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.
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/
Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland was born into abject poverty in Greenwood, Mississippi. She experienced extreme racism, lack of options, and little support to change her life. As a teenager she quit school, turned to prostitution and theft as a way to make it in the world she knew – a world that included being raped by a neighbor, multiple “fathers” and broken dreams.
Her first time in jail was as a teenager having dropped out of school and turned towards a life of prostitution and theft. She was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail – but this wouldn’t be the last time. She went to prison on assault and battery charges after having married, given birth, and found her husband cheating. When she was released from prison, her options were narrow and she returned to “streetwalking” – the life she knew.
This time, the man she pursued was active in SNCC. Holland pursued him all the way back to SNCC offices where she was introduced to the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Holland would go to jail many times in her future, not for streetwalking but for protesting with the Movement. One these trips included the state penitentiary with other Civil Rights activists. After thirty-three days, she was released and shortly thereafter met Dr. Jackson and Dr. King.
Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the father of poet-playwright Joseph Seamon, Jr., distinguished himself as a playwright, poet, author, and educator. Cotter was born in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1861, but was reared in Louisville. He was one of the earliest African American playwrights to be published. His father, Michael J. Cotter, was of Scots-Irish ancestry, and his mother, Martha Vaughn, was an African American. Cotter, Sr. married Maria F.
John Seamon Cotter, Jr., a talented playwright, journalist, and poet, was born and reared in Louisville, Kentucky. The son of journalist, playwright, poet, teacher and community developer Joseph Seamon Cotter, Sr., the younger Cotter’s education began with his sister Florence Olivia teaching him to read. Cotter graduated from Louisville’s Central High School in 1911, where his father was the school principal and his teacher. His mother, Maria F. Cox, was also a teacher at the school. Cotter attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee for two years before being stricken with tuberculosis, a disease that earlier claimed the life of his sister Florence in 1914.
Joseph Cotter, Jr., completed a collection of one-act plays and poetry during the last seven years of his life. He also wrote one play, On the Fields of France, a protest play in one act which was published in 1920 after his death. It followed the last hours of two American army officers, one black, one white, both mortally wounded, who ultimately died hand in hand on a battlefield in northern France wondering why they could not have lived in peace and friendship in the United States. Cotter wrote two other plays, The White Folks’ Nigger and Caroling Dusk which were never published. Cotter died of tuberculosis in Louisville in 1919 at the age of 24.
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (New York: Hill and Wang, 1940); Eleonore van Notten, Wallace Thurman’s Harlem Renaissance (Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994); Lawrence T. Potter, Jr., “Wallace Thurman,” in Encyclopedia on African American Writers, Wilfred D. Samuels, ed. (New York: Facts on File, 2007).
James Arthur Baldwin, fiction writer, essayist, dramatist, and poet, was born on August 2, 1924 in Harlem, New York during the Harlem Renaissance. After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in 1942, he began his formal career as a writer. Baldwin was inspired by Richard Wright, despite his being called to the ministry at age fourteen in the Pentecostal faith and church dominated by his father, David Baldwin.
Angelina Weld Grimke was born into a legacy of advocacy for racial justice. As the daughter of Archibald Grimke, the second black to graduate from Harvard law and vice-president of the NAACP, Grimké’s heritage of racial equality can be further traced to her grand aunts, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, prominent abolitionists and advocates of women’s rights.
Carolivia Herron, Selected Works of Angelina Weld Grimke (London: Oxford University Press, 1991); http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/bios/grimkeaw.html
Born on December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachusetts to well known black nationalist minister Albert Buford Cleage (later Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman) and school teacher Doris Graham Cleage, Pearl Cleage grew up in Detroit, Michigan and entered Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1966 to study playwriting. She transferred to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia where she earned a B.A. in 1971. Prior to finishing her education at Spelman, Pearl Cleage married Atlanta politician Michael Lomax in 1969. She and Lomax later divorced in 1979. Cleage served as the press secretary and speechwriter to Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson between 1974 and 1976.
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
Leslie Pinckney Hill was an educator, author, poet, dramatist, and community leader. He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia on May 14, 1880 to Samuel H. Hill, a former slave, and Sarah E. Hill. He received his primary education in Lynchburg, where as a child he played the trumpet and visualized a career in music. His family eventually moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where he transferred to the local high school. Due to accelerated study, he was able to skip his junior year and graduated close to the top of his class in 1898.
In 1899 Hill enrolled at Harvard University where he had a scholarship and also worked as a writer and waiter. On the debate team, during his junior year he won second place in the Boylston Prize oratory competition. In 1903 Hill was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated cum laude in his class. In 1904, he also received his master's degree in education from Harvard.
African novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a Kenyan author, educator and playwright. With the publication of his first novel, he became a critically-acclaimed author at the age of 29. His work is also published under the pseudonym James T. Ngugi.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born on January 5th, 1938 in Kamiriithu village in Kenya to Tiong’o wa Nduucu and Wanjikow wa Ngugi. He attended the mission-run Kamandura School in Limuru and the Maanguuu Karing’a School, which was taught in Gikuyu, the native language of that Bantu people of Kenya. In 1954 the school was taken over by the British government and teaching began in English. While attending Maanguuu Karing’a, Thiong’o read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, igniting his desire to write.
Renowned African novelist Nuruddin Farah was born in Baidoa, Somalia in 1945, a time when Somalia was still an Italian colony. His father Hassan Farah was a translator for the colonial government and his mother Aleeli Faduma was recognized throughout Somalia for her prose writing. Early in his life Farah moved to the Ogaden section of Ethiopia where his father worked as a translator for the British. It was here that Farah grew up and received his early education. When Farah was eighteen his family fled back to an independent Somalia. It was shortly soon after, in 1965, that Farah’s writing career began when his work “Why Dead So Soon?” was serialized in the Somali News newspaper in Mogadishu.
Scholar, playwright, journalist, and African nationalist, Duse Mohamad Ali was born in Alexandria, Egypt on November 24, 1866 to an Egyptian father, Ali Abdul Salam and a Sudanese mother, whose name is unknown. At a very young age Ali was sent to study in England under the tutelage of Captain Duse of the French Army, a classmate who his father had studied alongside at the French Military Academy. In April of 1882, at the age of fifteen, Ali discontinued his studies and returned to Egypt. Soon after his return both his brother and father were killed during the Urabi Uprising and the British Bombardment of Alexandria that took place later that year. Soon after the death of his father and brother, his family was evacuated to Sudan.
In the extended article that appears below historians Daudi Abe and Quintard Taylor explore the history of African Americans in Martin Luther King County from 1858 to 2014. They analyze the forces which encouraged people of African ancestry to settle in the county and discuss the rapid political, social, and economic changes that its black residents have faced since the first arrival, Manuel Lopes, came to the county in 1858.
With 119,801 people of African ancestry in a total population of 1,931,249 people, Martin Luther King, Jr. County is the most populous county in the state of Washington and is home to 29% of the state’s inhabitants and half of Washington’s black population. It is also the only county in the United States named after the 20th Century civil rights icon.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.