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People

Marshall, Thurgood (1908-1993)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.  He is remembered as a lawyer who had one of the highest rates of success before the Supreme Court and the principal counsel in a number of landmark court cases.  Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the high court. 

Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, the great-grandson of a slave.  His father, William Marshall, a railroad porter, instilled in him an appreciation of the Constitution at an early age. When young Marshall got in trouble at school he was required to memorize sections of the US Constitution.   His mother, Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, placed great emphasis on his overall scholarship. 

Sources: 
Mary L. Dudziak, Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Carl T. Rowan, Dream Makers, Dream Breakers: The World of Thurgood Marshall ( New York:  Welcome Rain Publishers, 2002);  Mark Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1956-1961 ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1994);  Mark Tushnet, Making Constitutional Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1961-1991 ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Juan Williams, American Revolutionary (Broadway, VA: Broadway Publishers: 2000).  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Owens, Jesse (1913-1980)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens is best known for his remarkable athletic performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he won four gold medals.  Owens was born near Oakville, Alabama, on September 12, 1913, the twelfth child of sharecroppers Henry Cleveland and Mary Emma Owens.  Owens, the youngest child, was spared much of the difficult farm work because of his persistent pneumonia which nearly killed him twice in his young life. 

In 1922 Henry and Emma Owens moved north to Cleveland, Ohio.  The move immediately exposed young Owens to regular schooling and participation in athletics. During his senior year at East Technical High School Owens ran the 100-yard sprint in 9.4 seconds, tying the national record at the time and garnering his first national attention. 

After completing high school in 1933 Owens attended Ohio State University at a time when the institution offered no athletic scholarships. He worked part-time to support himself through college as he continued to set records on the track field.  On May 25, 1935 during the National Intercollegiate Championship at Ann Arbor, Michigan Owens set four new world records in the 100 yard sprint, the long jump, the 220 yard sprint, and the 220 yard low hurdles. 

Sources: 
Jesse Owens and Paul G. Neimark, I Have Changed (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1972); Jeremy Schaap, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007); James R. Coates, “Jesse Owens,” in Matthew Whitaker, ed., African American Icons of Sport: Triumph, Courage, and Excellence (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Conyers, Jr., John (1929- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Image Courtesy of John Conyers Jr.
John Conyers, Jr. was born on May 16, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan.  He attended public schools and graduated in 1947 from Northwestern High School.  After high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the United Automobile Workers Union  (UAW).  Conyers worked for the Lincoln Car Factory, where he became a director of education for UAW Local 900.

Conyers enlisted in the United States Army in August 1950 and became a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers.  He was discharged from the army in 1954 after seeing combat in the Korean War.

Conyers returned to Wayne Sate University where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957, and a Juris Doctor degree in 1958 from Wayne State University’s School of Law.  After passing the bar in 1959 Conyers began practicing law in his hometown, Detroit, Michigan.  

His brief stint in private practice was interrupted in 1958 when he became a legislative assistant to Fifteenth District Michigan Congressman John Dingell, Jr.  Conyers worked for Dingell until 1961 and then became a referee for the Michigan Workmen’s Compensation Department.  With the support of Congressman Dingell, 35-year-old John Conyers was elected to the United States Congress in 1964, representing Michigan’s Fourteenth Congressional District.     
Sources: 
Bruce A. Ragsdale and Joel D. Treese, Black Americans in Congress, 1870- 1989 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office,1990); Maurine Christopher, Black Americans in Congress (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1976); http://www.house.gov/conyers/news_biography.htm;
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Sweet, Ossian (1895-1960)

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People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet along with ten family members and friends for murder after a mob attacked his Detroit home caught the nation’s attention in 1925-1926.  This trial and a re-trial of Ossian Sweet’s younger brother Henry exposed racial tensions in northern cities in the years following the Great Migration.

Born in Bartow, Florida in 1895, Ossian Sweet and his siblings grew up within the segregated culture of Jim Crow.  Sweet left the South to escape racial proscription, earning a medical degree at Howard University and setting up practice in Detroit in 1924.  Although African Americans faced de facto segregation in northern cities, Ossian Sweet represented the “new” black middle class of the early 20th century, a professional and entrepreneurial class based within expanding black urban communities.  The success of Sweet’s medical practice allowed the doctor to purchase a new home for his wife Gladys and his young daughter.
Sources: 
Kevin Boyle, Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age  (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004); Richard Walter Thomas, Life for Us Is What We Make It:  Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Kenneth G. Weinberg, A Man's Home, a Man's Castle (New York: McCall Pub. Co., 1971); and Victoria Wolcott, Remaking Respectability:  African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Georgia Southwestern State University.

Simone, Nina (1933-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tyron, North Carolina in 1933, Nina Simone began playing the family piano at the age of three.  Her mother Mary Kate Waymon, a minister and choir director at a Methodist church in Tyron, interpreted her daughter’s gift as a God-given talent.  Waymon began to study piano at age six with Muriel Massinovitch, an English pianist and Bach devotee married to a Russian painter husband. Waymon credited “Miss Mazzy” for teaching her to understand Bach; she credited Bach for dedicating her life to music. The lessons were paid for by family friends including a white couple in the town.  Eunice’s father, John Divine Waymon, had been an entertainer before he chose to move his family to Tyron, a North Carolina resort town, and set up a barbershop and dry cleaners to support his family. In her autobiography – I Put a Spell on You, the Autobiography of Nina Simone – Waymon describes her relationship with her father as loving and supportive and Tyron as “uncommon” for a southern town because blacks and whites lived together in a series of circles around the center of town, which allowed them to mingle and form friendships.

Sources: 
Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You, the Autobiography of Nina Simone (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press,1993); Sylvia Hampton, David Nathan, and Lisa Simone Kelly, Nina Simone: Breakdown and Let it All Out (London: Sanctuary Publishing Limited, 2004); Jody Kolodzey, “Remembering Nina Simone,” Culture, May 5, 2003; Adam Shatz, “Nina Simone Obituary,” The Nation, May 19, 2003; Roger Nupie, Dr. Nina Simone Biography: http://www.ninasimone.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

Musa, Mansa (1280-1337)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Fourteenth Century Italian Map of West Africa
Showing Mansa Musa 
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Mansa Musa, fourteenth century emperor of the Mali Empire, is the medieval African ruler most known to the world outside Africa.  His elaborate pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in 1324 introduced him to rulers in the Middle East and in Europe.  His leadership of Mali, a state which stretched across two thousand miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad and which included all or parts of the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, ensured decades of peace and prosperity in Western Africa. 

Sources: 
Djibril Tamsir Niane, “Mansa Musa” in New Encyclopedia of Africa, John Middleton and Joseph C. Miller, eds. (New York: Scribner’s, 2008); Djibril Tamsir Niane, Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century (London: Heinemann, 1984): David C. Conrad and Djanka Tassey Conde, Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

King, Don (1931- )

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

Boxing promoter Don King was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931. The son of a steelworker who died in a smelter explosion, King’s earliest success was the result of his ownership of a popular tavern, where many top black musicians performed, and an illegal bookmaking operation. In 1966, he fatally stomped a former employee named Sam Garrett over Garrett’s failure to pay off a $600 loss. Initially found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, King’s sentence was mysteriously reduced by the presiding Judge, Hugh Corrigan. He served only three years and eleven months. Ten years later, when Corrigan ran for the Court of Appeals, King arranged for heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali to campaign on his behalf.

King used his prison time constructively, absorbing everything he read in books concerning some of histories greatest thinkers. Once he was released, he used his friendship with rock ’n’ roll songwriter/performer and boxing enthusiast, Lloyd Price, to form relationships with Muhammad Ali and boxing promoter Don Elbaum to promote a boxing exhibition involving Ali in Cleveland for the benefit of a local hospital. King, his primary motives notwithstanding, was a natural born promoter. As a larger than life figure, King was a shrewd businessman. Watching in awe, Elbaum told him that with his personality, and boxing’s need for a black promoter, King could take over all of boxing.

Sources: 

Jack Newfield, Only in America. The Life and Crimes of Don King (New
York: William Morrow and Company, 1995); Arne K. Lang, Prize-Fighting.
An American History
(North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2008)

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pierce, Samuel R., Jr. (1922-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
President Ronald Reagan with Samuel R. Pierce, Jr.
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Lawyer, judge and businessman Samuel Riley Pierce, Jr., was the first African American partner in a major New York law firm, the first African American member of a Fortune 500 board, and one of the first African Americans to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  His career ended when he was investigated for corruption while serving as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under President Ronald Reagan.

Pierce was born in 1922 in Glen Cove, New York.  He received a football scholarship to Cornell University.  After serving in World War II, where he was the only black American agent in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division of the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, he returned to Cornell and graduated with honors in 1947, then earned a J.D. from Cornell Law School and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law.

Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, Ed., Notable Black American Men, “Samuel R. Pierce, Jr.,” (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1999); Samuel R. Pierce, Fiscal Conservatism: Managing Federal Spending (Washington, D.C.: Heritage Foundation, 1988); Philip Shenon, “Samuel R. Pierce, Jr., Ex-Housing Secretary, Dies at 78,” The New York Times (November 3, 2000; Robert L. Jackson, "Samuel R. Pierce Jr.; Reagan HUD Chief Was Investigated but Never Charged," Los Angeles Times (November 4, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hayford, Joseph Ephraim Casely (1866-1930)

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

Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was a West African barrister, author, and political leader who dedicated his life to helping improve conditions for the people of West Africa. Casely Hayford was born on September 3, 1866, the youngest of three sons to parents Reverend John de Graft Hayford and Mary (Awuraba) Brew, both of Anomabu, Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) which was then a colony in the British Empire.  

Casely Hayford received his education at the Wesleyan Boys High School in the Cape Coast Region of Ghana and then at Fourah Bay College in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  While at Fourah Bay College Casely Hayford became a follower on the West Indian-born African educator, Edward Wilmot Blyden.  After graduation Casely Hayford worked as a high school teacher and principal of Accra Wesley High School.  

Sources: 

G.I.C. Eluwa, "Background to the Emergence of the National Congress of
British West Africa, in African Studies Review 14:2 (1971); Kwadwo
Osei-Nyame, "Pan-Africanist Ideology and the African Historical Novel
of Self-Discovery: The Examples of Kobina Sekyi and J.E. Casely
Hayford," in Journal of African Cultural Studies 12:2 (1999); Adelaide
M. Cromwell, An African American Feminist: The Life and Times of
Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford, 1868-1960
(London: Frank Cass & Co.
LTD., 1986); Gauray Desai, “Gendered Self-Fashioning: Adelaide Casely
Hayford’s Black Atlantic,” Research in African Literatures 35:3 (Fall
2004).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Burgess, Franklin D. (1935-2010)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.  

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bevel, James (1936-2008)

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

James Bevel was one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most trusted advisors during the American Civil Rights campaigns of the mid-20th century.  Bevel was born on October 19, 1936 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. During his childhood years, he resided in both Itta Bena and in Cleveland, Ohio working as a plantation laborer in the Mississippi town and as a steel mill worker in the Ohio metropolis.

In 1957 Bevel attended the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee. Bevel dropped out of the seminary in 1961 to work in the civil rights movement. He also attended Highlander Folk School during this time where he met several other prominent civil rights leaders including his future wife, Diane Nash.
Bevel’s civil rights activism began in 1960 when he joined the student sit ins in Nashville. One year later he participated in the Freedom Rides across the Deep South.  In 1962 Bevel met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as Director of Direct Action Campaigns and Director of Nonviolent Education.

Sources: 
Randy Kryn, "James L. Bevel, The Strategist of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement," in David Garrow, We Shall Overcome, Vol. 2 (Brooklyn: Carlson Publishing Company, 1989); Frederic O. Sargent,  The Civil Rights Revolution: Events and Leaders, 1955-1968 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing, 2004); The New York Amsterdam News December 2008, pg 33 & 39; New York Times December 23, 2008, pg 10; USA Today April 30, 2008.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Baker, Thomas Nelson, Sr. (1860-1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Thomas Nelson Baker, Sr. was the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy. He was a writer, orator, ethicist, and advocate for a positive black cultural identity.  Baker was born a slave on August 11, 1860 to Thomas Chadwick and Edith Nottingham Baker on Robert Nottingham’s plantation in Northampton County, Virginia.  Baker’s mother taught him to read the Bible and he attended public school from 1868 to 1872.  He left school at the age of 12 to help support his family.  Even while working as a farmhand, he continued his studies privately and in 1881 at the age of 21, he enrolled in the Hampton Institute High School program.  Baker graduated in 1885 as valedictorian of his class.

Determined to prepare for college entrance, in May of 1886 Baker enrolled in the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, where despite being one of only two black students in attendance he acted as substitute principal in the summer months.  He graduated from Mount Hermon in June 1889.  

Baker entered Boston University’s Liberal Arts School in 1890 and graduated with his B.A. in 1893.  From there he enrolled in the Yale Divinity School where he earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1896.  The following year he was ordained as minister at Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church in New Haven and remained there until 1901 while simultaneously studying philosophy at Yale Graduate School.
Sources: 
George Yancy, “Thomas Nelson Baker: Toward an Understanding of a Pioneer Black Philosopher,” Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience American Philosophical Association 95:2 (Spring 1996); Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (Va.), The Southern Workman (Hampton, Virginia: Hampton Institute Press, 1938); Alexander McConnell, William Revell Moody, Arthur Percy Fitt, Record of Christian Work Vol. 23 (East Northfield, Massachusetts: Record of Christian Work Co., 1904).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Pearman, Raven-Symoné Christina (1985- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Raven-Symoné Christina Pearman, better known as “Raven-Symoné,” is an American actress and recording artist.  Her entertainment career began when she starred in advertisements for well-known brands such as Jell-O and Cool Whip and as a young model for the Ford Modeling Company.

Pearman was born to Christopher B. and Lydia (Gaulden) Pearman on December 10, 1985 in Atlanta, Georgia.  In the late 1990s, the family moved to New York City, New York in order to improve her chances at becoming an entertainer.  At the age of four she auditioned for a role in the 1990 film Ghost Dad, but was turned down because of her young age.  She so impressed comedian and actor Bill Cosby, however, that he later cast her in his television series The Cosby Show as Olivia Kendall, the adopted daughter of the Cosby’s oldest daughter.  She was an instant hit with audiences.
Sources: 

The Biography Channel, Raven-Symoné Synopsis (New York, NY: Arts & Entertainment Networks, 2014), retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/raven-symon%C3%A9-21303025; Damien Croghan, Raven-Symone’s Coming Out should be Celebrated, retrieved from http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/croghan-raven-symone-s-coming-out-should-be-celebrated/article_4933ebc2-1017-11e3-9f71-0019bb30f31a.html; Kimberley McLeod, ed., “Actress Raven Symone Radiates Beside Out Model AzMarie,” Elixher Magazine (September 3, 2013), retrieved from http://elixher.com/actress-raven-symone-radiates-beside-out-model-azmarie/.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Carter, Nell Hardy (1948-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Nell Hardy Carter was an American actress and vocalist who enjoyed a twenty-five year career in film, stage, television, and the recording industry. Born as Nell Ruth Hardy on September 13, 1948 in Birmingham, Alabama, she and her eight siblings were raised a low-income neighborhood by their parents, Horace L. and Edna M. Hardy. At the age of 11 she sang in a church choir and in youth groups. She also appeared on “The Y Teens,” a local radio show.

After graduating from A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham in 1966, she moved to New York City, New York and changed her surname to Carter. At first she performed in nightclubs and coffee houses.  In January 1971, however, she landed her first Broadway stage role as “Sharon” in Soon, which also starred Richard Gere and Barry Bostwick. In 1974 she was the musical director for What Time of Night It Is, a Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective production. Also in 1974, she appeared in the musical Miss Moffat alongside Bette Davis.
Sources: 
Tina Gianoulis and Claude J. Summers, eds., “Nell Carter,” An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture (Chicago: GLBTQ, Inc., 2015) Retrieved from http://www.glbtq.com/arts/carter_nell,2.html; Linnea Crowther, “The Highs and Lows of Nell Carter.” Retrieved from http://www.legacy.com/news/legends-and-legacies/the-highs-and-lows-of-nell-carter/1044/; Kenneth Jones, ed., “Nell Carter, Ain't Misbehavin' Star, Dead at 54.” Retrieved from http://www.playbill.com/news/article/nell-carter-aint-misbehavin-star-dead-at-54-111157.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Polk, Prentice Herman (1898-1985)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Prentice Herman Polk, acclaimed photographer, was born November 25, 1898 in Bessemer, Alabama, to Jacob Prentice Polk, a miner, and Christine Romelia Ward, a seamstress.   Mr. Polk was a portraitist who was especially adept with the effects of light and dark.  He was the official photographer for Tuskegee University for nearly 50 years from 1939 to 1985.  Mr. Polk’s collection includes the educated and privileged class of black people as well as the rural, working class black people in the Alabama Black Belt.  

In 1917 at the age of 18 Polk entered Tuskegee Institute, later known as Tuskegee University, hoping to study art.  At the time, Tuskegee did not have an art program.  He instead studied photography under noted black photographer C. M. Battey.  In 1924, Polk graduated from Tuskegee and moved to Chicago, Illinois where he apprenticed with photographer Fred Jensen.  Polk returned to Tuskegee in 1927, where he opened his first studio and joined the Photo Department Faculty at the Institute in 1928.  He became the Head of the Department in 1933.  From 1939 until his death he was the official photographer for Tuskegee Institute.

Sources: 
John Dorsey, “Polk portraits show black life, photographic achievement,” Baltimore Sun,  Jan. 14, 1991, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1991-01-14/features/1991014070_1_polk-photographer-tuskegee-institute;  P.H. Polk, http://www.bhamwiki.com/w/P._H._Polk; Malaika Kambon, “P.H. Polk, one of ‘10 essential African-American photographers’,” San Francisco Bay View, Feb. 10, 2015, http://sfbayview.com/2015/02/p-h-polk-one-of-10-essential-african-american-photographers/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Garner, Eric (1970–2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
The choking death of Eric Garner on video in 2014 helped bring the debate on interactions between white police officers and unarmed African Americans to the national forefront. Eric Garner was born on September 15, 1970, in New York City, New York. Garner, whose mother was a subway operator, grew to 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 350 pounds. He worked as a mechanic and then in the city’s horticulture department for several years before health problems, including asthma, sleep apnea, and complications from diabetes, forced him to quit. He had six children, ranging in age from eighteen years to three months, and was with his wife, Esaw, for over twenty years. Although Garner was known in his community as a ‘gentle giant,’ he was arrested over thirty times in his life, mostly for lower level offenses such as selling untaxed cigarettes, driving without a license, and marijuana possession.  
Sources: 
“Known for his death, this was Eric Garner’s life,” Headline News, December 5, 2014, http://www.hlntv.com/article/2014/12/04/who-was-eric-garner; Andrea Garcia-Vargas, “11 Facts You Should Know About Eric Garner’s Death,” Upworthy, December 4, 2014, http://www.upworthy.com/11-facts-you-should-know-about-eric-garners-death; Andy Newman, “The Death of Eric Garner, and the Events That Followed,” The New York Times, December 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/04/nyregion/04garner-timeline.html#/#time356_10536; Joseph Goldstein & Nate Schweiber, “Man’s Death After Chokehold Raises Old Issue for the Police,” The New York Times, July 18, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/nyregion/staten-island-man-dies-after-he-is-put-in-chokehold-during-arrest.html?smid=pl-share&_r=0; Martin Pengelly, “Eric Garner’s family to receive $5.9m settlement from New York City,” (London) The Guardian, July 15, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jul/13/new-york-city-pays-59m-in-settlement-with-family-of-eric-garner; Marissa Payne, “President Obama endorses LeBron James’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ shirt,” The Washington Post, December 19, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2014/12/19/president-obama-endorses-lebron-jamess-i-cant-breathe-shirt/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central College

Paige, Leroy Robert "Satchel (1906-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Leroy “Satchel” Paige and David Lipman, Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever: A Great Baseball Player Tells the Hilarious Story Behind the Legend (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993); Donald Spivey, “If You Were Only White: The Life of Leroy “Satchel” Paige (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2012), Larry Tye, Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (New York: Random House, 2009), and William Price Fox, Satchel Paige’s America (New York: Fire Ant Books, 2005);.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Augusta State University

Lawrence, Jacob & Gwendolyn Knight

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jacob Lawrence, born in 1917 in Atlantic City, N.J., moved to New York City at age thirteen.  Gwendolyn Knight, born in 1913, in Barbados, West Indies, arrived in the U.S. at age seven, and spent her first years in St. Louis.  She arrived in New York City on the threshold of her teens.  Knight and Lawrence met in the mid 1930s in Charles Alston’s Harlem Community Art Center, a place where young artists found mentors and a compatible working space.  During the late 1930s Jacob and Gwen worked with artist/sculptor Augusta Savage. The sculptor played a key role in bringing Jacob Lawrence and Gwen into the WPA program which established their lives as professional artists.  In 1940 Jacob Lawrence was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship to complete his Migration of the Negro Series.  Gwen continued to work with Augusta Savage but she also devoted time to help Jacob prepare the boards (for the Migration Series) in his studio at 33 West 125th street, an unheated space he shared with a number of artists including painter Romare Beardon and writer Claude McKay.
Sources: 
Michelle DuBois and Peter T. Nesbett, Jacob Lawrence Catalogue Raisonne (University of Washington Press, 2000);  Conkelton/Thomas, Never Late for Heaven: The Art of Gwen Knight Lawrence, 2003, www.Jacobandgwenlawrence.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Artist and Art Historian

Toomer, Jean (1894-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Jean Toomer was born into an elite black family in Washington, D.C. in 1894. Abandoned by his father as a newborn and losing his mother to appendicitis as a teenager, Toomer spent his formative years in the home of his grandparents, P.B.S. and Nina Pinchback. P.B.S. Pinchback served as a state senator and governor of Louisiana during Reconstruction and nearly represented Louisiana in the United States Senate. After Redemption, Pinchback moved his family to Washington, D.C. where he opened a law firm.

After graduating from Dunbar High School, Toomer enrolled in the agriculture program at the University of Wisconsin but he remained there for less than a year. Between 1916 and 1919, Toomer attended the University of Chicago and took courses at various colleges including New York University, City College, and the Rand School of Social Science. He also sold cars in Chicago, taught physical education in Milwaukee, and worked as a New Jersey ship fitter.
Sources: 
Cynthia Earl Kerman and Richard Eldridge, The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987); David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Nellie McKay, Jean Toomer, Artist: A Study of His Literary Life and Work, 1894-1936 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Texas

Julian, Percy Lavon (1899-1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
A native of Montgomery, Alabama and grandson of slaves, Percy Lavon Julian was a trailblazer in the chemical sciences.  His parents Elizabeth Lena Adams, a school teacher, and James Sumner Julian, a railroad mail clerk who loved mathematics, raised six children, all of whom pursued a college education.  Two sons became physicians and three daughters received M.A. degrees.

After attending public school in Montgomery, Julian moved to Greencastle, Indiana in 1916 to enroll at DePauw University. While at DePauw he was named a member of the Sigma Xi honorary society and Phi Beta Kappa.  In order to finance his college education, he worked as a waiter and a ditch digger.  Julian was selected as the class valedictorian upon his graduation in 1920.  After completing his undergraduate degree, Julian was determined to earn a doctoral degree in chemistry despite the racism at the time which often kept African Americans from pursuing graduate degrees in all but a handful of universities.  
Sources: 
Bernhard Witkop, Percy Lavon Julian, A Biographical Memoir (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 1999); Sibrina Collins and Robert Lichter, “The Legacy of Dr. Percy Julian Celebrated at the 232nd ACS Meeting,” NOBCChE News OnLine, 2006, 36(4), 13-14.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Muhammad, Benjamin Chavis (1948- )

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

Born on January 22, 1948 as Benjamin Franklin Chavis, Jr. in the city of Oxford, North Carolina, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad was a member of one of the most prominent African American families in North Carolina. His parents were well known educators and his ancestors included John Chavis, a Revolutionary War soldier with George Washington’s Army who became one of the first African Americans to attend Princeton University.  John Chavis later operated a private school in antebellum North Carolina that accepted both black and white students.

By age 13, Ben Chavis had established his civil rights activist credentials when he successfully integrated the all-white libraries in Oxford. Chavis became the first African American to receive a library card.

Sources: 
Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Africana: An A-Z Reference of the Movement that Changed America (New York: Running Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Brown, Elaine (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
From 1974 to 1977, Elaine Brown was Chairwoman of the Black Panther Party.  As a Panther, Brown also ran twice for a position on the City Council of Oakland, California.  Since the 1970s she has been active in prison and education reform and juvenile justice.

Born in heavily black and impoverished North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1943, Brown attended a predominantly white experimental elementary school where she studied ballet and classical piano.  Brown’s childhood was starkly divided between the comfort of her schooling and the realities of her home life.  Following high school Brown entered Temple University but left the campus for Los Angeles, California before the end of her first year.  
Sources: 
Elaine Brown, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992); Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003); Elaine Brown, The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); http://www.elainebrown.org/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

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

Norman, Maidie (1912-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust

Maidie Norman, who appeared in more than 200 Hollywood films, was born in Georgia in 1912 to Louis and Lila Gamble. Her father was an engineer and her mother was a homemaker. Norman received a B.A. in Literature and Theatre Arts from Bennett College in North Carolina and later obtained an M.A. in Theater Arts from Columbia University in New York. While in New York, she met and married real estate broker McHenry Norman and the couple relocated to Los Angeles, where Norman began training at the Actors Laboratory in Hollywood.

Early in a career that spanned more than four decades, Norman appeared on several radio shows, including The Jack Benny Show and Amos n’ Andy, before gaining a bit role in the film The Burning Cross (1948). Shortly after her debut, Norman was regularly cast as a domestic in several film roles, but refused to deliver her lines using stereotypical speech patterns. Instead, she brought her background in theatricality to the studios where directors often empowered her to rewrite her film lines, infusing the character with more dignity and less broken English.

Sources: 

Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988); “Maidie Norman,” Contemporary Black Biography. Volume 20 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1998); Maidie Norman Papers, Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Gardner, Christopher Paul (1954- )

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

Christopher Paul Gardner entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, and writer was born on February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gardner, never knowing his father, lived periodically with his mother, Bettye Jean Triplett, as well as in foster homes.

After high school, he joined the Navy and then moved to San Francisco, California where he worked for a medical research associate and scientific medical supply distributor. In 1977, he married Sherry Dyson. In 1981 they separated, but did not divorce until 1990. In 1981, Gardner’s girlfriend, Jackie, gave birth to their son Christopher Gardner, Jr.  Nineteen months later, Jackie left him and their son.

Sources: 

Christopher Gardner, Quincy Troupe and Min Eichler Rivas, The Pursuit of Happyness (New York: Amistad, 2006); Christopher Gardner and Min Eichler Rivas, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in the Pursuit of Happyness (New York: HarperCollins, 2009); “Biography: Christopher Gardner.” http://www.chrisgardnermedia.com/chris-gardner-biography.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Jones, Anthony “Van” (1968- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Van Jones is a social-environmental activist and the Obama administration’s former “Green Czar.” He was born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother and father were a high school teacher and junior-high principal respectively. While growing up, Jones was a stereotypical “geek,” going so far as to pretend that his action figures were running public offices. Jones attended the University of Tennessee at Martin where he majored in communications and political science. It was during his freshman year in UT-Martin that Jones chose for himself the nickname “Van.” In 1990 Jones enrolled at Yale Law School.

After graduating in 1993, Jones moved to San Francisco. There he became a community organizer and set up the Bay Area organizations, PoliceWatch and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, both intended to combat police abuse. Jones also involved himself and his organization in the campaign to reform California’s juvenile detention system including the fight against the construction of a huge new juvenile detention facility in Dublin, California.

Sources: 
Elizabeth Kolbert, “Greening the Ghetto,” The New Yorker, 4 March 2009, retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/01/12/090112fa_fact_kolbert?currentPage=all; Maura Judkis, “Obama Drafts Van Jones as Green Jobs Adviser,” US News and World Report, 10 March 2009, http://www.usnews.com/money/blogs/fresh-greens/2009/03/10/obama-drafts-van-jones-as-green-jobs-adviser.html; Michael Burnham, “Embattled Van Jones Quits, but ‘Czar’ Debate Rages On,” New York Times, September 9, 2010, retrieved: http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/09/08/08greenwire-embattled-van-jones-quits-but-czar-debates-rage-9373.html; “Van Jones Rejoins CAP to Lead Green Opportunity Initiative,” Center for American Progress, February 24, 2010, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/02/van_jones.html; Benjamin Todd Jealous, "Van Jones Will Receive This Year’s NAACP President’s Award. Here’s Why,” NAACP Blog, 24 February 2010, http://naacpblogs.naacp.org/blog/?p=453; Erin Duffy, “Princeton U. Welcomes Former Obama Advisor,” Times of Trenton, 24 February 2010, retrieved: http://www.nj.com/news/times/regional/index.ssf?/base/news-19/126699394749660.xml&coll=5.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montana State University

Jackson, Lisa Perez (1962-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency
Lisa Perez Jackson, the first African American Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), brings a wealth of experience to that agency.  A scientist by profession, she has spent more than 20 years working as an advocate for the better use and awareness of the environment.
Sources: 
"Lisa P. Jackson," Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2009) https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lisa-P-Jackson; “Another woman scientist on the Obama team: Lisa Perez Jackson of the EPA,” Women in Science: Past, Present, and Future, (February 23, 2009) http://blog.sciencewomen.com/2009/02/another-woman-scientist-on-obama-team.html; “Women Taking the Lead to Save Our Planet,” The Library of Congress Webcasts (March 5, 2009), http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4536.
Affiliation: 
University of Wyoming

Mboya, Thomas (Joseph Odhiambo) (1930-1969)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
“Mboya, Tom (Thomas Joseph Odhiambo),” in Norbert C. Brockman, ed., An African Biographical Dictionary (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1994); “Tom Mboya,” in Anne Commire, ed., Historic World Leaders, volume 1 (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1994).; “Tom Mboya,” in Harvey Glickman, ed., Political Leaders of Contemporary Africa South of the Sahara : A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Reed, Ellis (Eli) (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ellis (Eli) Reed is a professor, author, and photographer.  He is the first African American selected as a full member into the Magnum Photos agency, the elite international photojournalist collective.  Having been published in close to 30 magazines, Reed is best known for his three decades of photojournalism that reflect his profound interest in the effects of war on society and social justice, particularly the lives of African Americans.  

Reed was born on August 4, 1946 in Linden, New Jersey.  He grew up in the town of Perth Amboy, New Jersey and graduated from high school there in 1965.  He then enrolled in the Visual Illustration program at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts in Newark, New Jersey, graduating in 1969.

Reed began his photography career as a freelance photographer in 1970.  During that time, from 1970 to 1976, he also worked as a full-time hospital orderly at night.  He credits his time spent in the hospital with providing the intensive study of the human character that informed his documentary photography career.  

By 1977 Reed worked as a full time photographer at the Middletown Times Herald Record in upstate New York.  In 1978 he was hired by the Detroit News and in 1980 he began working for the Examiner in San Francisco, California.  His work at the Examiner would lead to his receiving runner-up designation for a Pulitzer Prize in 1981, at the age of 35.
Sources: 
Reuel Golden, Photojournalism 1855 to the Present: Editor’s Choice (New York: Abbeville Press, 2006); William Manchester, In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989); http://www.utexas.edu; http://www.magnumphotos.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft (1902-1985) and the Long Civil Rights Movement in Texas

Portrait by Judith Sedwick from the Women of
Courage Series, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College,
1984. Courtesy of the Craft Foundation, Dallas Texas
Summary: 
<i>A small but growing number of black women are slowly being recognized for their contributions to the “long” civil rights movement, the nearly century-long struggle by African Americans against all forms of racial discrimination.  In the account below University of Texas-El Paso historian Cecilia Gutierrez Venable describes Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft, one of the most important of these activists in 20th Century Texas history.</i>
Sources: 
Rachel Northington Burrow, “Juanita Craft” (Master’s thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1994); Amilcar Shabazz, Advancing Democracy: African Americans and the Struggle for Access and Equity In Higher Education in Texas (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Robert J. Duncan, "George Francis Porter," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpo76), accessed October 04, 2013; Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, “Craft Historic Community Planned Development in the Wheatley Place National Historic District: Dallas,” by the Juanita Craft Foundation, G. Chandler Vaughn, and Bruce Glasrud.
Affiliation: 
University of Texas, El Paso

Padilla Lopez, José Prudencio (1784-1828)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Born March 19, 1784 in the northern coastal territory of La Guajira, Colombia, José Padilla is recognized as one of the first South American-born naval commanders, a founder of the Colombian navy, and a hero in the Latin American wars of independence and the Afro-Hispanic struggle for freedom.

Padilla was the son of Andres Padilla, a man of African descent whose ancestors had been enslaved.  He worked as a shipwright. Padilla’s mother was Lucia Josefa Lopez, an Amerindian (Wayuu) woman.  At the age of 14 Padilla took to the sea as a crewmember aboard Spanish merchant ships. In 1805, while in the Royal Spanish Navy, he was captured by the British during the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain and freed in a prisoner exchange three years later. He returned to South America and resumed his service in the Spanish navy.  He was later put in charge of the arsenal at Cartagena, Colombia. 

Sources: 
Enrique Uribe White, Padilla: homenaje de la Armada Colombiana al héroe de la Batalla del Lago de Maracaibo (Bogotá: Litografía de las Fuerzas Militares, 1973); Carlos Delgado Nieto, Maza y Padilla: dos héroes colombianos (Bogotá: Espiral, 1964); “José Prudencio Padilla,” http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.encaribe.org/Article/jose-prudencio-padilla&prev=search.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Nichols, Brian A. (1965- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownrship: Public Domain"
In 2013, Brian A. Nichols, career Foreign Service officer with the rank of Minister Counselor, was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as ambassador to Peru.

Nichols was born in 1965, to Charles Harold and Mildred (Thompson) Nichols.  Charles Harold Nichols was a Professor at the Free University in Berlin, Germany. Charles Nichols and his family lived in Berlin from 1960 to 1969 while he directed the university’s American Institute/Studies Department. In 1969 the family returned to the United States where Nichols, who earned a Ph.D. in 1948 at Brown University, was appointed the first chairman of Brown’s Afro-American Studies Program.

In 1987 Brian Nichols graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. The following year he joined the U.S. Foreign Service and in 1989, his first overseas assignment was as a Consular Officer in Lima, Peru. Nichols was introduced to the country during a period of hyperinflation, political repression, and political rebellion.  

Sources: 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “Statement of Brian A. Nichols Ambassador-Designate to the Republic of Peru,” http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Nichols_Testimony.pdf; U.S. Department of State, “Brian A. Nichols: U.S. Ambassador to Peru,” http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/233111.htm); Agendapais.com, “Nuevo embajador de los Estados Unidos Brian A. Nichols inició funciones en el Perú,” http://www.agendapais.com/?p=6429; Embassy of the United States, “Lima-Peru,” http://lima.usembassy.gov/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Harris-Perry, Melissa (1973– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Melissa Harris-Perry is an American author, professor, television host, and political commentator who focuses on African American political issues. Harris-Perry has written for The Nation, in addition to penning her two award-winning books, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (2013), and Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought (2004) in which she discusses the issues facing the black social and political communities in the United States. Harris-Perry also hosted MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, a weekend news and opinion program for four years.
Sources: 
John Pope, “New Orleans transplant has a life rich in politics, pedagogy,” The Times-Picayune, October 2, 2011, http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/10/new_orleans_transplant_has_a_l.html; “Melissa Harris-Perry,” MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/melissa-harris-perry-biography; “Melissa Harris-Perry,” The Nation, http://www.thenation.com/authors/melissa-harris-perry/; “Melissa Harris-Perry,” Wake Forest University, http://college.wfu.edu/politics/faculty-and-staff/melissa-harris-perry/.
Contributor: 

Freeman, Elizabeth (Mum Bett) (1742-1829)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Sidney Kaplan and Emma Nogrady Kaplan, The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1989);
“The Mum Bett Case,” Massachusetts Constitution Judicial Review, http://www.mass.gov/courts/jaceducation/constjuslavery.html#d ; Gay Gibson Cima, “Phillis Wheatley and Black Women Critics: The Borders of Strategic Visibility,” Theater Journal 52:4 (2000), 465-495.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Julian, Hubert Fauntleroy (1897-1983)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, nicknamed the Black Eagle, was born in Trinidad on January 5th, 1897. In 1922, when he was 25 years old, he flew over parades in support of Marcus Garvey. He subsequently took flying lessons from Air Service, Inc., and purchased a plane to fly to Africa. After flying to Roosevelt airfield, when he attempted to depart in July 1924, the plane crashed and burned. He survived and spent the next month in a Long Island hospital. In 1929, he did succeed in a Trans-Atlantic flight two years later than Charles Lindberg.

In 1930 after flying to Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie granted him Ethiopian citizenship and made him a Colonel. One year later, in 1931, he became the first black man to fly coast to coast over the American continent and also broke the world record for endurance flying with a non-stop non-refueling flight of 84 hours and 33 minutes.

Sources: 
Elliot Bastien and Sandra Bernard-Bastien, World Class Trinidad & Tobago: An Area of Abundance—Profiles of Performance (Sekani Publications: Port of Spain, 2006); http://www.worldclasstnt.com/ [under construction].
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historians

Bragg, Robert H. (1919- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The career of Robert Henry Bragg was highlighted by his success in employing x-ray techniques to reveal the structural makeup and electrical properties of carbon and composite materials.  The son of a union organizer and a seamstress, he was born in Jacksonville, Florida on August 11, 1919.  With the separation of his parents Bragg went to Chicago to live with his uncle who encouraged him to become an engineer.  Following military service in World War II he earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology, upon completion of which he began work at Lockheed Missiles & Space Company analyzing carbon based materials with potential for use in space flight.  
Sources: 
T. A. Heppenheimer, “Robert Henry Bragg.” In Notable Black American Scientists (Detroit: Gale, 1999); Ray Spangenburg and Kit Moser, African Americans in Science, Math, and Invention (New York: Facts on File, 2003).
http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/physics/bragg_roberth.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Young, Willis Lester ("Pres") (1909-1959)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lester (Willis) Young, known as "Pres," was born in Woodville, Mississippi and died in New York City. Named Willis Lester at birth, he dropped "Willis" at an early age. Young developed a light tone and swinging style as a member of "territory bands," such as the Oklahoma City Blue Devils, whose members gave him the nickname "Pres" short for President of the Tenor Saxophone -- around 1932. By 1936 he played in Count Basie's Kansas City band and became one of the leading tenor saxophonists of the swing era. Basie's orchestra moved to New York City and Young performed and recorded not only with Basie, but also with most of the leading jazz musicians for three decades. Known mainly for his velocity and swinging style with Basie, in 1937 he recorded several ballads with singer Billie Holiday and pianist Teddy Wilson.
Sources: 
Douglas Henry Daniels, Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester "Pres" Young (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002); Lewis Porter, Lester Young (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985)
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Brown, Lee P. (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lee Patrick Brown, known as “The Father of Community Policing,” became the first African American Mayor of Houston, Texas in 1997.

Brown was born to sharecropper parents Andrew and Zelma Brown in the town of Wewoka, Oklahoma in 1937.  He received a B.A. in criminology from Fresno State University in California in 1960 and four years later earned an M.A. from San Jose State University in the same field.  In 1970 he received a Ph.D. in criminology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Sources: 
Alston Hornsby Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); Charles M. Christian, Black Saga: The African American Experience (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995); http://www.thehistorymakers.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Henson, Josiah (1789-1883)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Josiah Henson was born into slavery on June 15, 1789 in Charles County, Maryland.  As a young boy he witnessed slavery’s cruelties inflicted on his immediate family.  Young Henson watched his father receive fifty lashes for standing up to a slave owner and then witnessed his father’s ear being severed as part of the punishment.   Shortly afterwards he watched his father sold off to an Alabama slaveholder.  Upon the death of his owner, Henson was separated from his mother and siblings in an estate sale.  Although he was reunited with his mother, he never saw his siblings again.

Henson remained on his new owner’s farm in Montgomery County, Maryland, until he was an adult.  As he aged he rose to become a trusted slave and supervised other enslaved people on the farm.  However, he used his new position to make his escape from slavery.  Following the Underground Railroad, Henson escaped from Maryland to the Province of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), Canada with his wife and four children by way of the Niagara River in 1830.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

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

Varick, James (1750-1827)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James Varick was the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Varick was born to a slave mother near Newburgh, New York. His father was Richard Varick, a free black man who was originally from Hackensack, New Jersey. Varick grew up with his parents in New York City, where it is thought that he may have attended the Free School for Negroes. After this schooling, Varick was trained in the trade of shoemaking.

In 1766, Varick, now free, joined the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church, which had a predominately white congregation.  Eventually Varick became a minister and was licensed to preach at John Street Church.  Although he was not the main minister, his appointment to the pulpit as the Church’s first black preacher caused considerable racial tension and calls for racial segregation of the congregation.  Eventually black parishioners were forced to sit in the galleries or the back row seating. Incensed at this change in church policy Varick and thirty other black members withdrew from the church in 1796.

In 1790, Varick married Aurelia Jones. The couple had seven children, four of whom survived into adulthood. During this time Varick worked as a shoemaker and a tobacco cutter in order to support his family.
Sources: 
Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Anne H. Pinn and Anthony B. Fortress, Introduction to Black Church History (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Pace, Harry (1884-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Harry Herbert Pace was the founder of the first black record company, Pace Phonograph Corporation which sold recordings under the Black Swan Records label. He was born on January 6, 1884 in Covington, Georgia the son of Charles Pace and Nancy Ferris Pace. His father, a blacksmith by trade, died while Harry was still an infant leaving him to be raised by his mother. Pace graduated from elementary school when he was twelve and finished at Atlanta University seven years later as valedictorian.  W.E.B. Du Bois was one of his instructors.  After graduation he worked in a printing company.  He also worked for banking and insurance companies first in Atlanta and later in Memphis.   

In 1912, after moving to Memphis, Pace met W.C. Handy. The two men became friends, writing songs together. During this period Pace met and later married Ethlynde Bibb. Pace and Handy formed the Pace and Handy Music Company together and work with composers such as William Grant Sill and Fletcher Henderson. Pace moved to New York to manage the sheet music business but later decided to form a record company.

Pace Phonograph Corporation Inc. was founded in March, 1921 with $30,000 in borrowed capital. The label Black Swan Records was named after Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield a famous 19th Century entertainer known as the “Black Swan” for her singing.

Sources: 

Jitu K. Weusi, The Rise and Fall of Black Swan Records, http://www.redhotjazz.com/blackswan.html; Joan Potter, African American Firsts, (New York, NY: Kensington Publishing Group, 2002).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Reynolds, Grant (1908-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Who's Who Among African Americans, 16th Edition (NY: Gale Research, 2003); Jervis Anderson, A. Philip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972); Nat Brandt, Harlem at War: The Black Experience in WWII (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1996); Richard M. Dalfiume, Desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces: Fighting on Two Fronts 1939-1953 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969); Phillip McGuire, He, Too, Spoke for Democracy: Judge Hastie, World War II, and the Black Soldier (NY: Greenwood Press, 1988); Ancestry.com, Social Security Death Index.
Contributor: 

Carey, Archibald J., Sr. (1868-1931)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Rev.
Sources: 
Allan Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); Christopher Robert Reed, Black Chicago's First Century (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005); http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4159/Carey-Archibald-J-Sr-1868-1931.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bristow, Lonnie (1930- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1995, Lonnie Bristow, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine, became the first African American President of the American Medical Association (AMA) in its 148 year history.  Bristow, the son of Lonnie Harlis Bristow, a Baptist minister, and Vivian Wines Bristow, a nurse, grew up in Harlem, New York where he attended public schools and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of sixteen where he played quarterback on the varsity football team.  He left Morehouse after two years, joined the U.S. Navy for four years and then received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York in 1953.  Bristow earned his M.D. from New York University in 1957.  Growing up seeing his mother work as a nurse encouraged his interest in the medical profession.  After completing medical school he established an internal medicine practice in San Pablo, California.
Sources: 
Lisa C. Jones, “New American Medical Association President,” Ebony (August 1995); Joyce Jones, “Speechmaker or Catalyst for Change? – Dr. Lonnie Bristow Named President of the American Medical Association – Newspoints,” Black Enterprise (October 1994); http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2871400013.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Collin College

wa Thiong’o, Ngugi (AKA James T. Ngugi) (1938- )

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

African novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a Kenyan author, educator and playwright. With the publication of his first novel, he became a critically-acclaimed author at the age of 29. His work is also published under the pseudonym James T. Ngugi.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born on January 5th, 1938 in Kamiriithu village in Kenya to Tiong’o wa Nduucu and Wanjikow wa Ngugi. He attended the mission-run Kamandura School in Limuru and the Maanguuu Karing’a School, which was taught in Gikuyu, the native language of that Bantu people of Kenya. In 1954 the school was taken over by the British government and teaching began in English. While attending Maanguuu Karing’a, Thiong’o read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, igniting his desire to write.

Sources: 
Interview with Katebalinwe Amotiwa Iruma on Jan 6 and 11, 1979; Carol Sicherman, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o: The Making of a Rebel (London: Hans Zell Publishers, 1990); Carol Sicherman, Bibliography of Ngugi Wa Thiong’o: Primary and Secondary Sources, 1957-1987 (Oxford: Hans Zell, 1989); Reinhard Sander and Bernth Lindfors, eds., Ngugi wa Thiong’o Speaks: Interviews with the Kenyan Writer (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Lloyd A. Barbee (1925-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Attorney Lloyd Augustus Barbee was born August 17, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee.  He was the youngest of three brothers from Earnest A. Barbee and Adelina Jenkins Gilliam, both from Mississippi.  Barbee attended LeMoyne College in Memphis and later went to law school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he met his wife, Roudaba Bunting.  They married in 1954 and later divorced in 1959.  He graduated from Law School in 1956.   While in law school, he became President of Madison NAACP branch, where he fought for fair housing and led protests against racism. After obtaining his law degree, he worked as an attorney for the Wisconsin State Department of Labor. He later entered private practice and sued the State of Wisconsin for discrimination in housing.  In 1964, he successfully won the first housing discrimination case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Gregory III v. Madison Mobile Homes Park.  
Sources: 
Private documents, films and notes, Lloyd A. Barbee Trust; Jack Dougherty, More than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); “Lloyd A. Barbee Fighting Segregation Root and Branch,” Wisconsin Lawyer 77:4 (November 1968).
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

Thomas, Gerald E. (1929- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Former Naval officer Gerald Eustis Thomas served as United States Ambassador to Guyana and Kenya. Born in Natick, Massachusetts on June 23, 1929 to Walter and Leila Thomas, President Ronald W. Reagan appointed Gerald E. Thomas to both ambassadorships.

Thomas began his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska. He transferred to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and finished his Bachelor of Science degree there in 1951. He obtained his M.A. in 1966 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and his Ph.D. in 1973 from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Retiring with the rank of Rear Admiral, Thomas served 30 years (1951-1981) in the United States Navy. He was the second African American to obtain the rank of Rear Admiral. Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was the first.
Sources: 
“Gerald Eustis Thomas (1929-),” Office of the Historian, http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/thomas-gerald-eustis; “Two Navy Admirals,” Baltimore Afro-American, November 30, 1974, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2205&dat=19741130&id=8OVfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PAMGAAAAIBAJ&pg=2378,4884906&hl=en; “Nomination of Gerald E. Thomas To Be United States Ambassador to Guyana, December 1, 1981” Ronald Reagan XL President of the United States: 1981-1989, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=43299.
Affiliation: 
Morgan State University

Lucille Hegamin (1894–1970)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
A musical pioneer who was among America’s first wave of jazz and blues recording artists in the 1920s, Lucille Hegamin was born Lucille Nelson in Macon, Georgia, on November 29, 1894. She grew up singing in church and at the age of fifteen joined a tent-show touring company performing standards of the day. She traveled around the country until 1914 when she settled in Chicago, Illinois. She made a living in nightclubs as a pop, blues, and jazz singer, working with a number of popular musicians of the period including pianists Tony Jackson and Jelly Roll Morton. She occasionally used the alias Fanny Baker and was known to many on the club circuit as “The Georgia Peach.” While in Chicago she met and married pianist Bill Hegamin. The couple eventually settled in New York City, New York in 1919.
Sources: 
Linda Dahl, Stormy Weather: The Music and Lives of a Century of Jazzwomen (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984); Ken Kunstadt, “The Lucille Hegamin Story,” Record Research, no. 39 (November, 1961), No. 40 (January 1962), no. 41 (February 1962), and No. 42 (May 1962); Scott Yanow, Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of North Georgia

Scott, Emmett J. (1873-1957)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Emmett J. Scott and Booker T. Washington
Image Ownership: Public Domain

A native of Houston, Texas, Emmett J. Scott garnered a reputation as Booker T. Washington’s chief aide.  He was also the highest ranking African American in the Woodrow Wilson’s Administration.  The son of ex-slaves, Scott was born in 1873.  In 1887, he entered Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, eventually leaving school in his third year.  Soon he worked at the Houston Post, first as a sexton, and later as a copyboy and journalist. In 1893 Scott, along with Charles N. Love and Jack Tibbit, formed the Texas Freeman, Houston’s first African American newspaper.  Scott also worked for Galveston, Texas, politician and labor leader, Norris W. Cuney. 

Sources: 
Thelma Scott Bryant, Pioneering Families of Houston (Early 1900s) as Remembered by Thelma Scott Bryant (Houston: n. p., 1991); Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Jr., “The Business Life of Emmett Jay Scott,” Business History Review, 77 (Winter 2003), 57-68; Barbara L. Green, “Emmett Jay Scott,” in The New Handbook of Texas, Vol.. 5 (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996), 935.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Sam Houston State University

Campbell, Clive/DJ Kool Herc (1955- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Photo Courtesy of Atsuko Tanaka"
DJ Kool Herc was the earliest major figure to emerge from the mid-70's Bronx, New York music scene that would eventually come to be known as Hip-Hop. Born Clive Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, Herc immigrated to New York City and was exposed at an early age to both American and Jamaican musical traditions. Influenced by soul, rock, funk, reggae and dancehall, DJ Kool Herc staged parties that spawned a global youth culture, rooted in the African American experience.
Sources: 
Jeff Chang, Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (New York: Picador Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Davis, Benjamin O., Jr. (1912-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. followed in the footsteps of his trail blazing father as the first black general in the U.S. Air Force. He was born in Washington, D.C. on December 18, 1912, fully committed to a military career. He entered West Point Military Academy in 1932 and graduated thirty-fifth out of a class of 276 in 1936. At as time when there were serious doubts that blacks had the mental capacity to fly airplanes, he joined a small number of African Americans in the first flying training program for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama. His pace setting achievements led him to command the famed 99th Pursuit Squadron and later the 332nd Fighter Group in World War II. Beginning as an unwelcome addition to the Air Force, black pilots under the leadership of Colonel Davis established an enviable record of flying 15,000 sorties, shooting down 111 enemy planes and destroying or damaging 273 aircraft on the ground. White bomber pilots who once shunned the black fighter group as escorts quickly had a change of heart. The 332nd Fighter Group never lost a single escorted bomber in the group’s 200 missions.
Sources: 
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., American: An Autobiography (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1991).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Augusta State University

DuBois, Shirley Graham (1896-1977)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Shirley Graham DuBois and
her Husband, W.E.B. DuBois
Image Courtesy of David Graham DuBois
Musicologist, playwright, novelist and political activist Lola Shirley Graham, born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1896, became the second wife to W.E.B. DuBois in 1951.  Lola Shirley Graham was taught at a young age to stand up to injustice.  She wrote her first editorial to an Indianapolis paper protesting racial discrimination when she was 13, after she was denied access to a YWCA swimming pool.
Sources: 
Gerald Horne, Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley G. DuBois (New York: New York University Press, 2002); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds., Africana, Arts and Letters: An A-Z Reference of Writers, Musicians, and Artists of the African and African-American Experience (New York: Running Press, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

James & Lydia Sims

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
James & Lydia Sims with their twins,
Donald and Ronald, 1948
Image Ownership: Public Domain

During World War II, Lydia Sims moved from Newark, New Jersey, to Spokane with her husband, James Sims, an Army Air Force soldier stationed at Geiger Airfield.  At the end of the war, the Sims family decided to remain in Spokane.  For 10 years they lived in the Garden Springs housing project, a complex in west Spokane inhabited primarily by former military families. There they raised their sons, James McCormick and twins Ron and Donald.  Lydia Sims’s political views were strongly influenced by racial discrimination, which she vehemently opposed. In the 1960s, as a student at Eastern Washington University, she participated in a movement to desegregate schools in Cheney, Washington.  Later, she served on the state’s Human Rights Coalition, the League of Women Voters, the Human Rights Council, and the Washington State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.  
Sources: 

“Few Employers Permit Racism, Bureau Decides,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 1, 1957; “Discrimination Rating Denied by Negro Leader,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 2, 1957; “Reverend Sims is Elected Action Council Chief,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, March 20, 1969; http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=8007 ; ttp://www.metrokc.gov/exec/backgrnd.htm ; ttp://www.metrokc.gov/exec/news/2000/0627001.htm, On the death of Lydia Sims see Spokesman Review, June __, 2012.  

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Jackson, Rev. Mance (1931-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Rev. Mance Jackson (seated in front) as
Rev. Samuel McKinley Speaks
Image Courtesy of Seattle P-I Collection, Museum of
History & Industry (1986.5.5923.4)
Sources: 
Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (United States of America: University of Washington Press, 2003); http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/lifestyle/59696_blackhistory26.shtml.
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

Batson, Flora (1864-1906)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Flora Batson was an internationally acclaimed concert singer of the nineteenth century whose talent and prestige earned her the title “Queen of Song.” She was born on April 16, 1864 in Washington, D.C., to Mary A. Batson, a Civil War widow. Mother and daughter moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1867 when Batson was three years old.

Growing up, Batson sang in local choirs, and starting in 1878 she sang for Storer College in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for two years. Declining an offer to study music on a full scholarship at Storer College, Batson continued her singing career under the management of social reformer Thomas Doutney at various temperance revivals. One such performance in New York City, New York’s Masonic Temple in 1885 launched her professional career. To much critical acclaim, she sang "Six Feet of Earth Make Us All One Size" for ninety consecutive nights and caught the attention of John G. Bergen, the white manager of the all-black Bergen Star Concert Company. She accepted his invitation into the company, and by 1887 she had achieved national fame as its leading soprano.
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Rayford Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982); Jessie Carney Smith, ed., Notable Black American Women (Detroit: Gale Research Inc, 1991); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mathis, Johnny (1935 - )

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

John “Johnny” Royce Mathis, singer, was born in Gilmer, Texas on September 30, 1935, the fourth of seven children born to Clem, a chauffeur and handyman, and Mildred, a maid.  The Mathis family moved to San Francisco, California's Fillmore District when Mathis was a young child.  When Clem Mathis, who had worked for a time in vaudeville, recognized his son's musical talent, the family scraped together $25, bought a piano and began teaching him songs and routines. Soon afterwards young Mathis started performing in church and school shows.

At the age of thirteen Mathis began taking lessons with Connie Cox, a San Francisco music teacher, paying for his training by working in the Cox home.  Mathis studied with Cox for the next six years, receiving voice training in classical music including opera

Sources: 

J. Green, "Forever Johnny: What It Takes to Maintain the Mathis Lifestyle," New Yorker Magazine, July 3, 2000: 54-58.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Brown, Jesse (1944-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
“Jesse Brown,” African American Encyclopedia (New York: Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1993); Mitchell, Locin, “I Was Just One of the 300,000,” Chicago Tribune, December 18, 1992: section N, pg. 22; “Jesse Brown, 58, Ex-Marine Who Headed Veteran’s Dept,” New York Times, August 17, 2002: section A, pg. 12.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Lewis, Hylan Garnet (1911-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Courtesy of Carole Ione Lewis"
Hylan Garnett Lewis was a distinguished sociologist and pioneer in the field of community studies whose work helped guide the study of American race relations for more than half a century. Throughout his life, Lewis analyzed, and sought remedies for, the problems of the poor and unemployed. He also studied discrimination against people of color in corporate employment, foster care, and schools.

Hylan Lewis was born on April 4, 1911 in Washington, DC, one of five children of Ella Wells and high school principal Harry Whythe Lewis. His early years were spent in Washington and Hampton, Virginia; and in1932 he received a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University.

He was an Instructor of economics at Howard University, switching to sociology after meeting E. Franklin Frazier there in 1935. That year, he married Leighla Frances Whipper, a writer and Graduate Student at Howard. The couple had one child, Carole Ione. The marriage ended in divorce, and a second marriage to Audrey Carter produced a son, Guy Edward.

Lewis earned his masters in 1936 at University of Chicago and was a Rosenwald Fellow from 1939-1941. He subsequently worked for the Office of War Information and had appointments at Talladega University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Hampton University.
Sources: 
Hylan Lewis; Blackways of Kent (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, S.C., 2008); Carole Ione; Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color (New York: Harlem Moon Classics, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Rice, Claudius William (1892?-1973)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Claudius W. Rice was a political activist and labor leader in Houston, Texas from the 1920s through the 1940s.  He was the owner of Negro Labor News, president of the Texas Negro Business Association, and advocate of Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee philosophy of self help.

Rice was born in 1897 to Mary and Ezekiel Rice in Haywood County, Tennessee. Formally educated in the rural schools of Haywood County, in 1909 he moved to the city of  Jackson, Tennessee and worked as a domestic servant while enrolled in the Lane College high school department.

Rice then moved to Houston, Texas, and by 1914 was giving lectures to local blacks about their patriotic duty to support the United States if it entered World War I.  Rice's patriotic fervor lessened however after touring the Deep South and witnessing firsthand the racial discrimination African Americans faced.  He then began his quest to eliminate discrimination and racism.

While in Houston, Rice became an entrepreneur, using his position to rally local blacks into challenging discrimination and focusing attention on the unfair treatment of the region’s black workforce. He stirred controversy within the black and white Houston communities in his encouragement for blacks to “organize in a solid bloc” and use racial solidarity as an effective weapon to challenge their plight.
Sources: 
Ernest Obadele-Starks, Black Unionism in the Industrial South (College Station, TX: TAMU Publishing, 2001); Ernest Obadele-Starks, “Black Workers, the Black Middle Class, and Organized Protest along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast, 1883-1945,” in The African American Experience in Texas: An Anthology, Bruce A. Glasrud and James Smallwood, eds. (Lubbock, TX: 2007).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Adams, John H. (1927-- )

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

 

Sources: 
Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 to the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994);  http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/adams.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Moore, Kermit (1929-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Over a long distinguished career Kermit Moore has been a cellist of outstanding acclaim, an orchestra conductor, composer, teacher, and mentor. Through these activities in classical music he has been successful in breaking down racial and social barriers.

Moore was born in Akron, Ohio on March 11, 1929.  By his fifth birthday he was studying piano with his mother and at ten, had chosen the cello as his instrument. Charles McBride, a prominent mentor and instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Music, taught Moore and arranged for him to join the Cleveland Symphony. Moore also won a prestigious John Hancock Scholarship which allowed him to spend his eighteenth summer at the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Massachusetts.  There he played in a student orchestra under Serge Koussevitzky, renowned Boston Symphony conductor. At 19 Moore debuted in a recital at New York City’s Town Hall. He then studied simultaneously three years at Juilliard School of Music and New York University, receiving his MA in Music. He became principal cellist in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 1949.  At the time he was among a handful of African Americans regularly performing with symphony orchestras in the United States.  
Sources: 
Kermit Moore, Who’s Who Among African Americans, January 1, 2009; Program Guide, December 4, 2007 concert, Musicians Club of New York;  Stacey Lynn, ed., “Kermit Moore,” 21st Century Cellists (San Rafael: California: String Letter Publishing, 2001); Victor Koshkin-Youritzin, “An Interview with Kermit Moore,” http://www.classical.net, July 4, 2008.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Noble, Ronald (1956 -)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ronald Kenneth Noble is the first African American to serve as Secretary General of the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) headquartered in Lyon, France.  Born in 1956 at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Noble is the son of an African American soldier and a German mother.  He is a 1979 graduate of the University of New Hampshire, earning a baccalaureate degree in economics and business administration and a 1982 graduate of Stanford Law School in California where he was the president of his graduating class and served as articles editor of the Stanford Law Review.
Sources: 
Maggie Paine, “The World’s Top Cop,” UNH Magazine Online, Winter 2002 http://unhmagazine.unh.edu/w02/noble1w02.html; "Ronald K. Noble" http://www.interpol.int/About-INTERPOL/Structure-and-governance/Ronald-K.-Noble; New York University, “Ronald K. Noble - Biography,” https://its.law.nyu.edu/facultyprofiles/profile.cfm?section=bio&personID=20172; “PUBLIC LIVES; The Long Days of Interpol's New Top Sleuth,” New York Times, July 13, 1999, http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/13/nyregion/public-lives-the-long-days-of-interpol-s-new-top-sleuth.html.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Wills, Mary Jo (1951- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Mary Jo Wills has worked in international affairs for over three decades. Her service to the United States has taken her to Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Most recently, she held the position of U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of Seychelles and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

Wills holds several degrees. She earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1973. Wills received a master’s degree in Business Administration from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington, D.C. As of this writing, she is a doctoral candidate at Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy.
Sources: 
“Mary Jo Willis,” United States Office of the Historian, https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/wills-mary-jo; “Ambassador: Embassy of the United States Port Louis, Mauritius,” Embassy of the United States, http://mauritius.usembassy.gov/amb.html; “Mary Wills,” All Gov, http://www.allgov.com/officials/wills-mary?officialid=29078.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Campbell, Charles M. (1918-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Hawaii State Senator Charles M. Campbell was born in North Carolina in 1918.  He grew up there and received an A.D. degree from North Carolina College in Durham.  He also received an M.A. degree from Howard University and a second M.A. from Columbia University.  

Campbell began his career by becoming the first black newscaster to do “straight broadcasting” in Philadelphia. He was the first black member of the Radio Television News Directors Association and became Vice President of Radio News Reel Television Working Press Association. 

Sources: 
Naomi Campbell, Interview  with Daphne Barbee-Wooten, June 1999; “Spreading Aloha through Civil Rights,” by Daphne Barbee-Wooten, Hawaii Bar Journal, October 1999; Miles M. Jackson, And They Came (Honolulu: Four Publishers Inc., 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Élizé, Raphaël (1891-1945)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Raphaël Élizé was an early 20th century French politician and the first black mayor of a metropolitan town in France: Sablé-sur-Sarthe (Sarthe). He was born in 1911 in Martinique into a racially mixed family: Augustin, his father, a tax collector and active Freemason, and his mother, Jeanne, had eight children.

In 1902, the family who lived in Saint-Pierre moved to Fort-de-France just before the Mount Pelée explosion.  As Saint-Pierre refugees they resettled in France.  Raphaël was 11 when he entered the French school system.  He attended the best high schools in Paris (Lycée Montaigne and Saint-Louis) where he completed his studies and then enrolled in veterinary school in Lyons, graduating in the summer of 1914 just before the beginning of World War I.

Twenty-three-year-old Élizé joined a colonial infantry regiment, first as private and then he was later assigned as the regiment’s veterinarian.  During the war he received the Croix de Guerre.
  
Sources: 
M. Agulhon, L. Girard, and J. Robert, Les maires en France du consulat à nos jours  (Paris : Publications de la Sorbonne, 1986); Simple Passé, Raphaël Élizé (1891-1945) Premier maire de couleur de la France métropolitaine. Des Antilles au Maine: Itinéraire entre politique et art de vivre (Paris : Éditions du Petit Pavé, 2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Emeritus Professor, University of Paris

Sefolosha, Thabo (1984– )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Thabo Sefolosha, the first Swiss-born National Basketball Association (NBA) player, was born May 2, 1984, in Vevey, Switzerland, to Patrick Sefolosha, a South African musician, and Christine Sefolosha, a Swiss painter. Sefolosha is a member of the Swiss National basketball team and currently plays for the Atlanta (Georgia) Hawks.  

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.  

Sources: 
James C. McKinley Jr., “Thabo Sefolosha, Atlanta Hawks Player, Is Acquitted of All Charges,” New York Times, October 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/nyregion/thabo-sefolosha-atlanta-hawks-player-is-acquitted-of-all-charges.html; Anne E. Stein, “Thabo Sefolosha: Coming to America,” Bulls.com, 09/14/2006, http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/sefolosha_feature_060914.html; Michael McCann, “Examining Thabo Sefolosha’s lawsuit vs. NYC, NYPD: Five Biggest Questions,” SI.com, 10/22/2015, http://www.si.com/nba/2015/10/22/thabo-sefolosha-new-york-city-police-civil-lawsuit-atlanta-hawks.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Nell, William C. (1816-1874)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
“William Cooper Nell (1816 - 1874),” in Boston African-American National Historic Site, National Park Service, (2002); William C. Nell, “The Triumph of Equal School Rights in Boston,” in Philip S. Foner and Robert James Branham (eds.), Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900 (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Thomas, Vivien (1910-1985)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Described as the “most untalked about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community,” by Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr., Vivien Thomas received an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1976, and while this was undoubtedly memorable, the decades which preceded this moment were equally unforgettable. In Nashville, Tennessee, this high school honors graduate dreamed of becoming a physician. Thomas, a skilled carpenter, saved for seven years to pay for his education. However, he lost his savings during the Great Depression.  Beginning in 1930, he worked at Vanderbilt University's Medical School as a laboratory assistant to Alfred Blalock, a white physician who became a pioneer in cardiac surgery. Blalock mentored Thomas and taught him to conduct experiments.
Sources: 
Vivien Thomas, Pioneering Research in Surgical Shock and Cardiovascular Surgery: Vivien Thomas and His Work with Alfred Blalock (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985); http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/partners/today/t_views.html.
Affiliation: 
University of Kansas

Horne, Frank Smith (1899-1974)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Gail Lumet Buckley, The Hornes: An American Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1986); Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith and Cornel West, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996); Hans Ostrom and J. David Macey Jr., The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2005); Victor A. Kramer and Robert A. Russ, Harlem Renaissance Re-examined (New York: Whitston Publishing Co., 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

James, Jane Elizabeth Manning (1813-1908)

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

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Jane Elizabeth Manning was born in Wilton, Connecticut, one of five children of Isaac and Phyllis Manning, a free black family.  Although Jane was a member of the local Presbyterian Church, she remained spiritually unfulfilled until 1842 when she heard the message of a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/"Mormons").  Soon afterwards she joined the Mormon Church.  One year following her conversion, Jane Elizabeth and several family members who had also converted decided to move to Nauvoo, Illinois, the headquarters of the Mormon Church.  After traveling by boat to Buffalo, New York, the African American Mormons, unable to pay additional fares, began an eight-hundred-mile journey by foot to Nauvoo. In Nauvoo, Jane lived and worked in the home of Joseph Smith, Jr. the founder of the LDS Church and his wife, Emma.    
Sources: 
Ronald G. Coleman, “Is There No Blessing for Me?,” Jane Elizabeth Manning James, A Mormon African American Woman, in Quintard Taylor and Shirley Ann Moore Wilson, eds., African American Women Confront the West, 1600-2000 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Bruce, John Edward (1856-1924)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Edward Bruce was born into slavery in Piscataway, Maryland in 1856.  When Bruce was three years old his father was sold away to Georgia prompting young Bruce and his mother to escape to Washington, D.C. in fear of losing each other.  Bruce and his mother Martha resided with Martha's cousin Busie Patterson who was a body servant to Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. This relationship with a powerful white congressman provided the Bruce family with opportunities and access to jobs in white upper-class communities. Martha Bruce, for example, obtained a job in Connecticut working closely with a white family. While in Connecticut, John Edward Bruce enrolled in an integrated school and received his first formal education. Traveling back to Washington, he received a private education and attended Howard University.
Sources: 
Ralph L. Crowder, John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-trained Historian of the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2004);
http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/bruce.html; http://www.historicaldocuments.com/BloodRedRecord.htm
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Johnson, Robert (1911-1938)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Robert Johnson was the eleventh child of Julia Major Dodds.  Born out of wedlock, Johnson did not take the Dodds name. He grew up with his mother in Hazlehurst, Mississippi but soon moved up to live with his father, Charles Dodds, in Memphis. Charles Dodds changed his last name to Spencer and so Robert was known in his younger years as Robert Spencer. Around 1918, Johnson moved to an area around Robinsonville and Tunica, Mississippi to rejoin his mother who had remarried. Not much is known about Johnson’s childhood other than he was always interested in music. People in the Delta who knew Johnson claimed played the diddley bow when he was younger. A diddley bow is wire attached to nails sticking out of houses. A person could then hit the wire with a stick and use an empty bottle that slides along the wire to change the pitch.
Sources: 
Peter Guralnick, Searching for Robert Johnson (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989); Barry Lee Pearson and Bill McCulloch, Robert Johnson: Lost and Found (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Patricia R. Schroeder, Robert Johnson: Mythmaking and Contemporary American Culture (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004); Elijah Wald, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004).
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

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

Ingram, Rex (1895-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection

Rex Ingram, one of the first African American male actors to serve on the Board of the Screen Actors Guild, was born in 1895 on a houseboat on the Mississippi River near Cairo Illinois. Ingram claimed to have sailed as a crewman on a windjammer after receiving a medical degree from Northwestern University in Illinois, though little is actually known about his personal life prior to his entry into acting.

Ingram’s film career began in 1918, when he made his acting debut by appearing in bit parts of Tarzan films.  He went on to appear in silent films such as The Ten Commandments (1923). Between filming, Ingram worked as a professional boxer to support himself and later appeared in a number of Broadway plays, including Porgy and Bess and Stevedore. During his Broadway interim in New York, Ingram traveled back and forth to Hollywood where he obtained small parts in a number of movies, including the 1933 film The Emperor Jones opposite Paul Robeson. His big break came when he appeared in the 1936 film Green Pastures, for which he received acclaim for his multifaceted ability to portray the characters De Lawd, Adam, and Hezdrel.

Sources: 

Rex Ingram, “I Came Back from the Dead: Actor tells of his
Determination to Return to Stardom after Period of Disaster.” Ebony,
Vol. 10, (March 1955); The New York Times, “Rex Ingram, the Actor, Dies
in Hollywood at 73,” September 20, 1969; Donald Bogle. Blacks in
American Film and Television: An Encyclopedia
, (New York: Garland
Publishing, Inc, 1988).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Johnson, Eddie Bernice (1935- )

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

An early career in health care led to political aspirations for Eddie Bernice Johnson, culminating in her current position representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.  She is an advocate for women, children, and human rights.

Born in Waco, Texas, in 1935 to parents Lee Edward Johnson and Lillie Mae (White) Johnson, Bernice Johnson traveled to Indiana to attend college when there were no educational opportunities for her as a black woman in Texas.  She earned a diploma in nursing from St. Mary’s College of Notre Dame in 1955.  One year later she married Lacey Kirk Johnson.  The couple had one son, Kirk, and then divorced in 1970.  Bernice Johnson continued her education.  She later received a BS in nursing from Texas Christian University in 1967 and a MS in public administration in 1976 from Southern Methodist University.

Johnson was the chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital until 1972 when she was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, the first African American woman ever elected to public office from Dallas.  She also became the first woman in Texas history to lead a major Texas House committee when she chaired the Labor Committee.  Five years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to be the regional director for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  When Carter left office in 1980, Johnson entered the private sector as a business development consultant in Dallas.

Sources: 
"Eddie Bernice Johnson" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1907 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008); L. Mpho Mabunda, ed., Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 8, “Eddie Bernice Johnson,” (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1995); “Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Representing the 30th District of Texas,” http://ebjohnson.house.gov/index.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Copeland, John Anthony, Jr. (1836-1859)

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

John Anthony Copeland was a mulatto, born free in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 15, 1834 to John Anthony Copeland, a slave, and Delilah Evans, a free woman.  Copeland spent much of his early life in Ohio and attended Oberlin College.  While residing in Oberlin, Ohio, Copeland became an advocate for black rights and an abolitionist.  In 1858 he participated in assisting John Price, a runaway slave seeking his freedom.  This act became famous as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, where abolitionists boldly aided slaves in violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Law.  

Sources: 

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://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php?q=node/5478.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

House, Callie Guy (c. 1861-1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Callie House is most famous for her efforts to gain reparations for former slaves and is regarded as the early leader of the reparations movement among African American political activists.  Callie Guy was born a slave in Rutherford Country near Nashville, Tennessee.  Her date of birth is usually assumed to be 1861 but due to the lack of birth records for slaves, this date is not certain.  She was raised in a household that included her widowed mother, sister, and her sister’s husband.  House received some primary school education.

At the age of 22, she married William House and moved to Nashville, where she raised five children.  To support her family, House worked at home as a washerwoman and seamstress.  In 1891, a pamphlet entitled Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen began circulating around the black communities in central Tennessee.  This pamphlet, which espoused the idea of financial compensation as a means of rectifying past exploitation of slavery, persuaded House to become involved in the cause that would become her life’s work.  

With the help of Isaiah Dickerson, House chartered the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898, and was named the secretary of this new organization.  Eventually House became the leader of the organization. In this position she traveled across the South, spreading the idea of reparations in every former slave state with relentless zeal.  During her 1897-1899 lecture tour the Association's membership by 34,000 mainly through her efforts.  By 1900 its nationwide membership was estimated to be around 300,000.  

Sources: 
Mary Frances Berry, My  Face Is Black Is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations (New York: Knopf, 2005); James Turner, “Callie House: The Pursuit of Reparations as a Means for Social Justice”, The Journal of African American History Vol. 91, No. 3 (Summer, 2006), pp. 305-310.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Biggers, John Thomas (1924-2001)

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

Twentieth century artist John Thomas Biggers was an educator, painter and muralist. His travels in Africa in the 1950s influenced the depiction of social and cultural themes in his work.

John Thomas Biggers was born in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1924. The youngest of seven children, Biggers enrolled in Hampton Institute where he initially studied plumbing. However, he found that his true love was art and soon changed his major.

Biggers trained with Viktor Lowenfeld at Hampton and received his first notoriety in 1943 when the 19-year-old student artist was featured in the exhibit Young Negro Art in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That same year he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. In 1945 Biggers was committed to a Navy mental hospital in Pennsylvania for issues relating to anger and depression. Later that year he was dishonorably discharged.

Upon leaving the Navy, Biggers followed his mentor Lowenfeld to Pennsylvania State University where he developed his specialty working with murals. Biggers earned a master’s in art education in 1948 and a Ph.D. in 1954 from Pennsylvania State University. While still working on his dissertation, Biggers became an art instructor at the new Texas State College for Negroes (later Texas Southern University), becoming a founding member of its Art Department faculty. He continued to work at Texas Southern University until his retirement in 1983.

Sources: 
Olive Jensen Theisen, Walls That Speak: The Murals of John Thomas Biggers (Denton: University of North Texas, 2010); Stephanie Spencer, "A Life on Paper: The Drawings and Lithographs of John Thomas Biggers," New York Review of Books 53, no. 17 (November 2, 2006): Mark M.  Johnson, "The Art of John Biggers," Arts & Activities 117, no. 5 (Summer 1995).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Travis, Geraldine Washington (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Montana Governor Thomas L. Judge Signing into Law
the first Bill Sponsored by Rep.
Geraldine Travis who is on the Right
Image Courtesy of Geraldine Travis
Geraldine W. Travis is the first African American elected to the Montana State Legislature House of Representatives.   She worked actively to promote civil rights for African Americans, women, and children, and to break down racial barriers in Montana from 1967 to 1989.

Geraldine Washington Travis was born in Albany, Georgia on September 3, 1931, the daughter of Joseph and Dorothy Washington.  She married Airman William Alexander Travis in Americus, Georgia in 1949 when he was stationed at nearby Turner AFB, Georgia.  William and Geraldine became parents of five children, three sons and two daughters, as they moved to various Air Force bases around the world. Geraldine Travis attended Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Sources: 
Jet Magazine, July 10, 1975; Great Falls Tribune, July 5, 1968; Ibid., November 4, 1976; Ibid., November 1980; Ibid., February 19, 2012; Ibid., March 2, 2012; Great Falls Pennant, November 9, 1974; Cascade County, MT, Abstract of Vote 1974-76.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Spraggs, Venice Tipton (1905-1956)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
The Chicago Defender Front Page, November 16, 1940
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Venice Tipton Spraggs served as the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Defender and was the first African American inducted into Theta Sigma Phi, a professional journalism fraternity.  Spraggs was born in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama to Barbara Tipton.  She attended Spelman College and married William Spraggs, a presser from Birmingham, in 1924.  The couple had no children.
Sources: 
Helen W. Berthelot, Win Some, Lose Some: G. Mennen Williams and the New Democrats (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1995); Cheryl Mullenbach, Double Victory: How African-American Women Broke Race and Gender Barriers to Help Win World War II (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2013); United States of America, Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930, Census Place: Birmingham, Jefferson, Alabama (roll 30, page 17A, Enumeration District 0098, Image 35.0, FHL microfilm 2339765).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bernicat, Marcia Stephens Bloom (1957- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Born in Tinton Falls, New Jersey in 1957, Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat earned a Bachelor’s Degree in history from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1975. Thinking she might teach overseas, Bernicat earned a teaching credential in social sciences at the secondary level. Rather than becoming a teacher, Bernicat worked in a managerial position at Procter & Gamble in New York City, New York.

After beginning a graduate program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in 1979 Bernicat worked as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. While there, she was the first embassy staffer to warn the local officials that debris from a disintegrating Skylab might shower Liberia.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fullerton

Otis, Clarence (1956– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Corporate CEO Clarence Otis was born April 11, 1956, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. His father, Clarence Otis Sr., worked as a janitor while his mother, Calanthus Hall Otis, stayed home to raise their three children. The family moved to the Watts section of Los Angeles, California, when Otis was four years old. Although Watts was at the time a sprawling ghetto that in 1965 would become the site of the Watts riot, Clarence Otis Sr. drove the family through Beverly Hills to show his children that a different life was possible. Otis credits these drives, as well as a stable family life, for keeping him away from the gang activity prevalent in Watts.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles Pierce College

Rice, Tamir Elijah (2002–2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
The shooting death of twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 brought increased attention to the national debate on interactions between police officers and African Americans. Tamir Elijah Rice was born to Samaria Rice and Leonard Warner on June 15, 2002, in Cleveland, Ohio. At times, Rice’s family life was turbulent as Warner was convicted of domestic violence against Samaria Rice in 2010, while Rice herself pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in 2013. Tamir Rice, who appeared older than twelve because of his 195-pound frame, attended sixth grade at Marion-Seltzer Elementary School in Cleveland and was described as a pleasant young man who enjoyed art and playing sports.  

On November 22, 2014, Rice was walking in a park outside the Cudell Recreation Center, a place he frequented. Rice had a black Airsoft pellet gun, without the orange safety indicator usually found on the barrel, and was playing with it around the park. A 911 caller reported Rice’s activities but expressed uncertainty to the dispatcher about whether the gun was real. Two Cleveland police officers, Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, both white, responded to the call but were not informed that the gun might be a fake. Security camera footage showed a police cruiser driven by the forty-six-year-old Garmback, who had been with the force since 2008, race into the frame and stop.

Sources: 
Nick Fagge & Lydia Warren, “Exclusive: ‘My 12-year-old grandson was outright MURDERED by police,’ [London] Daily Mail, November 28, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2853266/My-12-year-old-grandson-MURDERED-police-Family-black-boy-BB-gun-shot-dead-not-putting-hands-breaks-silence-slam-officers-killed-him.html; Andrew Tobias, “Portrait of Tamir Rice emerges from investigators’ interviews,” Cleveland.com, June 13, 2015, http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/06/portrait_of_tamir_rice_emerges.html; “Interactive: Tamir Rice Timeline,” Cleveland19.com. June 3, 2015, http://www.cleveland19.com/story/29230520/tamir-rice-timeline; “Tamir Rice Protesters March to Prosecutor’s Home, Demand Resignation,” NBCNews.com, January 1, 2106, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tamir-rice-protesters-march-prosecutor-s-home-demand-resignation-n489071; Andrew Tobias, “Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland cop who shot Tamir Rice, failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written entrance exam.” Cleveland.com, January 7, 2015, http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/01/timothy_loehmann_the_cleveland.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle Central College

Latimer, Lewis H. (1848-1928)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

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.

Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, William C. Hine, and Stanley Harrold, The African-American Odyssey, Third Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005), p. 408; Rayyon Fouche, Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation: Granville T. Woods, Lewis H. Latimer, and Shelby J. Davidson (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Washington, Jr., James (1909-2000)

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

 

"Image Ownership: Public Domain"

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. 

Sources: 
HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Washington, James Jr.: Art as Holy Land" (by Deloris Tarzan Ament), http://www.historylink.org/essays/output.cfm?file_id=5328; Paul Karlstrom, The Spirit in the Stone: The Visionary Art of James W. Washington, Jr. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
HistoryLink.org

Louis [Barrow], Joe (1914-1981)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Joe Louis Barrow, known popularly as Joe Louis, was the second African American heavyweight boxing champion in the 20th Century.  Louis was born on May 13, 1914 in Chambers County Alabama to sharecropper parents Monroe and Lilly Reese Barrow.  He was the seventh of eight children and grandson of slaves.  In 1926 Barrow’s family, like thousands of southern African American families, migrated to Detroit. 

While only in his teens Barrow began boxing at Brewster's East Side Gymnasium in Detroit.   At 19, he entered the Golden Gloves finals in 1933 as a light heavyweight and eventually became the champion in his weight class.  Louis turned professional heavyweight boxer in 1934, dropping the name Barrow.   Louis won a remarkable 12 bouts in his first year as a professional. By 1935 his career had ascended quickly, earning him over $350,000 in purses when the average yearly salary in the United States during the Great Depression was about $1,200.  He gave generously to charities and friends. Louis soon became an icon for African Americans and a hero to many white Americans, as well.

Sources: 
Patrick Myler,  Ring of Hate: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling: The Fight of the Century (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2005); Richard Bak, Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope (New York: Perseus Publishing, 1998);  Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, "Constructing G.I. Joe Louis: Cultural Solutions to the Negro Problem during World War II," The Journal of American History December 2002 http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/89.3/sklaroff.html   (26 Feb. 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Granville, Evelyn Boyd (1924- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Evelyn Boyd was born in Washington, D.C. on May 1st, 1929, the second daughter of William and Julia Boyd.  Though she was raised by a single working class mother and attended segregated schools, Boyd became the second black woman in the United States to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.  She credits the quality and dedication of the teachers at Dunbar High School who nurtured her interest in mathematics and science and prepared her for advanced study.  Boyd graduated as valedictorian and, with the help of her aunt and a scholarship, she enrolled in Smith College in Massachusetts in 1941.  
Sources: 
Diann Jordan, Sisters in Science: Conversations with Black Women Scientists on Race, Gender and Their Passion for Science (West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 2006);  Evelyn Boyd Granville, "My Life as a Mathematician," Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women 6:2 (1989). Retrieved from http://www.agnesscott.edu/LRIDDLE/WOMEN/granvill.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Queen Latifah (1970- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
  Image Ownership: Public Domain
  
Born Dana Elaine Owens on March 18, 1970 in Newark, New Jersey, Queen Latifah is the most influential woman in the history of rap music. The Muslim name "Latifah," which translates roughly to “delicate, sensitive and kind,” was adopted by Owens at the age of eight with help from a cousin.  

As a high school student Latifah began rapping with two friends under the moniker Ladies First. She also worked with the rap group Flavor Unit, and recorded a two song demo featuring Wrath of My Madness and Princess of the Posse. The demo reached Tommy Boy Records which promptly signed eighteen-year-old Latifah in 1988.

In 1989 Latifah added the "Queen" at the beginning of her name and released her first full-length album All Hail the Queen. The album was one of the first feminist hip-hop albums released.  Queen Latifah worked with an established rap pioneer KRS-One and future stars De La Soul.  The album featured a song called Ladies First, which referenced her first group and illustrated her soon to be trademark of unrelenting black feminist-centric rap.

Following her second album Nature of a Sista in 1991, Latifah founded the management company Flavor Unit Management which developed a number of upcoming groups including Naughty by Nature.
Sources: 

Simone Payment, Queen Latifah (New York: Rosen Publishing, 2006); Eleanora E. Tate, African American Musicians (New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2000).  

Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Capitein, Jacobus Elisa Johannes (1717?-1747)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Engraving of Jacobus Capitein
Image Ownership: Public Domain
As one of the first known sub-Saharan Africans to study at a European university, the freed slave Jacobus Capitein became a celebrity in Holland for his academic and religious achievements and later returned to his homeland to evangelize the indigenous population. Capitein was born on the Gold Cost but his exact place and date of birth are unknown. According to his own account, he was kidnapped from his parents at the age of seven or eight and sold to Dutch sea-captain named Arnold Steenhard who gave him as a present to his friend the merchant Jacob van Gogh. Capitein lived with his master for two years in the Dutch Fort of Elmina in Ghana before leaving with him for Holland in 1728.
Sources: 
Allison Blakely, Blacks in the Dutch World: The Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993); David Nii Anum Kpobi, Mission in Chains: The Life, Theology and Ministry of the Ex-Slave Jacobus E.J. Capitein (1717-1747) with a Translation of his Major Publications (Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 1993); William J. Simmons, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (New York: Arno Press, 1968).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Augsburg

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

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

Tucker, Lorenzo (1907-1986)

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

In an era when both movies and audiences were segregated, Lorenzo Tucker became African America’s leading man. Tucker was born in Philadelphia in 1907 to parents John and Virginia Lee Tucker. Lorenzo Tucker studied photography in trade school and briefly attended Temple University, where he appeared in plays. He went on to work as a straight man in minstrel shows with blue’s singer Bessie Smith and actor/comedian Stepin’ Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry).

It was during a performance that pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux spotted Tucker and persuaded him to consider acting in movies. In 1927, Tucker made his debut in Micheaux’s A Fool's Errand. Tucker appeared in subsequent films in which he portrayed distinguished characters, such as a motion picture producer in The Wages of Sin (1928); a captain in A Daughter of the Congo (1930); and a lawyer in The Black King (1932). In 1933, he received his first minor Hollywood role in The Emperor Jones (1933) starring Paul Robeson.

Sources: 

Richard Grupenoff, The Black Valentino (Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1988); Anonymous, “Black Valentino.” Vinyard Gazette, June 8, 1976; Burt Folkart, “Lorenzo Tucker, 'Black Valentino,' Dies,” Los Angeles Times, August 21, 1986, p.28.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Crosthwait, David Nelson Jr. (1898-1976)

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

David Nelson Crosthwait Jr. was a African American inventor who is known for creating the heating system for Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York.  Crosthwait was born on May 27th 1898 in Nashville, Tennessee.  He grew up in Kansas City, Kansas where he attended an all-black school.  

From a young age Crosthwait trained to become an engineer.  His parents and teachers were very encouraging and challenged him to do experiments and to make designs.  Crosthwait upon graduating from high school in Kansas City in 1908 received a full academic scholarship to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.  He gradated in 1913 from Purdue at the top of his class and received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.  

Sources: 

Otha Richard Sullivan, Black Stars: African American Inventors (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Woodruff, Hale Aspacio (1900-1980)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Donald David, “Hale Woodruff of Atlanta: Molder of Black Artists,” Journal of Negro History 69:3/4 (Fall 1984); Romare Bearden and Harry Henderson, A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Kirk, Ronald (1954-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ronald "Ron" Kirk is the U.S. Trade Representative for U.S. President Barack Obama.  Kirk was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 18, 2009, and officially sworn in two days later.  Kirk is the 16th trade representative and the first African American to hold the Cabinet-level post.  As trade representative, he serves as the president's principal trade advisor, negotiator, and spokesperson.  He is also responsible for the development of U.S. trade policy and the oversight of existing trade treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Kirk was born in 1954 in Austin, Texas.  He received a BA degree in political science and sociology from Austin College in 1976 and then went on to the University of Texas Law School where he received a J.D. three years later. While attending law school, he accepted an internship with the Texas Legislature.  After graduating, Kirk worked for Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas as an aide and later was appointed Texas Secretary of State by Texas Governor Ann Richards, also a Democrat.

In 1995, Kirk, in his first bid for public office and with major support from the local business community, ran for mayor of Dallas, Texas.  He won a landslide victory, securing 62% of the vote to become mayor.  During his mayoral campaign, Kirk promoted racial harmony in a city that had experienced considerable racial tension.
Sources: 
“United States Representative Ron Kirk,” Office of the United States Trade Representative, http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/biographies-key-officials/united-states-trade-representative-ron-kirk; Alston Hornsby Jr., and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots (Montgomery, AL: E-Book Time LLC, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Duncan, Todd (1903-1998)

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
Born Robert Todd Duncan in Danville, Kentucky in 1903, Todd Duncan was the first African American to perform in an otherwise all-white cast in the New York City Opera’s production of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

He began his professional stage career in 1933 in Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana at the Mecca Temple in New York City with the Aeolian Opera, a black opera company.  Duncan’s resounding baritone and commanding stage presence won him the role of “Porgy” in Gershwin’s 1935 Porgy and Bess. He was the personal choice of Gershwin for the role.  Following this premiere, Duncan performed his role of “Porgy” in two subsequent revivals in 1937 and 1942. Throughout his tenure as “Porgy” Duncan played the role in over 1,600 performances. His portrayal of “Porgy” is recognized as a classic, serving as the model for subsequent singers cast in the role. During one performance of Porgy and Bess at the National Theater in 1936, however, Duncan led the cast in a protest of the theater's policy of segregated seating.   Duncan vowed to never again perform before a segregated audience.   The National Theater eventually gave in to the cast's demands and ended its segregation policy.
Sources: 
M. Evans, “Todd Duncan: Trailblazer of the Concert Stage,” American Visions, 5.5 (1990); Allan Kozinn, "Todd Duncan, 95, Sang Porgy and Helped Desegregate Opera," New York Times, March 2, 1998; Elizabeth Nash, Autobiographical Reminiscences of African American Classical Singers, 1853-Present (Lewiston, New York: Edward Mellen Press, 2007); James A. Standifer, “Reminiscences of Black Musicians,” Annals of American Music, 4.2: 194-205 (1986).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Flournoy, Corey D. (1974- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
  Image Courtesy of Mr. Corey D. Flournoy, M.Ed.
Corey Flournoy is an educator, diversity advocate, and entrepreneur. Flournoy went from an early life in Chicago’s crime-ridden projects to a career in agricultural sciences, becoming the first African American to be named president of the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization.  He was also the organization’s first president to come from an urban area.

Corey D. Flournoy was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1974. His single mother, Barbara, raised Corey along with a brother and foster sister. Rather than attend his neighborhood high school, Flournoy applied to Chicago’s magnet school system of specialized studies. The only school to accept him was the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, which had recently opened its doors with a curriculum to prepare urban students for professions and careers in agriculture.

Flournoy reluctantly enrolled and entered the school’s FFA chapter, a requirement for all students. He soon found himself tasting milk samples and evaluating beef carcasses. He also spent six weeks working on a farm in central Illinois where he discovered his leadership skills. He won the election for vice president of the Illinois FFA. While his entry into agriculture was unplanned, Flournoy later said that it changed his life.   
Sources: 
“Corey Flournoy,” http://coreyflournoy.com/; “Corey D. Flournoy,” University of Illinois College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, http://aged.illinois.edu/faculty.php; Colin Hall and Ron Lieber, Taking Time Off: Inspiring Stories of Students Who Enjoyed Successful Breaks from College and How You Can Plan Your Own (New York: Princeton Review Publishing, 2003); “Future Farmers Chief Breaks New Ground: Agriculture: Corey Flournoy is the FFA's First Black President and Its First Leader to Come From an Urban Area. But Rural Life is Not in His Plans,” Los Angeles Times (December 12, 1994)
http://articles.latimes.com/1994-12-04/news/mn-4616_1_corey-flournoy.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Bogle, Paul (1822-1865)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Paul Bogle led the last large scale armed Jamaican rebellion for voting rights and an end to legal discrimination and economic oppression against African Jamaicans.  Because of his efforts Bogle was recognized as a national hero in Jamaica in 1969.  His face appears on the Jamaican two-dollar bill and 10-cent coin.

Paul Bogle was born free to Cecelia Bogle, a free woman, and an unknown father in the St. Thomas parish in 1822.  Bogle’s mother soon died and he was raised by his grandmother.  As an adult Bogle owned a home in Stony Gut and had another house in Spring Garden as well as a 500 acre farm at Dunrobin making him one of the few African Jamaicans prosperous enough to pay the fee to vote.  In 1845, for example, there were only 104 voters in St. Thomas parish which had an adult population of at least 3,300.

Bogle became a supporter of George William Gordon, an Afro-Jamaican politician and fellow landowner and Baptist.  In 1854 Gordon made the 32-year-old Bogle a deacon.  Bogle, in turn, built a chapel in Stony Gut which held religious and political meetings.
Sources: 
National Library of Jamaica:  http://www.nlj.gov.jm/?q=content/national-heroes#bogle; Mary Dixon, The Morant Bay Rebellion: The Story of George William Gordon and Paul Bogle (Birmingham, UK: Handprint, 1990); Gad Heuman, "The Killing Time": The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995); Paul Bogle, 1822-1865, Dugdale-Pointon, T. (22 September 2008) http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_bogle_paul.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Beckwith, Michael Bernard (1956- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith, a leading New Thought minister, was born in 1956, and is married to Rickie Byars Beckwith, also a New Thought leader.  Together they have four children and six grandchildren. Dr Beckwith was the founder, in 1986, of the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, a section of Los Angeles, California.  The Center now has a congregation of 10,000 as well as numerous outreach ministries providing support for the homeless, the incarcerated, and youth at risk.

In 1996, Beckwith co-founded the Association for Global Thought, an umbrella organization for all New Thought denominations. New Thought, a nontrinitarian Christian philosophy, was born 150 years ago as a response to the mainstream Christian dogma of that time. It's also known as the mind-cure movement. Since 1997 the Association has sponsored “A Season for Nonviolence,” a 64 day awareness campaign promoting peace using nonviolent action. Yearly, this campaign spans from January 30 to April 4 marking the memorial anniversaries of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Lynch, Loretta Elizabeth (1959- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Attorney and public prosecutor Loretta Elizabeth Lynch was born on May 21, 1959 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her father was a Baptist minister and her mother was an English teacher and school librarian. Lynch received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1981. Three years later, she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School.

Lynch joined the New York City, New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel in 1984. Six years later, she became a drug and crime prosecutor in the office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. From 1994 to 1998, she directed the Long Island office and worked on several cases involving corruption in the government of Brookhaven, New York.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Los Angeles

Jackson, Reverend Joseph H. (1900–1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Reverend Joseph Harrison Jackson was the pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois (1941–1990), the longest-serving president of the National Baptist Convention (1953-1982), and a leading conservative voice during the Civil Rights era. To this day, Rev. Jackson remains a deeply controversial figure, in part due to his opposition to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his strong critiques of civil disobedience and the “black power” movement. Rev. Jackson was a passionate advocate for what he called a “law and order” approach to civil rights. He championed participation in democratic processes, putting emphasis on the ballot, and discouraged protest marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and other “direct action” means of achieving African American civil rights. Rev.
Sources: 
“Reverend J.H. Jackson Papers,” The Black Metropolis Research Consortium, BMRC, Chicago History Museum, https://obrikati.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/reverend-j-h-jackson-papers_findingaid.pdf; “Joseph H. Jackson.” Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press, World Heritage Encyclopedia, http://www.gutenberg.us/articles/joseph_h._jackson; “Jackson, Joseph Harrison (1900-1990),” Martin Luther King Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle, Stanford University, http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_jackson_joseph_harrison_19001990.1.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Henderson, Fletcher Hamilton, Jr. (1897-1952)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
Alyn Shipton, Jazz Makers: Vanguards of Sound  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gloster, Hugh (1911-2002)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Hugh Gloster (left) with Student Frank T. Bozeman at Morehouse Graduation, 1986
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
Dorothy Granberry, Dr. Hugh Gloster Interview, Atlanta, GA 1990; William Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life  (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Bridges Research

Trench, Robert K. (1940-- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
 
While a professor of biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Robert Kent Trench earned the reputation as the world’s leading expert on corals and their symbiotic algae, more specifically strains of zooxanthellae adaptation to certain coral species.  Born on August 3, 1940 in Belize City, British Honduras, he studied at the University of the West Indies, Oxford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on invertebrate zoology in 1969.  

Trench’s areas of expertise encompassed coral reef ecology, physiology, biochemistry, phylogenetics of symbiosis, and intercellular recognition phenomena.  He taught for four years at Yale University before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 1976.  The author of several dozen scientific papers, in 1994 his groundbreaking description of metabolite flux from kleptochloroplasts to host won him the coveted Miescher-Ishida Prize for outstanding contribution to the field of endocytobiology.  A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Limnology and Oceanography, Trench retired from university teaching in the year 2000.
Sources: 
American Men & Women of Science. 14th Ed. Vol. 7 (1979).
http://www.globalcoral.org/corals_and_coral_reefs.htm

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Shakur, Tupac (1971-1996)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Tupac Shakur, the son of two Black Panther members, William Garland and Afeni Shakur, was born in East Harlem, New York on June 16, 1971, and named after Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru II, an 18th century political leader in Peru who was executed after leading a rebellion against Spanish rule. Tupac's parents separated before he was born.  At the age of 12 Shakur performed in A Raisin in the Sun with the 127th Street Ensemble. Afeni and Tupac later moved to Baltimore, Maryland where he entered the prestigious Baltimore School for the Arts as a teenager.  While at the school, he began writing raps and poetry.  He also performed in Shakespearian plays and took a role in The Nutcracker. 
Sources: 
Jonathan Jones, Tupac Shakur Legay (New York: Atria Books, 2006; Jacob Hoye, Tupac: Resurrection (New York: Atria Books, 2003; Jonathan Jones, "Tupac Comes to Life for Bay Area Teens". Northgate News Online, U.C.-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Nov. 18, 2003. Retrieved from http://journalism.berkeley.edu/ngno/stories/001588.html on Apr. 9, 2006; "Rapper Is Sentenced To 120 Days in Jail". New York Times. April 5, 1996;.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
East Tennessee State University

Dinkins, David N. (1927- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1989, David N. Dinkins defeated his challenger, former federal prosecutor Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, to become the first African American mayor of New York City.

David Norman Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1927. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at 18 and served briefly in World War II.  After the war, he attended Howard University, graduating with a B.A. in Mathematics in 1950.  Dinkins moved to New York City and received a law degree from the Brooklyn Law School in 1956.  Dinkins is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.

David Dinkins’s political career began when he joined the Carver Club headed by a charismatic politician, J. Raymond Jones who was known as the Harlem Fox.  Dinkins befriended three up and coming black New York politicians; Charles Rangel, Basil Paterson, Sr., and Percy Sutton.  In 1965, Dinkins won his first electoral office, a seat in the New York State Assembly. Shortly afterwards Dinkins was offered the position of deputy mayor of New York by then Mayor Abraham Beam.  Dinkins could not accept the post when it was revealed he had not paid income taxes for the past four years.
Sources: 
Kwame Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Alston Hornsby Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders  (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.answers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lyons, John Ralph (1888-1941)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
John Ralph Lyons, Daughter Claire and
granddaughters in Winooski, Vermont,
ca. 1939 (Rose Mary Graveline)
John Ralph Lyons was born February 22, 1888 in Lewistown, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania to James Levi and Harriet (Baptist) Lyons.  His father was a barber and musician.  He had 4 brothers and two sisters and his mother died in childbirth when he was a teenager.  His great-grandfather, Benjamin Lyons (ca 1780-1859) was a runaway slave who settled in Salemville, Bedford County, Pennsylvania around 1825.

John Ralph Lyons served in the U.S. Army, 10th Cavalry, Troop D, for six years, the last four at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester, Vermont.  He was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal on July 6, 1911 “for bravely rescuing a companion” at Mallets Bay in Colchester, Vermont.  After discharge from the 10th Cavalry in 1914, he rejoined the Army in 1917, enlisting in Company F, 807th Pioneer Infantry which served overseas during World War I.  After the war he worked as a civilian barber at Fort Ethan Allen.

Sources: 
John Ralph Lyons Personal Papers and Memorabilia; Herbert T. Johnson, Vermont in the World War, 1917-1919: Roster of Vermont Men and Women in the Military & Naval Service of the U.S. Allies (Rutland, Vermont: Tuttle Company, 1927); Frank N. Schubert, On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldier II: Biographies of African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1817 (Lanham, Maryland: Scholarly Resources Books, 2004)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Vermont

Johnson, Willard, Sr. (1901-1969)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
(Image Courtesy Willard Johnson, Jr.)
Willard Johnson, bacteriologist, science educator, business proprietor, was born in Leavenworth Kansas, the third of the eleven children of Joseph Johnson and Hattie McClanahan. Taught by his high school’s founder, Blanche Kelso Bruce, nephew of the Reconstruction era Senator of the same name, he was the first in his family to go to college. Johnson attended Kansas University (KU), where he joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. In 1922, he was admitted to the Kansas University Medical School. Probably the second African American ever admitted, Willard struggled through nearly three years of medical course work but did not transfer to a black medical school to finish as KU required at the time.

Willard Johnson was awarded his Bachelor’s at KU in 1924 and then taught biological science courses at Rust College in Mississippi. In 1928 he completed a year of graduate work in bacteriology at the University of Chicago. In 1929, he joined the faculty of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in Nashville where he and his bride, Dorothy N. Stovall, of Humboldt, Kansas, had their first son, Richard E. He headed the Biology Department and taught zoology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, physiology, botany, hygiene and bacteriology. In 1932 he did further graduate study at Emporia State College in Kansas.

Sources: 
Willard Johnson Family Papers in the possession of the author; The Kansas Collection of The Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas; Kansas City Call, May 7, 1937, October 28, 1938; Amber Reagan-Kendrick, “Ninety Years of Struggle and Success: African American History at the University of Kansas, 1870-1960,” (doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

Evans, Melvin Herbert (1917–1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public domain
Melvin Herbert Evans was born on August 7, 1917, in Christiansted, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. He attended public schools until entering Howard University where he received his B.S. in 1940.  In 1944 he received his M.D. from Howard College of Medicine, whereupon he served in a variety of medical and public health posts at hospitals and institutions in the United States until 1959.  From 1959 to 1967 Evans served as a health commissioner in the Virgin Islands.  In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Evans, a Republican, as Governor of the Virgin Islands.  In 1970, after the Virgin Islands Elective Governor Act allowed for the election of a governor by the territory’s residents, Evans became the first popularly elected governor, serving for five years. Afterward, he was a Republican National Committeeman for the Virgin Islands from 1976 to 1980.
Sources: 
Bruce Ragsdale, Black Americans in Congress, 1870-1989 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1990);  http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=E000254.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Sweatt, Heman Marion (1912-1982)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Heman Sweatt in Law School Registration Line,
University of Texas, Sept. 19, 1950.
Image courtesy of the Center for American History,
The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Student Media,
The Daily Texan. Prints and Photographs Collection,
CN 00323a.

Heman Marion Sweatt was a postal worker from Houston, Texas, who in 1950 integrated the University of Texas Law School.  Sweatt was born on December 11, 1912 in Houston, Texas.  He was the fourth child of James Leonard and Ella Rose Sweatt.  In 1930, he graduated from Jack Yates High School and earned a degree from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas in 1934. Soon after, Sweatt returned to Houston and worked as a mailman.  

Sources: 

Michael L. Gillette, Michael L., "Heman Marion Sweatt: Civil Rights Plaintiff," in Alwyn Barr and Robert Calvert ed. Black Leaders: Texans for Their Times. (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1981); http://txtell.lib.utexas.edu/stories/s0010-full.html.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Attaway, William (1911-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Photograph by Carl Van Vechten,
courtesy of The Van Vechten Trust
William Attaway, writer and composer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi.    His mother, Florence Parry Attaway, worked as a teacher and his father, William Alexander Attaway, was a doctor who helped create the National Negro Insurance Association.  In the 1910s, the family moved to Chicago, Illinois.

Langston Hughes's work inspired Attaway to start writing in high school, an avocation he continued while studying at the University of Illinois.  When his father died in 1931, Attaway took a two-year leave of absence from school.  Traveling around the country, Attaway worked a variety of jobs, including seaman, dockworker, and salesman. 

After Attaway returned to college in 1933, he wrote the play Carnival (1935) for his sister Ruth's theatre group which was first staged at the University of Illinois.  The same year, Attaway also became involved in the Federal Writers Project (FWP).  Through the FWP, he met Richard Wright, who would become an important literary influence and friend.  In 1936, he earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois and Challenge published his short story, "The Tale of the Blackamoor."

Sources: 
Edward Margolies, Native Sons (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1968); Harold Bloom, ed., Modern Black American Fiction Writers (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995); Christina Accomando, "William Attaway," The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature, ed. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster and Trudier Harris (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Cotten, Elizabeth “Libba” (c. 1892-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten , an American folk and blues musician, made her professional debut in 1959 at the age of 67. Discovered by the musically renowned Seeger family in the 1950s, Cotten was soon recognized for her unique self-taught guitar and banjo picking style and her songs "Freight Train," "Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie" and "Shake Sugaree."

Born in 1892 (though some sources state 1893 or 1895) near Chapel Hill, North Carolina to a musically inclined family, Elizabeth Nevills started singing and performing pre-blues, finger-picked music at a young age. Secretly borrowing her brother's banjo, the left-handed Nevills taught herself to play the right-handed instrument by turning it upside down and playing the bass with her fingers and the treble with her thumb, inadvertently creating a unique picking style that was later referred to as "Cotten Picking." She bought her first guitar when she was 11 years old and continued to employ her upside-down picking technique.

Sources: 
Jessie Carney Smith, ed.,  Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); Bruce Bastin, Red River Blues: The Blues Tradition in the Southeast (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1986); http://facstaff.unca.edu/sinclair/piedmontblues/cotten.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lewis, Oliver (1856-1924)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
In 1875, Oliver Lewis became the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, America's longest continuous sporting event. Lewis was born in 1856 in Fayette Country, Kentucky, to his parents Goodson and Eleanor Lewis. Lewis was born free, but there is little known about his parents or family.

Lewis was only 19 years old when he entered the first Kentucky Derby. The race was held at what was then the Louisville Jockey Club on May 17, 1875, but is now known as Churchill Downs. Ten thousand spectators watched this first race.  Lewis rode a horse named Aristide, which was one of two colts entered by their owner, H. Price McGrath of Jessamine, Kentucky. The other horse, Chesapeake, was ridden by William Henry. Although the same owner entered both horses, Chesapeake was favored to win the $2,850 purse, and Lewis was told that his job was to lead most of the race to tire out the other horses. Out of the fifteen jockeys in the field, at this first Kentucky Derby, thirteen of them were African American. Aristide's trainer, Ansel Williamson, was also an African American.  
Sources: 
Edward Hotaling, The Great Black Jockeys: The Lives and Times of the Men Who Dominated America’s First National Sport (California: Three Rivers Press, 1999); http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2969/Lewis-Oliver.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Farah, Nuruddin (1945- )

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

Renowned African novelist Nuruddin Farah was born in Baidoa, Somalia in 1945, a time when Somalia was still an Italian colony. His father Hassan Farah was a translator for the colonial government and his mother Aleeli Faduma was recognized throughout Somalia for her prose writing. Early in his life Farah moved to the Ogaden section of Ethiopia where his father worked as a translator for the British. It was here that Farah grew up and received his early education. When Farah was eighteen his family fled back to an independent Somalia. It was shortly soon after, in 1965, that Farah’s writing career began when his work “Why Dead So Soon?” was serialized in the Somali News newspaper in Mogadishu.

Sources: 
Simon Gikandi, Encyclopedia of African Literature (London: Routledge,2003); Kirsten Holst Peterson, “The Personal and the Political: The Case of Nuruddin Farah,” Ariel 12:3 (1981); D.R. Ewen, The Writing of East and Central Africa (Nairobi: Heinemann Educational, 1984); Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbruck, eds., Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Basquiat, Jean Michel (1960 –1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of The Estate of Jean Michel Basquiat
Artist Jean Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 to a Puerto Rican mother, Matilde Andradas, and a Haitian father, Gérard Basquiat, who raised him in the Puerto Rican barrio of Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York. Fluent in English, Spanish, and French, Basquiat was a sensitive and creative middle-class child who railed against authority, refusing to finish high school and running away from home multiple times as a teenager to live in Washington Square Park in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Fifteen-year-old Basquiat began his artistic career as a graffiti artist in lower Manhattan under the pseudonym SAMO in 1976 and over the next three years he gained notoriety and fame. Basquiat and a friend, Al Diaz, invented SAMO (Same Old Shit) in an article for a school newspaper in 1977. It became Basquiat’s notorious graffiti signature on the streets of New York. SAMO brought Basquiat into contact with a variety of artists, including Keith Haring who facilitated his unofficial entry into the art world.

In 1978, Basquiat left home for good both penniless and homeless, living with various acquaintances when he could. He produced $1 punk-inspired postcards for sale on the street to earn money and created a band called “Gray” after the anatomy book “Gray’s Anatomy.” He also frequented the Mudd Club, a hotspot for rising stars such as Klaus Nomi, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Sid Vicious.
Sources: 
Leønhard Emmerling, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988 (Los Angeles: Taschen, 2006); Eric Fretz, Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Biography (Denver: Greenwood Press, 2010); Phoebe Hoban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (New York: Viking Press, 1998); Frederick H. Lowe, "Sale of Basquiat Painting at $48 Million-Plus Breaks His Record," The NorthStar News, 17 May 2013, available online at: http://www.thenorthstarnews.com/may-17-2013.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Mushingi, Tulinabo Salama (1957 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dr. Tulinabo S. Mushingi is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the West African nation of Burkina Faso.  After nomination by President Barack Obama and his confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Mushingi arrived in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and began serving as ambassador on August 5, 2013.  He is a career officer of the Senior Foreign Service and the first African-born, naturalized U.S. citizen to return to that continent as a U.S. ambassador.
Sources: 
“Ambassador Biography,” Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Embassy of the United States, http://ouagadougou.usembassy.gov/tulibio.html, accessed 5/25/15; Matt Bewig,  “Ambassador to Burkina Faso: Who is Tulinabo Mushingi?” All Gov, http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/ambassador-to-burkina-faso-who-is-tulinabo-mushingi?news=850301; Keith Chapman, “Former Dartmouth Lecturer is Ambassador to Burkina Faso,” Dartmouth Now, 10/21/2013, https://now.dartmouth.edu/2013/10/former-dartmouth-lecturer-ambassador-burkina-faso; “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” Office of the Press Secretary, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/04/11/president-obama-announces-more-key-administration-posts; “Tulinabo  S. Mushingi, U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso,” U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/213131.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Washington State University

Gebre, Tefere (1968–)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
American Federation of Labor-Congress
of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Labor leader Tefere Gebre fled Ethiopia at fourteen years of age, moved to the United States, and was elected years later, in 2013, executive vice president of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The third highest-ranking member of the largest labor federation in the United States, he is also the first immigrant (or political refugee) to serve as a national officer in the organization.

Born October 15, 1968, in Gondar, Ethiopia, Gebre’s father was a retired judge and his mother’s family had political connections to Emperor Haile Selassie. In 1974 a military coup deposed Selassie, resulting in a military dictatorship in which tens of thousands were tortured and murdered, now called the Red Terror. Consequently, Gebre and his relatives were forced to flee Ethiopia.

Sources: 
Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO Top Officers, http://www.aflcio.org/About/Leadership/AFL-CIO-Top-Officers/Tefere-Gebre (January 13, 2016); Dave Jamieson, “What A Refugee-Turned-Labor Leader Thinks Of Our Backlash Against Refugees,” Huffington Post, November 20, 2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tefere-gebre-refugees_us_564e5a0de4b0258edb30d414 (January 13, 2016); Stan Sinberg, “The Three Lives of Tefere Gebre,” Orange Coast, May 6, 2014: http://www.orangecoast.com/features/the-three-lives-of-tefere-gebre/ (January 13, 2016); John Wojcik, “Ethiopian immigrant Tefere Gebre shakes up labor organizing,” People’s World, September 10, 2013: http://peoplesworld.org/ethiopian-immigrant-tefere-gebre-shakes-up-labor-organizing/  (January 13, 2016)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Western Illinois University

Randolph, Asa Philip (1889-1979)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
A. Philip Randolph with Eleanor Roosevelt
Image Ownership: Public Domain

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

Sources: 
Andrew E. Kersten, A. Philip Randolph: A Life in the Vanguard (Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield, 2006); Cynthia Taylor, A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (New York: NYU Press, 2006); Paula Pfeffer, A. Philip Randolph, Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Till, Emmett Louis (1941-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Emmett Till was a fourteen year-old African American boy who was tortured and killed in Money, Mississippi in 1955 after allegedly insulting a white woman.  Born in Chicago, Illinois, Till lived with his mother, Mamie Till. His father, Louis Till, died while serving in the U.S. Army in Italy in 1945. In the summer of 1955, Till went to visit with his 64-year-old great-uncle Mose Wright and family. Before leaving home, Till’s mother instructed him to follow Southern customs and mind his manners, but having grown up in a Northern city like Chicago, Till was unaware of the legacy of lynching and the rigid social caste system in the South. 
Sources: 

“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).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Douglass, Frederick (1817-1895)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Frederick Douglass was born into Maryland slavery in 1817 to a slave mother and a slave master father. Young Douglass toiled on a rural plantation and later in Baltimore’s shipyards as a caulker. Douglass, however, learned to read and soon sought out abolitionist literature that alleviated what he termed the graveyard of his mind. He eventually escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1838, and took the surname Douglass, which he borrowed from the Scottish romance novel, Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. Douglass’s wife, Anna, followed with their five children. She worked as a laborer in a New Bedford shoe factory while Douglass became a world renowned anti-slavery orator.
Sources: 
Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855); William J. Moses, The Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978); Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961); Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (New York: Athenaeum, 1968); and Philip S. Foner, Frederick Douglass: A Biography (New York: Citadel Press, 1964).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Fresno

Bolin, Jane (1908-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Schomburg Center
for Research in Black Culture,
The New York Public Library
Jane Bolin was the first black women graduate of Yale Law School and the first black female judge in the United States. Bolin was born in Poughkeepsie, New York on April 11, 1908. From her earliest days in her father’s law office, Bolin knew she wanted to be an attorney. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1928 and earned her J.D. degree at the Yale Law School in 1931.

Bolin clerked in her father's law office until she passed the New York bar exam in 1932. She married fellow attorney Ralph E. Mizelle a year later, and together they opened up a practice in New York City. In 1937, Bolin was named Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York, serving on the Domestic Relation Court. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed Jane Bolin Judge of the Domestic Relations Court in 1939, where she served for 40 years. During her tenure with two other judges she achieved two major changes: the assignment of probation officers to cases without regard for race or religion, and a requirement that publicly funded private child-care agencies accept children without regard to ethnic background.
Sources: 
Jacqueline A. McLeod, “Persona non-grata: Judge Jane Matilda Bolin and the NAACP, 1930-1950,” Afro-Americans in New York and History, January 2005;  www.wellesley.edu/Anniversary/bolin.html
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jones, Sissieretta (1869-1933)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sissieretta Jones was a world-famous soprano who in June 1892, became the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City, New York. Touring internationally in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she sang both classical opera and performed in musical comedies with her own troupe.

Born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner on January 5, 1869, in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was the child of Jeremiah Joyner, a pastor, and Henrietta Joyner, a singer in the church choir. After moving with her family to Rhode Island when she was six, Sissieretta began singing in the church choir, which was directed by her father. When only fourteen, she married David Richard Jones, who became her first manager. Later, she formally studied voice at the Providence Academy of Music, the New England Conservatory, and the Boston (Massachusetts) Conservatory.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Darryl Lyman, Great African-American Women (New York: Gramercy Books, 2000 edition); http://www.aaregistry.com.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Massaquoi, Hans-Jürgen (1926–2013)

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

Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi was born on January 19, 1926 in the city of Hamburg, Germany. The son of the German nurse Bertha Baetz and the Liberian businessman Al-Hajj Massaquoi, Hans-Jürgen spent the first years of his life with the family of his paternal grandfather, Momolu Massaquoi, the Consul General of Liberia in Germany. When political turmoil broke out in the ambassador's homeland in 1929, he and his son, Al-Hajj Massaquoi, returned to Liberia, leaving Bertha Baetz and her son Hans-Jürgen in Germany.

Sources: 
Hans J. Massaquoi, Destined to Witness: Growing up in Nazi Germany (New York: HarperCollins, 1999); Audrey Fischer, “Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin 59:3 (March 2000); http://www.answers.com/topic/hans-massaquoi; Obituary, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2013. 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Augsburg

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

Cook, Will Marion (1869-1944)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Will Marion Cook was a talented musician, conductor, and composer born on January 27, 1869 in Washington, D.C. to John Hartwell Cook and Marion Isabelle Lewis. From 1884 to 1887 Cook studied violin at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.  He then studied abroad for two years from 1887 to 1889 at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik in Germany, training under Heinrich Jacobsen.

Like Harry T. Burleigh, Cook had also studied under Czech composer Antonin Dvorák at New York’s National Conservatory of Music, and was similarly inspired to experiment with compositions that maintained the integrity of the Negro spiritual. In 1898 Cook’s first composed score, for the show Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk, met with critical acclaim. The show’s successful run at the Casino Roof Garden Theatre in New York established Cook as a gifted composer. He made history with Clorindy by becoming the first African American to conduct a white theater orchestra. In 1899 he married Abbie Mitchell, the show’s leading actress. They had two children together, Will and Marion, but separated in 1906.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); 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

Anderson, Ernest (1916-2011)

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

Legendary actor Ernest Anderson gained notoriety for his monumental performance in the 1942 film In This Our Life – a single, supporting role that facilitated the alteration of negative depictions presented of African Americans in Hollywood film. Born in 1916 in Lynn, Massachusetts, Anderson was educated at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. and Northwestern University’s School of Drama and Speech.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Anderson moved to Hollywood where he worked as a service man for Warner Brothers studio before receiving his debut role in In This Our Life. It was Bette Davis, the film’s protagonist, who arranged Anderson’s interview for the part of Perry Clay – an aspiring lawyer who is falsely placed at the center of a hit-and-run scandal committed by a spoiled Southern woman.

The script originally called for Anderson’s character to comply with the dialectical speech patterns Hollywood filmmakers forced African Americans to deliver during the pre-World War II era. But after Anderson argued the integrity of the part, director John Huston empowered him to present the character with dignity, intelligence, and emotion.

Sources: 

Carlton Jackson, Hattie: The Life of Hattie McDaniel (Lanham: Madison Books, 1990); Thomas Cripps, Making Movies Black (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1993); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hilliard, Earl (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Kevin Shillington, Encyclopedia of African History (New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2005); John Iliffe, Africa: the History of a Continent (New York : Cambridge University Press, 1995); S.N. Eisenstadt, The Early State in African Perspective: Culture, Power, and Division of Labor (New York : E.J. Brill, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Gbowee, Leymah (1972 - )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist, author, and 2011 Nobel Prize winner was born on February 1, 1972. She grew up in Bong County in central Liberia. In 1990, when Leymah was 17, she left for the capital, Monrovia, just before the nearly decade old civil war reached the city.

Gbowee regretted losing her opportunity to attend college; and out of bitterness and disappointment, she initially avoided any political or social involvement. As the war continued, however, she realized that the citizens of the nation and particularly Liberia's women must become more vocal advocates of peaceful change.  To contribute to that cause, Gbowee trained as a trauma counsellor and began working with the ex-child soldiers led by Liberian President Charles Taylor.  She also counselled women and girls who had been raped by the armies on both sides of the conflict.   
Sources: 
“African women look within for change.” http://edition.cnn.com. CNN, October 10 2009; http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/10/30/africa.women/; “Leymah Gbowee, Women in Peace and Security Network Africa.” http://niew-womenincrisis.org, July 24, 2010, http://niew-womenincrisis.org/?p=39.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Howell, Abner Leonard (1877-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Abner Leonard Howell was a star athlete in Utah whose accomplishments went largely ignored during the peak of his football career because of his race.

Howell, born on August 9, 1877, moved with his family from Louisiana to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1890.  His father, Paul Cephas Howell, was appointed a police officer and detective. Both Paul Howell and Abner’s mother, Eliza Sharp, had been slaves.

Howell’s athletic talent was obvious during high school. After one of the most important high school games, attended by 5,000 fans, the Deseret News announced that “a colored fullback named Ab Howell was everything from the bandwagon to the steam calliope.” Howell led his team to a 32-0 victory against East Denver (Colorado) High. When the team went to a restaurant to celebrate, Abner was told that he would need to eat in the kitchen while the rest of the team enjoyed the dining area.  Teammate Nicholas Groesbeck Smith replied that they would all eat in the kitchen.  The restaurant relented and the full team was served in the dining room.
Sources: 
Wendell J. Ashton, Voice in the West: Biography of a Pioneer Newspaper (New York: Duel, Sloan and Pearce, 1950); Tape recording by Abner Howell, in possession of author;
Byrdie Howell Landon, Utah and the Early Black Settlers, Typewritten manuscript, undated.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Brigham Young University (Utah)

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

Gaspard, Patrick (1967- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Patrick Gaspard’s career in politics and diplomacy spans three decades. Gaspard’s work has involved him in politics at the city and national level and has put him in contact with constituencies traditionally associated with the Democratic Party. As of this writing, Gaspard serves as United States Ambassador to the Republic of South Africa.

Gaspard was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haitian parents. His father, a lawyer, moved the family to the African nation after Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba issued an appeal for French-speaking intellectuals of African descent to relocate there after the Congo’s independence. After Lumumba’s death in 1961, Gaspard’s family then moved to New York City, New York when he was three years old.   
Sources: 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jenkins, Bonnie Denise (ca.1960– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Bonnie Jenkins is a retired U.S. Naval Reserve officer, diplomat, and expert in international security, arms control, treaty laws, and nonproliferation and disarmament of weapons of mass destruction.

Born in Queens, New York, and growing up in the Bronx, New York, Jenkins was the child of a day care worker (her mother) and a store manager (her father). She attended a private all-girls high school in New York where she excelled at academics and athletics, and graduated in 1978. After graduation, Jenkins moved to Massachusetts to attend Amherst College.

Jenkins graduated from Amherst in 1982 and later enrolled in law school at Albany Law School. While in law school, she wanted a greater challenge, so she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserves in 1986. She served for six years as a paralegal at bases in Massachusetts and at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. In 1992 she applied for a direct officer commission into the U.S. Naval Reserve for which she was accepted and ultimately rose to lieutenant commander.

Sources: 
Official State Department Bios; Bonnie Jenkins “Inside the 9/11 Commission; Nichole Chi. 2012. The Amherst Student, “Fearless Ambassador Ensures National Security.” http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/?q=article/2012/11/12/fearless-ambassador-ensures-national-security.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Holland, Endesha Ida Mae (1944-2006)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University, Antioch McGregor University

Morial, Ernest Nathan (1929-1989)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in New Orleans, Ernest Morial grew up in the city’s Seventh Ward.  His father was a cigar maker and his mother was a seamstress.  Graduating from Xavier University, a historically black Catholic institution, he became the first African American to receive a law degree from Louisiana State University.  Battling segregation in the courtroom, he was elected president of the local NAACP chapter, and later elected to the Louisiana State legislature, becoming the first black member since Reconstruction.  Later, he became the first Juvenile Court judge, and the first Circuit Court of Appeals judge of his race in Louisiana.   
Sources: 
Edward M. Meyers, Rebuilding America’s Cities (New York, 1986); Arnold Hirsch and Joseph Logsdon, Creole New Orleans: Race and Americanization (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montgomery College (Maryland)

Ali, Muhammad (1942-2016)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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.

Sources: 
David Remmick, King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero (New York: Vintage Books, 1999); Hana Yasmeen Ali, The Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Minkins, Shadrach (1814?-1875)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia (the actual year is uncertain), Shadrach Minkins spent the first thirty years of his life in his hometown, but in May of 1850 he decided to run for freedom and escaped to Boston, where he became a waiter.

At that time, about 2,500 blacks lived in Boston. Runaway slaves found refuge there with fellow runaways, and a population of active black and white abolitionists. Most slaves who reached Boston expected the strong anti-slavery community would protect them and that they would be able to hide or blend in without being recaptured. The other option for fugitives was to pass through Boston to another safe location using the Underground Railroad.

The Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850, however, undermined Boston’s reputation as a save haven.  This law allowed slave owners, or their representatives, to reclaim runaway slaves, with proof of ownership, throughout the United States.  Slave-catching now carried the force of law which meant all law-enforcement agencies throughout the North were required to assist those seeking fugitives. Law enforcement officers were required to arrest and hold any suspected fugitives and assist their return to slaveholders.  

On February 15, 1851, Minkins was captured by two Boston police officers while he worked at Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House. While he was being taken to the courthouse, word spread and hundreds of black and white abolitionists crowded into the courthouse.
Renowned abolitionist lawyers Robert Morris, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Ellis Gray Loring, and Samuel E. Sewall came to Minkins’ assistance, but under the Fugitive Slave Act, his seizure was legal.
Sources: 
Gary Lee Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jackson, Jesse Louis. Jr. (1965- )

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

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.

Sources: 
U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.: Representing the People of the 2nd District of Illinois, www.house.gov/jackson/Bio.shtml; Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.: Congressman, Second Congressional District of Illinois, www.jessejacksonjr.org; and Mema Ayi and Chicago Defender, Jackson Jr. bails on mayoral run; says with Dems in control he can do more for Congress, www.chicagodefender.com/page/local.cfm?ArticleID=7561
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Douglas, H. Ford (1831-1865)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Captain H. Ford Douglas was born in Virginia in 1831 to a white man named William Douglas, and an enslaved mother named Mary.  He escaped from slavery sometime after his fifteenth birthday, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio.

Working as a barber, the self-educated Douglas was active in the free black community of Cleveland, especially its state convention movement.  His first state meeting was at Columbus in 1850, at which time Douglas was already gaining attention for his outstanding oratorical talents.  He appeared at the Ohio State Convention again 1851 and 1852, arguing that African Americans would never gain equality in the United States, and advocating African American emigration.  Douglas supported William Lloyd Garrison’s view that the United States Constitution was a proslavery document because it did not exclusively prohibit slavery.  He claimed it was written with the intention of continuing slavery.   Douglas also felt African-Americans allowed slavery to continue by remaining in the United States and making themselves subject to the U.S. Constitution.  

At the 1854 National Emigration Convention, Douglas emerged as a prominent speaker with his defense of emigration.  He moved to British-controlled West Canada after the convention and in 1856 became a proprietor of the Provincial Freedom, a Canadian newspaper promoting antislavery and emigrationist principles.  Through the newspaper Douglas promoted Canada as a place where blacks could live under a government which protected them.  He married Statira Steele in October 1857, with whom he had one child.  

Sources: 
Robert L. Harris, Jr., H. Ford Douglas Afro-American Antislavery Emigrationist Journal of Negro History 62:3 (July 1997) 217-34; Robert L. Harris, Jr., H. Ford Douglas.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Canty, Hattie (1934- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
In 1990, more than thirty years after moving west with her family from rural Alabama, Hattie Canty was elected president of the Las Vegas Hotel and Culinary Workers Union Local 226, a position that enabled her to significantly improve the standard of living for tens of thousands of workers in Las Vegas’s booming hotel and casino industry.
Sources: 
Sara Mosle, “Letter from Las Vegas: How the Maids Fought Back,” The New Yorker (February 26/March 4, 1996); Courtney Alexander, “Rise to Power: The Recent History of the Culinary Union,” in The Grit Beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas edited by Hal Rothman and Mike Davis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Claytee D. White, An Interview with Hattie Canty (Las Vegas: Las Vegas Women Oral History Project, 1998).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Carter, Ben (1907-1946)

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

Actor-turned casting agent Ben Carter often portrayed an obliging domestic in Hollywood films, but later became one of the few African American agents in the movie capital dedicated to promoting and enhancing the careers of some of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors and actresses of color – including Hattie McDaniel, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, Lena Horne, and the Dandridge Sisters.

Born in 1907, the Fairfield, Iowa native began his career as a comedian and Broadway performer in New York.  He relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1930s and first worked as an unbilled player in movies. By the mid-1930s, Carter had become one of the first African American performers to sign a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox studios. Known for his wiry hair and bugged eyes, Carter appeared in several movies over a two-decade period, including Gone With the Wind (1939), Maryland (1940), Tin Pan Alley (1940), and several of Monogram Studio’s Charlie Chan series. In addition to frequently appearing in films, Carter earned a less than reputable name for himself due to his demeaning film roles.

Sources: 

Susan McHenry, “The Black Side of the Early Silver Screen,” Essence, April 2001; Anonymous, “Notables Attend Final Rites of Ben Carter, Noted Actor,” Pittsburgh Courier, December 28, 1946; Donald Bogle, Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography (New York: Amistad Press Inc., 1997.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Wilson, Margaret Bush (1919-2009)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Robert Joiner, “Margaret Bush Wilson, hailed as civil rights ‘giant’ dies at 90,” St Louis Beacon,  August 14, 2009; Patricia Sullivan, “Margaret Bush Wilson dies at 90. First Black woman to head the National NAACP Board,” The LA Times, August 15, 2009; www.thehistorymakers.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle