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Alma Jean Billingslea Brown

civil rights activist, educator, and businesswoman, was born Juanita Odessa Jones in Uniontown, Alabama, the youngest of eight children of Ella Gilmore Jones and Alex Jones Sr., an influential and prosperous black farmer in Perry County, Alabama. When Alabama telephone and electric companies refused to provide service to the Jones homestead, Alex Jones Sr. and his brothers installed their own telephone lines and wired their own homes for electricity. One consequence of the family's financial independence was that Juanita was able to attend boarding school from age five until she graduated from high school in Selma, Alabama, where she had older sisters in attendance at the historically black Selma University. After high school, in 1947 Jones enrolled in Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in business education with a minor in history and social studies. She returned to Alabama after earning a BS in 1951 ...

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Christopher Phelps

a Philadelphia radio journalist who became an international icon in debates over race and the death penalty after he was convicted for the murder of a police officer, was born Wesley Cook to Edith and William Cook, migrants from the South. The family subsisted on welfare in the housing projects of North Philadelphia. As a boy Cook read avidly and sought enlightenment, attending services with his Baptist mother and Episcopalian father, then dabbling in Judaism, Catholicism, and the Nation of Islam. When he was about ten years old his father died of a heart attack, prompting him to assume a protective role toward his twin brother, Wayne, and younger brother, William.

The black liberation movement shaped Cook's coming of age. In a 1967 school class in Swahili, a Kenyan teacher assigned him the first name Mumia. In 1968 at age fourteen he and some friends protested ...

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Steven J. Niven

emigrationist leader, was born Henry Houston in Newton County, Georgia, to enslaved parents whose names are not now known. Most of what is known of Henry Adams's personal life is derived from testimony he offered in 1880 to the United States Senate during a government investigation of the causes of mass African American emigration from the former states of the Confederacy.

Henry was given the surname Adams when a planter of that name brought him and his family to Desoto Parish, Louisiana, in 1850. He used that surname for the rest of his life. Upon the planter's death eight years later ownership of Henry and his family was transferred to a teenage girl, Nancy Emily Adams who hired the family out to various plantations near the Texas Louisiana border Laboring alongside his father on the plantation of a man named Ferguson in Logansport Louisiana Henry Adams was ...

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Mary T. Henry

bishop, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. He and his three siblings, Avery, Charity, and Lucy Rose, were raised in a spiritual and intellectually stimulating home. His father, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and social activist, in the 1920s organized the first African American bank in Columbia and the first modern statewide civil rights organization in South Carolina. None of these activities went unnoticed by young John and they helped to define his later focus and commitments. Adams was educated in the segregated Columbia school system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His undergraduate work was completed at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned an AB degree in History in 1947 After studying at Boston University School of Theology he received a bachelor of ...

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LaNesha NeGale DeBardelaben

physician and public health provider, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fourth of five children of Hillard Boone Alexander, a horse trainer, and Virginia Pace Alexander. Born enslaved in 1856 to James and Ellen Alexander in Mecklenburg, Virginia, Alexander's father migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. Alexander's mother was born enslaved in 1854 to Thomas and Jenne Pace in Essex County, Virginia. She and her brother migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. In 1882 Hillard and Virginia were married. A working-class but respectable family, the Alexanders lived in the city's Seventh Ward with their three boys, Raymond Pace Alexander, Milliard, and Schollie, and two girls, Irene and Virginia. Strong family values were instilled in the Alexander children at an early age. Church, education, and a solid work ethic were emphasized in the home. Shortly after the birth of the youngest child in 1903 ...

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Onita Estes-Hicks

librarian, Harlem Renaissance cultural worker, and playwright, was born Regina Anderson in Chicago, the daughter of Margaret (Simons) Anderson, an artist, and William Grant Anderson, a prominent criminal attorney. She was reared in a black Victorian household in Chicago's Hyde Park district, amply provided for by a father who counted W. E. B. Du Bois, Theodore Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson among his friends and clients. Regina attended normal school and high school in Hyde Park, studying later at Wilberforce University and the University of Chicago, and eventually receiving a degree in Library Science from Columbia University's School of Library Science.

The Chicago of her youth and early adulthood struck her as provincial, yet it was flavored by migrants from the deep South and enlivened by the voice of Ida B. Wells whose writings on lynching gave Anderson an understanding of the link between race and violence ...

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Suzi Takahashi

actor, director, educator, and artist advocate, was born Osceola Marie Macarthy in Albany, Georgia, of black, white, and Native American racial heritage. The daughter of a life insurance executive, Archer attended Fisk University Preparatory School in Nashville, Tennessee. She then enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1909, where she was a pupil of Alain Locke and the sociologist Kelly Miller. Self‐defined as a suffragette, in 1913, her senior year at Howard, Archer and twenty‐one fellow female students cofounded one of the largest black fraternal organizations in the United States, Delta Sigma Theta, a sorority dedicated to community service and the mutual support of African American women. That same year Archer began to pursue her interest in drama by performing the title role in the Howard University Dramatics Club production of The Lady of Lyon a Victorian romantic comedy known as a showcase for actors ...

Article

Christine Schneider

carpenter, insurance agent, contractor and activist, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1885. As a young boy, Artemus saw that discrimination and oppression was still very much alive in the South, even following Emancipation in 1865 His parents were sharecroppers thus they were subject to subordination through this system because it ultimately favored the owners of the land not the workers Although there were many important benefits to this agricultural arrangement the sharecropping system was ultimately oppressive Landlords exploited their positions by extending credit to the workers during times of bad weather and poor quality of crop and market price The interest rates were often so high that workers were unable to pay them Often this meant landlords and sharecroppers were in much the same relationship as master and slave had been It was precisely for this reason that Artemus grew up determined to fight for his ...

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Ron Howell

first African American elected to political office in Brooklyn, New York, and a leader in the mid-twentieth century effort to integrate American tennis, was born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, then part of the British West Indies. His mother was Lillian de Grasse Baker, whose family had successful retail businesses on the island; his father was the Reverend Alfred B. Baker, a Wesleyan Methodist minister.

Tragedy struck in 1900 when Lillian Baker died of consumption. Bertram, an only child, would find comfort in the care of his maternal grandmother, Eliza de Grasse. In 1905 Baker's father left Nevis, accepting an offer to become founding pastor of the Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church in Brooklyn. The Reverend Baker would later also found the Beulah Wesleyan Methodist Church in Manhattan.

In 1915 the Reverend Baker returned to Nevis to pick up his seventeen year old son Bertram who ...

Article

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist who was instrumental in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ella Josephine Baker grew up in Littleton, North Carolina, listening to her grandparents’ stories about slavery and their struggle to support themselves and their families after Emancipation. Her maternal grandparents were farmers who had managed to acquire their own land, whereas her paternal grandparents, like many former slaves, were landless tenant farmers. Baker's parents, Blake and Georgianna Ross Baker, met in secondary school and were determined to use their educations to establish better lives for themselves and their children. Blake Baker worked as a waiter on a steamship, a job that required frequent travel away from his wife and three children. Before her marriage in 1896 Georgianna Baker worked as a schoolteacher Later she worked as a housewife occasionally taking in boarders to earn extra income and she was actively involved in the local Baptist ...

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Susan Gushee O'Malley

civil rights organizer, was born Ella Josephine Baker in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Blake Baker, a waiter on the ferry between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., and Georgianna Ross. In rural North Carolina where Ella Baker grew up, she experienced a strong sense of black community. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, acquired the land in Littleton on which he had slaved. He raised fruit, vegetables, and cattle, which he shared with the community. He also served as the local Baptist minister. Baker's mother took care of the sick and needy.

After graduating in 1927 from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker moved to New York City. She had dreamed of doing graduate work in sociology at the University of Chicago, but it was 1929 and times were hard Few jobs were open to black women except teaching which Baker refused to do because this was ...

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Lawrie Balfour

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, the granddaughter of slaves, Ella Baker began her career as an activist early. As a student at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker challenged school policies that she found demeaning. After graduating from Shaw as class valedictorian in 1927, she moved to New York City.

Baker responded to the suffering she witnessed in Harlem during the Great Depression by enlisting in a variety of political causes. In 1930 she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and was elected its first national director a year later. The league, founded by writer George Schuyler, aimed to develop blacks' economic power through collective planning. Baker also became involved with several women's organizations and, as an employee of the Works Progress Administration, offered literacy and consumer education to workers while educating herself about radical politics.

Baker began her affiliation with the National Association for ...

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Barbara Ransby

a pivotal behind-the-scenes figure in progressive African American political movements from the 1930s until her death in 1986. She helped to organize black cooperative campaigns in Harlem during the Great Depression; worked as a grassroots organizer and national leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 1940s; and served as the first interim director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the 1950s. She was a colleague and critic of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the founders and chief sources of inspiration for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was founded in 1960. Baker’s life, which spanned more than eighty years, was immersed in political activity. She was affiliated with nearly three dozen organizations and coalitions over the course of her life and thus left an indelible mark on twentieth-century African American political history.

Although Baker is best ...

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Jeffrey Green

Civil servant and author born in British Guiana (now Guyana). He became postmaster at Victoria‐Belfield in the 1890s, where he organized a black self‐help group with social and agricultural ambitions. He transferred to the Gold Coast (now Ghana) Post Office in 1902. With his wife, Caroline, and five children he settled in Acton, west London. Three more children were born, but five (and their mother) were dead by 1919, and in 1920, in London, he married Edith Goring (who was born in Barbados and had taught in the Gold Coast, 1906–20).

Barbour‐James'sAgricultural and Industrial Possibilities of the Gold Coast was published in London in 1911. In 1917 he retired from the colonial postal service, and he worked with the African Progress Union from 1918 (his friend Kwamina Tandoh was president from 1924 to 1927 accompanied South African delegates to meet the Prime Minister ...

Article

Cynthia Neverdon-Morton

Janie Porter Barrett was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Janie's parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Janie resided in the home of the Skinners, a white family whom her mother served as housekeeper. After her mother's marriage to a railway worker, Janie remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education.

Though the Skinners suggested that she move North, Janie, at her mother's urging, attended Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia, graduating in 1884. While at Hampton, she became convinced that it was her duty as an educated black woman to assiduously work for the betterment of all African Americans. That belief led her to teach in Dawson, Georgia, and at Lucy Craft Laney s Haines Normal and ...

Article

David McBride

physician and public service and church activist, was born Leonidas Harris Berry on a tobacco farm in Woodsdale, North Carolina, the son of the Reverend Llewellyn Longfellow Berry, general secretary of the Department of Home and Foreign Missions of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and Beulah Harris. Leonidas acquired the desire to become a doctor at the age of five, when a distinguished‐looking local doctor treated a small wound on his foot. The young boy was impressed by this “miraculous” event. His aspiration to go to medical school intensified while he was attending Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1924 Berry graduated from Wilberforce University and went on to obtain the SB in 1925 from the University of Chicago. In 1930 he also received his medical degree from the University of Chicago s Rush Medical College Berry continued his medical training earning an MS ...

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Paula J. Giddings

Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, and educated at a Presbyterian school in North Carolina and Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, Bethune in 1904 founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for girls in Florida; she was its president until 1942. Merged with Cookman Institute in 1923, it was subsequently known as Bethune-Cookman College—the only extant historically black college founded by a black woman. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, which united the major black women's organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women, of which she had been president (1924–1928). She was also active in several interracial civil rights organizations.

Bethune's service on the advisory committee of the New Deal's National Youth Administration (1936–1943) extended her influence, particularly after she became director of its Negro Affairs Division in 1939 Her access to the White House and her alliance with ...

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Leyla Keough

Mary McLeod Bethune was born near Mayesville, South Carolina. In 1885 she enrolled at Trinity Presbyterian Mission School. With the aid of her mentor Emma Jane Wilson, she moved on to Scotia Seminary in 1888, a missionary school in Concord, North Carolina. There she was given what was known as a head-heart-hand education, which emphasized not only academic but also religious and vocational training. Her dream was to become a missionary to Africa, so Bethune entered the missionary training school now known as Moody Bible Institute. After a year of study she applied for service but was rejected because Presbyterian policy did not permit blacks to serve in Africa.

Following this rejection Bethune began teaching, first in 1896 at Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, and a year later at the Presbyterians' Kendall Institute in Sumter, North Carolina. In 1900 Bethune moved to Palatka Florida where she ...

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Darlene Clark Hine

organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born Mary Jane McLeod in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of the former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (later Barber‐Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at Dwight Moody's evangelical Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. In 1898 she married Albertus Bethune. They both taught briefly at Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina. The marriage was not happy. They had one child and separated late in 1907. After teaching in a number of schools, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Training Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904 Twenty years later the school merged with a boys school the ...

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Elaine M. Smith

Long deemed the most influential black American woman, Bethune is, by scholarly consensus, one of the most important black Americans in history regardless of gender, alongside Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr. Unflinchingly, she championed the democratic values that define the nation. She took personally the well-being of the body politic, particularly in the crisis of two world wars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed Bethune as a great patriot devoted to advancing all Americans. Bethune’s accomplishments were so impressive in relationship to resources, and her interest in people, regardless of nationality and locality, was so genuine, that any freedom-loving country could feel proud to claim her as its own.