Tyree Scott was a Seattle civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry. Scott was born in Hearne (Wharton County), Texas and before moving to Seattle in 1966, he served in the U. S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. His father was an electrician in Seattle who found that jobs in the construction industry were off limits to blacks, limiting his ability to compete for large contracts. In 1969, when Seattle’s Model Cities Program was attracting large federal contracts, the anti-poverty agency encouraged black contractors to organize in order to gain access to them.
Langston Hughes's work inspired Attaway to start writing in high school, an avocation he continued while studying at the University of Illinois. When his father died in 1931, Attaway took a two-year leave of absence from school. Traveling around the country, Attaway worked a variety of jobs, including seaman, dockworker, and salesman.
After Attaway returned to college in 1933, he wrote the play Carnival (1935) for his sister Ruth's theatre group which was first staged at the University of Illinois. The same year, Attaway also became involved in the Federal Writers Project (FWP). Through the FWP, he met Richard Wright, who would become an important literary influence and friend. In 1936, he earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois and Challenge published his short story, "The Tale of the Blackamoor."
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,
In the early twentieth century Progressive era reformers largely ignored the needs of African American women. Lacking settlement houses and other resources African American reformers such as Elizabeth Ross Haynes turned to one of the few institutions available to them, the YWCA. Ross Haynes was at the forefront of developing institutional resources for young African American women seeking better employment and living conditions. Born in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1883, Elizabeth Ross obtained a sterling education culminating with an A.B. from Fisk University in 1903. She later moved north to New York City where she served as the YWCA’s student secretary for work among black women from 1908 to 1910. In that capacity she met and married the prominent sociologist George E. Haynes, who co-founded the National Urban League.
Like many African American women Ross Haynes continued her reform work after the birth of her son, George Jr., in 1912. She continued working with the YWCA, promoting the establishment of new branches to help female migrants find employment and job training. Recognizing her activism, in 1922 the Y.W.C.A. appointed Haynes to its new Council on Colored Work. The following year she earned an M.A. in sociology from Columbia University and became the first African American women appointed to the YWCA’s national board.
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.
Carl B. Stokes, lawyer, anchorman, U.S. diplomat and the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city, was born on June 21, 1927 to Charles and Louise Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1944, Stokes dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and worked briefly for Cleveland-based aerospace and automotive company Thompson Products/TRW before enlisting in the US Army in 1945. Returning to Cleveland in 1946 after his discharge, he reentered high school and earned his diploma in 1947 before enrolling in West Virginia College. Stokes transferred to Western Reserve University and then the University of Minnesota, from which he received his BA in 1955. Stokes returned to Cleveland where he completed law school at Cleveland-Marshall Law School in 1958. He was hired as an assistant prosecutor for Cuyahoga County for four years before establishing his own firm, Stokes, Stokes, Character, and Terry in 1962 with his brother, Louis Stokes.
Akuetteh (née Cynthia Archie) was born in Washington, D.C. in 1948 to Richard Louis Archie II and Sallie Dolores Hines. In 1970 she graduated from Long Island University with a B.A. degree in History. In 1973 she earned a Master’s Degree in National Security Resource Policy from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
From 1973 to 1984 Akuetteh served as a Program Officer for the U.S. Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. and then was Deputy Director of the Corps’s program in Ghana.
Akuetteh joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1984. Her embassy assignments between 1984 and 2004 included serving as the U.S. Trade Officer in Niamey, Niger and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Policy Officer in Ottawa, Canada; and as Senior Desk Officer in Caracas, Venezuela.
Martha Euphemia Lofton Haynes was the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. Her dissertation, Determination of Sets of Independent Conditions Characterizing Certain Special Cases of Symmetric Correspondence was advised by Aubrey Landry, a professor at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
Haynes was born to parents Dr. William Lofton and Mrs. Lavina Day Lofton in Washington, D.C. on September 11, 1890. William Lofton was a prominent dentist and a financial supporter of black institutions and charities. Her mother was active in the Catholic Church. Later Haynes would also become active in the Catholic Church, earning a Papal medal, “Pro Ecclesia and Pontifex,” in 1959, for her service to the church and to her community.
Haynes started her educational journey at Miner Normal School, Washington D.C. where she graduated with distinction in 1909. She then attended Smith College in Massachusetts and earned her Bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in psychology in 1914. Later, she earned her Master’s degree in education from the University of Chicago in 1930. Finally, at the age of 53, she earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from Catholic University of America in 1943.
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.
William Henry Ferris was born in New Haven, Connecticut on July 20, 1874 to David Henry, a volunteer for the Union Army during the Civil War, and Sarah Anne Jefferson Ferris. After high school, Ferris attended Yale University, where he was heavily influenced by polymath William Graham Sumner – a staunch Social Darwinist who firmly believed that the privileged social classes owed nothing to the underprivileged ones.
After graduating in 1895, William Ferris worked as a freelance writer and lecturer and studied for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School until 1899. In 1900, he received a Master of Arts in Journalism from Harvard, and went on to teach at Tallahassee State College in Florida and Florida Baptist College (1900-1901) and Henderson Normal School and Kittrell College in North Carolina (1903-1905).
In 1905, Ferris served a five-year term as Pastor of the Congregational Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. In 1910, after being ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, he engaged in mission work in Lowell and Salem, Massachusetts.
Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996); “William Henry Ferris,” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (Oct., 1941), pp. 549-550; Rayvon Fouche, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003).
Civil rights activist Edwin C. “Bill” Berry was affiliated with the Urban League for over 30 years and served as executive director of the Chicago Urban League from 1956 to 1970. When he arrived in Chicago he denounced the city’s segregationist practices and drove anti-discrimination legislation in the city and state. He was a leader of the Chicago Freedom Movement.
Edwin Berry was born on November 11, 1910 in Oberlin, Ohio to John A. Berry, an attorney, and Kitty Berry, a homemaker. He was one of five children. At the age of six Berry’s father died. Kitty struggled to make ends meet, working as a boarder, seamstress and cook.
Edwin Berry grew up in Oberlin and attended Oberlin College on an academic scholarship. In 1935 he moved to Pittsburg and graduated from Duquesne University in 1938 with a degree in education. Berry began his career with the Pittsburgh Urban League as group work secretary.
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);
After witnessing poverty and discrimination in Depression-era Georgia, Louis Wade Sullivan committed his career to education and public service, rising to become Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush. He also was the founder and long-time president of Morehouse College School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.
Louis Wade Sullivan was born in Atlanta in 1933, but when his family moved to a small Georgia farming community that did not offer educational opportunities for African Americans, he was sent to live with relatives in Savannah where he could attend school. After graduating at the top of his high school class, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, earning a B.S. in the premedical program in 1954. He then received a scholarship to Boston University School of Medicine, where he was the only African American in his class. He graduated third in his class, earning an M.D. (cum laude) in 1958. During his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, Sullivan conducted research into the correlation between blood and diseases. He made several discoveries concerning alcohol and blood health, and subsequently conducted further medical research at Harvard Medical School and a number of other institutions during the following decades. In 1976, he helped found the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools to promote a national minority health agenda.
The painter and sculptor James Washington, Jr. was a leading member of the Northwest School, a group of artists, writers, and sculptors who became internationally prominent in the mid-20th Century. Washington was born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, one of six children of Baptist minister James Washington and his wife, Lizzie. While Washington was a child, his father fled Mississippi due to threats of violence and the two never met again.
Washington's mother encouraged his talents. He began to draw around the age of 12, becoming an expert pavement chalk-artist, making random marks by other children into figures and faces. In 1938 at the age of 29 he became involved with the Federal Works Progress Administration when he was employed as an assistant art instructor at the Baptist Academy in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Excluded from shows in Mississippi that featured white artists, he organized the first WPA-sponsored exhibition for black artists in the state.
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.
Tom Stanton, Hank
Aaron and the Home Run that Changed America (New York: William Morrow, 2004);
National Baseball Hall of Fame, http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/aaron_hank.htm;
The New Georgia Encyclopedia: Hank Aaron, http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-739
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.
In 1910 James Edward Shepard founded North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, North Carolina. Shepard was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina along with eleven other siblings. His father was Reverend Augustus Shepard and his mother was Harriet E. Shepard. Shepard received his education through the North Carolina public school system. He worked as a pharmacist for a short time after graduating from Shaw University in 1894 after receiving his Ph.G. (Graduate Pharmacist) degree. James Shepard married Annie Robison in 1895 and the couple had two children.
In 1898 Shepard along with John Merrick established North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company in Durham. Eventually Shepard founded Farmers and Mechanics Bank in Durham as well.
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); "The History of North Carolina Central University,” http://www.nccu.edu/discover/history.cfm.
Thomas L. Jennings was the first black man to receive a patent. The patent was awarded on March 3, 1821 (US Patent 3306x) for his discovery of a process called dry-scouring which was the forerunner of today’s modern dry-cleaning. Jennings was born free in New York City, New York in 1791. In his early 20s he became a tailor but then opened a dry cleaning business in the city. While running his business Jennings developed dry-scouring.
The patent to Jennings generated considerable controversy during this period. Slaves at this time could not patent their own inventions; their effort was the property of their master. This regulation dated back to the US patent laws of 1793. The regulation was based on the legal presumption that "the master is the owner of the fruits of the labor of the slave both manual and intellectual.” Patent courts also held that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not own rights to their inventions. In 1861 patent rights were finally extended to slaves.
Mary Bellis, Thomas Jennings: Thomas Jennings was the first African
American to receive a patent,
http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bljennings.htm; Joan Potter, African American Firsts (New York: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002).
Elizabeth Freeman was born into slavery in Claverack, New York in 1742. During the 1770s, she lived in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, a prominent citizen who at that time also served as a judge of the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Colonel Ashley purchased Freeman from a Mr. Hogeboom when she was six months of age. Upon suffering physical abuse from Ashley’s wife, Freeman escaped her home and refused to return. She found a sympathetic ear with attorney Theodore Sedgwick, the father of the writer Catherine Sedgwick. Apparently, as she served dinner to her masters, she had heard them speaking of freedom—in this case freedom from England—and she applied the concepts of equality and freedom for all to herself.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Zulu Chief and one of the founders of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), was born August 27, 1928 in Mahlabathinni, Natal. He was a descendent of the Zulu royal family, his mother being the granddaughter of King Cetshwayo. Buthelezi attended Impumalanga Primary School and then went on to study at Adams College in Amanzimtioti. In 1948 he attended Fort Hare University, where he would begin his lifelong involvement in politics by joining the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and participating in sit-in demonstrations which would lead to his expulsion from the University.
Ben Temkin, Buthelezi: A Biography (London: Frank Cass, 2003); LA Times Website: http://articles.latimes.com/1992-02-14/local/me-2176_1_los-angeles-times.
The legend of Prester John, a wealthy Christian king with a kingdom somewhere outside of the Western European realm, pervaded European thought throughout the Middle Ages. The limited understanding of the unexplored regions of the world and the inability to find his kingdom resulted in shifting versions of the legend. Over the course of the Middle Ages, Europeans believed his kingdom existed in the Far East, India, and, finally, the interior of Africa.
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.
Viola Mitchell Turner, an early black executive with North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1900. The only child of poor, impoverished, teenage African American parents she would succeed in becoming the first female African American member of the North Carolina Mutual Board of Directors.
Turner was educated in a private black school in Macon sponsored by the American Missionary Association and then continued her education at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, studying business, which for women in the late 1910s meant primarily clerical work. After graduation from Morris Brown in 1918 Turner became a secretary at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama where she met leading professors such as George Washington Carver.
Her time at the Tuskegee Institute was short however as she worked briefly for the Superintendent of Negro Education for the State of Mississippi who made her his personal secretary. Turner moved to Mississippi but held her new position for six months. She was hired by North Carolina Mutual Insurance (NCMI) in 1920, setting up branch offices in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi. In 1924 Turner applied for and received a position at North Carolina Mutual headquarters in Durham, North Carolina.
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).
Yosef Ben-Jochannan is an Afrocentric historian whose work is focused mainly on black presence in ancient Egypt. He contends in his writings that the pharaohs came out of the heart of Africa and that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were black Africans, and the white Jews adopted the faith and customs later. He has been accused of distorting history, and, since his work contradicts the prevailing view of Egyptian and African history, it is, therefore, controversial.
Ben-Jochannan was born an only child to an Ethiopian father and an Afro-Puerto Rican Jewish mother in a Falasha community in Ethiopia. He attended schools in Brazil, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and earned degrees in engineering and anthropology. He continued his education at the University of Havana, Cuba, where he earned a Master’s degree in architectural engineering. He earned a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology from the same school, and finally, he attended the University of Barcelona, where he earned another doctoral degree, this time in Moorish history.
Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York: Basic Books, 1997); Tanangachi Mfuni, ”Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antiono ben-Jochannan in his own words,” New York Amsterdam News 97:6 (February 2006); http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=1369&category=Educationmakers; "Dr. Ben Joins the Ancestors," New York Amsterdam News, March 19, 2015.
Gale Sayers and Al Silverman, I Am Third (New York: Viking Press, 1970); George Sullivan, Power Football: The Greatest Running Backs (New York: Atheneum, 2001); "Gale Sayers: Pro Football's Rambling Rookie," Ebony 21: 3 (1966): 70-76.; The Topeka Capital-Journal, August 31, 2009; http://www.answers.com/topic/gale-sayers
A native of Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott garnered a reputation as Booker T. Washington’s chief aide. He was also the highest ranking African American in the Woodrow Wilson’s Administration. The son of ex-slaves, Scott was born in 1873. In 1887, he entered Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, eventually leaving school in his third year. Soon he worked at the Houston Post, first as a sexton, and later as a copyboy and journalist. In 1893 Scott, along with Charles N. Love and Jack Tibbit, formed the Texas Freeman, Houston’s first African American newspaper. Scott also worked for Galveston, Texas, politician and labor leader, Norris W. Cuney.
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.
Michael W. Williams ed., The African American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993); http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/who.htm.
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.
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 &
Willard Christopher Smith, Jr., better known as Will Smith, actor, rap and recording artist, was born in Wynnefield, Pennsylvania on September 25, 1968. His father, Willard Christopher Smith, is an entrepreneur and engineer, and his mother, Caroline Bright Smith, is a public school administrator. Raised in a middle-class “Baptist” home, his parents sent Will to Overbrook High School, a Catholic school, where they felt he would get the best education. In high school, his precociousness sometimes got him in trouble, but his charm, good-natured personality, quick-wittedness, good looks, and award-winning smile easily got him off the hook, and he soon won the nickname, “Prince.” As a senior with high SAT scores, Smith had an offer to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after high school, but he opted out of college to pursue what had already become a successful career in entertainment.
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,
Veteran of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Walter Garland was born in New York City on 27 November 1913. After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, he enrolled at Brooklyn College where he studied mathematics. Garland joined the Communist Party in 1935 and became active in the National Negro Congress. When the International Brigades formed to fight for Republican Spain, Garland volunteered , sailing for France in January 1937.
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).
After graduating from Xavier, Baquet became a volunteer for the Peace Corps. From 1965 to 1967, he taught English and Social Science in the Somali Republic. In 1967, Baquet returned to the United States and joined Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which functioned as a domestic version of the Peace Corps.
Samuel Harrison, a minister, political activist, and former slave, became one of Berkshire County, Massachusetts’s most ardent abolitionists. Harrison was born enslaved in Philadelphia in 1818 but he and his mother were freed in 1821. Shortly afterwards the widowed mother and her son moved to New York City. When Harrison was nine years old, he returned to Philadelphia to live with an uncle.
Throughout his childhood, Harrison worked as an apprentice to his uncle in a shoemaking shop, learning a trade that would support him for years. He also attended church services with his mother regularly, and it was during his adolescence that Harrison decided to become a Presbyterian minister.
Samuel Harrison tried hard to educate himself. In 1836, he enrolled in a manual school run by the abolitionist Gerrit Smith in Peterboro, New York. After only a few months, he transferred to the Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio (now Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio), an institution known for its abolitionist sympathies. Financial difficulties, however, forced him to return to Philadelphia in 1839.
Soon after returning to Philadelphia, Harrison married Ellen Rhodes who he had known since the two were children. Over the next twenty years, Ellen gave birth to thirteen children, seven of whom died in early childhood.
Yvette Diane Clarke won her first political office when she was elected a member of the New York City Council representing part of Brooklyn in 2001. Clarke succeeded her mother, former City Councilmember, Dr. Una S.T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the New York City Council.
Clarke was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 21, 1964. She attended New York’s public schools and then entered Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1986.
Clarke served as the first Director of Business Development for the Bronx Empowerment Zone where she administered the $51 million budget that resulted in the revitalization and economic development of the South Bronx. Clarke also chaired the powerful Contracts Committee and co-chaired the New York City Council Women's Caucus.
In 2006 Clarke was elected to the United States Congress to represent New York’s 11th Congressional District. She holds the seat first won by Shirley Chisholm in 1970. Chisholm was the first African American woman and the first Caribbean American elected to Congress.
Clarke is currently a member of three House committees and two subcommittees within each committee. Her House committee assignments are as follows: Education and Labor Committee, Homeland Security Committee, and the Small Business Committee.
Leonard Reed, noted dancer and entertainment businessman, co-created the famous Shim Sham Shimmy tap routine that has been replicated for centuries by tappers the world over. He was also associated with Joe Louis (1914-1981) during the heavyweight boxer’s efforts to break down golf’s color barrier.
Reed was born in Lightning Creek near Nowata, Indian Territory, on January 7, 1907, to a woman who was half African American and half Native American (Choctaw and Cherokee). Reed was orphaned at the age of two when his mother died of pneumonia and was raised by a series of relatives, foster parents and guardians in Kansas City, Missouri.
As a teenager, Reed began performing the Charleston dance at carnivals in the Kansas City area. His high school principal helped him gain entrance into Cornell University, but Reed dropped out to become a professional dancer. The blue-eyed Reed and another light-skinned African American named Willie Bryant (1908-1964) developed a successful vaudeville act, “Brains as Well as Feet,” passing as Caucasians so they could perform for all-white audiences. Together, they closed their acts with the Shim Sham Shimmy, a 32-bar tap routine. In the early 1930s, Reed and Bryant were barred from white clubs when their African American ancestry became common knowledge. Soon thereafter the duo broke up, and Reed began producing shows for black performers at famous venues like the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.
In 1961, Margaret Burroughs and her husband, Charles Burroughs founded the Ebony Museum of Chicago, later called the DuSable Museum of African American History. The DuSable is the oldest museum of its type in the United States.
Margaret Burroughs was born Margaret Taylor on November 1, 1917 in Saint Rose, Louisiana. Her parents, Alexander and Octavia Taylor, moved to Chicago and young Margaret completed her education in the city’s public schools, graduating from Englewood High School in 1933. She earned her teacher’s certificate in 1937 from Chicago Normal College. She continued her education at Chicago Teachers College as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned a B.E. in Art Education in 1946, followed by an M.A. in 1948.
Taylor married artist Bernard Goss in 1939. The couple had one daughter, Gayle. Through the 1940s Taylor Goss taught in Chicago’s schools and in 1947 produced her first children’s book, Jasper, the Drummin’ Boy. She and Goss divorced and on December 23, 1949, she married Charles Gordon Burroughs.
Sterling Stuckey, Life with Margaret: The Autobiography of Dr. Margaret Burroughs (New York: In Time Publishing & Media Group, 2003); www.fineartstrader.com; http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/akaauthors2/Taylor.htm.
Afro-Cuban writer Nicolás Guillén used his poetry as a form of social protest in pre-Castro Cuba. Guillén was born in Camagüey, Cuba on July 10, 1902 and by the mid 1920s had emerged as a leader of the Afro-Cuban movement. He was committed to social justice and through his loyalty to the Communist party he became a prominent voice of revolutionary Cuba.
Guillén was a student of law at the University of Havana until 1921 when he decided to drop out and focus on writing poetry. He utilized his Spanish and African background of speech, legends, songs, and dances to influence his message and style of writing. His first volume of poetry Motivos de son (“Motifs of son”) published in 1930 quickly gained popularity and recognition.
Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford was a Victorian feminist who dedicated her life to the education of girls in Sierra Leone. Born on June 2, 1868 in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Casely Hayford was the second youngest of seven children of parents William Smith Jr. and Anne Spilsbury. Her prosperous, educated family was part of the Freetown Creole elite. When Adelaide was four years old her family moved to England where she was raised and educated. Her mother died soon afterwards. Raised by her father, Hayford excelled in her studies. When she turned 17 she was sent to Germany to study music. In 1888 Casely Hayford moved back to England where she joined her father and new English stepmother. In 1892, 24-year-old Hayford moved to Freetown to try teaching as a career. This experience gave her an opportunity to study the education systems in West Africa.
Cromwell, Adelaide M., An African American Feminist: The Life and Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868-1960 (London: Frank Cass & Co. LTD., 1986); Desai, Gaurav, “Gendered Self-Fashioning: Adelaide Casely Hayford’s Black Atlantic,” Research in African Literatures 35:3 (Fall 2004).
Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848. His parents were former slaves who escaped bondage and settled in Boston. Abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass secured the necessary funds to obtain their freedom. After a stint in the Union Navy during the Civil War, Latimer worked as an office assistant in the patent law firm of Crosby and Gould. It was there that he taught himself drafting. He quickly began to experiment with ideas for inventions.
In 1874 Latimer received his first patent for improving the toilet paper on passenger railroad cars. In all, he was given eight patents. He is popularly known as the inventor who prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application for the telephone. He eventually worked on electric lights, became superintendent of the incandescent lamp department of the United States Electric Lighting Company, and supervised the installation of light for buildings in the United States and Canada.
In 1890 Lewis Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. He also served as chief draftsman for General Electric/Westinghouse Board of Patent Control when it was established in 1896. Some of the individuals who worked with Edison formed the Edison Pioneers in 1918 to preserve memories of their early days together and to honor Edison’s genius and achievements. Latimer was a founding member of this group and he was the only African American among them. He died in Flushing, New York, on December 11, 1928.
Walter Edward Washington, attorney and politician, was born in Dawson, Georgia, on April 15, 1915 to Willie Mae and William L. Washington. After his mother’s death in 1921, Washington moved with his father to Jamestown, New York. Washington excelled academically and athletically in the public school. His trumpeting skills in school also earned him the nickname Duke II. In 1934, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Washington earned his B.A. degree in 1938 and his law degree from the same institution in 1948. While attending law school, Washington met and married Benetta Bullock.
Following law school, Washington was employed as a supervisor for the District of Columbia’s Alley Dwelling Project. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Washington the executive director the National Capitol Housing Authority, becoming the first African American to hold that position.
Willie Mays with Lou Sahadi, Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988); Baseball Hall of Fame, http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/hofers_and_honorees/hofer_bios/mays_willie.htm; Academy of Achievement, http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/may0bio-1; Larry Schwartz, “Mays brought joy to baseball” http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016223.html.
Henri Christophe was a military leader in the Haitian Revolution as well as president and later king of the young nation. Born into slavery in 1767, Christophe was brought to French colonial Haiti, known as Saint Domingue, most likely from Kitts. There he worked a wide variety of posts including sailor, mason, bartender, and billiard marker. Like many slaves and free people of color in Saint Domingue, Christophe was familiar with military matters from a young age, having accompanied the French expedition to Savannah, Georgia in 1779. By his early twenties, Christophe was able to purchase his freedom and joined the growing class of free blacks.
Carl McCall, former comptroller for the State of New York, was the first African American nominated by the Democratic Party for the office of governor. McCall lost the election to Republican incumbent governor George Pataki. As comptroller from 1994 to 2002, McCall was the first African American to win statewide office in New York.
McCall was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1935. In 1958 he graduated from Dartmouth College and then attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. McCall eventually received an M.A. degree from Andover-Newton Theological School located in Massachusetts.
In 1994, in his first bid for statewide office, McCall was elected New York comptroller. McCall was reelected in 1998 winning over one million votes. As comptroller McCall, the state’s chief fiscal officer, audited the state government and public authorities of New York and served as the state’s sole pension fund trustee.
Before his election as comptroller McCall had established a long and distinguished career in public service. He was deputy administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration from 1966 until 1969. In 1975 he was elected to the New York State Senate representing Harlem. In 1982, McCall was the unsuccessful candidate for Lieutenant Governor running on a ticket with Mario Cuomo for Governor. Cuomo won his race and appointed McCall to serve as the State Commissioner of Human Rights.
Jesse B. Blayton, Sr., was a pioneer African American radio station entrepreneur. Blayton founded WERD-AM in Atlanta, Georgia on October 3, 1949 making him the first African American to own and operate a radio station in the United States.
Jesse Blayton was born in Fallis, Oklahoma, on December 6, 1879. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1922 and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia to establish a private practice as an accountant. Blayton passed the Georgia accounting examination in 1928, becoming the state's first black Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and only the fourth African American nationwide to hold the certification.
Blayton also taught accounting at Atlanta University where he encouraged younger blacks to enter the profession. He had little success. Blayton later recalled that much of his recruiting difficulty came from the students' knowledge that no white-owned accounting firms would hire them and his, the only black-owned firm in the South, was small and had few openings. A decade after Blayton became a CPA there were still only seven other blacks in the U.S. who had achieved that status.
William Barlow, Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1999); Theresa A. Hammond, A White-Collar
Profession: African American Public Accountants since 1921 (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); "WERD" in the New
Georgia Encyclopedia (online), http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.
Born December 18, 1897 to a middle class family in Cuthbert, Georgia, Fletcher Henderson grew up to become one of the key figures in the development of the form and style of the large jazz orchestra. Despite the fact that he grew up in a family devoted to music and practiced constantly, he graduated from Atlanta University with a degree in mathematics and chemistry. After moving to New York in 1920, however, Henderson found that a color barrier stood against his chances of becoming a chemist, and so it was at this time that he turned to his musical skills to make a living.
After a short time Henderson became a music director for Black Swan Records, and through this work he was able to assemble some of New York’s best musicians to start his own band. In 1924 Henderson began playing in the Roseland Ballroom, and over the next ten years he helped transform the Roseland into a premier venue for jazz in New York while his band became known as the greatest jazz orchestra in the city.
In 1959, she debuted on Broadway as the character Beneatha Younger, a dignified, aspiring doctor in A Raisin in the Sun. Her stage performance earned her the 1959 Outer Circle Critics' Award and her first film appearance as the same character in the 1961 film version opposite Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon, and Sidney Poitier.
Ida Bell Robinson grew up in Pensacola, Florida, the seventh of twelve children born to Robert and Annie Bell. After her conversion as a teenager at an evangelistic street meeting, she led prayer services in homes. In 1909 she married Oliver Robinson, and they soon relocated to Philadelphia for better employment opportunities. She did street evangelism in Philadelphia under the auspices of The United Holy Church of America. In 1919, the church ordained her and appointed her to a small mission church, where she was successful in pastoral ministry and itinerant evangelism.
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).
Jesse Moorland was an educator, minister, and a philanthropist, but was most renowned for his extensive work with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Born on September 10, 1863, in Coldwater, Ohio, he was the only child of a local farmer, William Edward Moorland and his wife, Nancy Jane Moorland. He was raised by his grandparents after his mother passed away and his father decided to leave him in their care. His grandparents sent him to a local school in Coldwater and then later to the Northwestern Normal School in Ada, Ohio.
In 1886, Moorland married Lucy Corbin and the couple began teaching together in Urbana, Ohio. They later moved to Washington, D.C. to continue their studies at Howard University. Moorland studied theology and graduated with his Master’s degree in 1891. In the same year, Moorland also became an ordained minister in the Congregational Church and was appointed Secretary of the Colored Branch of the YMCA in Washington, D.C. Two years later, he resigned from the YMCA and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become pastor of Howard Chapel. In 1896, he moved again to become pastor at Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
James Whitehead, Jr., the first African American Lockheed U2 pilot, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1934. From a young age Whitehead was surrounded by a strong military presence in his family including relatives who served in World War II. Coming of age during that war he also remembered the Tuskegee Airmen who inspired his desire to learn to fly.
Whitehead enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard in May 1952 and served until 1955. He later became the first African American graduate of the University of Illinois Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). He graduated in June 1957 with a degree in Physical Education and was commissioned a second lieutenant.
Before leaving his home in New Jersey for officer training, Whitehead purchased a guide for blacks on travel across segregated America. As an African American officer in The United States Air Force at a time when segregation was still prevalent in parts of the United States, Whitehead wanted to know how to travel across the nation without incident.
Clarence Eugene Page is a newspaper columnist, essayist, and political analyst. His syndicated column which specializes in urban issues appears in numerous newspapers across the United States.
Page was born on June 2, 1947 in Dayton, Ohio to Clarence H. and Maggie (Williams) Page. Page's mother owned a catering service and his father was a factory worker. Page has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which was undiagnosed during his childhood. He started reporting for his high school newspaper as a junior and found it to be a perfect match—perhaps, he says, because of ADD; news writing was short, and deadlines helped him stay on track. After his senior year, Page took a summer job in a steel mill and made time to freelance. He sold stories and photographs to two Ohio newspapers in the summer of 1965 as a 17-year-old high school graduate.
Page earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University in 1969 and started reporting for the Chicago Tribune right after graduation. Six months later, he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. Page was assigned to public relations duty at Fort Lewis, Washington and in Germany.
Clarence Page, Showing My Color: Impolite Essays on Race and Identity,
New York: HarperCollins Publishers (1996); Clarence Page, “Bio,”
Chicago Tribune, accessed online at chicagotribune.com (November 19,
2008); University of Maryland, “Clarence Page," Front and Center
Magazine, Chicago Tribune (May 8, 2003).
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.
"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).
Asa Philip Randolph, born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, was one of the most respected leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century. Randolph was a labor activist; editor of the political journal the Messenger, organizer of the 1941 March on Washington which resulted in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), and architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Randolph was the son of Rev. James William Randolph, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a seamstress. The family moved to Jacksonville two years after his birth. In 1907, Randolph graduated as the valedictorian of Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, Florida, and worked a series of menial jobs while pursuing a career as an actor. He moved to New York in 1911, and after reading W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk decided to devote his life to fighting for African American equality. In 1914, Randolph married Lucille E. Green, a Howard graduate and entrepreneur whose economic support allowed Randolph to pursue Civil Rights full-time. The couple did not have any children.
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.
Milton Arthur Galamison, minister and civil rights activist, was the leader of New York City’s school integration movement in the 1960s. Born and raised in Philadelphia, where he experienced poverty and hostile racial relations that influenced his later activism, Galamison received a B.A. with honors at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1945. He began his activism in Brooklyn, where he was appointed minister to the Siloam Presbyterian Church in 1948. As a prestigious institution long associated with activist ministers, the church offered Galamison a platform for his future involvement in improving education for minority children in public schools.
In 1955, Galamison was elected chair of the education committee of the Brooklyn branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Under his leadership, the branch became a noted advocate for working class black and Puerto Rican parents who fought for quality education for their children.
John Mitchell, Jr. edited and published the Richmond Planet newspaper from one year after its founding in 1883, until his death in 1929. He was known as the “fighting editor” for his writing against racism.
In 1863, John Mitchell, Sr. and his wife Rebecca were living on the Lyons family estate in Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond. The Mitchells were slaves; John was a coachman and Rebecca was a seamstress. On July 11, 1863, they had John, Jr., the first of two sons. After the Civil War, the Mitchell family moved to Richmond, where Rebecca and John, Jr. continued to work for the Lyons family.
Mitchell graduated high school at the top of his class in 1881. He taught in Virginia Public Schools until state politics led to the firing of many black teachers, including him.
In 1883 the black lawyer Edwin Archer Randolph founded the Richmond Planet. After just a year, the newspaper was in the red and on the verge of collapse. Mitchell led a group of former teachers who resurrected it.
Ann Field Alexander, Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting
Editor,” John Mitchell Jr., Charlottesville: University of Virginia
Press (2002); Richmond Planet, Richmond, Virginia (1884 – 1929);
William J. Simmons, Men of Mark, Cleveland: George M. Rewell & Co
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).
William C. Nell was an African American civic activist, abolitionist, and historian. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Nell was the son of William Guion Nell, a prominent tailor and black activist. William C. Nell was introduced to racial inequality and black activism from birth. In the 1830s, he became politically active as a member of the Juvenile Garrison Independent Society where he wrote plays and hosted political debates while being mentored by William Lloyd Garrison. Nell was a printer’s apprentice for Garrison’s newspaper, the Liberator. Nell came of age in the 1840s, as a leader in the campaign to desegregate the Boston railroad (1843) and Boston performance halls (1853). He was also a founding member of the New England Freedom Association in 1842, a black Boston organization that assisted fugitive slaves in their efforts to gain freedom.
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.
Harold Mills is a boat racing pioneer and award winning driver. Born August 16, 1953 in Seattle, Washington, he spent nine years in Houston, Texas as a child. He came back to Seattle and grew up as a fan of boat racing.
In the late 1970s, up until 1985, Mills raced his own craft on the local hydroplane circuit. He won his first race in 1985, the Jim Spinner Memorial Regatta at Lake Sammamish outside Redmond, Washington. He retired from driving for the next four years, preferring to promote the sport as an organizer. In 1989, he returned to boat racing as a partner in a 7-litre boat team, From that point he continued to race through the 1990s. In 2000, he won 23 of 26 races he entered, driving a 2.5 liter modified hydroplane he called "Fast Freddy."
Harold Mills has won more than 100 races in his career. In 2001, he moved up to the Unlimited class as the first African American to pilot a turbine-powered unlimited hydroplane. In 2002 he received the Association For Diversity In Motorsports Trailblazer Award.
The Last Poets, a group of musicians and poet performers, originated out of the civil rights movement, with an emphasis on the black re-awakening. The original Last Poets were founded on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19, 1968 at the former Mount Morris Park (Now Marcus Garvey Park), at 124th Street and Fifth Avenue in East Harlem, New York City. The original members, Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson took the name from a poem by South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed that he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over. They brought together music and spoken word.
The Original Last Poets would soon be overshadowed however by a group of the same name that spawned from a 1969 Harlem writer’s workshop called “East Wind.” Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, and percusionist Nilaja are considered the core members of this group. In 1970 this group appeared on their self titled album. The Original Last Poets garnered some attention for their soundtrack to the 1971 film “Right On!” Following their debut album which made the top-ten lists, The Last Poets released The Last Poets (1970) and This is Madness (1971). Due to their politically charged lyrics both groups were targeted by COINTELPRO, Richard Nixon’s counter intelligence program along with other politically active organizations such as the Black Panthers.
George B. “Spider” Anderson is considered one of the greatest African American jockeys in horse racing history. There are no details available on George Anderson's early life, not even the place or date of his birth.
Anderson achieved his greatest accomplishment by being the first African American jockey to win the Preakness Stakes held at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. The Preakness Stakes is the 2nd stage of the Triple Crown series, between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in New York.
On May 10, 1889, the day of the race, Anderson struck one of his coaches, James Cook, across the head with a whip. The reason for this altercation between the two remains unknown. There is however speculation that because the 1889 Preakness Stakes only consisted of two horses; Buddhist, rode by Anderson, and Japhet, owned by former Maryland Governor Oden Bowie, there was tension between Cook, who was a friend of Governor Bowie, and Anderson. There may have been words exchanged before the race which led to Anderson's attack. Despite the altercation, Anderson was allowed to participate in the Preakness Stakes before receiving any punishment for his assault on Cook by authorities.
Anderson won the race riding Buddhist and easily beating Japhet. Anderson finished the race with an astonishing time of 2:17.50 and became the 17th winner of the Preakness Stakes.
In 1891, Anderson had two other significant victories to his career, the Alabama Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course in Upstate New York and the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at the Monmouth Race Course in New Jersey.
Edward Hotaling, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America's First National Sport (Rocklin, California: Forum, 1999); http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/scripts/jimcrow/sports.cgi?sport=Horseraci... Glenn C., Smith, "George "Spider" Anderson: First Black Jockey to Win the Preakness." Los Angeles Sentinel. 2000. HighBeam Research., http://www.highbeam.com.
Louis Abdul Farrakhan was born on May 11, 1933 in Bronx, New York as Louis Eugene Walcott. Walcott, who grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, excelled as a musician, singer and track star. He attended a Boston-area school for gifted children and was given national exposure at age 14 when, as one of the first African Americans to appear on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, he won the competition for that episode. After high school Walcott attended Winston-Salem Teachers College for two years and then worked as a calypso guitarist-singer. Walcott joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1955 and changed his name to Louis X and later Louis Farrakhan. Initially he was a follower of Malcolm X, but became a competitor in the period before Malcolm’s assassination in 1965.
Alphonso R. Jackson cultivated a three-decade career in public service that included an appointment as head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the administration of his long-time friend, President George W. Bush. Born in Marshall, Texas, in 1946, Jackson grew up in South Dallas, the youngest of twelve children in a working-class family. He earned a B.A. in political science (1968) and a M.Ed. (1969) from Northeast Missouri State University. He then studied at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received a J.D. in 1972.
In 1938, Horne moved to Hollywood where she was cast in several movies. Years later Horne recalled, "In every other film I just sang a song or two; the scenes could be cut out when they were sent to local distributors in the South. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to act."
John Wesley Cromwell was a historian, editor, educator and lawyer who was born into slavery on September 5th, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was the youngest child of Willis Hodges Cromwell and Elizabeth Carney Cromwell, who had twelve children. In 1851 Willis Cromwell obtained his family’s freedom and they moved to West Philadelphia. John attended Bird’s Grammar School at the age of ten and the Institute for Colored Youth in 1856. He graduated in 1864 and taught briefly in Colombia, Pennsylvania.
Cromwell returned to Virginia in 1865 at the age of eighteen and opened a private school for freedmen in Portsmouth, which was eventually taken over by the American Missionary Association. He returned to Philadelphia and worked with the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. In December of 1865, the principal of the Association recommended Cromwell to teach in the American Missionary Association’s freedman’s schools being formed across the South. Cromwell taught briefly in Maryland and Virginia through 1867.
John Wesley Cromwell soon got involved with local politics in Virginia. In 1867 he was named a delegate to the first Republican convention in Richmond. He was also named clerk in the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1868.
In 2002, Kwame Malik Kilpatrick, at the age of 31, became the youngest person to be elected mayor of Detroit, Michigan. Six years later in 2008, Kilpatrick resigned his post as mayor after his conviction for obstruction of justice stemming from a sex scandal involving the mayor and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. Kilpatrick, married and the father of three sons, had an affair with Beatty, a divorced single mother and then committed perjury in a 2007 trial when he denied the relationship under oath. Kilpatrick was forced to resign from his office and spent 120 days in jail as part of a guilty plea to the charges of obstructing justice.
Kilpatrick, the son of U.S. Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Bernard Kilpatrick, former Chief of Staff for Wayne County Executive Edward H. McNamara, was born in Detroit on June 6, 1970. Kilpatrick was the captain of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s football team. He earned a B.A. degree in political science there. He returned to Detroit and taught at the Marcus Garvey Academy.
Can Kwame Kilpatrick Grow Up, Steven Gray/Detroit Thursday, Sep. 20, 2007, http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1663791,00.html; Kwame Kilpatrick, M.J. Stephey, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2008, /www.time.com/time/politics/article/0,8599,1854335,00.html; Kwame Kilpatrick exits, with Barack Obama holding the door, Edward McClelland September 4, 2008, www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/09/04/detroit/; Resources for Elected Officials, DLC, Profile, May 15, 2003,100 To Watch :: 2003 The Next Generation of Leadership, www.ndol.org/ndol_ci.cfm?contentid=251633&kaid=104&subid=210.
Dr. George Franklin Grant was the first African American professor at Harvard. He was born in Oswego, New York to former slaves. When he was fifteen years old a local dentist, Dr. Albert Smith, hired him as an errand boy. He soon became a lab assistant, and Dr. Smith encouraged him to pursue a career in dentistry. In 1868 he and Robert Tanner Freeman, another son of former slaves, became the first blacks to enroll in Harvard Dental School. After receiving his degree in 1870, he became the first African American faculty member at Harvard, in the School of Mechanical Dentistry, where he served for 19 years.
While there he specialized in treating patients with congenital cleft palates. His first patient was a 14 year-old girl, and by 1889 he had treated 115 cases. He patented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device that allowed patients to speak more normally. He was a founding member and president of the Harvard Odontological Society, and, in 1881, he was elected President of the Harvard Dental Association.
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.
Dr. Rebecca J. Cole was the first black woman doctor in the United States. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 16, 1846, Cole was one of five children.
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.
Clarence Thomas, the second African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a small community south of Savannah. His mother, Leola Williams, a single parent, raised Thomas until he was seven. He and his brother, Myers, were sent to Savannah where they were raised by their maternal grandfather, Myers Anderson. To help his grandsons to survive in the Jim Crow South, Anderson, a Democrat, local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member, and recent convert to Catholicism, instilled in them a discipline and pride that would counterpoint the harshness of southern racism. Thomas remembers that after purchasing a new truck, his grandfather removed the heater because he believed its use would make the boys lazy.
Thomas was educated in St. Benedict the Moor, an all-black Catholic school in Savannah and later became the only African American student at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary just outside Savannah. In 1967 he entered Immaculate Conception Seminary in northwestern Missouri to prepare for the priesthood. He withdrew after viewing one fellow student’s pleasure at the news that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
James Poindexter clergyman, abolitionist, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Richmond Virginia in 1819. He attended school in Richmond until he was about sixteen when he started to apprentice as a barber. In 1837 Poindexter married Adelia Atkinson and the coupled moved to Columbus, Ohio where they remained for the rest of their lives.
In Columbus Poindexter joined the Second Baptist Church, a small black church in the city. He officiated at the services until an ordained Baptist minister could be found. In 1847 when a recently arrived black family joined the church, Poindexter and others learned they had been slaveholders in Virginia. Poindexter and forty other Second Baptist Church members withdrew in protest and formed the Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. Poindexter led this church for the next ten years until the congregation rejoined the Second Baptist Church in 1858. Poindexter, now an ordained minister, became the pastor of the combined church and remained in this position until his resignation in 1898.
Physician and businessman Dr. Midian Othello Bousfield was a leader in Chicago’s insurance industry. His diverse career included work in medicine and in the military, advocating for African American health care and for the training of black medical personnel. He was the first black person promoted to the rank of colonel in the Army Medical Corps while commanding the Army’s all-African American hospital, an appointment that was marred by controversy amid criticism that he was contributing to segregationist policies.
Bousfield was born on August 22, 1885 in Tipton, Missouri to Willard Hayman Bousfield, a barber and businessman, and Cornelia Catherine Gilbert Bousfield. The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and after high school Midian Bousfield graduated from the University of Kansas in 1907 with a bachelor of arts degree. He then entered medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago where he earned an M.D. in 1909. The following year Bousfield began working as an intern at Howard University's Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. and then worked briefly in Kansas City.
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)
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
Gude Suckale-Redlesfen, The Black Saint Maurice (Houston: Menil Foundation, 1987); Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and David Bindman (editors), The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume II, Part 1, From the Demonic Threat to the Incarnation of Sainthood (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).