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Todd Steven Burroughs

radical prison journalist and author. Mumia Abu-Jamal was born Wesley Cook in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a teenager in the 1960s he was attracted to the Black Panther Party (BPP). Cook—christened “Mumia” by one of his high school teachers—helped form the BPP's Philadelphia chapter in spring 1969 and became the chapter's lieutenant of information. He wrote articles for the Black Panther, the party's national newspaper, and traveled to several cities to perform BPP work. He left the party in the fall of 1970 because of the split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.

After attending Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont Cook now calling himself Mumia Abu Jamal the surname is Arabic for father of Jamal Jamal being his firstborn returned to Philadelphia and began a radio broadcasting career in the early 1970s Abu Jamal was part of the first generation of black journalists to become professional newscasters for ...

Article

Robert Fikes

writer, was born Jervis Beresford Anderson in the rural village of Chatham, Jamaica, in the British West Indies, to Peter Anderson, a building contractor, and Ethlyn Allen, a homemaker. Peter Anderson enforced a strict Baptist upbringing on his son. Having passed a series of rigorous qualifying exams, within days after graduating from Kingston Technical School, a high school affiliated with the University of the West Indies, Jervis was hired as a trainee journalist at the Daily Gleaner, the most revered and influential newspaper on the island. He left its employ after a year—uncomfortable with the newspaper's conservatism and acquiescence to the colonial regime—and joined the writers' staff at Public Opinion a weekly that advocated self rule and was closely allied with the People s National Party Having rejected the stern religion of his father and the unquestioning allegiance to the British Crown manifested by his ...

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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

Charles Orson Cook

one of the most prolific white scholars of African American history in the twentieth century. Herbert Aptheker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1915 and was educated at Columbia University in the 1930s, where he took an undergraduate degree in geology and an MA and a PhD in history. His first important publication, American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), was based on his doctoral dissertation and challenged the prevailing wisdom that slaves were largely passive victims of white masters. In part an outgrowth of Aptheker's master's thesis on Nat Turner, American Negro Slave Revolts immediately became a controversial work and has remained so since. He was befriended by the influential African American historian Carter G. Woodson and the legendary black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, both of whom encouraged his interest in Negro history. Aptheker's other writings include a seven-volume Documentary History of the Negro People ...

Article

S. L. Gardner

coal miner who wrote the first published memoir of an African American coal miner, was born Robert Lee Armstead in Watson, West Virginia, to Queen Esther Armstead and James Henry Armstead. James worked in Alabama and West Virginia coal mines for fifty years. Bob received his formal education in all‐black schools. The eighth of eleven children born and reared in coal camps, he learned early on that the family's well‐being depended on his parents' extraordinary ability to feed and clothe so many on his father's meager income. His religious mother and authoritarian father instilled in their children a strong sense of responsibility, dedication to the family, and solid work ethic.

In 1929 when Bob was two years old the family moved to Grays Flats a segregated coal camp on the edge of Grant Town West Virginia In the late 1920s the Grant Town mine employed 2 200 men ...

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

McKay Jenkins

tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father to play football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten years old he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, R. Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured the talents of Althea Gibson, who became the first African American to win Wimbledon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful. Johnson was an exacting coach he had his charges practice hitting tennis balls with broom handles to develop their hand eye coordination But his lessons extended beyond tennis he also ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Arthur Ashe was born July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia, to Mattie and Arthur Robert Ashe Sr. He began playing Tennis at the age of ten under the guidance of Dr. Walter Johnson, a prominent coach of African American youth from Lynchburg, Virginia. With Johnson's coaching, Ashe won three American Tennis Association (ATA) boy's championships, becoming the first African American junior to be ranked by the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA).

Between 1960 and 1963 Ashe won three ATA men's singles titles, became the first African American on the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team, and the first African American to win a USLTA national title in the South. His achievements earned him a full scholarship to the University of California at Los Angeles, where he attended from 1961 to 1966 earning a bachelor s degree in business administration While in college Ashe won the U ...

Article

Darlene Clark Hine

A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.

Anna Julia Cooper, in what is considered the first black feminist text, A Voice from the South (1892), declared, “As our Caucasian barristers are not to blame if they cannot quite put themselves in the dark man’s place, neither should the dark man be wholly expected fully and adequately to reproduce the exact Voice of the black Woman.” African American women have written autobiographies since the 1700s. Today, the many forms of autobiography—memoirs, essays, notes, diaries, advice, and self-help—constitute one of the most important genres in black writing.

Some of the most exciting and dynamic work written at the beginning of the twenty first century focused attention on the social history of black women These autobiographical writings both outside and within the academy occupied in a sense the frontier sites of public discourse ...

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

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

Justin David Gifford

pimp-turned-novelist, autobiographer, essayist, and central figure of the black crime fiction movement that began in the 1960s, was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Robert Lee Maupin Jr., the only child of Mary Brown, a hairdresser, and Robert Maupin Sr., a hustler and one-time cook for Chicago mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson. In 1919, the year of the bloodiest race riots in Chicago's history, Robert Maupin Sr. tossed his infant son against a wall and abandoned the family. Beck survived, and Mary Brown supported her infant son by working as a door-to-door hairstylist. In 1924 she met Henry Upshaw the owner of a cleaning and pressing shop the only black business in Rockford Illinois Remembered by Beck as the only father I had ever really known Iceberg Slim 23 Upshaw provided Beck and his mother with a relatively stable middle class life However ...

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

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

William P. Toth

writer and journalist, was born George Harold Bennett in Buckingham, Virginia, the seventh of eight children born to Charles E. Bennett Sr. and Minnie P. (Bryant) Bennett, of whom little else is known. His family moved north to Orange, New Jersey, during the Great Migration, though he often spent his childhood summers in Buckingham. At age sixteen, Bennett worked part time as a features writer for the Newark (N.J.) Herald News. He attended Orange High School, graduating as class valedictorian, and had dreams of becoming a concert pianist.

After high school Bennett joined the air force and was stationed in Korea, where he was a writer for the Public Information Division and an editor for a military newspaper. When he was discharged in 1952, he continued his journalism career as the fiction editor for African American News in Baltimore Maryland and then became a partner ...

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

Donald B. Gibson

Richard Wright's 1945 autobiography Black Boy covers his life from four years of age to the moment of his departure from the South (Memphis, Tennessee, where he had earlier migrated from Mississippi) to the North (Chicago) at nineteen. Its subject and title place it in the tradition of African American autobiography, beginning with the nineteenth-century slave narrative, a genre in which the autobiographer describes the particularities of his own life in order to speak of the situation and condition of the race in general. While presenting the details of one life, Black Boy is intended to reveal the horrors, cruelties, and privations undergone by the masses of African Americans living in the South (and in the United States as a whole) during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Originally Wright's Black Boy was the first section of a much longer work titled American Hunger and divided into ...