Wes Montgomery was a jazz guitarist whose natural genius and distinctive sound earned him recognition as one of the most important jazz musicians of the 20th century. Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana into a musically inclined family. Although he was given his first instrument as a child, Montgomery’s interest in guitar would not be ignited until he was 19 years old and married. After first hearing records from swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, he bought an affordable guitar and amplifier and taught himself how to play. Partly in order to lower the volume for neighbors and because he found it awkward to use a pick, he soon adopted his own style of using his right thumb to pluck the strings. Although somewhat unconventional, the softer and deeper tone it produced still serves as one of his trademarks.
Haile Gebre Selassie is regarded by many observers as the greatest Ethiopian long-distance runner of all time. He was born in the province of Arsi in central Ethiopia and was inspired by runners Abebe Bikila and Miruts Yifter. As a child he was said to have run 20 kilometers every day going to and from school. At age 16, without any formal training, he entered the Addis Ababa marathon and finished in 2:42.
Selassie rose to international prominence in 1992 when he won the 5K and 10K world junior championships. In 1993, at the Stuttgart (Germany) world championships, he won gold in the 10K and silver in the 5K competition. Haile set his first world record in 1994 by breaking the six-year-old world record of Said Aouita.
Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007).
During his rookie season, a Knicks official nicknamed Frazier, “Clyde” after the infamous 1930s bank robber Clyde Barrow. The name stuck as Frazier personified African American pride and culture in the early 1970s. His stylish dress and his cool demeanor on and off the court resembled some of the popular characters in Blaxploitation movies of the era such as John Shaft in Shaft and Priest in Superfly.
As a Knick, Frazier played in seven NBA All-Star Games and named to four All-NBA First Teams and seven NBA All-Defensive First Teams. While with the Knicks, Frazier also set team highs for points scored, games played, and assists. He led the team to its only NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.
Lloyd Ferguson, the first African American to receive a Ph.D in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, was born February 9, 1918 in Oakland, California. Growing up in Oakland, Ferguson was always passionate about school, particularly science. In the eighth grade, he brought a chemistry set which allowed him to do experiments and create substances such as gunpowder. Raised by his parents and grandparents, Ferguson was forced to get a job while in high school because his father lost his job during the Great Depression. At first Ferguson became a paper boy and then after high school he worked as a laborer for the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) to save money for college.
Ferguson attended the University of California, Berkeley earning a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1940 and a Ph.D in chemistry in 1943. One of his main contributions at Berkeley was developing a compound that could lose and gain oxygen rapidly. This compound was a type hemoglobin and was later used as a source of oxygen for submarines. He later went on to study the sense of taste through chemistry.
Gabrielle S. Morris, Head of the Class: An Oral history of
African-American Achievement in Higher Education and Beyond (New York,
Twayne Publishers, 1995);
Rector was born to Joseph and Rose Rector on March 3, 1902, in a two-room cabin near Twine, Oklahoma on Muscogee Creek Indian allotment land. Both Joseph and Rose had enslaved Creek ancestry, and both of their fathers fought with the Union Army during the Civil War. When Oklahoma statehood became imminent in 1907, the Dawes Allotment Act divided Creek lands among the Creeks and their former slaves with a termination date of 1906. Rector’s parents, Sarah Rector herself, her brother, Joe, Jr., and sister Rebecca all received land. Lands granted to former slaves were usually the rocky lands of poorer agricultural quality. Rector’s allotment of 160 acres was valued at $556.50.
Samuel Decalo, Psychosis of Power: African Personal Dictatorships (London: Westview Press, 1989); Thomas and Margaret Melady, Idi Amin Dada: Hitler in Africa (Kansas City: Universal Press Syndicate, 1977); David Martin, General Amin (London: Faber and Faber, 1974).
Shirley Verrett was a distinguished mezzo-soprano and soprano opera singer. Born in New Orleans on May 31, 1931, one of five children to strict Seventh Day Adventists, her father was a successful building contractor. She came from a musical family, her mother often sang in the house and her father occasionally worked as a choir director. Her parents encouraged her talent, but they disapproved of opera and hoped that she would pursue other interests. The family moved to Los Angeles where Verrett grew up.
Verrett was passionate about music but after high school, with her father’s support, she became a real estate agent. After selling houses for few years, Verrett realized that her life could only be fulfilled by pursuing singing. With help from her vocal instructor, she appeared on Arthur Godfrey’s program Talent Scouts in 1955. From this appearance she was awarded a scholarship at The Julliard School, where she studied for five years with Anna Fitziu and Marion Szekely Freschl. Verrett made her operatic debut in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia in 1957. The following year she made her New York City Opera debut as Irina in Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Her European debut came in 1959 when she performed in Nabokov’s Rasputin’s Tod in Cologne, Germany.
After graduating from high school in 1963 he served four years in the United States Army, and was honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant. Daniels returned to Des Moines and received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology from Drake University in 1971. Daniels also obtained his Master of Science Degree in Health Science from the same institution in 1972.
Raised in the liberation theology tradition, Pinckney seamlessly intersected his faith with civil rights activism and public policy. Born on July 30, 1973, in Beaufort, South Carolina to John and Theopia (Stevenson) Pinckney, young Pinckney in 1987 followed in the path of his great-grandfather, Rev. Lorenzo Stevenson, and uncle, Rev. Levern Stevenson, and began apprentice preaching in St. John AME Church in Ridgeland, South Carolina. Four years later during his freshman year at the AME-run Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, Pinckney became a preacher and freshman class president. He also gained valuable exposure to the South Carolina legislature as a page at the Statehouse. By Pinckney’s junior year, these experiences set the foundation for his becoming the palmetto state’s emerging star in electoral politics. While at Allen University Pinckney joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Wesley Brown earned distinction in 1949 as the first African American to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. Wesley Brown grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended Dunbar High School. A “voracious reader,” Brown joined the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to study his history and heritage. At Dunbar, Brown was a member of the Cadet Corps and worked evenings as a youth mailman at the Navy Department. Brown was nominated by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a New York Congressman, for appointment into the Naval Academy and was accepted.
Wesley Brown began classes in 1945 and voluntarily decided to room alone. “I wasn’t sure I wanted them to share my burden,” he said. He faced racism in the first year, picking up 140 out of a possible 150 demerits, but as his education continued found that many were “supportive and protective” of him.
The life of the Revered C.T. Vivian is practically the story of the modern black freedom struggle. Vivian actively participated in the Nashville desegregation movement, Freedom Rides, Birmingham, Selma, Chicago, and other chapters of the fight for equal rights.
Born Boonville, Missouri on July 28, 1924, Vivian moved with his mother to Macomb in rural west-central Illinois a few years later. Vivian spent his formative years there, in a tiny black community, graduating from high school in 1942. He soon enrolled at Western Illinois University, also in Macomb, though he moved to Peoria before finishing his degree.
In 1947 Vivian participated in his first civil rights protest, successfully desegregating Peoria’s lunch counters. Also while in Peoria, Vivian met and married Octavia Geans of Pontiac, Michigan. They are still married and had six children together; Vivian also has a child from an earlier relationship.
Harry Clay Smith was a newspaper editor and politician, born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on January 28, 1863. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio at an early age and stayed in the area for the remainder of his life. After graduating from Cleveland’s Central High School in 1882, he established the Cleveland Gazette, and became the publisher and editor of the newspaper for nearly sixty years. The Gazette was a popular eight-page weekly that published local black activities and events in the greater Cleveland area, as well as many other cities in Ohio. Readership was at a steady 10,000 before World War I and circulated within the state of Ohio and parts of the Midwest.
Smith used the Cleveland Gazette to promote civil rights issues and engage in politics. Smith lobbied the state government of Ohio to do more to preserve the civil rights of African Americans. Using the Gazette as a medium to communicate to the masses, Smith attacked segregation and racial discrimination. He advocated three strategies to challenge racial discrimination: political pressure, legal action and boycotts. He was in particular, an ardent supporter of the campaign to desegregate Ohio schools in 1887.
Educator Ruth Braswell Jones was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina on November 21, 1914, the seventh daughter, of William and Arkaanna (Sanders) Braswell. Her education includes a diploma with distinction from Brick Junior College, Brick, North Carolina, in 1933 and a B.S. degree in Education with distinction from Elizabeth City State Teachers College, Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in 1948. North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina, awarded her the M.S. degree in Education in 1960.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Professional basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has played for the Los Angeles (California) Lakers since 1996 when he came to the team as an 18-year-old, the youngest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history. Bryant is a long-time philanthropist, using his well-known name to fundraise for a number of causes. His stellar career was tarnished in 2003 when he was arrested for alleged sexual assault, resulting in a suit that was settled out of court a year later.
Bryant is the youngest of three children born on August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to former National Basketball Association player and Women’s National Basketball Association head coach Joe “Jellybean” Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant. His parents named him after the popular Japanese steak of the same name. In 1983, Bryant’s father left the NBA and moved his family to Italy to play professional basketball. Young Kobe quickly adapted to his environment, learning to speak fluent Italian and Spanish. Besides learning to play basketball at an early age, Bryant also became a skilled soccer player. Following his father’s retirement from basketball in 1991, the family returned to Philadelphia.
John Carlos is best known for his black-gloved fist salute on the winner’s podium (with Tommie Smith) at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Carlos was born and raised in Harlem, New York. He was a promising student-athlete in high school who, following graduation, attended East Texas State University (ETSU) on a track and field scholarship. After a year at ETSU, Carlos transferred to San Jose State University (SJS).
Carlos attended SJS during the late 1960s at the time of the “revolt of the Black athlete” which was symbolized by the University canceling its opening day football with University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) on September 18, 1967 due to a boycott of black student athletes. At the time, Carlos was a world-class sprinter and student-member of the SJS United Black Students for Action (UBSA).
As a track and field athlete Carlos was not directly affected by the student boycott of the football game. He continued to successfully compete and was chosen for the American Olympic team that would participate in the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York: the Free Press, 1970); HBO, Fists of Freedom: The Story of the '68 Summer Games (1999); Herbert G. Ruffin II, Uninvited Neighbors: Black Life and the Racial Quest for Freedom in the Santa Clara Valley, 1777-1968 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Dissertation Publishing, 2007); USA Track & Field, Inc (URL: http://www.usatf.org/halloffame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=195).
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 in New York 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.
Born November 9, 1933 in Clinton, Louisiana to a farming family, Henry Beauchamp, Jr., was the youngest of Henry Clay, Sr., and Cornellia Beauchamp’s seven children. Shortly after Henry’s 13th birthday his family moved to Yakima where he received his secondary education. Henry married his long time friend, Wilma Jean Mitchell in 1955 and they were blessed with three children.
Although beginning work as a journeyman brick mason, Henry’s talent to build with brick and mortar soon evolved to building institutions to help people. First seeing the need for a multi-service community center in Yakima, but with no fund raising experience, he nonetheless inspired a group of supporters who raised over $550,000, and the Southeast Yakima Community Center opened in 1971. The center was then the largest anti-poverty community action center in central Washington.
Meeting Dr. Leon Sullivan, founder of the Opportunity Industrialization Centers of America (OIC) was a transformative moment for Beauchamp. With branches around the world, OIC’s mission is to eliminate unemployment, poverty and illiteracy. The 100th OIC center soon opened in Yakima and Beauchamp became its Executive Director. Under his leadership it has evolved to become the largest OIC in America with services provided in eight cities in Washington state.
George Washington Williams was a 19th century American historian most famous for his volumes, History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880; as Negroes, as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens (1882), and A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion (1887).Williams was born in 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania and lived there until 1864, when at the age of 14 and lacking virtually any education he left home to join the Union Army. Engaged by the soldier’s lifestyle, he followed this by fighting in Mexico in the overthrow of Maximilian.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, the fourth president of post-apartheid South Africa, was elected to that post by the nation's parliament after the African National Congress (ANC) swept to victory in the 2009 general election. Zuma was born on April 12, 1942, in Inkandla, South Africa, and is an ethnic Zulu member. Zuma did not attend school and taught himself to read and write while spending his childhood in Zululand and Durban, South Africa.
In 1959, at the age of 17, Zuma joined the ANC, South Africa's largest political party, which at the time was a non-violent party campaigning against apartheid. When the party was banned in 1961, it went underground, and Zuma became a member of the ANC's militant armed resistance wing. He also joined the South African Communist Party in 1963.
Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, Angolan insurgent fighter and longtime leader of The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was born in Munhango, Angola on August 3, 1934 to Helena Mbundu Savimbi and Loth Savimbi. Savimbi’s father was a railway stationmaster and part-time Protestant church worker. The local Catholic missions in then-Portuguese-occupied Angola were often in conflict with Loth Savimbi because of the effectiveness of his evangelizing.
Jonas Savimbi attended Protestant missionary schools where he thrived academically. In 1958, he was granted a scholarship from United Church of Christ to attend university in Lisbon, where he began his involvement in anti-colonial politics. The Portuguese secret police detained Savimbi thrice before he decided on finishing his schooling in Switzerland, first at Fribourg University, then Lausanne University, where in 1965 he completed his coursework with honors in political science and juridical sciences. Having begun his studies in medicine, Savimbi would refer to himself as “Doctor” thereafter.
Actress Theresa Harris once shared with a reporter that her “greatest ambition was to be known someday as a great Negro actress.” Harris was born in 1911 in Houston, Texas to Anthony and Ina Harris. Her father was a construction worker and her mother was a well-known dramatic reader and school teacher. In the late 1920s, her family relocated to Southern California, where Harris graduated from Jefferson High School with scholastic honors and then studied music at the University of Southern California Conservatory of Music and Zoellner’s Conservatory of Music. She briefly pursued a career in theatre, gaining her most acclaimed role as the title character in the Lafayette Player’s musical production of Irene.
Mel Watkins, On the Real Side (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994);
Earl J. Morris, “Wrath of Fans Hits ‘Grapes of Wrath Type of Publicity
on Actress Theresa Harris,” Pittsburgh Courier, January 27, 1940;
Madison Harry, "Madison Harry Digs Out the Story of the Rocky Success
Which Has Led to Theresa Harris' Success,” Pittsburgh Courier, October
Christopher Fyfe, Africanus Horton 1835-1883: West African Scientist and Patriot, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972); James Africanus Beale Horton, Davidson Nicol, ed., Black Nationalism in Africa 1867: Extracts From Political, Educational, Scientific and Medical Writings of Africanus Horton,(New York: Africana Publishing Company, 1969).
In the early 1990s Bertram Oliver Fraser-Reid was being touted as the first person of African descent to have a serious chance at winning the Nobel Prize in a branch of science. In fact, this native of Coleyville, Jamaica, born February 23, 1934, was nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1998. Fraser-Reid was awarded his B.Sc. (first-class honors) and M.Sc. degrees at Queen’s University in Canada in 1959 and his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Alberta in 1964. From 1964 to 1966 he was a postdoctoral fellow at Imperial College, the University of London where he studied under Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Barton. He was a chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo from 1966 to 1980, at the University of Maryland from 1980 to 1982, and from 1985 until his retirement in 1996 he was Professor of Chemistry at Duke University.
In retirement Fraser-Reid founded the non-profit Natural Products/Glycotechnology Research Institute Inc., operating in Pittsboro, North Carolina, dedicated to studying carbohydrate chemistry/biology that relates to tropical parasitic diseases in Third World countries and specifically targeting the development of a carbohydrate-based vaccine to fight malaria. Some of Fraser-Reid’s earlier work focused on transforming sugars into complex noncarbohydrate compounds and linking sugars into biologically active compounds to produce oliogosaccharides which could impact the combating of devastating diseases.
African American philosopher Richard I. McKinney was born on August 8, 1906 in Live Oak, Florida on the college campus of Farmer Institute (later named Florida Memorial College). The son of educators, he graduated from Morehouse College in 1931 with a major in philosophy and religion. Following his graduation from Morehouse, McKinney enrolled at Newton Theological Seminary and he completed his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1934 with a thesis entitled, "The Problem of Evil and its Relation to the Ministry to an Under-privileged Minority." In 1937, he also earned the Masters of Sacred Theology degree at Newton.
McKinney obtained his Ph.D. from Yale in 1942 with a doctoral dissertation on "Religion in Higher Education among Negroes." After Yale, McKinney conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and the Sorbonne in Paris. McKinney’s first academic appointment was at Virginia Union; he was an assistant professor and Director of religious activities. He later assumed the post of Dean of the School of Religion.
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.
Rev. Samuel Johnson was a nineteenth-century Anglican priest and historian of the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. Samuel Johnson is most noted for his manuscript The History of the Yorubas, which was posthumously published in 1921.
Born to Henry and Sarah Johnson, in Hasting, Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1846, Samuel Johnson’s father was originally from the nation of Oyo in what is now southwestern Nigeria. Henry Johnson claimed to be a descendent of Abiodun, the last great king of Oyo. Captured by slavers, he was later liberated by the British Royal Navy and brought to Freetown, Sierra Leone. There he joined other "recaptives" who had grown large enough in number to dominate the politics and culture of the British Colony by the 1850s.
James P. Thomas, a noted African American barber and businessman, was born in 1827 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the mulatto son of a famous antebellum judge, John Catron (one of the justices in the Dred Scott case), and a slave mother, Sally Thomas, who purchased James’s freedom when he was six years old. However, under Tennessee law, he remained a slave as long as he resided in the state. Therefore, he was not legally freed until March 6, 1851.
Lauded for her masterful performance in her only film, Lucia Lynn Moses began her show business career as a chorus girl at New York’s legendary Cotton Club in the early 1920s and went on to perform in the theater. She made her film debut when David Starkman, the Caucasian owner and founder of the Philadelphia-based Colored Player’s Film Corporation (a largely white-owned and operated company that initially had a predominately white clientele but chose to cater to the growing population of African American theater goers rather than relocate) teamed up with black vaudevillian Sherman Dudley to recruit a group of black actors to appear in the company’s silent race films. Because Oscar Micheaux, leader of race films, was also producing all-black cast, silent films with themes examining intra-racial conflict, The Scar of Shame is widely mistaken as being a Micheaux film.
Lucia Lynn Moses was the daughter of Minister W.H. Moses of the New York National Baptist Church. Against her father’s wishes, Lucia and her two sisters Ethel (later a leading lady and sex symbol in Micheaux’s films) and Julia (later a Broadway performer), pursued show business careers and became part of the Cotton Club Girls lineup.
Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies introduction to Scar of Shame,
2004; Anonymous, “Cotton Club Girls,” Ebony, April 1949, Vo. 4, No. 6,
Bret Wood, "The Scar of Shame,"
In the article below Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, a United Kingdom (UK)-based non-profit organisation, describes the composer and how she came to regard and preserve his work and legacy.
It has taken three times the duration of his own lifetime for the reputation of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Britain’s greatest black classical composer, to begin to make an impact on our contemporary world. At the time of his tragically early death in 1912, aged 37 from a chest infection, Coleridge-Taylor was a nationally feted musical figure. His Hiawatha Trilogy of staged opera-cantatas based on the poem by Longfellow were massive commercial successes even though he gained almost nothing from them financially.
Alvin Ailey was born in Rodgers, Texas during the Great Depression. He overcame racism, poverty, and homophobia to become one of the most celebrated choreographers in American history. His single teenage mother Lula Ailey washed clothes, picked cotton, and worked in domestic service in various Texas towns. In Milano, Texas, Ailey attended Mount Olive Baptist Church, spending joy-filled hours that would shape his signature masterpiece, Revelations, 24 years later.
Odessa Brown, for whom the Children’s Clinic in Seattle is named, was born April 30, 1920, in Des Arc, Arkansas. She moved to Seattle in 1963 after receiving training as a licensed beautician at the C. J. Walker Beauty School in Chicago. A mother of four, she supported her family by working as Community Organizer for the Central Area Motivation Program beginning in 1965, and as a beautician. Brown was a staunch supporter of a health care facility for children in the Central Area. She worked tirelessly in this mostly African American neighborhood to make residents aware of the health needs of the area and to express these needs to the planners at Seattle Model Cities, a federally-funded anti-poverty agency.
Odessa Brown was a quiet, private person but when she spoke people listened, particularly when it concerned health care for children. Her efforts persuaded Seattle Model Cities to develop a children’s clinic to serve the city’s Central District. During her campaign for the clinic, few friends or associates were aware of her battle with leukemia which she had fought during her years as a CAMP community organizer. Brown died on October 15, 1969. When the time came to name the children’s clinic after it opened its doors in 1970, there was never a question but that it be named the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.
Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, CT: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Fred Lockley, “The Case of Robin Holmes vs. Nathaniel Ford,” Oregon Historical Quarterly 23:2 (June 1922):111-137; Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland: Georgian Press, 1980).
U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has dedicated over thirty years of her life to local and national politics. Born Maxine Moore Carr in St. Louis, Missouri on August 15, 1938, Waters moved to Los Angeles in 1961. While working in a garment factory and for a local telephone company, she enrolled at California State University, Los Angeles. After earning a B.A. in Sociology in 1966, Waters worked as a teacher and as Coordinator of Head Start Programs in Watts.
Maxine Waters developed a keen interest in Los Angeles politics when she began working for city councilman David Cunningham in the 1970s. Waters ran for California State Assembly in 1976, winning the election and serving seven two-year terms in Sacramento. In 1990 Waters won a seat as Democratic representative of California in the U.S. House of Representatives. As Representative of the 35th district, which encompasses South Central Los Angeles, Playa Del Ray, Inglewood, and several other Los Angeles communities, Waters has spearheaded health care, child care, education, and welfare reform.
Paste over your article text hereGene Upshaw was a Hall of Fame professional football player for the Oakland Raiders and Executive Director of the National Football League (NFL) Players’ Association.
Upshaw was born in Robstown, Texas in 1945 where he picked cotton as a child and played high school football. He later played football at mostly Latino Texas College of Arts and Industries (now Texas A&M University, Kingsville), before being drafted as a guard for the Oakland Raiders in 1967.
Upshaw’s professional football career as a guard with the Oakland Raiders lasted from 1967 until 1981. He was considered one of the best offensive linemen in the history of the sport. During his illustrative career he was voted top lineman in 1977 and runner-up for that honor in 1980. Upshaw was the only player in the NFL history to play in three Super Bowls in three different decades for the same team. In 1987 Upshaw became the first guard to be voted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
In 1983 Upshaw became the first African American to serve as executive director of the NFL players union. Assuming the leadership at a time when the union was in dire financial straits, he rebuilt the organization, led the players through a strike in 1987 and afterwards helped build the NFL into the most prosperous professional sports league in the country.
Evelyn Preer, one of the first African American silent screen actresses to transition into sound Hollywood films, was born on July 21, 1896 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. After her father’s death, Preer and her mother relocated to Chicago, Illinois where she completed high school before pursuing acting.
Preer’s big break came when she landed a role in Oscar Micheaux’s first film, The Homesteader (1919), in which she played a tragically unhappy woman abandoned by her husband for a mulatto woman whom he believed to be white. Impressed with her talent, Micheaux cast Preer in several roles in which she generally played dramatic characters, challenging many of the prevailing black film stereotypes. Preer expanded her acting abilities into the area of theater, frequently alternating between the screen and stage as she became a staple for Micheaux’s dramatic films and an esteemed actress for the Lafayette Players.
Preer met and married stage actor Edward Thompson while traveling with the players and the duo headlined productions for the traveling section of the Lafayette Players throughout the early 1920s. Preer’s impressive theatricality led her to Broadway where she recorded with the legendary musical composer Duke Ellington, performed with Ethel Waters, and won acclaim for her role as Sadie Thompson in the revival of Somerset Maugham’s classic melodrama Rain.
Pearl Bowser, Oscar Micheaux, His Silent Films and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2001); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black. The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Francesca Sr. Thompson, Drop me off in Harlem, http://www.artedge.kennedy-center.org/exploring/harlem/themes/lafayette.html.
In 1935, Charles W. Anderson became the first black legislator in Kentucky and in the South since the Reconstruction. He championed the cause of civil rights in Kentucky including greatly improving the access of African Americans to education during six terms as a legislator.
Anderson was born in 1907 in Louisville, Kentucky to Dr. Charles W. and Tabetha Murphy Anderson. He attended Kentucky State College and Wilberforce University (B.A. 1927) and received a J.D. degree from Howard University in 1931. In 1933 he passed the bar exam and started his own practice in Louisville.
In 1935 Anderson ran as a Republican for the Kentucky House of Representatives and won. He served in the Kentucky Legislature until 1958. One of his most important legislative accomplishments was the Anderson-Mayer State Aid Act which provided $7,500 annually to African American students to attend out of state colleges because Kentucky's segregated college system could not accommodate all the blacks at the one all-black state school, Kentucky State College, in Frankfort. He also passed bills improving public school facilities and legislated for a $100 education and travel fund for each black student who was forced to travel outside of his or her county to attend segregated schools. Combating lynching in Kentucky, Anderson was credited with the repeal of the state’s public hanging law.
John Benjamin Horton, Not Without a Struggle: An Account of the Most Significant Political and Social-Action Changes That Have Occurred in the Lives of Black Kentuckians in the Twentieth Century, (New York: Vantage Press, 1979); http://kchr.ky.gov/gallergreatblack.htm?&pageOrder=0&selectedPic=1; http://www.kyenc.org/entry/a/ANDER01.html;
Author, commentator, speaker, political advisor, and columnist Keith Boykin was born in St. Louis, Missouri on August 28, 1965 but was raised in the suburb of Florissant, Missouri.
Boykin’s parents separated during his childhood, but he enjoyed close relationships with both sides of his family and thrived in his new environment. He excelled in school, participated in student government, and played on several sports teams. At fifteen, Boykin’s mother, a government employee, was transferred to California and he went to live with his father in Florida.
An excellent student, Boykin excelled academically at Dartmouth College where he was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, track team member, and an exchange student at the Universidad de Grenada in Spain. He graduated from Dartmouth with a B.A. degree in 1987.
Through hard work and persistence Jeffrey and his wife Susan achieved a modicum of stability but also suffered profound injustice. Susan had two children from a previous marriage who were forced by powerful white people to work in their households as indentured servants. Around 1802, when neighbors attempted to force the children that Jeffrey and Susan had together into indentured servitude, the family decided to sell their farm and move to northern Vermont.
William J. Seymour was born in Centerville, Louisiana, to former slaves Simon and Phillis Seymour, who raised him in the Baptist church. While living in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was influenced by holiness teachings, and then he moved to Houston, Texas, where he heard Charles Fox Parham’s teaching on Apostolic Faith. The teaching, simply put, combined the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues (glossalalia), such as was experienced in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2. Seymour embraced the teaching, moved to Los Angeles, California, and began preaching in the spring of 1906 in an abandoned church on Azusa Street, which he named the Apostolic Faith Mission. From this place, the Pentecostal movement spread across the globe.
On August 10, 1898, Winkfield rode his first race. Aboard Jockey Joe at Chicago's Hawthorne Racetrack, he raced his horse out of the gate and rode across the path of the three inside horses, in an effort to get to the rail. This aggressive behavior did not go over well with racetrack officials and he earned a one year suspension. Winkfield learned from his mistake and on September 18, 1899, won his first race. Six months later he rode for the first time in the Kentucky Derby.
In 1901, at 19, Winkfield captured his first Kentucky Derby title astride a horse named Eminence. He went on to win 161 races that year, including key victories in the Latonia Derby on Hernando and Tennessee Derby where he rode Royal Victor. While these were spectacular accomplishments, he returned to the Kentucky Derby in 1902 and won again in the most important race of his career.
Leigh Whipper, the first black member of the Actors’ Equity Association (1913), was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1876. His father, William James Whipper, was a Civil War Veteran from Connecticut who settled in South Carolina during the Reconstruction period and became an attorney in Charleston. His mother, Frances Rollin Whipper, was a writer. Whipper attended public school in Washington, D.C. After leaving Howard University Law School in 1895, he immediately joined the theater.
Never a drama student, Whipper honed his acting abilities by observing the techniques of some of the most established actors of his day and interpreting the voices of some of his favorite writers, including Paul Laurence Dunbar. By the turn of the century, he had made his first Broadway appearance in Georgia Minstrels and went on to appear in classical Broadway productions of Stevedore, Of Mice and Men, and Porgy. Whipper achieved national fame for his characterization of the Crabman of the Catfish Row in Porgy, interposing into his part the Crabman’s Song. It was later incorporated into the film version.
Leigh Whipper Papers, 1861–1963, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library; “Leigh Whipper, 98, Character Actor,” The New York Times, Sunday, July 27, 1975, p. 35.
Lewis Leary was one of several Black men who were killed during John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry arsenal in October 1859. It was a defining moment in African American history.
Born Sherrard Lewis Leary (sometimes referred to as Lewis Sheridan Leary), he was the second of five children born in Fayetteville, North Carolina to free Black parents. His father Matthew Leary, a saddle maker, was the mixed race son of Jeremiah O’Leary, a descendent of Irish immigrants. His mother Julia A. Menriel Leary was of mixed race, with conflicting accounts of her heritage.
Frustrated with southern racism, 21-year-old Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio in 1856 where he earned a living as a harness maker. It was no coincidence that Leary found a more hospitable environment at Oberlin. Members of his extended family lived in the area, including his nephew, John Anthony Copeland, Jr., who also participated in the Harpers Ferry raid. Located in Lorain County, southwest of Cleveland, Oberlin was at the time home to a concentrated network of Black and white abolitionists and served as an important site on the Underground Railroad. The town was also the site of Oberlin College, the first interracial and co-educational college in the country. Two years after moving to Oberlin he married Mary Sampson Patterson, and they had one daughter, Lois.
Mary Burnett Talbert, clubwoman and civil rights leader, was originally born Mary Burnett on September 18, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio, to Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett. Mary Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at the age of sixteen and in 1886 graduated from Oberlin College with a literary degree at nineteen. Shortly afterwards, Burnett accepted a teaching position at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas and quickly rose in the segregated educational bureaucracy of the city. In 1887, after only a year at Bethel University, Burnett became the first African American woman to be selected Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School. Four years later in 1891, however, Burnett married William H. Talbert, an affluent business man for Buffalo, New York and resigned her position at Little Rock High School and moved to her husbands hometown. One year later Mary B. and William Talbert gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Sarah May Talbert.
Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926); Rayford Logan, ed., Dictionary of American Negro Biography, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982); Lillian Serece Williams, Strangers in the Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African American Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
Samuel Kanyon Doe, army officer and Master Sergeant, was the unelected President of Liberia from 1980 to 1990. Notorious for his human rights violations, Doe seized control of Liberia in April of 1980 through a bloody coup. A polarizing figure throughout his tenure, Doe was both loved and hated within his own country. Prolonging his power by brutally stifling all forms of opposition, by 1989 Doe’s actions created a resistance movement that eventually toppled his government.
An ethnic Krahn, Samuel Doe was born on May 6, 1951 in Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County, in southeastern Liberia. Having come from humble origins, at age eighteen he enlisted in the Liberian army, completing his military training at the Communications School in the Ministry of Defense in Monrovia in 1971. Exhibiting remarkable leadership capabilities, Doe in 1979 was selected to be trained by United States (US) Special Forces in Liberia, and within a year was promoted to Master Sergeant.
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.
First named First Colored Baptist Church and located in Savannah, Georgia, First African Baptist Church traces its roots to December 1777, and is officially designated the oldest African American church in the United States. George Liele, the Church’s founder, continued to evangelize and baptize both the free and enslaved black populations of the Savannah area during the rest of the Revolutionary War period. One of those enslaved people was Andrew Bryan. Liele baptized Andrew Bryan, who was born in 1737, and his wife Hannah in 1782.
When David George and George Liele, along with hundreds of blacks, evacuated Savannah with the British in July 1782, Bryan remained and retained spiritual leadership of the First Colored Baptist Church. Andrew Bryan was allowed to preach by his master, Jonathan Bryan of Brampton Plantation, and became an ordained minister on January 20, 1788. The First Colored Baptist Church became certified by the Georgia Baptist Association in May 1790 and pre-dated the establishment of the white Baptist Church in the city by five years. Andrew Bryan remained the church’s pastor until his death in 1812.
Horace Roscoe Cayton, Jr., was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton and the grandson of Hiram R. Revels, the first black U.S. Senator. After graduation from Seattle's Franklin High School and the University of Washington, Cayton attended the University of Chicago. It was in Chicago that his career as a sociologist was defined. He was "determined to learn all there was about the Negro community." Teaching assignments at Tuskegee and Fisk University broadened his knowledge.
Returning to Chicago after his teaching sojourns, one of his first in-depth research efforts was interviewing black policemen on Chicago's police force. His first book, written in collaboration with economics professor George S. Mitchell, was Black Workers and the New Unions. Cayton and Clair St. Drake, a social anthropologist, co-authored Black Metropolis which was published in 1945. The book was based largely on data collected from a major research project ostensibly developed to investigate juvenile delinquency but was, in reality, a vehicle to study the social structure of Chicago's entire black community (Cayton-Warner Research Project). Still considered a landmark study, Black Metropolis won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book published on race relations.
John Henrik Clarke, historian, black nationalist, and Pan-Africanist, was a pioneer in the formation of Africana studies in the United States. Principally a self-trained historian, Clarke dedicated his life to correcting what he argued was the prevailing view that people of Africa and of African decent had no history worthy of study. Over the span of his career Clarke became one of the most respected historians of African and African American history.
Clarke was born on New Year’s Day, 1915, in Union Springs, Alabama. He described his father as a “brooding, landless sharecropper,” who struggled to earn enough money to purchase his own farm, and his mother as a domestic. Clarke’s mother Willie Ella (Mays) Clarke died in 1922, when he was about seven years old.
Born near Thomasville, Georgia on March 21, 1856, Henry O. Flipper rose to prominence as the first African American graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1877. Despite being born into slavery to Festus, a shoemaker, and Isabella Flipper, Henry was reared in a family that emphasized excellence, and he and his younger brothers all became respected members of their communities as a military officer, AME bishop (Joseph), physician (E.H.), college professor (Carl), and farmer (Festus, Jr.).
Thomas Dixon, born in Sparta, Georgia, on March 28, 1931, was the founding director of the Tacoma Urban League and one of Tacoma’s civil rights leaders during the 1960s and 1970s. Having spent his professional life in Tacoma, Dixon nonetheless retains a deep connection to his birthplace. His grandfather, a former slave, began to buy land and plant cotton, eventually accumulating 1,500 acres and becoming one of the largest black landowners in the county. Illiterate himself, his grandfather saw that all of his eighteen children were educated. Dixon’s father graduated from Morehouse College and became a doctor. The two men were powerful influences on Dixon, who was eleven when his father died.
Dixon credits an aunt who was an educator with encouraging him to attend college. Unsure of his direction, he joined the Air Force in 1951 and in 1955 was assigned to Japan. He completed college at Sophia University in Tokyo in 1960 with a degree in sociology and economics. In 1971 Dixon received a master’s degree in urban studies from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
Jack Pyle, “Tom Dixon, from Georgia Farm to Urban League,” The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), June 24, 1979; Transforming Tacoma: The Struggle for Civil Rights, Sid Lee, producer, director, and editor (produced in cooperation with Rainier Media Center for the Tacoma Civil Rights Project, 2008); Thomas Dixon and the Tacoma Urban League, University of Washington Tacoma Community History Project, interview transcript, 1991.
Jane Edna Hunter is most famous for founding the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA) in 1913. Hunter was born on December 13, 1882 in Pendleton, South Carolina to Harriet Millner, a free-born daughter of freed slaves, and Edward Harris, the son of a slave woman and a plantation overseer. Edward Harris died when Jane was ten years old, and her mother urged her into a loveless marriage with Edward Hunter, a man 40 years older than she was. The arrangement collapsed fourteen months after the wedding, and Jane Edna Hunter never married again.
Hunter migrated to Cleveland Ohio, arriving in 1905 as a 23 year old single African American woman. Hunter founded the PWA to aid and assist other single, newly arriving African American women. She led the Association until her retirement in 1946. The PWA was the first institution designed to meet the needs of African American migrants and became, by 1927, the single largest private African American social service agency in Cleveland. The Cleveland PWA also became the largest residence for single African American women in the nation and served as the model for similar projects throughout the urban North.
Jane Edna Hunter, A Nickel and a Prayer (Nashville: Parthenon Press,
1940); Virginia R. Boynton, "Jane Edna Harris and Black Institution
Building in Ohio" in Warren R. Van Tine and Michael Dale Pierce,
Builders of Ohio: A Biographical History, (Columbus: Ohio State
University Press, 2003); Women in History, Jane Edna Hunter biography
Last Updated: 1/25/2008, Lakewood Public Library, Date accessed
Jesse Page, Samuel Crowther: The Slave Boy Who Became Bishop of the Niger, (S.W. Partridge & Co. London, 1889.); James. F. Schon and Samuel A. Crowther, Journals of the Rev .James Frederick Schon and Mr Samuel Crowther who, With the Sanction of Her Majesty’s Government, accompanied the Expedition Up The Niger in 1841 on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, 2nd Ed. ( Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1970)
Yvonne Jeffries Johnson, the first African American mayor of Greensboro, North Carolina, was born on October 26, 1942 in Greensboro to Ruby Jeffries. She graduated from Dudley High School in 1960 and Bennett College in 1964, with a BA in Psychology. She then enrolled in Howard University and received a Graduate Fellowship in 1965. In 1978 Johnson received a Master of Science degree in Guidance Counseling from North Carolina A&T University.
Legendary basketball star William Felton (Bill) Russell was a five-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player and twelve-time All-Star. He was also the centerpiece of the Boston (Massachusetts) Celtics basketball dynasty when his team won eleven NBA championships during his thirteen seasons with the team. Russell is one of only seven basketball players to win an NCAA Championship, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Attorney, civil rights and human rights activist, Fred D. Gray, was born on December 14, 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama to Nancy and Abraham Gray. The youngest of five children, he and his siblings were raised in a shotgun house in a segregated black section of the city.
In 1947, Gray attended the Nashville Christian Institute. After completing seminary, he enrolled at Alabama State College, where he paid for his education by working as a district manager of the Alabama Journal. In 1951, Gray entered law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his degree in 1954 and opened a law office in his hometown of Montgomery.
Fred Gray, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System (Montgomery, Alabama: Black Belt Press, 1995). Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); http://www.fredgray.net/background.html.
Ewart Guinier, labor activist and political candidate, was the first chairman of Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department. Born in Panama in 1910, Guinier migrated to the United States in 1925 and attended high school in Boston, Massachusetts. After his acceptance into the Harvard University Class of 1933, Guinier was denied a scholarship because he allegedly did not submit a photograph with his application and because of his race he was not permitted to reside in the all-white dormitories. Guinier nonetheless started classes at Harvard but dropped out in 1931 due to the high tuition costs. He transferred to the City University of New York where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1935. He later received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1939 and his law degree from New York University in 1959.
Leading 20th Century black historian Rayford Whittingham Logan was born on January 7, 1897 in Washington, D.C. to working class parents, Arthur C. and Martha Whittingham Logan. Rayford Logan spent his formative years in Washington, D.C. While in high school, he was taught by Carter G. Woodson. A bright student, Logan was honored with a scholarship to Williams College where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1917. Immediately, he joined the U.S. Army in World War I and like many black veterans of that era, was disillusioned as he witnessed the racism perpetrated against black troops by white officers.
Joe guarded the beach kindly, but firmly, and taught the children who came there how to swim. He is credited with rescuing over 100 lives of both children and adults who ventured too far and got in trouble. For his community service, the City of Vancouver made him a special constable. When Beach Avenue was being improved, Joe’s little cottage was moved beside the bandstand at Alexandra Park, and he lived there until he died. In 1924, a memorial drinking fountain was erected facing the beach where he had served as guardian and teacher for over twenty years. He is honoured as the first English Bay lifeguard after the Park Board decided to create such a post.
Jazz pianist and popular singer Nathaniel Adams Coles was born into a musical family in Montgomery, Alabama on March 17, 1919. His mother Perlina was a choir director in his father Edward’s Baptist church. His three brothers, Edward, Ike, and Freddy, became professional musicians. Cole also had a half-sister, Joyce. The family moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1923 where Cole started playing the piano at age four; he organized his first jazz group, The Musical Dukes, in his teens.
James Meredith and Constance Baker Motley, 1962
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born on January 28, 1981 in Villa Clara, Cuba, the Cuban born player Maykel Galindo has made a name for himself among the American soccer ranks over the last several years. Galindo started playing soccer when he was eight years old. He soon became an exceptional youth player and was selected to play on the Cuban national soccer team.
Galindo made his youth national team debut in January of 2002 in a match against Guatemala. Three years later he was on the senior squad which competed in the 2005 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup which was to be played in the United States. On July 9, 2005 when Cuba played Costa Rica at Quest Field in Seattle, Washington, Galindo scored Cuba’s only goal in a losing contest. Later that evening in his hotel, Galindo contacted American officials and defected to the United States.
Beau Dure, “Cuba's Maykel Galindo finds USA, MLS to his liking,” USA Today, August 22, 2007; Elisa Han, “Cuban Defector talks about his Ordeal,” King 5 News, July 15, 2005; Maykel Galindo Bio, http://chivas.usa.MLSnet.com.
Hazel Johnson was the first African American woman to become a general in the U.S. Army. She was appointed the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1979. Johnson held a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University (1978) and had honorary degrees from Morgan State University, Villanova University, and the University of Maryland.
Johnson first became interested in nursing while growing up on a farm in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Her career began when we she received her nursing degree from the Harlem Hospital in New York City, New York in 1950. She then attended Villanova University where she received her bachelor’s and soon afterwards joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1955.
Johnson served in Japan at a U.S. Army Evacuation Hospital. She served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1960 where she was a staff and operating room nurse. Between 1963 and 1967, she was an operating room instructor and supervisor while on a tour of three different hospitals. Johnson reached the rank of major in 1967.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell P, 1997); http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/BBH1998.html.
James Nathaniel Brown was born February 17, 1936, in St. Simon Island, Georgia. A talented athlete from an early age, Brown earned 13 letters playing a variety of sports at Manhasset High School in New York.
Brown attended Syracuse University in New York where he played football, basketball, ran track, and played lacrosse. As a senior in 1956-7, Brown was a unanimous All-American in football and a second-team All-American in lacrosse, and remains the only athlete to be inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame for both sports, as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.
The Cleveland Browns selected Jim Brown as their number one pick in the 1957 NFL draft, and the rookie would capture the league rushing title, Rookie of the Year honors, as well as earn the league Most Valuable Player award. Over the next eight years, Brown would lead the league in rushing seven more times, be elected to every Pro Bowl, and win another Most Valuable Player award in 1965. Some of his most notable records include career rushing yards (12,312) and average gain per attempt (5.2 yards). In nine seasons as a premier fullback, he never missed a game.
In 1934, Boykin entered Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, later graduating in 1938 as valedictorian of his class. Following high school, Boykin began college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, simultaneously working at an aerospace laboratory in Nashville as a laboratory assistant testing automatic controls for aircraft.
Olympic athlete Willie Samuel Steele was born in El Centro, California on July 14, 1923. At age 4 his family moved to San Diego where he graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in 1940. While attending San Jose State University he was drafted into the U.S. Army and became a decorated veteran of World War, II having served in the invasion of Italy. Returning to San Diego, in 1946 he entered San Diego State University (then San Diego State College) where he played basketball, football, and as a track star won two NCAA and one AAU broad jump championships in the late 1940s.
Steele’s crowning achievement occurred in the 1948 Olympic Games in London where, despite an injured leg, he won a gold medal in the broad jump with a leap of 25 feet 8 inches. In the wake of his Olympic triumph the 1949 school yearbook was dedicated to Steele. That same year he signed a contract to play halfback for the Los Angeles Rams but only performed in some exhibition games before being cut from the team.
Soft-spoken and unpretentious, Steele was the epitome of the student-athlete and he was a popular speaker at social and civic functions. He was inducted into the Hall of Champions in San Diego’s Balboa Park. Steele found steady employment in Oakland, California as a director in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. A year after he retired Steele died of cancer on September 19, 1989.
It may be impossible today to understand fully the shock and outrage which alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1959 arrival in New York caused within the jazz community. Coleman's innovations freed his quartet from traditional structures of form, chordal harmony, tonality, and rhythm, and though his work has sharply divided opinion, he is widely acknowledged as having transformed the way in which jazz is heard and performed.
Born in 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman began playing tenor saxophone in rhythm and blues (R&B) bands, his own style rooted in the bebop idiom. Though undocumented, his early development suggests something unique – Coleman was assaulted and his tenor saxophone destroyed after a particularly off-putting dance solo in Baton Rouge. In 1949 Coleman settled in Los Angeles where he worked as an elevator operator and independently studied music theory. On the alto saxophone, which remains his primary voice, Coleman developed a plaintively raw and vocalized tone, exploring micro-tonalities and speech-like cries. In Los Angeles Coleman befriended drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, all of whom would later become mainstays in Coleman’s ground-breaking Atlantic quartets. In 1958 Coleman found a willing partner in pianist Paul Bley, and with Higgins, Cherry, and bassist Charlie Haden the quintet recorded a live performance at the Hillcrest Club, The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet.
Prince Rogers Nelson, songwriter, singer, producer, and all-round musical icon, was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Music was a part of Prince’s family; his father, John Nelson, was a jazz pianist whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Nelson, was a vocalist. Prince’s home life, however, was turbulent, and he left home at the age of 12 and was adopted into another family.
From a young age Prince began to teach himself many musical instruments, including the drums, bass, and guitar. While in high school he joined the band Grand Central along with Andre Anderson and Charles Smith (who was later replaced by Morris Day). Prince left school at age 16, by which point he had already begun helping to create what would become known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” characterised by industrial-sounding drum machines and synthesizer riffs.
Frank A. Rollin, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany Boston:
Lee and Shepard, (1868); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations
of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics: 2004); Eric
Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction 1863-1877 (New York: Harper
Collins, 1990); Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers; Three Lives (New
York: Feminist Press, 1979); www.Freedmansbureau.com
Barry Bonds is one of the most controversial figures in modern sports. The former major league star holds the record for career home runs (762) but that record and his other accomplishments on the field have been marred by accusations that he took performance enhancing drugs.
Barry Lamar Bonds was born in Riverside, California on July 24, 1964 but grew up in San Mateo, California where he attended Junipero Serra High school. He was honored as a prep All-American there for baseball. His father, Bobby Bonds, also a major league All-Star, inspired Barry to become a professional baseball player.
In 1982 Barry Bonds was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the second round of the major league baseball (MLB) draft while he was still in high school. When contract negotiations failed Bonds attended Arizona State University on a baseball scholarship. He was quickly named a College All-American and set a NCAA record of seven consecutive hits in the College World Series as a sophomore. Bonds graduated in 1986 with a degree in criminology.
Charles Spurgeon Johnson, one of the leading 20th Century black sociologists, was born in Bristol, Virginia on July 24, 1893. After receiving his B.A. from Virginia Union University in Richmond, he studied sociology with the noted sociologist Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in 1917. Initially a friend of historian Carter G. Woodson, he did collaborative work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History until his relationship with Woodson deteriorated.
August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, Black Historians and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Earnest W. Burgess, Elmer A. Carter, and Clarence Faust, “Charles S. Johnson, “Social Scientist, Editor, and Educational Statesman,” Phylon, 17 (Winter, 1956); Joe M. Richardson, A History of Fisk University-1865-1946 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980) ; Patrick J. Gilpin, “Charles S. Johnson, An Intellectual Biography” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1973).
Koko Taylor, dubbed the ‘Queen of the Blues,’ was one of the most revered female blues singers in history. She was born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928 in Bartlett, Tennessee to sharecropper parents who nicknamed her Koko for her love of chocolate. It was on the plantations where she grew up that she developed her love of music, listening to the gospel of the churches and artists such as Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith.
By the age of 11, Walton was orphaned and she continued to pick cotton, receiving little formal education, until moving to Memphis to clean houses. In 1952, Walton and her future husband Robert ‘Paps’ Taylor moved to Chicago with only “35 cents and a box of Ritz crackers,” (in their own words). In Chicago, Koko, now Mrs. Robert Taylor, continued to clean houses, but increasingly became absorbed with Chicago’s blues scene and she began to sing with the local bands of the nightclubs.
Andrew Rube Foster was born in Calvert, Texas, on September 17, 1879. The son of Andrew and Sarah Foster, Rube started a baseball tradition that would be followed by his brother Willie Bill Foster. Rube quit school after the eighth grade, barnstorming with the Waco Yellow Jackets, an independent black team in 1897. By 1902, Rube’s baseball abilities gave him an opportunity to play with the Chicago (Illinois) Union Giants. After a short stint with Union Giants, Rube played for the Cuban X-Giants. In 1903, Rube Foster was the top pitcher in black baseball, and was the pitcher of record as the Cuban X-Giants won the Black World Series. Rube sometimes played with white semi-pro teams and exhibition games against white players. Rube established himself as the premier pitcher challenging major league pitchers such as Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown, and Cy Young. Honus Wagner stated that Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all times and one of the smartest pitchers he had ever seen.
Morris Brown was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 13, 1770. His family belonged to a sizeable African American population in the city who were mostly enslaved. Brown’s parents, however, were part the city’s tiny free black community. In the year of Brown’s birth, more than 5,800 enslaved blacks and 24 free blacks resided in the city, compared to a total of 5,030 whites. Within this city where African Americans were the majority, Brown’s family circulated within an elite black society, whose members were often so closely related to aristocratic whites in the city that they were exempt from the racist restrictions imposed on the majority of enslaved people.
Literary critic Addison Gayle, Jr., born in Newport News, Virginia in 1932, was educated in the local public schools before he attended City College of New York, where he earned a B.A. degree in 1965; and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he completed an M.A. degree in English in 1966. He began his career as an educator at Bernard M. Baruch College where he distinguished himself as a professor of English until his death in October 1991.
During the 1960s, a juncture in African American history associated with political, literary and cultural upheaval, militancy, and Black Nationalism, Gayle passionately felt compelled to call for a new Black Aesthetics that radically differed from the standard Eurocentric approach to literature. To advance his new theory Gayle outlined, in controversial public lectures and essays, his vision. In 1972, he published Black Aesthetic, a collection of essays with contributors such as Darwin Turner, Maulana Karenga, Larry Neal, and Hoyt Fuller. This important work revisited previous approaches to African American literary criticism and called for new theoretical frameworks that complemented the then ebullient socio- political Black Power Movement.
Robert Townsend, writer, producer, director, and actor, was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 6, 1957, the second oldest of four children to Shirley and Robert Townsend. Growing up on the Westside of Chicago, Townsend was raised by his mother in a single parent home. As a child Townsend watched TV where he learned to do impersonations of his favorite actors such as Jimmy Stewart and Bill Cosby for his family and classmates. Eventually his abilities caught the attention of Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors Guild X-Bag Theatre in Chicago and then moved him out to The Improvisation, a premiere comedy club in New York City. Townsend also had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie, Cooley High.
Townsend's comedy career began to take off at the Improvisation and he soon headed to Hollywood where he performed on comedy specials such as Rodney Dangerfield: It’s Not Easy Being Me. Townsend also landed minor role in films such as A Soldier’s Story (1984) with Denzel Washington, Streets of Fire (1984) with Diane Lane, and American Flyers, a 1985 movie staring Kevin Costner.
Robert Townsend.com, December 5, 2008,
http://www.roberttownsend.com/bio.html; Jennifer M. York, ed. Who’s Who
Among African Americans, 16th ed., (San Francisco: Thomson Gale, 2003)
Aynaw lived in the hardscrabble immigrant town of Netanya. Despite having no knowledge of spoken or written Hebrew, she was transported to a Hebrew boarding school in Haifa that catered to newly arrived immigrants. Over time her competency in Hebrew steadily increased and she eventually became fluent in Yiddish as well. Aynaw was a standout student in high school who distinguished herself from the outset. She was student council president, excelled in track and field, and won first place in a national film competition that was loosely based on her own life experiences.
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.