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People

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.

Jackson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 8, 1962, and was adopted two weeks after her birth.  She grew up in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, which became infamous during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Her adoptive mother continued to live in New Orleans until the hurricane flooded the city.  Jackson, who had planned to become a doctor, instead switched her studies to engineering and graduated summa cum laude with a BS in chemical engineering from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering in 1983.  She received a masters degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986. Jackson was one of only two women in her engineering class at Princeton.

Sources: 
Biography, Administrator Lisa Jackson (2009), United States Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/administrator/biography.htm; "Lisa P. Jackson," Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2009) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1502192/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://sciencewomen.blogspot.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; Twenty-five Most Influential African Americans in Politics, BET.com (2009) http://www.bet.com/NR/exeres/E23833F3-7E28-43AE-9F06-3838EC3B5813.htm
Affiliation: 
University of Wyoming

Scott, Timothy (1965- )

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

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

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

Brown, Willa B. (1906-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Willa Beatrice Brown, one of a small group of pre-World War II black women aviators, was born in Glasgow, Kentucky on January 22, 1906.  The daughter of Reverend and Mrs. Erice B. Brown, she graduated from Wiley High School in Terra Haute, Indiana.  In 1927, Brown earned a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) and ten years later a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University.  

After briefly teaching at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois to become a social worker.  It was there, however, that she decided to learn how to fly.  In 1934 Brown began her flight instruction under the direction of John Robinson and Cornelius Coffey.  She also studied at the Curtiss Wright Aeronautical University and in 1935 earned a Masters Mechanic Certificate.  

Sources: 
Edmond Davis, Pioneering African-American Aviators featuring the Tuskegee Airmen of Arkansas (Little Rock: Aviate Through Knowledge Productions, LLC, 2012); George L. Washington, The History of Military and Civilian Pilot Training of Negroes at Tuskegee, Alabama, 1939-1945 (Washington, D.C., George L. Washington, Publisher, 1972);  Samuel L. Broadnax, Blue Skies, Black Wings: African American Pioneers of Aviation (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008);
http://avstop.com/history/blackwomenpilot/willabrown.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arkansas Baptist College, Little Rock

Williams, Elbert (1908-1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Elbert Williams is the first known member of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to be murdered for his civil rights activities.  Williams was born on October 15, 1908, in rural Haywood County, Tennessee, the son of farmer Albert Williams and wife Mary Green Williams. In 1929 Williams married Annie Mitchell. After trying farming, the couple moved in the early 1930s to Brownsville where they worked for the Sunshine laundry until Williams’ murder in 1940.

In 1939 the Williamses became charter members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch.  On May 6, 1940, five members of Brownsville’s NAACP Branch unsuccessfully attempted to register to vote. No African American had been allowed to register to vote in Haywood County during the Twentieth Century. The next day threats began.
Sources: 
Patricia Sullivan, Lift Every Voice, The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: The New Press, 2009); Richard A. Couto, Lifting the Veil, A Political History of Struggles for Emancipation (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1993); Raye Springfield, The Legacy of Tamar, Courage and Faith in an African American Family (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Stith, Charles R. (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Charles Richard Stith, a diplomat, minister, professor, and urban reformer, presently serves as the Director of the African Presidential Archives and Research Center at Boston University in Massachusetts. In 1998, President Bill Clinton named him ambassador to Tanzania.
Sources: 
“The Director,” BU African Presidential Center, http://www.bu.edu/apc/about-the-center/the-director/; Council of American Ambassadors, “Charles R. Stith” (2013) http://www.americanambassadors.org/members/charles-r-stith; “From tension and hostility to an era of more interracial peace,” Boston Globe, January 16, 2015, http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2015/01/16/from-tension-and-hostility-era-more-interracial-peace/8sVmDw1r0mxJL0uDF6uOBL/story.html; “Our History,” Union United Methodist Church, http://unionboston.org/about/history.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Coffin, Alfred O. (1861- ?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Although he was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in a field of the biological sciences, Alfred Oscar Coffin ended his career as Professor of Romance Languages at Langston University in Oklahoma.  Born in Pontotoc, Mississippi on May 14, 1861, Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree at Fisk University and his master’s and Ph.D. in biology at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889.  Beginning in 1887, Coffin taught for two years at Alcorn Agricultural & Mechanical College in Mississippi.  From 1889 to 1895 he was Professor of Mathematics and Romance Language at Wiley University in Marshall, Texas where he found time to write a treatise on the native plants there.  Back at Alcorn A&M from 1895 to 1898 he worked as the campus disbursement agent.  From 1898 to 1909 Coffin was a public school principal in San Antonio, Texas and in Kansas City, Missouri.  Starting in 1910 for several years he worked as an advance agent for Blind Boone Concert Company, promoting the blind ragtime musician.
Sources: 
Who’s Who of the Colored Race (Chicago: F. L. Mather, 1915); Harry H. Greene. Holders of Doctorates Among American Negroes (Boston: Meador Pub. Co., 1946); http://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/coffin.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Cayton, Horace Roscoe, Jr. (1903-1970)

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

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Horace Roscoe Cayton, Jr., was the son of Horace and Susie Cayton and the grandson of Hiram R. Revels, the first black U.S. Senator. After graduation from Seattle's Franklin High School and the University of Washington, Cayton attended the University of Chicago. It was in Chicago that his career as a sociologist was defined. He was "determined to learn all there was about the Negro community." Teaching assignments at Tuskegee and Fisk University broadened his knowledge.


Returning to Chicago after his teaching sojourns, one of his first in-depth research efforts was interviewing black policemen on Chicago's police force. His first book, written in collaboration with economics professor George S. Mitchell, was Black Workers and the New Unions. Cayton and Clair St. Drake, a social anthropologist, co-authored Black Metropolis which was published in 1945. The book was based largely on data collected from a major research project ostensibly developed to investigate juvenile delinquency but was, in reality, a vehicle to study the social structure of Chicago's entire black community (Cayton-Warner Research Project). Still considered a landmark study, Black Metropolis won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book published on race relations.

Sources: 
Horace R. Cayton, Long Old Road (New York: Trident Press, 1965); Margaret Walker, Richard Wright Daemonic Genius: A Portrait of the Man, A Critical Look at His Work (New York: Warner Books, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation (AAAHRP)

Tillmon, Johnnie (1926-1995)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Johnnie Tillmon was born in Scott, Arkansas, in 1926. A migrant sharecropper’s daughter, she moved to California in 1959 to join her brothers and worked as a union shop steward in a Compton laundry. Tillmon organized workers and became involved in a community association called the Nickerson Garden Planning Organization which was established to improve living conditions in the housing project.

Tillmon became ill in 1963, and was advised to seek welfare. She was hesitant at first, but decided to apply for assistance to take care of her children. She immediately learned how welfare recipients were harassed by caseworkers who went to their apartments looking for evidence of extra support and who designated how they should spend money. In order to fight against this dehumanized treatment, Tillmon organized people on welfare in the housing project and founded one of the first grassroots welfare mothers’ organizations called ANC (Aid to Needy Children) Mothers Anonymous, in 1963. When a former CORE activist, George Wiley, brought together local welfare recipients’ groups and transformed them into a national movement, ANC Mothers joined the movement and became a part of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). Tillmon quickly emerged as a leader and became a chairperson of the NWRO. Together with other welfare mothers, she struggled for adequate income, dignity, justice, and democratic participation.
Sources: 
Johnnie Tillmon, “Welfare is a Women’s Issue,” Ms Magazine (Spring, 1972): 111-16; Guida West, The National Welfare Rights Movement: The Social Protest of Poor Women (New York: Praeger, 1981); Premilla Nadasen, Welfare Warriors: The Welfare Rights Movement in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Kanagawa University, Japan

Wagoner, Henry O. (1816-1901)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in 1816 in Maryland to a freed slave mother and a German father, Henry O. Wagoner (often spelled Waggoner) had the benefit of a brief exposure to education in Pennsylvania. This limited education gave him a base for further self-education and independent thought. In the 1850s Frederick Douglass employed Wagoner as the Chicago correspondent to his Rochester, New York newspaper, known as Frederick Douglass' Paper after 1851.

Wagoner's obituary notes that he owned a "small mill " in Chicago that burned in 1860, prompting him to move to Denver City, Colorado Territory. His friend Barney Ford may have influenced that decision as the two of them had worked together in Chicago supporting Douglass's abolition movement and his Underground Railroad activities.

In Denver, Wagoner opened various barbering and restaurant businesses and was among the most affluent of Denver's African American residents. While Ford moved from place to place, Wagoner stayed in Denver where he remained a political activist in league with black pioneers Edward Sanderlin and William Jefferson Hardin.
Sources: 
Henry O. Wagoner Obituary, Rocky Mountain News, January 28, 1901; Eugene Berwanger, The Frontier Against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1967).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Colorado Historical Society

Russell, Herman J. (1930- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
What started as a $125.00 purchase of a small parcel of land at 15 grew and blossomed over the years into a multi million-dollar company, and with this, Herman Jerome Russell came to epitomize black entrepreneurship by becoming one of the first black millionaires.

By the time of his retirement in 1997, Russell had built a conglomerate that included construction, property management, real estate development, airport concessions, and communications companies stretching across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Herman Russell was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1930 and attended Tuskegee Institute where he majored in construction, graduating in 1953. In 1957, he took over the family business, Russell Plastering Company. Employed by his father since the age of 10, Russell was no stranger to hard work. The many years under his father’s tutelage encouraged his entrepreneur spirit and gave him the needed preparation to handle the family business.
Sources: 
Source: Alston Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.answers.com; www.findarticles.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Gilpin, Charles Sidney (1878-1930)

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

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

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

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

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

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

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

Paul, Nathaniel (1793?-1839)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Early 19th Century abolitionist minister Nathaniel Paul was born into a free black family in Exeter, New Hampshire and was one of six Paul sons to enter the Baptist ministry.  His elder brother, Thomas Paul, Sr., was the first pastor of the First African Baptist Church in Boston in 1806.  Shadrach Paul was an itinerant preacher who rode throughout New Hampshire for the Domestic Mission Society.  Benjamin Paul worked alongside Nathaniel as an antislavery agent and minister.  Nathaniel Paul moved to Albany, New York, a way station on the Underground Railroad to Canada, where he served as the first pastor of the Union Street Baptist Church.  

A leader in the city’s black community, Rev. Paul participated in a variety of projects designed to improve educational opportunities for blacks in Albany. He was an organizer of the Wilberforce School in Canada, the only school for black youth until 1873, although some blamed him for the financial failure of Wilberforce.  Paul was also a founder and leader of the Union Society of Albany for the Improvement of the Colored People in Morals, Education, and Mechanic Arts.  Paul was also an active abolitionist and a vocal opponent of the colonization movement.  One of his speeches, delivered in New York City in 1829, appeared in the abolitionist journal, The Rights of All.  
Sources: 
J. Marcus Mitchell, “The Paul Family,” Old Time New England, LXIII (Winter, 1973): 74-76; Lorenzo Greene, The Negro in the Colonial Period (New York: Atheneum, 1969); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: Norton, 1982), 481-2; William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease, Black Utopia: Negro Communal Experiments in America (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1964), and Milton C. Sernett, Afro-American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1985); New York Genealogical Records, 1675-1920 in www.ancestry.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Napier, James Carroll (1845-1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
James Carroll Napier, a 19th century Nashville businessman and civil rights leader, was born near Nashville, Tennessee on June 9, 1845 to William C. and Jane E. Napier who were both free blacks.  Napier attended a private school for free black children in Nashville and then in 1859 enrolled in predominately black Wilberforce College before transferring to integrated Oberlin College.   

Napier left Oberlin College in 1867 without a degree and returned to Nashville, Tennessee.   Drawn to opportunities available to him in the emerging Reconstruction era, he served as the commissioner of refugees and abandoned lands in Davidson County under the Freedmen’s bureau for a year.  He then moved to Washington, D.C. to become the first African American to hold the position of State Department Clerk.  Encouraged by John Mercer Langston, the Dean of the Howard University Law School, Napier enrolled in Howard where he received a Bachelor in Law (LL.B) in 1872.  He moved back to Nashville to start his own practice.  There he married Nettie Langston, the only daughter of John Mercer Langston, in 1878.  They had one adopted daughter, Carrie Langston Napier.
Sources: 
Darlene Clark Hine, Ed.  Black Women in America: The Early Years, 1619-1899.  (New York: Facts on File, Inc, 1997); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Williams, Smokey Joe (1886-1946)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born Joseph Williams in Sequin, Texas on April 6, 1886, Smokey Joe Williams (also known as Cyclone Joe Williams) has been argued to be one of the greatest of the black baseball pitchers. In 1952, when the Pittsburgh Courier asked a panel of black veterans and sports writers to name the best black pitcher of all time, Smokey Joe Williams was the winner 20-19, over Satchel Paige. He stood 6’ 5” with a variety of power pitches but was best known for his fastball. He began to pitch around the San Antonio region in 1905 and compiled a record of 28-4. In 1907, he played for the San Antonio Broncos as a pitcher-outfielder, winning 20 and losing 8. In 1909, when Rube Foster, “The Father of Black Baseball,” brought his Leland Giants through San Antonio, he saw Williams pitch against Foster’s team and was amazed at his arresting speed, Williams and his team beat the Giants 3-0. When the Giants left, they took Williams north with them.

On October 24, 1912, Williams faced the National League champion New York Giants in an exhibition game. The Giants were coming off from a World Series loss against the Boston Red Sox. Williams shut out the Giants with only four hits for a 6-0 victory. By 1913, Williams won four and lost one against the white big leaguers.  At a time when professional baseball was not integrated and black teams were considered semi-pro, the victory over the Giants gave Williams and his team considerable national exposure.
Sources: 
John B. Holway, Negro League Pioneers (Connecticut: Meckler Books, 1988); Robert Peterson, Only the Ball was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Lucas, Sam (1840-1915)

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

Sam Lucas, one of the most respected and celebrated entertainers of his time, is credited with breaking barriers for black actors and becoming the first African American actor to star in a “white” feature film. Lucas is best remembered for his comic and dramatic roles performed on the minstrel circuit and Broadway stages, and by the end of his career, a major motion picture.

Lucas was born Samuel Mildmay in Washington, Ohio in 1840. He began singing and playing the guitar as a teenager and went on to establish a reputation as a performer while working as a barber. After the Civil War when African American performers (in blackface) were allowed to work in minstrel shows, Lucas joined traveling black companies and sang on the Ohio River steamboats. Lucas built a reputation as the best all-around entertainer in the business and was empowered to select his own shows which allowed him to star with the most successful black minstrel companies as a comedian and singer.

Sources: 

Mel Watkins, On the Real Side, (New York: Simon & Schuster); David
Pilgrim, “The Tom Caricature,” http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/tom/,
December 2000, Ferris State University, Rapids, Michigan: Jessie Carney
Smith, Notable Black Men. (Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1999); Phyllis
R. Klotman, African Americans in Cinema: The First Half Century,
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

George Washington Fields (1854–1932)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
George Washington Fields was born into slavery in Hanover County, Virginia on April 25, 1854. He was one of 11 children of Martha Ann Berkley and Washington Fields. Of the children, one died in infancy, three were sold off, and one was a runaway. Fields and the others grew up on Clover Plain Plantation in northeastern Virginia.

In July 1863, during a battle between Union and Confederate soldiers on the plantation, Fields’ mother escaped along with him and five other siblings. After a few months travel, they reached the safety of Fortress Monroe near Hampton, Virginia.  Fortress Monroe was one of the first Union-occupied fortifications which received escaping slaves.  Those who arrived in 1861 and 1862 were labeled "contraband" and their status as free people was disputed.  By the time Fields and her children reached the fort, they were granted freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation since Hanover County was still in Confederate hands.  
Sources: 
Kevin M. Clermont, “The Indomitable George Washington Fields: From Slavery to Attorney” (CreateSpace independent Publishing Platform, 1st edition, June 9, 2013); Hanover County Historical Society, “Nutshell: An Historical Background,” http://www.hanoverhistorical.org/nutshell.html;  Robert Francis Engs, “ Freedom's First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia, 1861-1890” ( Fordham University Press, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

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

Young, Jr., Perry (1919-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Perry Young, Jr, an airplane and helicopter pilot, was the first African American person to be hired by a commercial airline with regularly scheduled passenger flights. Young was born to his parents Henry Young, Sr. and Edith Lucille Young on March 12, 1919 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. His father ran a dry cleaning store and also owned several garages.

The Young family moved to Oberlin, Ohio in 1929.  Right after graduating from Oberlin High School in 1937, Young took his first flight on an airplane and decided he would become a pilot. Later that summer, Young started his flight lessons and flew his first plane on Christmas Day 1937.  He paid for the lessons by washing cars over the summer. The next year, Young decided to attend Oberlin College instead of accepting a four-year scholarship to the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music. In 1939, he received his private pilot's license after dropping out of college to pursue this goal full time.
Sources: 
Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, Caroline M. Fannin, Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science (Westport, Connecticut: Oryx Press, 2002);
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/19/nyregion/perry-h-young-jr-79-pioneering-pilot-dies.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Knox, Lawrence Howland (1906-1966)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of 

Dr. Lawrence Howland Knox, noted chemist, was born on September 30, 1906 in New Bedford, Massachusetts to William Jacob and Estella Knox.   Knox was one of five children, two girls and three boys, and remarkably for that time, all of the boys earned PhDs; the oldest brother, William Jr. also earned a PhD in chemistry, and the younger brother, Clinton, earned a PhD in history.

Knox attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine for his undergraduate schooling.  He majored in chemistry and played on the school football team.  He graduated in 1928 and began teaching chemistry at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.  After teaching at Morehouse for two years Knox attended Stanford and in 1931 attained his Master’s degree.  That same year he married his wife, Hazel and the two had one son.  After receiving his Master’s degree, Knox began teaching at the Agriculture and Technical College of North Carolina in Greensboro, and in 1933 he transferred to North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham.  In 1936 he took another break from teaching and began working for his doctorate at Harvard.  In 1940 he achieved a PhD in organic Chemistry and went back to teaching at North Carolina College.

Sources: 
Leon Gortler and Stephen J. Weininger, “Chemical Relations:  William and Lawrence Knox, African American Chemists” Chemical Heritage Foundation www.chemicalheritage.org; American Men of Science (New York: Jacques Cattel Press, 1955).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Isaacs, Cheryl Boone (1949---)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Veteran publicist Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American to serve as President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, followed the path of her pioneering sibling as a top-tier executive in the Hollywood motion picture industryAshley A. Boone Jr. (1939-1994), her brother, had been the most distinguished African American working at several studios, capping his career in 1979 as president for distribution and marketing at 20th Century Fox.

Born in Springfield, Massachusetts into a middle class family of four children, Isaacs’ parents stressed academic achievement.  Her youthful ambition to become a musical comedy star was discouraged.  She graduated from Classical High School in 1967 then moved to California and earned her political science degree in 1971 at Whittier College.

Sources: 
Mollie Gregory, Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003); Who’s Who in America (New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who’s Who, 2009); http://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2013/07/springfields_cheryl_boone_isaa.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Allen, Bernadette Mary (1955- )

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

Career Foreign Service Officer Bernadette Mary Allen was commissioned into the U.S. diplomatic service in January 1980. Twenty-five years later, on October 26, 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Allen to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Niger.  She served until January 15, 2010.

Allen was born on June 5, 1955 in Washington, D.C. and raised in nearby Seat Pleasant, Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1977, in a study year abroad program, Allen earned a Certificate in French Civilization from the Sorbonne University in Paris, France. In 1978 Allen earned a B.A. in French Civilization and Linguistics, at Central College in Pella, Iowa.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Woodson, Carter G. (1875-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Ancella Bickley Collection,
West Virginia State Archives
Sources: 
Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, The Early Black History Movement, Carter G. Woodson, and Lorenzo Johnston Greene (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007); Jacqueline Goggin, Carter G. Woodson:  A Life in Black History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); and Pero Gaglo Dagbovie, “Willing to Sacrifice”:  Carter G. Woodson, the Father of Black History, and the Carter G. Woodson Home (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Michigan State University

George, Sugar T. (1827-1900)

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

Sugar T. George a.k.a. George Sugar was born in approximately 1827, as a slave in the Muskogee Nation. This former slave emerged as a tribal leader. By the time of his death in 1900, Sugar T. George was also said to have been the "wealthiest Negro in the [Indian] Territory."

George escaped from bondage when in November 1861, Opothleyohola, an Upper Creek chief, led 5,000 Creeks, 2,500 Seminoles, Cherokees, and other Indians, and approximately 500 slaves and free blacks from Indian Territory into Kansas to avoid living under the domination of Pro-Confederate Indian leaders during the Civil War. George joined the Union Army in Kansas, serving in Company H of the 1st Indian Home Guards.  Because of his natural skills as a leader and his literacy he quickly became a First Sergeant in his unit.  George acted as the unofficial leader of Company H, taking charge after the white officer and Indian officer had been dismissed for improper behavior.

Sources: 
Documents found in Civil War Pension File of Sugar T. George; Claims of the Loyal Creeks, RG 75 National Archives; Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma LDS Microfiche #6016976 Volume 111---Cemeteries.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Cobb, W. Montague (1904–1990)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
William Montague Cobb was born in Washington, D.C. in 1904. He earned his B.A. from Amherst College in 1925 and continued his research in embryology at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory. Cobb then went to Howard University, and earned his medical degree in 1929. Cobb was given an offer by Howard to “name a position” he wanted to teach. He chose the newly emerging discipline of physical anthropology (human evolutionary biology, physical variation). Before setting up his own lab, Cobb went to Western Reserve University in Cleveland to study under T. Wingate Todd, a progressive leader in the new field.

In 1932 Cobb returned to Howard as a professor of physical anatomy, where he continued to teach until his death in 1990. A prolific writer, he authored 1,100 articles on a variety of physical anatomy topics and issues relating to African American health. Cobb is considered to be one of the most influential scholars in physical anatomy. To Howard, he left a considerable collection of more than 700 skeletons and the complete anatomical data for nearly 1,000 individuals.
Sources: 
Lesley M. Rankin-Hill and Michael L. Blakey, “W. Montague Cobb (1904-1990): Physical Anthropologist, Anatomist, and Activist,” American Anthropologist (March 1994): 74-96; Kyle Melvilee, “W. Montague Cobb.” Anthropology Biography Web. 2001. University of Minnesota, Mankato. 15 June 2006. http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/abcde/cobb_w.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Norton, Eleanor Holmes (1937- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of the U.S. House
of Representatives Photography Office
Eleanor Holmes Norton was born on June 13, 1937 in Washington, D.C. to parents Coleman and Vela Holmes.  Both her parents were government employees.  Growing up in a well educated and politically conscious household caused Eleanor Holmes to be very aware of the surrounding struggles for African Americans.  At the age of 12, she recalled watching protests against a Washington, D.C. department store which allowed black shoppers but refused them entry into its bathrooms.

In 1955, Eleanor entered Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio where she became heavily involved with civil rights work.  While in college she headed the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter and became a local activist working to desegregate public facilities in Ohio.  The emerging civil rights movement influenced her decision to enter Yale University in 1960 with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.  In 1963 Holmes worked in Mississippi for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  She graduated from Yale in 1963 with a Master’s in American Studies and a law degree in 1964.  
Sources: 
Joan Steinau Lester, Eleanor Holmes Norton: Fire in My Soul (New York: Atrai Books, 2003); Jessie Carney Smith, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1993); http://www.norton.house.gov/; http://www.dcbar.org/for_lawyers/resources/legends_in_the_law/norton.cfm; http://www.discoverthenetwork.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=1955.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Watts, Andre (1946- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Andre Watts is the subject of one of the more memorable stories in American music. In 1963, the 16 year old high school student won a piano competition to play in the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concert at Lincoln Center, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  Within weeks of the contest the renowned conductor tapped Watts to substitute for the eminent but ailing pianist Glenn Gould, for a regular performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The performance was televised nationally, with Watts playing Liszt’s E-flat Concerto, and his career was launched. From this storied beginning, Watts went on to become the first internationally famous black concert pianist.

Watts was born in Nuremburg, Germany on June 20, 1946 to an African American soldier, Herman Watts, who was stationed in Germany, and a piano-playing Hungarian refugee mother, Maria Alexandra Gusmits. His early childhood was spent on military bases, until at the age of eight his family moved to Philadelphia.
Sources: 
Susan Altman, The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage, pp. 272-73; www.cmartists.com/artists/andre_watts.htm; http://info.music.indiana.edu. 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Pinchback, Pinckney Benton Stewart (1837-1921)

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

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

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

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

Jessye, Eva (1895-1992)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Eva Jessye was a pioneer in the world of African American music and is recognized as the first black woman to receive international distinction as a choral director. She was born in Coffeyville, Kansas on January 20, 1895 to Albert and Julia Jessye, but was raised by various relatives after her parents’ separation. Influenced by the singing of her great-grandmother and great-aunt, Jessye developed an early love of traditional Negro spirituals. At the age of thirteen, she attended Western University in Kansas City, Kansas where she studied poetry and oratory. In addition to singing in Western’s concert choir, she gained experience coaching several male and female student choral groups.
Sources: 
R. Marie Griffith and Barbara Dianne Savage, eds., Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2006); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., Black Women in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Jeffrey Lehman, ed., The African American Almanac (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003); Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Pryor, Richard (1940–2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III, was an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and social critic who revolutionized the comedy world in the 1960s and 1970s. He became famous for colorful, irreverent and often vulgar language as he comically described the major issues of the period.  Pryor won an Emmy award in 1973 and five Grammy Awards between 1974 and 1982.

Richard Pryor was born on December 1, 1940 and raised in Peoria, Illinois. Abandoned by his parents when he was 10, Pryor and three other siblings were raised in his grandmother’s brothel. As a youth, he was raped by a teenaged neighbor and molested by a Catholic priest. He was expelled from school at the age of 14 and began working as a janitor, meat packer, and truck driver. Pryor served in the U.S army spending most of that time in an army prison for assaulting a fellow soldier while stationed in Germany. In 1960, Pryor married Patricia Price and they would had his first child, Richard Jr. The couple divorced in 1961.

Sources: 

Official Website: http://www.richardpryor.com; Richard Pryor: Stand-Up
Philosopher, City Journal, Spring 2009:
http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_2_urb-richard-pryor.html; Pryor’s
Ancestry: http://www.progenealogists.com/pryor/; American Masters:
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/newhart_b.html

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Woodson, Robert L., Sr. (1937– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Born into poverty on April 8, 1937, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Robert L. Woodson Sr. is often described as the “godfather” of the movement to empower community-based organizations to help themselves. Widely known today as a leading black conservative, Woodson rose from liberal-oriented neighborhood civil rights activism in the 1960s to coordinating national community development programs in the 1970s.

From 1971 to 1973, Woodson headed the National Urban League’s Administration of Justice Division, followed by the Neighborhood Revitalization Project from 1973 to 1976, and a fellowship with the American Enterprise Institute (1976–1981). Along the way, he gradually embraced conservative approaches to combating crime and poverty.

Sources: 
Jason L. Riley, “A Black Conservative's War on Poverty,” The Wall Street Journal (April 2014); Robert Woodson, The Triumphs of Joseph: How Today’s Community Healers Are Reviving Our Streets and Neighborhoods (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998); https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/02/25/the-missed-opportunity-of-robert-woodson.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Hilliard, Earl (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Sue K. Brown (1948- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Sue Katherine Brown is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor.  In 2011 President Barack Obama nominated her to become the U.S. Ambassador to Montenegro, the first African American to hold this post and only the second U.S. ambassador since Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on June 3, 2006.  Brown’s nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate and she presented her credentials to the President of Montenegro, Filip Vujanovi?, on Thursday, May 12, 2011.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bryan, Andrew (1737-1812)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

First named First Colored Baptist Church and located in Savannah, Georgia, First African Baptist Church traces its roots to December 1777, and is officially designated the oldest African American church in the United States.  George Liele, the Church’s founder, continued to evangelize and baptize both the free and enslaved black populations of the Savannah area during the rest of the Revolutionary War period.  One of those enslaved people was Andrew Bryan.  Liele baptized Andrew Bryan, who was born in 1737, and his wife Hannah in 1782.

When David George and George Liele, along with hundreds of blacks, evacuated Savannah with the British in July 1782, Bryan remained and retained spiritual leadership of the First Colored Baptist Church.  Andrew Bryan was allowed to preach by his master, Jonathan Bryan of Brampton Plantation, and became an ordained minister on January 20, 1788.  The First Colored Baptist Church became certified by the Georgia Baptist Association in May 1790 and pre-dated the establishment of the white Baptist Church in the city by five years.  Andrew Bryan remained the church’s pastor until his death in 1812.

Sources: 
Africans in America, PBS Online, July 22, 2006; Walter H. Brooks, D. D., A History of Negro Baptist Churches in America (Washington, D.C.: Press of R. L. Pendelton, 1910) © 2004 University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Online July 22, 2005, http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/brooks/brooks.html.  New York Public Library Digital Library Collections Records, First African Baptist Church Records, 1873-1977, http://digilib.nypl.org/dynaweb/ead/scm/scmgfabc/@Generic__BookTextView/136;pt=114
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Haynes, Inez Maxine Pitter (1919-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Inez Maxine Pitter Haynes, the middle sibling of the Pitter sisters, was born February 06, 1919 to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter, in Seattle, Washington.  In 1936 she graduated from Garfield High School and entered the University of Washington as a pre-nursing major, later changing to sociology.  As with her sisters, she had struggled in the University of Washington both because of the Great Depression and racial discrimination.  

While both of her sisters experienced similar challenges, Inez Pitter suffered the added component of skin color. She was brown-skinned, while they were both fair-skinned.   The College of Nursing refused to admit her because of her race.  The Dean of Nursing insisted that as an African American she could not stay in the same room as white nurses in Harborview Hall, the required dormitory for nursing students, and thus could not complete the program.  
Sources: 
Juana R. Royster Horn, “The Academic and Extracurricular Undergraduate Experiences of Three Black Women At The University of Washington 1935 To 1941,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, 1980)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

McNeil, Joseph Alfred (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
One of the four North Carolina Agricultural & Technical freshmen who initiated the Sit-In Movement at Greensboro, North Carolina. A native of North Carolina, Joseph McNeil saw Greensboro’s race relations as a mirror image of the social structure of most southern cities. McNeil recalls having discussed the issue of segregation with community members like local businessman, Ralph Johns, in the weeks before the initial protest.

McNeil -- along with Franklin McCain, Jibreel Khazan (Ezell Blair, Jr.), and David Richmond --  had grown frustrated with the idea that patience and long suffering alone would allow Blacks to prosper. In their Scott Hall Dormitory rooms the young men read books about Gandhi, studied the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, and debated the merits of direct action. On January 31st 1960, they agreed to stage a public act of non-compliance with segregation. The following afternoon the four met at the A & T campus library and walked together to Woolworth drug store where they broke the law by sitting at a segregated lunch counter. A national chain, Woolworth stores would feel the effects of the protest beyond Greensboro. McNeil later recalled feeling a deep sense of relief during the first day of the Sit-In campaign.
Sources: 
Frye Gaillard, The Greensboro Four: Civil Rights Pioneers (Charlotte, NC: Main Street Rag Publishing Co., 2001); William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and Johnson C. Smith University, respectively

Allen, Anthony D. (1774-1835)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Formerly enslaved Anthony D. Allen found his way to Hawaii and made his home there in the early 1800s. Allen was born in 1774 either in Albany or Schenectady in New York to a mother who was probably a slave and a father who was a free man and a mariner. Allen was freed at the age of 24 and moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he, like his father before him, shipped out on a whaling vessel to various locales including the Caribbean, the Northwest Coast of America, China and to Hawaii where he settled in 1810.
Sources: 
Kenneth W. Porter, “Notes on Negroes in Early Hawaii,” Journal of Negro History, 19:2 (April, 1934): 193-197: Helen G. Chapin, “Anthony D. Allen,” Publications of The Hawaiian Historical Society; Marc Scruggs, Honolulu Star Bulletin. Jan. 12, 1987, p. A-10.; “Anthony D.Allen: A Prosperous American of African Descent in Early 19th Century Hawaii,” The Hawaiian Journal of History 26:(1992).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Kilson, Martin L., Jr. (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Willard R. Johnson
Harvard University’s Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government Emeritus, Dr. Martin L. Kilson, Jr. bears his professional prominence very easily, descending from three generations of clergy with skills of persuasion, presentation and organization. Before the Civil War, his great-great-grandfather, The Reverend Isaac Lee, founded the first A.M.E. church among free Negroes in Kent County, Maryland.  Dr. Kilson’s maternal great-grandfather was also among the founders of a church.

Kilson was the valedictorian of his 1953 graduating class at Lincoln University. Winning several prominent scholarships and fellowships, he earned a Masters and a Doctoral degree in Political Science at Harvard University where he wrote a dissertation titled “United Nations Visiting Missions to Trust Territories.” Winning additional fellowships to undertake field research in Africa, he published Political Change in a West African State, a study of the origins, character and challenges of the emergent political class in Sierra Leone.
Sources: 
Martin Kilson, “Probing the Black Elite’s Role for the 21st Century,” The Black Commentator, Issue 133 (April 7, 2005) http://www.blackcommentator.com/133/133_kilson_1.html
Martin Kilson, “From the Birth to a Mature Afro-American Studies at Harvard, 1969-2002,” in Lewis Gordon/Jane Gordon, Editors, A Companion to African American Studies (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Schmoke, Kurt L. (1949- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Kurt L. Schmoke, born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1949, came from a middle class background.  His father, Murray, a civilian chemist for the U.S. Army, was a graduate of Morehouse College, and his mother, Irene was a social worker. Schmoke attended the city's prestigious public high school, Baltimore City College, winning both academic and athletic distinctions, and leading his school to a state championship in football.  Schmoke entered Yale University in 1967 and three years later, he acted as a student leader to help defuse a crisis in 1970 over the New Haven murder trial of Black Panther Bobby Seale.  After graduating from Yale, Schmoke studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.  In 1976 he graduated from Harvard Law School.  Following a brief career in Washington, D.C., serving on the White House Domestic Policy Staff and at the Department of Transportation during the Administration of President Jimmy Carter, he returned to Baltimore and was elected to the position of State's Attorney in 1982, and five years later he won the election for mayor of Baltimore.    
Sources: 
http://www.law.howard.edu, "Kurt L. Schmoke biography"; http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2429/Schmoke-Kurt.html; Joe Burris, "Back on his own terms, former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke has enjoyed being out of the public spotlight, but he's not above returning to make a political point," Baltimore Sun, (Baltimore, Maryland), December 27, 2005, p. 1C
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Montgomery College (Maryland)

Nash, Charles Edmund (1844-1913)

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

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

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

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

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

Paul, Thomas, Sr. (1773-1831)

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

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

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

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

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

Hall, George Cleveland (1864-1930)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Dr. George Cleveland Hall, Chicago, Illinois African American physician and humanitarian was born on February 22, 1864, to John Ward Hall, a Baptist minister, and Romelia Buck Hall in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Dr. Hall eventually rose to head the Chicago Urban League and became vice-president of the National Urban League. In 1915 he became one of the five founding members and the first president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), currently known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH)
Sources: 
George W. Lawlah, M.D., “George Cleveland Hall, 1864–1930, A Profile,” Journal of the National Medical Association, Volume 46, No. 3,  p. 207–210 (May 1954); Beth Tompkins Bates, Pullman Porters and the Rise of Protest Politics in Black America, 1925–1945 (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture) (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 2001); “Dr. George Cleveland Hall, ’86,” Lincoln University Herald, Vol. 34, No. 2 (September 1930); http://www.chipublib.org/fa-george-cleveland-hall-branch-archives/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Prester John

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
1603 Dutch Map Showing the Kingdom of Prestor John in East Africa
Image Ownership: Public Domain

The legend of Prester John, a wealthy Christian king with a kingdom somewhere outside of the Western European realm, pervaded European thought throughout the Middle Ages.  The limited understanding of the unexplored regions of the world and the inability to find his kingdom resulted in shifting versions of the legend.  Over the course of the Middle Ages, Europeans believed his kingdom existed in the Far East, India, and, finally, the interior of Africa

Sources: 
S.C. Munro-Hay, Ethiopia, the unknown land: a cultural and historical guide (London: I.B. Tauris, 2001); Irene Waters, "Ethiopia: The Land of Prester John," The Contemporary Review 279 (2001); Johnny Wyld, "Prester John in Central Asia," Asian Affairs, 31:1 (2000).
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

Brown, Jill E. (1950- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jill Elaine Brown became the first African American woman to serve as a pilot for a major U.S airline when she was hired by Texas international Airlines at the age of 28. Her passion for flying began as a teenager, leading her into the U.S. Navy flight training program where she became its first African American female trainee in 1974.

Brown was born in 1950 in Baltimore, Maryland. Her father Gilbert Brown owned a construction company, and her mother Elaine was an art teacher in the Baltimore school district. The family owned a farm in West Virginia, and by the age of nine Brown had learned to operate a tractor and perform what her father termed “men’s work.” When she turned 17, the entire Brown family took flying lessons. Brown devoted all of her free time to learning how to fly and became the first in her family to receive a pilot's license. Her first solo flight was in a Piper J-3 Cub. When the family acquired its own plane, a single-engine Piper Cherokee 180D, she became particularly popular with friends whom she took up on short flights. Brown described these flights as trips on Brown's United Airlines.  

Sources: 
Caroline Fannin, Betty Gubert, and Miriam Sawyer, African Americans in Aviation and Space Science (Westport, CT: Oryx Press, 2002); Michele Burgen, "Winging It at 25,000 Feet," Ebony (August 1978); Justia.com, http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F3/132/36/469707/; The Bessie Coleman Foundation, http://bcal.clubexpress.com/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Carter, George Sherman (1911-1998)

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

George Sherman Carter, research chemist, was born on May 10, 1911 in Gloucester County, Virginia. Carter, called Sherman, was one of four boys and one girl born to George Peter and Emily Maude Carter.  Not much is known of Carter’s childhood or of his move north but in 1936 Carter began his studies at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he majored in biology.  Carter was very active in the school community, joining Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the track team, the New York Club and Wissenschaft Verein (Science Club).  After graduation in 1940 Carter attended Columbia University’s Teachers College as well as the College of the City of New York.

Carter married Kathleen Francis and the two of them had a daughter, Beverly Kathleen. In 1943 Carter was hired at Columbia University in New York to work in tandem with the University of Chicago studying nuclear fission. This project was set up by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of the famed Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb.  While at Columbia, Carter worked for Isidor Isaac Rabi, who led the Columbia group of scientists.  That group included William and Lawrence Knox.

Sources: 
“George Sherman Carter, noted chemist and Harlem resident, dies at 87,” New York Amsterdam News (Dec. 9, 1998); George S. Schuyler, “Negro Scientists Played Important Role in Development of Atomic Bomb,” The Pittsburg Courier (Aug. 18, 1945); Lincoln University Alumni Magazine (Lincoln University, 1946); www.dailypress.com, Obituaries (Dec. 11-20, 1998)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Pandit, Korla (1921-1998) (aka Redd, John Roland, aka Rolando, Juan)

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

Korla Pandit, the first African American to have his own television show, was a composer, organist and pianist who starred in TV’s first all-music series.  He was known as the godfather of “Exotica,” a musical genre that became popular in the 1950s.  In order to garner the kind of success which would have been inaccessible had he simply played himself, in 1939 he became Juan Rolando, a man of Mexican heritage, and in 1948 he became Korla Pandit, a Brahmin Indian.

Pandit, one of seven children, was born John Roland Redd on September 16, 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Doshia O’Nina Johnson Redd and Rev. Ernest S. Redd, Sr., a Baptist minister.  The Redd family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, before John Roland was a year old, and by the time he was two his musical skills were evident.  From 1931 the Redd family lived in Columbia, Missouri.  Shortly after high school in 1938 John Roland got his first job in radio with Central Broadcasting Company in Des Moines, Iowa.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Williams, Sidney (1942- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Ambassador Sidney Williams and His Wife,
Congresswoman Maxine Waters
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sources: 
Carla Hall, “Sidney Williams’ Unusual Route to Ambassador Post,” Los Angeles Times (February 6, 1994); State Department report in the Congressional Record at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-1994-02-08/html/CREC-1994-02-08-pt1-PgS39.htm; U.S Department of State, Office of the Historian, http://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/williams-sidney.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Owen, Chandler (1889-1967)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
"Chandler Owen," in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds. (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Cayton, Susie Revels (1870-1943)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Susie Sumner Revels, a daughter of Hiram Revels, the first U.S. Senator of African descent, arrived in Seattle, Washington from Mississippi in 1896. Her reason, she stated, during a 1936 Washington Pioneers Project interview, was "the man she was going to marry was here." He was Horace Roscoe Cayton, publisher of The Seattle Republican. The two were married on July 12, 1896.

Susie Revels Cayton soon became a leader in Seattle’s black community. She was named associate editor of The Seattle Republican and, later, contributing editor of Cayton’s Weekly. She was an active member of cultural and social organizations designed to improve the conditions of African Americans, including the "Sunday Forum," a group of black Seattleites that met on a regular basis. Along with three other black women, Susie Cayton founded the Dorcus Charity Club in response to an urgent plea to help a set of abandoned twins. The club continued its charitable work for years.
Sources: 
Ed Diaz, ed., Horace Roscoe Cayton: Selected Writings- Volumes 1-2. (Seattle: Bridgewater-Collins, 2002); Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Association for African American Historical Research and Preservation (AAAHRP)

DuSable, Jean-Baptiste-Point (1745-1818)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 Jean-Baptiste-Point DuSable, a frontier trader, trapper and farmer was the first resident of what is now Chicago. There is very little definite information on DuSable’s past. He was born free around 1745 in St. Marc, Saint-Dominique (Haiti). His mother was an African slave, his father a French mariner. DuSable traveled with his father to France, where he embarked on a fruitful education.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Cochran, Johnnie, Jr. (1937-2005)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Johnnie Cochran Jr. was born on October 2, 1937 in Shreveport, Louisiana into a family descended from slaves.  His father was an insurance salesman and his mother sold Avon products. When he was a young boy, his family moved to Los Angeles, California where he grew up in an affluent and stable household with parents who stressed education and a color-blind attitude towards the world.  Cochran attended public schools where he excelled.  While his family was well-off, he always managed to find friends who had more than he did and seeing this pushed him even harder.

Cochran attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree.  From there he went to the Loyola Marymount University School of Law where he graduated in 1962 with a law degree.  After passing the California Bar exam in 1963 Cochran began working as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles.  In 1965 he formed his own law firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans where he dealt with criminal and civil cases.  In 1966, he fought a case on behalf of a young black man who was shot by Los Angeles police officers while trying to get his pregnant wife to the hospital.  Cochran argued unsuccessfully that the police had used unnecessary violence.
Sources: 
Johnnie Cochran, A Lawyer’s Life (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002); http://authors.aalbc.com/johnnie_cochran.htm; http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=9542444.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Norton, Ken (1943-2013)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Sources: 
Ken Norton, Going the Distance (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing, 2000); www.ibhof.com; www.boxrec.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Kitt, Eartha Mae (1928-2008)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrison, Charles A. “Chuck” (1931– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership:Public Domain"
Charles Harrison was one of the most prolific industrial designers of the twentieth century. One of only a handful of early African American industrial designers, he specialized in creating a variety of practical household goods emphasizing form and function. Harrison’s output of innovative consumer products was so prodigious that today it would be difficult to find a household in America without items exemplifying his utilitarian designs. In 1961 Harrison became the first black executive that Sears, Roebuck & Company ever hired at its headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.
Sources: 
Megan Gambino, “The Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt honors the prolific industrial designer with its Lifetime Achievement Award,” smithsonian.com, December 17, 2008; Pamela Sherrod, “A Look At Chicagoans Who Helped Revolutionize Appliances And Fueled The Golden Era Of Design,” Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1993; http://artdept.nd.edu/news-and-events/events/2012/03/07/10032-industrial-design-guest-speaker-charles-harrison/.
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

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

Baker, Augusta Braxston (1911-1998)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of South Carolina Center
for Children's Books and Literacy
Librarian, author, and storyteller Augusta Braxston Baker was the first African American woman to hold an administrative position with the New York Public Library (NYPL). She was a pioneering advocate of the positive portrayal of blacks in children’s literature, and beginning in the 1930s removed books with negative stereotypes from the NYPL shelves.

Baker was born in Baltimore, Maryland on April 1, 1911 to educators Winfort and Mabel Braxston. She graduated at age 16 from the all-black high school where her father taught, and in 1927 she entered the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Three years later she married James Henry Baker, Jr., and transferred to New York College for Teachers (now State University of New York at Albany), where she earned her BA in 1933 and a BS in library science in 1934.
Sources: 
Nancy Tolson, “Making books available: The role of early libraries, librarians, and booksellers in the promotion of African American children’s literature,” African American Review (Spring 1998); Nancy Tolson, Black children’s literature got de blues: The creativity of Black writers and illustrators (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008); “The Augusta Baker Collection of African-American Children’s Literature & Folklore,” University of South Carolina Rare Books and Special Collections, http://www.sc.edu/library/spcoll/kidlit/baker.html.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Massie, Samuel Proctor (1919-2005)

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

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

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

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

McMillian, Marco (1979-2013)

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

Marco McMillian was known primarily as the first openly-gay African American male to seek mayoral office as a Democrat in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi. On February 26, 2013, McMillian was found dead the age of 34, having been beaten, dragged, and burned.

Little is known about his family history.  McMillian was born to Patricia Unger in Clarksdale in 1979.  He graduated from Clarksdale High School in 1997 and went on to graduate magna cum laude from the W.E.B. DuBois Honors College at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. McMillian also earned a graduate degree from Saint Mary’s University in Minnesota in the area of philanthropy and development.

While living in Washington, D.C., McMillian served as an international executive director of the historically black Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. where he was responsible for securing the first federal contract to raise the awareness of the adverse impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color. He also served as executive assistant to the President of Alabama A&M University and as assistant to the vice president at Jackson State University.

Sources: 
http://newsone.com/2254245/marco-mcmillian-dead-clarksdale-mississippi/ http://marcomcmillian.com/about.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/28/marco-mcmillian-dead_n_2780698.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Mendoza, Vanessa (1981- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
At the age of 20 Vanessa Mendoza was crowned Miss Colombia 2001. Although Afro-Colombians comprise 10.6% of Colombia’s population, this was the first year the title ever went to an Afro-Colombian beauty. Mendoza said she entered the Miss Colombia contest to represent her tiny village of Ungia, in the impoverished northern region of Choco [state], the only state in the nation that has a predominantly black population.  She won praises from the judges for her spontaneity and charisma. At her first press conference she said, "I always demonstrated that I came to the world to speak for my race and my State."

The Miss Colombia Festival, the Concurso Nacional de Belleza, has been held since the mid-1960s. There is an alternative competition held at the same time called the Reinado Popular de Cartagena, which often selects women with darker skin. In 2001 the winner of that contest was Claudia Esther Guerrero Zapata.  Mendoza, however, decided to compete for the national crown in the Miss Colombia Festival.
Sources: 
“First Afro-Colombian Miss Colombia 2001-2001,” www.afrocolombianosvisibles.blogspot.com, August, 2010; “New Miss Colombia, Vanessa Alexandra Mendoza Bustos, is the first African-descent winner,” www.theotherlookofcolombia.com, November 12, 2001.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Williams, Bisa (1954- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Bisa Williams was a career member of the Foreign Service of the United States Department of State. She was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Niger.  After Senate confirmation, she headed the U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger from 2010 to 2013.

Williams was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1954. Her father Dr. Paul T. Williams was a surgeon while her mother Eloise Owens Williams was a professor of Social Work at the College of New Jersey. Williams’s sister Ntozake Shange is known for writing her award winning 1976 Broadway play, “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf.” Williams’s other sister, Ifa Bayeza, who is also a playwright, wrote a multi-generational novel, Some Sing, Some Cry, with Shange in 2010.
Sources: 
Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, "Ambassador to Niger: Who Is Bisa Williams?" AllGov, http://www.allgov.com/news/appointments-and-resignations/ambassador-to-niger-who-is-bisa-williams?news=842021; Fletcher Forum. "An Interview with U.S. Ambassador to Niger Bisa Williams, "Fletcher Forum of World Affairs RSS. http://www.fletcherforum.org/2013/06/13/ambassadorwilliams; U.S. Department of State, "Williams, Bisa." U.S. Department of State, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/bureau/218235.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Baraka, Amiri (1934-2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Amiri Baraka

Everett Leroi Jones, poet, playwright, activist, and educator, was born on October 7, 1934, in Newark, New Jersey to Coyt Leverrette Jones and Anna Lois Jones.  He attended primary and secondary schools in Newark and in 1954 he earned a B.A. in English from Howard University.  Jones joined the military that same year, serving three years in the Air Force as a gunner. 

Following his honorable discharge, Jones he settled in Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan where he socialized with Beatnik artists, musicians, and writers.  While living in the Village, he also met and married Hettie Cohen, a Jewish writer.  The couple co-edited the progressive literary magazine Yugen.  They also founded Totem Press, which published the works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and other political activists.

Sources: 

Peniel E. Joseph, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006); Kwame A. Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, eds., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999), 181; http://www.amiribaraka.com/

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Hayes, Roland (1887-1976)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

The son of former slaves, Roland Hayes, born June 3, 1887 in Curryville, Georgia, became the first African American male to become an internationally acclaimed concert vocalist.  As a youth, he sang in his Baptist church and on street corners for tips before attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he performed and toured with the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, an experience that eventually landed him in Boston.  Working odd jobs, by 1915 Hayes had saved up enough money to rent Boston’s Symphony Hall and give his first recital to an audience stunned by his masterfully executed selection of Negro spirituals, lieder and arias by Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart.  Continuing to act as his own promoter and manager, Hayes next toured the United States and England where in 1920 he performed for King George V and Queen Mary and studied lieder with Sir George Henschel. 

Returning to the United States in 1922, Hayes was flattered by glowing reviews following concerts in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, and at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.  He took additional voice lessons and there were several more tours of Europe, including a stop in the Soviet Union and a command performance for Queen Mother Maria Christina of Spain.  A rather brutal racial incident in 1942 in Rome, Georgia involving Hayes and his family persuaded him to leave his home in the segregated South.

Sources: 
MacKinley Helm, Angel Mo and Her Son, Roland Hayes (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1942);  American National Biography. Vol. 10. Oxford University Press, 1999. Internet Source: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?path=/TheArts/Music/Classical/IndividualArtists-2&id=h-1671
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Chisholm, Shirley (1924-2005)

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

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, an advocate for the rights of people of color and for women's rights, became in November 1968 the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.  Four  years later she became the first black person to seek a major party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency when she ran for the Democratic Party nomination.

Chisholm represented New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and when initially elected, was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard-of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee. By the time she left that chamber, she had held a place on the prized Rules and Education and Labor Committees.

Sources: 
Sources: W. A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds. Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981); Jessie Carney Smith, ed. Black Firsts: 4000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events (Canton, Missouri: Visible Ink Press, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Williams, Marguerite Thomas (1895-1991?)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Marguerite Thomas Williams, born in 1895, was the first African American (male or female) to earn a Ph.D. in geology.  Like Roger Arliner Young, Williams was mentored by African American biologist Ernest Everett Just.  
Sources: 
Wini Warren, “Marguerite Thomas Williams: Geologist,” in Black Women Scientists in the United States (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999); https://webfiles.uci.edu/mcbrown/display/marguerite_williams.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Jackson, Lydia Flood (1862-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Lydia Flood Jackson was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage in California for African American women and other people of color. The outspoken activist was the first black student to attend an integrated public school in Oakland, California.

Flood’s mother, Elizabeth Thorn Scott Flood, led the 19th Century campaign for desegregated education in California and founded the state’s first African American school in Sacramento in 1854.  Her father Isaac Flood, one of the first African American residents of Oakland, California, also fought for education and equality for blacks.

Sources: 
Tricia Martineau Wagner, African American Women of the Old West (Guilford, CT: TwoDot, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press, 2007); Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trailblazers of California (New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1919); “Elizabeth Flood’s School: Oakland’s First African American Institution” (Oakland Heritage Alliance News, Winter 1992-93); George F. Jackson, Black Women Makers of History (Sacramento: Fong & Fong, 1977).
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Shange, Ntozake \ Williams, Paulette (1948- )

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

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

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

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Mays, William G. (1945-2014)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
William “Bill” G. Mays, entrepreneur, philanthropist and civic leader, was born in Evansville, Indiana to Joy and Theodore C. Mays, Sr. on December 4, 1945.  The youngest of three sons, his older brothers, Theodore Jr. and Robert, were twins.  Both parents were educators who encouraged their children to excel in their studies. 

Mays graduated from Evansville’s Lincoln High School, an institution that was segregated until his senior year.  When he graduated in 1963, Mays’ academic accomplishments led to his recognition as the number one graduating male student from Evansville Lincoln High School. 

His father’s academic training inspired Mays to study chemistry at Indiana University in Bloomington where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1970.  In 1973, he earned a Master of Business Administration Degree from Indiana University.

Sources: 
Indiana University Kelley School of Business Alumni Awards (n.d.),  Michael Anthony Adams, “Indianapolis businessman Bill Mays dead at age 69,” Indianapolis Star, December 4, 2014, http://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/2014/12/04/bill-mays-businessman-dead-at-69-indianapolis/19924109/.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

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

Mumia Abu-Jamal (1954- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Mumia Abu-Jamal and Son
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Political activist and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on April 24, 1954. Born Wesley Cook, he took the name Mumia (“Prince”) in high school while taking a class on African cultures. In 1971, he added Abu-Jamal (“father of Jamal”) after the birth of his first son, Jamal. He has been married three times.

Abu-Jamal's first encounter with the police came when he was 14.  He was beaten by a white Philadelphia police officer for disrupting a “George Wallace for President” rally in 1968. Eventually he dropped out of high school and joined the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. Jamal was appointed BPP’s “Lieutenant of Information,” putting him in charge of the organization’s media relations and placing him on the radar for surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He eventually earned his graduate equivalency high school degree (GED) and briefly attended Goddard College in Vermont.

In 1975 Abu-Jamal began working for a series of radio stations, using his commentary on issues of the day to advocate for social change.  Due to his growing popularity he was elected president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. Despite his popularity, Abu-Jamal was forced to take a second job as a taxi driver to supplement his income.  
Sources: 
Daniel R. Williams, Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001); Mumia Abu-Jamal and Noelle Hanrahan, All Things Censored (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2000), Mumi Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom: A Life In The Black Panther Party (Cambridge, Massachusettes: South End Press, 2004); Mumia Abu-Jamal and John Edgar Wideman, Live from Death Row (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995); “Mumia Abu-Jamal”, Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 15 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, 1997).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Danticat, Edwidge (1969 - )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
American novelist Edwidge Danticat was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 19, 1969.  Like many Haitian families, her parents fled her homeland for the United States to escape the Jean-Claude Duvalier regime, leaving Danticat and her brother in Haiti for the time being. In 1981, when she was twelve years old, she and her brother moved to Brooklyn to be reunited with her parents and her two youngest siblings.  

Danticat attended Barnard College where she received her BA degree in French Literature in 1990.  During her time at Barnard College, she published a number of short stories in magazines such as Essence and Seventeen.  She received an MA degree at Brown University in 1993 and later used her thesis as the basis for her first novel, Breath, Eyes, Memory, which explored the immigration process to America from a child's point of view.

In 1995, Danticat published Krik? Krak!
, a collection of her short stories, which won her the Pushcart Short Stories Prize. The anthology was also a finalist for the National Book Award for that year.   Breath, Eyes, Memory was released in 1998 and soon afterward featured by Oprah's Book Club.  A year later she released her second novel, The Farming of Bones, which recounted the 1937 massacre of Haitian cane workers in the Dominican Republic then ruled by President Rafael Trujillo.  
Sources: 
Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Detroit: Macmillan Reference, 2006); http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t0002/e1151; http://www.sflcn.com/story.php?id=7165.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Mosley, Walter (1952- )

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

Walter Mosley, a prominent African American novelist who specializes in criminal mystery fiction, was born on January 15, 1952 in Los Angeles to Ella and Leroy Mosley. Mosley was born in Watts but grew up from age 12 in relatively affluent West Los Angeles.  Mosley's mother was a Polish Jewish American personnel clerk and his father was an African American custodian at a public school. Mosley's father was among the first to encourage him to pursue a writing career.

In his late teens and early twenties, Mosley went through a long-haired "hippie" stage where he traveled from Santa Cruz, California to Europe and back. Soon after this phase, he attended two colleges in Vermont, graduating from the second one, Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, with a Political Science degree in 1979. He entered a doctoral program in political theory but instead turned to computer programming as a career.

In 1981 Mosley moved to New York City where he began to work for Mobile Oil. He also began taking courses at City College in Harlem where his instructor, Edna O'Brien, further influenced him to pursue a career in literature.   The same year he met Joy Kellman, a dancer and choreographer.  They married in 1987 but divorced in 2001.

Sources: 
Walter Mosley's official website bio http://www.waltermosley.com/bio/; Hatchette Book Group website - Walter Mosley http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/waltermosley/; "Covering Mosley," The New Yorker, January19, 2004; <http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/01/19/040119on_onlineonly01?currentPage=1>
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Smith, Ada “Bricktop” (1894-1984)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ada “Bricktop” Smith Performing
in a Paris Nightclub, 1925
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith (“Bricktop”), vaudevillian actress, singer, nightclub owner, and international celebrity host, was born August 14, 1894 in Alderson, West Virginia, to Thomas and Hattie Thompson Smith. Her father passed away in 1898 and Mrs. Smith moved Ada and her three older siblings to Chicago, where her mother managed rooming houses and worked as a maid. Smith began performing at the age of five, playing Harry in Uncle Tom’s Cabin at Haymarket Theater in Chicago. By age 14 Smith earned a permanent chorus role at the Pekin Theatre. A truancy officer tracked her down, however, and she was forced to quit performing and return to school.
Sources: 
Bricktop and James Haskins, Bricktop (New York: Atheneum, 1983); Darlene Clark Hine, ed., "Bricktop (Ada Smith)," Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1 (Brooklyn: Carlson, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Colvin, Claudette (1935- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Claudette Colvin, a nurse’s aide and Civil Rights Movement activist, was born on September 5, 1939 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her parents were Mary Jane Gadson and C.P. Austin, but she was raised by her great-aunt and great-uncle, Mary Ann Colvin and Q.P. Colvin. Claudette Colvin and her guardians relocated to Montgomery when she was eight. She later attended Booker T. Washington High School in Montgomery.  

On March 2, 1955, 19-year-old Colvin, while riding on a segregated city bus, made the fateful decision that would make her a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement. She had been sitting far behind the seats already reserved for whites, and although a city ordinance empowered bus drivers to enforce segregation, blacks could not be asked to give up a seat in the “Negro” section of the bus for a white person when it was crowded. However, this provision of the local law was usually ignored. Colvin was asked by the driver to give up her seat on the crowded bus for a white passenger who had just boarded. She refused.
Sources: 
Ruth E. Martin, "Colvin, Claudette," African American National Biography, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Darlene Clark Hine, et al., The African American Odyssey (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson, 2010).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Ray, Charles Aaron (1945- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Charles Aaron Ray was born in Center, Texas in 1945. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1972 from Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, and his Master’s of Science from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and a Master’s of Science in National Security Strategy from the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

Ray joined the U.S. Army in 1962, and earned a commission of second lieutenant in 1965. In 1982, he retired from the military with the rank of major, after having served for 20 years. While in military service, Ray received two Bronze Star medals and the Armed Forces Humanitarian Service Award. During that time he did tours of duty in Vietnam, Germany, Okinawa (in Japan), and South Korea.
Sources: 
“Charles Ray,” http://harare.usembassy.gov/amb_ray.html; “In Their Own Write,” The Foreign Service Journal, November 2013; Charles Ray Blog, http://charlesaray.blogspot.com/p/about-me-if-you-dare-venture-where.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Morgan State University

Brown, James Nathaniel ["Jim"] (1936- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

James Nathaniel Brown was born February 17, 1936, in St. Simon Island, Georgia. A talented athlete from an early age, Brown earned 13 letters playing a variety of sports at Manhasset High School in New York.

Brown attended Syracuse University in New York where he played football, basketball, ran track, and played lacrosse. As a senior in 1956-7, Brown was a unanimous All-American in football and a second-team All-American in lacrosse, and remains the only athlete to be inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame for both sports, as well as the NFL Hall of Fame.

The Cleveland Browns selected Jim Brown as their number one pick in the 1957 NFL draft, and the rookie would capture the league rushing title, Rookie of the Year honors, as well as earn the league Most Valuable Player award. Over the next eight years, Brown would lead the league in rushing seven more times, be elected to every Pro Bowl, and win another Most Valuable Player award in 1965.  Some of his most notable records include career rushing yards (12,312) and average gain per attempt (5.2 yards). In nine seasons as a premier fullback, he never missed a game.

Sources: 
Pro Football Hall of Fame, http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=33; Schwartz, Larry. Jim Brown Was Hard to Bring Down. ESPN.com Special, http://espn.go.com/classic/biography/s/Brown_Jim.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bethune, Mary Jane McLeod (1875-1955)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership:  Public Domain
Mary McLeod Bethune was a prominent educator, political leader, and social visionary whose early twentieth century activism for black women and civil rights laid the foundation for the modern civil rights era.  Inspired by leaders such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Josephine St. Pierre-Ruffin, Bethune mobilized African American women’s organizations to challenge racial injustice and demand first class citizenship.
Sources: 
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/peopleevents/pande05.html; http://www.nps.gov/mamc/historyculture/people_marymcleodbethune.htm; Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, Essays and Selected Documents (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001); John Hope Franklin (ed.), Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), 191-220; Darlene Clark Hine (ed.), The African-American Odyssey (New York: Prentice Hall, 2011).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Syracuse University

Rustin, Bayard (1910-1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Walter Naegle
Bayard Rustin was one of the most important, and yet least known, Civil Rights advocates in the twentieth century. He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania and raised by his maternal grandparents. His grandmother, Julia, was both a Quaker and an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Quakerism, and NAACP leaders W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, who were frequent visitors, proved influential in Rustin's life.  

Rustin attended Wilberforce University (1932-1936) and Cheyney State Teachers College (1936), in each instance without graduating. After completing an activist training program conducted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), he moved to Harlem, New York in 1937. In Harlem, he enrolled at the City College of New York, began singing in local clubs with black folksingers including John White and Huddie Ledbetter, became active in the efforts to free the Scottsboro Boys, and joined the Young Communist League, motivated by their advocacy of racial equality.
Sources: 
John D'Emilio, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004); Jervis Anderson, Bayard Rustin: Troubles I've Seen (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997); James Haskins, Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Hyperion, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Tacoma

Wormley, James (1819-1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Born in Washington D.C. on January 16, 1819, James Wormley was the son of free-born citizens Lynch and Mary Wormley. As a young boy, Wormley’s first job was working with his family’s hackney carriage business. This job would help Wormley gain skills and an appreciation for hard work involved in business ownership which he put to good use in post-Civil War Washington.

After owning a successful restaurant, Wormley decided to purchase a hotel in 1871 which he called the Wormley House. Located near the White House, at the southwest corner of 15th and H Streets Northwest, Wormley House soon became popular among the wealthy and politically prominent in the nation’s capital.  Wormley’s experience as caterer, club steward and traveler in Europe helped him to perfect his culinary skills while his keen eye for detail ensured that his hotel guests were satisfied during their stay. The hotel was most famous for its well-managed rooms, early telephone and the dining room where Wormley served European-style dishes.

Wormley also became active in Washington, D.C. community politics. On July 21, 1871, Wormley led a successful campaign to persuade Congress to fund the first public school for the city’s African Americans. The school, named after Wormley, was built in Georgetown at 34th and Prospect Streets.  Despite Congress’s allocation local politics delayed the opening of the school until 1885.
Sources: 
Sandra Fitzpatrick and Maria Goodwin, The Guide to Black Washington. (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1999); Nicholas E. Hollis, “A Hotel for the History Books” Washington Post, (March 18, 2001); http://www.culturaltourismdc.org.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Hyman, John Adams (1840-1891)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Adams Hyman was born into slavery on July 23, 1840 in Warren County, North Carolina. Hyman's thirst for knowledge resulted in him being sold away from his family for attempting to read a spelling book that was given to him by a sympathetic white jeweler. He continued to seek knowledge at his new residence in Alabama and was sold again for fear that he would influence other slaves. Hyman was sold eight more times for his attempts to educate himself.  

At the age of 25 Hyman was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment and returned to his family in North Carolina. He quickly enrolled in school where he received an elementary education. Hyman also became a landowner and merchant.  Hyman, a Mason, soon emerged as a leader of the post-Civil War North Carolina black community.  

By 1868 John Hyman was an active member of the Republican Party.  Despite intimidation attempts by the Ku Klux Klan, Hyman and 132 other Republicans were elected to a constitutional convention which crafted a new constitution for the state of North Carolina.  The Constitution called for public education available to all students and voting rights for African American men.   
Sources: 
Stephen Middleton, ed. Black Congressmen During Reconstruction (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2002); George W. Reid, “Four in Black: North Carolina’s Black Congressmen, 1874-1901” Journal of Negro History 64 (Summer 1979): 229-43; http://bioguide.congress.gov.
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr. was born February 11, 1920 to parents Daniel and Lilly Anna James of Pensacola, Florida.  As a young man growing up in the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow, he experienced racism first hand and resolved to overcome discrimination and to excel.  James graduated from Pensacola’s Washington High School in 1937.  In September 1937 he enrolled in Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  James graduated from Tuskegee with a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1942. He learned to fly at Tuskegee as well and completed Civilian Pilot Training during his senior year.  It was also in Tuskegee that James met his wife Dorothy Watkins. They were married on the Tuskegee campus on November 3, 1942.  
Sources: 
J. Alfred Phelps, CHAPPIE: America’s First Black Four-Star General: The Life and Times of Daniel James, Jr. (Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1991); James R. McGovern, Black Eagle: General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, Jr. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1985);
Air Force Link http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/106647/general-daniel-james-jr.aspx.
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

Huggins, Joseph (1951- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ambassador Joseph Huggins is a retired Career Diplomat who on November 15, 2002 was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve as Ambassador to Botswana. Following U.S. Senate confirmation, Huggins arrived in Gaborone, the capital, where he served from January 28, 2003 until July 26, 2005.

Little is known about Joseph Huggins’s early life beyond the fact that he was born to parents Joseph and Elizabeth C. Huggins in 1951 in South Carolina.  He has three brothers named Jerome, Lawrence, and Michael and one sister, Lisa.
Sources: 
Anadach Group LLC, "Anadach Group," Anadach Group LLC.
http://www.anadach.com/about.htm; Ariel Foundation, "Biography: H.E. Ambassador Joseph Huggins," Ariel Foundation, http://www.arielfoundation.org/documents/AFI_Website_Bio_Huggins.html; U.S. Congress, "Joseph Huggins," Congressional Record, V. 148, Pt. 14, October 2, 2002 to October 9, 2002 (Washington, D.C: United States Government Printing Office, 2002).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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

Macauley, Herbert (1864-1946)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Early African independence advocate Herbert Macauley was born in Lagos, Nigeria on November 14, 1864. His father was the founder and first principal of the Church Missionary Society Grammar School in Lagos, and his mother was a daughter of the Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first registered student of West Africa’s oldest University, Fourah Bay College. Herbert started his tertiary education at Fourah Bay College, which the British established in 1827 to train talented English speaking West Africans to serve the colonial government in various administrative positions. In 1890, Macauley obtained a scholarship to study in Plymouth, England where he qualified as a land surveyor and a civil engineer.

Upon his graduation in 1893, he returned to Nigeria where the colonial government appointed him surveyor of crown lands for the colony of Lagos. In 1898, he resigned from his position and established a private civil engineering company in Lagos, Nigeria.
Sources: 
Joseph  Adetoro,  A Short History of Western Nigeria  (London: Macmillan &Co, 1964); John Bull, The Making of Modern Nigeria (London: University of London Press, 1964); Adewunmi Fajana, Nigeria and Her Neighbors  (Lagos: African University Press, 1964).
Affiliation: 
University of Utah

Kuti, Fela (1938-1997)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Fela Kuti was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria in the year 1938 as Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-KutFela Anikuplap Kuti. He later shortened his name to Fela Kuti, as he saw his birth name as a symbol of slavery and oppression.  He also was popularly known as Fela Ransome-Kuti, the stage name he used for a number of years.  Kuti was considered both a political firebrand and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century.

Fela was born into a middle class family of Nigerian political activists.  His mother, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was a leader in the anti-colonial campaign against the British.  His father, Rev. Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was the Protestant minister and school principal who became President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers.  
Sources: 
http://africanmusic.org/artists/felakuti.html; Karl Maier, This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria (New York: Publicaffairs, 2000); Richard Nidel, World Music: The Basics (New York: Routledge, 2005).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bonga, Stephen (1799–1884)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Courtesy of William L. Katz

Stephen Bonga was part of a prosperous Minnesota fur trading family, the first African American residents of that state. Fluent in Native American languages, Stephen and his brothers traveled as translators and voyageurs throughout the upper Great Lakes region of the Midwest.

Bonga was born in June 1799 on the shores of Lake Superior in the area joining present-day Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin.  He was the son of Pierre Bonga and his Native American Ojibwe wife, Ogibwayquay, and he was grandson of Jean and Marie Jeanne Bonga, who had lived as slaves at the fur trading depot of Michigan’s Mackinac Island.  

As a young man, Bonga was sent to Albany, New York to become a Presbyterian missionary.  Although he later left the seminary to join the family fur trading business, Stephen was known throughout his life for his piety and in 1881 helped organize the Methodist Episcopal Church in Superior, Wisconsin.

Stephen Bonga, along with his brothers George and Jack, are listed as American Fur Company representatives visiting the Grand Portage fort along Lake Superior during the winter of 1823 and 1824.  Stephen was a clerk for the company until 1833 and traveled frequently along the upper Midwest’s trade water routes.

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

Nkom, Alice (1945- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Courtesy of Alice Nkom

Alice Nkom broke barriers for women by becoming the first female barrister in her country of Cameroon. She is also well known among Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) activists worldwide because of her legal advocacy for gay rights.

Nkom was born in 1945 in Poutkak, Cameroon in West Africa to Martin Nkom Bayi and Alice Ngo Bikang. She was one of eleven children. Nkom pursued higher education in France at the University of Toulouse (1963-1964) and completed her studies at the Federal University of Cameroon (1968). In 1969 at the age of 24 she became Cameroon’s first female attorney.  Throughout her law career Nkom has defended low income and vulnerable people, including political prisoners, street children and women. Since 1976, she has been a stakeholder in one of the most prestigious law firms in Cameroon. After seven years of marriage, Nkom went through a divorce in 1979. She has two children, Charles and Stephane, and eight grandchildren.

Sources: 
Mark Canavera, “Leading Cameroonian Gay Rights Activist Fears Arrest,” Huffington Post (January 9, 2011); Stephen Gray, “Interview: Alice Nkom and Jonathan Cooper on the future of criminalization,” Pink News (November 18, 2011); Email correspondence between Stephane Koche and Tisa Anders, June 19, 2012;
http://www.dev.humandignitytrust.org/uploaded/Alice_Nkom_Launch_speech.pdf.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

Williams, Marion (1927-1994)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Marion Williams, an American gospel singer, was born in Miami, Florida on August 29, 1927.  Her father, originally from Nassau, Bahamas, worked as a butcher, a barber, and a music teacher while her mother, born in South Carolina, worked as a laundress.  One of 11 siblings, she was one of only three who survived past the first year.  She grew up attending two adjacent Pentecostal churches, the Church of God and the Church of God in Christ.  Her father died when she was nine.  By the age of 14, she had left school to help support the family by working as a maid, a child nurse, and a laundress, becoming the family’s chief supporter after her mother lost both legs to diabetes.  She sang at church, tent revivals, and on street corners.  In 1943, she joined the Melrose Gospel Singers, a 10-member group that accompanied Rev. Jerry Pratt in churches throughout Florida.
Sources: 
D. Antoinette Handy, “Marion Williams,” Notable Black American Women, Book II, edited by Jessie Carney Smith (New York: Gale Research, 1996); Bill Carpenter, “Marion Williams,” Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2005); Robert Darden, “Marion Williams,” Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, vol.2, edited by W.K. McNeil (New York: Routledge, 2005); Sharon Fitzgerald, “The glorious walk of Marion Williams,” American Visions 8:6 (Dec. 1993 – Jan. 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

De la Cruz, Véronique (1974- )

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Beauty contest winner, designer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Véronique de la Cruz is best known as the first woman of African ancestry to be selected as Miss France.  De la Cruz was born in the small city of Saint-François on the French Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe on November 3, 1974.  De la Cruz enjoyed the beach as a child and spent much of her time there with her friends, a leisure pursuit which would eventually help determine her career path.  She graduated with honors from secondary school at the age of 17 and then enrolled in a college in France to study political science.  Whether she graduated is unknown.  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Foster, Andrew "Rube" (1879-1930)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Andrew Rube Foster was born in Calvert, Texas, on September 17, 1879.  The son of Andrew and Sarah Foster, Rube started a baseball tradition that would be followed by his brother Willie Bill Foster.  Rube quit school after the eighth grade, barnstorming with the Waco Yellow Jackets, an independent black team in 1897.  By 1902, Rube’s baseball abilities gave him an opportunity to play with the Chicago (Illinois) Union Giants.  After a short stint with Union Giants, Rube played for the Cuban X-Giants.  In 1903, Rube Foster was the top pitcher in black baseball, and was the pitcher of record as the Cuban X-Giants won the Black World Series.  Rube sometimes played with white semi-pro teams and exhibition games against white players. Rube established himself as the premier pitcher challenging major league pitchers such as Rube Waddell, Chief Bender, Mordecai Brown, and Cy Young.  Honus Wagner stated that Rube Foster was one of the greatest pitchers of all times and one of the smartest pitchers he had ever seen.

Sources: 
Robert Charles Cottrell, The Best Pitcher in Baseball: The Life of Rube Foster, Negro League Giant (New York: New York University Press, 1970).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Augusta State University

Ball, James Presley(1825-1904)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
The daguerreotypist James Presley (J.P.) Ball was born in 1825 in Virginia, probably a freeman.  As a young man he learned daguerreotyping and opened his first studio in Cincinnati, Ohio at age twenty.  The city was a center for anti-slavery activity as well as the photographic arts, and Ball became a leader in both.  He wrote and published a pamphlet depicting the horrors of slavery to accompany a large panorama in his gallery, and served as the official photographer for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  By the 1850s, his business had achieved tremendous success.  Frederick Douglass, Jenny Lind, and the orator Henry H. Garnet, among other notables, sought out his services, and he became quite affluent.  
Sources: 
Deborah Willis, J. P. Ball: Daguerrean and Studio Photographer (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Applegate, Joseph R. (1925-2003)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
It is believed that linguist Joseph Roye Applegate spoke as at least 13 languages and had reading knowledge of several others.  He was born to parents who operated a boarding house in Wildwood, New Jersey on December 4, 1925.  When his family moved to Philadelphia he interacted with Yiddish and Italian schoolmates and thus developed a fascination with languages. Applegate entered Temple University in 1941 where he made the varsity fencing team and did well in modern dance.  Work interrupted his studies but he persisted and earned a Ph.D. in linguistics at Temple in 1955.  Between 1946 and 1955 Applegate taught Spanish and English in vocational schools and high schools in Philadelphia and was active in teacher unionization.  

Upon completing his doctorate he was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to assist in its modern languages department’s efforts to adapt electronic methods of language translation.  In 1956 he was appointed assistant professor in the department teaching German, English to foreign students, and in 1959 was appointed director of MIT’s new language laboratory.  
Sources: 
Obituary. The Washington Post (22 October 2003); Directory of American Scholars (New York: Bowker, 1982); http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/1997/applegate-0205.html ; http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0504/0504obits.html
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Pico, Pio de Jesus (1801-1894)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Pio Pico was the last governor of Mexican California. He was of African, Indian and Spanish ancestry. He was born in San Gabriel in 1801 and resided there until his father’s death in 1819; he then moved to San Diego. It is not clear how he became California’s governor in 1845. Some accounts state that he took over Governor Manuel Micheltorena’s position in 1845 “following a revolt that ended with a bloodless artillery duel near Cahuenga Pass that forced out Governor Manuel Micheltorena.” As governor, Pico participated in the final process of the secularization of the California missions. There are different interpretations of this measure by the Mexican government: one asserts that it was part of the liberal discourse of the post-independence movement in Mexico; another asserts that it was a desperate measure intended to obtain revenue by selling the missions for the impending conflict with the United States over California. In any event, Pio Pico finalized the sale of the missions on October 28, 1845. Pico was said to have taken the final steps of the sale to obtain revenues to pay for maintaining order in Baja California, forestalling the United States imperialistic advance. Upon the loss of Mexico’s Southwestern territories to the United States, Pico escaped to Mexico, only to return to California two years later.
Sources: 
Jessie Elizabeth Bromilow, “Don Pio de Jesus Pico: His Biography and Place in History,” Master of Arts Thesis, University of Southern California, August, 1931. Pio de Jesus Pico (1808-1894), San Diego Historical Society; http://www.sandiegohistory.org/bio/pico/picopio.htm.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of California, Santa Barbara

Blige, Mary J. (1971- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
When Mary J. Blige was born on January 11, 1971 in Bronx, New York, few observers would have imagined her becoming one of the most successful rhythm and blues (R&B) artists within a musical world increasingly dominated by hip-hop. Blige's father abandoned the family when she was four.  She and her mother and sister moved to the Schlobam Housing Project in the Bronx and became one of thousands of impoverished single-parent families in New York’s public housing system. Blige was sexually assaulted as a child and later dropped out of high school.

In 1988 Blige recorded a demo in a shopping mall self-recording booth. The demo made its way to Uptown Records in Harlem and she signed a recording contract a year later. For her first album, Blige was guided by then little-known producer Sean Combs. Her debut album What's the 411? changed the sound of both hip-hop and soul for artists in both of the genres. The album integrated soul and rap music. Blige's raw singing and rugged image reflected her project-raised youth.  Her song would also be sampled by other rap artists including The Notorious B.I.G., which added to her streetwise credibility.

Mary J. Blige would record another six albums, all of which achieved spectacular success, reaching platinum (over one million albums sold) status. Along with commercial success Blige has also earned a number of awards including two NAACP image awards, and six Grammys.
Sources: 
Terrell Brown, Mary J. Blige (New York: Mason Crest, 2006); Joan Morgan, "What You Never Knew About Mary," Essence Magazine Online, November, 2001. 15 Mar. 2007, http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1264/is_7_32/ai_79547861; Stacia Proefrock, "Mary J. Blige" Allmusic.com 15 Mar. 2007, http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:8u66mpp39f7o~T1
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Blassingame, John W. (1940-2000)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
John Wesley Blassingame was one of the preeminent scholars in the study of enslaved African Americans.  His early monographs The Slave Community (1972) and Black New Orleans, 1860-1880 (1973) shattered racist and stereotypical portrayals of African American life by using testimony and evidence left by blacks themselves, evidence which had been largely ignored or dismissed by earlier historians.  With his edited volume, New Perspectives on Black Studies (1972), Blassingame helped to define the developing field of African American Studies.  A prolific scholar, Blassingame also co-wrote and edited, and co-edited many other works.  Among his important contributions are The Frederick Douglass Papers, Antislavery Newspapers and Periodicals, and Slave Testimony.
Sources: 
Robert L. Paris, “John W. Blassingame: March 23, 1940-February 13, 2000,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 86, No. 3, (summer, 2001), pp.422-423. “In memoriam: John Wesley Blassingame,” Department of African American Studies, www.yale.edu/afamstudies/jwb.html; “Historian John Blassingame, Pioneer in Study of Slavery, Dies,” Yale Bulletin & Calendar, February 25, 2000 Volume 28, Number 22.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Travis, Dempsey Jerome (1920- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Dempsey Jerome Travis is a civil rights activist, business leader, military veteran, and author. From the inception of his first realty company to his time serving three presidential administrations, Travis has served in both local and national theaters of private and civic life.

Born 1920 in Chicago, Illinois, Dempsey Travis attended Roosevelt University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. He then applied and was accepted into the School of Mortgage Banking at Northwestern University where he pursued an M.B.A. and graduated two decades later in 1969. Between 1949 and 1953, Travis founded Travis Realty Company, Travis Insurance Company, and Sivart Mortgage Company all in Chicago. He also created Urban Research Press in 1969 which published books on African American history and politics including Chicago Sun Times: An Autobiography of Black Chicago, An Autobiography of Black Jazz, and An Autobiography of Black Politics.
Sources: 
Alston Hornsby Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, From the Grassroots: Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2006); www.dempseytravis.com
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Lampkin, Daisy (1884-1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born August 9, 1884 in Reading, Pennsylvania, Daisy Lampkin became one of the most highly acclaimed African American women of her time. While Lampkin is best known for becoming the first women to be elected to the national board of the NAACP, she spent much of her life rallying for racial and gender equality.

Lampkin’s social and political activism began shortly after graduating from high school. After migrating to Pittsburgh, Lampkin worked as a motivational speaker for housewives and organized women into consumer protest groups. In addition, as an active member of the Lucy Stone Women’s Suffrage League and the National Suffrage League, Lampkin rallied for women’s right to vote. Understanding the challenges specific to African American women, she also became involved with the National Association for Colored Women (NACW), and was later named national organizer and chair of the executive board.

Due to Lampkins exceptional activism for African Americans, she was profiled in the Pittsburgh Courier in December of 1912. In response, Lampkin became a strong advocate of the Courier and even received a cash prize in 1913 for selling the most subscriptions. After several years of investing time and money to this newspaper, Lampkin was elected vice-president of the Courier Publishing Company in 1929.

Sources: 
Edna Chappell McKenzie, “Daisy Lampkin.” In Black Women in America: Social Activism, edited by Darlene Clark Hine. (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1997); Lisa Hill, “Daisy Lampkin” in African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Stanford University

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

Wilson Jr., Harrison B. (1925– )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Esteemed educator, legendary basketball coach, and successful university president, Harrison Wilson Jr. was born on April 21, 1925, in Amsterdam, a small city in upstate New York. His mother Marguerite Ayers was a school teacher, and his father Harrison Wilson Sr. worked in construction. Dr. Wilson’s grandson is the 2014 Super Bowl champion football player and quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson.   
Sources: 
The History Makers, 5/11-13/2015, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/harrison-b-wilson-41;  “2013 JSU Hall of Fame Inductee: Harrison B. Wilson,” Jackson State Athletics Media, 8/22/2013, http://www.jsutigers.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=29000&ATCLID=209224821; Office of the President, Norfolk State University, https://www.nsu.edu/president/past-presidents.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Moorland, Jesse (1863–1940)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Jesse Moorland was an educator, minister, and a philanthropist, but was most renowned for his extensive work with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  Born on September 10, 1863, in Coldwater, Ohio, he was the only child of a local farmer, William Edward Moorland and his wife, Nancy Jane Moorland.  He was raised by his grandparents after his mother passed away and his father decided to leave him in their care.  His grandparents sent him to a local school in Coldwater and then later to the Northwestern Normal School in Ada, Ohio.  

In 1886, Moorland married Lucy Corbin and the couple began teaching together in Urbana, Ohio.  They later moved to Washington, D.C. to continue their studies at Howard University.  Moorland studied theology and graduated with his Master’s degree in 1891.  In the same year, Moorland also became an ordained minister in the Congregational Church and was appointed Secretary of the Colored Branch of the YMCA in Washington, D.C.  Two years later, he resigned from the YMCA and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become pastor of Howard Chapel.  In 1896, he moved again to become pastor at Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

Sources: 
Eric Bennett, Africana (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999); Dwight Burlingame, Philanthropy in America: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (California: ABC-CLIO, 2004); http://www.aaregistry.com/detail.php?id=1141 (Accessed December 16, 2009)
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Tutu, Osei Kofi (c. 1680-1717)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
The Golden Stool of the Ashanti Empire
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Sources: 
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

Hedgeman, Anna Arnold (1899–1990)

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

Political activist and educator Anna Arnold Hedgeman was the first African American woman to serve on the cabinet of a New York mayor when she worked during the term of New York City Mayor Robert Wagner from 1957-1958. Her career spanned more than six decades as an advocate for civil rights. In 1963 she helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the March on Washington and was the only woman among the key event organizers.

Anna Arnold was born on July 5, 1899 in Marshalltown, Iowa to William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen Arnold. When Anna was a child, the family moved to Anoka, Minnesota where the Arnolds were the only black family in the community. Her father created an environment that prioritized education and a strong work ethic. Arnold learned how to read at home and was not allowed to attend school until she was seven years old.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Evans, Harold Bethuel (1907-1995)

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

Harold Bethuel Evans, research chemist, was born on October 31, 1907 in Brazil, Indiana.  Evans attended Michigan State University for his undergraduate degree beginning in 1927; he majored in applied science and graduated in 1931. In 1932 he received his master’s degree in science from Michigan State, with his thesis on the Benzylation of Thymol, a chemical process. That same year he married and later had one child. After graduating, Evans sought a teaching position at an all-black college, as many educated blacks did at this time. He taught chemistry at Georgia State Normal College (now Georgia College) for the 1935-1936 school year.

Evans held a series of odd jobs between 1936 and 1941 when he moved to Illinois and was hired by the federal government’s Kankakee Ordnance Works (otherwise known as Illinois Ordnance Works).  He stayed there until 1943 working as a chemist on projects designed to support Great Britain until the U.S. officially entered World War II on December 8, 1941. From 1941 to 1943 he worked on U.S. military projects.
In 1943 Evans was hired as an associate chemist at the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Lab, which after World War II evolved into the Argonne National Laboratory. It later relocated west of Chicago.  While with the Met Lab, Evans worked on nuclear fission projects as part of a 400-man team of scientists for the Manhattan Project, which produced the world's first atomic bombs.

Sources: 
Vivian Ovelton Sammons, Blacks in Science and Medicine (New York: Hemisphere Publishing corporation, 1990); American Men of Science (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1965); “Atom Scientists,” Ebony Magazine (Sept. 1949).

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Powell, William James “Bill” (1916-2009)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Bill Powell was the first African American to design, construct, and own a professional golf course in the United States. In 1946, Bill and his wife Marcella did most of the landscaping by hand when they transformed a 78-acre dairy farm to a nine-hole golf course located near East Canton, Ohio.

William James “Bill” Powell was born on November 16, 1922, in Greenville, Alabama, but grew up in Minerva, Ohio. Powell worked as a caddy as a youth. Then, after high school, he played golf on the Wilberforce University team before serving in World War II with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

In 1946, after Powell returned home from the war, the segregationist policies of the time prevented him from golfing on a public golf course in Ohio, so he decided to build his own course. He was denied a G.I. loan but was able to get financial support from his brother and two African American physicians and bought a dairy farm outside East Canton so he could open a golf course that would welcome players of all races.
Sources: 
Larry Dorman, “After Battling Racism, Veteran Found Peace on His Golf Course,” The New York Times, August 8, 2009; Richard Goldstein, “African-American Golf Pioneer Bill Powell Dies at 93,” The New York Times, January 1, 2010.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Bolen, David Benjamin (1923- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ambassador David Bolen Presenting His Credentials
to East German Chancellor Eric Honeker, 1977
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Sources: 
“Former Olympic Sprinter Now Diplomat, The Crisis (April 1966); Who’s Who Among African Americans (New York: Gale Research, 2011); Irv Moss, “CU’s Bolen Had His Day at London Games” at http://www.denverpost.com/london2012/ci_21287840/bolen-had-his-day-at-london-games.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Diego State University

Houston, Charles Hamilton (1895-1950)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Charles Hamilton Houston, a renowned civil rights attorney, was widely recognized as the architect of the civil rights strategy that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.  He was also a mentor to Thurgood Marshall who successfully litigated the pivotal Brown case.

Houston was born on September 3, 1895 in Washington, DC to parents William Houston, an attorney, and Mary Houston, a hairdresser and seamstress. He attended M Street High School (later Dunbar High School) in Washington, DC. Following graduation, he enrolled at Amherst College in Massachusetts where he was the only black student in his class. Houston was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, the national honor society there. Upon graduating in 1915, he was selected to deliver that year’s valedictory address.

After graduating from Amherst, Houston returned to Washington.  He joined the U.S. Army in 1917 and was trained in the all-black officers training camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1917. Houston was later deployed to France. While there, Houston and his fellow black soldiers experienced racial discrimination which deepened his resolve to study law.
Sources: 
William M. Banks, Black Intellectuals: Race and Responsibility in American Life (New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996); Rawn James, Jr., Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation (New York, Berlin, London: Bloomsbury Press, 2010); Carole Boston Weatherford, Great African-American Lawyers: Raising the Bar of Freedom (Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, 2003).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent historian

Gordon, Taylor Emmanuel (1893-1971)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Taylor Emmanuel Gordon was born in 1893 in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, one of six children of a cook and a laundress.  He is best known for his career as a singer in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.  After leaving Montana in 1910 for a job in Minnesota, Gordon eventually made his way to New York. There he joined a vaudeville act called “The Inimitable Five,” and toured coast to coast.  As the Harlem Renaissance gathered steam in the mid-1920s, he found more opportunities to advance his singing career.  The most important of these was a partnership with J. Rosamond Johnson, who with his brother James Weldon Johnson, composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and compiled the classic Book of American Negro Spirituals.   Gordon joined Rosamond Johnson as a singing partner and the pair quickly achieved fame, touring the United States, France, and England.  In 1927 they gave an acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall sponsored by the Urban League.  W.E.B. Du Bois wrote afterwards that “No one who has heard Johnson and Gordon sing ‘Stand Still Jordan’ can ever forget its spell.”  
Sources: 
Taylor Gordon, Born to Be, With a New Introduction by Robert Hemenway (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1975).  
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Evers, Medgar (1925-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
 Medgar Evers, at the time of his assassination in 1963, was the Field Secretary for the Mississippi NAACP and thus one of the leaders of the civil rights movement in that state. Evers was born on July 2, 1925 in Decatur, Mississippi. Evers was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in Normandy in the following year. After his discharge from the service, Evers enrolled at Alcorn College.
Sources: 
Medgar Wiley Evers, The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: a Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005); http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/evers_medgar/
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Seattle University

Richardson, Gloria (1922- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Gloria Richardson and Protestors facing
National Guard Troops
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Gloria Hayes Richardson was born on May 6, 1922 in Baltimore, Maryland to parents John and Mabel Hayes.  During the Great Depression her parents moved the family to Cambridge, Maryland, the home of Mabel Hayes.  Young Gloria grew up in a privileged environment.  Her grandfather, Herbert M. St. Clair, was one of the town’s wealthiest citizens.  He owned numerous properties in the city’s Second Ward which included a funeral parlor, grocery store and butcher shop.  He was also the sole African American member of the Cambridge City Council through most of the early 20th Century.  

Gloria attended Howard University in Washington at the age of 16 and graduated in 1942 with a degree in sociology.  After Howard, she worked as a civil servant for the federal government in World War II-era Washington, D.C. but returned to Cambridge after the war.  Despite her grandfather’s political and economic influence, the Maryland Department of Social Services, for example, refused to hire Gloria or any other black social workers.  Gloria Hayes married local school teacher Harry Richardson in 1948 and raised a family for the next thirteen years.  
Sources: 
Peter Levy, Civil War on Race Street: The Civil Rights Movement in Cambridge, Maryland (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2003); Jeff Kisseloff, Generation on Fire: Voices of Protest from the 1960s: An Oral History (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2007); http://www.abbeville.com/civilrights/washington.asp.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Savage, Augusta (1892-1962)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Imae Ownership: Public Domain
African American sculptor, teacher, and advocate for black artists Augusta Savage was born Augusta Christine Fell in Green Cove Springs, Florida on February 29, 1892, the child of Edward Fells, a laborer and Methodist minister, and Cornelia Murphy. Her daughter, Irene Connie Moore, was born when Savage was 16, in the first of her three marriages. She retained the last name of her second husband, a carpenter named James Savage; they were divorced in the early 1920s.  

After moving to Harlem in New York in 1921, Savage studied art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art where she finished the four-year program in three years. She was recommended by Harlem librarian Sadie Peterson (later Delaney), for a commission of a bust of W.E.B. DuBois.  The sculpture was well received and she began sculpting busts of other African American leaders, including Marcus Garvey.
Sources: 
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); David C. Driskell, The Other Side of Color (Rohnert Park, California: Pomegranate Communications, Inc., 2001); http://www.biography.com/search.
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

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

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

Lucas, Florence V. (1916–1987)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Florence V. Lucas, lawyer, politician, NAACP leader, and songwriter, was born in 1916 in New York City, New York. She graduated from John Adams High School, Hunter College, and Brooklyn Law School. After graduating from law school in 1940, she became the first black woman from Queens to be admitted to the bar and the first black woman assigned murder cases in the Queens Borough Prosecutor’s Office. In 1941, however, she became the enforcement attorney for the Office of Price Administration (OPA) in the President Franklin Roosevelt Administration in Washington, D.C. 

In 1946 Lucas returned to New York, locating in the Jamaica section of Queens where she opened a private practice. In 1952 she became the secretary of the Queens Women’s Bar Association. By that point, she had decided as a courtesy to the community to represent young people accused of crimes on a pro bono basis. Lucas was elected president of the Jamaica, Queens NAACP in 1953. She later became director of the New York State Conference of the NAACP and state membership chair in 1957. During her tenure as membership chair, the Jamaica NAACP branch grew from 391 in 1953 to 3,600 members by 1959.

Sources: 
“Florence Lucas, Obituary,” New York Times, September 9, 1987, http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/09/obituaries/florence-lucas-dead-at-71-worked-for-rights-division.html; The Crisis, February 1960.
Affiliation: 
University of Texas, El Paso

Fuller, Hoyt W. (1923-1981)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Courtesy of Atlanta University
Photographs,  Atlanta University Center,
Robert W. Woodruff
Library

Hoyt W. Fuller, editor and writer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1923. After an illness caused his mother, Lillie Beatrice Ellafair Thomas, to become an invalid and after the death of his father, Thomas Fuller, in 1927, Fuller went to live with his aunt in Detroit, Michigan.  As a child, Fuller often returned to Atlanta to visit his grandmother, who encouraged him to explore black culture.

Fuller attended Wayne State University, graduating in 1950 with a BA in literature and journalism.  Fred Williams, a local amateur historian of Detroit’s black community, became Fuller’s mentor while he attended Wayne State.  Aside from giving Fuller readings about Africa and African Americans, Williams also brought Fuller along on his research trips to interview older members of the black community.  After graduation, Fuller pursued a career in journalism.  He worked at the Detroit Tribune (1949-1951), the Michigan Chronicle (1951-1954), and Ebony magazine (1954-1957).
Sources: 
Hoyt W. Fuller, Journey to Africa (Chicago: Third World Press, 1971); Dudley Randall, ed., Homage to Hoyt Fuller (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1984); “Hoyt Fuller,” in The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Dickerson, Earl Burrus (1891-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Earl Dickerson in His Law Office, 1921
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Earl Burrus Dickerson was a member of President Roosevelt’s Fair Employment Practices Commission between 1941 and 1943 and a prominent civil rights attorney in Chicago.  He was also one of the founders of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois. 

Dickerson was born in Canton, Mississippi in 1891.  He attended the University of Illinois and served during World War I as an infantry lieutenant with the American Expeditionary Forces. In 1920 he became the first African American to receive a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.  The following year Dickerson helped found Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and became its general counsel.  By the early 1940s Supreme Life, as it was then known, was the largest African American owned business in the North.  Part of its success stemmed from the still segregated American society.  White insurance companies generally refused to insure African Americans or employ them.  Supreme Life filled that void.  The company was particularly helpful to African Americans in the Great Depression when it provided mortgage loans to struggling families.  Dickerson became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Supreme Life in 1955 and remained in that position until 1971 when he became chairman of the Board of Directors. 

Sources: 
Robert J. Blakely and Marcus Shepard, Earl B. Dickerson: A Voice for Freedom and Equality (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2006); 1,000 Successful Blacks, The Ebony Success Library, v.1 (Chicago, Johnson Pub. Co., 1973); Ebony (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1946 & 1947); Jet (Chicago: Johnson Pub. Co., 1979).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Galamison, Milton A. (1923-1988)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Milton Galamison (left) with Picketers in New York, Feb. 3, 1964
Image ©Bettmann/Corbis

Milton Arthur Galamison, minister and civil rights activist, was the leader of New York City’s school integration movement in the 1960s.  Born and raised in Philadelphia, where he experienced poverty and hostile racial relations that influenced his later activism, Galamison received a B.A. with honors at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1945. He began his activism in Brooklyn, where he was appointed minister to the Siloam Presbyterian Church in 1948. As a prestigious institution long associated with activist ministers, the church offered Galamison a platform for his future involvement in improving education for minority children in public schools.

In 1955, Galamison was elected chair of the education committee of the Brooklyn branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Under his  leadership, the branch became a noted advocate for working class black and Puerto Rican parents who fought for quality education for their children.

Sources: 
Clarence Taylor, “Robert Wagner, Milton Galamison, and the Challenge to New York City Liberalism,” Afro-Americans in New York Life and History 31:2 (July 2007); Alexander Urbiel, “City Schools as Mirrors of Modern Urban Life,” Journal of Urban History 27:511 (May 2001); Clarence Taylor, Knocking At Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Jeffries, Jasper Brown (1912-1994)

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

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

Raymond, Guadalupe Victoria Yolí (1936-1992)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Guadalupe Victoria Yolí Raymond, known popularly as “La Lupe,” was a Cuban and Cuban American singer and dancer.  She was born in San Pedrito, a locality within Santiago de Cuba, Oriente Province, Cuba on December 23, 1936.

Yolí grew up in an impoverished family.  Her parents divorced when she was nine, and thereafter she lived with her father and stepmother.  In 1955, her family moved to Havana, where she won a radio contest as a teenager.

She began singing in Havana during the 1950s, achieving popularity by 1957.  In 1958, she finished a teaching degree and began teaching in Havana.  In the same year she married Eulogio Reyes and they formed a musical trio, Los Tropicuba.  In 1960, she divorced Reyes and began her solo career.  She was successful enough to eventually buy her own club in Havana.

Yolí, however, ran afoul of the Cuban Revolution.  In 1961, she was summoned to a radio station and ordered to leave the nation.  Her style of performing, deemed “Lupismo,” was now considered unacceptable.  Her performance style has been described in terms of both a liberated sexuality and of religious possession, specifically pertaining to Santería.
Sources: 
Frances R. Aparicio and Wilson A. Valentín-Escobar, “Memorializing La Lupe and Lavoe: Singing Vulgarity, Transnationalism, and Gender,” Centro Journal 16.2 (Fall 2004); Jon Pareles, “La Lupe, a Singer, Is Dead at 53; Known as 'Queen of Latin Soul',” New York Times (March 7, 1992); Vernon W. Boggs, Salsiology: Afro-Cuban Music and the Evolution of Salsa in New York City, (New York: Excelsior Music Publishing Company, 1991); Frances R. Aparicio, Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music, and Puerto Rican Cultures (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press and University Press of New England, 1998); Jeanne Schmartz, “La Lupe,” Women in Salsa, Master Thesis in Musicology, by Jeanne Schmartz (University of Amsterdam, 2009). URL: http://www.academia.edu/1790527/women_in_salsa_final_version_small; Vanessa Knights, “Tears and Screams: Performances of Pleasure and Pain in the Bolero,”  Queering the Popular Pitch, edited by Sheila Whiteley and Jennifer Rycenga (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Perry, Pettis (1897-1965)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Communist Party Leaders: Claudia Jones,
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Pettis Perry & Betty Gannet,
ca. 1951
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
U.S. Communist Party leader Pettis Perry was born on January 4, 1897, on a tenant farm near Marion, Alabama. His mother died when he was a small child and he was raised by his aunt and uncle. Perry’s education was cut short by poverty in the family. He stopped attending school at age ten and worked for several years on the farm. Growing up in the rural South exposed him to violence against African Americans. He witnessed a brutal beating of a chain gang worker and the killing of a coal miner.

Perry left the Alabama farm at age 20 and traveled throughout the country from 1917 to 1932 looking for employment. He worked in an auto plant in Muskegon, Michigan, a Chicago, Illinois packinghouse, and a cannery in Alaska. He also toiled in agricultural fields throughout California.  
Sources: 
Pettis Perry Speaks to the Court (New York: New Century Publishers, 1952); Richard O. Boyer, Pettis Perry: The Story of a Working-Class Leader (New York: Self Defense Committee of the 17 Smith Act Victims, 1952); “Pettis Perry, 68, A U.S. Communist,” New York Times, July 28, 1965; Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Blacks and Reds: Race and Class in Conflict, 1919-1980 (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1995); Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Los Angeles

Coker, Annie Virginia Stephens (1903-1986)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Attorney Annie Virginia Stephens Coker was born in Oakland, California, on April 7, 1903 to William Morris and Pauline Logan Stephens. Coker attended public schools in Oakland. Her family moved to Pacific Grove, California, where she graduated from high school in 1921.

Coker later attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a bachelor’s degree in science in 1924. Encouraged by her father to attend law school, she enrolled in Boalt School of Law at UC Berkeley and earned a degree in 1929. At that time she was only the second woman to receive a law degree from the school and the first African American woman to complete the program.  Coker passed the California Bar in the same year, the first African American female attorney in California.

The doors of most law firms in California were not open to African American attorneys in the early 1930s.  Coker then moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and maintained a private law practice there for almost a decade.
Sources: 
Brenda F. Harbin, “Black Women Pioneers in the Law,” The Historical Reporter 6 (Spring 1987): 6-8; Nancy McCarthy, “Annie Coker: A Pioneer California Lawyer,” California Bar Journal, February 2008, http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Member/Detail/11458; Jonathan Watson, “Legacy of American Female Attorneys,” 2015 revised.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
California State University, Los Angeles

Durem, Ramón (1915-1963)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Spanish Civil War veteran and militant poet Ramón Durem was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1915 of mixed heritage.  Leaving home at fourteen, he briefly served in the U.S. Navy before suffering a leg injury that forced his discharge.  He then worked as a laborer until enrolling at the University of California in Berkeley where he joined the Communist Party in 1931.  A radical from an early age, it is hardly surprising that Durem volunteered to join the Loyalist cause in Spain.

Durem departed the United States in March 1937 and was wounded in the Brunete Offensive of that year.  During his long recuperation at the American hospital in Villa Paz, Durem met and married a Brooklyn nurse named Rebecca Schulman.  Durem returned to the front in 1938 and participated in the Ebro Offensive.  In October, around the same time Rebecca was having his first child (named Dolores for La Pasionaria) in New York, Ramón marched in Barcelona’s farewell parade.  He was expatriated in December.

Sources: 
Danny Duncan Collum and Victor A. Berch, African Americans in the Spanish Civil War: “This Ain’t Ethiopia, But It’ll Do” (New York, New York: G.K. Hall & Co, 1992); Ray Durem, Take No Prisoners (London, UK: Paul Breman, 1971); Peter Wyden, The Passionate War (New York, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Wilkins, Roy (1901-1981)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership, Public Domain
Roy Wilkins, one of the leading US civil rights activists of the twentieth century, was born in St. Louis, Missouri.  Wilkins’ mother died of tuberculosis when he was four; he and his siblings were then raised by an aunt and uncle in a poor but racially integrated neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Sources: 
Sondra Kathryn Wilson, In Search of Democracy: The NAACP Writings of James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Roy Wilkins (1920-1977), (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, “NAACP History: Roy Wilkins,” http://www.naacp.org/pages/naacp-history-Roy-Wilkins, accessed January 1, 2014; Tim Brady, “Remembering Roy Wilkins,” University of Minnesota Alumni Association Newsletter (November-December, 2005), http://www.minnesotaalumni.org/s/1118/content.aspx?sid=1118&gid=1&pgid=1528, accessed January 1, 2014; Roy Wilkins, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins, (New York: Da Capo Press, 1994).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Arizona State University

Just, Ernest Everett (1883-1941)

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

Dr. Ernest E. Just was one of the first African Americans to receive worldwide recognition as a scientist.   Born August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina,  Just was only four years old when his father, Charles Fraser Just, died in 1887.  Due to mounting debt, his mother, Mary Just, moved with her children from Charleston to James Island, a Gullah community off the coast of South Carolina to work in its phosphate mines.  While on the Island, Mary Just became a highly respected leader of the community and convinced a number of residents on the Island to purchase land and start their own community.  The residents renamed the community, Maryville, in her honor.

Sources: 
Kenneth Manning, Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); "Ernest Everett Just," in Kwame Anthony Appiah & Henry Louis, Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African & African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Savage, W. Sherman (1890-1981)

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

Born on the Eastern Shore of Virginia on March 7, 1890, William Sherman Savage was forced to withdraw from primary school at age 11 to help his family in the fields, but he never gave up his dream of attaining a full education.  Finally finishing elementary school in Richmond and high school in Baltimore, he earned an A.B. from Howard University in 1917.  After teaching at high schools in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, Savage obtained a permanent teaching post at Lincoln University in Missouri in 1921, where he would remain for thirty-nine years.  Along the way, he took time off to earn an M.A. in History at the University of Oregon in 1925, and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1934.  His was the first doctorate in History awarded by OSU to an African American and among the earliest awarded to any African American in History by a predominately white university.
Sources: 
Lorenzo Greene, “W. Sherman Savage,” Journal of Negro History (1981);  “Savage, William Sherman,” in W. A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1981); “African-American History,” Department of History, Ohio State University; Archives and Special Collections, University of Oregon.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Kennedy, Adrienne (1931- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Adrienne Kennedy has earned a place as one of contemporary America’s most renowned and admired African American authors, lecturers and playwrights. Kennedy was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 13, 1931 to Cornell Wallace and Etta (Haugabook) Hawkins. Kennedy spent her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, where she attended public schools.  She graduated from Ohio State University with a B.A in Education in 1953. In May of that same year she wed Joseph C. Kennedy with whom she had two children. After the birth of her oldest son, Kennedy continued to pursue her education by attending Columbia University (1954-56), the American Theatre Wing, the New School of Social Research, and Circle in the Square Theatre School. Kennedy also participated in Edward Albee's Theatre Workshop, in New York City.

Kennedy is most known for her role in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s.  She was a founding member of the Women’s Theatre Council in 1971.  Her publications include An Evening with Dead Essex, The Owl Answers, Deadly Triplets, and A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White. Other writings include the autobiographical works, Funnyhouse of a Negro and Pale Blue Flowers.  
Kennedy also served as editor of Black Orpheus: A Journal of African and Afro-American Literature.
Sources: 
"Adrienne Kennedy" in The Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press);
“Adrienne Kennedy” <http://www.upress.umn.edu/misc/kennedy/kennedy.html>
Contributor2: 
Affiliation: 
Berea College

Muse, Clarence (1889-1979)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History in the West
Image Courtesy of
SHADES  OF L.A. COLLECTION/
Los Angeles Public Library 
On October 14th, 1889 Clarence Edouard Muse was born to Alexander and Mary Muse in Baltimore, Maryland.  Muse had intended to become an attorney and earned a degree in International Law from The Dickerson School of Law in Pennsylvania in 1911.  Because of poor opportunities for African Americans in the legal profession, Muse became a performer.    

Clarence Muse toured the vaudeville circuit, composed songs, directed both theater and film, entertained as a minstrel performer, sang opera, wrote screenplays, and appeared in over 150 films.  In 1914, Muse helped pioneer the black theater movement by co-founding the all black theatre troupe, the Lafayette Theater Stock Company.  He frequently appeared with the Lincoln Players, another famous troupe from the “Harlem Renaissance.”  
Sources: 

James P. Murray, Black Movies/Black Theatre. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972); Thomas Cripps, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1900-1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). “Clarence Muse” in “The Black Perspective in Music,” (Foundation for Research in the Afro-American Creative Arts, 1980)

Contributor: 

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

Withers, Ernest (1922-2007)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Ernest Withers, a highly accomplished photographer, was born on August 7, 1922, in Memphis, Tennessee to parents Arthur Withers, a mailman and Pearl Withers, a school teacher, both from Marshall County, Mississippi.  Mr. Withers’ collection, which spans over 60 years of the 20th century, provides a vivid account of the segregated South.  It includes team shots of the Memphis Red Sox, a team from the historic Negro Baseball League, major moments from the Civil Rights movement, and the Beale Street music scene.  His work has appeared in major publications including Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. It has also been collected in four books: Let Us March On (1992), Pictures Tell the Story (2000), The Memphis Blues Again (2001), and Negro League Baseball (2005).
Sources: 
The Withers Collection, http://thewitherscollection.com/; Decaneas Archive, http://www.decaneasarchive.com/ewithers.html;  Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture and History, http://nmaahc.si.edu/collections/withers;   “Ernest Withers, Civil Rights Photographer, Dies at 85,” New York Times, October 17, 2007, Alison J. Peterson http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/arts/design/17withers.html; “Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer,” New York Times, September 14, 2010, Robbie Brown http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/us/14photographer.html; “Martin Luther King friend and photographer was an FBI informant,” The Guardian, September 14, 2014, Chris Mcgreal, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/14/photographer-ernest-withers-fbi-informer.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

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.  

Once released from jail, Copeland joined John Brown’s group that planned to attack the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Copeland was recruited to join Brown's group by Lewis Sheridan Leary.  He and Leary, along with three other African Americans, Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, and Shields Green took part in what they hoped would be Brown's slave manumitting army.  Like Brown and the other followers, Copeland believed that if the group seized weapons at Harpers Ferry and then marched south, they would created a massive slave uprising that would free all of the nearly four million African Americans in bondage.  

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

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington, Seattle

Reed, Leonard (1907-2004)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

Leonard Reed, noted dancer and entertainment businessman, co-created the famous Shim Sham Shimmy tap routine that has been replicated for centuries by tappers the world over. He was also associated with Joe Louis (1914-1981) during the heavyweight boxer’s efforts to break down golf’s color barrier.

Reed was born in Lightning Creek near Nowata, Indian Territory, on January 7, 1907, to a woman who was half African American and half Native American (Choctaw and Cherokee). Reed was orphaned at the age of two when his mother died of pneumonia and was raised by a series of relatives, foster parents and guardians in Kansas City, Missouri.

As a teenager, Reed began performing the Charleston dance at carnivals in the Kansas City area.  His high school principal helped him gain entrance into Cornell University, but Reed dropped out to become a professional dancer. The blue-eyed Reed and another light-skinned African American named Willie Bryant (1908-1964) developed a successful vaudeville act, “Brains as Well as Feet,” passing as Caucasians so they could perform for all-white audiences. Together, they closed their acts with the Shim Sham Shimmy, a 32-bar tap routine. In the early 1930s, Reed and Bryant were barred from white clubs when their African American ancestry became common knowledge. Soon thereafter the duo broke up, and Reed began producing shows for black performers at famous venues like the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater.

Sources: 
Rusty Frank, TAP! The Greatest Tap Dance Stars and Their Stories 1900-1955 (New York: W. Morrow, 1990); Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman and Donald McNeilly, Vaudeville, Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (New York: Routledge, 2007); "Tap Dance Pioneer, Producer,” Los Angeles Times (April 9, 2004); Danny Walker, “World Renowned Nowata Dancer’s Life Left Huge Legacy,” Nowata Star (April 21, 2004).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Northwestern Oklahoma State University

Seacole, Mary Jane (1805 –1881)

Entry Type: 
People
History Type: 
Global African History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Mary Jane Grant Seacole was an early nurse in the British Empire during the 19th Century. Born in Kingston, Jamaica as Mary Grant, she was the daughter of a Scottish officer and a black mother. Mary’s mother ran a hospital/boarding house in Kingston and she, after a brief period as a servant, returned to her family home and worked alongside her mother. It was during this period that Mary's skills as a nurse were first recognised and she spent a good deal of time travelling throughout the Caribbean providing care.  Mary Jane Grant married Edwin Seacole in 1836 but he died eight years later.

In 1850, Mary Seacole resided briefly in Panama with her half brother, Edward, where they ran a hotel for travelers bound for Gold Rush California. Seacole's reputation as a nurse grew as she provided care for these mostly American travelers during several outbreaks of cholera.
Sources: 

Ron Ramdin, Mary Seacole (Life & Times) (London: Haus Publishing 2005); Jane Robinson, Mary Seacole: The Charismatic Black Nurse who became a heroine of the Crimea (London: Constable Press, 2004); http://www.maryseacole.com.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Dede, Edmund (1827-1903)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Musician and composer Edmund Dede was born on November 20, 1827 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents were free Creoles of color who moved to New Orleans from the French West Indies around 1809. Dede took his first music lessons from his father who was a bandmaster for a local military group.

Dede soon became a violin prodigy after studying under Italian-born composer and theater-orchestra conductor Ludovico Gabici, and conductor of the New Orleans Free Creoles of Color Philharmonic Society Christian Debergue. Dede advanced his technique studies in New Orleans under Eugene Prevost, French-born winner of 1831 Prix de Rome and conductor of Orchestras at the Theater d’Orleans, and Charles Richard Lambert, who was a free black musician, music teacher, and conductor from New York who had moved to New Orleans.

In 1848 Dede moved to Mexico, as did many free Creoles of color after race relations in New Orleans worsened following the end of the Mexican-American War. Dede returned to New Orleans in 1851 where he wrote and published “Mon Pauvre Coeur” (My Poor Heart), which is considered the oldest piece of sheet music published by a New Orleans free Creole of color.
Sources: 
"Edmund Dede," AfriClassical, http://chevalierdesaintgeorges.homestead.com/dede.html; Sybil Kein, "Composers of Nineteenth-Century New Orleans," in Sybil Kein, ed., Creole: The History and Legacy of Louisiana's Free People of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000); Eleanora E. Tate, Black Stars: African American Musicians (New York: Wiley, 2000).
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Roxborough, John W. (1892-1975)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
John Roxborough and Joe Louis
Sources: 
John W. Roxborough, “How I discovered Joe Louis: Ex-manager’s revealing story gives new insight into character of former world’s heavyweight champion,” Ebony, 64-76; Louis’ Ex-Manager’s Wife Asks Divorce: Mrs. John Roxborough brands husband ‘cruel.’ The Baltimore Afro-American, May 31, 1955, 21; Mrs. John Roxborough Wins Divorce, Big Settlement, Jet, May 3, 1956; American Experience, the Fight, available at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/fight/peopleevents/p_managers.html; Joe Louis - Turning Pro - Garden, Boxing, Heavyweight, and Roxborough, available at: http://sports.jrank.org/pages/2929/Louis-Joe-Turning-Pro.html; and http://www.answers.com/topic/joe-louis.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Ohio University

Hicks, Irvin (1938- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Ambassador Irvin Hicks Giving A Lecture in
Bujumbaru, Burundi
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Irvin Hicks was a career Foreign Service Officer who rose from a communications clerk position to serve three times as a U.S. ambassador.  Hicks served in the Department of State during the nascent years of African Independence from European colonial rule.  Hicks was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Seychelles by President Ronald Reagan.  He served as Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Victoria from 1985 to 1987.  In 1992 President George H.W. Bush nominated Hicks to be Deputy Representative of the United States of America to the Security Council in the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador.  He was later appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary by President Bill Clinton to Ethiopia.  Hicks was Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa from 1994 to 1996.
Sources: 
Ronald Reagan, "Nomination of Irvin Hicks To Be United States Ambassador to Seychelles," July 11, 1985, Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=38865; Deputy Representative of the United States to the Security Council of the United Nations, 16 June 1992, Ronald Reagan, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1985 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 1988).
Affiliation: 
Los Angeles City College

Hendrix, Jimi (1942-1970)

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Legendary self-taught, left-handed guitarist Jimi Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, the son of Lucille Jeter Hendrix and Al Hendrix.  Jimi grew up in poverty but he loved science fiction, art, nearby Lake Washington and music, especially the R&B masters, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. By high school he was an accomplished guitarist.  Hendrix left high school to join the 101st Airborne so he could jump out of airplanes.

After his stint with the U.S. Army Jimi resumed his musical career and eventually played with some of the best rhythm and blues bands in the U.S. at the time.   In early 1964 he moved to New York, was hired by the Isley Brothers, and then he toured with Little Richard and Ike and Tina Turner.  By 1965 he set off on his own as Jimi James and the Blue Flames.  Hendrix applied blues harmony to rock progressions and played psychedelic rock solos in the middle of blues classics. By 1966 he had mastered techniques of sound distortion by using a fuzz box that made a “light string sound heavy and a heavy string sound like a sledgehammer” and by overdriving his amplifier. He played the guitar with his teeth, behind his back and under his legs.

Sources: 
Charles R. Cross, Room Full of Mirrors, A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (New York: Hyperian, 2005); Mary Willix, Jimi Hendrix Voices from Home  (Seattle: Creative Forces Publishing, 1996); Bill Milkowski, “Jimi the Composer,” Guitar World, March 1988; James A. Hendrix, My Son Jimi (Seattle: AIJ Enterprises, 1999); Harry Shapiro & Caesar Glebbeek, Electric Gypsy, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990);  Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm and Blues (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Independent Historian

Reynolds, Melvin Jay “Mel” (1952- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Politician, scholar and professor, Mel Reynolds was born on January 8, 1952, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, to parents J.J. and Essie May Reynolds.  Reynolds attended John Marshall High School on the Westside of Chicago where he developed impressive academic credentials.  He then enrolled in Chicago City College and later completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Philosophy from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1974. In 1979, Reynolds won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in England. Reynolds also graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago, were he became a political science professor. While on the faculty he created the Community Economic Development Education Foundation.

Reynolds, a rising star in Illinois’ Second Congressional District, defeated incumbent Congressman Gus Savage in 1992 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 1995.

In August of 1994, Reynolds was indicted for having sex with Beverly Heard, a 16 year old campaign volunteer.  In November of 1994, Reynolds, who claimed that the charges were racially motivated, was re-elected.  However, he was later convicted on 12 counts of sexual assault, obstruction of justice and solicitation of child pornography. Groups such as the National Organization for Women called for the voluntary resignation of Reynolds. On October 1, 1995, he resigned his seat.

Sources: 
Clinton Commutation Grants, January 2001, University of Pittsburgh Law School; Interview with Mel Reynolds, Chicago Reporter, January 2001.

Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago

Quarles, Benjamin A. (1904-1996)

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

Noted historian, scholar, and educator Benjamin Author Quarles was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 23, 1904.  His father, Arthur Benedict Quarles was a subway porter and his mother, Margaret O'Brien Quarles, was a homemaker. In his twenties, Quarles enrolled at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, the oldest historically black college in the South, where he earned a B.A. in 1931.  From Shaw, Quarles went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, where he earned an M.A. in 1933 and a Ph.D. in American History in 1940. 

Sources: 
John Hope Franklin, “We mourn the death of Benjamin A. Quarles 1904-1996,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (Winter 1996-97); Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Benjamin A. Quarles,” Negro History Bulletin (Jan-March, 1997); W.A. Low and Virgil A. Clift, eds., Encyclopedia of Black America (New York: Da Capo Press, 1984). 
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Oregon

Taylor, Susan (Susie) Baker King (1848-1912)

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

Born on the Grest Farm in Liberty County, Georgia, on August 6, 1848, Susie Baker King Taylor was raised as an enslaved person.  Her mother was a domestic servant for the Grest family.  At the age of 7, Baker and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Savannah. Even with the strict laws against formal education of African Americans, they both attended two secret schools taught by black women. Baker soon became a skilled reader and writer.

By 1860, having been taught everything these two black educators could offer, Baker befriended two white individuals, a girl and boy, who also offered to teach her lessons even though they knew it violated Georgia law and custom.

Sources: 
Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman’s Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

Bosley, Freeman Roberson, Jr. (1954- )

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


Freeman Roberson Bosley, Jr., is the first African American Mayor of St. Louis, Missouri.  Bosley was born in St. Louis on July 20, 1954, the son of Freeman Roberson and Marjorie Bosley.  His father, a long-time alderman in St. Louis, unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1985.  Bosley received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Affairs in 1976 and a Juris Doctor (law) degree in 1979 from St. Louis University.  Active in politics as both an undergraduate and a law student, Bosley served as the clerk of the Circuit Courts for eleven years, beginning in 1982, and was the city of St. Louis’s Democratic Party chairman from 1991 to 1993.

In 1993, at the age of 38, Bosley, a Democrat, was elected mayor defeating a relatively unknown Republican, John Gorman, and two independent candidates by winning 67 percent of the vote.  He won the Democratic primary over frontrunner Thomas Villa and his 1 million dollar campaign war chest by going door-to-door in African American, white, and racially-mixed neighborhoods accompanied by his wife and their two-year-old daughter.  His platform promoted racial harmony, reduced crime, and improved public schools.  He also proposed to allocate more funds for neighborhood redevelopment.  
Sources: 
Source: Alton Hornsby, Jr. and Angela M. Hornsby, “From the Grassroots” Profiles of Contemporary African American Leaders (Montgomery, Alabama: E-Book Time LLC, 2007), pp. 30-31.
Affiliation: 
Morehouse College and University of Mississippi

Murphy, Isaac Burns (1861-1896)

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People
History Type: 
African American History

 

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Isaac Murphy was born on April 16, 1861 as Isaac Burns near Frankfort, Kentucky on a farm to parents James Burns and a mother whose name is unknown.  Murphy was the first American jockey elected to Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York and only one of two black jockeys (Willie Simms is the other) to have received this honor.

Burns’s father, a free black man, was a bricklayer and his mother was a laundrywoman.  During the civil war his father joined the Union Army and died in a Confederate prisoner of war camp.  After his father’s death, Burns and his mother moved to live with her father, Green Murphy, a bell ringer and auction crier, in Lexington, Kentucky.  Isaac Burns changed his last name to Murphy once he started racing horses as a tribute to his grandfather.

Sources: 
David Reed, “High Tributes Paid To Murphy,” The Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), May 5, 1967, p. 13;  Stephen P. Savage, “Isaac Murphy: Black Hero in Nineteenth Century American Sport, 1861-1896,” Canadian Journal of History and Physical Education 10 (1979):15-32; Robert Fikes, Jr, “Issac Murphy”  Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Patsi B. Trollinger, Perfect Timing: How Isaac Murphy Became One of the World's Greatest Jockeys (New York: Viking Press, 2006).
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
University of Washington

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

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History

 

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

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

Lenhardt, Alfonso E. (1943- )

Vignette Type: 
People
History Type: 
African American History
"Image Ownership: Public Domain"
Alfonso E. Lenhardt is currently Acting Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania from 2009 to 2013.

A native of New York City, New York, Ambassador Lenhardt began his career in the United States Army in 1966. During his time in the service he was chief of staff to the Director for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, Director of Personnel and Installation Management for the largest unit in the U.S. Army, head of military police, and finally commanding general of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.  Lenhardt retired in August 1997 after 31 years of service.

From 1997 to 2001 Lenhardt served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit membership association of grant making foundations and corporations whose mission is to promote responsible and effective philanthropy.
Sources: 
“Alfonso E. Lenhardt: Acting Administrator,” USAID: From the American People, http://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are/organization/alfonso-e-lenhardt; “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” The White House Office of the Press Secretary, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/03/27/president-obama-announces-more-key-administration-posts-0, March, 27, 2014;  “President Obama Nominates Alfonso Lenhardt to Serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania,” U.S. Embassy of Tanzania, http://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are/organization/alfonso-e-lenhardt, June 12, 2009.
Contributor: 
Affiliation: 
San Joaquin Delta College

Crosthwait, David Nelson Jr. (1898-1976)

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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