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Article

Ellis Goldberg

Egyptian jurist, government official, and author of one of the most important and controversial books of the twentieth century on Islam and politics, Islam and the Foundations of Governance. This short book, published in 1925, caused a storm of protest, and ʿAbd al-Raziq was arraigned before a jury of Egyptian religious leaders (including the grandfather of the late-twentieth-century al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) and officially stripped of his status as a religious scholar (ʿalim).

Abd al-Raziq was born in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya to a well-known and relatively well-off family. He studied at Al-Azhar University. Although he was too young to have known the prominent Egyptian ʿalim Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), his work appears to have been influenced by Abduh’s break with prevailing orthodoxy. Abduh was the highest jurisconsult (mufti) in Egypt at the time of his death. In 1915 ʿAbd al Raziq became a ...

Article

Eric Young

Paul Biya was born to poor parents of the Bulu ethnic group in southern French Cameroon. After his primary education, Biya briefly entered the seminary, but ultimately attended a French secondary school in Yaoundé. Later he studied in France at the Sorbonne, the Institut des études politiques, and the Institut des Hautes études d’Outre Mer. Returning to Cameroon in 1962, he began serving in administrative positions in the office of the presidency. Biya held a variety of administrative and cabinet posts until President Ahmadou Ahidjo appointed him minister of state in 1970. Five years later, Ahidjo named him prime minister.

In November 1982 Ahidjo resigned and Biya became the second president of Cameroon. Ahidjo, however, retained his position of head of the sole legal party. Conflict ensued as Biya moved away from the autocratic style of his predecessor, but in 1983 Biya prevailed He later ...

Article

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

Charles Alexis Oswald Durand became an orphan at the age of two when an earthquake destroyed the city of Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti in 1842. Afterwards, Durand went to live with his grandmother in the frontier town of Ouanaminthe. Little is known of his first years of studies, but at age sixteen he was already working for his living as a tinsmith. While making pots and pans in the tiny village of Saint-Louis du Nord, he read and wrote his first verses. He was later offered a job as a primary school teacher.

Demesvar Delorme, a renowned politician and writer, assisted Durand in publishing his first books of poetry. Durand's reputation as a poet grew, particularly after the publication of “Choucoune” in 1883, which recounts how the narrator's beautiful black mistress is seduced by a white foreigner. Other works by Durand include Quatre nouveaux poèmes (1896 ...

Article

The son of slaves, Juan Gualberto Gómez was born in Santa Ana, Cuba. His parents bought his freedom, a practice allowed through manumission laws in Cuba. He was educated under the tutelage of mulatto (of African and European descent) poet Antonio Medina y Céspedes at a local religious school that was known to be a refuge for black children. Sensing that his racial background would limit his opportunities in Cuba, Gómez left the island in 1869 for Paris, France, where he studied the art of cabinetmaking and, later, engineering. Poverty soon forced him to leave his studies and pursue a career in journalism, a profession that would provide him with an outlet for expressing his political and social views.

Gómez's stay in Paris was a formative experience in his life. He became acquainted with various eminent members of Cuba's expatriate community, including separatists such as Vicente Aguilera ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Cheddi Jagan was born in 1918 on a Sugar plantation in the English colony of British Guiana. The son of indentured servants from India, Jagan became one of the most popular politicians in this predominantly working-class Indian nation. Although poor, Jagan's parents managed to send him to secondary school in the capital of Georgetown and from there to Howard University in Washington, D.C. Jagan enrolled at the predominantly African American Howard University as a premedical student, and he supplemented his income by working part-time during the summers as an elevator operator and patent-medicine salesman in the Harlem area of New York City.

After graduating from Howard, Jagan attended the Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago, Illinois. While earning his degree Jagan met his wife, a white American nurse named Janet Rosenberg; they married in 1943. Together, the couple began studying the principles of Socialism ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Biographer of Ignatius Sancho, the African writer whose letters were published in England in 1782. Jekyll was the only son of Edward Jekyll, a captain in the Royal Navy. Details concerning his place of birth are uncertain. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, left for France upon completion of his studies in 1774, and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1788.

Jekyll may have met Sancho during this period, but there is no confirmation of this. In fact, information regarding their relationship is scarce and is left to much speculation. However, one piece of evidence affirms that Jekyll and Sancho did indeed meet and had some form of connection that extended beyond the purely professional. A letter written around 1803 by Sancho's son William to Jekyll, suggests that Jekyll was generous to the Sancho family:

To Joseph Jekyll Esq M P From ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

José María Morales was the son of a military man who fought in the Battle of the Patricios in 1807 against the British forces. His father's continued participation in Argentina's independence and civil wars forced Morales to leave school early and work as a tinsmith. In 1838 Morales followed his father's example, setting out for Montevideo to fight with the Unitarians (who envisioned a centralized political system based in Buenos Aires) in exile against the Argentine leader Juan Manuel Rosas. Rosas enjoyed widespread support in the black community—including Domingo Sosa, another rising Afro-Argentine military figure and contemporary of Morales—in part because his opposition to Buenos Aires's white Creole elite allowed for a more socially diverse society. Rosas's highly authoritarian government sparked opposition, however, especially among some middle-class blacks, including Morales. Argentina's civil war lasted until 1852 when the Unitarians finally marched triumphantly into Buenos Aires and ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Olusegun Obasanjo was born in Abeokuta, in Ogun State, Nigeria, to a Christian Yoruba family that lacked the means to send him to college. He excelled at the provincial Abeokuta Baptist High School, however, and when he enlisted in the army in 1958, it was partly with an eye toward further schooling. During his tenure as a soldier, he studied in both India and England.

Obasanjo specialized as an engineer and rose through the ranks of Nigeria’s Engineering Corps. Later, while serving as head of state, he credited this training for the systematic clarity of his thought. Between 1959 and 1976 Obasanjo advanced from second lieutenant to chief of staff, supreme headquarters. During this time he led Nigerian forces in the country’s civil war (1969–1970), and he accepted the surrender of the Biafran troops in 1970.

Obasanjo was devoted to military service but appeared to have ...

Article

Eric Young

Throughout his life, Ian Smith has been a conservative rebel. For years he was one of the most ardent proponents of white settler society in southern Africa, and he has since become one of the most vociferous critics of independent rule in Zimbabwe.

Born and raised in colonial Southern Rhodesia, Smith joined the British Royal Air Force in 1939. After serving as a combat pilot in World War II, Smith attended Rhodes University in South Africa and after graduation returned to Southern Rhodesia to work on his large cattle ranch. Smith was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the British colony as a member of the Liberal Party in 1948, only to switch five years later to the more conservative United (Federal) Party. He later became chief whip but left the party in 1961 to help form the Rhodesian Front a party opposed to making concessions ...

Article

Martine Fernandes

Trained as a lawyer in Paris, Georges Sylvain founded a law school in Haiti in 1888 and worked in the Department of Public Education in 1894. As a great defender of culture he originated several writing and theatrical venues, including the influential L'Oeuvre des écrivains haïtiens (an organization for Haitian writers), and participated in the cultural events that celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Haitian Revolution in 1904. Among his literary incursions, his collection of poems Confidences et mélancolies (Confidences and Melancholia) and his fables in Créole, Cric?Crac!, stand out for their beauty and passion.

He received the distinguished title of “Chevalier de la légion d'honneur” by the French government after he opened a branch of the “Alliance Française” in Haiti—an organization that sought to expand the influence of France abroad through the propagation of the French language and culture. From 1909 to 1912 he held ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

The child of a washerwoman and a musician, José Manuel Valdés was born in Lima, Peru's capital city, when nearly half its population was black. Though his parents could not afford to educate him, his godparents and mother's employers stepped in, seeing to his early education at a prominent religious school. He would later become the first black writer to publish in Peru, both as a doctor and as a poet, as early as 1791.

After completing school, Valdés yearned to become a priest, but during the colonial period blacks were denied access to the priesthood by the Catholic Church, and he turned instead to medicine. He could have prospered as a romancista, a type of medical practitioner that required little training and was restricted to “external remedies.” In 1788 he took the more challenging route and pursued the title of latinista surgeon for ...