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Wesley Borucki

journalist. Born in Lansing, Michigan, Ray Stannard Baker was the son of Joseph and Alice Stannard Baker. Joseph moved the family to Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, in 1875 where he worked as a real estate and utility agent. Ray dabbled in literary, agricultural, and scientific studies at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) before turning his attention to the law. He studied at the University of Michigan Law School for only one semester, however, before becoming interested in prose writing. In 1893 he became a reporter for the Chicago Record newspaper. When the Panic of 1893 gripped Chicago, Baker saw levels of poverty, unemployment, and unrest beyond what he had ever seen before, and he was drawn to the experiences of the poor whom he found in soup kitchens, jails, and flophouses. Baker gained further sympathy for the common man when he covered the labor leader Jacob ...

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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

Frank A. Salamone

author, editor at Ebony magazine for more than fifty years, and popular historian of African American history. Lerone Bennett Jr. was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on 17 October 1928 to Lerone Bennett Sr. and Alma Reed. He grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and graduated from Morehouse College in Georgia in 1949. He became a journalist for the Atlanta Daily World that same year. Four years later he joined Jet in Chicago as associate editor, and the next year he moved to Ebony as associate editor. He moved up the editorial ranks at Ebony, becoming senior editor in 1958. In 1987 he became executive editor. While at Ebony, Bennett also continued to write, and the magazine published his articles on African American history.

Bennett collected his early articles for his first book, Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619–1962 (1962 ...

Article

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to parents of Creole descent who eventually converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. While Arna was young, the Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles, California. The childhood loss of his mother and the stern upbringing by his pragmatic father affected him deeply. His father hoped, mistakenly, that his son would make the family trade of masonry his life's work. Educated at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923. In 1924 he took a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City.

Literary notice and success came early to Bontemps. His creativity and social conscience were excited by the cultural vitality he found in New York in the 1920s. By 1926 his poetry had appeared in two of the most important journals of the period, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ...

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Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

Article

Christopher Williams

scholar and activist, was born John Henry Clark in Union Springs, Alabama, the first of five children to John Clark and Willella (Willie) Mays, sharecroppers. Later Clarke changed the spelling of his name, dropping the “y” in Henry and replacing it with “ik” after the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen. He also added an “e” at the end of Clarke.

Clarke s great grandmother Mary who lived to be 108 inspired him to study history The young Clarke sat on her lap listening to stories and it was through her he later said that he first became aware of the word Africa Clarke grew up in the Baptist church and wanted to satisfy his intellectual curiosity regarding the Bible and its relationship to African people Like a detective he searched the Bible looking for an image of God that looked like him His dissatisfaction with what he found later ...

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Beverly Lanier Skinner

scholar, professor, and cultural critic, was born in Hampton, Virginia, the youngest of nine siblings in one of Hampton's most socially prominent black families. His father, Andrew Davis, born a slave, was an 1872 graduate of Hampton Institute and was the “leading plasterer and plastering contractor in Hampton” (Negro History Bulletin, Jan. 1950). He and his wife, Frances S. Nash, were strict disciplinarians who taught their children to refuse any form of charity during the difficult Depression era and to refuse menial job offers from whites. Davis's parents also taught him high standards of decorum, including not eating watermelon, not shelling peas on the front porch, and avoiding “emotional excesses” (for example, “shouting” in church and talking loudly), he recalled in a 1944 essay called “When I Was in Knee Pants” (47).

Davis s parents sent him to the ...

Article

John Edgar Tidwell

During the Depression and World War II, Frank Marshall Davis was arguably one of the most distinctive poetic voices confronting W. E. B Du Bois's profound metaphor of African American double consciousness. Complementing a career that produced four collections of poetry was one as a foremost journalist, from 1930 to 1955. Through the “objective” view of a newspaperman and the “subjective” vision of a poet, Davis struggled valiantly to harmonize Du Bois's dilemma of the color line.

Frank Marshall Davis was born on 31 December 1905 in Arkansas City, Kansas,“ … a yawn town fifty miles south of Wichita, five miles north of Oklahoma, and east and west of nowhere worth remembering” (Livin’ the Blues His mention of interracial schools suggested a harmonious small town life the reality however barely concealed deeper racial tensions Housing jobs movie theaters and all facets of life were tacitly divided ...

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Jeff Shantz

writer and union activist, was born in rural Alabama. As a youth Denby endured the hardships of farm labor. During the 1920s he joined the Great Migration of African American workers who migrated to the northern industrial centers in search of employment. Denby ended up in Detroit, where he found work as an auto assembler on the production lines.

The 1930s were a period of militant mobilization and organization among workers in the auto industry and Denby became a leading participant in the wildcat strikes that swept through the industry in the 1930s and 1940s crucial struggles in the development of the United Auto Workers UAW His involvement in these organizing campaigns both reinforced his view that struggles over race and class were intricately enmeshed and convinced him that working class gains could not be made unless unions were prepared to attack systemic racism a perspective that was not ...

Article

Steven Leikin

diplomat, preacher, and author, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Sallie Montgomery. Nothing is known of his biological father. His mother, however, was an African American, and Dennis was of mixed race parentage. In 1897 he was adopted by Green Dennis, a contractor, and Cornelia Walker. During his youth Dennis was known as the “mulatto child evangelist,” and he preached to church congregations in the African American community of Atlanta before he was five years old. By the age of fifteen he had toured churches throughout the United States and England and addressed hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite his success as an evangelist Dennis had ambitions to move beyond this evangelical milieu. In 1913, unschooled but unquestionably bright, he applied to Phillips Exeter Academy and gained admission. He graduated within two years and in 1915 entered Harvard.

Dennis s decisions to ...

Article

Kimani Njogu

Kenyan writer, publisher, political activist, and supporter of writing in indigenous languages, epitomizes the history of struggle against oppression in Kenya. As a young man, he started engaging the British at Alliance High School, and was subsequently expelled. Later in his life, he was very active in generating, publishing, and distributing popular anticolonial songs. Some of those songs featured prominently in the trial of Jomo Kenyatta at the Kapenguria courts. In 1940 during World War II, he joined the colonial army as a clerical officer, and on returning to Kenya in 1946, he teamed up with friends to found African Book Writers Ltd. He published Uhoro wa Ugurani (On Marriage), a fictional work on how returning soldiers were reshaping the institution of marriage, because they had more money than those who had remained behind. In 1948 he published a political booklet written in Kiswahili, Roho ya Kiume na Bidii ...

Article

educator, literary and cultural critic, and leading scholar in African and African American studies, was born Louis Smith Gates in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates, nicknamed “Skip” by his mother at birth, grew up in nearby Piedmont, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr., a mill worker and janitor, and Pauline Coleman Gates, a homemaker and seamstress. Born four years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and encouraged by his parents, he excelled in Piedmont's integrated schools, including the Davis Free School and Piedmont High School, as did his older brother Paul, known as “Rocky,” who would become Chief of Oral Surgery at Bronx Lebanon Hospital.

At age fourteen Gates experienced two cataclysmic events in his young life the first a misdiagnosed slipped epithesis a hip injury that led to three surgeries in a year and the second his joining the Episcopal ...

Article

Olivia A. Scriven

mathematician, college professor, and public school reformer, was born Evelyn Boyd, the second of two girls of William Boyd, a blue-collar worker who held various jobs as a custodian, chauffeur, and messenger, and Julia Walker Boyd, a civil servant who worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the Depression. Granville received her early education in the pre–Brown v. Board of Education era of separate but equal public schools for blacks and whites Despite the dual system Boyd would later insist that she received a quality education in elementary and middle school and later at Dunbar High School one of three public high schools in the Washington D C area designated for black students Dunbar had a reputation for high academic standards and for emphasizing the importance of racial pride and personal excellence Recalling that period Granville writes My generation benefited ...

Article

Sharon D. Johnson

writer and television executive, was born Shirley Anne Morris Taylor in Stratford, Connecticut, the third of four children of Julian Augustus Taylor, a minister, and Margaret (Morris) Taylor. Her mother named her Shirley, after the child star Shirley Temple. Much of her mother's life as a black woman abandoned by her family who chose to “pass” as white has been chronicled and published by Haizlip. She revealed in her first book, The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White (1994), that she was eight years old when she “first understood that all but one of my mother's family had become white” (13). Haizlip's entire writing career has been dedicated to the examination of the complexities of race and identity in America, as experienced through her own family life and history.

Haizlip considered her childhood to be idyllic and her comfortably upper middle ...

Article

Robert Fikes

Born into a large family in a racially segregated middle-class section of Demopolis, Alabama, where he was not allowed to visit the town's public library, James S. Haskins was deeply affected by the swirl of events related to the mid century civil rights movement He received his bachelor s degree in history at Alabama State College but limited career opportunities in the South in the early 1960s led him to seek employment in New York City Two years of selling newspaper advertisements and working as a Wall Street stockbroker brought him to the realization that he was better suited for a career in education and thus he applied for a position in the New York City public school system After teaching music at several locations he found a job teaching a special education class at P S 92 Obsessed with the plight of his inner city pupils he was ...

Article

Christopher Phelps

revolutionary socialist writer, was born Cyril Lionel Robert James in the village of Caroni on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, a British colony, to Robert Alexander James, a schoolteacher and principal of modest means, and Ida Elizabeth (“Bessie”) James, a devout Anglican and avid reader of English literature. His parents nicknamed him “Nello,” a name later used among friends. His earliest education took place under his strict father in a tiny schoolhouse in North Trace. At age nine James won a scholarship to Queen's Royal College (QRC), the island's best school, in the capital, Port of Spain. At QRC between 1911 and 1918 James indulged his love for the game of cricket and English novels (Thackeray'sVanity Fair was a particular favorite to the detriment of his grades His teachers as had his family impressed upon him the importance of proper manners and fair play ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

author, poet, and retired professor at Eastern Michigan University was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to Clarence Marcellus, a Baptist minister, and Maude Hilton Long, a former teacher.

Naomi Cornelia Long Madgett was the youngest of three children and her parents' only daughter. Before Madgett turned two years old, her family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, and she graduated from Ashland Grammar School there. Influenced by her parents' love of education and her father's vast library, Madgett discovered her love for poetry as a girl. “I discovered Alfred Lord Tennyson and Langston Hughes at about the same time [while] sitting on the floor of my father's study when I was about seven or eight,” Madgett said as quoted in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. “I think my early poetry represents something of the variety of interest and style that these two widely divergent poets demonstrate.”

Her ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

author, educator, and poet, was born Don Luther Lee, in Little Rock, Arkansas, to Maxine Lee and an unknown father. In 1943 his family migrated to Detroit, Michigan. Lee's father deserted the family before his baby sister was born. His mother began working as a janitor and barmaid to support her two children. Lee's mother introduced him to the Detroit Public Library, where he spent hours at a time reading. His mother, the person he credits with his interest in black arts, died of a drug overdose when he was sixteen. Upon her death he moved to Chicago, Illinois, and attended Dunbar Vocational High School. His love for reading continued to flourish as he explored works by authors such as Chester Himes, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Jean Toomer. Lee graduated in 1960 and began selling magazines when he could not ...

Article

Frank Mehring

journalist, editor, and writer, was born Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi in Hamburg, Germany, the son of Al-Haj Massaquoi, a businessman from Liberia, and Bertha Baetz, a domestic worker and nurse from Germany. Massaquoi descended from a family with strong political ties and power in the West African capital city of Monrovia. His grandfather Momolu Massaquoi inherited the crown of his parents, King Lahai and Queen Sandimanni.

During the course of his life Massaquoi lived on three continents, but it was his experience of growing up black in Germany, a child of Liberian and German parents, that set the course of much of his life. Massaquoi's father, the consul general to Germany since 1922, had to return to Liberia in 1929 leaving his wife and son behind Massaquoi was a child during a period when African American culture and particularly music had become a source ...

Article

Frances Smith Foster

scholar, teacher, editor, and author, was born Nellie Yvonne Reynolds in New York City, the daughter of Harry, a taxi driver, and Nellie Reynolds, a homemaker. Graduating cum laude from Queens College in 1969 with a BA in English, McKay was accepted into the PhD program at Harvard University for British and American Literature.

McKay was part of the first cohort of African American graduate students determined to include the literatures, histories, and religions of African Americans in their research and study. However, McKay often reminisced about Harvard not having any black literature class and how her graduate colleagues taught one another. Not only did they have to teach one another but they also had to create their own bibliographies and share the few extant copies of the books. McKay dedicated her life to filling this void.

In 1973 she began teaching at ...