty, remaining there until 1908. He also married Nannie James Logan of Danville, Virginia, another St. Augustine's faculty member, who taught home economics and domestic science. The couple had ten children including Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth who became famous with their 1993 joint autobiography Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years.
Delany joined Raleigh’s Ambrose Episcopal Church, and in June 1889 was ordained a deacon of the church. Three years later he was ordained as a priest. He steadily rose in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, becoming Archdeacon in 1908 and Bishop in 1918.
Sarah Louise Delany and Annie Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth,
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First Hundred Years (New York:
Kodansha International, 1993); Dreck Spurlock Wilson, African-American
Architects: a Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge,
On December 1, 2005, Mark Mallory was sworn in as the first black mayor elected by popular vote in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three other black mayors preceded him but were chosen by the City Council. Born on April 2, 1962, and raised on the West End of Cincinnati, Mallory attended high school at the city’s Academy of Math and Science and earned a BS in administrative management from the University of Cincinnati in 1984. Before becoming Mayor of Cincinnati, Mallory replaced his father, William L. Mallory Sr., in 1994 in the Ohio General Assembly. In 1998 Mark Mallory was elected to the Ohio Senate eventually becoming the assistant minority leader.
Robert Tanner Freeman was born in Washington, D.C. in 1846. His formerly enslaved parents took the surname “Freeman” as did countless other people after gaining their freedom from bondage. As a child, Robert befriended Henry Bliss Noble, a local white dentist in the District of Columbia. Freeman began working as an apprentice to Dr. Noble and continued until he was a young adult. Dr. Noble encouraged young Robert to apply to dental colleges.
Two medical schools rejected Freeman’s application but with the encouragement of Dr. Nobel who had contacts at Harvard Medical School, Freeman applied there. Initially rejected, he was accepted into Harvard Medical School in 1867 at the age of 21, after a petition by Dean Nathan Cooley Keep to end the school’s historical exclusion of African Americans and other racial minorities.
Fredua Koranteng Adu, known to much of the world as Freddy Adu was born June 2, 1989 in the port city of Tema, Ghana. Growing up in Ghana, Freddy often received attention for his tremendous soccer skills as a youngster. Even at a young age he was asked by older kids and even adults to participate in their pick-up soccer games. Playing soccer against others who were often two or three times his age displayed his potential for soccer stardom. Today Adu is often considered one of the greatest of the youngest generation of American soccer players.
Adu’s mother Emelia Adu, provided a strong base for his young soccer career. She worked multiple jobs to provide soccer equipment for Freddy and his younger brother. She also wanted to give the Adu family a chance at higher education and prosperity. They realized this chance in November 1997 when Freddy was just eight years old. His mother and father won a Green Card lottery which allowed them to permanently relocate from Ghana to the United States. He and his family first moved to Maryland and then later to Washington DC. In 2003, Adu and his family became naturalized United States citizens.
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1940); Eleonore van Notten, Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994); Lawrence T. Potter, Jr., “Wallace Thurman,” in Encyclopedia on African American Writers, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
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).
Dubbed “The Moses of Her People,” escaped slave Harriet Tubman assisted hundreds of slaves on the Underground Railroad, leading them from Maryland to safety in Pennsylvania. Born enslaved and raised in Dorchester County, Maryland to Benjamin and Harriett Greene Ross, Harriett was both a field hand and a domestic servant. As a young girl, she suffered a lifelong injury after her master threw a piece of iron at her, which struck her in the head. Throughout her life, Harriett suffered bouts of narcoleptic seizures. In 1844, she married a free black man, John Tubman. She escaped in 1849 in order to avoid being sold into the Deep South. Her husband refused to go with her. Several months later, when she returned to get him, she learned he had taken another wife. He died shortly after the end of the Civil War. Harriett later married Nelson Davis.
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.
Hubert Henry Harrison, author, lecturer, editor, and labor leader, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now United States Virgin Islands) on April 27, 1883. Upon the completion of his elementary schooling in 1900, he moved to New York City, New York. There he took on various service-oriented positions, including that of telephone operator and hotel bellman. Beginning in 1901 he attended an evening high school program, finishing at the top of his class in 1907. After graduation Harrison became a postal clerk.
John Russwurm was a man ahead of his time. Centuries before scholars began debating such issues as “hegemony” and “the social construction of race,” Russwurm understood how the powerful used media to create and perpetuate destructive stereotypes of the powerless. He set out to challenge this practice, via a brand new form of media: African American journalism.
Although he helped to change the terms of debate on race in America, Russwurm was not a native of America. Born in Jamaica on October 1, 1799, he moved to Quebec as a child and then to Maine, where he attended Bowdoin College and wrote term papers on Toussaint L‘Ouverture, fiery leader of the Haitian Revolution. In 1826 Russwurm became only the second African American in the U.S. to earn a college degree. His graduation speech focused on the Haitian revolution.
The next year he moved to New York, where he met Samuel Cornish, an African American Presbyterian minister and editor. On March 16, 1827, Cornish and Russwurm published the first issue of Freedom’s Journal. White publishers -- specifically Mordecai Noah of the New York Enquirer – had long denigrated and attacked free blacks. Freedom’s Journal took direct aim at them.
Ulysses Grant Lee, Jr. was a historian, author, professor, editor and army officer. Born on December 4th, 1913 in Washington D.C. to Ulysses Grant, a business owner, and Maggie Lee Grant, he was the oldest of seven children. Lee graduated from Dunbar High School in 1931. He then attended Howard University where he earned his B.A. and graduated summa cum laude in 1935. He then received his M.A. from Howard in 1936 and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago where he again graduated with honors.
Lee began his career as a graduate assistant at Howard. He became an instructor and eventually assistant professor at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he taught from 1936 to 1948. In 1940 he was a visiting professor at Virginia Union University. Lee eventually joined the English faculty at Lincoln University in Missouri where he stayed until 1956. That same year he began teaching at Morgan State College in Baltimore and the University of Pennsylvania. Known as an excellent, well respected teacher, Lee was voted the Distinguished Teacher Award in 1963 by his students at Morgan State.
In 1941 Ulysses Lee edited The Negro Caravan with Sterling A. Brown and Arthur P. Davis. This widely used anthology was one of the first to bring together all of the major writing by African American authors of the era.
From 1936 to 1939 Lee worked as a research assistant, editor, and consultant for the Federal Writers Project which sponsored publications such as Washington: City and Capital (1937) and The Negro in Virginia (1940).
Peter Salem was born a slave to Jeremiah Belknap at Framingham, Massachusetts about 1750. Belknap sold Salem to Lawson Buckminister some time before the Revolutionary War. Buckminister allowed Salem to enlist in the Massachusetts Minutemen. According to one story, his master freed him upon his enlistment. Another account states that Peter changed his name to Salem when he was freed. Some have attempted to link Peter’s last name with the Arabic “Saleem” (one who is peaceful); however there is no concrete evidence that this is the case.
Salem served at Concord, Saratoga and Stony Point. He is traditionally given credit for the slaying of British Major Pitcairn at Bunker Hill. Pitcairn had ordered the colonists to surrender. Salem shot him in answer. In the ensuing confusion, the Americans were able to take the field. Pitcairn died of his wounds. The gun attributed to Salem’s deed is part of the museum collection at Bunker Hill.
Frank Robinson played twenty-one seasons as a major league baseball player and was the first black manager in both the American and National Leagues. Born August 31, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas, Robinson grew up in West Oakland, California, where he played baseball in summer leagues, on the local American Legion team, and at McClymonds High School.
After graduating high school, Robinson signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1953. He began his career with the Reds minor league affiliate, the Ogden Reds, where he first experienced segregation. An avid movie watcher, a local movie house denied Robinson entry to see a film; it was not the last time Robinson faced discrimination. While the white players from the Ogden team lived in private homes, Robinson and his black teammate lived in a hotel. In 1954, Robinson moved up through the Reds minor league teams, playing for the Tulsa Oilers of the Texas Leagues and the Columbia Reds of the South Atlantic League. In Columbia, he faced the strict segregation of the South, especially while traveling with the team.
Robinson, Frank and Al Silverman, My Life is Baseball (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1968); Robinson, Frank and Berry Stainback, Extra Innings (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1988); http://www.answers.com/topic/frank-robinson.
Jackson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 8, 1962, and was adopted two weeks after her birth. She grew up in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which became infamous during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her adoptive mother continued to live in New Orleans until the hurricane flooded the city. Jackson, who had planned to become a doctor, instead switched her studies to engineering and graduated summa cum laude with a BS in chemical engineering from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering in 1983. She received a masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson was one of only two women in her engineering class at Princeton.
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
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 4, 1927 to Reverend Whitfield and Captilda Nottage, C. DeLores Tucker attended the highly competitive Philadelphia High School for Girls and then matriculated to Temple University where she studied finance and real estate. In 1951 she married businessman William Tucker and became an activist who at the time was counted among the 100 most influential black Americans.
A successful realtor during the 1950s, Tucker became involved in civil rights activities. In the 1960s she served as an officer in the Philadelphia NAACP and worked closely with the local branch president and activist Cecil Moore to end racist practices in the city’s post offices and construction trades. Tucker gained national prominence when she led a Philadelphia delegation on the celebrated Selma to Montgomery march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. By the decade’s end, Tucker’s expertise as a fund raiser for the NAACP, coupled with her Democratic Party affiliation, enabled her to be appointed chair of the Pennsylvania Black Democratic Committee.
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.
Hazel Scott was born on June 11, 1920, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1924, Scott and her parents migrated to Harlem, New York, where Hazel, a musical prodigy, studied classical piano with Paul Wagner, a Juilliard professor. In the late 1930s and early 1940s her career blossomed, as she became a regular performer earning a weekly salary of $4,000 at New York’s elegant dinner club Café Society. Her husband Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. once fondly referred to her as the “darling of Café Society.”
In 1938 her talent brought her to Broadway, where she performed in the musicals Singing Out the News and, four years later, Priorities of 1942. The 1940s were thrilling years for Scott, with appearances in major Hollywood productions like Something to Shout About, I Dood It, and The Heat’s On in 1943, Broadway Rhythm in 1944, and Rhapsody in Blue in 1945. Scott distinguished herself from other black actors by refusing to play the traditional roles, such as maids and prostitutes, offered by movie executives to black actresses. Instead, Scott made cameo appearances in movies playing the piano.
Matthias de Souza, an indentured servant, was the only black person to serve in the colonial Maryland legislature. As such he is the first African American to sit in any legislative body in what would become the United States.
Matthias de Souza, one of nine indentured servants working for Father Andrew White, a Catholic priest, arrived at St Mary’s City, St Clements Island, Maryland, in 1634 on the ship The Ark along with White and other European settlers. De Souza was probably of mixed African and European (possibly Portuguese) descent judging by land records that record him being called a ‘Molato’ (Mulatto) by a priest in the colony.
For the first few years he lived in Maryland, de Souza worked for Jesuit priests although the exact details of his activities are not know. Generally such servants built and maintained churches and houses for the Jesuits.
Historic St. Mary’s City History, “Matthias de Souza” https://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/research/history/mathias-de-sousa/; Maryland State Archives and Maria A. Day ‘Exploring Maryland’s Roots: Library: Case Studies’ “Matthias de Souza” http://mdroots.thinkport.org/library/mathiasdesousa.asp.
In the article below Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, a United Kingdom (UK)-based non-profit organisation, describes the composer and how she came to regard and preserve his work and legacy.
It has taken three times the duration of his own lifetime for the reputation of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Britain’s greatest black classical composer, to begin to make an impact on our contemporary world. At the time of his tragically early death in 1912, aged 37 from a chest infection, Coleridge-Taylor was a nationally feted musical figure. His Hiawatha Trilogy of staged opera-cantatas based on the poem by Longfellow were massive commercial successes even though he gained almost nothing from them financially.
http://entertainer.billcosby.com/biography/images/biography/bill_cosby_biography.pdf; Henry Louis Gates, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Henry Louis Gates, African American National Biography, Vol. 2, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Linda K. Fuller, The Cosby Show: Audiences, Impact, and Implications (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992)
Pompey Factor, former slave, scout for the United States Army and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, was born in Arkansas in 1849 to Hardy Factor, a black Seminole chief and an unknown Biloxi Indian woman.
By the end of that 2nd Seminole War (1835-1842), most of the Seminole Indians and runaway slaves were captured and removed to the Indian Territory. The fear of enslavement drove many black Seminole to Mexico in the 1850s. Factor’s family was among those who emigrated.
On August 16, 1870, Factor enlisted in the Army and was assigned the rank of private with the Detachment of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts who worked with the Twenty-fourth Infantry, an all-black regiment. As a scout, he performed reconnaissance duties in Texas for the Army, tracking the movements of Comanches, Apaches, Kiowa and other Native Americans who refused to go to reservations.
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.
Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet was the first African American female principal in the New York public schools. The eldest of eleven children, she was born Minsarah Smith in Brooklyn in 1831. Her parents, Sylvanus and Ann Smith, were prosperous farmers of African, European, and Native American ancestry. Sarah S.T. Smith was the older sister of Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847-1918), the first African American female in New York state to graduate with a medical doctorate (M.D.).
Jessie Carney Smith, Notable Black American Women (Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1992); Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Ernie Davis is best known for being one of the greatest football players in college football history and the first black person to win the Heisman trophy. In the process, Davis became an icon for an integrated America and for African Americans achieving the American Dream in a manner similar to Jackie Robinson desegregating Major League Baseball in 1947.
Ernie Davis was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania, and raised in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and Elmira, New York. At the Elmira Free Academy he was a standout academically and athletically where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He earned All-American honors in football in his junior and senior years at the Academy. As a result, Davis was offered over 50 scholarships. He chose Syracuse University (SU) at the request of SU alum and football legend, Jim Brown. At Syracuse he was immediately compared to Brown. He was promoted to the varsity team as a freshman and given Brown’s number 44—which started SU’s storied tradition of legendary players (usually running backs) wearing and passing down number 44.
Robert C. Gallagher, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (New York: Ballantine Books, 2008); Universal Pictures, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008); Syracuse University, Ernie Davis: A Tribute to the Express (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/ernie.aspx); Syracuse University, “The Legend of 44” (URL: http://erniedavis.syr.edu/legend_of_44.aspx); and Gary and Maury Youmans, The Story of the 1959 Syracuse University National Championship Football Team (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003).
National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar LeBron James was born on December 30, 1984 in Akron, Ohio to Gloria James who was sixteen and unwed . Gloria, the sole provider for her only son, worked various jobs and lived in numerous apartments with young LeBron throughout Akron.
LeBron James’s athleticism was revealed early when at age 14 he stood six feet tall and dominated his age group in football and basketball. During this period he became close friends with Dru Joyce III, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, and Romeo Travis. The five adolescents dominated basketball leagues in various community centers and became known locally as the “Shooting Stars.” All five chose to attend Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary (SVSM) Catholic High School.
The Shooting Stars saga at the SVSM became storied. Under LeBron James’s leadership the team won three Division III state titles. The team's popularity required SVSM to move their games from their high school area to the fifteen thousand seat Rhodes Arena at the University of Akron. James's fame also attracted the attention of ESPN Magazine and Sports Illustrated in the late 1990s and he was given the nickname "King James" by the sports press. The team was chronicled in the 2009 documentary More Than a Game.
Born 13 July 1913 in Akron, Ohio, Salaria Kee was orphaned in her infancy and raised by family and friends. After high school, she resolved to become a nurse but was denied by three nursing schools on account of her race. Leveraging connections to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing accepted her application and Kee moved to New York City. Graduating in 1934, she worked as head nurse in the terminal ward of the Sea View Hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis.
When Italy invaded Ethiopia in late 1935, Kee joined a group of Harlem nurses collecting medical supplies for the Ethiopians. Like many other African American anti-fascists, Kee shifted her support to the Spanish Republic with the rise of Franco. Her efforts to join the Red Cross in Spain were rejected, again due to her race, but she soon found a place in the American Medical Bureau contingent in support of the International Brigades and departed the United States in March 1937.
A devoted Catholic, she felt it was her duty to go. While assigned to the American hospital at Villa Paz, she met and later married John Patrick O’Reilly, an Irish volunteer in the International Brigades. As one of a very small number of African American women in Spain on behalf of the Republic, she inspired a highly-promoted pamphlet entitled “A Negro Nurse in Republican Spain” in which several details of her life were altered to support a political agenda.
Academy Award-winning composer and musician Isaac Hayes, Jr. was born to Isaac Sr. and Eula Hayes on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. Hayes began his career at the age of 20 when he joined Stax Records as a studio musician. By the late 1960s he was a songwriter/producer, crafting hit singles for Sam and Dave and other Stax acts.
A year after emerging as a solo artist, Hayes’s debut album Hot Buttered Soul (1969) took soul music in a new direction – incorporating spoken segments (he called raps), fewer, longer songs accompanied by orchestras, and eccentric album covers that featured what was to become Hayes’s signature shaved head and gold chains upon his bare chest.
Although his success in the music industry continued with his follow up album Black Moses, Hayes simultaneously pursued a film and television career. In 1971, Hayes created the score for the film Shaft. Recording the sound track in just four days, Shaft rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Chart and garnered a Grammy and an Academy Award for Best Song and Best Score in 1972, making Hayes the first African American composer to win an Oscar. He also appeared in films such as Shaft (1971); Truck Turner (1974), his only starring role.
Isaac Hayes Biography, http://www.filmreference.com/film/84/Isaac-Hayes.html; “Isaac Puts Chef Behind Him,” New York Post, January 24, 2007; The Vancouver Sun (12 August 2008); http://www.isaachayes.com/myframes.html.
Charles Lucièn Lambert, Sr., also known as Lucièn Lambert, Sr., was an internationally prominent classical musician and composer, and part of the middle generation of acclaimed Lambert musical artists. Both his father, Charles-Richard Lambert, and his son, Lucièn-Léon Guillaume Lambert, had distinguished careers in classical music.
Charles Lucièn Lambert was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1828 to Charles-Richard, a native of New York, and an unidentified free Creole woman of color. After Charles Lucièn’s mother’s death, Charles-Richard married Coralie Suzanne Orzy, another free woman of color. They had a son, Sidney, who was born in 1838. Charles Lucièn and Sidney received their first piano lessons from their father who was by then a prominent early 19th Century New Orleans musician and composer.
Charles Lucièn Lambert was a contemporary of the soon to be famous white Creole composer and musician, Louis Moreau Gottschalk. In fact the two enjoyed a friendly artistic rivalry as aspiring virtuoso pianists and composers in New Orleans in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
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).
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/.
John Willis Menard, abolitionist, author, journalist and politician, was born in 1838 in Kaskaskia, Illinois, to French Creole parents. He was the first African American elected to Congress, but was not seated after a dispute over the election results. Menard attended Iberia College, an abolitionist school in Iberia, Ohio.
Twenty-two year old Menard expressed his abolitionist views in his widely read 1860 publication, An Address to the Free Colored People of Illinois. During the Civil War, he became the first African American to serve as a clerk in the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. While there, President Abraham Lincoln dispatched him to research British Honduras (now Belize) as a possible colony for the African American population.
In 1925 Josephine Baker took Paris, France by storm, appearing on stage in “La Revue Negre” wearing nothing but a skirt of artificial bananas in Danse Sauvage. Born Josephine Freda MacDonald in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906, she was nicknamed “Tumpy” because she was a chubby baby. Her mother, Carrie MacDonald was part black and part Apalachee Indian, while her father Eddie Carson was part black and part Spanish. Both were popular dance hall entertainers in the St. Louis area in the early 1900s. After her brother, Richard, was born, Baker’s father abandoned the family and left them nearly destitute. Carrie MacDonald soon married Arthur Martin with whom she had two daughters, Margaret and Willie May.
Claude Albert Barnett, entrepreneur and founder of the Associated Negro Press (1919-1967), was born in Sanford, Florida to William Barnett and Celena Anderson. At nine months he was brought to Mattoon, Illinois to live with his maternal grandmother. Barnett grew up in Illinois, attending schools in Oak Park and Chicago. In 1904 he entered Tuskegee Institute. Two years later in 1906 he received a diploma and was granted the Institute’s highest award.
Following graduation Barnett returned to Chicago and became a postal worker. Through his new employment he read numerous magazines and newspapers. Fascinated by the advertisements, in 1913 Barnett began reproducing photographs of notable black luminaries, which he sold through advertising in African American newspapers. By 1917 Barnett had transformed this endeavor into a thriving mail-order enterprise.
John T. King was born in Girard (now Phenix City), Alabama in 1846. He was the son of covered bridge designer and builder Horace King. John King carried on the family business by designing and building bridges, houses, and commercial buildings in Georgia and Alabama. The King family did much to develop West Georgia and East Alabama and open up the area for commerce. John King also served long tenures as a church leader, and trustee of Clark College in Atlanta.
King started his career at age fourteen as bridge keeper for the Dillingham Bridge in Columbus, Georgia. He moved to LaGrange in 1872 with other family members. As his father’s health began to fail, John became head of King Brothers Bridge Company, a thriving business in western Georgia and eastern Alabama in the late nineteenth century. The company not only built bridges, but also designed and built in the town of LaGrange the Lloyd Building on East Court Square, a sash and blind factory operated by the Kings, the Hotel Andrews, numerous houses, and the LaGrange Cotton Oil Factory which was the town’s first “modern” textile mill to be built following the Civil War. Covered bridges that John King designed and constructed included one in LaGrange, West Point, Columbus, and eastern Alabama.
James Still, medical doctor and herbalist, was born on April 9, 1812 in Burlington County, New Jersey. Still was born to Levin and Charity Still, two former slaves living in the Pine Barrens to avoid being captured and sold back into slavery. Although the Still family was poor, the children attended school periodically and had some of their own textbooks, such as the New Testament and a spelling book. When Still was three years old, a Dr. Fort, a Philadelphia physician, came to the Pines to vaccinate the children. His visit was the spark of inspiration that led to Still’s desire to be a doctor.
Just before Still turned 18 he was voluntarily hired out as an indentured servant by his father. During the three years of his servitude, Still read everything available about medicine and botany, and learned all he could from the Native Americans of the area. On his twenty-first birthday, he was released from his service, given $10.00 and a new suit. He left immediately for Philadelphia. Still’s racial and financial status prevented him from attending medical school. Nonetheless, he continued to gain medical knowledge, reading everything he could find while working menial jobs to support himself.
Christopher J. Perry, a pioneering black businessman who championed racial equality, established the Philadelphia Tribune in 1884. The Tribune is the oldest continuously published African American newspaper in the nation.
Perry was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 11, 1854 to parents who were free. He attended school there despite sub-standard conditions in the local segregated schools. Eventually, when he was still very young, he moved to Philadelphia. With a desire to continue his education Perry took night classes in the city, and perhaps motivated by memories of the deplorable conditions his early education, he studied diligently.
In 1867 when he was fourteen, Perry began writing irregularly for local newspapers. His articles were praised highly by educated men of the city and he met with success even at this early stage of his journalism. In 1881 he began writing for the Northern Daily, a Philadelphia newspaper. Eventually he became editor of the Colored Department in another Philadelphia newspaper called The Sunday Mercury.
Irvine Garland Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, (New York: Wiley & Co. 1891); Charles Pete Banner-Haley, "The Philadelphia Tribune and the Persistence of Black Republicanism During the Great Depression," Pennsylvania History 65:2 (Spring 1998): pp 190-202.
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.
Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison, No Mountain High Enough: Secrets of Successful African American Women (Berkeley: Conari, 1997).
William Herbert Gray III was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 20, 1941. His mother, Hazel Yates Gray, was a high school teacher. His father, William Herbert Gray Jr. was a Baptist Minister and over his career, the president of two Florida colleges. Upon taking a job as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, William H. Gray Jr. moved his family to the Philadelphia area. Following in his father’s footsteps, Gray became an assistant pastor of a church in Montclair, New Jersey, after graduating from Franklin and Marshal College in 1963. Gray received a master of divinity degree in 1966 from Drew Theological School. He became senior minister at his church that same year. In 1970, Gray earned a degree in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. As a Baptist minister Gray became involved in the fair housing campaign in New Jersey. In one instance Gray successfully sued a landlord who had refused to rent to him because of his race.
After his father died in 1972, William Gray returned to Philadelphia and became the minister of Bright Hope Baptist Church. Four years later, Gray made his first run for Congress in 1976, campaigning on his experience of promoting fair housing. He lost to incumbent Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Nix in the Democratic Primary but won his second bid in 1978 ending Nix’s 20 year tenure in Congress.
Channing H. Tobias acquired fame through his work with the YMCA. Born in Augusta, Georgia on February 1, 1882 to Fair and Bell Robinson Tobias, young Channing received his bachelor’s degree from Paine College in 1902. Tobias left Georgia to study religion at Drew Theological Seminary in Madison, New Jersey. After spending time at the University of Pennsylvania, Tobias returned to Paine and served as a professor of Biblical Literature. Meanwhile, Tobias received a doctorate in Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary.
As early as 1905 Tobias joined the YMCA and eventually became Secretary of the National Council. He also served the organization as the student secretary for the International Committee. In 1923 Tobias was appointed Senior Secretary in the Department of Interracial Services within the Colored Work Department, a position he held for twenty-three years. As head of the Interracial Services Division, Tobias strenuously endeavored to enhance race relations in the United States and abroad. As a member of the Executive Committee of the National Interracial Conference and as the associate director of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, Tobias campaigned to promote interracial cooperation and redress racial grievances. His crowning public achievement in interracial affairs occurred when he became a delegate and speaker at the 1926 World Conference in Finland.
Henry Jackson Jr., better known as Henry Armstrong, was born on December 12, 1912, in Columbus, Mississippi to a sharecropper of black, Indian and Irish descent, and a mother who was a full-blooded Iroquois Indian. At age four his family moved to St. Louis, where he was raised by his grandmother and father after his mother died. It was on the streets of St. Louis that young Henry learned to defend himself from gangs and first displayed a natural affinity for fighting.
While Henry dreamed of going to college to become a doctor he was forced to become the head of the household at the young age of 18 when his father’s health deteriorated and he was no longer able to work. Turning to boxing, Henry failed to qualify for the upcoming Olympics, and began his professional boxing career in 1931 under the name of Melody Jackson. He later adopted the last name of a friend, and changed his last name to Armstrong.
Charles R. Drew, a renowned physician and medical researcher and the first black surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery, revolutionized medicine by creating a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.
Born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. to Richard T. Drew and Nora Burrell, Drew grew up in the city. He attended Dunbar High School, where his excellence in academics and athletics earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts.
After graduating from Amherst in 1926, he worked as Director of Athletics at Morgan College. In 1929, he attended medical school at McGill University in Canada, where he studied with Dr. Beattie and developed his interest in blood storage just before he graduated in 1933. In 1935, Drew returned to Washington D.C. to become a professor at Howard University’s medical school.
Spencie Love, One Blood: The Death and Resurrection of Charles R. Drew (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Chrisanne Becker, 100 African Americans who Shaped American History: Charles R. Drew (San Francisco: Blue Wood Books, 1995).
One of hip-hop culture's most influential pioneers, Afrika Bambaataa was the first to articulate an ideology for the emerging youth culture, using the music to illustrate hip-hop's expansive potential as a global movement. As a DJ and recording artist, Bambaataa embraced every musical genre to establish hip-hop as an aesthetic form based on juxtaposition and appropriation. As a leading spokesman for the hip-hop generation, Bambaataa delineated the four elements of hip-hop as rapping, DJing, breakdancing and graffiti-writing, giving the manifold trends of late seventies minority youth in New York City a definitive coherence.
From his childhood in the Bronx River Projects, Bambaataa was a natural leader and by his early teens he rose to command ranks in the neighborhood’s dominant youth gang. As his focus moved to throwing parties around the neighborhood, he was blessed with an instant following, which only grew as his recognition as the borough’s preeminent DJ became widespread. In 1982, along with his crew of MCs and DJs, the Soul Sonic Force, Bambaataa released “Planet Rock,” one of the most influential early hip-hop songs, which is also credited as one of the leading inspirations for the forthcoming electronic musical genres.
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/
Angela Davis, activist, educator, scholar, and politician, was born on January 26, 1944, in the “Dynamite Hill” area of Birmingham, Alabama. The area received that name because so many African American homes in this middle class neighborhood had been bombed over the years by the Ku Klux Klan. Her father, Frank Davis, was a service station owner and her mother, Sallye Davis, was an elementary school teacher. Davis’s mother was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organization because of its civil rights activities. As a teenager Davis moved to New York City with her mother, who was pursuing a Master’s degree at New York University. While there she attended Elizabeth Irwin High School, a school considered leftist because a number of its teachers were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for their earlier alleged Communist activities.
Born in 1837 in North Carolina, Sara G. Stanley was a member of a free, educated and economically secure family. She attended Oberlin College and later moved to Delaware after her family immigrated there. Following the tradition of other free black women Sara joined the local ladies antislavery society. As a representative of her organization she delivered a strong and forceful address at the 1856 meeting of the all male Convention of Disfranchised citizens of Ohio.
Robert Curry Owens was born in Los Angeles, California in January of 1860 to Charles Owens, a livery stable owner, and Ellen Mason-Owens. As the first born grandson to the Owens-Mason union, Robert rose to prominence in Los Angeles after inheriting both his father’s and grandmother, Bridget “Biddy” Mason’s, estate. Throughout the Progressive Era, Owens’ social, political, and economic influence in Los Angeles made him one of the most powerful African American men on the west coast.
When Charles Owens and Ellen Mason were married in 1856, they united two of Los Angeles’ most powerful pioneering families. As the first born heir to the Owens-Mason family, Robert was reared to continue his family’s legacy. During his childhood, Owens attended J.B. Sanderson’s School for Blacks in Oakland, California and completed his education in 1879 after studying business. Both the Owens and the Mason families took pride in hard work, which they instilled in Robert. Throughout his youth, Owens worked as a ranch laborer, a charcoal peddler, and even drove the street sprinkler for Los Angeles city contractors.
Delilah Beasley, The Negro Trail-Blazers of California (Los Angeles: Times Mirror Print and Binding House, 1919); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998); Lonnie G. Bunch, Black Angelenos: The Afro-American in Los Angeles, 1850-1950 (Los Angeles: California Afro-American Museum, 1988); F.H. Crumbly, “A Los Angeles Citizen,” The Colored American Magazine, September, 1905, p. 485; “Robert C. Owens: A Pacific Coast Negro,” The Colored American Magazine, July, 1905, p.391-392; “1900 United States Federal Census,” http://ancestrylibrary.com/ (Accessed August 7, 2008).
The Jamaican born Wilfred A. Domingo was part of an influential community of West Indian radicals active in Harlem's New Negro movement in the early 20th century. A member of the Socialist Party and a journalist by trade, Domingo contributed to Cyril Briggs' Crusader and A. Philip Randolph's Messenger, along with a host of other community publications. He became the first editor of Marcus Garvey's New World and played a key role in shaping Garvey's race-conscious, nationalist ideology. However, as a class-conscious member of the Socialist Party, Domingo clashed with Garvey's capitalist orientation and ultimately broke with the UNIA. At the same time, Domingo was frustrated with the Socialist Party's failure to make African American rights a priority and drifted toward Briggs' more militant African Blood Brotherhood, which was closely aligned with the Communist Party in the early 1920s.
In the 1930s Domingo became increasingly focused on his homeland and the issue of Jamaican independence. In 1936 he cofounded the Jamaica Progressive League in Harlem, which agitated for Jamaican self-rule, universal suffrage, unionization, and the organization of consumer cooperatives. Domingo returned to Jamaica in 1938 to join Norman Manley's People's National Party and served as vice-chair of the Trades Union Advisory Council. After returning to New York in 1947, Domingo broke with the PNP. Wilfred A. Domingo died in Harlem in 1968.
Maurice Bishop, revolutionary and Grenadian Prime Minister, was born in Dutch Aruba May 29, 1944 to Grenadian parents Rupert and Alimenta Bishop. The family moved to Grenada in 1950 to benefit from the economic prosperity of the time, and there Bishop grew up, excelling in his schooling. He moved to London (UK) in 1963 and attended the University of London for his law degree. He went on to practice law for two years in London, showing much interest in politics. He married Angela Redhead in 1966 and had two children, John and Nadia.
Erick Langer and Jay Kinsbruner, Encyclopedia of Latin American History
and Culture, Vol. 1 (Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008); Colin
Palmer, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, Vol. 1
(Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006);
Harvey B. Gantt, architect and politician, was born January 14, 1943 in Charleston, South Carolina to Christopher and Wilhelmenia Gantt. In 1961, Gantt attended Iowa State University. After one year of study, he returned to South Carolina and soon afterwards sued to enter racially segregated Clemson University. On January 16, 1963, the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Clemson to admit Gantt who became its first African American student. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Clemson with honors in 1965. In 1970, Gantt earned a M.A. in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During the 1970s Gantt worked at various architectural firms in Charlotte, North Carolina where he settled after receiving his degree from MIT. Between 1970 and 1971 he collaborated with civil rights activist Floyd B. McKissick to design Soul City, North Carolina, an experimental interracial community in eastern North Carolina. In 1971 Gantt left the Soul City project, returning to Charlotte to launch an architectural firm with Jeffrey Huberman. Some of the firm’s projects include the construction of the Charlotte Transportation Center, Transamerica Square, and First Ward Recreation Center.
During his youth, Powell lived a reckless life filled with gambling. At the age of 19, Powell experienced a religious conversion to Christianity at a revival meeting. After failing to gain entrance into Howard University School of Law, he decided to study religion. In 1888, he enrolled in a theology program at Wayland Seminary and College in Washington, D.C. earning his degree in 1892.
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.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin was born into one of Boston’s leading families on August 31, 1842. St. Pierre’s mother was an English-born white woman and her father was from the island of Martinique, and founder of the Boston Zion Church. The St. Pierre’s sent their young daughter to Salem where the schools were integrated due mainly to the work of John Lenox Remond.
St. Pierre married George Lewis Ruffin at the age of 15. Ruffin was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School and later served on the Boston City Council, the state legislature, and became the first black municipal judge in Boston. After marriage, Mrs. Ruffin graduated from a Boston finishing school and completed two years of private tutoring in New York. During the civil war, the Ruffins were involved in various charity works, civil rights causes, and Mrs. Ruffin, especially, was involved in the women’s suffrage movement where she worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
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).
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.
Dr. Regina Marcia Benjamin, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States, is an accomplished physician whose professional and personal roots are planted deeply in rural America. Dr. Benjamin was born in Mobile, Alabama in 1956 and grew up in nearby Daphne, Alabama.
Regina Benjamin’s parents divorced when she was a child and her mother worked as a domestic and waitress to support Regina and her older brother. Although the family owned land, financial necessity forced them to sell it. She recalled that her family often fished in the Gulf of Mexico to catch their evening meal.
Despite her family's poverty Regina Benjamin set her sights on college. She enrolled in Xavier University in New Orleans where she met an African American physician for the first time. This encounter persuaded her to pursue a career in medicine. Earning a Bachelor of Science degree from Xavier in 1978, she then attended Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta between 1980 and 1982 but completed her medical degree at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
Charles Henry Langston, the grandfather of poet Langston Hughes, was born a free man on a Virginia plantation in 1817 to Captain Ralph Quarles and Lucy Jane Langston, Quarles’ mulatto slave. He had two brothers, John Mercer (who would become a Virginia Congressman in 1888) and Gideon. After the death of his father in 1834, Charles inherited a large part of his father’s estate, and he went to be educated at Oberlin College in 1842 and 1843.
In 1909 Gilbert Haven Jones became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from a German university. After completing his doctoral studies in philosophy, Jones returned to the United States to take up teaching and administrative positions, primarily at Wilberforce University. Jones was also the first African American with a Ph.D. to teach psychology in the United States.
Gilbert Haven Jones was born in Fort Mott, South Carolina on August 21, 1881, to Bishop Joshua H. Jones and Elizabeth “Lizzy” (Martin) Jones. Bishop Jones held multiple positions in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was also a prominent figure at AME-supported Wilberforce University. When Gilbert Haven graduated from Wilberforce with his Bachelor of Arts (1902) and Bachelor of Science (1903) degrees, his father was president of the institution.
Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, nicknamed the Black Eagle, was born in Trinidad on January 5th, 1897. In 1922, when he was 25 years old, he flew over parades in support of Marcus Garvey. He subsequently took flying lessons from Air Service, Inc., and purchased a plane to fly to Africa. After flying to Roosevelt airfield, when he attempted to depart in July 1924, the plane crashed and burned. He survived and spent the next month in a Long Island hospital. In 1929, he did succeed in a Trans-Atlantic flight two years later than Charles Lindberg.
Colonel Tye was an escaped slave who fought with the British in the American Revolution. Challenging Patriot forces primarily in New York and New Jersey, Tye became one of the most respected leaders of the Loyalist troops during the Revolution, a respected and feared guerrilla commander.
Born in 1753 as Titus, ‘Tye’ was one of four slaves owned by Quaker John Corlies from Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, New Jersey. In November 1775, when Titus was 22 years old, Lord John Murray Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation that not only declared martial law, but also offered freedom to those slaves who would join the royal forces. Titus along with 300 other escaped slaves fled to join the British, assuming the adopted name of Tye and joining the Royal Ethiopian Regiment. Here he quickly found respect and saw his first action at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, during which he captured a rebel militia captain.
Jonathan Sutherland, African Americans at War: an Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2004); History 571: Colonial and Revolutionary America, Lord Dunmore and the Ethiopian Regiment, http://www.studythepast.com/history571/pam/ColonelTye.html; PBS.org Africans in America, Part 2: Revolutions, Colonel Tye http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p52.html.
Born Albert Turner Reid in Hampton, Virginia, November 13, 1927, this world-renowned mathematician earned his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University in 1949 but never completed a graduate degree in his chosen field. Despite this, he immediately found work as a research assistant and statistician at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and the University of California at Berkeley. Early in his career Reid published papers on mathematical biology.
Bonga was born on August 20, 1802 near the present-day city of Duluth, Minnesota. His grandparents were Marie Jeanne and Jean Bonga, who as slaves lived at the prominent fur trading depot of Fort Michilimackinac in the northern Michigan territory. George’s father Pierre Bonga travelled to Minnesota as a fur trader and married Ogibwayquay of the Native American Ojibwe nation. Bonga was educated in Montreal, Canada and returned to Minnesota to carry on the family business along with his two brothers.
In 1820, Bonga used his language fluency to serve as interpreter for Lewis Cass, Governor of Michigan Territory, at a treaty council held in Fond du Lac territory with the Ojibwe. In 1868, he again served as interpreter for Indian agent Joel Bean Bassett in negotiations with the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe at White Earth in Minnesota. And in 1837, he tracked suspected murderer Che-ga-wa-skung for six days and brought him to Fort Snelling for trial.
Benjamin L. Hooks is most notably known for serving as leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1977 to 1992. Born on January 31, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee to Robert and Bessie White Hooks, he was the fifth of seven children.
Hooks grew up in racially segregated Tennessee. He attended LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis from 1941 to 1943 but graduated from Howard University in 1944. He then joined the U.S. Army and recalled watching Italian prisoners he guarded eat at restaurants that excluded him and other black soldiers. He left the army in 1945 as a staff sergeant and soon afterwards enrolled at DePaul University in Chicago to study law because no Tennessee university would accept him because of his race. Graduating in 1948 with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) , Hooks returned to Memphis. Four years later he married schoolteacher Frances Dancy in Memphis.
In 1956 Hooks became a Baptist minister and one year later joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) then headed by Dr. Martin Luther King. By the early 1960s Hooks, now a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), helped organize sit-ins in Memphis. By the late 1960s Hooks was pastor at Great Middle Baptist Church in Memphis and at Greater Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit.
Born November 16, 1963 in Houston, Texas, tennis star Zina Garrison was the youngest of seven children and was raised by her widowed mother, Mary Garrison. She began playing tennis at the age of 10 through the MacGregar Park Tennis Program. The program was run by John Wilkerson who later became Garrison’s coach throughout her tennis career. She graduated from Ross Sterling High School in 1981.
Garrison had an illustrious amateur career. She burst onto the scene in 1978 when she reached the finals in the U.S. Girls National Championship. Then from 1978 to 1982 she won three more major tournaments. As an amateur she became the 1981 International Tennis Federation Junior of the Year and the 1982 Women’s Tennis Association Most Impressive Newcomer.
U.S. Congressman Gregory W. Meeks was born on September 25, 1953 in East Harlem, New York City. He was raised in a public housing project in East Harlem and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in History with a minor in Political Science from New York’s Adelphi University. He earned his Juris Doctorate in 1978 from Howard University School of Law, Washington, D.C.
After graduating, Meeks joined the Queens County District office, worked for the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York, then for the State Investigation Commission, and eventually was appointed Supervising Judge of the New York State Worker’s Compensation System. He won his first public office when he was elected to the New York State Assembly where he served from 1992 to 1997.
Edward Franklin Frazier, the most prominent African American sociologist of the 20th Century, was born on September 24, 1894 and died on May 17, 1962. Best known for his critical work on the black middle class, Black Bourgeoisie (1957), Frazier was also a harsh critic of Jim Crow as the great inhibitor of the American Dream for the “American Negro.”
Frazier was born to James H. and Mary Clark Frazier. His father worked as a bank messenger and his mother was a housewife. Both parents stressed the worth of education as a path to freedom and as an instrument to fight for social justice.
Charlie Wiggins, known as “the Negro Speed King,” was an African American motor racing pioneer who competed in the segregated Midwest in the early decades of the 20th Century. In addition, he was a highly skilled mechanic, often sought after by white racing drivers competing in the annual Indianapolis 500 Motor Race. Throughout his career Wiggins fought for the rights of black mechanics and drivers.
Born in 1897 in Evansville, Indiana, Charlie Wiggins grew up in a poor home; his father was a coalminer. After the death of his mother, Wiggins worked at a shoe shine stand outside a car repair shop where he was eventually hired as an apprentice in 1917. His opportunity came when many of the white garage mechanics left to join the Army. Wiggins was the first black mechanic in Evansville and quickly rose to become chief mechanic.
Wiggins and his wife, Roberta Sullenger, whom he married in 1917, left the area in 1922 for Indianapolis. Two years later the couple opened their own garage and Wiggins quickly became that city's top mechanic. In his spare time Wiggins assembled parts from auto junkyards to develop his own car, known as “the Wiggins Special.”
La Risa Lynch, "First Blacks in Sports; Charlie Wiggins: The Negro Speed King," Chicago Weekend, 34: 4 (Feb. 9, 2005); John Baburnich, "Charlie Wiggins-The 'Negro Speed King,' The American Boneyard, May 2004; http://www.evansville.net/user/boneyard/babs07.htm.
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.
Franklin McCain grew up in Washington, D.C. but returned to his native North Carolina to attend college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. McCain and his roommate, David Richmond, had followed the progress of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama and felt that they should do something to contribute to the movement for social change. On Monday February 1, 1960 McCain joined the rest of the “A & T Four” (Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair, Jr. and Richmond) in sitting-in at a segregated F.W. Woolworth lunch counter. The following day, two dozen students from North Carolina A & T and Bennett College joined the protest. By the end of the week 3,000 students were picketing in downtown Greensboro. The movement rapidly spread to fifty-four cities in nine other southern states.
Born in Cuba on April 7, 1917, Mongo Santamaria is an Afro-Cuban percussionist who became an influential musician in the United States in the 1950s. His given name is Ramón Santamaría Rodríguez. Nicknamed Mongo by his father, Santamaria believes his nickname comes from the Mali people in West Africa. Mongo means the chief of the tribe.
Santamaria grew up in Havana, Cuba. His father, a construction worker, died when he was a child. His mother raised him while she sold coffee and cigarettes in public markets. Growing up black and impoverished in Cuba, Santamaria often turned to playing music and dancing on the streets like other poor Afro-Cubans in Havana.
In 1937 Santamaria got his first big job as a musician when he joined the group Septeto Boloña. By the early 1940s Mongo Santamaria played congas with Orquesta Cubaney on regular radio broadcasts in Havana. Through its broadcasts, Orquesta Cubaney introduced a number of musicians who would later achieve fame to a national Cuban audience.