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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 ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

poet, playwright, educator, and activist, was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, the eldest of two children to Coyette Leroy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Russ, a social worker. Jones's lineage included teachers, preachers, and shop owners who elevated his family into Newark's modest, though ambitious, black middle class. His own neighborhood was black, but the Newark of Jones's youth was mostly white and largely Italian. He felt isolated and embattled at McKinley Junior High and Barringer High School, yet he excelled in his studies, played the trumpet, ran track, and wrote comic strips.

Graduating from high school with honors at age fifteen, Jones entered the Newark branch of Rutgers University on a science scholarship. In 1952 after his first year he transferred to Howard University hoping to find a sense of purpose at a black college that had ...

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Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...

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Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

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Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

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Dalton Gross and Mary Jean Gross

poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two avocations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite's father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite's autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute.Braithwaite s mother was forced into menial employment and at the age of twelve so was Braithwaite After showing interest in reading he was given a job as a typesetter ...

Article

James D. Sullivan

poet and novelist, was born Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks at her grandmother's home in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks. When she was two months old, the family settled in Chicago, where she would live the rest of her life. Brooks and her brother had a sheltered upbringing in a cheerful, orderly household. (She would later draw on memories of those years for her poem “a song in the front yard” [1945].) At Forrestville Elementary School, where she learned that light skin and fine hair were valued, this shy child with dark skin and coarse hair felt socially isolated. Her mother, however, encouraged her interest in writing, and Brooks published her first poem in American Childhood magazine in 1930.

Later to escape further isolation at a mostly white high school she transferred to an all black school finally at ...

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Kathleen Thompson

When minority poets write about injustice and oppression, the literary establishment sometimes finds it all too easy to dismiss them or to praise them in words tinged with condescension. In the case of Gwendolyn Brooks, that was never a plausible approach. She was, quite simply, one of twentieth-century America’s finest poets. Her sensibility and poetic technique were often in the service of, but never mastered by, her sorrow and outrage at the treatment of African Americans.

Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, to David Anderson Brooks and Keziah Corinne Wims Brooks Her mother s family lived in Topeka and her mother returned there for a few weeks to give birth but Brooks grew up in Chicago As a child she went to Chicago schools and played in Chicago streets She began composing poetry when she was seven and recording it in notebooks when she was eleven ...

Article

Jason Miller

poet and community activist. Gwendolyn Brooks was born in Topeka, Kansas, to David Anderson Brooks, a janitor, and Keziah Wims Brooks, a former schoolteacher. The house in Kansas belonged to Brooks's grandmother, and soon the family moved to their home in Chicago, Illinois, where Gwendolyn grew up in the city's South Side with her parents and younger brother, Raymond. For most of her life she remained associated with the South Side. Brooks attended Forrestville Elementary School, and it was during these earliest years of her education that her mother began to encourage in her an interest in poetry and verse recital.

Brooks attended Hyde Park High School for a time but later transferred from that mostly white school first to an all black school and later to an integrated one Though her home life afforded her some stability and happiness Brooks was keenly aware of the ...

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Paul Breslin

Martinican poet, playwright, essayist, and political leader, was born on 26 June 1913, in Basse Pointe, Martinique. His parents, Fernand and Eléonore Césaire, were of modest means but devoted to their six children’s education. In 1924, Césaire entered the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. In 1931 he went to France to study at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, then, in 1935, at l’École Normale Supérieure. In Paris, Césaire developed friendships with other young black intellectuals and writers, most notably the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas (1912–1978), a French Guianese who had been his schoolmate at the Lycée Schoelcher. In 1937, he met and married a fellow Martinican student and poet, Suzanne Roussi (1915–1966). The marriage produced six children, one of whom, Ina Césaire (1942– ), became a prominent writer as well.

Césaire and his circle sought a definition of black identity They were influenced by the ...

Article

Regina V. Jones

Michelle Cliff is concerned with the consciousness of people in Jamaica and the United States. In her work she confronts issues of gender, sexuality, class, race, and identity as well as the distinctions between colonizer and colonized. Although Cliff is known primarily as a novelist, she also writes poetry and short stories.

Michelle Cliff was born in Kingston, Jamaica at a time when that country was still a British colony Her family moved to the United States when she was three years old and she began grade school in New York City However she moved to and from Jamaica frequently and attended school there when her family returned to her birth country when she was ten In Jamaica she was a child of privilege of the upper class because her family owned land She describes herself as a light skinned colonial girlchild both in Jamaica and in the Jamaican ...

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Daniel Donaghy

poet, scholar, teacher, editor, playwright, and novelist. Cullen was born Countée Leroy Porter most likely in Louisville, Kentucky. Exactly where he was born remains a mystery since there is no extant birth certificate and Cullen himself claimed two cities as his birthplace at different points in his life. On his application to New York University, he wrote that he was born in Louisville. Cullen's second wife, Ida Mae Roberson, and his friends Langston Hughes and Harold Jackman each said that Cullen also told them he was born there. After Cullen gained a reputation as one of the most respected writers of the Harlem Renaissance, however, he claimed on several occasions that he was born in New York City. Another mystery surrounding Cullen's early years is his relationship with Amanda Porter who raised him from his infancy moving with him to New York ...

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Amy Tillerson

poet. Dove's writing gives voice and power to ordinary people by examining social injustice and everyday life both historically and contemporarily through the lenses of race, gender, and class.

Dove was born to middle-class parents in Akron, Ohio. Her grandparents were involved in the Great Migration, which brought them north from the rural South. Dove's book of poetry, Thomas and Beulah, about her maternal grandparents won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1987. Dove's mother, Elvira Hord Dove, graduated from high school at the age of sixteen and was awarded a full academic scholarship to Howard University. Believing that Washington, D.C., was too far from home, Elvira's parents did not allow her to accept the scholarship, and she enrolled in a local secretarial school. Rita Dove's father, Ray Dove earned an MA in chemistry from the University of Akron and completed the coursework necessary for ...

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Lisa E. Rivo

writer, was born in Akron, Ohio, the second of four children of Ray A. Dove, the first black scientist in the tire industry, and Elvira Elizabeth Hord. Rita, who attended public school, read voraciously and began writing plays and stories while in elementary school. Selected as one of the most outstanding high school graduates in the nation, she visited the White House as a Presidential Scholar in 1970, after which she enrolled at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, graduating summa cum laude with a BA in English in 1973.

She spent the next year as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Tübingen in West Germany Although Dove s presence drew attention from the locals Most Germans don t consider it impolite to stare so they simply gawked at me or even pointed Taleb Khyar 350 the German language had a lasting impact on her ...

Article

Thadious M. Davis

Fauset’s literary output of poetry, essays, reviews, and fiction during the Harlem Renaissance was marked by her conviction that, in order to combat racism, white Americans had to be educated about the realities, rather than the exoticism, of black American life; and black Americans had to be represented in their home life and personal relations as similar to white Americans.

“Nothing…has ever been farther from my thought than writing to establish a thesis,” Jessie Fauset stated flatly in the foreword to her novel The Chinaberry Tree (1931). She was not only introducing her third novel but also defending her first two novels, There Is Confusion (1924) and Plum Bun (1929), against the criticism that they presented thesis-ridden, middle-class black characters in the service of racial uplift. Fauset’s foreword pointed quite specifically to race as the driving force behind her fiction:

Colored people have been ...

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Carolyn Wedin

educator, editor, and author. Jessie Fauset was born in Snow Hill Center Township, Camden County, New Jersey, to Annie Seamon and Redmon Fauset, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister; she was their seventh child. After the death of Annie Seamon Fauset, Redmon married Bella Huff, a widow with three children, and the couple had three children together. Throughout her life Jessie remained close to her sister Mary Helen (Helen Fauset Lanning), with whom she lived in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s; to her half brother Arthur Huff Fauset, also a published writer; and to her stepbrother Earl Huff, in whose Philadelphia home she died.

Based on the life depicted in her four novels and on the assumption that she was born in Philadelphia, early critics of Jessie Fauset such as Robert Bone assumed that as “an authentic old Philadelphian” (The Negro ...

Article

Virginia C. Fowler

poet, lecturer, and educator, was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. in Knoxville, Tennessee, the second of two daughters of Jones “Gus” Giovanni, a teacher and probation officer born in a small town in Alabama, and Yolande Cornelia Watson, a teacher and social worker from Knoxville. Shortly after Giovanni's birth, her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to seek employment better than that available in the segregated South.Giovanni was a quiet and somewhat introverted child, though unafraid to fight anyone who tried to bully her or her older sister, Gary While Giovanni was still a toddler her sister began calling her Nikki a name she was known by from then on Although they were poor her parents instilled in their children pride in who they were and a belief in their ability to become whatever they wanted As Giovanni later wrote in Nikki Rosa black love is ...

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Virginia C. Fowler

Nikki Giovanni emerged from the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s to become one of the most widely admired and emulated poets and speakers of her time. Acting on her belief that poetry is “the culture of a people” and that it should, like food, be available to everyone, Giovanni for more than thirty-five years crisscrossed the country to weave her tapestry of poetry and lecture before audiences of every kind.

Nikki Giovanni was born Yolande Cornelia Giovanni Jr. in Knoxville, Tennessee her mother s hometown Just two months after Giovanni was born her parents took the family north to Cincinnati Ohio to find better employment and a freer environment Like many children whose parents were a part of the Great Migration however Giovanni and her sister returned South in the summer staying in Knoxville with their maternal grandparents andabsorbing many of the traditions and values associated with southern ...

Article

Daniel Donaghy

one of the most celebrated, controversial, and enduring voices to emerge from the Black Arts Movement. Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Jones and Yolande Watson Giovanni. Giovanni moved with her parents and sister to suburban Cincinnati when she was two months old. She lived there until early in her high school career, when her parents’ breakup led Giovanni to move back to Knoxville to live with her maternal grandparents.

Giovanni began to take writing seriously while she was a student at Fisk University, where she edited the student literary magazine, helped to reestablish the university's chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and took creative writing workshops with Fisk's writer in residence, John Oliver Killens. Shortly after she graduated with honors in the spring of 1967 Giovanni endured the death of her grandmother became a single mother of a son and like ...

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Roanne Edwards

Born in Camagüey, Cuba, Nicolás Guillén is widely considered Cuba's preeminent poet, on a par with such Latin American literary masters as Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, and César Vallejo. According to literary scholar Josaphat B. Kubayanda, “Guillén's poetry was the first successful development in Cuba of a vital and original aesthetic based upon the black and African elements on Caribbean soil.” He was also a committed communist and his poems and journalism powerfully reflect his political and national concerns. Like the black American singer and activist Paul Robeson, Guillén devoted much of his life to the pursuit of peace, both in racially torn prerevolutionary Cuba and abroad. He traveled extensively throughout the world and in 1954 received the Lenin International Peace Prize.

Guillén is equally a part of the community of black poets exemplified by Harlem Renaissance writers Claude McKay, Sterling Brown ...