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Article

Nigerian writer, also known as Catherine Obianuju Acholonu-Olumba, was born on 26 October 1951 in Orlu of Igbo parentage. The daughter of Chief Lazarus Emejuru Olumba and Josephine Olumba of Umuokwara Village in the town of Orlu in Imo State, southeastern Nigeria, she obtained her early education at local primary and secondary schools in Orlu. At age seventeen, in an arranged marriage, she became the wife of Douglas Acholonu, a surgeon then living in Germany, by whom she had four children: Ifunanya, Nneka, Chidozie, and Kelechi. In 1974 she registered as a student of English and American language and literature and Germanic linguistics at the University of Dusseldorf and earned a master’s degree in her chosen field in 1977.

Upon returning to Nigeria in 1980, she accepted a teaching appointment at Alvan Ikoku College of Education in Owerri. While teaching, Acholonu was also writing her PhD dissertation. In 1982 ...

Article

Julia A. Clancy-Smith

Algerian writer, was the illegitimate daughter of an impoverished, illiterate Berber peasant woman. A Muslim by birth, she converted to Christianity, produced one of the first, if not the first, autobiographies written by an Algerian woman, became a naturalized French citizen, and raised two children who became well-known French literati: Marguerite Taos Amrouche (known as Taos Amrouche), a poet, singer, and novelist, and Jean Amrouche, a writer and poet. But the circumstances of her early life were unpromising at best.

Amrouche was born in a remote village in the rugged mountains of Kabylia in northeastern Algeria in 1882 When the villagers discovered that Fadhma s mother Aïni was pregnant out of wedlock they attempted to kill her as an adulteress as custom cruelly dictated But plucky Aïni placed herself under the protection of the local French colonial magistrate and laid charges against fellow villagers including male family members thus ...

Article

Mary Jane Lupton

autobiographer, poet, educator, playwright, essayist, actor, and director, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, on 4 April 1928. Her pen name derives from having been called “Maya” (“My”) by her brother Bailey and from having being married for nearly three years to Tosh Angelos, a Greek sailor whom she met while she was a salesgirl in a record store. After the marriage to Angelos ended in divorce, she performed as a calypso dancer at The Purple Onion, a San Francisco night club, where she took the stage name that she still uses.

Maya Angelou s mother Vivian Baxter was a blackjack dealer and a nurse her father Bailey Johnson Sr was a doorman a cook and a dietician for the United States Navy Their marriage ended in divorce When Maya was three and Bailey was four the children with name tags on their wrists were sent ...

Article

Stefanie K. Dunning

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928. Because her brother Bailey could not say her whole name as a child, Marguerite became Maya. Angelou's life is synonymous with her work; she has published a series of five autobiographies, her most famous being I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970). In each of these five works, Angelou writes about particular and important parts of her life. Yet not only does each book elucidate periods in Angelou's own life, but these books also paint a picture of the time she is writing about within the black community. Angelou's work demonstrates that the personal is political and that the events that shape and inform an individual life are often related to large political movements and events that affect an entire community.

Long before the publication of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ...

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Lisa Clayton Robinson

The wit, wisdom, and power of Angelou's work have made her one of the most beloved contemporary American writers. Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Later she chose a new name for herself by combining her childhood nickname, Maya, with a version of her first husband's last name. Her family moved to California soon after her birth, but her parents divorced when she was three, and she was sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to be raised by her paternal grandmother. When Angelou was seven, her mother's boyfriend raped her. The trauma of this made Angelou unable to speak for five years. During this period she began to read widely.

Angelou returned to California during high school and took drama and dance lessons. As a teenager, she became San Francisco's first female streetcar conductor. She gave birth at age sixteen to her only child, Guy Johnson To ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

author and performer. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou was given her shortened first name, Maya, by her brother Bailey. She later modified the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos, to whom she was married from 1952 to 1955, to form her last name. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and in 1930 she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, where they were raised for most of the next ten years by their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (or “Momma”). After Angelou's graduation with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School, she and her brother were put on a train for San Francisco, where they were to live with their recently remarried mother. In 1944 the unmarried sixteen-year-old Angelou gave birth to her only child, Clyde Johnson, later Guy Johnson ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

Article

Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

Article

Dahlia Patrice Perryman

author, was born Freddie Mae Baxter in Denmark, South Carolina, the seventh of eight children born to Julia Free, a domestic worker, and Henry Baxter, a farmer. In 1933Baxter's father left home and moved to a nearby town Undeterred her mother continued to work as a domestic caring for the families of others to support her own five girls and three boys The family lived in extreme poverty residing in a tiny one story shack with no bathroom running water or electricity Throughout these early years Baxter picked cotton for a family that owned a hardware store At age thirteen the quick thinking and strong minded young lady decided that she no longer wanted to work in the field She convinced her boss to let her work inside the home fixing breakfast for the owner s family before school Baxter was extremely close to her mother ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

was born in Tunis, Tunisia. She came from a very prosperous family that opposed continued French colonial rule in the early 1950s. She took pride in the liberal politics of her family and she later noted in the 1990s how her grandfather had encouraged his children to stop wearing the veil (hijab) worn by many Muslim women in the 1930s. Béji was the niece of Wassila Ben ‘Ammar, the second spouse of nationalist and first Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba. She attended primary schools in Tunis, and completed her graduate study at the well-respected Carnot secondary school there. After Béji passed her baccalaureate examination, she entered Université de Paris I La Sorbonne, and completed her doctorate there in 1973 Béji returned to Tunisia where she taught literature at the University of Tunis She began to gain renown in the early 1980s Her long study of the authoritarian state and society ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

writer and artist, was born in Giddings, Texas, the daughter of Joshua Robin Bennett and Mayme F. Abernathy, teachers on an Indian reservation. In 1906 the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Gwendolyn's father studied law and her mother worked as a manicurist and hairdresser. When her parents divorced, her mother won custody, but her father kidnapped the seven-year-old Gwendolyn. The two, with Gwendolyn's stepmother, lived in hiding in various towns along the East Coast and in Pennsylvania before finally settling in New York.

At Brooklyn's Girls' High (1918–1921) Bennett participated in the drama and literary societies—the first African American to do so—and won first place in an art contest. She attended fine arts classes at Columbia University (1921) and the Pratt Institute, from which she graduated in 1924 While she was still an undergraduate her poems Nocturne and Heritage were published in ...

Article

Richard A. Bradshaw

pan-African political activist and author who worked with several African heads of state during the decolonization era, was born in the village of Bessou, near Fort de Possel (present-day Possel), in the French colony of Ubangi-Shari (present-day Central African Republic, CAR) on 16 December 1921. Her father, Pierre Gerbillat, was a French businessman from Lyon. Her mother, Joséphine Wouassimba, was the daughter of Gbanziri chief Zoumague of Kuango. Her father paid bridewealth to marry Zoumague’s daughter, but he then married a Belgian woman, after which Andrée, like many young métisse or Euro African mixed blood girls at that time was sent away to be raised and educated by nuns of the Order of St Joseph of Cluny in the Republic of the Congo Brazzaville where she was registered as number twenty two For the next fourteen years Andrée s education and upbringing was supervised by extremely strict and ...

Article

Jason Miller

poet and community activist. Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, to David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks, a former schoolteacher. The house in Kansas belonged to Brooks's grandmother, and soon the family moved to their home in Chicago, Illinois, where Gwendolyn grew up in the city's South Side with her parents and younger brother, Raymond. For most of her life she remained associated with the South Side. Brooks attended Forrestville Elementary School, and it was during these earliest years of her education that her mother began to encourage in her an interest in poetry and verse recital.

Brooks attended Hyde Park High School for a time but later transferred from that mostly white school first to an all black school and later to an integrated one Though her home life afforded her some stability and happiness Brooks was keenly aware of the ...

Article

Stephen Bourne

Black Londoner whose life as a working‐class seamstress was documented in Aunt Esther's Story (1991), published by Hammersmith and Fulham's Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, and co‐authored with Stephen Bourne. Aunt Esther's Story provides a first‐hand account of Bruce's life as a black Briton in the pre‐Empire Windrush years. Her father, Joseph (1880–1941), arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 1900s and settled in a tight‐knit working‐class community in Fulham. He worked as a builder's labourer. When Bruce was a young child, Joseph instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress, and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular African‐American stage star Elisabeth Welch. She also befriended another black citizen of Fulham: the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey She told Bourne he was a nice chap ...

Article

Teresa Tomkins-Walsh

author, historian, teacher, and pianist, was born Olga Thelma Scott on 26 September 1905 in Houston's Third Ward, the only child of Ella and Walter Scott. Ella Scott, the daughter of slaves, was a full-time wife and mother; she was an excellent seamstress who sewed for her family but also taught neighbors to sew clothes, make quilts, and embroider. Walter Scott worked in a tobacco shop. Later, he followed in his father's footsteps to become a mail carrier, delivering mail to the homes of elite white families in the Second Ward.

Encouraged by the example of her paternal uncle, Emmett J. Scott, Bryant studied hard. She spoke as salutatorian at her Douglass Elementary School graduation in 1918 presenting her essay America s Share Is Our Share Bryant s family expected her to attend college and she expected to study out of state Although there ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Lydia Cabrera, along with Fernando Ortiz, is widely considered one of the two most important twentieth century researchers and writers on Afro-Cuban culture. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of investigative work on the subject, including her pioneering El monte (1954), subtitled “Notes on the Religion, the Magic, the Superstitions and the Folklore of Creole Negroes and the Cuban People,” and Reglas de congo (1980), a book on Bantu (known as congo in Cuba) rituals. According to Ana María Simo, author of Lydia Cabrera: An Intimate Portrait, Cabrera's “is the most important and complete body of work on Afro-Cuban religions” of its time. Cabrera also wrote four volumes of short stories inspired by Afro-Cuban legends and beliefs. Her fiction is rich in metaphor and symbolism and has been compared stylistically with the writings of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca ...

Article

Maia Angelique Sorrells

The works of Jeannette Franklin Caines are generally concerned with parent-child communication and other social and political issues. Jeannette Caines often presents these topics in the voice of a child. Abby (1973) explores the dynamics of adoption and the complex issues surrounding the expansion of the family, while her second book, Daddy (1977), deals with divorce and the necessity of maintaining healthy relationships between the child and both parents. Chilly Stomach (1986) concerns the difficulties of defining and confronting sexual abuse. Often Caines's books end without a resolution to the problem. This encourages thought and discussion and facilitates effective communication and problem solving between parents and children.

Caines was born in New York in 1937 and has dedicated much of her life to improving the quality of children s and young adult literature In addition to receiving the National Black Child Development Institute ...

Article

Alice Drum

writer, professor, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of John Cary, a junior high school science teacher, and Carole Hamilton, a one time hairdresser and elementary school special education teacher. Cary's mother took an active role in guiding her early education in public schools in the Philadelphia suburbs. In 1972 in a move that had tremendous significance personally and academically for the young teenager Cary with her mother s encouragement entered the prestigious St Paul s Preparatory School in New Hampshire Historically an all male all white institution St Paul s in the 1970s was actively seeking to change its elitist image by admitting girls and African Americans Although Cary had eagerly sought admission to St Paul s her experiences there were mixed While she was successful academically and socially she often felt isolated never entirely a part of St Paul s established world ...

Article

Joycelyn K. Moody

Lucille Sayles Clifton was born in Depew, New York, to Samuel L. and Thelma Moore Sayles. Her father worked for the New York steel mills; her mother was a launderer, home-maker, and avocational poet. Although neither parent was formally educated, they provided their large family with an appreciation and an abundance of books, especially those by African Americans. At age sixteen, Lucille entered college early, matriculating as a drama major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her Howard associates included such intellectuals as Sterling A. Brown, A. B. Spellman, Chloe Wofford (now Toni Morrison), who later edited her writings for Random House, and Fred Clifton, whom she married in 1958.

After transferring to Fredonia State Teachers College in 1955 Clifton worked as an actor and began to cultivate in poetry the minimalist characteristics that would become her professional signature Like other prominent Black Aesthetic ...

Article

Shirley C. Moody

educator, author, and philanthropist, was born Camille Olivia Hanks in Washington, D.C., to Guy Hanks, a chemist who earned an MA from Fisk University, and Catherine Hanks, a nursery school owner and Howard University graduate. Camille, the eldest of four siblings, attended a series of parochial schools, starting with St. Cyprian's Elementary School in Washington, D.C. She then attended St. Cecilia Academy, also in Washington, and completed her secondary education at Ursuline Academy in Bethesda, Maryland.

Although Camille Hanks had displayed an earlier interest in biology, Latin, and algebra, when she entered the University of Maryland at the age of eighteen she decided to major in psychology. During her sophomore year she was introduced to a twenty-six year old up-and-coming comedian named Bill Cosby. On their second date the young comedian proposed, and the couple was married ten months later, on 25 January 1964 About this same time ...