“The Murder of Emmett Till,” The American Experience, pbs.org; Ruth Feldstein, “I Wanted the Whole World to See’: Race, Gender, and Constructions of Motherhood in the Death of Emmett Till” in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, Joanne Jay Meyerowitz, ed., (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); Mamie Till Bradley, “Speech given at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Baltimore, Maryland, Oct. 29, 1955,” in Women and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965, eds., Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon, (Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2009).
Muhammad Ali, arguably the most famous professional boxer in the 20th Century and the only fighter to win the heavyweight championship three times, was born Cassius Clay in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Cassius Marcellus Clay, Sr. and Odessa Grady Clay. At the age of 12 Clay began training as a boxer. During his teen years he won several Golden Gloves titles and other amateur titles. At the age of 18 he won a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy and then turned professional. In one of the most famous boxing matches of the century, Clay in 1965 stunned the world by beating apparently invincible world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston in six rounds.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., an African American Congressman, represented Illinois’ Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from December 12, 1995 to November 21, 2012. On March 11, 1965, in Greenville, South Carolina, in the middle of the voting rights campaign, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. was born to renowned activist, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Jacqueline Jackson. The younger Jackson’s political career has been deeply impacted by his educational upbringing and his family’s activism.
In 1987, Jackson earned a Business Management Bachelor of Science Degree from North Carolina A & T State University, where he graduated magna cum laude. In 1990, he graduated from the Chicago Theological Seminary earning a Master of Arts Degree in Theology. Three years later Jackson graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law with a Juris Doctorate.
Before his election to Congress in 1995, Jackson served as the National Rainbow Coalition’s National Field Director, registering millions of new voters. In the 1980s he led protests against South African apartheid. In 1986, Jackson spent his 21st birthday in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. for participating in an anti-apartheid protest at the South African Embassy.
Leigh Whipper, the first black member of the Actors’ Equity Association (1913), was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1876. His father, William James Whipper, was a Civil War Veteran from Connecticut who settled in South Carolina during the Reconstruction period and became an attorney in Charleston. His mother, Frances Rollin Whipper, was a writer. Whipper attended public school in Washington, D.C. After leaving Howard University Law School in 1895, he immediately joined the theater.
Never a drama student, Whipper honed his acting abilities by observing the techniques of some of the most established actors of his day and interpreting the voices of some of his favorite writers, including Paul Laurence Dunbar. By the turn of the century, he had made his first Broadway appearance in Georgia Minstrels and went on to appear in classical Broadway productions of Stevedore, Of Mice and Men, and Porgy. Whipper achieved national fame for his characterization of the Crabman of the Catfish Row in Porgy, interposing into his part the Crabman’s Song. It was later incorporated into the film version.
Leigh Whipper Papers, 1861–1963, Schomburg Collection, New York Public Library; “Leigh Whipper, 98, Character Actor,” The New York Times, Sunday, July 27, 1975, p. 35.
Mary Burnett Talbert, clubwoman and civil rights leader, was originally born Mary Burnett on September 18, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio, to Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett. Mary Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at the age of sixteen and in 1886 graduated from Oberlin College with a literary degree at nineteen. Shortly afterwards, Burnett accepted a teaching position at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas and quickly rose in the segregated educational bureaucracy of the city. In 1887, after only a year at Bethel University, Burnett became the first African American woman to be selected Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School. Four years later in 1891, however, Burnett married William H. Talbert, an affluent business man for Buffalo, New York and resigned her position at Little Rock High School and moved to her husbands hometown. One year later Mary B. and William Talbert gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Sarah May Talbert.
Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926); Rayford Logan, ed., Dictionary of American Negro Biography, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982); Lillian Serece Williams, Strangers in the Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African American Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
Thomas Dixon, born in Sparta, Georgia, on March 28, 1931, was the founding director of the Tacoma Urban League and one of Tacoma’s civil rights leaders during the 1960s and 1970s. Having spent his professional life in Tacoma, Dixon nonetheless retains a deep connection to his birthplace. His grandfather, a former slave, began to buy land and plant cotton, eventually accumulating 1,500 acres and becoming one of the largest black landowners in the county. Illiterate himself, his grandfather saw that all of his eighteen children were educated. Dixon’s father graduated from Morehouse College and became a doctor. The two men were powerful influences on Dixon, who was eleven when his father died.
Dixon credits an aunt who was an educator with encouraging him to attend college. Unsure of his direction, he joined the Air Force in 1951 and in 1955 was assigned to Japan. He completed college at Sophia University in Tokyo in 1960 with a degree in sociology and economics. In 1971 Dixon received a master’s degree in urban studies from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
Jack Pyle, “Tom Dixon, from Georgia Farm to Urban League,” The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), June 24, 1979; Transforming Tacoma: The Struggle for Civil Rights, Sid Lee, producer, director, and editor (produced in cooperation with Rainier Media Center for the Tacoma Civil Rights Project, 2008); Thomas Dixon and the Tacoma Urban League, University of Washington Tacoma Community History Project, interview transcript, 1991.
Vanessa Lynn Williams was born in Tarrytown, New York on March 18, 1963. She is the daughter of Helen and the late Milton Williams who were music teachers. She has a younger brother, Christopher, who is also an actor. Williams was the first African American woman to win the Miss America title on September 17, 1983. Interestingly, her parents put “Here she is: Miss America” on her birth announcement that they sent out to friends, twenty years earlier.
During her childhood, Williams took music lessons, learning to play the piano and French horn. Singing, however, was her first love. After graduating from Horace Greeley High School in Tarrytown in 1981, she attended Syracuse University where she majored in theater arts. It was also at this time that Williams began to compete in a number of beauty pageants. In 1983, she won the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, followed by the title of Miss New York and eventually the title of Miss America 1984.
Sefolosha started playing basketball at age eleven and soon became one of the best players in Switzerland. After playing two years in the First League there, he took his talent to France, where he played for Elan Chalon, one of the top basketball teams in Europe. His career culminated in his third season, as he was picked to play in the all-star game and was regarded as one of the best players in Europe. From there, Sefolosha played one season in Italy before entering the NBA in 2006.
Veteran of the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Walter Garland was born in New York City on 27 November 1913. After serving in the U.S. Army for two years, he enrolled at Brooklyn College where he studied mathematics. Garland joined the Communist Party in 1935 and became active in the National Negro Congress. When the International Brigades formed to fight for Republican Spain, Garland volunteered , sailing for France in January 1937.
On December 25, 1829 Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton and the couple had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. The Northup family sold the family farm and moved to Glens Falls, New York where he worked numerous seasonal jobs around their county of residence. His wife also contributed to the family’s income as a part-time cook at various taverns in rural New York State. Northup eventually gained a reputation as a brilliant violinist who entertained large audiences throughout rural New York.
Jane Edna Hunter is most famous for founding the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA) in 1913. Hunter was born on December 13, 1882 in Pendleton, South Carolina to Harriet Millner, a free-born daughter of freed slaves, and Edward Harris, the son of a slave woman and a plantation overseer. Edward Harris died when Jane was ten years old, and her mother urged her into a loveless marriage with Edward Hunter, a man 40 years older than she was. The arrangement collapsed fourteen months after the wedding, and Jane Edna Hunter never married again.
Hunter migrated to Cleveland Ohio, arriving in 1905 as a 23 year old single African American woman. Hunter founded the PWA to aid and assist other single, newly arriving African American women. She led the Association until her retirement in 1946. The PWA was the first institution designed to meet the needs of African American migrants and became, by 1927, the single largest private African American social service agency in Cleveland. The Cleveland PWA also became the largest residence for single African American women in the nation and served as the model for similar projects throughout the urban North.
Jane Edna Hunter, A Nickel and a Prayer (Nashville: Parthenon Press,
1940); Virginia R. Boynton, "Jane Edna Harris and Black Institution
Building in Ohio" in Warren R. Van Tine and Michael Dale Pierce,
Builders of Ohio: A Biographical History, (Columbus: Ohio State
University Press, 2003); Women in History, Jane Edna Hunter biography
Last Updated: 1/25/2008, Lakewood Public Library, Date accessed
Karen Ann King-Aribisala is a Guyanese-born novelist who was raised and currently resides in Nigeria. She left Guyana as a young child, moving with her parents to Nigeria around the time of the Nigerian Civil war (1967-1970). Her father introduced her to books at an early age, and the two would discuss literature, poetry and the Bible. He encouraged her to write as well, and she began composing her own stories around the age of eight.
Karen King-Aribisala began her education at the Ibadan International School in Nigeria. She received an international education in Guyana, Barbados, Italy and at the London Academy for the Dramatic Arts in England. She met her Nigerian husband during her time studying abroad in Italy as a teenager.
The painter and sculptor James Washington, Jr. was a leading member of the Northwest School, a group of artists, writers, and sculptors who became internationally prominent in the mid-20th Century. Washington was born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, one of six children of Baptist minister James Washington and his wife, Lizzie. While Washington was a child, his father fled Mississippi due to threats of violence and the two never met again.
Washington's mother encouraged his talents. He began to draw around the age of 12, becoming an expert pavement chalk-artist, making random marks by other children into figures and faces. In 1938 at the age of 29 he became involved with the Federal Works Progress Administration when he was employed as an assistant art instructor at the Baptist Academy in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Excluded from shows in Mississippi that featured white artists, he organized the first WPA-sponsored exhibition for black artists in the state.
Attorney, civil rights and human rights activist, Fred D. Gray, was born on December 14, 1930 in Montgomery, Alabama to Nancy and Abraham Gray. The youngest of five children, he and his siblings were raised in a shotgun house in a segregated black section of the city.
In 1947, Gray attended the Nashville Christian Institute. After completing seminary, he enrolled at Alabama State College, where he paid for his education by working as a district manager of the Alabama Journal. In 1951, Gray entered law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his degree in 1954 and opened a law office in his hometown of Montgomery.
Fred Gray, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System (Montgomery, Alabama: Black Belt Press, 1995). Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); http://www.fredgray.net/background.html.
Elizabeth Freeman was born into slavery in Claverack, New York in 1742. During the 1770s, she lived in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, a prominent citizen who at that time also served as a judge of the Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Colonel Ashley purchased Freeman from a Mr. Hogeboom when she was six months of age. Upon suffering physical abuse from Ashley’s wife, Freeman escaped her home and refused to return. She found a sympathetic ear with attorney Theodore Sedgwick, the father of the writer Catherine Sedgwick. Apparently, as she served dinner to her masters, she had heard them speaking of freedom—in this case freedom from England—and she applied the concepts of equality and freedom for all to herself.
James Edwards was one of the most successful African American homesteaders in the state of Wyoming. Born in Ohio on February 14, 1871, local tradition in Wyoming suggests that prior to venturing west, Edwards had served in an African American cavalry unit in Cuba, though no documentation has been found to substantiate the claim.
In 1900, Edwards accompanied his father and a group of Italian miners westward in response to eastern newspaper advertisements of work at the Cambria coal mine in Newcastle, Wyoming. After being driven away from the mine, Edwards walked south to the area near Lusk, finding work on March 31, 1903 on Eugene Bigelow Wilson and George Luther Wilson's Running Water Ranch on the Niobrara River in present day Niobrara County, Wyoming. He was regarded by the owners of the ranch as a good and trustworthy worker, sheepman, and horse trainer. Edwards worked on the Wilson Brothers’ ranch until December of 1914. By the end of his employment on the ranch he had been promoted to foreman, putting him in a supervisory role over white employees.
Born December 18, 1897 to a middle class family in Cuthbert, Georgia, Fletcher Henderson grew up to become one of the key figures in the development of the form and style of the large jazz orchestra. Despite the fact that he grew up in a family devoted to music and practiced constantly, he graduated from Atlanta University with a degree in mathematics and chemistry. After moving to New York in 1920, however, Henderson found that a color barrier stood against his chances of becoming a chemist, and so it was at this time that he turned to his musical skills to make a living.
After a short time Henderson became a music director for Black Swan Records, and through this work he was able to assemble some of New York’s best musicians to start his own band. In 1924 Henderson began playing in the Roseland Ballroom, and over the next ten years he helped transform the Roseland into a premier venue for jazz in New York while his band became known as the greatest jazz orchestra in the city.
Ida Bell Robinson grew up in Pensacola, Florida, the seventh of twelve children born to Robert and Annie Bell. After her conversion as a teenager at an evangelistic street meeting, she led prayer services in homes. In 1909 she married Oliver Robinson, and they soon relocated to Philadelphia for better employment opportunities. She did street evangelism in Philadelphia under the auspices of The United Holy Church of America. In 1919, the church ordained her and appointed her to a small mission church, where she was successful in pastoral ministry and itinerant evangelism.
Born on October 2, 1939 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, George Robert Reed is a former American College football and Canadian Football League (CFL) player. Reed is considered one of the premier fullbacks to play in the CFL. Reed played for the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 13 seasons, from 1963 until his retirement in June of 1975.
Reed, whose family moved to Renton, Washington, played football at Washington State University both as fullback and linebacker between 1959 and 1963. After his graduation in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, he came to Canada to play professional football with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan. As a professional football player George Reed amassed numerous awards such as the Schenley Award for the Most Outstanding Player and set records including most rushing yards (16,116) for all of professional football. His jersey, # 34, is permanently retired in the Canadian Hall of Fame and Museum in Hamilton, Ontario.
Born on January 28, 1981 in Villa Clara, Cuba, the Cuban born player Maykel Galindo has made a name for himself among the American soccer ranks over the last several years. Galindo started playing soccer when he was eight years old. He soon became an exceptional youth player and was selected to play on the Cuban national soccer team.
Galindo made his youth national team debut in January of 2002 in a match against Guatemala. Three years later he was on the senior squad which competed in the 2005 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup which was to be played in the United States. On July 9, 2005 when Cuba played Costa Rica at Quest Field in Seattle, Washington, Galindo scored Cuba’s only goal in a losing contest. Later that evening in his hotel, Galindo contacted American officials and defected to the United States.
Beau Dure, “Cuba's Maykel Galindo finds USA, MLS to his liking,” USA Today, August 22, 2007; Elisa Han, “Cuban Defector talks about his Ordeal,” King 5 News, July 15, 2005; Maykel Galindo Bio, http://chivas.usa.MLSnet.com.
Prince Rogers Nelson, songwriter, singer, producer, and all-round musical icon, was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Music was a part of Prince’s family; his father, John Nelson, was a jazz pianist whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Nelson, was a vocalist. Prince’s home life, however, was turbulent, and he left home at the age of 12 and was adopted into another family.
From a young age Prince began to teach himself many musical instruments, including the drums, bass, and guitar. While in high school he joined the band Grand Central along with Andre Anderson and Charles Smith (who was later replaced by Morris Day). Prince left school at age 16, by which point he had already begun helping to create what would become known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” characterised by industrial-sounding drum machines and synthesizer riffs.
Hazel Johnson was the first African American woman to become a general in the U.S. Army. She was appointed the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps in 1979. Johnson held a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University (1978) and had honorary degrees from Morgan State University, Villanova University, and the University of Maryland.
Johnson first became interested in nursing while growing up on a farm in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Her career began when we she received her nursing degree from the Harlem Hospital in New York City, New York in 1950. She then attended Villanova University where she received her bachelor’s and soon afterwards joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1955.
Johnson served in Japan at a U.S. Army Evacuation Hospital. She served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1960 where she was a staff and operating room nurse. Between 1963 and 1967, she was an operating room instructor and supervisor while on a tour of three different hospitals. Johnson reached the rank of major in 1967.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell P, 1997); http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/BBH1998.html.
Born November 16, 1963 in Houston, Texas, tennis star Zina Garrison was the youngest of seven children and was raised by her widowed mother, Mary Garrison. She began playing tennis at the age of 10 through the MacGregar Park Tennis Program. The program was run by John Wilkerson who later became Garrison’s coach throughout her tennis career. She graduated from Ross Sterling High School in 1981.
Garrison had an illustrious amateur career. She burst onto the scene in 1978 when she reached the finals in the U.S. Girls National Championship. Then from 1978 to 1982 she won three more major tournaments. As an amateur she became the 1981 International Tennis Federation Junior of the Year and the 1982 Women’s Tennis Association Most Impressive Newcomer.
Asa Philip Randolph, born on April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida, was one of the most respected leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century. Randolph was a labor activist; editor of the political journal the Messenger, organizer of the 1941 March on Washington which resulted in the establishment of the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), and architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Randolph was the son of Rev. James William Randolph, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Elizabeth Robinson Randolph, a seamstress. The family moved to Jacksonville two years after his birth. In 1907, Randolph graduated as the valedictorian of Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville, Florida, and worked a series of menial jobs while pursuing a career as an actor. He moved to New York in 1911, and after reading W.E.B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk decided to devote his life to fighting for African American equality. In 1914, Randolph married Lucille E. Green, a Howard graduate and entrepreneur whose economic support allowed Randolph to pursue Civil Rights full-time. The couple did not have any children.
Arthur Fletcher is perhaps best known as the Father of Affirmative Action for his authorship of the Revised Philadelphia Plan, which required federal government contractors to hire ethnic minorities.
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.
It may be impossible today to understand fully the shock and outrage which alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1959 arrival in New York caused within the jazz community. Coleman's innovations freed his quartet from traditional structures of form, chordal harmony, tonality, and rhythm, and though his work has sharply divided opinion, he is widely acknowledged as having transformed the way in which jazz is heard and performed.
Born in 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman began playing tenor saxophone in rhythm and blues (R&B) bands, his own style rooted in the bebop idiom. Though undocumented, his early development suggests something unique – Coleman was assaulted and his tenor saxophone destroyed after a particularly off-putting dance solo in Baton Rouge. In 1949 Coleman settled in Los Angeles where he worked as an elevator operator and independently studied music theory. On the alto saxophone, which remains his primary voice, Coleman developed a plaintively raw and vocalized tone, exploring micro-tonalities and speech-like cries. In Los Angeles Coleman befriended drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, all of whom would later become mainstays in Coleman’s ground-breaking Atlantic quartets. In 1958 Coleman found a willing partner in pianist Paul Bley, and with Higgins, Cherry, and bassist Charlie Haden the quintet recorded a live performance at the Hillcrest Club, The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet.
Frank A. Rollin, Life and Public Services of Martin R. Delany Boston:
Lee and Shepard, (1868); Carole Ione, Pride of Family; Four Generations
of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics: 2004); Eric
Foner, A Short History of Reconstruction 1863-1877 (New York: Harper
Collins, 1990); Dorothy Sterling, Black Foremothers; Three Lives (New
York: Feminist Press, 1979); www.Freedmansbureau.com
Charles Spurgeon Johnson, one of the leading 20th Century black sociologists, was born in Bristol, Virginia on July 24, 1893. After receiving his B.A. from Virginia Union University in Richmond, he studied sociology with the noted sociologist Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in 1917. Initially a friend of historian Carter G. Woodson, he did collaborative work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History until his relationship with Woodson deteriorated.
August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, Black Historians and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Earnest W. Burgess, Elmer A. Carter, and Clarence Faust, “Charles S. Johnson, “Social Scientist, Editor, and Educational Statesman,” Phylon, 17 (Winter, 1956); Joe M. Richardson, A History of Fisk University-1865-1946 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980) ; Patrick J. Gilpin, “Charles S. Johnson, An Intellectual Biography” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1973).
Literary critic Addison Gayle, Jr., born in Newport News, Virginia in 1932, was educated in the local public schools before he attended City College of New York, where he earned a B.A. degree in 1965; and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he completed an M.A. degree in English in 1966. He began his career as an educator at Bernard M. Baruch College where he distinguished himself as a professor of English until his death in October 1991.
During the 1960s, a juncture in African American history associated with political, literary and cultural upheaval, militancy, and Black Nationalism, Gayle passionately felt compelled to call for a new Black Aesthetics that radically differed from the standard Eurocentric approach to literature. To advance his new theory Gayle outlined, in controversial public lectures and essays, his vision. In 1972, he published Black Aesthetic, a collection of essays with contributors such as Darwin Turner, Maulana Karenga, Larry Neal, and Hoyt Fuller. This important work revisited previous approaches to African American literary criticism and called for new theoretical frameworks that complemented the then ebullient socio- political Black Power Movement.
Civic leader, activist and journalist Benjamin Jealous is the seventeenth president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). With his appointment to the position in 2008, 35-yar-old Jealous became the youngest person to head the NAACP.
Benjamin Todd Jealous was born on January 18, 1973 to Ann Todd and Fred Jealous in Pacific Grove, California. His father Fred Jealous helped integrate lunch counters in the South. Ann Jealous also was a civil rights activist who worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the South in the 1960s.
By the age of fourteen Ben Jealous followed his parent’s example by working in voter registration campaigns on California’s Monterey Peninsula. Four years later, after entering Columbia University in 1990, he worked as a community organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in Harlem on health care access for the poor. During his freshman year at Columbia he led protests for homeless rights and campaigned to retain full-need scholarships at the university. He was also one of a number of students suspended following their protest of the university's plans to convert Malcolm X’s assassination site at the St. Theresa Hotel in central Harlem into a research facility. Unable to attend school, Jealous moved to Mississippi in 1994 where he assisted the NAACP in preventing the state of Mississippi from closing two of its three state-funded black colleges and turning one into a prison.
William C. Nell was an African American civic activist, abolitionist, and historian. Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, Nell was the son of William Guion Nell, a prominent tailor and black activist. William C. Nell was introduced to racial inequality and black activism from birth. In the 1830s, he became politically active as a member of the Juvenile Garrison Independent Society where he wrote plays and hosted political debates while being mentored by William Lloyd Garrison. Nell was a printer’s apprentice for Garrison’s newspaper, the Liberator. Nell came of age in the 1840s, as a leader in the campaign to desegregate the Boston railroad (1843) and Boston performance halls (1853). He was also a founding member of the New England Freedom Association in 1842, a black Boston organization that assisted fugitive slaves in their efforts to gain freedom.
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1940); Eleonore van Notten, Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994); Lawrence T. Potter, Jr., “Wallace Thurman,” in Encyclopedia on African American Writers, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
John Carter Leftwich was born on June 6, 1867 in Forkland, Alabama. The first son of Frances Edge and Lloyd Leftwich, one of Alabama’s last black Reconstruction Era state senators, John graduated from Selma University in 1890. As a young man, Leftwich held a deep admiration for Booker T. Washington, and wrote to him constantly for aid and advice. In 1897, possibly with Washington’s support, Leftwich was appointed Alabama’s Receiver of Public Money by President William McKinley. During this time Leftwich also founded an all-black town named Klondike. In 1902, however, Leftwich lost the support of Washington. Later that year Alabama blacks were disfranchised. These events led Leftwich to migrate to Oklahoma Territory to begin anew.
Robert Townsend, writer, producer, director, and actor, was born in Chicago, Illinois on February 6, 1957, the second oldest of four children to Shirley and Robert Townsend. Growing up on the Westside of Chicago, Townsend was raised by his mother in a single parent home. As a child Townsend watched TV where he learned to do impersonations of his favorite actors such as Jimmy Stewart and Bill Cosby for his family and classmates. Eventually his abilities caught the attention of Chicago’s Experimental Black Actors Guild X-Bag Theatre in Chicago and then moved him out to The Improvisation, a premiere comedy club in New York City. Townsend also had a brief uncredited role in the 1975 movie, Cooley High.
Townsend's comedy career began to take off at the Improvisation and he soon headed to Hollywood where he performed on comedy specials such as Rodney Dangerfield: It’s Not Easy Being Me. Townsend also landed minor role in films such as A Soldier’s Story (1984) with Denzel Washington, Streets of Fire (1984) with Diane Lane, and American Flyers, a 1985 movie staring Kevin Costner.
Robert Townsend.com, December 5, 2008,
http://www.roberttownsend.com/bio.html; Jennifer M. York, ed. Who’s Who
Among African Americans, 16th ed., (San Francisco: Thomson Gale, 2003)
The novelist Richard Moore Rive was born March 1, 1931 in Cape Town, South Africa. His mother was Nancy Rive, a black South African woman and his father was Richardson Moore, an African-American ship hand. Moore abandoned his newly born son, Richard, a few months after he was born, never to be seen again.
Richard Moore Rive grew up in a tenement building called Eaton Place in Cape Town's impoverished black neighborhood, District Six. He was raised by his mother and several half siblings, particularly his half sister Georgina Rive. Rive was also raised Catholic and baptized at the St. Mark’s church in District Six, though he later became an atheist as an adult.
Rive attended primary school at St. Mark’s. At age 12, his high marks earned him a municipal scholarship to the prestigious Trafalgar High School. Along with his studies Rive found time to enjoy hiking and sport, and won several prizes for athletics in amateur competitions.
Lewis H. Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on September 4, 1848. His parents were former slaves who escaped bondage and settled in Boston. Abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass secured the necessary funds to obtain their freedom. After a stint in the Union Navy during the Civil War, Latimer worked as an office assistant in the patent law firm of Crosby and Gould. It was there that he taught himself drafting. He quickly began to experiment with ideas for inventions.
In 1874 Latimer received his first patent for improving the toilet paper on passenger railroad cars. In all, he was given eight patents. He is popularly known as the inventor who prepared drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application for the telephone. He eventually worked on electric lights, became superintendent of the incandescent lamp department of the United States Electric Lighting Company, and supervised the installation of light for buildings in the United States and Canada.
In 1890 Lewis Latimer published a book entitled Incandescent Lighting: A Practical Description of the Edison System. He also served as chief draftsman for General Electric/Westinghouse Board of Patent Control when it was established in 1896. Some of the individuals who worked with Edison formed the Edison Pioneers in 1918 to preserve memories of their early days together and to honor Edison’s genius and achievements. Latimer was a founding member of this group and he was the only African American among them. He died in Flushing, New York, on December 11, 1928.
The legacy of architect Julian Francis Abele was brought into focus in the mid-1980s when in the midst of a student protest at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, his great grandniece reminded the campus community that her long unsung ancestor was responsible for the eleven original architectural drawings for the campus. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1881, Abele was the youngest of eight children born to Charles and Mary Adelaide Jones Abele. Throgh his mother he was a descendant of Rov. Absalom Jones, the founder of the Free African Society and St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.
Dreck Spurlock Wilson, ed., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 (New York: Routledge, 2004);
Billie Holiday is considered by many to be the greatest and most famous jazz vocalist of the 20th century. Her difficult life of poverty, abusive relationships, and drug abuse, helped give her voice a deep, raw emotion that was expressed in the music she sang.
Billie Holiday was born Eleanor Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia to a teenaged mother. She changed her name in her teens, choosing her first name after a favorite movie actress Billie Dove, and adopting the surname of her absent musician father Clarence Holiday. Holiday’s early life of poverty eventually led her to prostitution. However, she was discovered by John Hammond in an audition and began to sing in Harlem night clubs in 1933.
Businesswoman, politician, and civil rights activist, Mae Street Kidd, was born February 8, 1904 in Millersburg, Kentucky to a black mother and white father. Kidd’s biological father refused to acknowledge her as his daughter. She attended a segregated black primary school in her community. As a teenager, Kidd enrolled at Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville, Kentucky, a boarding school for African Americans.
After completing school, Kidd moved to Louisville. She became a successful life insurance agent at the black owned Mammoth Life Insurance Company. During World War II, Kidd served with the American Red Cross in England. Following the war, she became an entrepreneur, opening a cosmetic and an insurance company in the Midwest.
Wade Hall, Passing for Black: The Life and Careers of Mae
Street Kidd (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1997); George
C. Wright, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality,
1890-1989, Vol. 2 (Frankfort: Kentucky Historical Society, 1992);
David Satcher, physician, educator, and administrator, was born in Anniston, Alabama, on March 2, 1941 to Wilmer and Anne Satcher. In 1963 Satcher graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He earned a M.D. and Ph.D. in cytogenetics from Case Western Reserve University in 1970.
In 1979 Satcher became a professor and later chair of the Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice at Morehouse School of Medicine. In the early 1980s, he also served on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine and Public Health and the Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he developed and chaired the King/Drew Department of Family Medicine. While in his position, Satcher negotiated the agreement with the UCLA School of Medicine and the Board of Regents that created a medical education program at King/Drew. In this new program, he directed sickle cell research. In 1982, Satcher began his five year presidency at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dr. George Franklin Grant was the first African American professor at Harvard. He was born in Oswego, New York to former slaves. When he was fifteen years old a local dentist, Dr. Albert Smith, hired him as an errand boy. He soon became a lab assistant, and Dr. Smith encouraged him to pursue a career in dentistry. In 1868 he and Robert Tanner Freeman, another son of former slaves, became the first blacks to enroll in Harvard Dental School. After receiving his degree in 1870, he became the first African American faculty member at Harvard, in the School of Mechanical Dentistry, where he served for 19 years.
While there he specialized in treating patients with congenital cleft palates. His first patient was a 14 year-old girl, and by 1889 he had treated 115 cases. He patented the oblate palate, a prosthetic device that allowed patients to speak more normally. He was a founding member and president of the Harvard Odontological Society, and, in 1881, he was elected President of the Harvard Dental Association.
Barbara Hillary is the first African American woman on record to reach both the North and South Poles. Born in New York City, New York on June 12, 1931 to Viola Jones Hillary and raised in Harlem, Hillary attended the New School University in New York, N.Y. where she earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s degrees. She used her studies in Gerontology to establish a career in nursing, focusing on staff training in the concepts of patient aging and their service delivery systems in nursing homes and similar facilities. She was also founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Peninsula Magazine, a non-profit and multi-racial magazine in Queens, New York. This magazine was the first of its kind in the region.
Lee-Chin was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica. Both of his parents were black and Chinese Jamaican. Lee-Chin is the descendant on both sides of his family of indentured Chinese workers brought to Jamaica in the mid-19th Century. When Lee-Chin was aged seven, his mother married Vincent Chen, and they had seven children. Lee-Chin’s mother sold Avon products, and worked as a bookkeeper for various local firms, while his stepfather ran a local grocery store. He attended the local high school, Titchfield High, between 1962 and 1969.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 17, 1823, Mifflin Wistar Gibbs apprenticed as a carpenter. By his early 20s he was an activist in the abolition movement, sharing platforms with Frederick Douglass and helping in the Underground Railroad. Black intellectual ferment of the era gave him a superb education outside the classroom, and he became a powerful writer. In 1850 he migrated to San Francisco, California; starting as a bootblack, he was soon a successful merchant, the founder of a black newspaper, Mirror of the Times, and a leading member of the city’s black community.
David A. Paterson, sworn in as Governor on March 17, 2008, is the first legally blind American Governor, the first black Governor of New York State, and only the fourth black Governor of any state.
Patrick Vieira, one of Europe’s leading soccer players, was born in the Cape Verdean community of Dakar, Senegal, on June 23, 1976. He left Senegal at the age of eight when his family moved to Europe and settled in Dreux, in northwest France. Soon after their arrival the family became citizens of France.
Vieira began his professional soccer career playing for several local youth clubs in France. Then in 1993, at age 17, he joined AC Cannes Soccer Club. The French club provided an atmosphere for the young 6-foot-4 center midfielder to advance. After three seasons with AC Cannes, Vieira signed with AC Milan, one of the leading clubs in Italy. Although he hoped to break through to the first team in the 1995-96 season, Vieira spent much of his time on the reserve squad.
Trevor Huggins, “Vieira out of crunch Italy clash,” Four Four Two Magazine, June 16, 2008; Patrick Vieira, “Vieira,” The Orion Publishing Group, November 2006.
Lacey Kirk Williams was the President of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc., from 1922 to 1940 and Vice President of the World Baptist Alliance between 1928 and 1940. He also succeeded in creating an interracial alliance which he called a "cooperative" between the wealthy American Baptists, a white denomination, and the National Baptist Convention which greatly contributed to the latter's growth and the black community as a whole. Williams was President of the National Baptist Convention when he died in a plane crash in 1940 on his way to deliver a speech in Flint, Michigan.
Williams was born to a former slave couple, Levi and Elizabeth Williams, on the Shorter Plantation near Eufaula, Alabama. His family migrated to Texas in 1878. He received his education at Bishop College in Texas and Arkansas Baptist College and was ordained to ministry in 1894 at the Thankful Baptist Church in Pitt Bridge, Texas. The same year he was married to Georgia Lewis and they had one son together. Williams became the pastor of the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in Ft. Worth in 1910 and soon afterwards was elected president of the Texas Baptist State Convention.
J. Gordon Melton, Religious Leaders of America: A Biographical Guide to
Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual
Groups in North America (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991);
Franklin D. Burgess's remarkable life as a star basketball player at Gonzaga University and a Federal Judge in Western Washington earned him the description "a legend on two courts." Franklin Burgess was born on March 9, 1935 in Eudora, Arkansas. Raised with seven siblings, he completed high school there and after graduation enrolled in Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College in 1953. After one year, Burgess enlisted in the Air Force and remained in the service from 1954 to 1958. While in the Air Force Burgess began to make a name on the basketball court and attracted attention from many leading college basketball programs such as the University of Kansas and the University of Southern California.
Kennard began his professional career as an attorney at the
multinational law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson, and Hand
(now DLA Piper), headquartered in New York City, New York.
He left the firm as partner and member of the board. He would later
establish a career in government service as a general counsel at the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the regulator of the
telecommunications industry, from 1993 to 1997. In 1997 President Bill
Clinton tapped Kennard to become chairman of the FCC, making him the first African American in history to hold that post.
Charles Lewis was a sailor and soldier during the American Revolutionary War. Lewis was born sometime around 1760 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Bel Aire, the Lewis Family Plantation owned by John Lewis. John and a free mulatto woman, Josephine Lewis, were the parents of Charles and his younger brother, Ambrose. Lewis and his brother were born free but their mother was indentured to John Lewis.
On April 15, 1776, Charles Lewis and his brother entered into the naval service of Virginia when they served on board the Galley Page, a warship commanded by Captain James Markham. On March 20, 1778, they entered the Naval Service of the United States when they joined the crew of the USS Dragon commanded by Captain Eleazor Callender.
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
Talley is the son of William C. Talley, a taxi driver, and Alma Ruth Davis, and was born on October 16, 1949 in Durham, North Carolina. However, he was raised by his grandmother, Bennie Frances Davis, who worked as a domestic in the Durham area. Davis had a profound effect on him and he credits her with his uncommon flair for fashion. As a teen, he ventured to the library in the white section of town. It was there that he discovered Vogue and quickly became a devoted reader.
Talley’s postsecondary experience began at North Carolina Central University and, later he was granted a scholarship to Brown University where he earned an M.A. in French Studies in 1973. He initially planned to teach French, but the fashion world beckoned him. He first worked as an assistant for Andy Warhol. In 1983, he began working as the editor-at-large for Vogue magazine and soon became the most notable African American in the world of designer fashion.
Jack Johnson, the first African American and first Texan to win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, was born the second of six children to Henry and Tiny Johnson in Galveston on March 31, 1878. His parents were former slaves. To help support his family, Jack Johnson left school in the fifth grade to work on the dock in his port city hometown. In the 1890s Johnson began boxing as a teenager in "battles royal" matches where white spectators watched black men fight and at the end of the contest tossed money at the winner.
Johnson turned professional in 1897 but four years later he was arrested and jailed because boxing was at that time a criminal sport in Texas. After his release from jail he left Texas to pursue the title of “Negro” heavyweight boxing champion. Although he made a good living as a boxer, Johnson for six years sought a title fight with the white heavyweight champion, James J. Jeffries. Jeffries denied Johnson and other African American boxers a shot at his title and he retired undefeated in 1904.
After graduation, Barrett, now married, began a career in criminal justice. She worked as a criminal justice planner in East Point, College Park, and Hapeville, Georgia.
Born on December 25, 1840, in Baltimore, Maryland, John Henry Murphy grew up as a slave and freed by the Emancipation Act of 1863. He enlisted in the military at age 24, during the Civil War and quickly progressed to the rank of Sergeant by the end of the conflict. When he returned home to Maryland, he married Martha Elizabeth Howard in 1868, the daughter of a successful farmer. They met at church where his father directed the choir. Murphy quickly became interested in the role of the church in education for African American children. He worked with the Sunday school at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Baltimore and became superintendent of the District Sunday School in Hagerstown, Maryland in the late 1880s.
Murphy began to publish a Sunday school newspaper with an old manually operated printing press. The newspaper, called the Sunday School Helper, was created to assist him with the instruction of the students at his school. In 1892, the pastor of a local Baptist church, Reverend William M. Alexander, started a rival paper, Afro-American to promote his church. By the end of they year Murphy purchased the Afro-American for $200 and merged the two newspapers.
U.S. Appeals Court Judge Damon Jerome Keith, the son of Perry A. and Annie L. (Williams) Keith, was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 4, 1922. He earned a B.S. degree at West Virginia State College in 1943, an L.L.B. from Howard University in 1949, and LL.M. from Wayne State University in 1956. His experiences in the then-segregated military reinforced his interest in the law and his commitment to fight segregation. Between 1952 and 1956 he was an attorney in the Office of the Friend of the Court in Detroit. He served on the Wayne County Michigan (for which Detroit is the seat and largest city) Board of Supervisors and the Detroit Housing Commission from 1958 to 1963 before entering a private law practice with a Detroit firm, from 1964 to 1967. He was politically and socially active in the Democratic Party and the NAACP.
Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby-Gutting, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery: E-BookTime LLC, 2006).
Compared at the time to his more famous colleague, Paul Robeson, and heralded by major publicity outlets of his day as one of black America’s most exceptional baritone vocalists, singer-actor Kenneth Spencer was one of the most prominent black artists of the early 20th Century. Spencer was born in Los Angeles, California in 1913. He studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1938.
Early in his career, Spencer performed as a baritone singer on a variety of network radio stations while working odd jobs to supplement his income. Determined to advance his career, Spencer traveled and performed with the St. Louis Opera Company and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Eventually he became a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Edward Mapp, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts (Metuchen,
N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1978); Thomas Cripps, Making Movies Black (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
Top-ranked professional female tennis player Venus Williams was born June 17, 1980 in Lynnwood, California. She is the daughter of Richard Williams and Oracene Price. Both parents coached Venus and her younger sister, Serena, who is also a top-ranked professional tennis player. Venus Williams, the second youngest of five children and whose older siblings are from Price's previous marriage, grew up in Compton, California where she began to play tennis at the age of five. After moving to West Palm Beach, Florida with her family, Williams joined professional ranks in 1994. A year later at the age of 15, the 6 ft. 1 in. child prodigy had already signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Reebok which at the time was the largest contract ever awarded to a female athlete.
Cassandra Quin Butt is Deputy White House Counsel to President Barack Obama on issues relating to civil rights, domestic policy, healthcare, and education. She brought seventeen years of experience in politics and policy to her position. She is a long-time friend of the President, acting as an advisor during his term in the U.S. Senate and throughout his presidential campaign. Additionally, she served as a member of the presidential transition team.
Butts was born on August 10, 1965, in Brooklyn, New York, and at age nine moved to Durham, North Carolina. She graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill with a BA in political science. While at UNC she participated in anti-apartheid protests. She entered Harvard Law School in 1988 where her friendship with future President Barack Obama began when both were filling out forms in the student financial aid line. Butts continued her activism at Harvard where she joined in protests regarding hiring practices for faculty of color. She received a JD from Harvard in 1991.
The first black woman to function as Deputy White House Counsel gradually rose to prominence Her first job was as a counselor at the YMCA in Durham, North Carolina, and after graduating from UNC she worked for a year as a researcher with the African News Service in Durham. For six years she was a registered lobbyist with the Center for American Progress (CAP), rising to Senior Vice President.
LeRoy Homer, co-pilot of United Airlines Flight #93, was born on August 27, 1965 in Long Island, New York. Homer and his three sisters were raised on Long Island by their German mother, Ilse, and their African-American father who died from a stroke when Homer was twelve. Homer’s interest in airplanes started at an early age and he began taking flying lessons when he was fifteen. He joined the Air Force and after graduating from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he served as a pilot in both the Desert Shield and Desert Storm military operations in the Middle East and later flew aircraft in humanitarian operations in Somalia. Homer served seven years on active duty in the Air Force, eventually becoming a Captain before switching into the reserves, where he rose to the rank of Major.
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.
Ella Sheppard, soprano, pianist and reformer, was the matriarch of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a social reformer, confidante of Frederick Douglass, and one of the most distinguished African American women of her generation. Sheppard was born a slave in 1851 on Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage plantation. A biracial relation of Jackson’s family, her father Simon Sheppard had purchased his freedom by hiring himself out as a Nashville, Tennessee liveryman and hack driver. When Sheppard was a little girl, her slave mother Sarah threatened to drown Ella and herself if their owners refused to permit her Simon to purchase Ella’s freedom. But an elderly slave prevented her, predicting that “the Lord would have need of that child.” Her owners refused to release Sarah, but allowed Ella to go with her father, who soon remarried and, fearful he and his daughter might be reenslaved, fled penniless to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee, producer, actor, director, was born on March 20, 1957 in Atlanta Georgia. His parents are William Lee, a jazz musician and composer, and Jacqueline Shelton Lee, a teacher of art and literature. Lee, the oldest of five children in a relatively well off African American family, moved to Brooklyn when he was a child and began making amateur films by the age of twenty. His first film, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, was completed while he was an undergraduate at Morehouse College. After receiving his B.A. he enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where he received an M.F.A. in film production.
While at New York University Lee produced several student films and was awarded a Student Academy Award for his M.F.A. thesis film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop, a project that was broadcast by some public television stations and received notice from critics. Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983. Lee has also produced commercials for a number of companies including Nike, Jaguar, Taco Bell and Ben & Jerry's.
Jack Salzman, David Smith, and Cornel West, Ed., Encyclopedia of
African-American Culture and History (New York: Publisher Simon &
Schuster Macmillan, 1996); A & E, December 2, 2008,
The author Ben Okri was born March 15, 1959 in the small town of Minna in northern Nigeria. His mother, Grace Okri, was of the Igbo ethnic group while his father, Silver Oghekeneshineke Loloje Okri was an Urhobo. Ben’s father was a clerk with Nigerian Railways until after the Nigerian independence of 1960, when he left for London, UK to study law.
Ben Okri joined his father in 1962, and attended the John Donne Primary School at Peckham in London. He had to return to Nigeria with his mother in 1966, however, where he attended the schools Ibadan and Ikenne before beginning his secondary education at Urhobo College at Warri. He was the youngest in his class when he began his studies at Urhobo in 1968 and was only 14 at the end of his secondary education in 1972. He then moved home to Lagos, Nigeria to study on his own.
Louis Abdul Farrakhan was born on May 11, 1933 in Bronx, New York as Louis Eugene Walcott. Walcott, who grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, excelled as a musician, singer and track star. He attended a Boston-area school for gifted children and was given national exposure at age 14 when, as one of the first African Americans to appear on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, he won the competition for that episode. After high school Walcott attended Winston-Salem Teachers College for two years and then worked as a calypso guitarist-singer. Walcott joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1955 and changed his name to Louis X and later Louis Farrakhan. Initially he was a follower of Malcolm X, but became a competitor in the period before Malcolm’s assassination in 1965.
Their first child died in infancy. All nine of the surviving children became professionals including Córdoba, who as a young woman opened a bar to help finance the education of her younger siblings. She earned her law degree at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in 1977.
Appiah, Kwame and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia
of the African & African American Experience, Vols. 1-5 (New York:
Basic Civitas Books 2004); http://www.exploredc.org/index.php?id=381
Born in 1900, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Effa Brooks began her life in controversy. Her mother, Bertha Brooks, a white woman married to Benjamin Brooks, a black man, claimed Effa resulted from an affair with her white employer, John Bishop. There is no other evidence to corroborate Effa’s paternity, however, Benjamin Brooks filed and prevailed in a lawsuit against John Bishop for alienation of his wife’s affections. Effa, believed her mother’s claim and noted Bishop as her father throughout the duration of her life.
Growing up with her biracial siblings and a black stepfather, Effa Manley continually walked the line between black and white. Sometimes defined by others as black, sometimes as white, Effa used her ambiguous status to her advantage. As a young adult she worked, as a white woman, in a department store in New York City, though she lived in predominantly black neighborhoods and married black men.
Her second marriage of four was the lengthiest. Abraham Manley, whom she met at the 1932 World Series, was a “numbers banker” and at least fifteen years her senior. They remained married until Abraham’s death in 1952.
Amy Essington, “‘She Loved Baseball’: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues,” Chap. in Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 275-295; James Overmyer, Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles, (Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 1998).
Ben Augustus Vereen, actor, singer, and dancer, was born on October 10, 1946 in Miami, Florida, but while still an infant his family moved north to Brooklyn, New York. From a young age Vereen showed a talent in dancing and drama, often performing in local variety shows. With his mother realizing his talent and potential, Vereen was enrolled at the New York High School of Performing Arts at the age of fourteen to pursue these skills. After high school Vereen struggled to find work, often taking odd jobs to get by.
Kenneth Estell, African American Portrait of a People (Detroit: Visible
Ink, 1994); A & E, December 2, 2008,
Jesse Brown, wounded veteran and government official, was born on March 27, 1944 to Lucille Brown in Detroit, Michigan. His single-parent mother raised him in Chicago. Brown first attended Roosevelt University in Chicago and later graduated from Kennedy- King College in that same city.
In 1963, Brown enlisted into the United States Marine Corps. During the Vietnam War, he was seriously wounded while patrolling near DaNang. The injury left his right arm completely paralyzed. For his sacrifice, Brown received the Purple Heart and an honorable discharge.
In 1967, Brown found employment at the Chicago Bureau of the Disabled American’s Veterans (DAV). Six years later in 1973, Brown had been promoted to supervisor of the appeals office for the DAV headquarters in Washington, D.C. Within ten years, Brown became headquarters manager. In 1988, he became the DAV’s first African American executive director. In this position, he often testified on veteran health issues before Congress. He challenged Congress’s efforts to decrease veteran’s benefits and criticized the deterioration of the veteran’s hospital system. While at the agency, he also created the system for health officials to diagnose and treat post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and physical side effects of Agent Orange.
Professional basketball star Isiah Lord Thomas III was the Detroit Pistons’ point guard from 1981-1994, helping to lead the team to back-to-back National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in 1989 and 1990. Thomas was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History during the Association's 50th Anniversary celebration.
Isiah Thomas, nicknamed “Zeke,” was born on April 30, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois to Mary Thomas, a single mom who raised her nine children after their father abandoned the family in 1964. The family lived in poverty, sometimes without food or heat, in West Chicago while Mary Thomas ran the youth center at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Chicago. Her life as a single mother was dramatized in a 1989 television movie, “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story.”
Thomas received a scholarship to attend St. Joseph High School, a private high school in Westchester, Illinois (the location for the 1994 documentary film Hoop Dreams). Thomas led St. Joseph to the Illinois State championship game during his junior season. After high school, Thomas was recruited by the Indiana University Hoosiers to play for Coach Bobby Knight.
Following the loss of his father, Carruthers’s mother, Sophia Carruthers, moved the family to Chicago, Illinois in search of employment. She eventually worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Carruthers’s love for science remained strong, eventually becoming one of only a handful African American students to attend Chicago’s Englewood High School. During his time at Englewood, Carruthers won three science fair awards.
George H. White served as a member of the fifty-fifth and fifty-sixth United States Congresses (March 4, 1897-March 3, 1901) from North Carolina’s Second Congressional District during what historian Rayford Logan has termed the nadir in race relations for the post-Reconstruction South. Born in Rosindale, North Carolina on December 18, 1852, White graduated from Howard University in 1877, and was admitted to the bar in 1879. White practiced law and served as the Principal of the State Normal School of North Carolina until he entered politics in 1881, at which time he served for a year in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Four years later he served for a term in the state’s senate. From 1886 to 1894, White worked for the second judicial district of North Carolina as solicitor and prosecuting attorney.
Norris McDonald, a leading black environmentalist, is the founder and president of the African American Environmental Association (AAEA), an organization dedicated to protecting the environment, enhancing human, animal and plant ecologies, and increasing African American participation in the environmental movement.
Norris McDonald was born to parents Sandy Norris McDonald Sr. and Katie Louvina Best in 1958 in Thomasville, North Carolina. Norris McDonald Sr. was a high school principal and Katie Louvina Best worked for the local public school system. She died of breast cancer at the age of 26.
McDonald attended Wake Forest University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1977. After college, McDonald moved to Washington, D.C. hoping to find a job as a Congressional staffer. Instead, he was hired as a staffer at the Environmental Policy Institute in 1979 (now called Friends of the Earth) where he worked for the next seven years. McDonald’s primary duties included media relations, public education, researching, lobbying, and fund raising. During this time, McDonald was introduced to environmental issues across the nation. He also noticed that there were no black professionals working for environmental groups in the Washington, D.C. area. The absence of black professionals in those organizations inspired him to create the AAEA in 1985.
James Weldon Johnson, composer, diplomat, social critic, and civil rights activist, was born of Bahamian immigrant parents in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17, 1871. Instilled with the value of education by his father, James, a waiter, and teacher-mother, Helen, Johnson excelled at the Stanton School in Jacksonville. In 1889 he entered Atlanta University in Georgia, graduating in 1894.
In 1896, Johnson began to study law in Thomas Ledwith’s law office in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1898, Ledwith considered Johnson ready to take the Florida bar exam. After a grueling two hour exam, Johnson was given a pass and admitted to the bar. One examiner expressed his anguish by bolting from the room and stating “Well, I can’t forget he’s a nigger; and I’ll be damned if I’ll stay here to see him admitted.” In 1898, Johnson became one of only a handful of black attorneys in the state.
Younge was born on November 17, 1944 in Tuskegee, Alabama. His parents were educated professionals; Samuel Sr. was an occupational therapist, and Younge’s mother, Renee, was a schoolteacher. Unlike most black men in Macon County, Sammy Younge and his younger brother, Stephen (“Stevie”), grew up with middle class privileges and comforts.
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.
Amha Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, was proclaimed ruler of the state three times, first in 1960 then in 1975 and finally while in exile in 1989. Selassie was born Asfaw Wossen Tafari in the walled city of Harrar in August 1916 to Dejazmach Tafari Makonnen, then the governor of Harrar and future emperor of Ethiopia, and his wife Menen Asfaw. Amha Selassie became Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen of Ethiopia when his father was crowned empero