Charles L. Reason was born on July 21, 1818 in New York City. His parents, Michiel and Elizabeth Reason, were immigrants from Haiti who arrived in the United States shortly after the Haitian Revolution of 1793. His parents emphasized the importance of education, and very early on the young Reason displayed an aptitude for mathematics when he was a student at the New York African Free School. Reason began his teaching career when he was 14 years old. He saved what he could of his teacher’s $25 per year salary to continue his own education with tutors. A political activist and abolitionist, Reason played a prominent role in the Negro Convention Movement in New York. In 1837 Reason joined Henry Highland Garnet, among others, in an effort to gain voting rights for African American men and he was later one of the co-authors of the Call for the New York Negro Convention of 1840.
The fiery-militant David Walker was born on September 28, 1785, in Wilmington, North Carolina. His father was an enslaved African who died a few months before his son’s birth, and his mother was a free woman of African ancestry. Walker grew up to despise the system of slavery that the U.S. government allowed in America. He knew the cruelties of slavery were not for him and said, “As true as God reigns, I will be avenged for the sorrow which my people have suffered.” He eventually moved to Boston during the 1820s and became very active within the free black community. Walker’s intense hatred for slavery culminated in him publishing his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World in September 1829. The Appeal was smuggled into the southern states, and was considered subversive, seditious, and incendiary by most white men in both northern and southern states. It was, without a doubt, one of the most controversial documents published in the antebellum period.
Walker was concerned about many social issues affecting free and enslaved Africans in America during the time. He also expressed many beliefs that would become commonly promoted by later black nationalists such as: unified struggle for resistance of oppression (slavery), land reparations, self-government for people of African descent in America, racial pride, and a critique of American capitalism. His radical views prompted southern planters to offer a $3000 bounty for anyone who killed Walker and $10,000 reward for anyone who returned him alive back to the South. Walker was found dead in the doorway of his Boston home in 1830. Some people believed he was poisoned and others believed that he died of tuberculosis.
Born March 1, 1927 as Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. in Harlem, New York, to parents Melvine Love Bellanfanti, a Jamaican housekeepter, and Harold George Bellanfanti, Sr., of Martinique, who worked as a chef for the National Guard. Belafonte grew from being a troubled youth to an award-winning entertainer and world-renowned political activist and humanitarian. From 1932 to 1940, he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica. He returned to New York City and attended George Washington High School. In 1944 Belafonte joined the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and although Belafonte was never sent overseas, after the war ended he was able to use the G.I. Bill to pay for a drama workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan alongside fellow students Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier.
Louis Abdul Farrakhan was born on May 11, 1933 in Bronx, New York as Louis Eugene Walcott. Walcott, who grew up in Roxbury, Massachusetts, excelled as a musician, singer and track star. He attended a Boston-area school for gifted children and was given national exposure at age 14 when, as one of the first African Americans to appear on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, he won the competition for that episode. After high school Walcott attended Winston-Salem Teachers College for two years and then worked as a calypso guitarist-singer. Walcott joined the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1955 and changed his name to Louis X and later Louis Farrakhan. Initially he was a follower of Malcolm X, but became a competitor in the period before Malcolm’s assassination in 1965.
The author of the first known work of African American literature (the poem “Bars Fight”), Lucy Terry Prince was kidnapped in Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island At the age of five, she became the property of Captain Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Around the age of sixteen Lucy Terry responded to a 1746 Indian ambush of two white families in a section of town known as “the Bars” by composing the ballad poem “Bars Fight,” which earned her local acclaim. She remained enslaved until 1756, when Obijah Prince, a prosperous free black man, purchased her freedom and married her.
In 1760 the Princes moved to Guilford, Vermont, where Lucy Terry Prince gained local renown as a storyteller and orator while educating her six children. A courageous, eloquent activist, Prince worked hard not only to survive economically but also to protect her family from racist harassment and vandalism. She agitated, unsuccessfully, for her oldest son to be admitted to Williams College. Widowed in 1794, Lucy Terry Prince moved to Sunderland, Vermont, where she died in 1821. Lemuel Haynes preached an antislavery sermon at her funeral in which he predicted that despots and racists, “tyrants and oppressors,” would “sink beneath” Terry’s “feet,” a witty reference to her poetry.
Prince Hall was an important social leader in Boston following the Revolutionary War and the founder of black freemasonry. His birth and childhood are unclear. There were several Prince Halls in Boston at this time. He is believed to have been the slave of a Boston leather worker who was granted freedom in 1770 after twenty-one years of service. He then opened a successful leather goods store, owned his house, was a taxpayer, and a voter. Hall supplied the Boston Regiment with leather goods and may have fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In 1775, fifteen free blacks, including Hall, joined a freemason lodge of British soldiers. They formed their own lodge, African Lodge #1, when the British left. However, they were not granted full stature by the Grand Lodge of England until 1784. The actual charter arrived in 1787, at which time Hall became the Worshipful Master. Even though they had full stature, most white freemason lodges in America did not treat them equally. Hall helped other black Masonic lodges form. Upon his death in 1807, they became the Prince Hall Grand Lodges. There are 46 lodges across the United States today.
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/
Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, writer, activist, collector, and important figure of the Harlem Renaissance was born in Saturce, Puerto Rico. His mother, a black woman, was originally from St. Croix, Danish Virgin Islands, and his father was a Puerto Rican of German ancestry. Schomburg migrated to New York City in 1891. Very active in the liberation movements of Puerto Rico and Cuba, he founded Las dos Antillas, a cultural and political group that worked for the islands’ independence. After the collapse of the Cuban revolutionary struggle, and the cession of Puerto-Rico to the U.S., Schomburg, disillusioned, turned his attention to the African American community. In 1911, as its Master, he renamed El Sol de Cuba #38, a lodge of Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants, as Prince Hall Lodge in honor of the first black freemason in the country. The same year, he also founded the Negro Society for Historical Research. In 1922 he was elected president of the American Negro Academy.
John Campbell Dancy, Jr.
Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to a middle-class family, Oliver Cromwell Cox was one of nine children of Virginia Blake and William Raphael Cox. Influenced by his father, who was determined that his children further their education, Oliver traveled to the United States at the age of 18 with the aim of becoming either a doctor or a lawyer. In 1929 he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Law from Northwestern University. He had planned to return to Trinidad to live but was stricken with poliomyelitis and would walk with crutches for the rest of his life, which he spent in the United States. Undeterred by his physical condition, he earned a M.A. in economics and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago before holding professorships at Wiley College, the Tuskegee Institute, Lincoln University, and Wayne State University where he amassed a prolific record of scholarship and a reputation as a demanding and challenging pedagogue.
The Jamaican born Wilfred A. Domingo was part of an influential community of West Indian radicals active in Harlem's New Negro movement in the early 20th century. A member of the Socialist Party and a journalist by trade, Domingo contributed to Cyril Briggs' Crusader and A. Philip Randolph's Messenger, along with a host of other community publications. He became the first editor of Marcus Garvey's New World and played a key role in shaping Garvey's race-conscious, nationalist ideology. However, as a class-conscious member of the Socialist Party, Domingo clashed with Garvey's capitalist orientation and ultimately broke with the UNIA. At the same time, Domingo was frustrated with the Socialist Party's failure to make African American rights a priority and drifted toward Briggs' more militant African Blood Brotherhood, which was closely aligned with the Communist Party in the early 1920s.
In the 1930s Domingo became increasingly focused on his homeland and the issue of Jamaican independence. In 1936 he cofounded the Jamaica Progressive League in Harlem, which agitated for Jamaican self-rule, universal suffrage, unionization, and the organization of consumer cooperatives. Domingo returned to Jamaica in 1938 to join Norman Manley's People's National Party and served as vice-chair of the Trades Union Advisory Council. After returning to New York in 1947, Domingo broke with the PNP. Wilfred A. Domingo died in Harlem in 1968.
Malcolm X, one of the most influential African American leaders of the 20th Century, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925 to Earl Little, a Georgia native and itinerant Baptist preacher, and Louise Norton Little who was born in the West Indian island of Grenada. Shortly after Malcolm was born the family moved to Lansing, Michigan. Earl Little joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) where he publicly advocated black nationalist beliefs, prompting the local white supremacist Black Legion to set fire to their home. Little was killed by a streetcar in 1931. Authorities ruled it a suicide but the family believed he was killed by white supremacists.
Yuri Kochiyama was born Mary Yuriko Nakahara in 1921 and raised in San Pedro, California, in a small working-class neighborhood. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the life of Yuri’s family took a turn for the worse. Her father, a first-generation Japanese immigrant, was arrested by the FBI. When President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 ordering the removal of persons of Japanese descent from “strategic areas,” Yuri and her family were sent to an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Due to these events, Yuri started seeing the parallels between the treatment of African Americans in Jim Crow South and the incarceration of Japanese Americans in remote internment camps during World War II. Subsequently she decided to devote her life to struggles against racial injustice.
Tony Martin, Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1976); Edward David Cronon, Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Ula Taylor, The Veiled Garvey: The Life and Times of Amy Jacques Garvey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); and Marcus Garvey, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey (London: Cass, 1967).
Nathaniel “Nat” Turner was born in Southampton County, Virginia on October 2, 1800, the son of slaves owned by Benjamin Turner, a prosperous farmer. Taught to read by the son of his owner, Turner studied Christianity which he interpreted as condemning slavery. Turner also began to believe that God had chosen him to free his people from slavery. He soon became known among fellow slaves as “The Prophet.”
Turner was sold to slaveholder Joseph Travis in 1830. Less than a year after the sale, Turner received what he assumed was a sign from God when he witnessed the eclipse of the sun. After sharing this experience with a few close friends, they began to plan an insurrection. While still planning the uprising, Turner saw that the color of the sun had changed to a bluish-green, which he believed was the final sign to initiate the uprising. With this confidence, Turner and seven other slaves moved forward with their plans. They first murdered the entire Travis family and eventually fifty whites in the futile effort to incite a general slave uprising. Only 75 slaves and free blacks joined the rebellion.
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.
Frank Marshall Davis rose to prominence as a poet and journalist during the Depression and the Second World War. Prior to his departure for the Territory of Hawaii in 1948, he found himself the subject of adulation by many readers but also the target of careful scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Part of the reason for these diverging, oppositional interests was his social realist poetry. Poetry for him became an alternative mode of expression, one that provided release from the “objectivity” demanded by the medium of journalism. It enabled him to respond “subjectively” to a world of racial discrimination, labor inequity, differential politics, and so much more that burdened and stifled one’s very humanity. As a result, manifested in his poetry is a profound celebration of the self, characteristically revealed in robust statements of urban themes, a fierce social consciousness, a strong declamatory voice, and an almost rabid race pride. Given American racial dynamics during this period, Davis’s verse, in some ways, was appropriate for its day and
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.
Accomplished journalist and activist Noah Thompson became one of the most influential leaders in Los Angeles, California during the early twentieth century. Born in Baltimore, Maryland on June 9, 1878, Thompson fled Baltimore as a young adult in search of success in the United States’ burgeoning urban centers. After rising to prominence in Los Angeles as a dedicated journalist and real estate investor, Thompson utilized his social, political, and economic gains to promote the improvement of black Angelenos.
Like many African Americans at the end of the nineteenth century, employment opportunities encouraged Thompson to migrate to Chicago, Illinois. While working in various industrial sectors, he took courses at Greg’s Business College. In 1909, Thompson accepted a position at Booker T. Washington’s Educational Institute and moved to Tuskegee, Alabama. After learning about the economic success of the emerging black community in Los Angeles, California, Thompson fled to Los Angeles in 1911.
Clarence Thomas, the second African American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Pin Point, Georgia, a small community south of Savannah. His mother, Leola Williams, a single parent, raised Thomas until he was seven. He and his brother, Myers, were sent to Savannah where they were raised by their maternal grandfather, Myers Anderson. To help his grandsons to survive in the Jim Crow South, Anderson, a Democrat, local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member, and recent convert to Catholicism, instilled in them a discipline and pride that would counterpoint the harshness of southern racism. Thomas remembers that after purchasing a new truck, his grandfather removed the heater because he believed its use would make the boys lazy.
Thomas was educated in St. Benedict the Moor, an all-black Catholic school in Savannah and later became the only African American student at St. John Vianney Minor Seminary just outside Savannah. In 1967 he entered Immaculate Conception Seminary in northwestern Missouri to prepare for the priesthood. He withdrew after viewing one fellow student’s pleasure at the news that Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
Cynthia Ann McKinney was born on March 17, 1955 in Atlanta, Georgia to parents Billy McKinney, who was a police officer and to a mother, Leola Christion McKinney, who was a nurse. Her father was a political activist who challenged his employer, the Atlanta Police Department, for its practice of racial discrimination. This desire to use activism in the cause of racial justice was inherited by Cynthia McKinney who initiated her first petition against racism while still in school. In 1971 she challenged a teacher at the Catholic institution for using racist language. Meanwhile, her father, Billy McKinney was elected to the Georgia State Legislature in 1973 as a Democrat.
After completing St. Joseph’s High School in Atlanta in 1973, McKinney in 1978 received a degree in international relations from the University of Southern California. This degree would serve her well in the future as became increasingly concerned about the role and impact of U.S. foreign around the world. McKinney then entered the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. There she met and Jamaican politician Coy Grandison and returned to Jamaica with him.
In 1938, Horne moved to Hollywood where she was cast in several movies. Years later Horne recalled, "In every other film I just sang a song or two; the scenes could be cut out when they were sent to local distributors in the South. Unfortunately, I didn't get much of a chance to act."
The first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Alice Walker was born the eighth child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. Walker became the valedictorian of her segregated high school class, despite an accident at age eight that impaired the vision in her left eye. Before transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, where she received a B.A. degree, she attended Atlanta’s Spelman College for two years, where she became a political activist, met Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., and participated in the 1963 March on Washington.
Also, during her undergraduate studies, Walker visited Africa as an exchange student. She later registered voters in Georgia and worked with the Head Start program in Mississippi, where she met and married civil rights attorney Melvyn Rosenthal (the marriage lasted ten years), became the mother of daughter Rebecca, and taught at historically black colleges Jackson State College and Tougaloo College. Walker has also taught at Wellesley College, University of Massachusetts at Boston, the University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University. At Brandeis she is credited with teaching the first American course on African American women writers.
James Monroe Whitfield, a black abolitionist and colonizationist, was born on April 10, 1822 in New Hampshire. Little is known about his early life except that he was a descendant of Ann Paul, the sister of prominent black clergyman Thomas Paul. Whitfield had little formal education. Nonetheless by the age of 16, he was publishing papers for Negro rights conventions.
Henry Adams was a Louisiana leader who advocated the emigration of southern freed blacks to Liberia after emancipation. Born a slave in Newton County, Georgia on March 16, 1843, Henry Adams was originally born as Henry Houston but changed his name at the age of seven. His enslaved family was relocated to Louisiana in 1850 and lived there until 1861.
Adams married a woman named Malinda during his enslavement and the couple had four children. Unlike most enslaved people, Adams and his wife were able to acquire property during the Civil War.
Abdias do Nascimento, famous Brazilian writer, scholar, and politician, was born on March 14, 1914, in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. From a humble family, his mother, Josina, was a candy maker and his father, Bem-Bem, was a musician and shoemaker, Abdias do Nascimento joined the Brazilian Army at age 15, moving to the state capital, São Paulo, where he became politically active. In Rio de Janeiro, he founded, in 1944, the Teatro Nacional do Negro (Black National Theater). A member of Brazil’s Congress from 1983 to 1987 and a Senator in 1991, 1996-1999, Abdias do Nascimento dedicated his life to fighting racial prejudice.
Trévigne taught at the Catholic Indigent Orphan School in New Orleans, a school dedicated to providing free education to African American orphans.
Prominent St. Louis attorney Homer Gilliam Phillips was born in Sedalia, Missouri in 1880. He was the son of a Methodist minister, but he was orphaned in infancy and raised by an aunt. Phillips’s interest in law led him to Washington, D.C. where he lived with renowned African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar while attending Howard University Law School. He also briefly worked at the Justice Department.
Upon his return to Missouri, Phillips became an active attorney and political figure in St. Louis. In 1922, he was given the prominent role of securing approximately $1 million to construct a new hospital for African Americans on the city’s North Side.
While the bond issue to fund construction of a new facility to replace St. Louis’s Barnes Hospital was approved by the voters, city officials instead attempted to force black St. Louis residents to use outdated Deaconess Hospital. Phillips led the fight against the city's efforts and eventually persuaded leaders to create the new fully funded hospital as originally proposed in the 1922 bond measure, though construction was delayed for another decade.
Oral Introduction presented by Alderman Samuel L. Moore, 4th Ward, City
of St. Louis Board of Alderman, Resolution No. 19, April 27, 2007;
Ernest Calloway, “Why Was Homer G. Phillips Killed? St. Louis Argus
(June 5, 1975, p.16); Mary Stiritz and Carolyn Toft, "Landmarks
Association of St. Louis, Inc. for Missouri State Historical Survey,"
Park J. White, M.D. Papers, Washington University School of Medicine,
St. Louis, Missouri; Rob Powers, “Recalled to Life: Homer G. Phillips
Aaron Henry and Constance Curry, Aaron Henry: The Fire Ever Burning (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000); Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1995).
Eldridge Cleaver, author and civil rights activist, was born on August 31, 1935 in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. Cleaver, a child of six, lived in a household where his father abused his mother. The Cleavers moved to Phoenix and finally settled in Los Angeles where Cleaver spent much of his childhood in and out of reform schools for petty crimes. In 1957, at the age of 22, he was convicted of assault with intent to commit murder and sent first to California’s San Quentin Prison and then transferred to Folsom Prison. As an inmate, Cleaver spent most of his time reading works by Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Karl Marx, and Richard Wright. He was also inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X who was assassinated during his incarceration. Their writings influenced him to write, in prison, a collection of essays on race and the black revolution. Those essays were published as the book Soul on Ice in 1968, two years after his release from prison.
Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1968); Joseph Peniel E., Waiting ‘Til The Midnight Hour (New York: Henry Holt And Company, 2006).
Harry Edwards is an Emeritus Professor at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) best known for co-engineering the “Revolt of the Black Athlete” in the late 1960’s. Edwards, born in East St. Louis, Illinois in 1942, attended Fresno City College from 1959 to 1960 as a four sport student athlete. He transferred to San Jose State University (SJS) in 1960 on an athletic scholarship in track and field. While he had success on the track field, Edwards and other black student-athletes confronted housing and employment discrimination and a segregated campus social life. Moreover the university funneled black student-athletes into a physical education curriculum to keep them eligible to compete in intercollegiate sports. Few graduated during the years of their athletic eligibility. Determined to earn a social work degree, Edwards began challenging the system. In 1964, he became the first black student-athlete since the early 1950’s to graduate from SJS.
Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York: the Free Press, 1970); The Struggle that Must Be: an Autobiography (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980); and David Leonard, “What Happened to the Revolt Black Athlete?: A Look Back Thirty Year Later—An Interview with Harry Edwards,” Colorlines (Summer 1998) (URL: http://www.txstate.edu/ucollege/universityseminar/generalresources/downloads/contentParagraph/0/content_files/file4/2006-09-14-revolt.pdf; HBO, Fists of Freedom: The Story of the '68 Summer Games (1999); Michael E. Lomax, Sports and the Racial Divide (Jackson, MS: Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2008)
Mary Burnett Talbert, clubwoman and civil rights leader, was originally born Mary Burnett on September 18, 1866 in Oberlin, Ohio, to Cornelius and Caroline Nicholls Burnett. Mary Burnett graduated from Oberlin High School at the age of sixteen and in 1886 graduated from Oberlin College with a literary degree at nineteen. Shortly afterwards, Burnett accepted a teaching position at Bethel University in Little Rock, Arkansas and quickly rose in the segregated educational bureaucracy of the city. In 1887, after only a year at Bethel University, Burnett became the first African American woman to be selected Assistant Principal of Little Rock High School. Four years later in 1891, however, Burnett married William H. Talbert, an affluent business man for Buffalo, New York and resigned her position at Little Rock High School and moved to her husbands hometown. One year later Mary B. and William Talbert gave birth to their only child, a daughter, Sarah May Talbert.
Hallie Q. Brown, Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Publishing Company, 1926); Rayford Logan, ed., Dictionary of American Negro Biography, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982); Lillian Serece Williams, Strangers in the Land of Paradise: The Creation of an African American Community, Buffalo, New York, 1900-1940 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999).
Charles Sherrod was a key civil rights leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose leadership led to the Albany Movement in southwest Georgia. Born in extreme poverty to his fourteen-year old mother in 1937 in St. Petersburg, Virginia, he worked to help support six younger children. Sherrod worked his way through Virginia Union College, receiving a B.A. in 1958 and a Bachelors of Divinity in 1961. He joined SNCC in 1960, participating in the organization's first demonstrations and voter registration drives.
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the
1960s (New York: Harvard UP, 1981); Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry
Louis Gates, Jr., Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African
American Experience (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 1999);
Leroy Wesley Smith was born in St. Louis Missouri on December 6, 1951, and became a late 20th Century social activist for justice. Son of a fireman and a licensed practical nurse, Smith spent his childhood growing up in a St. Louis housing project. He participated in an after school program for disadvantaged male youth which gave him the opportunity to travel to Cairo, Illinois where he heard other activists and community organizers for the first time. Impressed by their passion and their organizing skills, Smith was influenced to follow a similar path.
After graduating high school in 1970, Smith entered St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he became the leader of The Organization of Afro-American Students. Through this organization, Smith fought for a Black Studies program that would hire more black professors.
Sharon Melson Fletcher, “Damu Smith Biography” African American Biographies. (Net Industries, 2009) http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2880/Smith-Damu.html Retrieved 2009-03-06; Sara Powell, “In Memoriam: Damu Smith 1951-2006” Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. (Jul 2006). http://www.wrmea.com/archives/July_2006/0607080.html Retrieved 2009-03-04.
Sixty-four year old Wangari Maathai, the most prominent environmental activist in Africa, was the 2004 recipient of the Alfred Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari Muta was born on April 1, 1940 in Ihithe, Nyeri Province, Kenya during British colonial rule. Her family was of Kikuyu origin and her father was polygamous. As a child Muta was permitted a small plot of land to grown her own food, to learn how to cultivate the land. Muta attended primary school at St. Cecilia’s Intermediate Primary School near her home in Nyeri. While there she converted to Catholicism.
In 1956 Muta entered Loreto Girl’s High School outside of Nairobi and then began college in 1960 at Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, Kansas where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology four years later. After graduation she earned a Master's Degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. In April 1966, after returning to Kenya, Wangari Muta met her future husband, Mwangi Mathai; a politician. The two married in May 1969.
From 1966 to 1982 Wangari Maathai taught at the University of Nairobi. In 1971 Maathai received her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Nairobi, becoming the first woman in Eastern Africa to receive a Ph.D.
Wangari Maathai, The Canopy of Hope: My Life Campaigning for Africa, Women and the Environment (Brooklyn, New York: Lantern Books, 2002); Wangari Maathai, Unbowed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006); Anita Price Davis and Marla J. Selvidge, Women Nobel Peace Prize Winners (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006).
http://entertainer.billcosby.com/biography/images/biography/bill_cosby_biography.pdf; Henry Louis Gates, African American Lives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Henry Louis Gates, African American National Biography, Vol. 2, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Linda K. Fuller, The Cosby Show: Audiences, Impact, and Implications (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992)
Writer and political activist Mariama Ba was born in 1929 in Dakar, Senegal to a well-to-do family. Her father worked in the French colonial administration and in 1956 became the Minister of Health of Senegal. Her mother died when she was young. Ba was raised by her maternal grandparents who emphasized conservative Muslim values. She attended a religious school, but was also educated in the French tradition. Due to the intervention of her father, she was enrolled in 1943 in the Ecole Normale (Teacher Training School) at Rufisque, a town some 25 miles away from Dakar where she received her diploma in 1947. Ba worked as a teacher from 1947 to 1959, before becoming an academic inspector. During this period, Ba had nine children with her husband, Obeye Diop. The couple separated and Ba was forced to raise her children as a single parent.
Van Jones is a social-environmental activist and the Obama administration’s former “Green Czar.” He was born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee. His mother and father were a high school teacher and junior-high principal respectively. While growing up, Jones was a stereotypical “geek,” going so far as to pretend that his action figures were running public offices. Jones attended the University of Tennessee at Martin where he majored in communications and political science. It was during his freshman year in UT-Martin that Jones chose for himself the nickname “Van.” In 1990 Jones enrolled at Yale Law School.
After graduating in 1993, Jones moved to San Francisco. There he became a community organizer and set up the Bay Area organizations, PoliceWatch and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in 1996, both intended to combat police abuse. Jones also involved himself and his organization in the campaign to reform California’s juvenile detention system including the fight against the construction of a huge new juvenile detention facility in Dublin, California.
Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, playwright, novelist and activist, was born on April 15, 1958, the first of eight children, in Birmingham, England. Zephaniah grew up in Wandsworth until the age of nine when his mother, a Jamaican nurse, fled his father, a postman from Barbados. Leaving behind his twin sister Velda and other siblings, Zephaniah felt isolated as a young black dyslexic boy who encountered racism at his new school in Birmingham. He turned to writing, choosing to describe local and global issues, inspired by his Jamaican heritage and “street politics” of Birmingham. He left formal education at age 14, but built a reputation in the city as a popular dub poet, an art form which involves mixing the spoken word with reggae rhythms. Zephaniah had a troubled adolescence, which was punctuated with periods in incarceration following convictions for petty theft.
Callie House is most famous for her efforts to gain reparations for former slaves and is regarded as the early leader of the reparations movement among African American political activists. Callie Guy was born a slave in Rutherford Country near Nashville, Tennessee. Her date of birth is usually assumed to be 1861 but due to the lack of birth records for slaves, this date is not certain. She was raised in a household that included her widowed mother, sister, and her sister’s husband. House received some primary school education.
At the age of 22, she married William House and moved to Nashville, where she raised five children. To support her family, House worked at home as a washerwoman and seamstress. In 1891, a pamphlet entitled Freedmen’s Pension Bill: A Plea for American Freedmen began circulating around the black communities in central Tennessee. This pamphlet, which espoused the idea of financial compensation as a means of rectifying past exploitation of slavery, persuaded House to become involved in the cause that would become her life’s work.
With the help of Isaiah Dickerson, House chartered the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898, and was named the secretary of this new organization. Eventually House became the leader of the organization. In this position she traveled across the South, spreading the idea of reparations in every former slave state with relentless zeal. During her 1897-1899 lecture tour the Association's membership by 34,000 mainly through her efforts. By 1900 its nationwide membership was estimated to be around 300,000.
Political activist Kathryn Magnolia Johnson was born on December 15th, 1878 in Darke County, Ohio. She was the daughter of Walter and Lucinda Jane McCown Johnson. Kathryn Johnson graduated at the top of her high school class in New Paris, Ohio in 1895 and worked as a teacher in both Ohio and Indiana between 1898 and 1901. In 1902 she graduated from Wilberforce University with a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. She taught at the State Normal School for Negroes in Elizabeth City, North Carolina from 1904 to 1905 before spending a year as Dean of Women at Shorter College, a predominately black institution in Little Rock, Arkansas that was the site of bloody racial riots during Johnson’s tenure.
Working as a Kansas City high school teacher in 1910, Johnson became one of the first members of the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP, 1909- ). She left teaching to serve as sales representative for the NAACP’s journal, Crisis. After three years, Johnson became a branch organizer, helping to establish dozens of branches of the NAACP throughout the South. Johnson excelled, and the organization grew rapidly in the region that had the majority of African Americans. Despite her success, she began to openly criticize the fact that whites had virtually all of leadership roles within the NAACP. Johnson was let go by the NAACP in 1916 although it is not clear whether the reason was for her criticism of whites’ roles within the organization.
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.
Preston Wilcox, human rights activist and professor, was a proponent of black studies and advocated community control over education. He was born in 1923 and raised in Youngstown, Ohio along with his four siblings. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, but left to serve in the United States Army. He later returned to school and completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology at City College in 1949. He later earned a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University where he taught for several years.
During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Wilcox became a prominent leader and activist for the decentralization of public schools in Central Harlem. He was a leader in the movement for community control, which placed power over education into the hands of community members. Wilcox spoke frequently at conferences sponsored by the African American Teachers Association where he helped disseminate ideas of community control to the larger public. His efforts assisted in the creation of new jobs for African American teachers, administrators, and supervisors in education.
Jonas Malheiro Savimbi, Angolan insurgent fighter and longtime leader of The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), was born in Munhango, Angola on August 3, 1934 to Helena Mbundu Savimbi and Loth Savimbi. Savimbi’s father was a railway stationmaster and part-time Protestant church worker. The local Catholic missions in then-Portuguese-occupied Angola were often in conflict with Loth Savimbi because of the effectiveness of his evangelizing.
Jonas Savimbi attended Protestant missionary schools where he thrived academically. In 1958, he was granted a scholarship from United Church of Christ to attend university in Lisbon, where he began his involvement in anti-colonial politics. The Portuguese secret police detained Savimbi thrice before he decided on finishing his schooling in Switzerland, first at Fribourg University, then Lausanne University, where in 1965 he completed his coursework with honors in political science and juridical sciences. Having begun his studies in medicine, Savimbi would refer to himself as “Doctor” thereafter.
Upon graduating in 1951, Mboya was given sanitary inspection duties in Nairobi. Around the same time, the anticolonial Mau Mau rebellion was erupting and much of Kenya’s trade union and political leadership were detained by British authorities. Mboya resigned from his inspector position in 1953 and began a series of full-time commitments to the growing union movement.
Angela Davis, activist, educator, scholar, and politician, was born on January 26, 1944, in the “Dynamite Hill” area of Birmingham, Alabama. The area received that name because so many African American homes in this middle class neighborhood had been bombed over the years by the Ku Klux Klan. Her father, Frank Davis, was a service station owner and her mother, Sallye Davis, was an elementary school teacher. Davis’s mother was also active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), when it was dangerous to be openly associated with the organization because of its civil rights activities. As a teenager Davis moved to New York City with her mother, who was pursuing a Master’s degree at New York University. While there she attended Elizabeth Irwin High School, a school considered leftist because a number of its teachers were blacklisted during the McCarthy era for their earlier alleged Communist activities.
Ewart Guinier, labor activist and political candidate, was the first chairman of Harvard University’s Afro-American Studies Department. Born in Panama in 1910, Guinier migrated to the United States in 1925 and attended high school in Boston, Massachusetts. After his acceptance into the Harvard University Class of 1933, Guinier was denied a scholarship because he allegedly did not submit a photograph with his application and because of his race he was not permitted to reside in the all-white dormitories. Guinier nonetheless started classes at Harvard but dropped out in 1931 due to the high tuition costs. He transferred to the City University of New York where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1935. He later received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1939 and his law degree from New York University in 1959.
Guinier served in Hawaii as a warrant officer in the segregated United States Army during World War Two. He met his future wife Genii Paprin, a young woman of Jewish descent, at a Labor Canteen in Honolulu in August 1945. Even though interracial marriages were illegal in most states at that time, the couple married in October of that year. They moved to Hollis, Queens in 1956 and were the first racially-mixed family in their neighborhood. Together they raised three daughters, Lani, Saury, and Marie Guinier.
Lazaro Medina was an Afro-Paraguayan who was best known as the founder and director of the Ballet Camba Cua, the only dance troupe of Paraguay based on the dances of former African slaves. Medina was also a political activist who assisted other Afro-Paraguayans who faced racial discrimination and the consequences of the confiscation of their lands by Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner in the 1980s. The ballet was named after Camba Cua, one of the few remaining Afro-Paraguayan settlements in the nation.
Little is known about Medina’s background including his parents and date of birth. Nor is there much information about his formal training. Medina founded Ballet Camba Cua in 1991 basing it partly on the recalled stories of his father who described earlier festivals of people of African descent. The Ballet was named after the Afro-Paraguayan community of Camba Cua which was founded by a group of 250 black lancers who were given land, a team of oxen, and seeds to plant aftrer they helped defeat a ruler who was sent into exile. The goal of the Ballet was to make Afro-Paraguayan culture visible and connected to the larger world of African culture.
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