Born on December 25, 1840, in Baltimore, Maryland, John Henry Murphy grew up as a slave and freed by the Emancipation Act of 1863. He enlisted in the military at age 24, during the Civil War and quickly progressed to the rank of Sergeant by the end of the conflict. When he returned home to Maryland, he married Martha Elizabeth Howard in 1868, the daughter of a successful farmer. They met at church where his father directed the choir. Murphy quickly became interested in the role of the church in education for African American children. He worked with the Sunday school at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Baltimore and became superintendent of the District Sunday School in Hagerstown, Maryland in the late 1880s.
Murphy began to publish a Sunday school newspaper with an old manually operated printing press. The newspaper, called the Sunday School Helper, was created to assist him with the instruction of the students at his school. In 1892, the pastor of a local Baptist church, Reverend William M. Alexander, started a rival paper, Afro-American to promote his church. By the end of they year Murphy purchased the Afro-American for $200 and merged the two newspapers.
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.
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).
Edward William Brooke III is the first African American to be elected by popular vote to the United States Senate. Brooke, an African American, Protestant Republican, won elective office in the overwhelmingly white, Catholic, Democratic state of Massachusetts and emerged as a leader in the US Senate. Edward Brooke III, the son of Helen (Seldon) Brooke and Edward W. Brooke, was born October 26, 1919 in Washington, D.C. Brook's father, Edward, earned a law degree at the Howard University School of Law and later served as an attorney with the US Veterans Administration.
After his graduation from Howard University in 1941, Edward Brooke III served as an officer in the Army with the all-African American 366th Combat Infantry Regiment. He fought in Italy during World War II and won a Bronze Star for leading an attack on a German artillery battery. While in Italy, he met his first wife, Remigia Ferrari-Scacco. After serving as a combat officer, Brooke entered Boston University Law School and graduated in 1948.
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.
Born in 1824 Sarah Parker Remond entered the world as a part of an exceptional family. The ninth child of two free born and economically secure black parents, her life was unusual among African Americans. It was unimaginable in the minds of most white Americans. Before her death Sarah carried her family’s legacy well beyond the shores of her native land. With financial security rooted primarily in food catering and hair salons, the men and women of the Remond clan actively supported antislavery and equal rights for all. After honing her skills lecturing against slavery in the Northeast and Canada Sarah expanded her reach across the ocean.
Jesse Binga's rise from relative poverty to become the wealthiest African American entrepreneur and banker in Chicago in the late 19th century earned him a national reputation. Binga was born on April 10, 1865, in Detroit to William W. Binga, a barber and native of Ontario, Canada, and Adelphia Lewis Binga, the owner of extensive property in Rochester and Detroit. He dropped out of high school and at first collected rents on his mother’s property in Detroit. He later moved to Seattle and Tacoma, Washington and then Oakland, California, working as a barber in each city. Binga also worked as a Pullman porter and during that time acquired property in Pocatello, Idaho which he profitably sold.
Binga finally settled in Chicago in 1893. His first real estate ventures were relatively modest. He began by purchasing run down buildings, repairing, and renting them. By 1908 Binga had built up enough wealth that he was able to establish a private bank. Binga also married Eudora Johnson who provided him with additional assets and considerable social prestige. As the African American population of Chicago began to grow in the first two decades of the 20th Century Binga opened the Binga State Bank in 1921 with deposits of over $200,000. Within three years the bank had deposits of over $1.3 million. Binga, now the owner of a number of South Side Chicago properties was also a leading philanthropist.
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.
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).
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.
“If I had nine lives, I’d want to be a lawyer every day of every one, I enjoy it so.” With this sensibility and love for the legal system, Juanita Kidd Stout made the correct decision in choosing her life’s work. Juanita Kidd Stout established a reputation long before she left Oklahoma to resettle in Philadelphia and become a prominent judge.
Born an only child to educators Henry and Mary Kidd on March 7, 1919 in Wewoka, Oklahoma, Juanita learned to read at age 2 and remained a stellar student when she attended the segregated public schools in her hometown. Juanita gained from the experience of having excellent black teachers, and won numerous prizes at school and agricultural exhibitions for her scholarship and creativity. At age 16 she left for Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri. While at Lincoln, she joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and personally observed black attorney Charles Hamilton Houston argue Gaines v. Missouri in the state supreme court. Later, she transferred to the University of Iowa and earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1939. At the time she was one of a mere 2% of black adults holding a four year college degree. Three years later Juanita Kidd married Charles Otis Stout. By the end of the decade Juanita Kidd Stout held two law degrees from Indiana University and moved to Washington, D.C. where she became the administrative secretary to Charles Hamilton Houston.
John Lovick was born on May 9, 1951 in Shreveport, Louisiana to Mrs. Dorothy Lovick. He graduated from Allen High School in Shreveport and then studied for one year at Northwestern State College in Natchitoches, Louisiana. At the age of 19, Lovick joined the U.S. Coast Guard, traveling to Alameda, California in the San Francisco Bay Area for boot camp. The company commander immediately selected him as assistant recruit commander and in 1970 Lovick arrived in Seattle stationed aboard the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind.
In 1971, John Lovick attended the Coast Guard quartermaster and signalman schools in Newport, Rhode Island. On his first day, a supervisor selected him to serve as class president. Lovick returned to Seattle to serve aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Wachusetts, a weather vessel. In 1972, while in the Coast Guard, John Lovick married Debbie Miller. The coupled had three children and remained married for 17 years.
Lovick continued to serve in the Coast Guard in the Seattle area. He was stationed on Seattle’s Pier 91 from 1972 to 1974 where he conducted oil pollution investigations. Lovick retired from the Coast Guard in 1971 as a petty officer second class. On April 1, 1974, Lovick joined the Washington State Patrol. Four years later he joined the Coast Guard Reserves, serving until 1983. In 1980 John Lovick graduated from Shoreline Community College with an Associate Arts degree in Criminal Justice.
Born on February 24, 1811 to free Black parents London and Martha Payne in Charleston, South Carolina, Daniel Alexander Payne would become a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, President of Wilberforce University, abolitionist, educator and historian. When Payne was four his father passed away. His mother died when he was nine. Payne was raised by his great aunt, Sarah Bordeaux, after their passing.
Daniel Payne studied at the Minors’ Moralist Society School for two years, and then was privately tutored by Mr. Thomas S. Bonneau. Payne went to work at age twelve to a shoe-merchant, as a carpenter at thirteen, and then as a tailor, finally entering the teaching profession and opening a school for Black children in 1829, when only nineteen years of age. In 1835, South Carolina passed bill No. 2639: An Act to Amend the Law relating to Slaves and Free Persons of Color which forced Payne to close his school.
Paul R. Griffen, Black Theology as the Foundation of Three Methodist
Colleges: The Educational Views and Labors of Daniel Payne, Joseph
Price, Isaac Lane (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984);
Josephus R. Coan, Daniel Alexander Payne: Christian Educator
(Philadelphia: A.M.E. Book Concern, 1935); Bishop Daniel Alexander
Payne, Recollections of Seventy Years (New York: Arno Press, 1968).
Susan Rice is the current United States Ambassador to the United Nations for the Barack Obama Administration. She is the first African American, the third woman, and the second youngest person to hold the position. Prior to being selected by President Obama for the post, Rice served as a key foreign policy advisor for the Obama campaign during the 2008 presidential race.
Born in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 1964 to Emmett J. Rice, a Cornell University economics professor and former governor of the Federal Reserve System, and Lois Dickson Fitt, an education policy scholar, Rice was raised in the Shepherd Park community, where she attended Washington’s National Cathedral School, an elite preparatory academy. An active participant in student government, Rice was elected president of her school’s student council. In addition to excelling at basketball, Rice was a dedicated student and upon her graduation was named class valedictorian.
Rice attended Stanford University on a Truman Scholarship, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in History in 1986. Rice was elected to Phi Beta Kappa while at Stanford. She then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving a Master’s of Philosophy Degree in 1988, and a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in International Relations in 1990. In 1988 while working on her doctorate, Rice took a position as a foreign policy aide with the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign.
Denise Majette, former member of Congress, attorney, judge, and politician, was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 18, 1955 to Voyd Lee and Olivia (Foster) Majette. In 1976, Majette graduated from Yale University. She earned her law degree from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina in 1979.
After graduating, Majette joined the Legal Aid Society in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. During this period, she also served on faculty at the Wake Forest Law School. Majette relocated to Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1983. During the early1980s, she held positions as a clerk and an assistant to judges. From 1989 to 1992, Majette returned to private practice as a partner in the Atlanta law firm of Jenkins, Nelson, and Welch. During this period, she also served on the boards of various community organizations. In 1992, she was named an administrative law judge at the Georgia state board of workers' compensation. The following year, Georgia Governor Zell Miller appointed her judge of the State Court of DeKalb County. Majette held the judgeship for nine years.
James Weldon Johnson, composer, social critic, and civil rights activist, was born of Bahamian immigrant parents in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17, 1871. Instilled with the value of education by his father, James, a waiter, and teacher-mother, Helen, Johnson excelled at the Stanton School in Jacksonville. In 1889 he entered Atlanta University, graduating in 1894.
In 1896, Johnson began to study law in Thomas Ledwith’s law office in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1898, Ledwith considered Johnson ready to take the Florida bar exam. After a grueling two hour exam, Johnson was given a pass and admitted to the bar. One examiner expressed his anguish by bolting from the room and stating “Well, I can’t forget he’s a nigger; and I’ll be damned if I’ll stay here to see him admitted.” In 1898, Johnson became one of only a handful of black attorneys in the state.
Johnson, however, did not practice law. Instead he became principal at the Stanton School in Jacksonville where he improved the curriculum and added ninth and tenth grades. Johnson also started the first black newspaper, The Daily American, in Jacksonville. With his brother Rosamond, who had been trained at the England Conservatory of Music, James W. Johnson’s interests turned to songwriting for Broadway.
A successful business owner and real estate investor, Charles Owens became one of the most prominent African Americans in Los Angeles by the end of the nineteenth century. Born into slavery in Texas, Charles’s father, Robert Owens, purchased his family’s freedom and migrated to Los Angeles, California in 1850.
Bruce Kuklick, Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William
Fontaine (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
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 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.
Bishop returned to Grenada in 1970 as the Black Power movement was gaining popularity in the Caribbean. He founded a law practice in St. George’s and became involved in left wing movements supporting the current revolution in neighboring Trinidad and opposing the current autocratic Grenadian government of Eric Gairy, often invoking violent retaliation from Gairy’s security force. In 1972 he organized the Movement for Assemblies of the People (MAP), which merged with the Joint Endeavour for Welfare, Education and Liberation (JEWEL) in 1973 to become the New JEWEL Movement (NJM). The NJM proclaimed independence for Grenada in 1974.
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);
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.
Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr. is often described as one of America’s most important contemporary mathematicians. At 13, he became the University of Chicago’s youngest student. Wilkins continued his studies there, earning bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees in mathematics. When he finished his Ph.D. at 19, he was hailed by the national press as a “negro genius.”
Wilkins was born in Chicago, Illinois on November 27, 1923 to Lucile Beatrice Robinson Wilkins who held a master's degree and taught in the Chicago Public School system. His father, J. Ernest Wilkins, a prominent attorney, was assistant Secretary of Labor during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration.
After completing his Ph.D., Wilkins taught mathematics for one year at Tuskegee Institute (1943-1944) before being recruited to work at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago where he contributed to the Manhattan Project. Wilkins worked there between 1944 and 1946.
Revels Cayton, born in Seattle, Washington, was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton, and the grandson of U.S. Senator Hiram Revels. As a highly respected labor leader, he served as Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco District Council of the Maritime Federation of the Pacific and, later, the business agent for the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union.
Cynthia Ann McKinney was born on March 17, 1955 in Atlanta, Georgia to parents Billy McKinney, who was a police officer and to a mother, Leola Christion McKinney, who was a nurse. Her father was a political activist who challenged his employer, the Atlanta Police Department, for its practice of racial discrimination. This desire to use activism in the cause of racial justice was inherited by Cynthia McKinney who initiated her first petition against racism while still in school. In 1971 she challenged a teacher at the Catholic institution for using racist language. Meanwhile, her father, Billy McKinney was elected to the Georgia State Legislature in 1973 as a Democrat.
After completing St. Joseph’s High School in Atlanta in 1973, McKinney in 1978 received a degree in international relations from the University of Southern California. This degree would serve her well in the future as became increasingly concerned about the role and impact of U.S. foreign around the world. McKinney then entered the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. There she met and Jamaican politician Coy Grandison and returned to Jamaica with him.
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.
Norris McDonald, a leading black environmentalist, is the founder and president of the African American Environmental Association (AAEA), an organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies, and increasing African American participation in the environmental movement.
Norris McDonald was born to parents Sandy Norris McDonald Sr. and Katie Louvina Best in 1958 in Thomasville, North Carolina. Norris McDonald Sr. was a high school principal and Katie Louvina Best worked for the local public school system. She died of breast cancer at the age of 26.
McDonald attended Wake Forest University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1977. After college, McDonald moved to Washington, D.C. hoping to find a job as a Congressional staffer. Instead, he was hired as a staffer at the Environmental Policy Institute in 1979 (now called Friends of the Earth) where he worked for the next seven years. McDonald’s primary duties included media relations, public education, researching, lobbying, and fund raising. During this time, McDonald was introduced to environmental issues across the nation. He also noticed that there were no black professionals working for environmental groups in the Washington, D.C. area. The absence of black professionals in those organizations inspired him to create the AAEA in 1985.
Stephen Smith was born into slavery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. At 21 he purchased his freedom for $50 and soon afterwards began to ally with the abolitionist cause that he would support through most of his adult life. In 1830 Smith became the chairman of the African American abolitionist organization in Columbia, Pennsylvania while developing a successful lumber business. The Columbia Spy reported that in 1835 his success “…excited the envy or hatred of those not so prosperous and of the ruling race.” In that year unknown persons vandalized his office and destroyed his papers, records and books. Shortly after this incident, Smith moved to Philadelphia where he again entered the lumber business and after a few years regained his prosperity.
Historian and anthropologist, William Leo Hansberry began his college education at Atlanta University, but (at the urging of W.E.B. DuBois) he transferred to Harvard in 1917. Based on his reading of classical texts and his study of archeological evidence, Hansberry became convinced as an undergraduate that sophisticated civilizations had existed in Africa–especially in Ethiopia–for centuries prior to the rise of the Greeks and Romans in Europe. He pursued that premise for the rest of his life.
A circular letter announcing his desire to develop courses in African civilization landed him a temporary job at Howard University in Washington D.C., following his graduation from Harvard in 1921. There he quickly built his new program into one of the most popular undergraduate majors on the campus, and he hosted international conferences to stimulate the study of ancient and medieval African societies. By the mid-1920s, however, he ran afoul not only of the wider white academic community, which was extremely skeptical of Hansberry’s ambitious claims, but also of senior colleagues at Howard, who believed he was giving the university a bad name by teaching assertions for which there was little or no compelling evidence. The Howard board settled the dispute by retaining the popular African program, while relegating Hansberry himself to a secondary position without tenure.
The date of birth for Julia Ringwood Coston, one of the first black women to edit a magazine, is unknown. We do know that she was named after Ringwood farm in Warrenton, Virginia, where she was born. While she was still an infant, Ringwood moved to Washington D.C. with her family and attended public schools there. She had almost completed school when her mother died and she was forced to withdraw.
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.
Stephen Bonga was part of a prosperous Minnesota fur trading family, the first African American residents of that state. Fluent in Native American languages, Stephen and his brothers traveled as translators and voyageurs throughout the upper Great Lakes region of the Midwest.
Bonga was born in June 1799 on the shores of Lake Superior in the area joining present-day Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. He was the son of Pierre Bonga and his Native American Ojibwe wife, Ogibwayquay, and he was grandson of Jean and Marie Jeanne Bonga, who had lived as slaves at the fur trading depot of Michigan’s Mackinac Island.
As a young man, Bonga was sent to Albany, New York to become a Presbyterian missionary. Although he later left the seminary to join the family fur trading business, Stephen was known throughout his life for his piety and in 1881 helped organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in Superior, Wisconsin.
Stephen Bonga, along with his brothers George and Jack, are listed as American Fur Company representatives visiting the Grand Portage fort along Lake Superior during the winter of 1823 and 1824. Stephen was a clerk for the company until 1833 and traveled frequently along the upper Midwest’s trade water routes.
Sarah Loguen was born on January 29, 1850, in Syracuse, New York, the fifth of eight children to the Rev. Jermain Wesley Loguen, a former slave and prominent abolitionist, and his wife, Caroline Loguen, the daughter of prominent local abolitionists. Her father started the first school for black children in the Syracuse area and used his home as a safe house for hundreds of slaves traveling the Underground Railroad. In 1868 Rev. Loguen became a Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church the same year Sarah graduated from high school.
Flood’s mother, Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood, led the 19th Century campaign for desegregated education in California and founded the state’s first African American school in Sacramento in 1854. Her father Isaac Flood, one of the first African American residents of Oakland, California, also fought for education and equality for blacks.
Daniel A. P. Murray was born on March 3, 1852 in Baltimore, Maryland. At the age of nine he left Baltimore to live in Washington, D.C., where his brother managed the U.S. Senate restaurant. In 1871 Murray acquired a job as a personal assistant to the librarian of Congress, Ainsworth R. Spofford. Under Spofford's tutelage Murray gathered invaluable research skills and learned several languages. In 1879 he married Anna Evans, an Oberlin College graduate whose uncle and cousin had taken part in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Two years later, in 1881, he advanced to assistant librarian of the Library of Congress, a position he would hold until his retirement in 1923.
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.
Sarah Elisabeth Goode was one of the first African-American women to obtain a patent from the United States government in 1885. She shares the distinction with Judy Reed, who invented a dough-kneading machine that was patented in 1880, and Miriam Benjamin, who received a patent in 1888 for a hotel chair that signaled the service of a waiter.
Little has been confirmed of Goode’s early life, but it is believed that in 1860, at age five, she was living as Sarah Jacobs, a free inhabitant of Toledo, Ohio. By 1870, she had moved to Chicago, Illinois and by 1880 was married to Archibald Goode, a carpenter/stair builder. The couple had children, but the exact number is unknown.
On July 14, 1885, Sarah Goode was granted patent number 322,177 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a folding cabinet bed. The bed was designed to make maximum efficient use of small spaces where surface area was limited. Known today as the “hide-away bed,” Goode’s invention had hinged sections that were easily raised or lowered. When not functioning as a bed, the invention could easily be used as a desk because there were small compartments for storing supplies. This was ideal for urban apartments of Chicago where living space was shared and limited.
The fiery-militant David Walker was born on September 28, 1785, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His father was an enslaved African who died a few months before his son’s birth, and his mother was a free woman of African ancestry. Walker grew up to despise the system of slavery that the U.S. government allowed in America. He knew the cruelties of slavery were not for him and said, “As true as God reigns, I will be avenged for the sorrow which my people have suffered.” He eventually moved to Boston during the 1820s and became very active within the free black community. Walker’s intense hatred for slavery culminated in him publishing his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in September 1829. The Appeal was smuggled into the southern states, and was considered subversive, seditious, and incendiary by most white men in both northern and southern states. It was, without a doubt, one of the most controversial documents published in the antebellum period.
Walker was concerned about many social issues affecting free and enslaved Africans in America during the time. He also expressed many beliefs that would become commonly promoted by later black nationalists such as: unified struggle for resistance of oppression (slavery), land reparations, self-government for people of African descent in America, racial pride, and a critique of American capitalism. His radical views prompted southern planters to offer a $3000 bounty for anyone who killed Walker and $10,000 reward for anyone who returned him alive back to the South. Walker was found dead in the doorway of his Boston home in 1830. Some people believed he was poisoned and others believed that he died of tuberculosis.
Dr. Jane McAllister was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on October 24, 1899. Born into a time of overt racism that severely limited black opportunity, McAllister’s family managed to escape poverty’s grip and join the small percentage of middle-class African American families in early 20th century Mississippi. Her father’s work as a mail carrier, and her mother’s position as a school teacher, enabled the McAllister family to avoid the cyclic economic problems of the occupations that most African Americans were forced to pursue like sharecropping and domestic service.
Dr. McAllister flourished in school, graduating from high school at age 15 and from Talladega College in Alabama in 1919 where she became the youngest Talladega graduate by earning her degree at the age of 19. This groundbreaking pattern continued into 1929 when Jane Ellen McAllister became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University. From there, Dr. McAllister chose to share her wealth of knowledge with others, teaching psychology and education at Southern University, Grambling State, Fisk College, Virginia State and Dillard among others until her retirement in 1970. Dr. McAllister died in January 1996, at the age of 96.
Wellington Webb was born in Chicago in 1941. He came to Denver at a very early age and before entering politics he was a forklift operator. Webb’s public service career began in 1972 when he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. In 1977, he was selected by President James Carter to serve as regional director of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Then in 1981, Colorado Governor Richard Lamm appointed Webb to his cabinet as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. In 1987, he was elected as the Denver City Auditor.
In 1991, Webb became the first African American mayor of Denver. He won reelection twice, serving a total of twelve years. During his tenure he named the first Hispanic police chief, the first African American fire chief and the first Hispanic Clerk and Recorder. He also oversaw the construction of Denver International Airport and ensured that many of its concessions would be operated b women and minority entrepreneurs. Mayor Webb hosted nearly 200,000 people from around the world to celebrate World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II on August 11-15, 1993, and in 1997 welcomed President Clinton and eight world leaders at the Denver Summit of the Eight, the annual economic summit.
Robert Russa Moton was born on the William Vaughan Plantation in 1867 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Moton attended the local freedman’s school and eventually went on to college at the Hampton Institute (now called Hampton University).
At Hampton Institute Moton distinguished himself academically and after graduation was appointed the school’s Commandant in charge of military discipline, a post he held for 25 years. Moton also became a Hampton fundraiser, traveling north to lecture on the school’s programs.
In 1915, Moton left the Hampton Institute to accept a post as Tuskegee Institute as its second president after the death of founder Booker T. Washington. Soon after his arrival Moton began to expand the Institute’s academic programs, adding a new department to educate future black school teachers. He also initiated the construction of what would become the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital which would treat African American World War I veterans. Despite local white opposition, Moton insisted that the federal hospital be staffed by black doctors, nurses, and administrators.
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.
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).
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.
Born August 9, 1884 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Daisy Lampkin became one of the most highly acclaimed African American women of her time. While Lampkin is best known for becoming the first women to be elected to the national board of the NAACP, she spent much of her life rallying for racial and gender equality.
Lampkin’s social and political activism began shortly after graduating from high school. After migrating to Pittsburgh, Lampkin worked as a motivational speaker for housewives and organized women into consumer protest groups. In addition, as an active member of the Lucy Stone Women’s Suffrage League and the National Suffrage League, Lampkin rallied for women’s right to vote. Understanding the challenges specific to African American women, she also became involved with the National Association for Colored Women (NACW), and was later named national organizer and chair of the executive board.
Due to Lampkins exceptional activism for African Americans, she was profiled in the Pittsburgh Courier in December of 1912. In response, Lampkin became a strong advocate of the Courier and even received a cash prize in 1913 for selling the most subscriptions. After several years of investing time and money to this newspaper, Lampkin was elected vice-president of the Courier Publishing Company in 1929.
Ella Sheppard, soprano, pianist and reformer, was the matriarch of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a social reformer, confidante of Frederick Douglass, and one of the most distinguished African American women of her generation. Sheppard was born a slave in 1851 on Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage plantation. A biracial relation of Jackson’s family, her father Simon Sheppard had purchased his freedom by hiring himself out as a Nashville, Tennessee liveryman and hack driver. When Sheppard was a little girl, her slave mother Sarah threatened to drown Ella and herself if their owners refused to permit her Simon to purchase Ella’s freedom. But an elderly slave prevented her, predicting that “the Lord would have need of that child.” Her owners refused to release Sarah, but allowed Ella to go with her father, who soon remarried and, fearful he and his daughter might be reenslaved, fled penniless to Cincinnati, Ohio.
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).
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.
Filmmaker Julie Dash was born on October 22, 1952 in Queens, New York. She received her B.A. in film production from City College of New York in 1974 and went on to earn a two-year fellowship to the Center for Advanced Film Studies at the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles. At AFI, Dash studied under filmmaker Jan Kadar and produced Four Women, an experimental dance film that received the 1978 Gold Medal for Women in Film award at the Miami International Film Festival. Dash continued her graduate studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, where in 1977 she directed Diary of an African Nun, an adaptation of a short story by Alice Walker. In 1985, she earned her M.F.A. in Film & Television production at UCLA.
In 1981, the Guggenheim Foundation awarded Dash a grant to research Gullah culture in the Sea Island communities of South Carolina and Georgia. Part of her research was included in her 1991 independent film, Daughters of the Dust. The groundbreaking Pan-African themed and female-centered film depicts a group of Gullah women celebrating their African ancestry. Daughters of the Dust was the first nationally released feature-length film by an African-American woman and it won the best cinematography category at the Sundance Film Festival. The Library of Congress placed the film on its National Film Registry, joining a distinguished group of films preserved as national treasures.
Walter Mosley, a prominent African American novelist who specializes in criminal mystery fiction, was born on January 15, 1952 in Los Angeles to Ella and Leroy Mosley. Mosley was born in Watts but grew up from age 12 in relatively affluent West Los Angeles. Mosley's mother was a Polish Jewish American personnel clerk and his father was an African American custodian at a public school. Mosley's father was among the first to encourage him to pursue a writing career.
In his late teens and early twenties, Mosley went through a long-haired "hippie" stage where he traveled from Santa Cruz, California to Europe and back. Soon after this phase, he attended two colleges in Vermont, graduating from the second one, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, with a Political Science degree in 1979. He entered a doctoral program in political theory but instead turned to computer programming as a career.
In 1981 Mosley moved to New York City where he began to work for Mobile Oil. He also began taking courses at City College in Harlem where his instructor, Edna O'Brien, further influenced him to pursue a career in literature. The same year he met Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer. They married in 1987 but divorced in 2001.
Teacher, author, clergyman, and civil rights leader, Thomas McCants Stewart was born in Charleston on December 28, 1853, to George Gilchrist and Anna Morris Stewart. Young Stewart attended the Avery Normal Institute before enrolling in Howard University in 1869. Although only fifteen when he arrived on Howard’s campus, Stewart, nonetheless, distinguished himself as a student and contributed occasional articles to the Washington New National Era, an African American newspaper.
Yet Stewart grew increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of instruction at Howard and became one of the first black students to enroll in the University of South Carolina at Columbia in 1874. In December 1875, Stewart graduated with Bachelor of Arts and L.L.B. degrees.
After graduation, Stewart married Charlotte Pearl Harris and taught mathematics at the State Agricultural and Mechanical College in Orangeburg between 1877 and 1878. He also he joined the law firm of South Carolina Congressman Robert Brown Elliott. In 1877 Stewart became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and three years later was appointed pastor of the Bethel AME Church in New York in 1880.
Corrine Brown, now in her eighth term in office, is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives. She represents Florida’s Third Congressional District which includes Jacksonville and the surrounding area. Brown was born on November 11, 1946 in Jacksonville, Florida and grew up there. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University and an M.A. from the University of Florida in 1971. Before entering Congress, Brown owned a travel agency, taught at several Florida colleges, and worked as a counselor at Florida
Community College (1977-1992).
In 1983 Brown was elected to the Florida State House of Representatives. She held this position until 1992, when she ran and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Robert Wood is believed to be one of the first African American mayors in the United States. He served as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in the early 1870s. Wood was born in 1844 to Susie Harris, an African American housekeeper, and Dr. Robert Wood, a white doctor from Virginia. His parents never married, but lived side by side. According to oral histories, Wood was never a slave and lived mostly with his father, a former mayor of Natchez himself.
Mississippi Governor James L. Alcorn appointed Robert Wood as mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in 1869. He later was elected mayor in 1870. His election was part of the “Black and Tan Revolution,” a short-lived political shift in Mississippi in which citizens of Mississippi elected many African Americans to state offices between 1868 and 1875. At its peak in 1873, half of Mississippi's state elected officials were black.
David Duncan Collum, Black and Catholic in the Jim Crow South: The
Stuff that Makes Community. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2006);
Mike Brunker, “Race, Politics and the Evolving South: A Black Mayor,
130 Years Later” MSNBC.com. Aug. 17, 2004.
By high school Gibson had overcome most of his childhood illnesses and become a multisport athlete at Omaha Technical High School. By his senior year, however, he concentrated on baseball, and in 1952 the Kansas City (Missouri) Monarchs attempted to sign the seventeen year old. When he graduated one year later the St. Louis Cardinals attempted to sign him to a minor league contract. He declined, opting to attend Creighton University in Omaha which extended him a scholarship to play basketball. He would become Creighton’s first African American athlete to play both varsity basketball and baseball.
Lemuel Haynes was born on July 18, 1753 in the home of his mother’s employer, John Haynes of Hartford, Connecticut. His father, an enslaved African, and his mother, a Scottish immigrant servant, abandoned him at birth. Fired after giving birth to him, his mother refused to speak to him when their paths later crossed. John Haynes indentured the unwanted infant at the age of five months to the family of Deacon David Rose in the farming community of Granville, Massachusetts, where Lemuel remained until the age of twenty-one. As a child he absorbed strong Calvinist theology and occasionally was permitted to attend local schools.
In 1783, after fighting for several years in the American Revolution, Haynes married a white schoolteacher who proposed to him and over the next decades raised a family of ten children with her. He accepted a pulpit in a predominantly white Congregational Church in the west parish of Rutland, Vermont in 1788. Although Haynes felt that the color of his skin prevented his full acceptance in the white community, he served the Rutland congregation for thirty years. His power to inspire revivals helped the church to grow enormously. In 1818, however, he was dismissed from his Rutland parish due to his Federalist politics and criticism of Republicans’ policies in the War of 1812. Haynes went on to serve for three years at a congregation in Manchester, Vermont. Throughout his life he combined evangelical Calvinist fervor with staunch opposition to slavery and oppression. One of the first African Americans to be ordained and to publish, Haynes authored many eloquent sermons advocating interracial benevolence, liberty, natural rights, and justice.
Alvin Poussaint was born in East Harlem in New York City on May 15, 1934. After graduating from Stuyvesant High School he received a Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1956 and an M.D. from Cornell University in 1960. Poussaint completed his postgraduate training at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Neuropsychiatric Institute, where he served as the chief resident in psychology from 1964 to 1965. Between 1965 and 1967 Poussaint was the southern field director of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in Jackson, Mississippi. With this organization Poussaint provided health care to civil rights workers and also worked on the desegregation of health care facilities throughout the South. After leaving Mississippi he became an assistant professor at Tufts University Medical School. Here he was the director of a psychiatry program in a low-income housing development. Dr. Poussaint began teaching and researching at Harvard Medical School in 1969.
Dr. Poussaint’s research interests include studies on the nature of grief, self-esteem, parenting, violence and the social adaptation of children of interracial marriages. His first book, Why Blacks Kill Blacks (1972) explores the effects of White racism on Black psychological development. He has also co-authored two other books, Raising Black Children and Lay My Burden Down, as well as numerous articles in professional journals.
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.
Etta Moten, a multifaceted pioneer in the world of entertainment, was born in Weimar, Texas in 1901. She was raised as the only child of her parents, Freeman Moten, a Methodist minister, and his wife Ida Mae Norman. In 1915, Rev. Moten moved to Kansas City where Etta Moten began singing in church choirs.
Moten married one of her school teachers at the age of 17 and had three children. She divorced her husband in 1924 and asked her parents to care for her children while she went on to attend the University of Kansas to study voice and drama. While at the University of Kansas, Moten briefly joined the Eva Jessy Choir in New York before her ambitions lead her to Hollywood where she immediately embarked upon a film career that enabled her to parlay her vocal and dramatic skills in a dignified manner.
Moten made her film debut as a widow (who sang the song My Forgotten Man) in the 1933 movie The Gold Diggers. The same year, she appeared in her sophomore and final film entitled Flying Down to Rio in which her moving vocal performance of The Carioca received positive reviews. Although she did not receive billing for subsequent film roles, Moten was one of the first singers to be employed as a dub for the voices of several other leading actresses, including Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers.
Joy B. Kinnon, “Etta at 100: Etta Moten Barnett, Pioneer Actress,
Singer and Activist Celebrates Centennial,” Ebony (December 2001); Joy
B. Kinnon, “A Diva for All Times,” Ebony (March 2004); Anonymous, "KU
Fine Arts Dean Connects with Alumna Etta Moten Barnett," Collage 2:1
(Spring 2000); Stephen Bourne, “Etta Moten: Actress Who Broke the
Stereotype for Black Women in Hollywood,” The Independent (London),
January 7, 2004.
Robert Louis Johnson, founder, chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment Television (BET), is also the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the first African American billionaire. He was born in Hickory, Mississippi in 1946 as the ninth of 10 children. After his family relocated to Freeport, Illinois, Johnson earned a Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Illinois in 1968. He also received a Masters in Public Administration from Princeton University in 1972.
Johnson then moved to Washington D.C. where he worked for both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Urban League. In 1976, Johnson became the vice president of governmental relations for the National Cable Television Association (NCTA), an organization comprised of various cable television companies.
Johnson’s work with NCTA inspired him to develop television programming that was dedicated to African American viewers who at that time were unrecognized as a target audience group. He initially borrowed $15,000 from the president of the NCTA, Tom Wheeler, to fund his plan of gaining a black viewership in television. Later, he persuaded John Malone, the president of Telecommunications, Inc., to invest $500,000 in the project.
Elma Lewis is an influential educator and advocate for the arts. Born in 1921 in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of immigrant parents from the West Indies. Lewis, a product of the Boston public school system, earned a Bachelors of Arts from Emerson College in 1943 while working as an actress. She continued her schooling, earning a Master’s in Education in 1944 from Boston University.
After teaching dance and drama for a few years, Lewis opened the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in 1950 in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. Originally housed out of an apartment, the school quickly grew and expanded. Lewis formed a friendship with Eli Goldston and was able to have the old Hebrew Academy and Synagogue building in Roxbury appraised at 1.4 million and then donated to become the site of the Elma Lewis School.
Broadway performer and film actress, Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1924 to Gladys Hightower and Marshall Edward Wallace. Her mother was a domestic and her father worked as a cook, waiter, and porter. After her mother left the family, Dee's father married Emma Amelia Benson, a schoolteacher.
Desperate for better job opportunities, the family moved to New York City, New York, and settled in Harlem. Determined not to allow their children fall victim to drugs, crime, and other vices of urban life, the parents introduced Dee and her siblings to the arts, including music and literature. Young Ruby became a passionate student of poetry and as a teenager began submitting poetry to The Amsterdam News.
Ruby Wallace attended the academically rigorous Hunter High School and while there decided to pursue an acting career. After graduating from Hunter High in 1940, she enrolled in Hunter College, graduating with a degree in French and Spanish in 1944. While at Hunter College, she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and married blues singer Frankie Dee. The couple soon divorced but Dee kept the last name and made it her career name.
Edward Alexander Bouchet was born on September 15, 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut to William Francis and Susan Cooley Bouchet. Edward attended the segregated primary school in New Haven and later finished his secondary education at Hopkins Grammar School in 1870. An outstanding student, Edward’s academic accomplishments included serving as the valedictorian of his high school class.
The Bouchet family was quite prominent in New Haven’s small African American community. In addition to holding the position of deacon in the church, William Francis Bouchet was also employed at Yale College as a janitor and Susan did the laundry of Yale students. Well aware of Edward’s talent and scholarly ability, William and Susan had hoped their son would one day join the ranks of the Yale College student body. The fulfillment of this aspiration would be no small feat given the fact that no African American had ever attended Yale.
Born in Cape May, New Jersey, the early years of Jarena Lee were spent working as a domestic servant. In her twenties, she was converted, sanctified, and received a call to preach. When her request for approval to preach was rebuffed by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she married an AME minister. His death within a few years of the marriage left Lee a widow with two young children. In order to support her family she renewed her request to the Rev. Richard Allen, the Bishop of the African Methodist Church who then granted her official church approval to preach.
Lee’s evangelistic meetings took place in her home city of Philadelphia and also throughout New England, Canada and west into Ohio. She recounted her meetings in her autobiography, the first to be published in the United States by an African American woman. In that autobiography, Lee frequently mentions the denominational and racial composition of her audience, which, in both cases, was quite inclusive. Between 1849 and 1857, there is no recorded history about her. The last known event in her life was a visit she made to the home of Rebecca Cox Jackson, a Shaker leader, on New Year’s Day in 1857. After that occasion, at the age of 73, nothing is known about her life or death.
Although little remembered today, Leidesdorff was a social, economic and political force in pre-gold rush San Francisco, with a number of “firsts” credited to his name. When he was named the U.S. Vice Consul to Mexico in 1845, he became the nation’s first African American diplomat. He was elected to San Francisco’s first city council and its first school board in 1847. He built the first hotel, the first shipping warehouse, he operated the first steamboat on San Francisco Bay, and he laid out the first horse race track in California.
Born on the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies in 1810, William was the son of Danish sugar planter Alexander Leidesdorff and Anna Marie Sparks, a light-skinned woman of mixed race ancestry. In 1841 Leidesdorff sailed his 106-ton schooner Julia Ann around Cape Horn to California and settled in the Mexican village of Yerba Buena on San Francisco Bay. Over the next three years he became a successful merchant by making frequent trips between California, Mexico and Hawaii. In 1844 governor Micheltorena confirmed his land grant of 35,000 acres on the American River. Ranch Rio de Los Americanos was located near the spot where James Marshall discovered gold in January 1848. When Leidesdorff died unexpectedly in May 1848 he was given the honor of being buried inside Mission Dolores Church, where his gravestone may still be seen today.
William J. Powell was born in Kentucky on July 27, 1897. His family soon moved to Chicago where he attended school. In 1914 at the age of 17 Powell was accepted into the University of Illinois Engineering program. His studies were put on a temporary hiatus when World War I broke out and Powell left school to serve in the racially segregated 370th Illinois Infantry Regiment as a lieutenant.
After surviving a poison gas attack while in serving in France, Powell moved back to Illinois to finish his degree and to recuperate from the damage done to his health. Although he did complete his degree, his health was never the same and the gas attack most likely contributed to his early death.
William Powell was fascinated by flight and the idea of becoming a pilot so he began to apply to flight schools in the area. He was rejected by all area flight schools and the Army Air Corps because of his race, but he persevered and in 1928 was accepted at the Los Angeles School of Flight. In four years he was licensed not only as a pilot, but as a navigator and an aeronautical engineer. He soon gained prominence in the Los Angeles aviation community.
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.
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.
Jim Perry was an African American cowboy and top hand, the highest-ranked cowboy, on the three million-acre XIT Ranch near Dalhart, Texas. Perry established himself as an expert roper, rider, bronc buster, cook and musician.
Perry was born on February 2, 1858, in Texas. Very little is known about his early life. Since his teens in the 1870s he worked for the Horse Shoe T Cross Ranch before joining the XIT, which was up and running by 1885. Perry helped string over seven hundred miles of barbed wire fencing along the entire XIT Ranch property by 1887 making it the largest fenced ranch in the world.
Jim Perry was regarded as such an accomplished steer roper. In his later years Perry was revered for his culinary skills as a ranch house and chuck wagon cook for the XIT. He was also quite renowned as a top fiddler, which added to his likeability for he was loved and revered by his peers.
Perry remained a loyal employee of the XIT Ranch for two decades despite the fact that his race precluded him from becoming of one of the ranch’s foremen, a position for which he was well qualified. On September 29, 1908 he married Emma Beaseley. The couple had no children. In 1918 Jim Perry died in Oldham County, Texas from a brain tumor.
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.
James Arthur Baldwin, fiction writer, essayist, dramatist, and poet, was born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1942, he began his formal career as a writer. Baldwin was inspired by Richard Wright, despite his being called to the ministry at age fourteen in the Pentecostal faith and church dominated by his father, David Baldwin.
Although James Baldwin emerged as a major American literary voice by 1953 when he published his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, his candid and militant essays found in Nobody Knows my Name (1961) and The Fire Next Time (1963) identified his writing with the emerging Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Baldwin stood with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, when the civil rights leader delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
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).
Rufus Burrow, Jr., James H. Cone and Black Liberation Theology
(Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co, 1994); Dwight N. Hopkins, Black
Faith and Public Talk: Critical Essays on James H. Cone's Black
Theology and Black Power (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999); Harry H.
Singleton, Black Theology and Ideology: Deideological Dimensions in the
Theology of James H. Cone (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2002).
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.
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,
Milton Crenchaw is the only living civilian flight instructor (of the first class) for the Tuskegee Airmen. He was the first Arkansas African American to be called a Tuskegee Airman.
Milton Pitts Crenchaw was born on January 13, 1919 in Little Rock, Arkansas to Ethel Pitts Crenchaw, a beautician, and Reverend Joseph C. Crenchaw. Milton Crenchaw studied auto mechanics at Dunbar Junior College and in 1939 enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Tuskegee Institute. He was in the school’s pilot training program and did not continue his studies after earning his pilot’s license.
He learned to fly at Gunter Airfield (now Maxwell Air Force Base) near Montgomery, Alabama. In 1940 pioneering African-American aviator Charles A. Anderson persuaded Crenchaw to become a flight instructor for the newly formed Tuskegee Airmen. He served in that capacity from 1941 until 1946, training hundreds of African American cadets and pilots at various airfields around Tuskegee Institute.
Robert A. Rose, D.D.S., Lonely Eagles (California: Tuskegee Airmen Incorporated, Los Angeles Chapter, 1976); Charles Dryden, A-Train: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1997); http://www.lwfaam.net/ww2/aaf_66th_ftd/66th.htm; http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4925; http://www.cmrousefund.org/milton-pitts-crenchaw.html; http://earlyaviators.com/eanderso.htm; http://www.central.aero/about-us/
Victor O. Frazer, attorney and politician, was born May 24, 1943 in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to Albert Frazer and Amanda Blyden. He graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1960. In 1964, he earned a B.A. degree from Fisk University. In 1971, he received his J.D. from Howard University Law School and subsequently was admitted to legal bars of New York, Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virgin Islands.
In 1974 Frazer began his law career in Washington, D.C. at the Office of the Corporation Counsel (later known as the Office of the Attorney General of D.C.). He later served as a lawyer for the Interstate Commerce Commission and the U.S. Patent Office.
In 1987 he served as general counsel for the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority. Frazer’s congressional interest developed while working as an administrative assistant for California Representative Mervyn Dymally and as a special assistant for Michigan Representative John Conyers.
Kenneth Frazier was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Otis and Clara Frazier on December 17, 1954. Along with his three siblings, Frazier was raised by his father after his mother passed when he was 12 years old. His father, Otis, migrated to Pennsylvania at age 14. With the equivalent of a third grade education, Otis Frazier worked most of his life as a custodian for the U.S. Parcel Service.
Kenneth Frazier graduated from high school at age 15. He hoped to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point. Denied entry due to his young age, he instead entered the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1975. Immediately afterward he enrolled in Harvard Law School where he graduated with his Juris Doctorate degree in 1978.
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.
Claudia McNeil is best remembered for her laudatory performance as the matriarch in the stage and screen versions of Lorraine Hansberry’s widely-acclaimed play A Raisin in the Sun (1961). McNeil was born in 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland to Marvin Spencer McNeil and Annie Mae Anderson McNeil. She was adopted by a Jewish family, named the Toppers, in her teenage years and briefly married by the age of 18. McNeil then worked as a registered librarian before the inception of her entertainment career.
McNeil first performed as a dancer with the Katherine Dunham troupe during the tour of South America in 1951. She later performed as a nightclub and vaudeville singer before making her acting debut in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953); and later performed in Langston Hughes’s Simply Heavenly (1957), for which she received a Tony nomination. In 1965, she appeared in James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, for which she garnered the London Critics Poll Award for best actress.
Hazel Garland, “Claudia McNeil Claim’s Star’s Life Isn’t Easy,”
Pittsburgh Courier, March 17, 1962; Edward Mapp, ed., Directory of
Blacks in the Performing Arts (Meluchan, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press,
1978); Eric Pace, The New York Times Biographical Service, November 29,
Jere L. Jackson, "James Leonard Farmer" http://www.cets.sfasu.edu/Harrison/Farmer/farmhome.htm; "Texas State Historical Marker" http://www.cets.sfasu.edu/harrison/farmer/marker.htm; James Farmer (Jr.), Lay Bare The Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor House, 1985).
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.
Self-trained historian, novelist, and journalist Joel Augustus Rogers spent most of his life debunking pseudo-scientific and racist depictions of people of African ancestry while popularizing the history of persons of black people around the world. Rogers was born September 6, 1883 in Negril, Jamaica. He and his siblings were raised, after their mother passed, by their schoolteacher father, Samuel John Rogers. Rogers emigrated to the United States in 1906 and Joel Rogers became a naturalized citizen in 1917. Rogers lived briefly in Chicago before eventually settling in New York City.