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Julian C. Madison

athlete, actor, civic activist. Jim Brown is generally recognized as the greatest football player and the greatest lacrosse player of all time. At 6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 228 pounds, and with a 32-inch waist, Brown combined great speed with a powerful running style and fearsome stiff-arm to terrorize National Football League (NFL) defenders for nine years. The only person in history voted into three halls of fame (college football, college lacrosse, and the NFL), Brown is arguably the greatest athlete of the twentieth century.

James Nathaniel Brown was born on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, to Swinton “Sweet Sue” and Theresa Brown Swinton Brown left his family barely two weeks after his son was born and they rarely heard from him afterward When Jim was two his mother left him in the care of his great grandmother and moved to Great Neck Long Island where ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

minister and activist, was born on the Lower East Side of New York. His father was a chef, and his mother was an administrator of welfare services. Both had migrated from rural Georgia to the city in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their family. As a young boy, Calvin recalled visiting the church he would one day lead, the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he was mesmerized by the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr. a figure who seemed to speak from the pulpit of that Gothic sanctuary with a voice of thunder When Calvin was eight the family left their low income housing development in Manhattan for a black suburb in Queens From there Calvin was bused over the protests of white parents to a junior high school in the upscale Forest Hills section of Queens Calvin adjusted well to this experiment in forced ...

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Donald Roe

comedian, actor, philanthropist. When Bill Cosby, the wealthy, well-educated, mild-mannered comedian, goes on stage and begins a monologue of funny stories relating to his poverty-stricken background, the stories are most likely true. William Henry Cosby Jr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to William Henry Cosby Sr. and Anna Cosby in 1937. Known by its inhabitants as the “Jungle,” the Richard Allen housing projects, where Cosby grew up, were depressing, stylized, beige-colored, concrete housing, seemingly designed to prevent poor people from “contaminating” the rest of society.

When an IQ test confirmed that Cosby was highly intelligent his mother enrolled him in Central High School a school for gifted children However Cosby found it difficult to adjust there and transferred to Germantown High School There athletics provided a positive outlet for Cosby but his academic performance declined When school officials required him to repeat the tenth grade he ...

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Brittney L. Yancy

actress, writer, philanthropist, activist. Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents, Marshall and Emma Wallace, worked as a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, respectively. As a baby, Ruby along with her family moved to Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Ruby's parents supplemented her education with exposure to the arts. Ruby married Frankie Dee Brown, a promoter for Schenley Distiller's Corporation. Frankie dropped his surname because Ruby preferred the name Dee. They divorced in 1945. Ruby began acting in the 1940s through an apprenticeship with the American Negro Theatre—which included Hilda Simms, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and her future husband, Ossie Davis. Dee's first stage performance was in On Strivers Row in 1940 Dee acted in a series of plays and made her Broadway debut at the Cort Theater in a ...

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Along with Frederick Douglass and Booker Taliaferro Washington, historians consider W. E. B. Du Bois one of the most influential African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Born only six years after emancipation, he was active well into his nineties. Throughout his long life Du Bois remained black America's leading public intellectual, despite near-constant criticism for his often contradictory social and political opinions—he was accused, at various times, of elitism, Communism, and black separatism.

Born in the small western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, Du Bois and his mother—his father had left the family when he was young—were among the few African American residents. Of his heritage, Du Bois wrote that it included “a flood of Negro blood, a strain of French, a bit of Dutch, but, Thank God! No ‘Anglo-Saxon.’” After an integrated grammar-school education, Du Bois attended the historically black Fisk University ...

Article

Rosetta E. Ross

civil rights attorney and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, was born Marian Wright in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist minister, and Maggie Leola Bowen, an active churchwoman. Both parents were community activists who took in relatives and others who could no longer care for themselves, eventually founding a home for the aged that continued to be run by family members in the early twenty-first century. The Wrights also built a playground for black children denied access to white recreational facilities, and nurtured in their own children a sense of responsibility and community service. As soon as Marian and her siblings were old enough to drive, they continued the family tradition of delivering food and coal to the poor, elderly, and sick. Arthur Wright also encouraged his children to read about and to revere influential African Americans like Mary McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson ...

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Omar H. Ali

developmental psychologist, educator, and national independent political leader, was born Lenora Branch in Chester, Pennsylvania. A youth leader in the black Baptist Church, Fulani grew up in a working-class black community; her mother, Pearl, was a nurse, and her father, Charles Lee, was a baggage carrier on the Pennsylvania Railroad. As a child, Fulani briefly participated in the public school desegregation process following Brown v. Board of Education (1954). While still in her early teens she decided to become a psychologist to help her immediate community; during the 1970s, reflecting her pride in being of African descent, she changed her surname to Fulani, the name of various West African nomadic groupings of people.

Fulani won a scholarship to Hofstra University on Long Island, New York, where she majored in psychology. Divorced when her two children, Ainka and Amani were still very young she ...

Article

Cheryl A. Alston

artist and activist, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the third of ten children of Betty Solomon Guyton and George Guyton, a construction worker. His mother reared the children on her own after George Guyton left the-family, when Tyree Guyton was nine years old. Guyton grew up on the east side of Detroit in an area called “Black Bottom,” one of the oldest African American communities in the city. He attended Northern High School, but he did not graduate and earned his GED at a later date.

Guyton began painting at the age of eight when his grandfather, Sam Mackey a housepainter at the time who later became a painter of fine art gave him the tool to create a paintbrush Because of his family s poverty Guyton felt all he had was his art He felt like he had no freedom and he realized early on that ...

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Edgar Allan Toppin

sociologist and social worker, was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the son of Louis Haynes, an occasional laborer, and Mattie Sloan, a domestic servant. He was raised by devout, hardworking, but poorly educated parents. His mother stressed that education and good character were paths to improvement. She moved with Haynes and his sister to Hot Springs, a city with better educational opportunities than Pine Bluff. Haynes attended Fisk University, completing his BA in 1903. His record at Fisk enabled him to go to Yale University, where he earned an MA in Sociology in 1904. He also won a scholarship to Yale's Divinity School but withdrew early in 1905 to help fund his sister's schooling.

In 1905 Haynes became secretary of the Colored Men's Department of the International (segregated) YMCA, traveling to African American colleges throughout the nation from 1905 to 1908 During this period ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

physician and community leader, was born Edith Mae Irby in Conway, Arkansas, to Mattie Irby, a domestic worker, and her husband Robert, a sharecropper. Several childhood experiences—some traumatic—shaped Edith's early choice of medicine as her profession and the relief of racial health disparities as her special focus. When she was only five, an illness rendered her unable to walk for eighteen months. At six she lost her thirteen-year-old sister and almost lost an older brother in a typhoid fever epidemic. She noticed that people who could afford more medical care fared better with the disease. When she was eight a horse-riding accident fatally injured her father.

The year of her father s death a white doctor and his family hired Edith to help care for their eighteen month old child They told Edith that she was highly intelligent and encouraged her to consider a medical career Members ...

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Susanne M. Klausen

teacher, social worker, and antiapartheid activist in South Africa, was born Helen Beatrice May Fennell in Sussex, England, on 8 April 1905. She grew up in London and graduated with a degree in English from King’s College, the University of London, in 1927. She taught at the Mahbubia School for girls in Hyderabad, India, from 1927 to 1930. After a serious horse-riding accident, she resigned and moved to South Africa in 1931 to take up a less demanding post at a school in Durban. Between 1942 and 1946 she worked full time as a Welfare and Information Officer in the South African Air Force, and during this period she learned a great deal about black South Africans’ extensive poverty. Consequently, after World War II, she trained as a social worker.

In 1951 Joseph became secretary of the Medical Aid Society of the Transvaal Clothing Industry In ...

Article

Noliwe Rooks

entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born Annie Minerva Turnbo on a farm in Metropolis, Illinois, the tenth of eleven children of Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook, both farmers. Robert and Isabella owned the land they farmed and were able to provide comfortably for themselves and their children. After her parents died of yellow fever in 1877, Turnbo went to live with an older sister in Peoria, Illinois.

As a young woman Turnbo grew dissatisfied with the hair grooming methods then in use by African American women which often involved the use of goose fat soap and harsh chemicals for straightening purposes Stronger products to straighten naturally curly hair generally damaged the hair follicles or scalp One of the methods recommended by such products advised users to wash their hair and lay it out flat while using a hot flatiron to apply the solutions Even washed and laid out ...

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Tiffany M. Gill

The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed the materialization of the black beauty culture industry and the emergence of the black female beauty industry mogul. Annie Turnbo Malone, while not as well known as her contemporary, Madam C. J. Walker, pioneered many of the methods and goals of this global enterprise and transformed the role of African American women in business.

Annie Turnbo Malone was a child of the Reconstruction Era. Her father, Robert Turnbo, fought for the Union in the Civil War while her mother, Isabella Cook Turnbo fled their native Kentucky with their two children Eventually the family reunited in Metropolis Illinois and the couple had nine more children Annie was second youngest Robert and Isabella Turnbo died while Annie was young and her elder sisters raised her After moving to Peoria Illinois Annie attended high school where she acquired a fondness for chemistry which combined ...

Article

Andrew James Kellett

professional football quarterback, was born in Los Angeles, California, the fourth of seven children (and only son) born to Harold Warren Moon, a janitor, and Pat Moon, a nurse. In 1963 the elder Harold Moon died suddenly of liver and heart ailments, leaving Pat to raise Warren and his six sisters. Warren played almost every sport growing up, but had decided by the age of fourteen that football offered his likeliest shot at a professional career. Thus he attended Los Angeles's Hamilton High School even though it was outside his school district, as much because of its reputation for football as for its academic strength.Moon was the varsity starting quarterback his junior and senior years at Hamilton overcoming Los Angeles s rising gang culture more than once his life was threatened by gang members at rival high schools and apparent racism though a prolific passer on ...

Article

Michael Adams

professional football player, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, one of eight children of Virginia Moore and George Moore, a steel-mill worker. At Reading High School Moore starred in track, but football would become his main focus: Moore scored twenty-two touchdowns during his senior season in 1951, earning a scholarship to Pennsylvania State University. Penn State coach Rip Engle would not allow players to wear the low-cut shoes Moore had worn in high school. Uncomfortable with high-top shoes, Moore learned from teammate Bob Pollard that he could use tape to eliminate the tightness of the upper part of the shoe. Because of this white tape, Moore became known as “Spats.”

Moore became the first Penn State running back to gain over one thousand yards in a season. After graduating in 1956, he was chosen by the Baltimore Colts in the first round of the 1956 National ...

Article

Nancy T. Robinson

actor, musician, singer, educator and philanthropist, was born Melba Hill in Harlem, New York City, the only child to a single mother, the successful big band singer Bonnie Davis (née Melba Gertrude Smith). Moore's biological father, Teddy Hill, was a saxophonist who managed the Harlem jazz club, Minton's Playhouse. They separated before Moore was born.

Davis performed with bands associated with Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington. On the road constantly, she left her daughter to the care of a grandmother and then hired a fulltime nanny named Lulubelle Hattie Mae Stetley Hawkins (“Mama Lu”). Moore endured a physically abusive childhood under Hawkins, a violent upbringing that she claimed helped her to develop a strong sense of self that would assist her in dealing with future hardships.

When Moore was nine, her mother married the keyboardist Clement Moorman ...

Article

Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born Eddie Clarence Murray in Los Angeles to Charles Murray, a rug company mechanic, and Carrie Murray. The eighth of twelve children, Eddie was raised in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Watts, but was closely watched by his parents, who readily dispensed chores and discipline. Playing baseball in the backyard, he and his siblings used broomstick handles to hit tin foil balls and swerving Crisco can lids. Though he also played basketball at Locke High, Eddie was the star first baseman and pitcher on the diamond, where he played with the future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Scoring admirably on a psychological exam given to amateur players, the results of the exam showed that he had “tremendous emotional control. He had a lot of drive, but it was masked by his emotional control,” according to former Orioles scout Dave Ritterpusch (Christensen The ...

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Akosua Darkwah

Ghanaian entrepreneur and micro-credit pioneer in Ghana, was born at Peki-Dzake, a town located in the Volta Region of Ghana, on 18 April 1919. Her father, George Asia Kwami Nkulenu, and mother, Georgina Gblezo Gbo, were poor farmers who were supportive of her educational endeavors. With financial support provided by the Cadbury chocolate company, Ocloo was able to attend the prestigious Achimota School, from which she graduated in 1941 with a Cambridge Ordinary Level Certificate.

At Achimota, Ocloo took home science classes where she learned the art of marmalade-making. In 1943 with a gift from her aunt of ten shillings the equivalent of half a British shilling she bought oranges jars firewood as well as sugar and made twelve jars of marmalade which she sold for a shilling each around the government offices of Accra the capital city of Ghana Having made a 20 percent profit on her ...

Article

Adam W. Green

baseball player, was born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of nine children of William Puckett, a department store and postal worker, and Catherine Puckett, a homemaker. Growing up in the crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes projects, Puckett taught himself baseball fundamentals at an early age, throwing sock balls at a chalk strike zone on building walls. As a third baseman at Calumet High, he lifted weights to compensate for his diminutive (five-foot, eight-inch) stature.

After receiving little collegiate attention his senior year, Puckett worked on a Ford assembly line following graduation in 1979 at the age of 19 Noticed by a college coach at a free agent tryout Puckett was offered a scholarship to Bradley University Though small and round the atypical body for a centerfielder let alone leading base stealer the speedy Puckett moved to center field and led the ...

Article

Michael Ezra

football player, was born in Wichita, Kansas, one of three children of Roger Winfield Sayers, a car polisher and mechanic for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and Bernice Ross. In 1951 the family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Roger Sayers's brother lived. But financial difficulties forced the family to move within the city nine times in eight years. By the time Gale entered high school, his parents were suffering from depression and alcohol abuse, and the family lived in poverty. Because they often had no coal for their furnace, Gale and his two brothers would turn on the kitchen's gas oven for nighttime heat, which often caused them to wake up feeling sick.Despite such adversity Sayers thrived while in Omaha because the city gave him opportunities to compete in sports At the Howard Kennedy grade school Sayers led his teams to city titles in baseball ...