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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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


Monique Miles Bruner

children's book editor and author, was born Patricia L'Ann Carwell in Smyrna, Tennessee, to Robert Carwell, a civil servant, and Erma Carwell, a hospital admissions aide (Erma's maiden name is unknown). At the age of three, Patricia and her family moved north to St. Louis, Missouri. Several years later, following her parents' divorce, Patricia, her mother, and her siblings moved back to Nashville, Tennessee. By age twelve, Patricia had developed a love for reading and would often spend countless hours memorizing a good story. It was during this time she would meet and become lifelong friends with her future husband, Fredrick McKissack During these formative years Patricia loved to listen to family elders weave tales of the old days recite poems read Bible stories and make up spine tingling ghost tales on the porch before dusk The love of these tales fed her desire to learn ...