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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

Daniel Douglas

(b. 14 August 1942), scholar. One of the foremost contemporary scholars in the field of African American studies, Asante was born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. in Valdosta, Georgia, one of sixteen children of Arthur Lee Smith and Lillie Smith. In 1964 he graduated cum laude from Oklahoma Christian University with a BA in communications. The next year he earned his MA, also in communications, from Pepperdine University. Three years later, in 1968, he earned his PhD in communications from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

After spending a year at Purdue University, Asante returned to UCLA as a faculty member. With the 1969 publication of his first major work, Rhetoric of Black Revolution he was named director of the university s Center for Afro American Studies He helped create the African American Library at UCLA and helped establish its MA program in Afro ...

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

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 ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.

Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...

Article

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

activist and writer who popularized the “Black Power” slogan in the 1960s. A native of Trinidad, Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, immigrated to the United States at the age of eleven to join his parents, who had migrated several years earlier. Even as a child he demonstrated an interest in politics, and the socialist activist Bayard Rustin was one of his earliest role models.

A gifted student, Carmichael attended the Bronx High School of Science, graduating in 1960. Although he was offered admission to a number of colleges and universities, his growing racial consciousness led him to the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1964.

While a student he became involved in the civil rights movement participating initially in demonstrations organized by the Nonviolent Action Group NAG an organization devoted to challenging segregation in the vicinity of Washington ...

Article

Brittney L. Yancy

activist, philosopher, Marxist, and professor. Angela Davis was born 26 January 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, in an area that was so frequently bombed by the Ku Klux Klan it was known as Dynamite Hill. Born to B. Frank Davis, a teacher and businessman, and Sally Davis, who was also a teacher, Angela Davis's political activism started in her early childhood, and by high school, she volunteered for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the age of fifteen, Davis received a scholarship to finish school at the Elizabeth Irwin School in New York City. Davis's teacher introduced her to socialist ideas that would inform her political participation in the civil rights and Black Power movements. When Davis finished high school in 1961, she moved to Massachusetts to attend Brandeis University, where she graduated in 1965 with degrees in philosophy and French ...

Article

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

Lawrie Balfour

The son of a Baptist minister from Barbados and a Virginia schoolteacher, John Gibbs St. Clair Drake grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Staunton, Virginia. As a student at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia from 1927 to 1931, he majored in biology, but his study of anthropology with Professor W. Allison Davis defined Drake's future.

After graduating Hampton, Drake worked as a high school teacher in rural Virginia and continued his interest in anthropology. His contributions to a social survey of life in a Mississippi town were published as part of Davis's study titled Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class (1941). Drake also became involved in the peace movement, spending his summers with Quaker activists. Reflecting on the “peace caravan” that took him and other demonstrators through the South during the summer of 1931 Drake commented that he just ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

anthropologist, was born John Gibbs St. Clair Drake Jr. in Suffolk, Virginia, the son of John Gibbs St. Clair Drake Sr., a Baptist pastor, and Bessie Lee Bowles. By the time Drake was four years old his father had moved the family twice, once to Harrisonburg, Virginia, and then to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The family lived in a racially mixed neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where Drake grew to feel at ease with whites. His strict Baptist upbringing gave him a deep understanding of religious organizations. His father also taught him to work with tools and to become an expert in woodworking, a skill Drake later employed in his field research.

A trip to the West Indies in 1922 with his father led to major changes in Drake s life The Reverend Drake had tried to instill in his son a deep respect for the British Empire but the ...

Article

Jon-Christian Suggs and Dale Edwyna Smith

[This article contains three subentries, on Du Bois's life, on his historical writing, and on his literary writing.]

Article

Rachelle Gold

civil rights leader. James Forman was executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s. During the 1960s Forman's SNCC was a more aggressive civil rights organization than were the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Forman was born in Chicago, but he lived with his grandmother in rural Mississippi until he was six. At that time his parents returned to Chicago; he still spent his summers in Mississippi. In 1947 he graduated with honors from Chicago's Englewood High School, and during the Korean War he served in Okinawa in the Air Force. After his military discharge in 1952, Forman attended the University of Southern California. One day in 1953 having been reading at the library Forman went outside for a study break Responding to a reported robbery two Los Angeles police officers saw Forman ...

Article

Eleanor Hinton Hoytt

Widely recognized and honored as one of the great civil rights and women’s rights leaders of contemporary history, Dorothy Irene Height spent decades inspiring and leading countless organizations in the struggle for equality and human rights for all people. To mark her ninety-second birthday on 24 March 2004, Dorothy Irene Height was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush. The ceremony in the Capital Rotunda in Washington was to honor her lifetime of achievements and service to the country as one of the preeminent social justice and civil rights activists of her time.

In her memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates, Height chronicles her life and work for justice, equality, and opportunity for women and black families. In it, she recounts her close relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune, as well as her encounters with W. E. B. Du Bois ...

Article

Melinda R. Weidman

legal scholar, author, historian, civil rights advocate, and prominent federal judge. Brought up in humble circumstances in Trenton, New Jersey, Aloysius Leon Higginbotham Jr. grew up to become an influential judge and a strong advocate of civil rights and affirmative action.

Early on Higginbotham encountered intense racism and discrimination He was raised in a modest home his mother was a domestic worker and his father was a laborer He attended a segregated all black elementary school Ewing Park but then became the first African American student to attend the local all white academic high school His mother worked hard for this hounding the principal until he agreed to enroll Higginbotham In order to enroll Higginbotham had to persuade the school s Latin teacher to teach him Latin the summer before A year of Latin was a prerequisite to attending the high school and Ewing Park ...

Article

Stephanie Y. Evans

feminist theorist and author. Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, bell hooks was raised in the segregated South and was aware of racial, gender, and economic discrimination at an early age. Defying the odds, she earned a BA in 1973 from Stanford University in English, an MA in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD in 1983 from the University of California, Santa Cruz. hooks's dissertation explored the ideas of Toni Morrison.

hooks began writing her first book, Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, when she was nineteen years old, and, after much revision, it was published in 1981 Since then her writing has explored themes including the experience of growing up black and female in America the creation of feminist ideals by which to evaluate culture observations on interracial relationships and race relations and discussions of love and spirituality ...

Article

One of the most powerful, well-connected lawyers in the United States, Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr. has had a long, sometimes contradictory career. Few civil rights spokespeople of his generation have attained the kind of corporate and political influence Jordan has, an achievement that was enhanced by his position as a top adviser to and close friend of President Bill Clinton. Yet some critics charged that the former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) field secretary and Urban League president lost touch with his original goals: to improve the economic lives of African Americans.

Jordan was born in Atlanta, Georgia The middle son of a postal clerk and his wife a caterer he was deeply influenced by his mother s drive and business sense As a child he sometimes accompanied her to catering jobs where he observed Atlanta s white establishment especially the Lawyer s Club ...