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 ...
Lynn Orilla Scott
Slave narratives are autobiographical accounts of the physical and spiritual journey from slavery to freedom. In researching her groundbreaking 1946 dissertation, Marion Wilson Starling located 6,006 slave narratives written between 1703 and 1944. This number includes brief testimonies found in judicial records, broadsides, journals, and newsletters as well as separately published books. It also includes approximately 2,500 oral histories of former slaves gathered by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s. The number of separately published slave narratives, however, is much smaller. Although exact numbers are not available, nearly one hundred slave narratives were published as books or pamphlets between 1760 and 1865, and approximately another one hundred following the Civil War. The slave narrative reached the height of its influence and formal development during the antebellum period, from 1836 to 1861 During this time it became a distinct genre of American literature and achieved immense popularity ...
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 ...
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 ...
Best known for his weekly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown has become a controversial figure in the landscape of American race relations. Although once active in the Civil Rights Movement, he has criticized present-day black activists for prioritizing civil rights at the expense of black business initiatives and education programs in computer technologies. He advocates black economic self-sufficiency and has consistently opposed welfare as well as Affirmative Action policies that he believes mainly benefit middle-class blacks. “If America were capitalist,” said Brown in an interview with Matthew Robinson of Business Daily, “it could not be racist. Racism is flourishing because we are awash in socialistic controls.”
Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown was reared by two domestic workers, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes who informally adopted him at the age of two months after his father deserted the family ...
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 ...
Marilyn Demarest Button
educator, administrator, writer, and activist, was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Thomas Cornelius Cuthbert and Victoria Means. She attended grammar and secondary school in her hometown and studied at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Boston University, where she completed her BA in 1920.
Following her graduation, Cuthbert moved to Florence, Alabama, and became an English teacher and assistant principal at Burrell Normal School. Promoted to principal in 1925, she began to lead students and faculty in bold new perspectives on gender equality and interracial harmony.
In 1927 Cuthbert left Burrell to become one of the first deans of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. In her essay, “The Dean of Women at Work,” published in the Journal of the National Association of College Women (Apr. 1928 she articulated her belief that covert sexism at the administrative level of black colleges limited their ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
DaMaris B. Hill
novelist, essayist, educator, and activist, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She was an only child. Golden's mother, a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, was a cleaning woman who played the lottery and became wealthy enough to afford many properties; her father was a taxicab driver. Neither parent had any formal education, but Golden was inspired to write by her father's bedtime stories, which involved African American history and culture. Her mother encouraged her writing talents, too. At age ten Golden had a letter published in the editorial section of the Washington Post. Around age fourteen Golden's mother told her that she was going to write books. This was surprising to Golden because she never even saw her mother reading.
In 1968 Golden graduated from high school and attended American University in Washington, D.C., on a Frederick Douglass Scholarship that was developed as ...
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 ...
Luther Porter Jackson was the ninth of twelve children born to Delilah and Edward Jackson, both former slaves. Inspired by his mother, who had become a schoolteacher after emancipation, Jackson developed a keen interest in education. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Fisk University in Nashville, then taught at high schools and colleges in South Carolina and Kansas. By 1922 he was an instructor at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State College) in Petersburg, where he spent the rest of his life.
Affected by the time he spent in South Carolina, Jackson published two studies about the education of Carolina blacks during the mid-1800s. He then focused almost exclusively on the history of black Virginians. Delving into courthouse records—wills, tax ledgers, marriage licenses, and property lists—he discovered previously uncovered information about black life. The result was the pioneering Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in ...
Trevy A. McDonald
journalist, historian, and activist, was born in Saulsbury, Tennessee, the youngest son of Annie Sybil Thomas, a schoolteacher, and William Robert, a school principal. The grandson of slaves, from an early age he and his older brother Dr. Thomas Dunbar Jarrett, who were raised in Paris, Tennessee, were taught the importance of education. When he was in the first grade, his teacher assigned him to “be” Robert S. Abbott, the founder of the Chicago Defender, and instructed him to tell the class why they should read the newspaper. “My name is Robert S. Abbott and I am the editor of the Chicago Defender and you ought to read my newspaper because my newspaper's standing up for our race,” Jarrett recalled in the 1999 documentary The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords Jarrett went on to begin and end his journalism career at ...
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 ...
Lisa K. Thompson
writer, educator, professional speaker. Marilyn Willingham was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved to Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1955 with Jimmie Kern, a housepainter, and Manella Kern, a schoolteacher, who adopted her six years later. The couple had raised ten children of their own (their youngest child was a junior in high school) when they began caring for Marilyn. A very ambitious and high achieving student at Tipton Street High School, Kern hosted a radio program and served as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Tipton Gazette. In 1971, Kern and a white student delivered valedictory addresses, after her senior class was forced by a Supreme Court order to integrate the city's white school.
Kern enrolled at Jackson State University (JSU) in August 1971 after receiving a four year scholarship Her mother feared for her daughter s safety after the Mississippi State Guard ...
Crystal Marie Fleming
civil rights activist, sociologist, and university administrator, was born in Battles, Mississippi. She was the youngest of three children born to Annie Ruth Woullard and Eunice Stafford Ladner, a presser for a dry cleaner. After her divorce from Eunice, Annie Ruth married William Coty Perryman, an auto mechanic with whom she had six children. Ladner and her siblings were raised in Palmers Crossing, a segregated rural district outside of Hattiesburg. Ladner grew up in a working-class family surrounded by a tight-knit group of extended relatives and neighbors who provided positive role models. Although separated by distance, she always felt a kinship toward her biological father, whose family came from a long line of Creole farmers, artisans, and craftsmen.
Ladner's childhood experiences with Jim Crow segregation racial hostility and economic hardship were mitigated by a supportive black community and a nurturing home environment that bolstered ...
Lois J. Einhorn
writer and activist, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the ninth of ten children of William Patterson Allen, a lawyer, and Mary Magdalene Rice Hayes Allen, a college professor. Across the street from the home where Carrie McCray was born is the campus of Virginia Seminary. McCray's mother served as interim president of this black Baptist seminary from 1906 to 1908. When she was almost seven years old McCray's family moved from Lynchburg to Montclair, New Jersey. Except for the first two years in New Jersey her family spent every summer back in Lynchburg. Throughout her childhood McCray's parents instilled in her a love of poetry, an appreciation for her ancestors, and an understanding of how education provided a path to freedom. In childhood McCray also learned how to remain optimistic even in dark times and how to treat all people with respect, kindness, and compassion.McCray ...