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People

Johnson, J. Rosamond (1873-1954)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust
Composer, actor, and pioneer in his field, John Rosamond Johnson was one of the most successful of the early African American composers. Born on August 11, 1873 in Jacksonville, Florida, Johnson was the younger brother of prominent composer and civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson. Starting in 1890, John Johnson attended Boston’s New England Conservatory, and for a brief time studied in Europe as well. He began his career as a music teacher in Jacksonville public schools but in 1899 moved to New York with his brother, James Weldon, to pursue a career in show business.

One year later the Johnson brothers established a song writing partnership with Robert “Bob” Cole, a lyricist and vaudeville entertainer. Their working relationship lasted until Cole’s death in 1911 and would prove to be quite profitable, producing two popular all-black operettas on Broadway, The Shoo-Fly Regiment (1906) and The Red Moon (1908). With Cole, Johnson also wrote Congo Love Songs, My Castle on the Nile, and the enormously successful Under the Bamboo Tree in 1902.
Sources: 
Jeffrey Lehman, ed., The African American Almanac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Moses, Ethel (c. 1908- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Actress and dancer Ethel Moses, who became a leading lady in silent and sound black films, was the daughter of well-known New York Baptist Minister W.H. Moses.  She began her show business career as a dancer in 1924, when she was cast with internationally-renowned entertainer Florence Mills in Dixie to Broadway. From 1928 to 1933, she along with her sisters, Julia and Lucia Lynn, performed as part of the Cotton Club Girls chorus line. In between performing at the Cotton Club, Moses appeared in Blackbirds (1926) and the Broadway Revival of Show Boat (1927).

Wanting to diversify her career in show business and inspired by her sister Lucia Lynn (who received short-lived acclaim for her performance in the 1927 silent film, The Scar of Shame) Moses delved into world of race films, first appearing in Oscar Micheaux’s 1935 crime drama Temptation. In 1936, Moses married Cab Calloway’s pianist Bennie Payne and continued to perform in nightclubs throughout Harlem, New York where her alluring features and enterprising personality made her one of Harlem’s most notable entertainers of her time. Moses was a fixture and sex symbol in a variety of Micheaux’s films during the late 1930s, appearing in Underworld (1937), God’s Stepchildren (1939), and Birthright (1939).

Yet, as the making of all-black cast independent films faded, Moses’ film career ended. By the beginning of the 1950s, she had retired and remarried, this time to Frank Ryan, a factory worker.  The couple settled away from the limelight in Jamaica, Long Island.

Sources: 

Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978); Anonymous, “Cotton Club Girls,” Ebony, April 1949, Vo. 4, No. 6; Anonymous, “Parsons Pretty Daughter Chooses Stage Career,” The Pittsburgh Courier, October 4, 1924.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Turner, Tina (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: 
Public Domain
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee  and eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer Tina Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on November 26, 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee. The youngest daughter of a family of sharecroppers, Turner's father, Floyd Richard Bullock, was an African American Baptist deacon and her mother, Zelma Currie, was a farmer of part-Cherokee and Navajo descent.

At the age of 10, Turner and her older sister were sent to live with their grandparents who also lived in Nutbush. In 1956, they moved to St. Louis, Missouri to live with their estranged mother. During the same year, Turner was introduced to guitarist Ike Turner and his band Kings of Rhythm in an East St. Louis nightclub after spontaneously performing a song with them. She joined the group the next year, and adopted the stage name "Tina" in 1960. The band became The Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

Sources: 
Mark Bego, Tina Turner: Break Every Rule (Lanham: Taylor Trade Pub., 2003); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); The Biography Channel Website, http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/home.html;
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rogers, John W. (1958- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

BNET, The activists: John W. Rogers Jr. <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m 1365/is_7_38/ai_n24360086>; John W. Rogers Jr. Biography. 1958- Investor, business executive. <a href="http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2767/Rogers-John-W-Jr.html">John W. Rogers Jr. Biography; Who Runs GOV. John W. Rogers Jr. <http://www.whorunsgov.com /Profiles/John_W._Rogers_Jr.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Johnson, Robert Louis (1946 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
David Hatchett, “The Crisis Interview: Robert Johnson,” The Crisis (New York: October 1, 1985): vol. 92, no. 7, p. 32-37; http://www.biography.com/articles/Robert-L.-Johnson-41036; http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/biography/F-L/Johnson-Robert-L-1946.html; http://www.zeromillion.com/entrepreneurship/stories/robert-johnson.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Banning, James Herman (1899-1933)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
J. Herman Banning was an aviation pioneer. He was the first black male aviator to be granted a license by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the first black pilot to fly coast to coast across the United States.

Banning was born in 1899 in Oklahoma, the son of Riley and Cora Banning. The Bannings moved to Ames, Iowa in 1919 and Herman Banning briefly studied electrical engineering at Iowa State University before he dropped out to pursue his interest in aviation. Banning was repeatedly turned away from flight schools due to his race. He was forced to learn how to fly from a private instructor, an army aviator who taught him at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines, Iowa.

Banning owned and operated an auto repair shop in Ames from 1922 until 1928.  In 1929 he moved to Los Angeles, where he became the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, which was named for the first black female to receive a pilot’s license. The organization’s mission was to encourage interest in aviation among African Americans.

Banning performed in air circuses and flew politicians during their campaigns. In 1930, for example, he flew Illinois Representative Oscar De Priest, who was the first black person to serve in Congress since Reconstruction, in an excursion over South Los Angeles.
Sources: 
Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline Fannin, Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002); Philip S. Hart, America’s First Black Aviators (Minneapolis: First Avenue Editions, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

McHenry, Jr., Gordon (1957- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Seattle University
Gordon McHenry is a contemporary community leader in Seattle’s non-profit social services institutions. McHenry’s father, Gordon McHenry, was the first in his family to graduate from college and the first African American engineer promoted into management at the Boeing Company.  His mother, Mildred McHenry, grew up and was educated in a segregated community in Texas.  McHenry credits his parents for inspiring his deep respect for education and strong belief in community solidarity and action.

McHenry graduated with a B.S. in Political Science from Seattle University and earned his Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law School.

After graduating with his law degree, McHenry began his career as an attorney at Perkins Coie, a prestigious law firm in Seattle, Washington.  In 1988, McHenry joined Boeing, where he served for 21 years as a lawyer and then in a variety of executive leadership roles, eventually becoming director of Global Corporate Citizenship for Boeing’s Northwest region.  While at Boeing, he completed the Executive Education Program for Management Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business.
Sources: 
Mac Buchman, “Solid Ground Names New Leadership Team,” Solid Ground Blog, 15 August 2012, available at: http://solidgroundblog.wordpress.com/tag/gordon-mchenry-jr/;  “Gordon McHenry Jr. Named CEO, President at Solid Ground,” Seattle Times,  2 Oct. 2012.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dunbar, Paul Laurence (1872-1906)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds., The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Braxton, Joanne M, ed. The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993); http://www.dunbarsite.org/biopld.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Stewarts, McCants (1877-1919)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Orangeburg, South Carolina on July 11, 1877, McCants Stewart, the eldest son of the southern black leader, T. McCants Stewart, was molded from childhood by his father for leadership in both his family and in the African American community. McCants spent his formative years in Orangeburg, where his parents taught at Claflin University, an historically black college. From there, he, along with his younger brother Gilchrist, attended Tuskegee Institute. After graduating from Tuskegee, McCants enrolled in the University of Minnesota Law School, where he earned a law degree in 1899. He relocated to Portland, Oregon in 1902, against the advice of his father, where he prepared to practice law.
Sources: 
Albert S. Broussard, African American Odyssey: The Stewarts, 1853-1963 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Texas A&M University

Fortes, Seraphim “Joe” (1865-1922)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain
Seraphim “Joe” Fortes was born in Barbados, West Indies. He was a seaman and came to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1885. There he worked as a barman at the Sunnyside Hotel. English Bay became his favourite spot as he loved the water and was an excellent swimmer. Every day he swam in the bay, and finally he gave up his hotel job to live in a little cottage on the shore where he became a well-known lifeguard.


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.

Sources: 
A Resource Guide on Black Pioneers in British Columbia (Victoria, B.C: The British Columbia Black History Awareness Society, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
British Columbia Black History Awareness Society

Young, Roger Arliner (1889-1964)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Roger Arliner Young, born in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania in 1889, was the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. in zoology and to conduct research at the prestigious Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  Young conducted research on the anatomy of paramecium and the effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs.

Young enrolled at Howard University at the age of twenty-seven, intending to major in music.  After struggling through a biology course with African American biologist Ernest Everett Just, she changed her major to that subject, earning a B.S. in 1923.  Just hired her as an assistant professor at Howard while she attended graduate school.  The next year, Young enrolled at the University of Chicago part-time and published her first article on paramecium which achieved international recognition. She received her M.S in Zoology in 1926 and was elected to the honor society Sigma Xi.
Sources: 
Wini Warren, “Roger Arliner Young: A Cautionary Tale,” in Black Women Scientists in the United States (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999); Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moser, Roger Arliner Young,” in African Americans in Science, Math, and Invention (New York: Facts on File, 2003); https://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/young.html;
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Mason, Bridget “Biddy” (1818–1891)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Bridget “Biddy” Mason, born a slave in Mississippi in 1818, achieved financial success that enabled her to support her extended family for generations despite the fact that she was illiterate. In a landmark case she sued her master for their freedom, saved her earnings, invested in real estate, and became a well-known philanthropist in Los Angeles, California.

Although born in Mississippi, Mason was owned by slaveholders in Georgia and South Carolina before she was returned to Mississippi.  Her last owner, Robert Marion Smith, a Mississippi Mormon convert, followed the call of church leaders to settle in the West.  Mason and her children joined other slaves on Smith’s religious pilgrimage to establish a new Mormon community in what would become Salt Lake City, Utah.  At the time Utah was still part of Mexico. 

Sources: 

Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier African Americans in the American West 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1998; Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1995); Jessie Carney Smith, (editor). Epic Lives One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993).

Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Blake, Eubie (1883-1983)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Eubie Blake was born James Hubert Blake in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 7, 1883.   He died one hundred years later on February 12, 1983 having become one of the most important figures in early 20th-century African American music and a major contributor to ragtime and early jazz music and culture.  
Sources: 
J. Wynn Rousuck, A Singing, Winging Tribute to Eubie Blake (Baltimore: Baltimore Sun, 2007); Bobbi King, A Legend in His Own Lifetime: Conversation With Eubie Blake (New York: The Black Perspective in Music, 1973).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jackson-Lee, Sheila (1950 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sheila Jackson-Lee was born on January 12, 1950 in Queens, New York.   She graduated from Jamaica High School in Queens, New York in 1968.  She then graduated from Yale University in Connecticut with a B.A. in political science in 1972 followed in 1975 by a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School.     

After graduating from law school Jackson-Lee moved to Houston, Texas after her husband, Dr. Elwyn C. Lee accepted a job offer from the University of Houston.  Dr. Lee is currently Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Houston.  Jackson-Lee was in private practice from 1975 to 1987 when she was elected a Houston municipal judge.  Jackson-Lee then ran for a seat on the Houston City Council in 1990.  In 1994 Shelia Jackson-Lee was elected as a Democrat to represent the 18th Congressional District of Texas.  She currently holds that seat. 

Sources: 
Congressional Biography:  http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=j000032; Jim Doyle, “Five members of Congress arrested over Sudan protest,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 2006:  http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Five-members-of-Congress-arrested-over-Sudan-2498797.php; Tim Fleck, “What's Driving Miss Sheila?” Houston Press, February 20, 2007: http://www.houstonpress.com/1997-02-20/news/what-s-driving-miss-shelia/Sheila; Jackson’s Campaign website:  http://www.sheilajacksonlee18.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (1853-1890)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Octavia V. Rogers Albert, The House of Bondage or Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America: The Early Years, 1619-1899 (New York: Facts on File, Inc, 1997); Frances Smith Foster. "Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers" American National Biography Online (Feb. 2000); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Phillips, Homer G. (1880-1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: 
Public Domain

Prominent St. Louis attorney Homer Gilliam Phillips was born in Sedalia, Missouri in 1880. He was the son of a Methodist minister, but he was orphaned in infancy and raised by an aunt. Phillips’s interest in law led him to Washington, D.C. where he lived with renowned African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar while attending Howard University Law School. He also briefly worked at the Justice Department.

Upon his return to Missouri, Phillips became an active attorney and political figure in St. Louis. In 1922, he was given the prominent role of securing approximately $1 million to construct a new hospital for African Americans on the city’s North Side.

While the bond issue to fund construction of a new facility to replace St. Louis’s Barnes Hospital was approved by the voters, city officials instead attempted to force black St. Louis residents to use outdated Deaconess Hospital. Phillips led the fight against the city's efforts and eventually persuaded leaders to create the new fully funded hospital as originally proposed in the 1922 bond measure, though construction was delayed for another decade.

Sources: 

Oral Introduction presented by Alderman Samuel L. Moore, 4th Ward, City
of St. Louis Board of Alderman, Resolution No. 19, April 27, 2007;
Ernest Calloway, “Why Was Homer G. Phillips Killed? St. Louis Argus
(June 5, 1975, p.16); Mary Stiritz and Carolyn Toft, "Landmarks
Association of St. Louis, Inc. for Missouri State Historical Survey,"
Park J. White, M.D. Papers, Washington University School of Medicine,
St. Louis, Missouri; Rob Powers, “Recalled to Life: Homer G. Phillips
Hospital.” http://www.builtstlouis.net/homerphillips.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Becton, Julius W., Jr. (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Army

Lieutenant General Julius Wesley Becton Jr. was born on June 29, 1926 to Julius and Rose Becton in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. His father worked as a janitor in their apartment building. His mother was a housekeeper and laundress. In December 1943, Julius Becton joined the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserves. After graduating high school in 1944, Becton joined the active army. It was Becton’s hope that he would become a pilot but was ruled ineligible because of astigmatism.

Though the Army was segregated in 1944, Officer Candidate School was not. Julius Becton and sixteen other African American candidates completed OCS in 1945 and were commissioned as second lieutenants. Shortly after his commissioning, Lt. Becton was assigned to serve in the Philippines.

Upon his return from the Philippines, Becton left the army and attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1948, after President Harry S. Truman had desegregated the military, Becton was accepted for active duty once again and remained in the Army until 1983.  During that period he saw combat duty in Korean and Vietnam. He was also stationed in Germany, the Philippines, France, the Southwest Pacific, and `Japan during his service.  Steadily moving up the ranks, in 1972, Becton was promoted to Brigadier General.

Sources: 

Lt. General Julius W. Becton Jr., Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant (Annapolis, MD: Naval
Institute Press, 2008); Clyde McQueen, The Black Army Officer
(Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008); Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass:
Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States

(Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); Jessie Carney Smith,
Black Firsts (Canton, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Robertson, Oscar Palmer (1938 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image ©Bettmann/Corbis 

Professional basketball player Oscar Palmer Robertson, nicknamed the “Big O,” was known as the most complete basketball player, with an excellent combination of scoring, passing, and rebounding skills. He still owns the record for most triple-doubles in a career with 181. Robertson played with the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks in the National Basketball Association (NBA) most of his professional career.

Robertson was born on November 24, 1938 in Charlotte, Tennessee. He grew up in poverty in Indianapolis and attended Crispus Attucks High School, then a segregated all-black school.  As a high school basketball player he led Crispus Attucks to two Indiana State Championships (1955-1956) during his junior and senior years and was named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball.”

After high school he enrolled at the University of Cincinnati and made a major impact in college basketball, winning the scoring title and being named an All-American and College Player of the Year in each of his three seasons (1957-1959). After college, Robertson played for the 1960 United States Olympic basketball team.  He was named the co-captain of the USA team along with Jerry West and led them to an Olympic gold medal.  

Sources: 
Oscar Robertson, The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game (New York: Bison Books, 2010); Randy Roberts, “But They Can’t Beat Us!”: Oscar Robertson and the Crispus Attucks Tigers  (Urbana, IL: Sagamore Publishing, 1999); http://www.nba.com/history/players/robertson_summary.html; http://www.thebigo.com/AboutOscarRobertson/biography.php
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

George, David (1742-1810)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Artist Drawing of the Silver Bluff
Sources: 
Simon Schama, Rough Crossings ( Toronto: Penguin Group, 2005); Walter H. Brooks, The Silver Bluff Church: A History of Negro Baptist Churches in America (Washington, D.C.: Press of R. L. Pendleton, 1910) http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/brooks/brooks.html; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p30.html; James St G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870 (New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1976); Robin W. Winks, The Blacks in Canada: A History, 2nd ed. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1997); Pearleen Oliver, A Brief History of the Coloured Baptists of Nova Scotia (Halifax, N.S.: s.n., 1953).
Contributor: 

Taylor, Moddie Daniel (1912-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center,
National Museum of American History,
Smithsonian Institution
Moddie Daniel Taylor, a chemist by training, was a member of the small, elite group of African American scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, the code name for the top-secret effort to create an atomic bomb during World War II.  Taylor was born in Nymph, Alabama on March 3, 1912, the son of Herbert L. Taylor and Celeste (Oliver) Taylor.  The Taylors later moved to St. Louis where Herbert worked as a postal clerk.  Moddie Taylor attended Charles H. Sumner High, graduating in 1931.  He then attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he majored in chemistry.  Taylor graduated in 1935 as the valedictorian of his class.

Moddie Taylor began his teaching career at Lincoln University the same year, working as an instructor until 1939 and then as an assistant professor from 1939 to 1941 while enrolled in the University of Chicago graduate program in chemistry.  He received an M.S. from the University in 1939 and a Ph.D. in 1943.

Taylor married Vivian Ellis in 1937.  The couple had one son, Herbert Moddie Taylor.
Sources: 
Kenneth R. Manning, “Science and Opportunity,” Science, Volume 282 (November 6, 1998): 1037-1038; “Scientists in the News,” Science, Volume 131 (May 20, 1960): 1513-1514; “Records of Meetings,” Daedalus, Volume 86 (September, 1956): 137-16; Ebony, January 1961; "Moddie Taylor Biography," BookRags.com, http://www.bookrags.com/biography/moddie-taylor-woc/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

Sykes, Wanda (1964- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Gay Parenting Magazine

Wanda Sykes is an American actress, comedian, writer, and voice artist. She is best known for her recurring role as Barbara Baran on the CBS primetime show The New Adventures of Old Christine, and for her comedic roles in such films as Monster-in-Law and My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

Sykes is the daughter of Marion Louise, a retired banker, and Harry Ellsworth Sykes, a retired U.S. Army colonel.  She was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on March 7, 1964, but raised in the Washington, D.C. area.

Sykes attended Arundel High School in Gambrills, Maryland, and later Hampton University, where she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Upon graduation, she worked as a procurement officer for the National Security Agency (NSA) but soon realized she wanted to become an entertainer.

In 1987, at the age of 23, Sykes took to the stage for the first time in a talent show in Washington. While she did not win the contest, she honed her stand-up skills at various comedy clubs while retaining her position at NSA.

In 1992, Sykes relocated to New York to work the comedy circuit and soon got her first big break by being selected as the opening act for comedian Chris Rock at Caroline’s Comedy Club. In 1997, she joined The Chris Rock Show as a writer, made guest appearances, and won an Emmy Award for her writing in 1999.

Sources: 
Linda Rapp and Wanda Sykes, eds., An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture (Chicago: GLBTQ, Inc., 2011), retrieved from ww.glbtq.com/social-sciences/sykes_l.html; Lawrence Ferber, Wanda Sykes: Being Herself (Chicago: Windy City Media Group, 2009).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Cottrell, Comer Joseph, Jr. (1931-2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Cosmetics entrepreneur Comer Joseph Cottrell, Jr. was born in Mobile, Alabama on December 7, 1931.  His father was a life insurance salesman, and his mother, Helen Smith Cottrell, performed a variety of cleaning jobs.  Cottrell became fascinated with business at an early age.  He marveled at how his father managed his numerous clients’ premium payments, all with a promise to pay a benefit at death.  As a youth, he joined with his brother, James, in a rabbit meat and fur selling business.  

Although his heart was set on business, after completing a Roman Catholic High School, Cottrell attended the University of Detroit during 1947 and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1948 to 1952.  After the Air Force, Cottrell returned to Mobile briefly and lived in Oakland, California before settling in Los Angeles, California in 1956.  There he drove a taxi, worked on a commuter train, sold construction materials, and was a salesman for Sears, Roebuck & Company.
Sources: 
Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2002); Comer J. Cottrell, Comer Cottrell by Comer Cottrell: A Story That Will Inspire Future Entrepreneurs (Dallas: Brown Books Publishing Group, 2008); Douglas Martin, “Comer Cottrell, Who Got Rich on Hair Curling, Dies at 82,” New York Times, October 14, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/11/business/comer-cottrell-pioneer-of-hair-products-for-blacks-dies-at-82.html?_r=0.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Tanner, Henry Ossawa (1859-1937)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

The first African American artist to gain international notoriety, Henry Ossawa Tanner, the son of a prominent cleric, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 21, 1859.  At age 13, inspired by an artist painting a landscape in a local park, he committed himself to a career in art despite his father’s initial discouragement.  Entering the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, he was influenced by the revered painter,Thomas Eakins, and developed his own introspective, empathetic realist style.  For quite some time Tanner had wanted to work in Europe where there was greater racial tolerance and where he could expand his artistic horizons, but his modest success as an artist in Philadelphia and as a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia, prevented him from earning enough money to cover his transportation costs to cross the Atlantic.   

Sources: 
Notable Black American Men Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1999; American National Biography Vol. 21. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Internet Site: http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/tanner_henry_ossawa.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Miller, Kelly (1863-1939)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Dr. Scott W. Williams, “Kelly Miller,” Mathematics of the African Diaspora, http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/special/miller_kelley.html (Accessed September 7, 2010); Carter G. Woodson, “Kelly Miller,” Journal of Negro History 25 (January, 1940): 126-138; August Meier, "The Racial and Educational Philosophy of Kelly Miller, 1895-1915," Journal of Negro Education 29 (July, 1960): 121-27; William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 71-72, 96, 283-284.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Stanford University

Leidesdorff, William Alexander (1810-1848)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

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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.

Sources: 
Gary Mitchell Palgon, William Alexander Leidesdorff: First Black Millionaire, American Consul and California Pioneer (Atlanta: Lulu Press, 2005); Sue Bailey Thurman, “William Alexander Leidesdorff” in Pioneers of Negro Origin in California ( San Francisco: Acme Publishing Company, 1952) http://www.sfmuseum.net/bio/leidesdorff.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
National Park Service

Equiano, Olaudah (1745-1797)

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People
History Type: 
Global African History
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Olaudah Equiano, whose father was an Ibo chief, was born in 1745 in what is now Southern Nigeria. At the age of 11 years, Olaudah was captured by African slave traders and sold into bondage in the New World.  Equiano, given the name Gustavus Vassa by one of his many owners, was forced to serve several masters, among them a Virginia plantation owner, a British Naval officer, and a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania merchant.  While a slave to the naval officer Equiano traveled between four continents. These global experiences within the Atlantic Slave Trade allowed Equiano to produce the most popular and vivid slave narrative of his era.

By 1777 at the age of 32, Equiano, after having mastered reading, writing and arithmetic, purchased his freedom.  He settled in England, befriended Granville Sharp, the first prominent British abolitionist, and soon became a leader of the emerging anti-slavery movement.  Equiano presented one of the first petitions to the British Parliament calling for the abolition of slavery.  
Sources: 
Kwame A. Appiah & Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); see also African American Almanac (Detroit: Gale Research Group, 1994); http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/biog.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Batts, Deborah (1947- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
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Deborah Batts, U.S. District Court Judge in New York City, received degrees from Radcliffe College and the Harvard University Law School.  Batts began her legal career with the firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore in New York City.  Later she was appointed assistant U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.  In 1984, she became the first African American appointed to the faculty at Fordham University School of Law (New York).  After serving as an associate professor of law at Fordham for ten years, Batts was nominated for the federal bench by President Bill Clinton.

The Clinton nomination was the second time that Batts’s name had been put forward for a judicial appointment.  Her previous nomination in 1991, by President George Bush, was unsuccessful.  But her mentor, Senator Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, persisted and she was re-nominated by President Clinton in January 1993.  Batts was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 5, 1994.  When she took her seat on the bench in Manhattan on June 23, 1994, she became the nation’s first openly lesbian African American federal judge.
Sources: 
Source: Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), p. 21.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

Coltrane, John William (1926-1968)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
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John William Coltrane emerged as one of the most innovative and influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 23, 1926, the son of John Robert and Alice Blair Coltrane, he grew up in High Point, North Carolina where his grandfather, Rev. William W. Blair, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, was one of the community leaders.  John Coltrane's childhood attendance at his family's black church shaped the spiritual dimensions of his musical orientation.  Following his father's death and the family’s sudden impoverishment, he and his mother moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1943 to ensure he would have a proper education.  Coltrane’s mother Alice worked as a domestic servant while nurturing her son's musical interest and encouraged him to enroll at the Ornstein School of Music.  
Sources: 
Lewis Porter, John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998); C.O. Simpkins, Coltrane: A Biography (Baltimore, Maryland: Black Classic Press, 1975).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Clyburn, James Enos (1940– )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
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James Enos Clyburn was born in Sumter, South Carolina on July 21, 1940 to parents Enos and Almeta Clyburn.  James Clyburn’s father was a minister and his mother was a cosmetologist.  In 1957 James Clyburn graduated from Mather Academy located in Camden, South Carolina.  Four years later he graduated with a B.A. in history from South Carolina State University.

After graduation Clyburn worked as a teacher for C.A. Brown High School in Charleston.  In 1971 he became a member of Governor John C. West’s staff, becoming the first African American to be an advisor to a Governor of South Carolina.  In 1974 Clyburn was appointed Commissioner of South Carolina’s Human Affairs Office by Governor West.  Clyburn held this position until he stepped down in order to pursue a seat in Congress in 1992.

In 1992 Clyburn decided to run for office after South Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District was redrawn to include an African American majority.  Clyburn campaigned for the seat as a Democratic candidate and won the seat.  He is currently in the House of Representatives and has received important positions during his tenure as a Congressman.  In 2003 he was named vice-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.  Three years later, in 2006, he became chairman.  Clyburn is also the majority whip making him the third most powerful Democrat in Congress and the most important African American in Congress. 
Sources: 
Kevin Merida, “A Place In the Sun, Jim Clyburn Rides High on A New Wave of Black Power,”  Washington Post. January 22, 2008 p. CO1: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/21/AR2008012102405.html
Silla Brush, “Hidden Power on the Hill,” U.S. News & World Report.  Feb. 25, 2007. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070225/5clyburn.htm
U.S Congressman James E. Clyburn’s official House site: http://clyburn.house.gov/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Poitier, Sidney (1927 - )

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People
History Type: 
African American History

Sidney Poitier from
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Image ©Bob Adelman/Bettmann/Corbis
Award winning actor, director, and author, Sidney Poitier broke racial barriers and stereotyping in the film industry to become the leading African American male actor of the 20th Century.  In a career that spanned 57 years, Poitier was a featured performer or starred in 48 films and directed six.  
Sources: 
Aram Goudsouzian, Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004; Sidney Poitier, The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000); Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West, The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country (New York: Free Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Haynes, Daniel (1894-1954)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 

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Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks In American Film (New York, NY: Continuum Publishing Company,1999); Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1978); Michael Mills, Midnight Ramble: Films 1930s, http://moderntimes.com/palace/black/film_images.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

De Porres, Martin (1579-1639)

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People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru, St. Martin de Porres is best known for his charitable work.  His piety allowed him access to the Dominican order of his country, and his acts of compassion for the sick became part of the justification for his canonization as the first black saint of the Americas.

Fathered by a Spaniard of noble birth, Don Juan de Porres, and born of an emancipated American black slave living in Panama, Anna Velasquez, Martin de Porres’ fair-mindedness and empathy became discernible traits at an early age.

Educated for a time in Santiago de Guayaquil, de Porres returned to Lima and by 1591 had become an apprentice to a surgeon/barber.  Upon gaining knowledge of medicine, de Porres began applying his skills in healing the sick and infirmed.  His work with the underclasses of Lima culminated with his decision to apply as a helper to the Convent of the Most Holy Rosary, a Dominican community.  Because of his racial background, he wasn’t immediately offered the holy habit but was promoted to distributing alms, attracting large sums of donations to support his work in a Dominican infirmary. It was here where de Porres’ reputation as a “miracle healer” began.  

Sources: 

J. W. Seabrook, “Review of Meet Brother Martin!” The Journal of Negro History, 26:4 (October, 1941); Gayle Murchison, “Mary Lou Williams’s Hymn Black Christ of the Andes (St Martin de Porres):  Vatican II, Civil Rights, and Jazz as Sacred Music,” The Musical Quarterly, 86:4 (2002).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Vincent, Marjorie (1964- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Marjorie Judith Vincent, the fourth African American to be crowned Miss America, was born on November 12, 1964 in Oak Park, Illinois. She was Miss America 1991. Vincent is the daughter of Lucien and Florence Vincent of Cap Haitien, Haiti. Vincent’s parents migrated to the United States in the early 1960s and Marjorie was the first of their children to be born on American soil. During her youth, Vincent attended Chicago catholic schools and took piano and ballet lessons. In the mid 1980s she entered DePaul University as a music major, eventually switching to business in her third year and graduating in 1988. The money she earned from beauty pageants enabled her to fund her education.

After failing to win twice at the state level, once as Miss North Carolina and as Miss Illinois, the third time was the charm as she became Miss Illinois 1990.  Winning at the state level allowed her to move on to the national competition in Atlantic City. During the September 1990 pageant she performed the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op.66) by Chopin. Vincent wowed the audience with her proficiency and went on to win the crown of Miss America 1991. She succeeded another black woman, Debbye Turner, Miss America 1990. Her victory marked the first time there were back-to-back black Miss Americas.

Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Valerie Helmbreck, “Miss America’s Changing Face,” Wilmington News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) September 18, 1990; Lynn Norment, “Back- to- Back Black Miss America’s,” Ebony, December 1990, 46-49, http://www.missamerica.org
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Sullivan, Louis Wade (1933- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

After witnessing poverty and discrimination in Depression-era Georgia, Louis Wade Sullivan committed his career to education and public service, rising to become Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush.  He also was the founder and long-time president of Morehouse College School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

Louis Wade Sullivan was born in Atlanta in 1933, but when his family moved to a small Georgia farming community that did not offer educational opportunities for African Americans, he was sent to live with relatives in Savannah where he could attend school.  After graduating at the top of his high school class, he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, earning a B.S. in the premedical program in 1954.  He then received a scholarship to Boston University School of Medicine, where he was the only African American in his class.  He graduated third in his class, earning an M.D. (cum laude) in 1958.  During his internship and residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, Sullivan conducted research into the correlation between blood and diseases.  He made several discoveries concerning alcohol and blood health, and subsequently conducted further medical research at Harvard Medical School and a number of other institutions during the following decades.  In 1976, he helped found the Association of Minority Health Professions Schools to promote a national minority health agenda.

Sources: 
Louis Wade Sullivan, America's Ailing Families: Diagnosing the Problem, Finding a Cure (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1992); Marilee Creelan, “Louis Sullivan,” The New Georgia Encyclopedia (Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Cain, Herman (1945- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Herman Cain, Republican Party activist and 2012 Presidential candidate is also a newspaper columnist, popular radio talk show host in Atlanta, and former chairman and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, a Pillsbury subsidiary.  Cain was born on December 13, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Luther and Lenora Cain.

Cain graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 1967, with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Mathematics. He received a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Purdue University, in 1971, while working as a mathematician for the U.S. Navy.   

In 1977 Cain joined the Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis. Within five years he had risen to the position of Vice-President of Corporate Systems and Services, making him, at 32, the youngest vice president in the history of the corporation. In 1982 he moved to the Burger King subsidiary of Pillsbury, where he gained a reputation for turning around struggling companies. Four years later Cain led a group of investors in purchasing faltering Godfather's Pizza from Pillsbury.    Rather than investing more money in marketing as traditional business models advised, he focused on improving service to customers. His strategy worked and Godfather’s became a success.  Cain stepped down as Godfather's CEO in 1996.

Sources: 
“Herman Cain: Possible ‘Dark Horse’ 2012 GOP Presidential Candidate,” http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/07/11/herman-cain-possible-dark-horse-2012-gop-presidential-candida/; American Visions, April/May 1995, p 41; New York Times, April 8, 1994, p. 18; January 8, 1995, p. 11; January 10, 1995, p. 15; July 28, 1996, p. 5; . Herman Cain's official website.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Texas

Clarke, Hansen Hashem (1957- )

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the
U.S. House of Representatives
Hansen Clarke is a Democratic politician, lawyer, and artist who represented the 13th District of Michigan in the U.S. Congress between 2011 and 2013.  Born March 2, 1957 in Detroit, his father, Mozaffar Ali Hashem, was an undocumented Bangladeshi immigrant, and his mother Thelma Clarke was African American.

Clarke grew up on Detroit’s lower east side where, in1964, his father showed him a picture of Dalip Saund (the first Indian congressman) a year before the representative passed away. Clarke who was eight became interested in politics.  His mother, a crossing guard, raised him with the assistance of food stamps, and encouraged his interest in oil painting. He attended Cass Technical High School and then graduated from Governor Dummer Academy in 1975.  The following year he was admitted to Cornell University on an academic scholarship. During his freshman year, his mother passed away.

While at Cornell Clarke successfully ran for the student seat on the University’s Board of Trustees to defend need-based scholarships to disadvantaged students. He graduated with a B.F.A. with a focus on painting in 1984, and acquired a Juris Doctor degree at Georgetown University in 1987.
Sources: 
Jennie L. Ilustre, “Hansen Clarke, 1st U.S. Congressman from Bangladesh,” Asian Fortune News (April 1, 2011); Ronald H. Bayor, Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the newest Americans (Santa Barbara, California: Greenwood Publishing, 2011); http://web.archive.org/web/20070205183412/http://www.senate.mi.gov/clarke/about.htm ; http://www.washingtontimes.com/campaign-2012/candidates/hansen-clarke-55113/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Rector, Sarah (1902–1967)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Sarah Rector at Age 12
Sarah Rector received international attention at the age of eleven when The Kansas City Star in 1913 publicized the headline, “Millions to a Negro Girl.” From that moment Rector’s life became a cauldron of misinformation, legal and financial maneuvering, and public speculation. 

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.

Sources: 
Tonya Bolden, Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America, (New York: Abrams Books, 2014); http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2010/04/remembering-sarah-rector-creek.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Day, Ava Speese (1912-1988)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in 1912, Ava Speese (Day) traveled with her family in 1915 to homestead in Cherry County, Nebraska.  Taking advantage of the Kincaid Homestead Act of 1904, the Speese family, Charles and Rosetta Meehan Speese and their nine children, were among forty African American families who made land claims throughout the county. Some of the settlers founded a small town they named DeWitty after a local black store owner.  

Years later, Ava Speese wrote about her life in the Sand Hills of Nebraska, an account that would provide a rare glimpse into African Americans on the Nebraska frontier.  Ava’s narrative recalled a difficult life for African Americans in north central Nebraska but she also described a resourceful and vital community.  Like most homesteaders of the era, the Speeses lived in a sod home which originally consisted of one room but which grew as the family prospered.  She recalled many a night watching her mother bake bread and sew their clothing by hand.  Learning to be resourceful, Ava and her siblings made toothbrushes out of burnt corn cobs, and natural herbs were used to ward off colds and the flu. Ava Speese attended two one room, wood frame schools in Cherry County where she learned to value education.   
Sources: 
Sod House Memories, Vol. I-IV, ed. Frances Jacob Alberts (Hastings, Neb.: Sod House Society, 1972), Vol. 3:253-267; Forrest H. Stith, Sunrises & Sunsets For Freedom, p. 26-36; http://www.nebraskahistory.org/lib-arch/research/manuscripts/family/ava-day.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jordan, George (1849?-1904)

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People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
George Jordan, buffalo soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, hailed from rural Williamson County in central Tennessee.  Enlisting in the 38th Infantry Regiment on 25 December 1866, the short and illiterate Jordan proved a good soldier.  In January 1870, he transferred to the 9th Cavalry’s K Troop, his home for the next twenty-six years.  Earning the trust of his troop commander, Captain Charles Parker, Jordan was promoted to corporal in 1874; by 1879, he wore the chevrons of a sergeant.  It was during these years that Jordan learned how to read and write, an accomplishment that certainly facilitated his advancement in the Army.

On 14 May 1880, following a difficult forced march at night, a twenty-five man detachment under Jordan successfully repulsed a determined attack on old Fort Tularosa, New Mexico, by more numerous Apaches.  The next year on 12 August, still campaigning against the Apaches, Jordan’s actions contributed to the survival of a detachment under Captain Parker when they were ambushed in Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico.  Although neither engagement received much attention initially, in 1890 Jordan was awarded a Medal of Honor for Tularosa and a Certificate of Merit for Carrizo Canyon.

By the time of his retirement in 1896 at Fort Robinson, Jordan had served ten years as first sergeant of a veteran troop renowned for its performance against the Apache and Sioux.  Jordan joined other buffalo soldier veterans in nearby Crawford, Nebraska, and became a successful land owner, although his efforts to vote bore little fruit.
Sources: 
Charles L. Kenner, Buffalo Soldiers and Officers of the Ninth Cavalry, 1867-1898: Black and White TogetherBlack Valor: Buffalo Soldiers and the Medal of Honor, 1870-1898 (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Incorporated, 1997); Frank Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldiers II: New and Revised Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917 (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004).
(Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jay, James M. (1927-2008)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Microbiologist James Monroe Jay was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia on September 12, 1927.  Following service in the U.S. Army during World War II he earned his bachelor’s degree at Paine College (cum laude), then his master’s in 1953 and Ph.D. in bacteriology and biochemistry at Ohio State University in 1956.  After postdoctoral work at OSU he began four years of teaching at Southern University.  He spent the balance of his full-time teaching career (1961 to 1994) at Wayne State University.  Jay continues his scientific investigations -- primarily focused on E. coli -- in a laboratory at his home in Henderson, Nevada and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Jay has published nearly 70 research papers but he is best known for his classic, internationally popular textbook Modern Food Microbiology (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold) which has enjoyed seven editions since it first appeared in 1970.  It has been published in Spanish, Hindi, Malaysian, and Chinese. An expert in the history of blacks in the sciences, who has tried to encourage their entry into science-related careers, he has also published the 87-page Negroes in Science: Natural Science Doctorates, 1876-1969 (Detroit: Balamp Publishing, 1971).

Sources: 
Notable Black American Scientists (Detroit: Gale Research, 1990); African Americans in Science, Math, and Invention (New York: Facts On File, 2003); http://www.asm.org/news/index.asp?bid=16394
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Nixon, Lawrence A. (1883-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Dr. Lawrence Aaron Nixon was born in Marshall, Texas and graduated from Wiley College (l902) and Meharry Medical College (l906). He began his medical practice in Cameron, Texas but moved to El Paso in l909. In l9l0, he was joined in El Paso by his first wife Esther (nee Calvin) and their infant son. While practicing as a physician in El Paso, Dr. Nixon became a founder, organizer and member of Myrtle Avenue Methodist Church as well as a charter member of the El Paso branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A registered Democrat, Dr. Nixon challenged a 1923 state law that barred African Americans from participating in that party’s electoral primaries.

In Nixon v. Herndon in l927 and Nixon v. Condon in l932, the El Paso physician won two important United States Supreme Court rulings making unconstitutional the Democratic Party’s all white primaries. However, white state party leaders, through resistance and obfuscation, continued to prevent black Texans from participating in primary elections. Circumvention of the Court’s rulings continued until the decisive Smith v. Allwright case in l944 which effectively abolished the all-white primary. Dr. Nixon and his second wife, Drusilla Tandy (nee Porter) whom he married in l935, proudly voted that year.
Sources: 
Conrey Bryson, Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon and the White Primary (El Paso, Texas Western Press, l974); Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon Papers, Lyndon B. Johnson Library, University of Texas, Austin.
Affiliation: 
University of Texas at El Paso

Clayton, Eva (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Charles Christian, Black Sage: The African American Experience (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995); Alston Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); bioguide.congress.gov; www.answers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Nabrit, Samuel Milton (1905-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

A marine biologist, academic, and administrator, Samuel Milton Nabrit was born in Macon, Georgia, to James Madison Nabrit and Gertrude West in 1905.  Upon completing his elementary and high school education, he entered Morehouse College in 1921.  There he earned the B.S. degree in Biology in May 1925 and spent the summer teaching at his alma mater.  His stay at Morehouse was short lived because in September, 1925, he entered the University of Chicago where he pursued a master’s degree.  Five years after completing his M.A. in 1927, Nabrit became the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences when he graduated from Brown University in 1932.

Sources: 
Samuel M. Nabrit Files, Heartman Collection, Texas Southern University.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Texas Southern University

Baker, Josephine (1906-1975)

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People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

In 1925 Josephine Baker took Paris, France by storm, appearing on stage in “La Revue Negre” wearing nothing but a skirt of artificial bananas in Danse Sauvage.  Born Josephine Freda MacDonald in St. Louis, Missouri on June 3, 1906, she was nicknamed “Tumpy” because she was a chubby baby.  Her mother, Carrie MacDonald was part black and part Apalachee Indian, while her father Eddie Carson was part black and part Spanish. Both were popular dance hall entertainers in the St. Louis area in the early 1900s. After her brother, Richard, was born, Baker’s father abandoned the family and left them nearly destitute. Carrie MacDonald soon married Arthur Martin with whom she had two daughters, Margaret and Willie May.

Sources: 
Josephine Baker & Jo Bouillon, Josephine (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1976); David Levering Lewis, ed., The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader (New York: Viking, 1994); http://womenshistory.about.com/ .
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Paul, Thomas, Sr. (1773-1831)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Home of Thomas Paul, Boston
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Thomas Paul was the eldest of six sons born into a free Black family in Exeter, New Hampshire.   Educated at a Baptist school in Hollis, NH, Paul pursued a career in the ministry as did three of his brothers.  He enjoyed a reputation as an eloquent speaker and traveled throughout New England as a guest preacher.  In 1804, he received his ordination.  The following year, he married Catherine Waterhouse and had three children, Ann Catherine, Susan, and Thomas, Jr.

Shortly after moving his family to Boston, Thomas Paul, Sr. was installed as the first pastor of the First African Baptist Church in December in 1806.  He served this congregation until 1829, two years before his death.  

Paul was a leader in the movement to establish independent Black churches in the United States.  He assisted the Black Baptists in New York City in the establishment of the African Baptist Society, which later evolved into the Abyssinian Baptist Church.  Paul’s church took on several names between 1806 and the early 1830s, including the Independence Baptist Church, the Abolition Church, and, finally, St. Paul’s.  

During his ministerial career, the Rev. Paul also pursued foreign missionary work. In 1815, he traveled to Haiti under the auspices of the Massachusetts Baptist Society, where he stayed for six months.  Unable to communicate in French, Paul met with limited success in his ability to convert Haitians.
Sources: 
J. Marcus Mitchell, “The Paul Family,” Old Time New England, LXIII(Winter, 1973): 74-76, Rayford W. Logan and Winston, Michael R., eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography (NY: Norton, 1982), 482-3, James Oliver Horton & Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hackley, Emma Azalia (1867-1922)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Emma Azalia Smith Hackley was an African American singer and Denver political activist born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1867.  Her parents, business owners Henry and Corilla Smith, moved to Detroit where she attended Washington Normal School, graduating in 1886.  Smith, a child prodigy learned to play the piano at three and later took private voice, violin and French lessons.

Emma Smith worked as an elementary school teacher for eighteen years.  During that period she met and married Edwin Henry Hackley a Denver attorney and editor of the city’s black newspaper, the Denver Statesman.  In 1900 Hackley received her music degree from Denver University.  In 1905-1906 she studied voice in Paris with former Metropolitan Opera star Jean de Reszke.

Hackley was active in black Denver’s civic and social life.  She founded the Colored Women’s League and served as executive director of its local branch.  She and her husband also founded the Imperial Order of Libyans which fought racial discrimination and promoted patriotism among African Americans.
Sources: 
M. Marguerite Davenport, Azalia: The Life of Madame E. Azalia Hackley (Boston: Chapman & Grimes, 1947); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982);  "Seven--As Large As She Can Make It": The Role of Black Women Activists in Music, 1880-1945” in Cultivating Music in America, http://www.escholarship.org/editions/view?docId=ft838nb58v&doc.view=content&chunk.id=d0e8684&toc.depth=1&anchor.id=0&brand=eschol
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Burris, Roland (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

On January 15, 2009 Roland Wallace Burris was sworn in as the U.S. Senator from Illinois.  Burris's appointment made him the third African American U.S. Senator from the state and the sixth black U.S. Senator in the history of the United States.  The appointment, however, was marred by controversy as he was appointed to fill the Senatorial seat of President Barack Obama by Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich who had been arrested for allegedly attempting to sell that seat to the highest bidder.  

Sources: 

New York Times.com – Man in the News – Roland W. Burris,
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/31/us/31burris.html?; Politico.com – Who
is Roland Burris? http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid; Time in
Partnership with CNN, Roland Burris,  http://www.time.com/time

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Nevada Las Vegas

Haynes, George Edmund (1880-1960)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Author, educator and organizer George Edmund Haynes was a social scientist, religious leader and pioneer in social work education for African Americans. Born in 1880 to Louis and Mattie Haynes in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, George Haynes was the oldest of two children of a domestic worker mother and day laborer father. He was educated in the segregated and unequal school system of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  Eventually his family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas to pursue greater educational opportunities for the Haynes children.  
Sources: 
Nancy J. Weiss, The National Urban League, 1910-1940 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Holder, Eric H. (1951- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Eric H. Holder, Jr., U.S. Attorney General since 2009, was born on January 21, 1951 in the Bronx, New York to parents of Barbadian descent, Eric, a real estate agent and Miriam Holder, a telephone operator.  Holder was raised in East Elmhurst, Queens, a community which included a number of famous African Americans such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier. Civil rights activist Malcolm X lived two blocks from young Holder and on one occasion in 1964, then recently crowned heavy weight champion Muhammad Ali entertained him and other community children on the steps of the Malcolm’s house. 

Holder graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War protests and Black Power movement, he entered Columbia University where he participated in sit-ins by African American students. Holder also played collegiate basketball and became co-captain of his team.  In 1973, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in U.S. history from Columbia and then entered Columbia University Law School, earning a J.D. in 1976.  While in law school Holder served as a law clerk for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF).   

Sources: 

Glenn Thrush, “The Survivor: How Eric Holder Outlasted his Many Critics”
(July/August 2014). Found in
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/06/the-survivor-108018.html#...
http://www.cov.com/eholder/; http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/h/eric_h_h...
and http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/us/politics/11holder.html?_r=1; Michael D. Schear, "Holder Resigns, Setting Up Fight over Successor," New York Times, September 26, 2014, p. 1.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Bagnall, Robert W., Jr. (1883-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Minister and civil rights activist Robert W. Bagnall served as Director of Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) during the organization’s first significant period of growth in the early 20th century.  A graduate of Bishop Payne Divinity School in Petersburg, Virginia, Bagnall presided over several African Methodist Episcopal (AME) congregations along the Atlantic seaboard before arriving at Detroit’s St. Matthews AME Church in 1911.  At St. Matthews, he earned a reputation as both a committed religious leader and community activist.  One of the founding members of Detroit’s branch of the NAACP, Bagnall went on to serve as a regional NAACP recruiter before being appointed as national Director of Branches between 1921 and 1932.  

Like many other black civic leaders of the era, Bagnall mixed protest against racism with a vision of “racial uplift.”  As a spokesperson for the Detroit NAACP branch in the 1910s, he denounced the growth of segregation and discrimination that appeared in the wake of expanded black migration to the North while seeking to promote migrants as loyal, responsible industrial workers.  Throughout the early 20th century, Bagnall remained optimistic that black migration northward had politically invigorated African American protest politics.
Sources: 
“The NAACP,” The Crisis 2 (October 1911), 241-42;  “Robert Bagnall with N. A. A. C. P.,” The Messenger III (March 1921), 196;  Robert W. Bagnall, “The Three False Gods of Civilization,” The Messenger V (August 1923), 789-791;  Bagnall, “The Madness of Marcus Garvey,” The Messenger V (March 1923), 638, 648;  Bagnall, “Michigan--The Land of Many Waters,” The Messenger VIII (April 1926), 101-102, 123;  Bernice Dutrieuelle Shelton, “Robert Wellington Bagnall,” The Crisis 50 (November 1943), 334, 347;  Charles Flint Kellogg, NAACP, A History of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1967); Victoria W. Wolcott, Remaking Respectability:  African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University.

House, Edward James (“Son”), Jr. (1902-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Sources: 
Daniel Beaumont, Preachin' the Blues: The Life and Times of Son House (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Robert Palmer, Deep Blues (New York: Penguin Group, 1981); Gayle Dean Wardlow, Chasin’ That Devil Music (San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Scott, Timothy (1965- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Former Congressmen Tim Scott Being Sworn in as U.S. Senator
from South Carolina, January 2, 2013
Image Ownership: Public Domain
U.S. Senator from South Carolina, Timothy Eugene Scott is the first black Republican elected to the Senate from the South since Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce served in that body representing Mississippi from 1876 to 1881.  Before his appointment to the Senate post on December 17, 2012, Scott was a Congressman representing South Carolina's 1st Congressional District.  Elected during the 2010 midterm elections, he was also the first black Republican elected to the House of Representatives from South Carolina since George Washington Murray, who served in Congress from 1896 to 1897.  

Senator Scott, born on September 19, 1965 in North Charleston and grew up in this impoverished neighborhood.  His parents divorced when he was seven.  In order to make ends meet, his mother, Frances, worked sixteen hour days as a nurse’s assistant, a profession which she still holds.  Scott’s older brother is a U.S. Army officer, stationed in Germany.        

Sources: 
"Guide to the New Congress," CQ Roll Call  (accessed February 8, 2011); "Representative Timothy E. "Tim" Scott," South Carolina Legislature, http://www.scstatehouse.gov/members/bios/1646306621.html. (accessed February 8, 2011);  Alex Isenstadt, "Palin backs Scott," Politico, June 19, 2010, National Public Radio"s"It's All Politics, Frank James, “Black GOP Lawmakers Face Tricky Relations With Democrats,” January 4, 2011; Robert Behre,  "Assignments please Scott," Charleston Post Courier, December 17, 2010; Katherine Seelye, "South Carolina Candidate Shrugs Off History’s Lure," New York Times, June 25, 2010; "Nikki Haley appoints Rep Tim Scott to the Senate," Washington Post, December 17, 2012.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Texas

Keckley, Elizabeth Hobbs (1818-1907)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley is best known as Mary Lincoln’s dressmaker and confidant and as the author of Behind the Scenes By Elizabeth Keckley, Formerly a Slave, But More Recently Modiste, and Friend to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868).  

Elizabeth Hobbs was born into slavery on the Col. Armistead Burwell farm in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, in 1818 to Agnes and George Pleasant Hobbs (although her biographer Jennifer Fleischner asserts that Col. Burwell was in fact Hobbs’s father).  Agnes and George had an “abroad” marriage meaning that except for one brief period of time when George resided on the Burwell property, the family lived apart.  George Hobbs was parted from his family permanently when his master relocated west.  
Sources: 
Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes By Elizabeth Keckley, Formerly a Slave, But More Recently Modiste, and Friend to Mrs. Abraham Lincoln,  Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868), available electronically at:  http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/keckley/keckley.html;  Jennifer Fleischner, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly (New York: Broadway Books, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Gittens, Charles LeRoy (1928–2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Charles L. Gittens was an American Secret Service agent.  He joined the Secret Service in 1956, becoming the agency's first African American agent.  An Army veteran, Gittens began his career at the agency's office in Charlotte, North Carolina.  However, he was soon posted to its New York field office, where he was part of an elite “special detail” that targeted counterfeiters and other criminals across the country.
Sources: 
Jenée Desmond-Harris, “First Black Secret Service Special Agent Dies,” The Root, posted August 10, 2011, 4:15 p.m.; Abraham Bolden, The Echo from Dealey Plaza (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008); Del Quentin Wilber, “Charles L. Gittens, First Black Secret Service Agent, Dies at 82,” Washington Post, August 10, 2011.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pratt , Edwin T. (1930-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Edwin Thomas Pratt had been a leader in Seattle, Washington’s civil rights movement for a decade when he was assassinated at the front door of his home on January 26, 1969. At the time, Pratt was Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League. His murder remains unsolved.

Pratt was born in 1930 into a tight-knit community of Bahamian immigrants in Coconut Grove, Florida, a Miami suburb. His parents, Miriam and Josephus Pratt, raised five children.  Josephus was a construction laborer and Miriam was a housekeeper and laundress in the hotel industry.

Sources: 
Michael J. Parks, “A Decade of Involvement in Rights Movements,” The Seattle Times, February 2, 1969, p. 35; Caption, “Services Held for Pratt,” The Seattle Times, February 1, 1969, p.1; Interview by the contributor with Charles Whittle, Jr., Miami, Florida, by telephone, November 8, 2012; Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (New York: Doubleday, 2008); Interview by the contributor with Walter Frierson, Miami, Florida, by telephone, November 16, 2012; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); Nancy J. Weiss, Whitney M. Young, Jr. and the Struggle for Civil Rights (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994); Interview by the contributor with (Retired) Bishop John Hurst Adams, Atlanta, GA, May 11, 2012.

 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Temple, Ruth Janetta (1892-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Dr. Ruth Janetta Temple was born in Natchez, Mississippi in 1892. After her father’s death, the Temple family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1904 where her mother worked as a practical nurse and Ruth cared for her five siblings.  Temple’s interest in medicine surfaced when her brother was seriously injured in a gunpowder explosion.  She recalled that “at that time I thought that women were nurses.  I didn’t know they were doctors.  When I learned that women were doctors, I said `Ah, that’s what I want to be’.”  In 1913 Ruth Temple was invited to speak to the Los Angeles Forum, an African American cultural and political organization established in 1903.  She so impressed Forum members, especially  prominent black activist, T.W. Troy,  that  they “became deeply interested in my potential,” and “did the unprecedented thing” of sponsoring  her with a five-year scholarship to the College of Medical Evangelists (which is now Loma Linda University).  
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 2, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 1156-1157.
Affiliation: 
California State University, Sacramento

Hansberry, William Leo (1894-1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America; L. Mpho Mabunda, ed., The African Almanac; “The Global African Community” at http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/hansberry.html (6-20-06) and http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/hansberry2.html (6-20-06); “Mississippi Writers Page” at http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/hansberry_william_leo/index.html; and “Africa Within” at http://www.africawithin.com/hansberry_profile.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Rudolph, Wilma (1940-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Wilma Rudolph with Her Olympic Gold Medals
Image Courtesy of The Library of Congress
Wilma Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940 in Bethlehem, Tennessee, one of eight children to parents Ed and Blanche Rudolph.  Wilma weighed only four-and-a-half pounds at birth and was born with polio and left for a time with only the use of her right leg because of it.  She suffered from double pneumonia twice and scarlet fever once before she was four years of age.  For two years, her mother brought her weekly to Meharry Medical College in Nashville for treatment.  Her family also massaged her leg at least four times daily.  From age five to nine, she wore a metal brace to correct her polio condition.  During that time she noticed the trips were always made on segregated buses that required African Americans sit in the back.

Rudolph entered Cobb Elementary School in Clarksville in 1947 and it was here that she discovered her passion for sports.  In eighth grade, she joined the track team even though basketball was her first love, and ran in five different events in high school.  By the age of 16, she was a bronze medalist in the 1956 Olympics.  In September of 1958, she entered Tennessee State University majoring in elementary education and psychology.  
Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=131.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Brisby, William H. (1831-1916)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
William BrisbyWilliam Henry Brisby was born free in New Kent County, Virginia in 1831 and lived on 32 acres of land that he inherited from his father.  He later bought additional land and eventually had a 179 acre farm.  Brisby worked mostly as a blacksmith and wheelwright but raised sheep, and engaged in commercial fishing.
Sources: 
Luther Porter Jackson, Negro Office Holders in Virginia, 1865-1895 (Norfolk: Guide Quality Press, 1945); John T. Kneebone, ed., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Hawaii

Meek, Carrie (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Carrie Meek was born on April 29, 1926, in Tallahassee, Florida. Her parents were sharecroppers and her childhood neighborhood was racially segregated.  Meek attended and graduated from Florida A&M University. Graduate schools in Florida were still segregated at this time so she was forced to move to Michigan to pursue her Masters in Science at University of Michigan where she graduated from in 1948.

Meek worked as an educator at Bethune Cookman College, Florida A&M University, and Miami-Dade Community College until 1979 when she was elected to serve in the Florida State House of Representatives. In 1982 Meek became the first African American woman to be elected to the Florida State Senate. During her time in the State Senate, Meek focused on issues of Education and affordable housing, including supporting a bill that led to the construction of thousands of affordable housing units.
Sources: 
Charles Christian, Black Saga: The African American Experience: A Chronology (Chicago: Basic Books Publishing, 1998);
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000628
http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioi
ndex=132&category=politicalMakers

Nix, Robert Nelson Cornelius, Sr. (1898-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Robert Nelson Cornelius Nix, Sr. was born on August 9, 1905 in Orangeburg, South Carolina, where his father, Nelson, was dean of South Carolina State College. Nix graduated from Townsend Harris High School in New York City, and then from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1921. In 1924, he received his law degree from University of Pennsylvania and began practice in Philadelphia the following year. Nix became active in Democratic politics and was elected a committeeman from the Forty-fourth Ward in 1932. From 1934 to 1938 he held a series of positions in a private law firm, in the Pennsylvania State Department of Revenue as special deputy attorney general, and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as special assistant deputy attorney general.  In 1956 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

After Representative Earl Chudoff resigned his Fourth Congressional District seat to become a Philadelphia judge, Nix defeated two opponents in a special election to fill the vacancy and was sworn on May 20, 1958.  Nix was the first African American to represent Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990; www.bioguide.congress.gov
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Tony Dungy (1955- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Tony Dungy, a former professional football player and current coach for the Indianapolis Colts, is the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl.  Dungy has been hailed as a coaching genius, changing losing organizations into winners.   Despite overwhelming personal and professional obstacles, he continues to be the picture of humility, simultaneously earning respect both on and off the field because of his strong convictions and high personal standards of ethics and behavior.

Tony Dungy was born on October 6, 1955, in Jackson, Michigan to Wilbur and CleoMae Dungy, both of whom were educators.  Early on, his family placed a great deal of emphasis on academics and intellectual achievements as much as athletic ones.  However, even in a household where the focus was on education, Dungy was drawn to sports, particularly football. He attended Jackson’s Parkside High School, where he played guard for the basketball team and quarterback for the football team. Dungy excelled as an athlete and was even featured in the Sports Illustrated section, “Faces in the Crowd,” in 1970.  His immense talent and numbers would not go unnoticed by colleges and recruiters around the nation.
Sources: 
Tony Dungy and Nathaniel Whitaker, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007); http://www.colts.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Moore, Juanita (1922-2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Veteran actress Juanita Moore is fondly remembered for her tear-jerking role of Annie Johnson in Douglas Sirk’s 1959 remake of Imitation of Life. Moore was a groundbreaking actress best known for her role as Lana Turner's character's black friend in the film.  In 1960 she became only the fifth African American nominated for an Oscar.  The nomination was based on her role in Imitation of Life.

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1922, Moore graduated with a degree in drama from Los Angeles City College and moved to New York where she began her show business career as a nightclub singer and dancer and eventually worked as a chorus girl in New York's famed Cotton Club.

Moore eventually traveled abroad, performing in top European clubs, including the London Palladium and the Moulin Rouge in Paris, France before embarking on her film career in late 1949, making her debut as an un-credited nurse in the race-conscious film Pinky. In the early 1950s she worked in Los Angeles's Ebony Showcase, a leading black-run theater.  Later in the decade she was a member of the celebrated Cambridge Players which included other up-and-coming black performers such as Esther Rolle.

Sources: 

Ephraim Katz, The Film Encyclopedia, (New York: Harper Collins, 1994); James R. Parish, Hollywood Character Actors, (New Rochelle, NY, Arlington House Publishers, 1978);  Roy Pickard, The Oscar Stars From A-Z, (London, England: Headline Book Publishing, 1996); Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1978).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Lindsay, Powell (1905-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Henry T. Sampson, Blacks in Black and White (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1995); Errol G. Hill, A History of African American Theatre (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Loften Mitchell, Black Drama (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bennett, Chris H. (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Seattle newspaper publisher Chris H. Bennett was born in Waynesboro, Georgia in 1943. He spent four years in the Air Force before attending Everett Community College in Everett, Washington, where he played football. Bennett then worked for the African American newspaper The Facts before leaving to start Seattle Medium.

Twenty-seven-year-old Bennett founded Seattle Medium newspaper in 1970, locating it in an office above a dry-cleaning shop. He promoted the Medium as a weekly African American paper that focuses on community and local news in the Seattle area. Its masthead slogan reads, "A message for the people, by the people."

Sources: 

Himanee Gupta, "Chris Bennett: Publisher Uses Media as Mediums for his Message," Seattle Times (February 26, 1990); www.seattlemedium.com.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Lam, Wilfredo (1902-1982)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
La Jungla by Wilfredo Lam
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Sagua la Grande, Cuba, Wilfredo Lam exemplified the multi-faceted nature of Latin America:  his father was Chinese while his mother boasted a combined African, Indian, and European cultural background.  Utilizing some of this background, Lam, through art, would explore various African and Caribbean cultural themes and exhibit his art both in the United States and in Europe.

Already at an early age, Wilfredo’s talents as an artist were becoming recognized.  By the age of 14, he had enrolled at Havana’s fine arts institution, Escuela de Bellas Artes. Two years later his work began to come into the public eye through the various exhibitions initiated by Havana’s sculptor and painters association.  During this time, Lam primarily worked in still life and landscapes.
Sources: 
Karen Juanita Carrillo, “Cuba Celebrates Birth of Wilfredo Lam,” New York Amsterdam News 98:51 (Dec. 2007); Lowery Stokes Sims, Wilfredo Lam and the International Avant-garde, 1923-1982 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002); http://www.cubanet.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Ben-Jochannan, Yosef (1918- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Yosef Ben-Jochannan is an Afrocentric historian whose work is focused mainly on black presence in ancient Egypt. He contends in his writings that the pharaohs came out of the heart of Africa and that the original Jews were from Ethiopia and were black Africans, and the white Jews adopted the faith and customs later. He has been accused of distorting history, and, since his work contradicts the prevailing view of Egyptian and African history, it is, therefore, controversial.

Ben-Jochannan was born an only child to an Ethiopian father and an Afro-Puerto Rican Jewish mother in a Falasha community in Ethiopia. He attended schools in Brazil, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Cuba and earned degrees in engineering and anthropology. He continued his education at the University of Havana, Cuba, where he earned a Master’s degree in architectural engineering. He earned a doctoral degree in cultural anthropology from the same school, and finally, he attended the University of Barcelona, where he earned another doctoral degree, this time in Moorish history.
Sources: 

Mary Lefkowitz, Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York: Basic Books, 1997); Tanangachi Mfuni, ”Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antiono ben-Jochannan in his own words,” New York Amsterdam News 97:6 (February 2006); http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=1369&category=Educationmakers

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Thomas, Harry K., Jr. (1956- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Though born in New York City, New York’s Harlem community, Harry Keels Thomas, Jr. was raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Queens where most parents were civil servants.   His mother was a social worker and his father, a World War II veteran, operated small businesses.  Thomas finished Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1978 with a degree in political science.  Upon earning a master’s degree in urban planning at Columbia University, he was employed for three years as an urban planner in the South Bronx.
Sources: 
Joyce Xi, “An Interview with Harry K. Thomas, US Ambassador to the Philippines,” http://thepolitic.org/an-interview-with-harry-k-thomas-u-s-ambassador-to-the-philippines/; Michelle M. Murphy, “Alumnus Carries Spirit of Holy Cross to Bangladesh,” http://www.holycross.edu/departments/publicaffairs/hcm/03fa/features/feature4.html ; Ray Butch Gamboa, “Getting to Know H.E. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.,” http://www.philstar.com/business/2012-06-23/820335/getting-know-he-ambassador-harry-k-thomas-jr
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Hall, Prince (c. 1735-1807)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Prince Hall was an important social leader in Boston following the Revolutionary War and the founder of black freemasonry. His birth and childhood are unclear. There were several Prince Halls in Boston at this time. He is believed to have been the slave of a Boston leather worker who was granted freedom in 1770 after twenty-one years of service. He then opened a successful leather goods store, owned his house, was a taxpayer, and a voter. Hall supplied the Boston Regiment with leather goods and may have fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In 1775, fifteen free blacks, including Hall, joined a freemason lodge of British soldiers. They formed their own lodge, African Lodge #1, when the British left. However, they were not granted full stature by the Grand Lodge of England until 1784. The actual charter arrived in 1787, at which time Hall became the Worshipful Master. Even though they had full stature, most white freemason lodges in America did not treat them equally. Hall helped other black Masonic lodges form. Upon his death in 1807, they became the Prince Hall Grand Lodges.  There are 46 lodges across the United States today.

Sources: 
“Prince Hall,” Africans in America. 1998. WGBH and PBS. 12 July 2006, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p37.html ; “Prince Hall,” Encyclopedia of Black America, Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), p. 412; “Prince Hall,” Gale Bibliography Resource Center. 12 July 2006, http://www.gale.com/BiographyRC/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Streeter, Mel (1931-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mel Streeter was born in Riverside, California in 1931. He attended the University of Oregon on a basketball scholarship and was the second African-American basketball player at Oregon after declining an offer by legendary basketball coach John Wooden to attend UCLA, because UCLA did not have an architecture program. Streeter graduated with a bachelor's degree in architecture in 1955.

At the University of Oregon, Streeter was enrolled in the United States Army ROTC program. After serving as a second lieutenant in the transport unit at Ft. Lawton from 1955 to 1957,  he stayed in Seattle to raise a family and tried finding work at local architectural firms. He struck out 22 times before he finally found work with Paul Hayden Kirk and Fred Bassetti.

In 1967, Streeter opened the third black-owned architecture firm in Seattle. In the 1970s, he teamed with Paul Dermanis to form Streeter/Dermanis. By the early 1990s, the two partners had split and Streeter created Streeter & Associates Architects. The firm is known for projects such as Auburn City Hall, the Federal Aviation Administration Regional Headquarters and several buildings at Naval Station Everett.
Sources: 
“Architect, 'life mentor' Mel Streeter dead at 75” by Sam Bennett, Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, June 15, 2006 and “Streeter, pioneering architect, dead at 75” by Athima Chansanchai, Seattle Post Intelligencer, Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Tanner, Jack (1919-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jack Tanner was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1919.  His father, Ernie Tanner, was a respected local leader in the Tacoma local of the International Longshoremen’s Union, an organization that Jack Tanner eventually joined when he worked on the city’s docks.  Before joining the union, however, Tanner was a star student-athlete at Stadium High School in Tacoma. Upon graduation he joined the U.S. Army in World War II and served in the Pacific in a segregated unit, an experience that provided this Pacific Northwest native his first view of racial discrimination as it was practiced in much of the United States. That view would influence Tanner’s actions as a lawyer and later as a federal judge.

When he returned from World War II Tanner enrolled in the College of Puget Sound while working on the docks.  Upon graduation he enrolled in the University of Washington Law School and received a J.D. degree in 1955.  In the early 1950s Tanner was the only African American enrolled in the law school. Even after passing the bar Tanner kept his longshore job because the prospects for black attorneys in the Tacoma area in the 1950s were slim.
Sources: 
The Honorable Jack E. Tanner Papers, Washington State History Museum, Tacoma, Washington.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
United States Magistrate Judge

Hudson, Hosea (1898-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Nell Irvin Painter
Hosea Hudson was a Communist Party (CP) activist and industrial union organizer in Alabama and Georgia during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He embodied the CP's turn toward black civil rights in the early 1930s and the attraction many working-class southern blacks felt toward the Party during and, in Hudson's case, well after the Depression decade.

Hudson was born in rural Wilkes County, Georgia in 1898.The son of sharecroppers and the grandson of a former slave, he endured poverty and hunger as a child and received little formal education. He married in 1917, had his first and only child a year later, and worked for several years as a sharecropper and common laborer in Wilkes County and Atlanta. In 1924 Hudson moved his family to Birmingham where he found work as an iron molder.
Sources: 
Nell Irvin Painter, The Narative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979); Hosea Hudson, Black Worker in the Deep South: A Personal Record (New York: International Publishers, 1972); Robin D.G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe:  Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1990).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

White, V. Ethel Willis (1920-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
The endowment named in honor of V Ethel Willis White is unusual in that the person honored was not a wealthy woman in the usual sense of the word.  Instead V Ethel Willis White’s wealth derived from her inspiration to others.
Sources: 
“Honoring Dignity: V Ethel Willis White Endowed Book Series,” Excerpts:  Newsletter of the University of Washington Press (Summer 2004); Susan T. Herring, “Willis & Wyman’s, Match Made in Heaven,” The Guardian-Journal, 23 June 2005; Jack Hamann, “Endowed Book Series Selects On American Soil,” Jack Hamann, Author/Journalist, http://www.jackhamann.com/news/v_ethel_willis_white.html (6 July 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hawkins, Coleman (1904-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Coleman Hawkins with Miles Davis
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Coleman Randolph Hawkins was born November 21, 1904, in Saint Joseph, Missouri.  He began his musical education early with lessons on both the piano and cello.  Despite parental encouragement towards more classic instruments, Hawkins focused on the saxophone after he received a “C melody” tenor saxophone for his ninth birthday.  This gift was the start of a career that would establish Hawkins as a premier jazz saxophonist.    

By age twelve, Coleman was already being asked to play his sax at school dances and local events.  At 17 Hawkins became a professional musician when he joined pianist Jesse Stone’s group, the Blues Serenaders, in 1921 to play tenor sax.  Two years later he joined Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hound but quickly left to freelance with musical groups in the New York area.  It was during one of these engagements in 1923, where band leader Fletcher Henderson took note of Hawkins and asked him to join his band.
Sources: 
John Chilton, The Song of the Hawk: The Life and Recordings of Coleman Hawkins (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990);  PBS, http://www.pbs.org/jazz/biography/artist_id_hawkins_coleman.htm; Len Weinstock, Coleman Hawkins, Father of the Tenor Sax (http://www.redhotjazz.com/hawkinsaticle.html); Parabrisas Biography, http://www.parabrisas.com/d_hawkinsc.php.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Factor, Pompey (1849–1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Pompey Factor, former slave, scout for the United States Army and Congressional Medal of Honor winner, was born in Arkansas in 1849 to Hardy Factor, a black Seminole chief and an unknown Biloxi Indian woman.

By the end of that 2nd Seminole War (1835-1842), most of the Seminole Indians and runaway slaves were captured and removed to the Indian Territory. The fear of enslavement drove many black Seminole to Mexico in the 1850s. Factor’s family was among those who emigrated.
On August 16, 1870, Factor enlisted in the Army and was assigned the rank of private with the Detachment of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts who worked with the Twenty-fourth Infantry, an all-black regiment. As a scout, he performed reconnaissance duties in Texas for the Army, tracking the movements of Comanches, Apaches, Kiowa and other Native Americans who refused to go to reservations.

Sources: 
Katz, William Loren, Black People Who Made the Old West, (Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1992); The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture www.encyclopediaofarskansas.net/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Black Genealogy Research Group

Diop, Cheikh Anta (1923-1986)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Distinguished historian and Pan-Africanist political leader, Cheikh Anta Diop was born in Diourbel, Senegal on December 23, 1933 to a Muslim Wolof family. Part of the peasant class, his family belonged to the African Mouride Islamic sect. Diop grew up in both Koranic and French colonial schools. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in Senegal, Diop moved to Paris, where he began his graduate studies at the Sorbonne in 1946 in physics.

Sources: 
John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds., New Encyclopedia of Africa (Detroit: Thomson/Gale, c2008); Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Shadd, Dr. Alfred Schmitz (1870-1915)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

Alfred Schmitz Shadd, a black educator, physician, farmer, politician, editor and civic leader was born in Raleigh, Ontario in 1870. He was the fourth son of Garrison and Harriet Poindexter Shadd, a distinguished abolitionist family.

Shadd planned to become a doctor but trained as a teacher in Toronto and taught in Ontario for a year before pursuing medical studies at the University of Toronto. Due to limited finances, he interrupted his medical studies and resumed teaching in 1896 in the town of Kinistino, which is now in Saskatchewan but at the time was in the Northwest Territories.  After a year in Kinistino, he completed his medical studies at the University of Toronto and then returned to the Northwest Territories to practice medicine.

Sources: 

Colin A. Thomson, Blacks in Deep Snow: Black Pioneers in Canada (Don Mills: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1979); Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); “Saskatchewan’s great pioneer black doctor”, Canadian Medical Assoc., Journal (Toronto), 116 (January-June 1977).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Anderson, Osborne P. (1830-1872)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Osborne Perry Anderson was one of the five African American men to accompany John Brown in the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859.  Anderson was a free-born black abolitionist, born in West Fallow Field, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1830.  Along with John Anthony Copeland Jr., another member of the Brown raiding party, Anderson attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.  He later moved to Chatham, Canada, where he worked as a printer for Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, the Provincial Freeman.   In 1858 Anderson met John Brown and eventually became persuaded to join his band of men determined to attack Harpers Ferry.

Sources: 

Osborne Perry Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry: A Narrative of
Events at Harper's Ferry with incidents Prior and Subsequent to its
Capture by Captain John Brown and His Men
(Boston: Privately Printed,
1861); Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, Prophets of Protest:
Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism
(New York: The New
Press, 2006);  Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of
African American History Told by Those Who Lived It
(New York:
Doubleday, 2000); Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman, Terrible Swift
Sword: The Legacy of John Brown
(Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005);
http://www.iath.virginia.edu/jbrown/men.html#opa.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

McRae, Carmen (1920-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of James Kriegsmann
Carmen McRae, a jazz singer and songwriter, was born on April 8, 1920 in Harlem, New York.  Her father, Oscar McRae, and her mother, Evadne, immigrated to the United States from Costa Rica and Jamaica.  Oscar McRae owned a health club at the McAlpin Hotel in Harlem.  McRae learned to play piano at a young age and she won an amateur singing contest at the Apollo Theatre around 1939.  As a teenager she befriended musician and songwriter Irene Kitching, who helped McRae become involved in the Harlem jazz scene.  McRae graduated from Julia Richman High School in 1938.  She achieved her first notoriety the following year when she wrote the song “Dream of Life” and Billie Holiday recorded it for the Vocalion/Okeh label.
Sources: 
Leslie Gourse, Carmen McRae: Miss Jazz (New York: Billboard Books, 2001); Robbie Clark, “Carmen McRae,” in Black Women in America, second edition, ed. Darlene Clark Hine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Barry Kernfeld, “Carmen McRae,” African American National Biography, vol. 5, eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Williams, Eric Eustace (1911-1981)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Historian, educator, and politician Eric Eustace Williams was born in 1911 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, to working class parents.  His family's struggles to survive economically introduced Williams to the brutal social and racial hierarchy of the British colony.  As an adult, he gave up a faculty position at Howard University to return to his homeland, eventually becoming its prime minister.
Sources: 
Colin A. Palmer, Eric Williams & the Making of the Modern Caribbean (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Selwyn D. Ryan, Eric Williams: The Myth and the Man (Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2009); Barbara L. Solow and Stanley L. Engerman, British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Delaney, Harold (1919-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on August 24, 1919, Harold Delaney was one of several African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project in World War II.  The eldest child of William and Henriette Delaney, Harold had four sisters, Mildred, Gertrude, Laura, and Ethel, and a brother, William.

Delaney studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and earned his B.S. and M.A. degrees in 1941 and 1943, respectively. In March 1943, Delaney co-authored an article with his graduate adviser, Dr. Robert Percy Barnes, and with Dr. Victor Julius Tulane and Dr. Stewart Rochester Cooper in the Journal of Organic Chemistry, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. Tulane and Cooper were also faculty members in the Department of Chemistry at Howard University. In November 1943, Delaney published a second article with Barnes in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, another prestigious peer-reviewed journal.  Publication of these two articles completed the requirements for Delaney’s M.A. degree. In addition, Barnes, Tulane, and Rochester were highly productive chemistry researchers publishing several peer-reviewed journal articles.  Barnes authored approximately 40 scientific articles during his career. This is significant because peer-reviewed scientific articles are considered the “currency of science.”
Sources: 
Harry W. Greene, Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (Boston: Meador Publishing, 1946); Beyond Small Numbers: Voices of African American Ph.D. Chemists (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 2005); W. Saxon, “Harold Delaney, Educator, 74 and Wife, Geraldine, Are Slain,” The New York Times, Aug 9, 1994, p B10; “Harold and Geraldine Delaney; Slain Couple Were Educators,” The Washington Post, Aug 7, 1994, p B6; K. Heise,  “Harold Delaney And Wife, Geraldine,” Chicago Tribune. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-08-11/news/9408110021_1_mr-delaney-chicago-state-university-interim-president (accessed Jul 20, 2011); "Nephew convicted of murdering his uncle, Dr. Harold Delaney, gets death sentence," Jet, FindArticles.com. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n4_v89/ai_17801936/ (accessed Jul 21, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
College of Wooster

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: For His Times and Ours

 

Image Courtesy of the Royal College of Music

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.  

Summary: 
<i>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.</i>
Sources: 
Jeffrey Green, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life (London, UK: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 2011); Geoffrey Self, The Hiawatha Man: The Life And Work Of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1995); The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation: http://www.sctf.org.uk.
Contributor: 
Affiliation2: 
The Samuel Coleridge Taylor Foundation

Hoost, Petra (1976- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
At twenty years old, Petra Hoost, born January 16, 1976, in the city of Enkhuizen, Netherlands, became the first Afro-Dutch woman to win the Miss Netherlands pageant in 1996.  She went on to represent Netherlands at the Miss World pageant held in Bangalore, India, but didn't place. Hoost’s father is from Suriname, a former Dutch colony, and her mother is Dutch. Although the first visible minority woman to win a national beauty award in Netherlands, there appears to be no documented race related controversy as had plagued Miss Italy Denny Méndez the same year (1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jeffrey, Hester C. (1842-1934)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Hester Jeffrey, an organizer and activist who became involved in the women’s movement in the city of Rochester, New York, was born in Norfolk, Virginia around 1842. Jeffrey was the daughter of free parents Robert and Martha Whitehurst. In 1860 Jeffrey, along with her brother and sister, moved to Boston to live with their uncle Coffin Pitts. In 1865 she married Jerome Jeffrey, the son the Rev. Roswell D. Jeffrey, in Boston. Rev. Jeffrey was a political activist who stored the printing press of Frederick Douglass’s North Star in the basement of the Favor Street A.M.E. Church in Rochester, New York.  

Hester Jeffrey founded a number of local African American women’s clubs among the growing African American community in Rochester in the early 1890s. In 1897, Jeffrey was appointed to serve on the (Frederick) Douglass Monument Committee, to raise funds for a statue that was going to be erected in Rochester, New York, in the honor of Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, journalist, and champion of woman’s suffrage. After the commemoration of the Douglass Monument, Hester Jeffrey emerged as a leader in Rochester’s African American community. Jeffrey founded two women’s organizations, the Climbers and the Hester C. Jeffrey Club. The Jeffrey Club was an organization to raise funds for colored women to take classes at the Mechanics’ Institute (now called the Rochester Institute of Technology).

Sources: 
Ingrid Overacker, The African American Church Community in Rochester, New York, 1900-1940 (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1998); Rosalyn Penn-Terborg, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850- 1920 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana, 1998); Vicki Welch, Hester C. Whitehurst AKA Smith and Pitts, unpublished: March 14, 2006.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago

Clark, Kenneth (1914- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Kenneth and Mamie Clark
Image Ownership: Public domain
In the late 1930s sociologist Kenneth Clark and his wife and collaborator, Mamie Phipps Clark, began to study the self-image of black children. The Clarks were among the first to describe the “harm and benefit” thesis in the area of civil rights and desegregation law.  Attorney Thurgood Marshall and the National association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) legal team used the Clark’s social science studies known as the “doll tests” in numerous legal challenges to the Jim Crow system of segregation. 
Sources: 
David J. Amor, Americana: Forced Justice: School Desegregation and the Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); The African American Almanac, 9th ed. (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003); The Encyclopedia of the African American Experience, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Judson Knight, Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2001.
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles Community College

Rumford, William Byron, Sr. (1908-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Courtland, Arizona, William Byron Rumford, Sr., the younger of the two sons of a housemaid, arrived in Los Angeles, California with his mother and stepfather in 1915.  His family returned to Arizona where he shined shoes, sold newspapers, and graduated from a segregated George Washington Carver High School in Phoenix in 1926.  After finishing his studies at Sacramento Junior College, in 1931 he earned his pharmacy degree at the University of California at San Francisco.  His marriage to Elsie Carrington in 1932 produced two sons and a daughter.
Sources: 
Lawrence P. Crouchett, William Byron Rumford, The Life and Public Services of a California Legislator (El Cerrito, CA: Downey Place Pub. House, 1984); “Legislator for Fair Employment, Fair Housing, and Public Health: William Byron Rumford” (Earl Warren Oral History Project), http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb8n39p2g3&query=&brand=oac4.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Cooke, Sam (1931–1964)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sam Cooke has been described as one of the most influential rhythm and blues singers to emerge in the 20th Century.  Cooke could exude soul stirring sensuality that went from the sacred to the profane in the same breath.  

The son of a Baptist minister, Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on January 22, 1931 but grew up in Chicago.  He joined a Chicago gospel group called the Highway QC’s and became their lead singer at the age of 15.  He later became the lead singer for the Soul Stirrers.  

Influenced by Ray Charles, Cooke was the pioneer cross-over artist from gospel to rhythm and blues.  Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and others would eventually follow.  With the support of record producer Bumps Blackwell, Cooke left the Soul Stirrers to record rhythm and blues.  He was also the first African American popular singer to manage his own record label (SAR).  Cooke’s label, which he formed while still in his twenties, produced other R&B artists such as Bobby Womack, Billy Preston, and Johnny Taylor.
Sources: 
Peter Shapiro, Rough Guide to Soul and R&B (London: Penguin Press, 2006); Charlotte Greig, Icons of Black Music (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1999); Kwame A. Appiah & Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); African American Almanac (Detroit: Gale Research Group, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Blackwell, Lucien E. (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lucien E. Blackwell, U.S. Congressman and labor official, was born in Whitset, Pennsylvania.  He attended West Philadelphia High School, but left before obtaining his diploma.  Blackwell also served in the United States Armed Forces during the Korean War, and received the National Defense Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, and the Good Conduct Medal.  

Lucien Blackwell lacked formal higher education, but he persevered through the “school of hard knocks.”  He first found employment working on the waterfront of Philadelphia.  Beginning as an unskilled laborer, he gradually moved up to foreman, and then vice president, business agent and eventually, in 1973, president of Local 1332, International Longshoreman’s Association of the AFL-CIO.  Blackwell served in this capacity until 1991.      Blackwell also served as Chairman of the Philadelphia Gas Commission.  He made history by rejecting three requests by the Philadelphia Gas Works to increase gas rates.  These rejections prompted Philadelphia Gas to reorganize and reduce its management operations for the first time in the history of the Philadelphia utility.
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), pp. 26-28.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

Winkfield, Jimmy (1882-1974)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jimmy Winkfield, born on April 12, 1882, became famous as an early 20th Century horse jockey.  Winkfield, the youngest of 17 children, was born in Chilesburg, Kentucky, a town just outside of Lexington.  As a child, he had a routine that included performing chores on the farm where his father was a sharecropper and overseeing the thoroughbred parades down the country roads. He and his family moved to Cincinnati in 1894.


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.  

Sources: 
Ed Hotaling, Wink: the Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004); Neil Schmidt, “Black Jockey’s journey spanned different worlds.” The Cincinnati Enquirer. April 29, 2002.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Lewis, John R. (1940- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
John Lewis, 23, Speaks at the March on Washington (1963)
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama on February 21, 1940.  In 1961 he received a B.A. from American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1967 he received an additional B.A. from Fisk University located in Nashville, Tennessee.

While attending American Baptist Seminary, Lewis emerged as a civil rights leader after his participation in the Nashville sit-in movement in 1960 and the Freedom Rides the following year.  In 1963 at the age of 23, Lewis helped plan the March on Washington and was one of the keynote speakers.  Lewis also served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1963 to 1966.  By the time he assumed the leadership of SNCC he had been arrested 24 times as a consequence of his protest activities.  Lewis became nationally known after Alabama State Troopers and other police attacked him and 500 other protesters as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March.  To this day some of the wounds from his beating are still visible.

In 1966 Lewis left SNCC as it embraced a “black power” ideology, and started working with community organizations in Atlanta.  Later that year he was named director of community affairs for the National Consumer Co-op Bank in Atlanta.
Sources: 
Lewis, John, with Michael D’Orso, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998); John Lewis' opinions about political issues and his voting record at website On the Issues: http://www.ontheissues.org/GA/John_Lewis.htm
Congressional biography: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=l000287
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Connerly, Ward (1939 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Ward Connerly, Creating Equal: My Fight Against Racial Preferences (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000); Michael E. Dyson, Debating Race (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2007); Francis Beckwith and Todd E. Jones, Affirmative Action: Social Justice or Reverse Discrimination? (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997); Michael W. Lynch, “Racial Preferences Are Dead,” interview in Reason http://www.reason.com/news/show/30527.html; Barry Bearak, “Questions of Race Run Deep for Foe of Preferences.” The New York Times.  July 27, 1997,  http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.htmlres=9C07E0DD153AF934A15754C0A961958260&sec.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Davis, Artur (1967- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Alabama Congressman Artur Davis Campaigning for Gov. of Alabama
Image Courtesy of Larry O. Gay

Alabama Congressman Artur Davis was born on October 9, 1967 in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his degree Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in 1990 and Cum Laude from Harvard Law School in 1993. His academic career led way for his professional career as an attorney.

After graduate school, Davis received a clerkship with Judge Myron F. Thompson, one of the first black judges on the federal bench in Alabama. Davis worked as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama from 1994 to1998, fighting drugs and violence. In 1998, he worked as a litigator in private practice.

In 2002, Davis was elected Congressman of the 7th Congressional District in Alabama which includes Birmingham and counties in south-central Alabama. He was overwhelmingly reelected in 2004 and 2006. Davis was appointed to the Ways and Means committee, which oversees economic policy including tax law, trade policy, health care and Social Security. He is the tenth Alabamian to serve on this committee. Davis also serves on the Judiciary Committee, which covers immigration and criminal systems.

During his first term, Davis worked to reverse funding cuts for minority colleges like Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M. In his second term he worked to renovate public housing with the HOPE VI program.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Bluford, Guion Stewart, Jr. ["Guy"] (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Guy Bluford, a member of the SDS-8 space shuttle Challenger crew in 1983, was the first African American in space.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bluford was interested in math and science and knew he wanted to work in aerospace engineering before graduating high school.  His high school counselor suggested that college was not for him.  Refusing the advice, Bluford became the only black engineering student at Pennsylvania State University in 1960.  Undaunted, he graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering in 1964 and went through pilot training at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona where he received his pilot wings one year later.  Before being sent to Vietnam in 1967, Bluford felt the sting of racial discrimination when his family was denied housing on base.  He flew 144 combat missions with the 557th Squadron in Vietnam.    

After serving his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bluford worked as a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas and started graduate studies at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1972.  He received a M.S. in aerospace engineering in 1974 and a Ph.D. in 1978.  The same year, he was one of the thirty-five selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut training program out of 10,000 applicants.  

Sources: 

Alfred Phelps Jr., They Had a Dream: The Story of African American
Astronauts
(Novato: Presidio, 1994); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates Jr., eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African
American Experience
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Video:

"A Conversation with Guy Bluford"

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Harold, Erika (1980- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Erika Harold Being Crowned
Miss America, 2003, in Atlantic
City, New Jersey, September 2002.
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ericka Harold, Miss America 2003, was the sixth black woman to win the Miss America title,.  Harold was born on February 20, 1980 in Urbana, Illinois, the daughter of James Harold, a businessman and athletic director, and Fannie Harold, a college counselor and foster parent trainer. The product of a white father and African American and Native American mother, the multiracial Harold identifies as African American. She also describes herself as a politically conservative Christian.

Harold was 22 years old when she won the title of Miss America. She did not enter the pageant circuit until she was 18 years old. Soon after she was crowned, Harold adopted a dual platform “Preventing Youth Violence and Bullying" and “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.”  The latter topic encouraged sexual abstinence and refraining from engaging in drug and alcohol abuse.
Sources: 
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Nikitta Foston, “Miss America Takes a Stand on Abstinence and Bullying,” Ebony, March 2003, p.165;  Lara Riscol, "Miss America’s Stealth Virility Campaign,” Salon.com, October 28, 2002; http://www.missamerica.org 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Washington, Walter Edward (1915-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Walter Washington Sworn in as Mayor of
Washington D.C., 1967
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Walter Edward Washington, attorney and politician, was born in Dawson, Georgia, on April 15, 1915 to Willie Mae and William L. Washington.  After his mother’s death in 1921, Washington moved with his father to Jamestown, New York.  Washington excelled academically and athletically in the public school. His trumpeting skills in school also earned him the nickname Duke II.   In 1934, he enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Washington earned his B.A. degree in 1938 and his law degree from the same institution in 1948.  While attending law school, Washington met and married Benetta Bullock.

Following law school, Washington was employed as a supervisor for the District of Columbia’s Alley Dwelling Project.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named Washington the executive director the National Capitol Housing Authority, becoming the first African American to hold that position.

Sources: 
Michael W. Williams, ed., The African-American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1993, 1st edition): 1667; R. Kent Rasmussen, ed., The African-American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 2001, 2nd edition): 1625; Donna M. Wells, Washington History, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2004), 4-15.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Dawson, Mary Lucinda (1894–1962)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mary Lucinda Cardwell Dawson was a leader in the campaign to promote African American participation in and appreciation of opera.  Cardwell was born in 1896 in Madison, North Carolina, the second of six children.  In the early 1900s, her family became part of the African American migration from the rural South to the urban North when they settled in Homestead, Pennsylvania, an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh.

As with many young African American musicians, Mary Cardwell began singing in her family’s church.  She graduated with degrees in piano and voice from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1925 at the age of 31.  At the time she was the only African American in her class.  After further studies in Chicago and New York, she married Walter Dawson, a Master Electrician, in 1927, and returned to Pittsburgh.

For the next 14 years Dawson trained hundreds of young, often impoverished African Americans to sing the operas.  Her students included school children, laborers, and domestics who often bartered services for their lessons.  She directed a 500-voice ensemble which won national awards in 1935 and 1937.  In 1939, her students performed at the New York World’s Fair.    
Sources: 
“Founding of the National Negro Opera Foundation,” www.nationaloperahouse.org/past.html; “Radiating a Hope:  Mary Cardwell Dawson as Educator and Activist,” by Karen M. Bryan, JSTOR: Journal of Historic Research in Music Education, Vol.25, No.1 (Oct 2003); “An Irrepressible Voice,” http://www.post-gazette.com/magazine/19990801opera1.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Williams, Camilla (1919-2012)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Indiana University
Professional opera singer Camilla Williams was born October 18, 1919 in Danville, Virginia to Fannie Carey Williams and Cornelius Booker Williams. The youngest of four siblings, Williams began singing at a young age and was performing at her local church by age eight. At age 12, she began taking lessons from a Welsh singing teacher, Raymond Aubrey, but because of Jim Crow laws the lessons had to be conducted in private in Aubrey’s home.

After high school, Williams attended Virginia State College for Negroes, now Virginia State University, in Petersburg, Virginia. She graduated in 1941 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. After graduation, Williams taught 3rd grade and music at a black public school in Danville. In 1943, fellow Virginia State College alumni paid for the gifted singer to move to Philadelphia and study under influential voice coach Marion Szekely-Freschl. Williams began touring in 1944 and during one concert in Stamford, Connecticut she met Geraldine Farrar, a respected soprano opera singer and the original star of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Madame Butterfly. Farrar was so impressed with Williams’ voice that she soon took her under her wing and became her mentor. Farrar even helped Williams to sign a recording contract with RCA Victor and to break into the highest levels of American opera.  
Sources: 
Veronica A. Davis, Inspiring African American Women of Virginia (New York: IUniverse, 2005); http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/03/arts/music/camilla-williams-opera-singer-dies-at-92.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Belle, Dido Elizabeth (1761-1804)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray, 1779
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dido Elizabeth Belle is best known for the 1779 painting of her alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, the great-niece of William Murray, The First Earl of Mansfield. The Earl, also known as Lord Mansfield, was at the time the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the highest ranking jurist in Great Britain. Mansfield was famously involved in two important cases involving slavery, the Sommersett Case in 1772 where he ruled that English law did not sanction slavery in Great Britain (a ruling highly praised by abolitionists), and the Zong Massacre Case (1783) where he ruled in favor of insurers who refused to pay a ship captain who had purposely threw overboard a number of slaves on his ship.
Sources: 
Gene Adams, “Dido Elizabeth Belle: A Black Girl at Kenwood. An Account of a Protégé
of the 1st Lord Mans?eld,” Camden History Review, 12 (1984); Reyahn King, “Belle, Dido Elizabeth (1761?–1804),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Paula Byrne, "Portrait of the Mystery Lady: The Incredible Story behind the 18th-century Painting That Inspired a New Movie," Daily Mail, N.p., May 3, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2618656/Portrait-mystery-lady-The-incredible-story-18th-century-painting-inspired-new-movie.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jones, Quincy Delight, Jr. (1933- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. was born in Chicago's South Side on March 14, 1933 but grew up in Bremerton and Seattle, Washington.  While in elementary school Jones picked up the trumpet, and his skill with the instrument led him to receive a scholarship to Berklee College of Music.  However, he dropped out of Berklee after he was given an offer to go on the road with bandleader Lionel Hampton.  After his time with Hampton, Jones began work as a freelance arranger.  He also traveled the world with the Dizzy Gillespie band as well as Harold Allen's jazz musical Free and Easy.  Jones then settled in New York and went to work for Mercury Records.  Jones advanced at Mercury and in 1964 he became the first African American to hold the position of vice president of a white-owned record company.

During the 1960s and 1970s Jones worked as a social activist, supporting such programs as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago.  He also joined the board of Rev. Jesse Jackson's People United to Save Humanity (PUSH).  Jones also helped form the Institute for Black American Music in an effort to bring more appreciation to African American music and culture.
Sources: 
Gerald Early, "Quincy Jones: The Story of an American Musician," American Masters.  PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/jones_q.html ; Quincy Jones, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (New York, New York: Doubleday, 2001); "Quincy Jones Biography," The Academy of Achievement: A Museum of Living History.  2006. http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/jon0bio-1
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Riley, George Putnam (1833--1905)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

George Putnam Riley, a native of Boston, participated in both the California and Canadian Northwest Territory Gold Rushes. In 1869, Riley along with 14 other Portland, Oregon residents--11 African American men, two African American women, and one white man--formed the Workingmen’s Joint Stock Association (WJSA). The members pooled funds to purchase real estate that was divided proportionately. George P. Riley, WJSA president, was dispatched to Washington Territory to search for property. In August, the Association purchased the eastern half of the 20-acre Hanford Donation Claim in Seattle, Washington for $2,000 [in] gold coin. The tract was legally given the name, “Riley’s Addition to South Seattle.” The original purchase, in the present-day Beacon Hill neighborhood, presently embraces the four blocks bordered by South Forest and South Lander, between 19th and 21st Avenues South.

The origins of Tacoma, Washington’s African American population can also be traced to the arrival of George P. Riley in 1869. Riley and his associates purchased 67 acres of land in Tacoma, legally called the Alliance Addition but pejoratively labeled the “Nigger Tract.” Interestingly, none of the WJSA members, except Riley, ever actually set foot in Tacoma. However, the Alliance Addition would become the spatial basis for Tacoma’s African American community--the Hilltop neighborhood as it is presently known.

Sources: 
Tacoma Daily Ledger, June 22, 1889, October 2, 1905. Laurie McKay, “The Nigger Tract” 1869-1905: George Putnam Riley and the Alliance Addition of Tacoma” Unpublished Paper, Phi Alpha Theta Regional Conference, April 2001. pp.1, 6. Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle’s Black Victorians, 1852-1901 (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980), 105-107.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Khazan, Jibreel/ Ezell Blair Jr. (1941- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
One of the original Greensboro Four who took part in the Woolworth sit-ins. It is reported that as a nine-year-old he boasted to friends that he would “one day drink from the white people’s fountains and eat at their lunch counters.” Blair was the most uncertain of the four who decided to stage the Woolworth protest, and recalls calling his parents to ask their advice. They told him to do what he must and to carry himself with dignity and grace. He never strayed very far from the example of his parents, who were active in the civil rights movement, or the lessons of the people he had known as a child growing up in the south.
Sources: 
Frye Gaillard, The Greensboro Four: Civil Rights Pioneers (Charlotte, N.C.: Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2001); William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Johnson C. Smith University, respectively

Cayton, Revels (1907-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Chicago Defender, November, 23, 1940, December 22, 1945; June 8, 1946; Robert A. Hill, The FBI’s Racon: Racial Conditions in the United States during World War II (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1995); San Francisco Examiner, November 7, 1995
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation (AAAHRP)

Burroughs, Nannie Helen (1883-1961)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in Orange, Virginia on May 2, 1879 to parents John and Jennie Burroughs.  Young Burroughs attended school in Washington, D.C. and then moved to Kentucky where she attended Eckstein-Norton University and eventually received an honorary M.A. degree in 1907.

Despite the absence of a college degree, Burroughs sought a teaching position in Washington, D.C.  When she did not receive it, she moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became associate editor of The Christian Banner, a Baptist newspaper.  Burroughs returned to Washington, D.C. where, despite receiving a high rating on the civil service exam, she was refused a position in the public school system.  Burroughs took a series of temporary jobs including office building janitor and bookkeeper for a small manufacturing firm, hoping to eventually become a teacher in Washington, D.C.  She then accepted a position in Louisville as secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention.
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Black Women in America: an Historical Encyclopedia (University of Michigan: Carlson Publishing Company, 1993); Darryl Lyman, Great African-American Women (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., 2005); http://www.toptags.com/aama/bio/women/nburroughs.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Anderson, Ernestine (1928- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
The career of Seattle-based jazz vocalist Ernestine Anderson is noteworthy both for its prolific output of more than 30 albums, and the more than 60-year span of her career. Born in Houston, Texas on November 11, 1928, as a child she joined her father and grandmother in the gospel choir of her local church. At 12 she won a regional talent competition. In 1943, her first gig was with the band of trumpeter Russell Jacquet.

With her family she moved to Seattle, Washington in 1944. At 18, she toured with the Johnny Otis big band; at 20, she married and began her own family. Throughout her career, she alternated returning to Seattle to be with children and family, with periods of going out of town or country to focus on her career.

In 1952, famed big band leader Lionel Hampton had an opening for a new singer. With the encouragement of her husband, Anderson auditioned, backed up by the Ray Charles trio, then in Seattle. She was hired, and toured with the band for 15 months; fellow Seattle native Quincy Jones was in the trumpet section. When the band began a European tour, she returned to Seattle and spent time raising her children. Returning to her career, she performed at the first Monterey Jazz Festival in 1958. During a successful tour in Sweden, she recorded her first solo album, later released by Mercury Records under the title “Hot Cargo.” An August 4, 1958 cover of Time magazine followed, and she was named the “Best New Vocal Star” by Down Beat magazine in 1959.
Sources: 
Paul De Barros, Jackson Street after Hours: the Roots of Jazz in Seattle (Seattle, Washington: Sasquatch Books, 1993); http://www.ernestineanderson.com; http://www.npr.org/programs/jazz.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Powell, Adam Clayton, Sr. (1865-1953)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. was born on May 5 in Franklin County, Virginia to former slaves of African American, Native American, and German ancestry.  He was raised in a family of 17 children.

During his youth, Powell lived a reckless life filled with gambling.  At the age of 19, Powell experienced a religious conversion to Christianity at a revival meeting.  After failing to gain entrance into Howard University School of Law, he decided to study religion.  In 1888, he enrolled in a theology program at Wayland Seminary and College in Washington, D.C. earning his degree in 1892.

Sources: 
Charles V. Hamilton, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma (New York: Athenaeum, 1991); Will Haygood, King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993); “Dr. A. C. Powell Sr., Minister, 88, Dead.” New York Times (June 13, 1953), 15.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Straker, David Augustus (1842-1908)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
David Augustus Straker, author, lawyer, and politician, was born and raised in Bridgetown, Barbados, where he achieved success as a teacher and principal at St. Mary’s Public School.  In 1868 he moved to Kentucky, where he taught at a freedman’s school for one year.  He entered Howard University in 1869, graduating two years later with a degree in law.  

Straker returned to Kentucky but when he was unable to find work as a lawyer, he took a position as a postal clerk.  During this time he married Annie M. Carey and authored numerous editorials for Frederick Douglass’s New National Era, gaining him national exposure.  In 1875 he resigned his postal position to join a law firm in Charleston, South Carolina, where he and his wife relocated.  

A staunch Republican, Straker was first elected to public office in November, 1876 as the Orangeburg County Representative in the lower house of the state legislature.  Redeemer Democrats, however, refused to seat him and his fellow Republicans the following year as they anticipated the end of Reconstruction in the state.  Undeterred, Straker continued to run for office and was reelected by the citizens of Orangeburg County in 1878 and 1880 even as the Democrats continued to deny him his seat in the legislature.    
Sources: 
Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Dictionary of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982); Edwin S. Redkey, Black Exodus: Black Nationalist and Back-to-Africa Movements, 1890-1910 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Harrison, Hubert Henry (1883-1927)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Photographs and Prints
Division, Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture, The New York Public Library, 
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

Hubert Henry Harrison, author, lecturer, editor, and labor leader, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now United States Virgin Islands) on April 27, 1883.  Upon the completion of his elementary schooling in 1900, he moved to New York City, New York.  There he took on various service-oriented positions, including that of telephone operator and hotel bellman.  Beginning in 1901 he attended an evening high school program, finishing at the top of his class in 1907.  After graduation Harrison became a postal clerk. 

Sources: 
Louis J. Parascandola, “Look for Me All Around You,” Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005), pp. 131-34; Jeffrey B. Perry, A Hubert Harrison Reader (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Callioux, Andrew (1820-1863)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Black Louisiana Troops at Port Hudson, 1863
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Andrew Callioux, Captain of the First Louisiana Native Guards Regiment, Union Army, became a hero while leading his troops at the Battle of Port Hudson in 1863. Callioux was born a free man in New Orleans.  A cigar maker with an elite clientele, Callioux was a Catholic creole of color that had attained considerable affluence.  He was also a skilled horseman, boxer and athlete who often boasted that he was “the blackest man in America.” Callioux had received his civil and military education in Paris, which enabled him to speak both English and French fluently. By his 40th birthday Callioux was considered a pillar in the free black community of New Orleans, having earned the respect of both blacks and whites.

When the Civil War began Callioux organized Company E of the First Louisiana Native Guards, a unit of 440 Creoles who became the first black troops to be accepted into service in the Confederate Army.  Callioux received a commission as Captain.  Never used in battle by the Confederates, Company E remained behind when Union forces occupied New Orleans in April 1862.  Within weeks Union General Benjamin F. Butler persuaded Captain Callioux and the First Louisiana Native Guards to join Federal forces. Initially Union commanders, like their Confederate predecessors, used the First Louisiana Native Guards only for garrison duty.  
Sources: 
Robert Ewell Greene, Black Defenders of America, 1775-1973 (Johnson Publishing Company Inc. Chicago: 1974); Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Little, Brown and Company) Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers (The Free Press: A Division of Macmillan, Inc. London: 1990)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Whipper, Ionia Rollin (1872-1953)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis

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Dr. Ionia Rollin Whipper, physician and social reformer, was born September 8, 1872 in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was one of three surviving children born to author and diarist Frances Anne Rollin and Judge William James Whipper.  

By 1878, as the Reconstruction period was ending in South Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan, and white supremacist “Rifle Clubs” were gathering forces.   Amid an escalating climate of violence, Frances Rollin Whipper took Winifred, Ionia, and Leigh to Washington, D.C.  The family established a home on 6th Street NW, and Whipper saw the children through early education and graduation from Howard University.   Ionia, after teaching for ten years in the Washington, D.C. public school system, entered Howard Medical School, one of the few schools in the country to accept women.     

In 1903, Ionia graduated from Howard University Medical School with a major in Obstetrics, one of four women in her class.  That year, she became a resident physician at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, and on her return to Washington, D.C, set up private practice at 511 Florida Avenue NW, where she accepted only women patients.

Sources: 

Ionia Rollin Whipper; Perpetual Diary 1920-‘29; Ionia Rollin Whipper, Diary: What It Means To Be God Guided ,1939, Property of Carole Ione Lewis; R.J. Abram, ed., Send Us a Lady Physician: Women Doctors in America, 1835-1920 (New York: Norton, 1985); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics, 2004); Lelia Frances Whipper, The Pretty Way Home (New York: iUniverse, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bluford, Lucile (1911-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Lucile Bluford, "Missouri ‘Shows' the Supreme Court," The Crisis 46 (August 1939), 231-232, 242, 246;  Dorothy Davis, "She Knocks at the Door of Missouri University," The Crisis 47 (May 1940), 140;  Daniel T. Kelleher, "The Case of Lloyd Gaines:  The Demise of the Separate But Equal Doctrine," Journal of Negro History 56 (October 1971), 262-271;  Diane E. Loupe, "Storming and Defending the Color Barrier at the University of Missouri School of Journalism:  The Lucile Bluford Case," Journalism History 16 (1989), 20-31;  Aimee Edmondson and Earnest L. Perry, Jr., "Objectivity and "The Journalist's Creed": Local Coverage of Lucile Bluford's Fight to Enter the University of Missouri School of Journalism," Journalism History 33 (Winter 2008), 233-244;  and http://shs.umsystem.edu/famousmissourians/journalists/bluford/bluford.shtml
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University.

Hurt, “Mississippi” John Smith (c. 1892-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Mary Hurt-Wright,
Mississippi Hurt Museum/Foundation
Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1892 but raised in Avalon, Mississippi, "Mississippi" John Hurt spent the majority of his life employed as a farm hand. Though he briefly recorded in the 1920s, it was not until the 1960s that his music was widely distributed and recognized. Hurt was known for his humble nature and his unique, soft style of blues.
Sources: 
Stefan Grossman, ed., Mississippi John Hurt (Los Angeles: Alfred Publishing, 2007); http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:wifuxq95ldke~T1; http://www.nps.gov/history/DELTA/BLUes/people/msjohn_hurt.htm

 

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

West, Allen (1961- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
http://innovation.cq.com/newmember/2010elexnguide.pdf. (Accessed November 24, 2010);  "U.S. officer fined for harsh interrogation tactics," CNN, December 13, 2003; Catalina Camia, "GOP Rep. Allen West draws fire for Muslim comments," USA Today, (February 2, 2011), http://content.usatoday.com/communities/onpolitics/post/2011/02/rep-allen-west-islam-2012-elections-/1. (Accessed February 2, 2011). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Texas

Lambert, Charles Lucièn, Sr. (1828-1896)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Charles Lucièn Lambert, Sr., also known as Lucièn Lambert, Sr., was an internationally prominent classical musician and composer, and part of the middle generation of acclaimed Lambert musical artists.  Both his father, Charles-Richard Lambert, and his son, Lucièn-Léon Guillaume Lambert, had distinguished careers in classical music.

Charles Lucièn Lambert was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1828 to Charles-Richard, a native of New York, and an unidentified free Creole woman of color. After Charles Lucièn’s mother’s death, Charles-Richard married Coralie Suzanne Orzy, another free woman of color. They had a son, Sidney, who was born in 1838. Charles Lucièn and Sidney received their first piano lessons from their father who was by then a prominent early 19th Century New Orleans musician and composer.

Charles Lucièn Lambert was a contemporary of the soon to be famous white Creole composer and musician, Louis Moreau Gottschalk.  In fact the two enjoyed a friendly artistic rivalry as aspiring virtuoso pianists and composers in New Orleans in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

Sources: 
Lester Sullivan, Charles Lucièn Lambert Sr. (c. 1828-1896) (Hong Kong: Naxos 8.559037, 2000);
http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/Lambertsr.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Chinn, Julia Ann (ca.1790-1833)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Julia Chinn, the putative common-law wife of 9th US vice president Richard Mentor Johnson (1780-1850), was born an octoroon slave in Scott County, Kentucky.  Her parents and exact date of birth are unknown, but she was raised and educated in Johnson’s household by his mother Jemima Suggett Johnson.  By 1812, Julia had become Richard Johnson’s close companion and mother of their two daughters: Adeline J. Johnson (Scott) (ca.1812-1836) and Imogene Malvina Johnson (Pence) (1812-1885).

When Richard’s father Colonel Robert Johnson, one of the wealthiest landowners in Kentucky, died in 1815, Richard inherited Julia.  Because interracial marriage was illegal in Kentucky and emancipation would have forced Julia to leave the state, Richard M. Johnson retained the title “bachelor” and Julia remained a slave.  Rumors circulated, however, that the two had been secretly married by their Baptist minister and some contemporary newspapers referred to Julia as Johnson’s wife.
Sources: 
Ann Bevins, “Richard M. Johnson narrative: Personal and Family Life," Georgetown and Scott County Museum, 2007; “Richard Mentor Johnson, 9th Vice President (1837-1841),” United States Senate Historical Office, http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/generic/Senate_Historical_Office.htm; Carolyn Jean Powell, "What's love got to do with it? The dynamics of desire, race and murder in the slave South," PhD Diss., UMass Amherst (January 1, 2002); “The Workings of Slavery,” New York Daily Tribune, July 1, 1845.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Moore, Archie (1913-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Tracy Callis

One of the great light heavyweights of all time, Archie Moore, a.k.a., the “Old Mongoose,” was born under the name of Archibald Wright on December 13, 1913 in Benoit, Mississippi. Archie turned professional in 1936, originally operating in the middleweight ranks, but ultimately moving up into the light heavyweight class by 1945. He fought a total of 222 recorded bouts over more than 27 years in the ring. He campaigned against most of the toughest men in the business during his long career, posting 187 wins, including 132 knockouts, against only 23 losses and 11 draws.

Moore campaigned for 16 years before gaining an opportunity to fight for a world championship. On December 15, 1952 he became the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World at age 39, defeating Joe Maxim by a decision in fifteen rounds, thereby becoming the oldest light heavyweight champion in history. He defeated Maxim twice in rematches and was nearly unbeatable as a light heavyweight, successfully defending the title nine times, and holding it for almost a decade before finally being stripped of it in February of 1962 for failing to defend the title within the required period of time.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Smith, Samuel J. (1922-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Samuel J. Smith, a Washington State Legislator and Seattle City Councilmember was born on July 21, 1922, in Gibsland, Louisiana.  Listening to speeches by Franklin Roosevelt broadcast on radio in the early 1930s persuaded young Smith that he wanted a future in politics.

Sam Smith first came to Seattle via the U.S. Army in 1942.  After World War II service in the Pacific as a Warrant Officer, he returned to the city, married his childhood sweetheart and attended college, first at Seattle University and then at the University of Washington where he got a B.A. in economics.  Smith, a member of Mt. Zion Church, took a job at Boeing Aircraft where he worked for 17 years while raising a family of six.

Smith first ran for the legislature in 1956, losing to incumbent Republican Charles Stokes.  Two years later he again challenged Stokes and won, remaining in the legislature for nearly a decade.  In Olympia, the state capital, Sam Smith gave the emerging civil rights movement in Washington a respected voice as well as a vote in the House of Representatives.  Smith left the legislature in 1967 to run for a seat on the Seattle City Council.  He won, becoming the first African American elected to that body.  In 1968, he introduced Ordinance 96619, the law that prohibited discrimination in housing.
Sources: 
“Sam Smith,” Interview, Oral History Project, Washington State Library, Tumwater, Washington.  Interviews of Sam Smith by Shelby Scates for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Seattle Argus, 1965-1977.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Low, W. Augustus (1913-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Wilfred Augustus Low -- or “Gus,” as he was universally known to friends and colleagues -- was born to a sharecropping family in the Delta country of Mississippi. When Low was a teenager, his family relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, which gave him the opportunity to graduate from high school and enroll at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. There he helped edit the student newspaper and earned a B.A. degree magna cum laude in 1937. Low immediately matriculated as a graduate student in the Department of History at University of Iowa, where he earned an M.A. degree in 1938 and a Ph.D. degree in 1941. During WWII, he fought as an infantry man in the Italian campaign. After the war, he became a professor of history at Maryland State University (now University of Maryland Eastern Shore), where he taught from 1948 to 1966. He also served as a visiting professor at Florida A & M, Virginia State College, Lincoln University (Missouri), and Fort Valley State College, among others.
Sources: 
UMBC Departmental Records; archives of Lincoln University and the University of Iowa; W. A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America; Journal of Negro History; oral comments during twenty years as a friend and colleague.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Dunham, Katherine (1909-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Jerome Robbins Dance Division,
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts,
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations.
Katherine Dunham was born on June 22, 1909 in Chicago, Illinois to parents Albert and Fanny Dunham.  She was of mixed heritage with African, Madagascan, Canadian-French and American Indian ancestry.  Dunham was raised in Joliet, Illinois and didn’t begin formal dance training until her late teens.  

In 1931, at the age of 22, Katherine Dunham opened her first dance school, with the help of her teacher Madame Ludmila Speranzeva.  The school, located in Chicago, soon became famous for its dancers who performed the modern dance ballet, “Negro Rhapsody.”  Dunham graduated from the University of Chicago in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology.  She later earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  While an undergraduate, Dunham opened another school, the Negro Dance Group where in four years she trained 150 black youth.
Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); http://www.pbs.org/wnet/freetodance/biographies/dunham.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Ford, Harold Jr. (1970- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Harold Eugene Ford, Jr. was born in Memphis, Tennessee on May 11, 1970. He currently serves as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and is a former member of the United States House of Representatives from Tennessee.  During his tenure in congress Ford represented the state’s 9th congressional district from 1997 until 2007. This district included most of Memphis.  Bucking tradition, Ford did not seek reelection to his House seat in 2006 and instead unsuccessfully sought the Senate seat that was being vacated by the retiring senator Bill Frist.  Ford was the only African American member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats.

After the 2002 mid term elections resulted in Democrats losing Congressional seats, Ford announced his desire to be House Minority Whip based on Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s charge that the democratic leadership was less than competent.  Ford was unsuccessful in his election bid, but surprised many politicians and pundits on both sides of the political aisle with the amount of support he garnered. A few observers suggested that he might become the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004.  However, given the fact that he was only thirty-four years old, he was ineligible for the office. Ford would be four months shy of thirty-five on Inauguration Day (January 20, 2005).
Sources: 
Harold Ford Jr.  (http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=F000262).  Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.  Retrieved on 2007-05-18; Theo Emery, “Family ties could bind a political advancement” http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2006/03/10/famliey_ties_could_bind_a_political_advancement/?page=1), Boston Globe, March 10, 2006.  Retrieved on 2007-04-25; Jonathan Darman, “The Path to Power” Newsweek, October 30, 2006; William Addams Reitwiesner,  Ancestry of Harold Ford (http://www.wargs.com/political/ fordh.html).  Retrieved on 2007-05-18; http://www.house.gov/ford/about/index.shtml
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Pinchback, Pinckney Benton Stewart (1837-1921)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was born on May 10, 1837 to parents William Pinchback, a successful Virginia planter, and Eliza Stewart, his former slave. The younger Pinchback was born in Macon, Georgia during the family’s move from Virginia to their new home in Holmes County, Mississippi.  In Mississippi, young Pinchback grew up in comfortable surroundings on a large plantation.  At the age of nine, he and his older brother, Napoleon, were sent by his parents to Ohio to receive a formal education at Cincinnati’s Gilmore School. Pinchback’s education was cut short, however, when he returned to Mississippi in 1848 because his father had become seriously ill.  When his father died shortly after his return, his mother fled to Cincinnati with her children for fear of being re-enslaved in Mississippi.  Shortly thereafter, Napoleon became mentally ill, leaving 12 year old Pinckney as sole-provider for his mother and four siblings.  
Sources: 
James Haskins, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Mfume, Kweisi (Frizzel Gray) (1948 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of
Representatives Photography Office
Kweisi Mfume was born as Frizzel Gray in Baltimore, Maryland on October 24, 1948, the eldest of four children.  Gray experienced a troubled childhood with the abandonment of his father and death of his mother as well as economic instability, but made a successful return to his academic studies in 1971.

Gray legally changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, “conquering son of kings”, in the early 1970s.  He obtained his GED, and began his studies at the Community College of Baltimore, where he served as the head of its Black Student Union and the editor of the school newspaper. He attended Morgan State University in Baltimore where he graduated magna cum laude in 1976 with a Bachelor of Urban Planning degree. Mfume then received an M.A. degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1984.

In 1979 Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1979.  While on the city council, Mfume helped enact legislation which divested Baltimore of investments in companies doing business in South Africa.

In 1985 when Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District Representative Parren J. Mitchell announced his retirement from Congress, Kweisi Mfume ran for the seat the following year and was successful in both the primary and general election.  
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990); www.bioguide.congress.gov; M. Elizabeth Paterra, Kweisi Mfume: Congressman and NAACP Leader (Berkeley Heights, N.J: Enslow, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Washington, Harold (1922 – 1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Harold Washington and Colleague
Image ©Bettmann/Corbis
Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago, Illinois, was born on April 15, 1922, to Roy Washington, a lawyer, Methodist minister and one of the first black precinct captains in Chicago.  Washington’s mother Bertha Washington was a well-known singer in the city.

Washington attended segregated public schools including the newly completed DuSable High School where he set records as a track star.  Despite that success, Washington dropped out of high school at the end of his junior year and worked in a meat packing plant until his father helped him obtain a job at the U.S. Treasury office in Chicago.  There he met Dorothy Finch, his future wife.  The couple married in 1941 when Harold Washington was 19 and Dorothy was 17.  They divorced ten years later.
Sources: 
Bruce Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1990); Florence Hamlish Levinsohn, Harold Washington: A Political Biography, (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1983); “Biographical Directory of the Harold Washington,”   http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000180.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Henry, Aaron (1922-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Aaron Henry and Constance Curry, Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Sun Ra (Le Sony’r Ra) (1914-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jazz pianist, bandleader, composer, and cosmic philosopher Le Sony'r Ra, or Sun Ra, remains an influential and controversial figure in jazz history. He is largely remembered for his Astro Black Mythology that incorporated aspects of ancient Egyptian philosophy and science fiction, as well as his contributions to avant-garde jazz and afrofuturism.

Sources: 
John F. Szwed, Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra (NY: Pantheon Books, 1997); Graham Lock, Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisionist of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999); John Corbett, Pathways to Unknown Worlds: Sun-Ra, El Saturn and Chicago's Afro-futurist Underground 1954-68 (Chicago: White Walls, 2006).
Contributor: 

James, Etta (1938-2012)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain

Rhythm and blues (R&B), jazz, and blues singer Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins on January 25, 1938 in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles to Dorothy Hawkins, who at the time was sixteen years old and unmarried.    

Sources: 
Etta James and David Ritz, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (New York: Villard Books, 1995); Pete Welding and Toby Byron, Bluesland: Portraits of Twelve Major American Blues Masters (New York: Dutton, 1991); Buzzy Jackson, A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jacobs, Alma S. (1916-1997)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Librarian Alma Smith Jacobs was the first African American to serve as the Montana State Librarian. She was a lifelong advocate of free access to library resources and was active in local and state civil rights causes.

Alma Victoria Smith Jacobs was born in Lewistown, Montana on November 21, 1916. She was one of five children born to Martin Luther Smith, a cook for the Great Northern Railroad, and Emma Louise Riley Smith, a prolific quilter whose work is registered with the Montana Historic Quilt Project.  When she was six, her family moved to Great Falls, Montana. After high school, she received a scholarship to Talladega College in Alabama and graduated from there with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology in 1938.

While Alma Smith Jacobs aspired to become a social worker, she was offered a job as a clerical assistant in the Talladega College library.  She remained there for eight years as assistant librarian. During that time she received a scholarship to Columbia University’s prestigious library school, and she traveled back and forth to New York City during the summers to take courses, earning a B.A. in library science in 1942. In 1946 Jacobs returned to Great Falls as a catalog librarian and later served as library director for the city’s public library from 1954 to 1973. During the 1960s, Jacobs was instrumental in the construction of the Great Falls Public Library building that opened in 1967.
Sources: 
Lelia Gaston Rhodes, A Critical Analysis of the Career Backgrounds of Selected Black Female Librarians (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1975); Lucille Smith Thompson and Alma Smith Jacobs, The Negro in Montana, 1800-1945 (Helena: Montana State Library, 1970); Travis Coleman, “Great Falls Library dedicates arch to pioneering black librarian, leader,” Great Falls Tribune (June 21, 2009); Michele Fenton, Little Known Black Librarian Facts http://www.indianablacklibrarians.org/Little%20Known%20Black%20Librarian%20Facts%202011.pdf.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Desdunes, Rodolphe Lucien (1849-1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes was a prominent editor, author, and civil rights activist from New Orleans, Louisiana.  He is best known for his work in Plessy v. Ferguson, the most important civil rights case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 19th Century, and a book he authored about the history and culture of Creoles in Louisiana. 

Desdunes was born November 15, 1849 in New Orleans.  His father was a Haitian exile, and his mother was Cuban.  Desdunes came from a family that owned a tobacco plantation and manufactured cigars.  He was a law student at Straight University in the early 1870s.  He also worked for the United States Customs House in New Orleans first as a messenger from 1879 to 1885, and as a clerk from 1891 to 1894, and again from 1899 to 1912.

Sources: 
Sharlene Sinegal DeCuir, Attacking Jim Crow: Black Activism in New Orleans 1925-1942 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2009); Rebecca J. Scott, “The Atlantic World and the Road to Plessy v. Ferguson,” The Journal of American History 94:3 (December 2007); Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, Our People and Our History: Fifty Creole Portraits (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1973).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Johnson, Yvonne Jeffries (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Personal interview with the author, June 2011, http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=104; Personal resume.
Affiliation: 
University of Texas, El Paso

Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. (1908-1972)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Charles V. Hamilton, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of An American Dilemma (New York: Athenaeum, 1991); Will Haygood, King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Mathews, Meredith (1919-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Meredith Mathews, born in Thomaston, Georgia, received his B.S. degree from Wilberforce University in Ohio and pursued graduate studies at Ohio University.   He began a lifelong association with Young Men’s Christian Association in 1937 as Director of the Spring Street YMCA in Columbus, Ohio and continued his professional career with the organization in Oklahoma City and McAlester, Oklahoma.

Mr. Mathews arrived in Seattle in October 1957, as Executive Director of the East Madison YMCA.  The fund raising and business management skills he had developed in Oklahoma were used to expand services, memberships and programs at the Seattle branch.  A new facility was built in 1965 after a successful Capital Funds Campaign under his leadership.  He was appointed Associate Executive of the Pacific Northwest Area Council of YMCAs in 1965.  In 1971 he was named Regional Executive of the Pacific Region of YMCAs and was responsible for oversight of 126 facilities and programs in 11 states.  He retired after 39 years of outstanding service to the YMCA. 

Community groups as well as the YMCA awarded him for his service and for his leadership.  Hundreds of people considered him a role model and an inspiration to them when they were children.  In December 1993, the YMCA of Greater Seattle Board of Directors named the East Madison YMCA the Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA.  Two years later his name was placed in the YMCA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. 
Sources: 
Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem (1947- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image courtesy of ©Bettmann-Corbis
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. on August 16, 1947, in New York City, New York. He was known as Lew Alcindor until his 1973 name change. Alcindor dominated the New York City high school basketball scene. Decidedly larger than his peers from an early age, he grew to seven feet, one-and-three-quarter inches tall, and found little competition while playing for Power Memorial High School.

In 1966 Alcindor left for Los Angeles, California to play for the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Over his three seasons there he led the Bruins to an overall 88-2 record and three consecutive national championships. Alcindor finished his college career with the sixth highest point total of any player and won the inaugural Naismith Award for the most valuable college basketball player in 1969.
Sources: 
John Wooden, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations On and Off the Court. (New York: McGraw-Hill,1997); Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, http://www.hoophall.com/hall-of-famers/tag/kareem-abdul-jabbar; NBA Encyclopedia, http://www.nba.com/history/players/abduljabbar_bio.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Carmichael, Stokely (Kwame Ture) (1941-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
A civil rights leader, antiwar activist, and Pan-African revolutionary, Stokely Carmichael is best known for popularizing the slogan "Black Power," which in the mid 1960s galvanized a movement toward more militant and separatist assertions of black identity, nationalism, and empowerment and away from the liberal, interracial pacifism of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference  (SCLC).
Sources: 
Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution:  The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York:  Scribner, 2003); James Haskins, Profiles in Black Power (New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1972), 185-201; Clayborne Carson, In Struggle:  SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1981).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jordan Hatcher Case (1852)

Vignette Type: 
Events
History Type: 
African American History
Jordan Hatcher was a seventeen-year-old enslaved tobacco worker in Richmond, Virginia, who in 1852 rose from obscurity to notoriety when charged with assaulting and killing white overseer William Jackson.  According to newspaper accounts and trial records, Hatcher was working at the Walker & Harris tobacco factory when Jackson began flogging him with a cowhide for performing poorly.  Hatcher initially warded off the blows, but Jackson continued to beat him.  In response Hatcher grabbed an iron poker, struck Jackson unconscious, and immediately fled the factory.  When Jackson later awok
Sources: 
Midori Takagi, “Rearing Wolves to Our Own Destruction” Slavery in Richmond, Virginia, 1782-1865 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999); William A. Link, “The Jordan Hatcher Case: Politics and “A Spirit of Insubordination” in Antebellum Virginia,” Journal of Southern History 64:4 (Nov 1998); Harrison M. Ethridge, “The Jordan Hatcher Affair of 1852,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 84 (1976).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Western Washington University

Vaughan, Sarah (1924-1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sarah Louise Vaughan was born in 1924 in Newark, New Jersey.  Both of her parents were amateur musicians and they provided their daughter piano lessons as a child as well as a solid background in vocals, as a member of her mother’s church choir.  By 1943, 19-year- old Sarah was ready to make music her career.  Despite her natural shyness and lack of stage polish, she won an amateur contest at Harlem’s renowned Apollo Theatre.  That performance led to Sarah’s “discovery” by Billy Eckstine who helped her become a vocalist and musician with the Earl Hines Band.  Vaughn left Hines’s band to join Eckstine’s new orchestra and make her recording debut.  

By 1946 Sarah Vaughn was a solo artist who was rapidly becoming well known as one of the first jazz artists to use “bop” phrasing in her singing.  During the 1950s, she adopted a new style which allowed her to record numerous “pop” tunes that were commercially successful.  While her embrace of pop music scandalized jazz purists, it greatly widened Sarah’s fan base and demonstrated her business acumen, which many of her colleagues eventually grew to admire.
Sources: 
Leslie Gourse, Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan (New York: Da Capo Press, 1993); Joyce West Stevens, Smart and Sassy: The Strengths of Inner City Black Girls (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); PBS, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/vaughan_s.html; Rutgers Women’s History Project, http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/njwomenshistory/Period_5/vaughan.htm; Soulwalking, http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/Sarah%20Vaughn.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Robinson, Bill “Bojangles” (1878-1949)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Bill Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878 to Maxwell and Maria Robinson.  Due to the death of both of his parents when he was an infant, Bill and his younger brother Percy were brought up by his grandmother.  As a young child, Bill was given the nickname of “Bojangles” although Robinson himself was unsure of the origin of the name. 

Sources: 
Susie Box, “National Tap Dance Day: Resonating Far and Wide” The International Tap Association Newsletter 4:1 (May-June, 1993), James Haskins and N.R. Mitgang, Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson (New York: W. Morrow, 1988); Henry Louis Gates and Cornel West, eds., The African-American Century: How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country (New York: Free Press, 2000); http://www.tapdance.org/tap/people/bojangle.htm.  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1906-2001)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Melvin Dixon, Léopold Sédar Senghor: The Collected Poetry, Trans. by Melvin Dixon (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991); Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Blucke, Stephen ( --1792)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Colonel Stephen Blucke led an all-black Regiment that fought for the British during the American Revolution. He settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia in 1783 and became a leader in the Black Loyalist community.

During the Revolutionary War, the most famous of the Black Loyalist Military units were called the Black Pioneers, which contained a small elite band of guerrillas known as the Black Brigade. The Black Brigade fought independently and later with the all-white unit Queen’s Rangers. The supplies they seized were vital to the survival of the Loyalists in New York. In a raid on a patriot militia leader, the Brigade and leader Colonel Tye were caught in a long battle. Their target was burned after Tye’s death and Blucke – a literate, free black from Barbados and officer in the Black Pioneers – succeeded Tye as Colonel of the Brigade.

Sources: 

Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006); http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/confederation/023001-2125-e.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Yanga, Gaspar (c. 1545- ?)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership:Public Domain

Known as the Primer Libertador de America or “first liberator of the Americas,” Gaspar Yanga led one of colonial Mexico’s first successful slave uprisings and would go on to establish one of the Americas earliest free black settlements.  

Rumored to be of royal lineage from West Africa, Yanga was an enslaved worker in the sugarcane plantations of Veracruz, Mexico.  In 1570 he, along with a group of followers, escaped, fled to the mountainous regions near Córdoba, and established a settlement of former slaves or palenque.  They remained there virtually unmolested by Spanish authorities for nearly 40 years.  Taking the role of spiritual and military leader, he structured the agricultural community in an ordered capacity, allowing its growth and occupation of various locations.

Sources: 

Jane G. Landers, “Cimarrón and Citizen:  African Ethnicity, Corporate
Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish
Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves,
Subjects, and Subversives:  Blacks in Colonial Latin America

(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006); Charles Henry
Rowell, “El Primer Libertador de las Americas,” Callaloo 31:1 (Winter
2008).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

McKinney, Samuel Berry (1926- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Rev. Samuel McKinney with Bullhorn
Image Courtesy of Seattle P-I Collection, Museum of 
History & Industry (1986.5.5923.4).

Born on December 28, 1926 to Reverend Wade Hampton McKinney and Ruth Berry McKinney in Flint, Michigan, Samuel Berry McKinney would become a Baptist minister, author, and civil rights advocate in Seattle, Washington. He served as pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, one of the largest and oldest black churches in the Pacific Northwest, from 1958 to 1998 and again from 2005 to 2008.

Sources: 
L' Erin A. Donahoe and Shaun A. Spearmon, Oba: Men of African Descent Making a Difference in Seattle (Seattle: L. Donahoe and S. Spearmon,1997); Mary T. Henry, “McKinney, Samuel Berry (1926-   ),” HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, http://www.historylink.org/; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: A History of Seattle's Central District from 1870 to the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Madhubuti, Haki R. (Don L. Lee) (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Regina Jennings, Malcolm X and the Poetics of Haki Madhubuti (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2006); Lita Hooper, Art of Work: The Art and Life of Haki R. Madhubuti (Chicago: Third World Press, 2007); Jeffrey Louis Decker, The Black Aesthetic Movement (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1991).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Massie, Samuel Proctor (1919-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born in 1919 in North Little Rock, Arkansas, Samuel Proctor Massie was as one of the few African American scientists to work on the Manhattan Project during World War II.  He later became a distinguished professor of chemistry.

Massie graduated from Dunbar High School in Little Rock at the age of 13.  At age 18, he earned his bachelor’s in science and was summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1937.  With a scholarship from the National Youth Administration he earned a master’s degree in chemistry at Fisk University in 1940 when he was only 21 years old.  Massie said his desire to find a cure for his father's asthma spurred him to become a chemist.

As he neared the completion of his doctorate in chemistry at Iowa State University in 1942, Massie lost his draft deferment.  When he was about to be drafted in his home state of Arkansas, his major professor at Iowa State, Henry Gilman, who was already working on the Manhattan Project, assigned Massie to his research team.  Massie performed his research at Iowa State University from 1942 to 1946 where he helped in the development of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb.   
Sources: 
Samuel Proctor Massie (with Robert C. Hayden), Catalyst: The Autobiography of an American Chemist (Laurel, Md.: S.P. Massie, 2001); Neal Thompson, "The Chemist: An Interview with Samuel P. Massie," American Legacy 7 (Spring 2001); "Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr.," The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4443; “Obituary,” Jet, May 9, 2005, 24.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Case Western Reserve University

Havens, Richard Pierce ["Richie"] (1941-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Music’s Over Website
Richie Havens, born Richard Pierce Havens, was an esteemed musician, writer, educator, and actor. Havens was born in Brooklyn on January 21, 1941 to a music-infused family. His father, Richard Havens, was a Blackfoot Native-American ear piano player, and his mother, Milfred, was a singer from the British West Indies. Havens was the eldest of nine children.

Havens is best remembered for his three-hour opening performance on August 15, 1969 at the Woodstock Concert on Max Yasgur’s farm. Havens was selected to open the concert when the original act was delayed in traffic. His performance ended with an improvised rendition of an old African American spiritual, “Motherless Child,” which became known as “Freedom” and was immediately identified with the pivotal movements of the period: civil rights, anti-war, free love, and feminism.

Haven’s illustrious career began much earlier in 1954, when he started singing doo-wop music at age 13. By the age of 16, Havens had formed a gospel group known as McCrea Gospel singers. In 1967, Havens signed with Verve Records in a deal arranged by Bob Dylan's manager Albert Grossman.

After Woodstock, Haven’s popularity skyrocketed and later in 1969, he formed his own record label, Stormy Forest, a label which eventually released six albums. In total, Havens recorded twenty-five albums over his five decade career.
Sources: 
Rachel Marco-Havens, “Richie Havens Daughter Says Good-Bye,” The Progressive (April 23, 2013); Richie Havens and Steve Davidowitz, They Can't Hide Us Anymore (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1999); Derek Schofield, “Richie Havens,” The Guardian (April 23, 2013); http://richiehavens.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Brown, Dorothy Lavinia (1919-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown was a medical pioneer, educator, and community leader.  In 1948-1949 Brown became the first African American female appointed to a general surgery residency in the de jure racially segregated South.  In 1956 Brown became the first unmarried woman in Tennessee authorized to be an adoptive parent, and in 1966 she became the first black woman representative to the state legislature in Tennessee.

Brown was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 7, 1919. Within weeks after she was born, Brown’s unmarried mother Edna Brown moved to upstate New York and placed her five-month-old baby daughter in the predominantly white Troy Orphan Asylum (later renamed Vanderhyden Hall) in Troy, New York. Brown was a demonstrably bright child, and became interested in medicine after she had a tonsillectomy at age five.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Montgomery, Isaiah T. (1847-1924)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Isaiah Thornton Montgomery was an African American leader best known for founding the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi and for his public endorsement of black disenfranchisement.  Montgomery was born enslaved on May 21, 1847 to Benjamin Thornton and Mary Lewis Montgomery on the Hurricane Plantation at Davis Bend, an area along the Mississippi River near Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Hurricane Plantation was owned by Joseph E.
Sources: 
http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/55/isaiah-t-montgomery-1847-1924-part-I; Leon Litwack and August Meier (eds.), Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1991); David H. Jackson, A Chief Lieutenant of the Tuskegee Machine: Charles Banks of Mississippi (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Smith, Kirke (1865-1935)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Kirke Smith was born July 22, 1865 in Montgomery County, Virginia. He graduated from Berea College in1894 and earned an M.A. degree from the University of Michigan.  In 1894, Smith became the Superintendent of the Lebanon Colored Schools and the following year, Superintendent of Principals in the Lebanon, Kentucky school system, a post he held for fifteen years.  During this period he also became an ordained minister.

On January 12, 1904, Democratic representative Carl Day, of Breathitt, Kentucky, introduced House Bill 25, “An Act to prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school.”  The so-called Day Bill was aimed at Berea College since separate public schools for blacks and whites had been the law in the state for some time. After a  lawsuit to defend its interracial educational policy was defeated in the courts, Berea raised funds to establish a new school for blacks. From 1910-1912, the trustees employed Rev. Kirke Smith and Rev. James Bond, the grandfather of Julian Bond, to raise money for the new school which would be named Lincoln Institute.

Sources: 
John A. Harding, Fifty Years of Segregation: Black Higher Education in Kentucky, 1904-1934 (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1997); Eric A. Smith, "Discovering History Through Genealogy: Kirke Smith and the Founding of Lincoln Institute,” Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago Newsletter  23:4 (June 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago

Seymour, William J. (1870-1922)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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, 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, 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.

Sources: 
William J. Seymour, ed. The Azusa Street Papers: A Reprint The Apostolic Faith Mission Publications, Los Angeles, California (1906–08). Foley, Ala.: Together in the Harvest Publications, 1997; Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2001); http://www.ag.org/enrichmentjournal/199904/026_azusa.cfm
Affiliation: 
Seattle Pacific University

Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel (1875-1912)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of the National
Museum of American History
Born on August 15, 1875 to a physician from Sierra Leone and an Englishwoman, musical composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor grew-up in Holborn, England.  He revealed his musical talents at the age of five, began studying the violin at the age of seven, and entered the Royal College of Music in London at the age of fifteen.  By the mid-1890s, due largely to his association with the African American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar and inspired by the London performance of the visiting Fisk Jubilee Singers from the United States, Coleridge-Taylor begin reflecting the African American experience in his music.

By 1898 when only 23 years of age, Coleridge-Taylor was commissioned to write his Ballade in A Minor for Britain’s Three Choirs Festival.  He is perhaps best remembered for Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the first of three parts based on poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.  Coleridge-Taylor’s overture to this particular piece was drawn from the black American spiritual: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”  
Sources: 
Kwame A. Appiah & Henry Louis Gates, Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); see also African American Almanac (Detroit: Gale Research Group, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Austin, Richard Henry (1913-2001)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Michigan Department
of Transportation

Richard Henry Austin was born on May 6, 1913 in Stouts Mountain, Alabama, the son of Richard H. and Leila (Hill) Austin.  Austin shined and sold shoes while studying at the Detroit Institute of Technology at night.  After graduating from the Institute in 1937, he became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in 1941 (the first African American to do so in Michigan), and founded his own accounting firm.  Austin then helped other blacks in the Detroit area form businesses, foundations, and civic groups.

Richard Austin also became very active in political and civil rights groups in Detroit.  In 1969, he was almost elected the city’s first black mayor.  He led in the primary but was defeated by a margin of 51 to 49 percent in the general election.  Two years later, however, Austin garnered a 300,000 vote majority over his opponent to become Michigan’s first African American Secretary of State.  He was subsequently reelected four times.

Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007).
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

Holstein, Casper (1876-1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Genevieve Fabre and Michel Feith, Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); Crime Library, Black Gangs of Harlem: 1920-1939, http://www.crimelibrary.com/gangsters_outlaws/gang/harlem_gangs/4.html
“Holstein Set Free By Abductors,” The New York Times, September 24, 1928.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Antoine, Caesar Carpenter (1836-1921)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Caesar Carpenter "C.C." Antoine is best known as a leading African American politician in Louisiana during Reconstruction (1863-1877). Antoine was born in New Orleans to a Black father who fought the British as an American soldier at the Battle of New Orleans (1815), and to a West Indian mother. His father’s mother was from Africa and the daughter of a captured African chief. Her reputed self-purchase from slavery and accumulation of a minor fortune allowed C.C. Antoine and his father to live out their lives as free blacks.  Prior to entering politics, Antoine ran a successful grocery business in New Orleans.

In 1862, one year after the Civil War began, New Orleans was captured and occupied by Union troops, Antoine joined the Union Army and quickly rose to the rank of Captain.  From 1862 to 1865 Captain Antoine was attached to one of the nation’s first all-black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards. As Captain, Antoine recruited former bondsmen for service and developed Company I of the Seventh Native Guard primarily stationed at Brashear (now Morgan City) about 85 miles southwest of New Orleans.

Sources: 
John Andrew Prime, “Lt. Gov. C.C. Antoine: Louisiana's 3rd Black Lieutenant Governor”http://home.earthlink.net/~japrime/cwrt/antoine.htm; Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harpers Perennial, 2002); W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Touchstone, 1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Waldon, Alton Ronald, Jr. (1936–)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of 
Representatives Photography Office
Alton Ronald Waldon Jr. was the first African American Congressman elected from Queens, New York.  Waldon was born in Lakeland, Florida on December 21, 1936. He attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, New York and after graduation in 1954 joined the United States Army.  Discharged in 1959 Waldon attended John Jay College in New York City where he received a Bachelor of Science in 1968.  He received a J.D. from New York Law School in 1973.

While still in college Waldron joined the New York City Housing Authority’s police force in 1962 and served until 1975 when he was appointed deputy commissioner of the State Division of Human Rights. He also served as assistant counsel for the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

In 1982 Waldon was elected to represent the Thirty-third District in the New York Assembly, where he served until his election to Congress.

On April 10, 1986, Sixth District Congressman Joseph Addabbo died in office.  In the special election that followed in June, Waldon defeated Floyd H. Flake, a prominent African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, and was sworn into Congress on June 10, 1986. He was seated on the Committee of Education and Labor and the Committee on Small Business.
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) http://bioguide.congress.gov/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jones, Lois Mailou (1905-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records,
Archives Center, National Museum of American History,
Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution.

Visual artist Lois Mailou Jones was born in 1905 in Boston, Massachusetts to Thomas Vreeland and Carolyn Dorinda Jones. Her father was a superintendent of a building and later became a lawyer, her mother was a cosmetologist. Early in life Jones displayed a passion for drawing, and her parents encouraged this interest by enrolling her in the High School of Practical Arts in Boston where she majored in art. In 1927, Jones graduated with honors from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and continued her education at the Boston Normal School of Arts and the Designers Art School in Boston.

Sources: 

Charles H. Rowell, “An Interview with Lois Mailou Jones.” Callaloo. 12:2 (Spring, 1989): 357 -378); Fern Gillespie, “The Legacy of Lois Mailou Jones,” Howard Magazine (Winter 1999): 8-13; Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998), http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/bios/jones-bio.htm.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Sherrod, Charles (1937-)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Charles Sherrod was a key civil rights leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose leadership led to the Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. Born in extreme poverty to his fourteen-year old mother in 1937 in St. Petersburg, Virginia, he worked to help support six younger children.  Sherrod worked his way through Virginia Union College, receiving a B.A. in 1958 and a Bachelors of Divinity in 1961. He joined SNCC in 1960, participating in the organization's first demonstrations and voter registration drives.

Sources: 

Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the
1960s
(New York: Harvard UP, 1981); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African
American Experience
(New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);
http://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/witnesses/charles_sherrod.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Khanga, Yelena (1962- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Yelena Khanga is a journalist and writer who was born in 1962 in Moscow, Russia. She is the daughter of Abdulla Khanga, who was the onetime vice president of Zanzibar, and Lily Golden, a Russian woman who was a historian and educator. She was also the granddaughter of a black Christian, Oliver Golden and a Polish Jew, Bertha Bialek. The pair met in jail after being arrested during a union demonstration and migrated to the Soviet Union in 1931 after being disowned by Bialek’s family for being in an interracial relationship.

Khanga grew up in Moscow, attending schools where she was often the only child of African ancestry. She said that she "was never made to feel less intelligent, less capable, less likely to achieve than my white schoolmates." However, Khanga said that she did realize that she was different and she felt like an outsider. As a teen Khanga started playing tennis and was able to travel the Soviet Union as a member of the Army Tennis Team. After finishing public school, she attended Moscow State University and graduated in 1984 with a degree in journalism.
Sources: 
Yelena Khanga, Soul to Soul: The Story of a Black Russian American Family, 1865-1992 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992); "Yelena Khanga," in Contemporary Black Biography (Detroit: The Gale Group, 2006).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jackson, Alphonso R. (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Alphonso R. Jackson cultivated a three-decade career in public service that included an appointment as head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the administration of his long-time friend, President George W. Bush.  Born in Marshall, Texas, in 1946, Jackson grew up in South Dallas, the youngest of twelve children in a working-class family.  He earned a B.A. in political science (1968) and a M.Ed. (1969) from Northeast Missouri State University.  He then studied at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri, where he received a J.D. in 1972.  

Sources: 
Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 48, “Alphonso R. Jackson” (Farmington Hills, Michigan: Thomson Gale, 2005); “The Honorable Alphonso Jackson Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development,” U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (2008) http://www.hud.gov/about/secretary/jacksonbio.cfm; Rachel L. Swarns, “Top U.S. Housing Official Resigns,” The New York Times (March 31, 2008), http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/washington/31cnd-jackson.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jackson, James Lloyd (1920-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership:
Public Domain
James Lloyd Jackson was one of the little known heroes of the D-Day Landing at Normandy Beach in France in 1944.  Jackson was born in Lakeland, Florida on February 25, 1920 to Essie May Holly and Amos Jackson. He graduated from Lakeland High School in 1938. For the next five years he worked for the Lakeland Fertilizer Company.

Jackson joined the U.S. Army in 1943 as a private.  In 1944, just a year after joining the military, Sergeant James Jackson led a unit of the 531st Combat Engineers onto Normandy Beach at dawn in preparation for the much larger invasion that was to follow. Jackson's unit also captured German soldiers including Max Schmeling, the boxer who fought Joe Louis in 1937 and 1938. Jackson's unit continued to work in battlefield settings for the rest of World War II.  

James Jackson decided in 1945 to make the Army a career. In 1951 he was promoted to second lieutenant while serving in Korea.  On December 27, 1953 Jackson married Octavia Mills, a former elementary school teacher from Oklahoma. The couple had five children.  

At the end of the Korean War Jackson used his years in the military to further his education.  While in the Army and stationed at various posts, Jackson studied at the University of Maryland, the University of Puget Sound, the University of Heidelberg in Germany, and finally Western Washington University where he received a Bachelor of Science in 1975.  
Sources: 
National Archives and Records Administration, Jackson Family Records.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dett, R. Nathaniel (1882-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
From precocious five-year-old piano player in the 1890s to internationally known choral director, composer, concert pianist, and poet, R. Nathaniel Dett became champion for preservation of the black spiritual which he called authentic American folk music: He dedicated his life to finding a musical form to bridge the gap between the music’s simple origins and its concert performance.

Robert Nathaniel Dett was born October 11, 1882 in Drummondville, Ontario, Canada, a town founded prior to the American Civil War by fugitive slaves from the U.S.  His early experience included absorbing spirituals his grandmother sang, playing piano in church, and studying piano locally. He then majored in piano and composition at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.  In 1908 Dett was its first African American to graduate from Oberlin after winning Phi Beta Kappa honors. His formal education continued throughout his life including studies at Harvard University where his 1920 essay “Negro Music” won a prize. In 1932 he received a Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music (1932).

In 1911 Dett published his only book of poetry, The Album of the Heart.  Three years later he began touring as a concert pianist and soon after was widely acclaimed by critics.  In 1916 he married Helen Elise Smith, a pianist and the first black graduate of the Damrosch Institute of Musical Art (later Juilliard School of Music.)
Sources: 
Anne Key Simpson, Follow Me: The Life and Music of R. Nathaniel Dett (Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1933); Dominique-Rene de Lerma, The Collected Piano Works of R. Nathaniel Dett (Miami: Summy-Birchard, 1973); “Biography R. Nathaniel Dett,” Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress, August 26, 2011; Jon Michael Spencer, “R. Nathaniel Dett’s Views on the Preservation of Black Music,” The Black Perspective in Music (Autumn 1982).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bonetta, Sarah Forbes (1843-1880)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
James Davies and Sarah Forbes Bonetta
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a princess of the Egbado clan of the Yoruba people, is best known as the goddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Bonetta was born in 1843 in what is now southwest Nigeria. Her parents' names are unknown as are the names of her siblings who were all killed in the 1847 slave raid that made Bonetta a captive.  
Sources: 
“Sarah Forbes Bonetta: The African Princess in Brighton,” Afro-Europe International Blog, http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/2011/09/sarah-forbes-bonetta-african-princess.html; “Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davis, An African Princess in the British Monarchy Who Captured the Heart of Queen Victoria,” Trip Down Memory Lane, Kwekudee, 3 Sept. 2009;  http://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2012/09/sarah-forbes-bonetta-davies-african.html; Walter Dean Myers, At Her Majesty's Request: An African Princess in Victorian England (New York: Scholastic, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jordan, Michael J. (1963- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Michael Jordan in the Air
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Michael Jordan, National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar, was born February 17, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of James R. and Deloris Jordan. Soon after his birth, the family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. Jordan became a standout athlete at Laney High School despite being rejected for the school’s varsity basketball team the first season he tried out. He grew four inches taller over the following year, made the team and became an All-American during his senior year at Laney.

Jordan played college basketball at the University of North Carolina where under coach Dean Smith’s tutelage he established a reputation as a clutch player when he made a game winning shot against Georgetown in the 1982 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship game. This reputation would follow him into the NBA when he left school before his senior year to play professionally for the Chicago Bulls.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University-Fresno

Washington, George (1817-1905)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
George Washington was a prominent pioneer in the state named, like he was, for America's first president.  He founded Centralia in southwest Washington and was a leading citizen and benefactor of the town.  Washington's father was a slave, his mother of English descent.  When his father was sold soon after his birth in Virginia, his mother left him with a white couple named Anna and James Cochrane (or Cochran), who raised him in Ohio and Missouri.  At the age of 33, Washington joined a wagon train and headed west with the Cochranes, seeking to escape discriminatory laws.

In 1852 he staked a claim on the Chehalis River in what was then Oregon Territory. Because Oregon law prohibited settlement by African Americans, Washington had the Cochranes file the claim. After Washington Territory was created, they deeded the property to him.

When he was in his fifties, Washington married widow Mary Jane Cooness (or Cornie).  In January 1875, the Washingtons platted a town, which they called Centerville, on their property.  The name was changed to Centralia in 1883.  The Washingtons provided land for a Baptist church, cemetery, and public square (now George Washington Park).
Sources: 
HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "George and Mary Jane Washington found the town of Centerville (now Centralia) on January 8, 1875" (by Kit Oldham), http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5276   "History of Centralia," Centralia, Washington website, http://www.centralia.com/PageDetails.asp?ID=25&Title=Historic%20Centralia#founder
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Staff Historian, HistoryLink.org

Clarke, John Henrik (1915-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
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.
Sources: 
John Henrik Clarke, “Portrait of a Liberation Scholar;” Henrik Clarke, in Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Africana (New York, Basic Civitas Books, 1999); http://www.africawithin.com/clarke/dr_clarke.htm ; http://www.library.cornell.edu/africana/
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Brown, George L. (1926-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Although George L. Brown was born and raised in Lawrence, Kansas, he played a significant roll in Colorado politics for nearly twenty-five years.  Following his graduation from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism in 1950, Brown moved to Denver where he worked as a reporter and editor for The Denver Post.  He continued working for the Post after being appointed to the Colorado senate in 1955, and he covered the civil rights movement in the south during the 1960s. Voters returned him to office for another four terms.

In 1975 Colorado Democrats selected Brown run for lieutenant governor on the same ticket as gubernatorial candidate Richard Lamm. Both Brown and Lamm were elected.  Brown and Mervyn Dymally, who was elected lieutenant governor of California on the same day, became the first African Americans to hold the post of lieutenant governor in the 20th century.

Brown’s term as one of the nation’s first 20th century black lieutenant governors did not go smoothly, however.  He first pardoned a man convicted of murder while Governor Lamm was on vacation. The governor also withheld part of Brown’s salary for overspending his budget, prompting the lieutenant governor to initiate a lawsuit against Colorado’s chief executive.  The resulting bad press led to Brown’s loss in the 1979 Democratic primary election.
Sources: 
The History Makers at www.historymakers.com; The Political Graveyard at www.politicalgraveyard.com; obituary, “First Black to Hold Statewide Office in U.S.,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2005 at www.latimes.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Colorado Historical Society

Height, Dorothy Irene (1912-2010)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds., Black Women in America: an Historical Encyclopedia (Carlson Publishing Company, 1993); http://www.naswfoundation.org/pioneers/h/height.htm; www.ncnw.org/about/height.htm; Dorothy Height Obituary, Seattle Times, April 21, 2010.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Anderson, Garland (1886-1939)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A pioneer playwright and moralistic philosopher of constructive thinking, Garland Anderson was the first African American known to have a serious full-length drama produced on Broadway in New York. Active in the theatre for over 10 years during the 1920s and 1930s, he achieved national prominence as “the San Francisco Bellhop Playwright.”

Garland Anderson was born in Wichita, Kansas.  He completed only four years of formal schooling before the family moved to California. Working as a bellhop in a San Francisco hotel, he often shared his optimistic philosophy of life with guests who encouraged him to write about his ideas. Anderson believed an individual might achieve anything in life through faith.
Sources: 
Garland Anderson, Uncommon Sense: The Law of Life in Action (London: L.N Fowler & Company 1933); Anthony Duane Hill, ed., An Historical Dictionary of African American Theater (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2008)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio State University

Nash, Charles Edmund (1844-1913)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Republican Charles Edmund Nash served in the 44th Congress as Louisiana’s only black representative. Nash was born in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, on May 23, 1844. Before his time in Congress Nash attended common schools, was a bricklayer in New Orleans, and had enlisted as a private for the U.S. volunteers in July of 1863. He was later promoted to Sergeant Major, but his military service proved to be disastrous as he lost the lower third of his right leg just before the Civil War’s end.

As a result of his military service and strong support of the Republican Party, he was appointed to the position of night inspector in the New Orleans Customs House – a powerful post in the local political machine. In 1874 he was elected, uncontested, to the House of Representatives from the 6th Congressional District.

Despite his easy election, Nash made little political impact during his time in Congress.  He was assigned to the Committee on Education and Labor.  On June 7th, 1876 Nash made the only major address during his term as Congressman.  His speech condemned the violent and anti- democratic actions of some Southern Democrats, called for greater education among the populace, and also for increased racial and political peace especially in the South.

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, DC; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1982).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Gilpin, Charles Sidney (1878-1930)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Charles Sidney Gilpin, an actor, singer, and vaudevillian dancer, was the most successful African American stage performer in the early 20th Century.  He is best known for his portrayal of Brutus Jones in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. A Richmond, Virginia, native, Gilpin attended St. Francis School, a Catholic institution for colored children, until age 12, and served as a printer’s assistant at the Richmond Planet (c. 1890-1893). Gilpin married three times. His first wife was Florence Howard (married c. 1897). He met his second wife, Lillian Wood, when he was with the Lafayette Players. His third wife was Alma Benjamin Gilpin.

Gilpin showed great promise early on as a singer appearing in amateur theatricals in Richmond. He went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the early 1890s, where he worked briefly for the Philadelphia Standard, but was let go after some employees complained about working with a Negro.
Sources: 
Anthony Duane Hill, ed., An Historical Dictionary of African American Theatre (Prevessin, France: Scarecrow Press, 2008); John T. Kneebone, “’It Wasn’t All Velvet’: The Life and Hard Times of Charles S. Gilpin, Actor,” Virginia Cavalcade 38 (Summer 1988)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio State University

Long, Jefferson Franklin (1836-1907)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Jefferson Franklin Long, a Republican who represented Georgia in the 41st Congress, was the first black member to speak on the floor of the House of Representatives, and was the only black representative from Georgia for just over a century. Long was born a slave in Knoxville, Georgia on March 3, 1836. Little is known of his early years, however by the end of the civil war he had been educated and was working as a tailor in the town of Macon. He was prosperous in business and involved in local politics.

By 1867 he had become active in the Georgia Educational Association and had traveled through the state on behalf of the Republican Party.  He also served on the state Republican Central Committee.  In 1869 Long chaired a special convention in Macon, Georgia which addressed the problems faced by the freedmen.

In December of 1870 Georgia held elections for two sets of congressional representatives – one for the final session of the 41st Congress (the first two of which Georgia had missed due to delayed readmission to the Union), and one for the 42nd Congress, set to begin in March of 1871. Georgia Republicans nominated Long, an African American, to run for the 41st congress, while Thomas Jefferson Speer, a white American, was chosen to run for the 42nd. Long was elected on January 16th, 1871.

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, DC; U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1982).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Barnett, Claude Albert (1889-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Photography by Vincent Saunders, Jr.,
courtesy of the Chicago History Museum,
ICHi-16314.

Claude Albert Barnett, entrepreneur and founder of the Associated Negro Press (1919-1967), was born in Sanford, Florida to William Barnett and Celena Anderson. At nine months he was brought to Mattoon, Illinois to live with his maternal grandmother.  Barnett grew up in Illinois, attending schools in Oak Park and Chicago.  In 1904 he entered Tuskegee Institute.  Two years later in 1906 he received a diploma and was granted the Institute’s highest award. 

Following graduation Barnett returned to Chicago and became a postal worker.    Through his new employment he read numerous magazines and newspapers.  Fascinated by the advertisements, in 1913 Barnett began reproducing photographs of notable black luminaries, which he sold through advertising in African American newspapers.  By 1917 Barnett had transformed this endeavor into a thriving mail-order enterprise. 

Sources: 
Lawrence D. Hogan, A Black National News Service, The Associated Negro Press and Claude Barnett, 1919-1945 (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1984); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); The Chicago Defender (August 3, 1967, p. 2), obituary.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Whitman, Alberry Allson (1851-1901)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Alberry Allson Whitman was a romantic poet and a clergyman of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Whitman was born enslaved in Hart County, Kentucky. He became a freedman in 1863, but his family was unable to enjoy their freedom for long as his parents died shortly thereafter.
Sources: 
Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982);
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Walton, James L. (1939- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

James L. Walton is Tacoma, Washington's first black city manager.  Born in Dallas, the youngest of five children, he grew up in the small Texas town of Mineola.  After high school graduation in 1959, he followed his brother, Willie Brown, who would become a prominent California politician, in moving to California.  He lived in San Diego, where he attended community college, then served two tours of duty in the Army during the Vietnam War, concluding his military service at Fort Lewis, Washington.  The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., redirected his resolve.  In 1968 he enrolled at Tacoma Community College, where he became president of the Obi Society, the black student union, whose members fought an entrenched status quo for an education equal to that offered white students.  

Sources: 

Jason Hagey, “Walton’s Legacy of Quiet Activism,” The News Tribune (Tacoma), June 3, 2005; Ron Mills, “TCC alumnus speaks out about racism, The Challenge, Tacoma Community College, June 6, 2002, http://www.tacoma-challenge.com/news1.htm.
The Safe Streets Campaign: Tacoma and Pierce County Respond to Youth Violence, interviews by Janice M. Foster, University of Washington Tacoma Community History Project, UWT Library, 1994 #1.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Scott-Heron, Gil (1949-2011)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Poet, novelist, musician, and songwriter Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 1, 1948 to parents Bobbie Scott Heron, a librarian, and Giles (Gil) Heron, a Jamaican professional soccer player. He grew up in Lincoln, Tennessee and the Bronx, New York, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School. Heron attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and received an M.S. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University.

By age 13, Scott-Heron had written his first collection of poems. He published his first novel, The Vulture, a murder mystery whose central themes include the devastating effects of drugs on urban black life, in 1968 at age 19.  Four years later,  Scott-Heron published his second novel, The Nigger Factory (1972), which, set on the campus of a historically black college (HBCU), focused on the conflicting ideology between the more traditionally Eurocentric-trained administrators; the younger, more nationalistic students—founders of  Members of Justice for Meaningful Black Education (MJUMBE); and the more moderate students and their leader, Earl Thomas.

Sources: 
Hank Bordowitz, “Music Notes: Gil Scott Heron.” American Vision 13 no.3 (June 1998):40; Terry Rowden, “Gil Scott-Heron,” Encyclopedia of African American Literature Wilfred D. Samuels, ed., (New York: Facts on File, 2007): 452-454.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Manly, Alex (1866-1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Daniel R. Miller, "Manly, Alex" in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 4 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); North Carolina Wilmington Race Riot Commission "Final Report, May 31, 2006" (North Carolina Office of Archives & History, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bonga, Stephen (1799–1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of William L. Katz

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.

Sources: 
“Letters on the Fur Trade,” Minnesota Historical Collections 37: (1910):132–206; Teresa A. Carbone, Eastman Johnson, and Patricia Hills, Eastman Johnson: Painting America (Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1999); Henry Schoolcraft, Henry R. Schoolcraft's "Narrative Journal of Travels", edited by Mentor L. Williams and Philip P. Mason, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1992); William Warren, History of the Ojibway People (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1885); Martin Hintz, Wisconsin Portraits: 55 People Who Made a Difference (Black Earth, WI: Trails Books, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Allen, Debbie (1950- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Deborah “Debbie” Allen, dancer, choreographer, actress, director, and producer was born January 16, 1950 in Houston, Texas to Arthur Allen, a dentist and Vivian Ayers, a poet. Allen comes from a creative family: Allen’s brother “Tex” Allen is a jazz musician, and older sister Phylicia Rashad is an actress best known for her role as Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show.  Allen began dancing at a very early age and at age 12 she auditioned for the Houston Ballet School, but was denied admittance because she was African American. Luckily, a Russian dancer who saw Allen perform was so impressed with her that he secretly enrolled her in the school where she eventually became one of the top students.

At age 16 Allen auditioned at the North Carolina School of the Arts but was told that she did not have the right body type for ballet, a common criticism given to many aspiring black ballerinas to exclude them from classical ballet. Allen was so devastated by her rejection that she put her dancing career on hold for several years.
Sources: 
Ashyia Henderson, “Debbie Allen," Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 42 (Farmington Hill, Michigan: Thomson/Gale, 2004); Kenneth Estell, “Debbie Allen,” The African American Almanac, 8th ed. (Farmington Hill, Michigan: Thomson/Gale, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Toussaint, Pierre (ca.1781-1853) and Gaston, Marie-Rose Juliette (1786-1851)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Pierre Toussaint
Image Courtesy of New York State Historical Society
Juliette Toussaint
Image Courtesy of New York State Historical Society
Pierre Toussaint, New York society hairdresser, devout Catholic, and wealthy philanthropist, was born a third-generation elite house slave at the Bérard family plantation in Haiti.  His father’s name is not known but he took his surname in honor of revolutionary hero Toussaint L’Ouverture.  His mother Ursule was groomed as the personal maid of the Bérard matriarch; his grandmother, Zenobie Julien, nursed the Bérard children, made five voyages to France to help them adjust to their Parisian boarding schools, and continued to work for the family long after being rewarded with her freedom.
Sources: 
Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in St. Domingo (Boston: Crosbie, Nichols and Company, 1854); James Sullivan, “Pierre Toussaint: Slave, Saint and Gentilhomme of Old New York, Parts I, II, III,” November 2011 http://teaattrianon.blogspot.ca/2011/11/pierre-toussaint-slave-saint-and.html; Arthur Jones, Pierre Toussaint: A Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Ashe, Arthur (1943-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Arthur Robert Ashe Jr., legendary tennis player, human rights activist, and educator, was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, to Arthur Sr. and Mattie Cunningham Ashe.  At the age of four, he began playing tennis at Brook Field, a black-only park where his father worked as caretaker.
Sources: 
ArthurAshe.org, http://www.arthurashe.org/; Arthur Ashe and Arnold Rampersand, Days of Grace: A Memoir (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993); Herbert G. Ruffin, “Arthur Ashe” in Matthew Whitaker, Icons of Black America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2011); Richard Steins, Arthur Ashe: A Biography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Bickford, Sarah Gammon (1855-1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sarah Blair was born into slavery on Christmas Day, 1855, on the Blair Plantation near Greensboro, North Carolina. After the Civil War Sarah lived with an aunt in Knoxville, Tennessee and changed her name to Gammon, the aunt’s name.  In 1870, Knoxville Judge John L. Murphy was appointed to a judicial post in Virginia City, Montana Territory.  Sarah, about 15 years of age, was offered free transportation to Montana in exchange for caring for the Murphy children.  She accepted and the family arrived in Virginia City, Montana in January 1871.  

Sarah entered Virginia City during its gold rush and quickly found work as a chambermaid at Virginia City’s Madison House Hotel.  In 1872 she married William Leonard Brown, a successful gold miner.  They had two sons and a daughter.  Within a few years, however, both her sons and her husband died of diphtheria.

Sarah and surviving child, Eva, relocated to Laurin, Montana Territory, where they lived with a merchant family.  Eva Brown died of pneumonia in 1881 at the age of nine.  Two years later Sarah married Stephen Bickford, a white native of Maine, in 1883.  Four children were born to that marriage, Elmer in 1884, Harriett in 1887, Helena in 1890, and Mabel in 1892.  
Sources: 
Marlette C. Lacey, From Slave to Water Magnate (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Taylor, Alrutheus Ambush (1893-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Fisk University Franklin Library's
Special Collections
A[lrutheus] A[mbush] Taylor, historian, was born in Washington D.C. where he also went through the public school system. He earned a B.A. degree from the University of Michigan in 1916 and taught at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama and at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now West Virginia State College) in Institute, West Virginia. In 1922, Carter G. Woodson brought this able young historian back to Washington D.C. to serve as a research associate with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). Supported by a grant from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund, Taylor began researching the role of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction.
Sources: 
W.A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America and Journal of Negro History as well as prefaces and introductions to the three Taylor monographs cited above.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Jemison, Mae C. (1956- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration
Mae C. Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama to Charlie and Dorothy Jemison.  At the age of three, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois to further their educational opportunities.  Her parents stressed the importance of education and when she was four, her uncle sparked her interest in archaeology and anthropology.  She spent much of her time in libraries reading about all she could get her hands on.  Mae graduated high school with honors and entered Stanford University (California) with an interest in the biomedical engineering profession. She graduated in 1977 with a degree in chemical engineering and later a second bachelor’s degree in African American studies.
Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ABSTRACTS/GPN-2004-00020.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gillespie, Dizzy (John Birks Gillespie) (1917-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie had a long and distinguished musical career as a trumpeter, composer, and bandleader. Unlike many jazz musicians whose lives were cut tragically short, Gillespie’s career spanned the 1930s to the 1980s, from the big band swing era of the 1930s, through 1940s bebop, the Afro-Cuban jazz of the 1950s, to the recording in 1989 – when he was 72 – of his United Nations Band performance “Live at Royal Festival Hall.” He is one of the most influential musicians in the history of jazz, is considered one of the founders of modern jazz, and with Charlie Parker is credited with the invention of bebop.  
Sources: 
Susan Altman, The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage, pp. 100-01 (New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1997); Charlotte Greig, Icons of Black Music, p. 55 (San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 1999); Paul de Barros, Jackson Street After Hours, pp. 25, 108, 113, 175 (Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1993); http://www.allaboutjazz.com; http://www.afrocubaweb.com; www.pbs.org/jazz.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Kitt, Eartha Mae (1928-2008)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Eartha Mae Kitt was born on January 26, 1928, in North, South Carolina.  Her sharecropper parents abandoned Kitt and her half-sister as young children, forcing them to live with a foster family until they moved to New York City to live with their aunt in 1938.

Until the age of fourteen, Kitt attended Metropolitan High School in New York City where she was recognized for her talents in singing, dancing, baseball, and pole-vaulting.  She met Katherine Dunham when she was sixteen, and toured Mexico, South America, and Europe as a dancer in Dunham’s troupe.  Kitt remained in Paris after the tour, entertaining audiences across the world with her provocative dancing and singing.  

Kitt was offered her first role in the theater in 1951 when Orson Wells cast her as Helen of Troy in his stage production Faust.  Kitt won critical reviews for her performance, which led to her role in Leonard Stillman’s New Faces Broadway revue.  She released a best-selling Broadway album after the show to kick off her record career.  

Sources: 
Lisa E. Rivo, “Eartha Mae Kitt,” Africana: Encyclopedia of The African and African American Experience, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; http://www.oxfordaasc.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/article/opr/t0001/e0338?hi=1&highlight=1&from=quick&pos=1
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gray, William Herbert, III (1941–2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Office of
Representative Gray

William Herbert Gray III was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on August 20, 1941. His mother, Hazel Yates Gray, was a high school teacher. His father, William Herbert Gray Jr. was a Baptist Minister and over his career, the president of two Florida colleges. Upon taking a job as pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, William H. Gray Jr. moved his family to the Philadelphia area. Following in his father’s footsteps, Gray became an assistant pastor of a church in Montclair, New Jersey, after graduating from Franklin and Marshal College in 1963. Gray received a master of divinity degree in 1966 from Drew Theological School. He became senior minister at his church that same year.  In 1970, Gray earned a degree in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. As a Baptist minister Gray became involved in the fair housing campaign in New Jersey.  In one instance Gray successfully sued a landlord who had refused to rent to him because of his race.

After his father died in 1972, William Gray returned to Philadelphia and became the minister of Bright Hope Baptist Church. Four years later, Gray made his first run for Congress in 1976, campaigning on his experience of promoting fair housing. He lost to incumbent Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Nix in the Democratic Primary but won his second bid in 1978 ending Nix’s 20 year tenure in Congress.   

Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Printing Office, 1990; "Gray, William Herbert, III," in Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr, eds.,  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition. Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/article/opr/t0002/e1710;
“William H. Gray, III Bio and Photo,” The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., http://www.ncccusa.org/news/2000GA/gray.html .
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Coston, Julia Ringwood (?- ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare
Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in
Black Culture, The New York Public Library,
Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
 

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.

Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Singleton, John Daniel (1968- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

John Daniel Singleton, an Academy Award-nominated film director, producer and screenwriter, was born on January 6, 1968 in Los Angles, California.  Singleton was raised in South Central Los Angeles, a personal experience that can be seen in his films which often depict the impact of violence on inner-city residents.  

After graduating from high school in 1986, Singleton attended Pasadena City College and then the University of Southern California (USC) where he enrolled in its School of Cinematic Arts. While at USC he formed the African American Film Association and completed a six-month director’s internship on the Arsenio Hall Show.  Singleton also twice won the Jack Nicholson Award for Best Feature-Length Screenplays while at USC.  Before his graduation in 1990, he signed with Creative Artists Agency.

A year later, Columbia Pictures offered to purchase the screen rights to his college thesis Boyz N the Hood.  Singleton agreed but only if he were hired as the director of the film.  Boyz N the Hood received mixed critical reviews.  Nonetheless it received Academy Award nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Director.  In the latter category, Singleton at age 23, became the youngest person and first African American to receive that honor.  

Sources: 

A & E, December 2, 2008, http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9542361; Harry A. Ploski, and James D. Williams. The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the African American. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1989).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Patton, Georgia E.L. (1864-1900)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Georgia E. L. Patton, "Brief Autobiography of a Colored Woman Who Has Recently Emigrated to Liberia," Liberia 3 (Nov. 1893); Mary Krane Derr, "Georgia E.L. Patton," in African American National Biography: Volume Six, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, ed. Alfreda M. Duster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Fishburne, Lillian E. (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Lillian E. Fishburne, the first African American woman to become a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, was born on March 25, 1949 in Patuxent River, Maryland. Fishburne was raised in Rockville, Maryland where she attended Richard Montgomery High School.  In 1971, she graduated from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. In February 1973, Fishburne became an Ensign after graduating from the Women Officers School at Newport, Rhode Island.

Fishburne’s first naval assignment was at the Naval Air Test Facility, Lakehurst, New Jersey, as a Personnel and Legal Officer.  From August 1974 to November 1977, Fishburne was an Officer Programs recruiter in Miami, Florida. For the next three years, 1977 to 1980, Fishburne was the Officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Base.
Sources: 
Joan Potter, ed., African American Firsts: Famous, Little-Known and Unsung Triumphs of Blacks in America (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2009); William Stewart, 1st ed., Admirals of the World: A Biographical Dictionary, 1500 to the Present (North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2009); Bethanne Kelly Patrick, “Rear Adm. Lillian Fishburne” Navy Daughter Rose To Become Service's First Female African-American Flag Officer,” 2009, Accessed Nov 22, 2010, http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent?file=ML_fishburne_bkp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Myers, Stephen (1800-1870)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Stephen Myers held a variety of jobs over his lifetime but he is best known as a leader of the local Albany, New York Underground Railroad before the Civil War. Myers was also a prominent publisher who became an effective abolitionist lobbyist.

Myers was born into slavery in Hooksick, New York, a town just north of Albany. He was freed when he was 18 years old. In 1827 he married Harriet Johnson and together they had four children. Myers worked as a grocer and a steamboat steward on vessels sailing between New York City and Albany. Into the late 1830s, he began helping escaped slaves, and eventually began publishing.

In 1842 Myers began publishing the Elevator, a short-lived abolitionist sheet. Soon, he began working with the Northern Star Association, an abolitionist group, and founded its newspaper, the Northern Star and Freeman’s Advocate. This anti-slavery and reform newspaper was directed toward local free blacks and was published with the assistance of his wife, Harriet. The Northern Star office and the Myers home were used on occasion to provide comfort and support to fugitive slaves. As such Stephen and Harriet Myers helped hundreds of escaping slaves face the last leg of their northward journey to Canada. Because of their work, the Albany station developed the reputation for being the best organized section of the Underground Railroad in New York State.
Sources: 
Peter Williams, et al., “Letters from Negro Leaders to Gerrit Smith,” The Journal of Negro History 27:4 (October 1942); C. Peter Ripley, ed., The Black Abolitionist Papers, Vol. I, III, IV (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986); http://ugrworkshop.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Aynaw, Yityish “Titi” (1992- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Yityish “Titi” Aynaw was crowned Miss Israel on February 27, 2013.  She made history when she became the first Miss Israel of African ancestry.  Born in Gondar Province, Ethiopia, Aynaw arrived in Israel in March 2003 along with her older brother and grandparents at the age of 12 after the death of her mother in 2002.  Her father died when she was two years old.

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.

Sources: 
Daniel Estrin, “Israel’s Bold New Queen,” Tablet Magazine, March 3, 2013; Aaron Kalman, “Miss Israel is Ethiopian Immigrant,” The Times of Israel, February 28, 2013; Robert Tait, “Barack Obama To Dine with First Black Miss Israel,” Telegraph, March 22, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennesse State University

Locke, Alain (1886-1954)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Alain Locke, The New Negro: An Interpretation (New York: New York, Albert and Charles Boni Press, 1925); Leonard Harris, ed., The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989); Jeffrey Stewart C., “Alain Leroy Locke at Oxford: The First African-American Rhodes Scholar,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 31:1 (2001):12-117.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Brown, Odessa (1920-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain

 

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.

Sources: 
Odessa Brown (1920-1969)

Mary T. Henry, Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People (Seattle: Statice Press, 1997).


Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pleasant, Mary Ellen (1814-1904)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mary Ellen Pleasant was born on Aug. 19, 1814 in Virginia and spent her early years in Nantucket.  She worked as a bond servant to the Hussey family, an abolitionist family.  She later married James Smith, a wealthy former plantation owner and an abolitionist.  Mary Ellen and James worked on the Underground Railroad.  After Smith’s death four years later, Mary Ellen continued her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Mary Ellen married John James Pleasant around 1848.  To avoid trouble with slavers for their abolitionist work, the couple moved to San Francisco in April 1852.  Mrs. Pleasant established several restaurants for California miners, the first named the Case and Heiser.  With the help of clerk Thomas Bell, Mrs. Pleasant amassed a fortune by 1875 through her investments and various businesses by 1875.  She also helped to establish the Bank of California.

Pleasant earned her title as the “Mother” of California’s early civil rights movement, establishing the local Underground Railroad.  She financially supported John Brown from 1857 to 1859.   In the 1860s and 1870s, Mrs. Pleasant brought several civil rights lawsuits in California, especially against the trolley companies, most of which she won.
Sources: 
Lynne Hudson, The Making of Mammy Pleasant: A Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth Century San Francisco (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Green, Ernest G. (1941- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1941, Ernest Gideon Green was no stranger to the Civil Rights Movement as his mother was a NAACP member and took part in protests against unequal pay between whites and blacks. Partly inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Green’s family decided to become plaintiffs in the lawsuit that desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School.  Green and eight other African American high schoolers became known as the Little Rock Nine.  They would be the first test of the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education which officially desegregated the nation’s public schools.
Sources: 
Thomas D. Jakes, Who’s Who Among African Americans (New York: Thomson & Gale, 2003); http://www.answers.com; http://www.oldstatehouse.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Whipple, Prince (1750-1796)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Prince Whipple fought at the battles of Saratoga and in Delaware during the War for Independence.  He was also one of twenty enslaved men who petitioned the New Hampshire legislature for freedom in 1779.  His owner, General William Whipple, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an aide to General George Washington.  Although Whipple has been identified by some as the African American figure in the familiar painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River, it is doubtful he was present on Christmas Eve, 1776.

Sources: 
Charles W. Brewster, Rambles About Portsmouth (1859; reprint, Somersworth, NH: New Hampshire Publishing Company, 1971); Mark Sammons and Valerie Cunningham, Black Portsmouth: Three Centuries of African-American Heritage (Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2004); http://www.seacoastnh.com/Black-History/Black-History/prince-whipple-and-american-painting/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Shange, Ntozake \ Williams, Paulette (1948- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The author, poet, and playwright, Paulette Williams (right), was born in 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey.  Until she was eight, she lived in a racially diverse community among well educated upper middle class black and white families.  She socialized with prominent musicians and performers such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Josephine Baker, all of whom were friends of her parents.  

In 1956, the Williams family moved to racially segregated St. Louis where they remained for five years.  In St. Louis, Paulette was exposed to music, dance, art, literature, and opera but also to overt racism at her elementary school, which was one of the first in the nation to become embroiled in the tension over desegregation following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.  At thirteen, Paulette returned to New Jersey where she was now much more observant of the inequities that were customarily faced by black American women.
Sources: 

Philip U. Effiong, In Search of a Stylistic Model for Modern African-American Drama: The example of Lorraine Hansberry, Ntozake Shange (Paulette Williams), and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993); Sandra L. Richards, Conflicting Impulses in the Plays of Ntozake Shange (St. Louis: St. Louis University Press, 1983); Arlene Elder, “Sassafras, Cypress & Indigo: Ntozake Shange’s Neo-Slave/Blues Narrative,” African American Review (1992);  Rutgers University “Women of Color, Women of Words.” http://www.scils.rutgers.edu/~cybers/shange2.html

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Towns, Edolphus (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Office of
Representative Edolphus Towns
Currently in his 13th term in Congress, Edolphus Towns is a Democratic Representative from the State of New York.  Towns was born in Chadbourn, North Carolina on July 21, 1934, and attended the public schools of Chadbourn before graduating with a B.S. degree from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in 1956. After graduating he served for two years in the U.S. Army and then taught in several New York City public schools, Fordham University, and Medgar Evars College. He received his master’s degree in social work from Adelphi University in 1973.

Between 1965 and 1975 Towns worked as program director of the Metropolitan Hospital and as assistant administrator at Beth Israel Hospital. He was also employed by several Brooklyn area healthcare and youth and senior citizen organizations.

In 1972 Towns was elected Democratic state committeeman in Brooklyn.  Four year later, in 1976, he became the first African American Deputy Borough president of Brooklyn, a position he held until 1982. That same year Representative Frederick W. Richmond resigned from the House.  Towns won the vacated seat in the November election.   
Sources: 
http://www.house.gov/towns/bio.shtml; Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Houphouet-Boigny, Félix (1905-1993)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Félix Houphouet-Boigny was born near Yamoussoukro, the southern part of the Ivory Coast, on October 18, 1905. His father was a Boulé tribal chief and a wealthy cocoa farmer. At five years old Houphouet-Boigny inherited his father’s chief status and his cocoa plantation. He studied at primary and secondary school in his village and graduated as a medical assistant in Dakar, Senegal. From 1925 to 1940, Houphouet-Boigny worked in medicine throughout the Ivory Coast. By 1944, his family’s plantation was prosperous and he rose into political prominence by organizing the Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA), a union that defended farm workers and planters’ interests. In 1945, he was elected as the Ivory Coast’s deputy to the French Constituent Assembly.

Sources: 
Kevin Shillington, ed., Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005); Thomas Patrick Melady, Profiles of African Leaders (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Evergreen State College

Patrick, Deval L. (1956 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Deval L. Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts was elected in 2006.  He became at that time only the second African American elected as a state Governor in the history of the United States.  Patrick was born on July 31, 1956 in Chicago to Laurdine "Pat" Patrick and Emily Mae Wintersmith, and raised in the Robert Taylor housing project on that city’s “South Side.”  His father’s career as a jazz musician (with the Sun Ra band) often took him away from home. Occasionally, Patrick travelled with his father, especially to New York City, where he often stayed with the family of the African drummer, Babatunde Olatunji and his wife Amy. After his  parents were estranged, Patrick and his older sister were raised by his working mother.

Benefiting from "A Better Chance," a national non-profit organization which identified and recruited academically gifted African American students, Patrick was selected to attend Milton High School Academy.  Upon his graduation in 1974 he entered Harvard University.  After completing his undergraduate education at Harvard in 1978, Patrick worked for one year for the United Nations in the (pre-genocide) Darfur region of Sudan.  He then returned to Harvard to earn a law degree in 1982.  Two years later he married Diane Bemus, a labor and employment attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  

Sources: 

Author interviews with Deval Patrick, March 11, 2005 and December 8,
2006, "Governor-elect Deval Patrick is Named 2006 Bostonian of the
Year," Boston Globe Magazine, Special Issue, December 31, 2006: Mary
Carmichael, "Health Section," Newsweek Magazine, May 14, 2007; Office
of Governor Deval L. Patrick.  

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Reed, Ishmael (1938 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Ishmael Reed is an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, satirist, editor, publisher, and poet. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on February 22, 1938 to Henry Lenoir and Thelma Coleman. Lenoir and Coleman moved to Buffalo, New York where Reed grew up.  When his mother divorced Lenoir and married Bennie Reed, Ishmael took his stepfather's last name.  

Reed enrolled in Millard Fillmore College in New York in 1956, taking night courses.  Eventually he transferred to day classes at University of Buffalo with the encouragement of his English instructor.  He attended the University of Buffalo between 1956 and 1960. Unfortunately due to financial reasons Reed withdrew and did not receive a degree. Although later, in 1995, the University of Buffalo (now the State University of New York at Buffalo) awarded him an honorary Doctorate in Letters.  In 1962 Reed moved to New York's Lower East Side and started a career as a journalist. In 1967, after he published his first novel, The Freelance Pallbearers, Reed moved to San Francisco, California.

Sources: 

Caroline Bokinsky, “Ishmael Reed.” Dictionary of Literary Biography:
American Poets Since WWII. Vol. 5 Part 2
, Donald J. Greiner, Editor,
(Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980); Joyce Pettis, “Ishmael Reed.”
African American Poets: Lives, Works, and Sources. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002); Robert Elliot Fox, Modern American
Poetry: About Ishmael Reed's Life and Career
. University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign.
<http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/reed/about.htm>
retrieved on 2009-03-04;

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Marichal, Juan Antonio (1937- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History

 

Sources: 
Jonah Winter, Béisbol! : Latino Baseball Pioneers and Legends (New York: Lee and Low Books, 2001); http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=Juan_Marichal_1937.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Murray, Albert (1916-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Albert Murray, an African American novelist, jazz critic, professor, and essayist, was born in Nokomis, Alabama on May 12, 1916.   His birth parents were Sudie Graham and John Young but he was adopted by Hugh and Mattie Murray and grew up in Magazine Point, Alabama. 

Sources: 
Albert Murray and John F. Callahan, eds., Trading Twelves: The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray (New York: The Modern Library, 2000); Roberta S. Maguire, Conversations with Albert Murray (Mississippi: The University Press of Mississippi, 1997); http://www.tuskegee.edu/Global/story.asp?S=1260209; http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article?tocId=9002879; Mel Watkins, "Albert Murray, Essayist Who Challenged the Conventional, Dies at 97, Books Section, New York Times, August 20, 2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jeffries, Jasper Brown (1912-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on April 15, 1912, Jasper Brown Jeffries was an African American physicist and mathematician who worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II.  The eldest child of Brown and Edna Jeffries, Jasper had three younger brothers, Carl, Hubert, and Robert.

Jeffries earned his B.S. degree in 1933 from West Virginia State College (WVSC), an Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Institute, West Virginia. While attending West Virginia State College, Jeffries enrolled in classes taught by Dr. Angie Turner King, also a 1927 graduate of the institution. King earned a masters degree in mathematics and chemistry in 1931 from Cornell University and later earned a doctoral degree in mathematics and chemistry in 1955 from the University of Pittsburgh. This is very significant because King represented the small numbers of African American women earning graduate degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields during this time period. It is highly plausible that King encouraged Jeffries to further his education and pursue a graduate degree.   After earning his B.S. degree from West Virginia State College, Jeffries briefly attended the University of Illinois (1933-35). He later earned his M.S. degree in physical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1940.
Sources: 
U.S. National Archives, Record Group 77, Records of the Chief of Engineers, Manhattan Engineer District, Harrison-Bundy File, folder #76; Vivian Ovelton Sammons, Blacks in Science and Medicine (New York: Hemisphere Publishing, 1980);  Wini Warren, Black Women Scientists in the United States (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1999); Greensboro’s Treasured Places. The Secrets of East Greensboro. http://preservationgreensboro.typepad.com/page/3/ (accessed Jul 22, 2011); B.B. Paine. Trip to Control Instrument Co., August 27, 28, 29 and September 3, 1952.  http://dome.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.3/39230/MC665_r05_M-1633.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed Jul 23 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
College of Wooster

McKinney, Louise Jones (1930–2012)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of Lora-Ellen McKinney
Louise McKinney (née Jones) was an African-American educator, human rights advocate, philanthropist, business woman, community activist, and patron of the arts.  She was a long-established galvanizing force of civic life in Seattle and in the State of Washington.

Born Louise Jones on July 12, 1920 in Cleveland, Ohio, McKinney graduated from Western Reserve (now Case Western Reserve) University in 1952.

In 1953 she met and subsequently married Rev. Samuel B. McKinney, a 1952 graduate of New York's Colgate Rochester Divinity School. They remained married for 59 years and had two children, Rhoda and Lora-Ellen.

Between 1955 and 1958 McKinney lived in Providence, Rhode Island, where her husband served as pastor of the Olney Street Baptist Church.  In 1958 the McKinneys moved to Seattle and for four decades she was the First Lady of Mount Zion Baptist Church.  
Sources: 
Lornet Turnbull, “Louise McKinney, longtime educator and patron of the arts, dies,” The Seattle Times Website (August 15, 2012); Tom Fucoloro, “Mount Zion mourns the passing of former First Lady at 82,” Central District News Website (August 17, 2012); “The loves of their lives,” The Seattle Times Website (February 13, 2000), “Welcome to The Hansberry Project at ACT Theatre” http://hansberryproject.org/programs.html; “Boards and Volunteers – Louise Jones McKinney,” at http://www.modelfamilies.org/htmldocs/ljmckinney.htm
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Ragsdale, Marguerita (1948- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Marguerita Dianne Ragsdale was born in April 1948 in Richmond, Virginia to Lillie and Vernon Ragsdale and raised alongside her five sisters on a farm in McKenney, Dinwiddie County, Virginia. After starting her undergraduate work at Virginia State University in Petersburg, she transferred to American University in Washington, D.C., where she earned a B.A. in journalism. Later, she earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a J.D. from Columbia University.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bell, James ["Cool Papa"] (1903-1991)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Thomas Bell was born May 17, 1903, in Starkville, Mississippi. Playing baseball as a 19 year-old rookie Bell earned the nickname “Cool Papa” after proving to his older teammates that he was not intimidated by playing professionally in front of large crowds. Signing with the St. Louis Stars in 1922, Bell entered professional baseball as a pitcher, reportedly throwing a wicked curveball and fade-away knuckleball.

The speed of Bell would become apparent when he beat the Chicago American Giants Jimmy Lyons in a race for the title of “fastest man in the league.” He immediately switched to center field, where he would play shallow and always manage to run down long hits. Bell stayed with the Stars until 1930 when the league disbanded, and led them to league titles in 1928 and 1930.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hughes, Langston (1902-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Sources: 
Faith Berry, Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem (Westport, Ct.: L. Hill, 1983); Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971); Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986-88).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Boston College

Steele, Willie S. (1923-1989)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

 

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.

Sources: 
Obituary. San Diego Union (24 September 1989), A-30; Robert Fikes Jr. The Black in Crimson and Black: A History and Profiles of African Americans at SDSU (San Diego: SDSU Library and Information Access, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Garvey, Amy Ashwood (1897-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Amy Ashwood Garvey was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, but spent most of her childhood in Panama where her father supported the family as a businessman. She returned to Jamaica as a teen and attended Westwood High School in Trelawney, where she met her future husband, Marcus Garvey in 1914.

Ashwood and Garvey both held strong beliefs in African American activism and were involved in political activities and soon they began to collaborate on ideas and strategies for the liberation of Jamaica, then a British colony.  In 1916 they became secretly engaged. Ashwood’s parents did not approve and arranged for her to return to Panama that year. Garvey headed for the United States in the spring of that year.

However, Garvey and Ashwood were reunited in September of 1918 in New York City. This marked the beginning of Ashwood’s important role in the development of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) branches. She became Garvey’s chief aide and the general secretary of the UNIA in 1919.
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia Volumes 1 and 2 (New York: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1993); http://www.unia-acl.org; http://marcusgarvey.com; http://www.pbs.org
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Alexander, Clifford L., Jr. (1933-)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission
 
Clifford L. Alexander Jr. was born in New York City on September 21, 1933, the son of Clifford L. and Edith (McAllister) Alexander.  Alexander received a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Harvard University (1955) and a L.L.B. degree from the Yale University Law School in 1958.  In 1959, Alexander became Assistant District Attorney for New York County.  From 1961 to 1962, he became the Executive Director of the Manhattanville Hamilton Grange Neighborhood Conservation Project (1961-62).

Alexander left the private practice of law in New York City in 1963 to become a Foreign Affairs Officer in the National Security Council (NCS) in Washington D.C.  The next year, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him as a Special Assistant to the President; then, in succession, Associate Special Counsel and Deputy Special Counsel to the President.  From 1967 to 1969, Alexander served as chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).  In 1968, he was also named a special representative of the President, with the rank of ambassador.  In this capacity, he led the U.S. delegation to ceremonies marking the independence of Swaziland.  After Alexander left the EEOC, he returned to the private practice of law.  
Sources: 
Alton Hornsby, Jr., Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), pp. 6-7.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

James, General Daniel “Chappie”, Jr. (1920-1978)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was born February 11, 1920 to parents Daniel and Lilly Anna James of Pensacola, Florida.  As a young man growing up in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow, he experienced racism first hand and resolved to overcome discrimination and to excel.  James graduated from Pensacola’s Washington High School in 1937.  In September 1937 he enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  James graduated from Tuskegee with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1942. He learned to fly at Tuskegee as well and completed Civilian Pilot Training during his senior year.  It was also in Tuskegee that James met his wife Dorothy Watkins. They were married on the Tuskegee campus on November 3, 1942.  

Having shown great skill as a pilot, James obtained a job at Tuskegee as a civilian instructor for the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet program.  He trained other pilots until January 1943 when he entered the cadet program himself.  James was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in July 1943.  During the next six years he completed fighter pilot combat training as well as bomber pilot combat training and was stationed at various bases in the United States.
Sources: 
J. Alfred Phelps, CHAPPIE: America’s First Black Four-Star General: The Life and Times of Daniel James, Jr. (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1991); James R. McGovern, Black Eagle: General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, Jr. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1985);
Air Force Link http://www.af.mil/history/person.asp?dec=&pid=123006480
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Dunn, Oscar J. (ca. 1825-1871)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper’s Perennial, 2002); W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880 (New York: Touchstone, 1995); “Lieut.-Gov. Oscar J. Dunn—Cause of His Death—Some Reminiscences of His Career” The New York Times, November 28, 1871.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Haralson, Jeremiah (1846–1916)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library Of Congress
Jeremiah Haralson was born near Columbus, Georgia on April 1, 1846. The slave of Georgia planter John Haralson, he was taken to Alabama where he remained in bondage until 1865. It is unclear as to what he did in the earlier years of his freedom, but there are records that suggest he may have been a farmer and clergyman. Haralson taught himself to read and write and later became a skilled orator and debater.

In 1868, Haralson made his first unsuccessful attempt for a seat in the Forty-first Congress, representing Alabama’s First District of Alabama.  Two years later he won a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives and in 1872 was elected to the State Senate.  In 1874 Haralson again ran for the U.S. House of Representatives.  Haralson narrowly won the Republican primary over Liberal Republican Frederick G. Bromberg.  Soon after the primary Bromberg accused Haralson of voter fraud and sought to deny him his seat.  The Democrats who controlled the U.S. House of Representatives supported Haralson and on March 4, 1875 he took his seat in Congress.   
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: U.S. Government) Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress
http://bioguide.congress.gov/ ; Biographical Directory of Jeremiah Haralson
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jones, Elaine R. (1944- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Elaine Jones, the first woman to administer the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDF), was born in Norfolk, Virginia on March 2, 1944, the daughter of a railroad porter and a school teacher. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1965 and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1970, becoming the first African American to graduate from that school.

After graduation Jones turned down a job offer with a Wall Street (New York) law firm to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, earning thirty percent less than she had been offered by the other firm. The LDF was founded in 1940 by Jones’s mentor and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to provide legal assistance to the nation’s Civil Rights Movement. It became independent of the NAACP in 1957.

Sources: 

Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).

Contributor: 

Steele, Michael S. (1958- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 

Michael Steele, "Uniting the Republican Party,” Townhall Magazine, April 8, 2008,
http://townhall.com/columnists/MichaelSteele/2008/04/08/uniting_the_repu... Michael Steele, “Now Is the Time to Act,” Townhall Magazine, February 7, 2008,
http://townhall.com/columnists/MichaelSteele/2008/02/07/now_is_the_time_...
Baltimore Sun, November 6, 2002; Baltimore Sun, February 1, 2009; Washington Post, November 3, 2006, p.A20, Letters to the Editor, “Black Democrats and Mr. Steele.” Transcript of interview on “Fox News Sunday,” February 1, 2009. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,486395,00.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montgomery College (Maryland)

Knight, Etheridge (1931-1991)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Etheridge Knight took a very unconventional path on his way to becoming one of the most popular poets during the Black Arts Movement.  America’s first introduction to Knight’s literary skills came with his first book publication, Poems from Prison in 1968.  Mr. Knight’s troubled pas