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John R. Howard

scholar and civil rights advocate, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to George Berry, a laborer, and Frances Southall, a beautician. She was the middle child between two brothers. After attending public schools in Nashville, she entered Howard University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1961 and her master of arts degree in 1962. During the 1962–1963 academic year she was a teaching fellow at Howard University, after which she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to pursue a doctorate in history at the University of Michigan. She served as a teaching assistant during the 1965–1966 academic year and, after completing work on her PhD in 1966, was appointed assistant professor in the Department of History. In 1968 she was promoted to associate professor. Simultaneously she pursued the study of law and in 1970 received her JD degree from the University of Michigan Law ...

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Genna Rae McNeil

Mary Frances Berry has to her credit a number of impressive firsts. She was the first African American woman to serve as chancellor of a major research university and the first African American woman to hold the post of the nation’s chief educational officer. Her 1984 lawsuit against President Ronald Reagan to reaffirm the independence of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as well as her sit-in, arrest, and incarceration in protest of racial injustice in South Africa, established a place for her in the national and international press. In the twenty-first century, Berry raised the ire of Republicans and achieved a new level of prominence among defenders of democracy when she led the independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in an investigation of the “Voting Irregularities in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election.”

Berry s place in history however was created not only by significant appointments and political activism ...

Article

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 ...

Article

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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Sholomo B. Levy

writer, was born in Harlem, New York, the eldest of four children of Henry Lee, a railroad worker, and Ossie Brock, a domestic. Both parents had moved in 1935 from South Carolina to New York, seeking a better life in the North. Brown characterized his father as a man who worked hard, drank too much, enjoyed gospel music (especially when under the influence of alcohol), and whose parenting skills were limited to corporal punishment, which he meted out with great frequency. Brown's mother attended to the material needs of her children and attempted to save their souls by occasionally bringing them to an evangelical preacher who ran a makeshift church in her apartment.Growing up in a household with two working parents Brown got much of his upbringing on the streets and thus developed a tough attitude He recalls that around the age of four he was hit ...

Article

Thomas Clarkin

scholar and diplomat, was born Ralph Johnson Bunche in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family's last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in Political Science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]), graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his MA in 1928, and then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his PhD at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris they had three children Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching ...

Article

Lawrie Balfour

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Johnson Bunche spent his early years with his parents in Detroit and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attributed his achievements to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, California, after he was orphaned at age thirteen. Johnson not only insisted that her grandson be self-reliant and proud of his race, but also that he, a high school valedictorian, go to college.

Bunche enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, and after graduating summa cum laude in 1927, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science from an American university. Bunche won the prize for the outstanding doctoral thesis in the social sciences in 1934 He conducted his postdoctoral research on African colonialism He did his research ...

Article

Joseph C. Heim

scholar, university professor, diplomat, UN administrator, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In the 1950s and 1960s Bunche was the most visible African American on the world stage. But his accomplishments were far in the future when he was born in modest circumstances in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunche, a barber, and Olive Bunche. His parents, however, were constantly in poor health, and after their early deaths Bunche was raised by his grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.

His grandmother s diligence and inspiration guided and shaped Bunche s youth and he compiled a record of stellar achievement both in athletics he later was a guard on the basketball team of the University of California at Los Angeles UCLA and in academics This he did while holding numerous jobs from delivering newspapers to laying carpets on merchant ships His early years also ...

Article

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

Gerald Horne

American social scientist, author, educator, civil rights leader, and Pan-Africanist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on 23 February 1868 to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt Du Bois, in the predominantly white hamlet of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. William’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Tom Burghardt, born in West Africa in the early 1730s, was captured and brought to America by Dutch slavers. Du Bois would later recall hearing in his childhood a West African song that was perhaps of Senegambian Wolof origin.

Du Bois had a fondness for his New England birthplace and by his own account had a relatively charmed childhood An only child abandoned by his father whom he did not remember his doting mother and relatives and supportive teachers muted the pangs of racism sharpened by Reconstruction These heady years permeated the nation not just the South Hence his early years were shaped by genteel poverty Victorian ...

Article

Thomas C. Holt

scholar, writer, editor, and civil rights pioneer, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois a barber and itinerant laborer In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins weaving them rhetorically and conceptually if not always accurately into almost everything he wrote Born in Haiti and descended from mixed race Bahamian slaves Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward He also deserted the family less than two years after his son s birth leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin Long resident in New England the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had ...

Article

Jon-Christian Suggs and Dale Edwyna Smith

[This article contains three subentries, on Du Bois's life, on his historical writing, and on his literary writing.]

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Jody Benjamin

Having embraced a notion of transnational racial solidarity early in his career, W. E. B. Du Bois continued to elaborate and promote his ideas of “Pan-Africanism,” as both a scholar and a political activist, with increasing urgency throughout his life, culminating with his emigration from the United States to Ghana, where he died a few years after that country won its political independence from Great Britain.

The notion of “Negro race” as a conceptual and political unit has roots in Enlightenment-era views of race as an essential marker of human difference. It was also shaped by both the discourses of nineteenth-century movements to abolish slavery in the United States and those of nationalism in Europe. Du Bois was exposed to this thinking throughout his education, beginning at Fisk University in 1885, where some of his teachers had been abolitionists.

Continuing his education at Harvard University Du Bois was taught ...

Article

R. Baxter Miller

scholar and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James Stanley Dykes and Martha Ann Howard. Eva graduated from M Street High (later Paul Laurence Dunbar High School) in 1910. As valedictorian of her class, she won a $10 scholarship from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to attend Howard University, where in 1914 she graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English. After a year of teaching Latin and English at the now defunct Walden University in Nashville, Tennessee, and for another year elsewhere, she was urged by James Howard, a physician and uncle on her mother's side, to enter Radcliffe College in 1916. Subsequently, she earned a second BA in English, magna cum laude, in 1917. Elected Phi Beta Kappa, she received an MA in English in 1918 and a PhD in English philology in 1921 Her dissertation was titled ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

historian, was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma, the youngest of four children of Buck Colbert Franklin, an attorney, and Mollie Parker, an elementary school teacher. He was named after the famed educator John Hope, who had taught his parents in Atlanta, Georgia. When John's father had been ejected from a courtroom by a judge in Ardmore, Oklahoma, who refused to preside over a case argued by a “nigger,” the family moved to Rentiesville, and then Colbert went alone to Tulsa in 1921 to establish his law practice The family struggled and worried for his safety after reading reports of the bloody race riot that took place in Tulsa that year Colbert s office was burned down but within a few years he had reestablished himself to the point where he could send for his family Young John was an extraordinary student who won the local spelling ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

the most influential African American historian of the twentieth century. The son of Buck Colbert Franklin, a lawyer, and Mollie Lee Parker Franklin, a schoolteacher, John Hope Franklin—named after John Hope, the first black president of Morehouse College—was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. His parents had met at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before John's birth his father practiced law in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and once had to travel to Louisiana on behalf of a client. A local Louisiana judge told him that “no ‘nigger lawyer’ could represent clients in his court.” (When not otherwise noted, all quotations come from Franklin, “John Hope Franklin,” or Franklin, Vintage Years After this experience the Franklins moved to the all black town of Rentiesville Oklahoma a village of two hundred people near Tulsa where they were less affected by the pervasive racism of the age and region At the time ...

Article

Reinhard Klein-Arendt

From the beginning of his career, Leo Viktor Frobenius (1873–1938), one of Germany’s most reknowned ethnologists and ethnographists, was an autodidact: there is no information that he ever studied, and he never held an academic degree such as an MA or PhD; he even did not graduate from high school and had no university entrance qualification. However, he submitted a doctoral thesis about secret societies in Africa to the University of Frankfurt—the thesis was rejected [the year not known—not in the records of the University]. Between 1904 and 1935, he was the leader of several large-scale expeditions to various regions in Africa and wrote abundantly as a freelance writer about his findings. In his books and articles, he coined a number of theories about the cultural history of Africa, some of them gaining much influence beyond German ethnology. In 1932 he became an honorary professor at ...

Article

David Michel

librarian, was born in Chicago, the daughter of Fenton W. Harsh and Maria L. Drake Harsh, two graduates of Fisk University. Vivian attended Forrestville Elementary School and completed Wendell Phillips High School in 1908. In 1909 she took the first step toward what would become her life's career—a position, as a clerk, at the Chicago Public Library (CPL).Harsh pursued her education by matriculating at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science (Boston). In 1921 she earned a degree in Library Science and three years later was appointed the head of a local branch of the CPL becoming Chicago s first black librarian She joined the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History ASNLH which allowed her to remain abreast of literary developments in black history Thanks to a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation she pursued advanced studies in library science at ...

Article

Michael Flug

She was called “the Lieutenant” by some of her colleagues and a taskmaster by many of the young people who did their research at the Chicago Public Library branch she headed. Yet Vivian G. Harsh was revered by a generation of prominent black writers and scholars. She was eulogized as “the historian who never wrote,” yet she succeeded in building one of the most important research collections on black history and literature in the United States.

Vivian Gordon Harsh grew up in the world of Chicago’s Old Settlers, the tightly knit community of pioneer black families in the city. The year after she graduated from Wendell Phillips High School on Chicago’s South Side, Harsh began working for the only employer she would ever have, the Chicago Public Library. She started as a junior clerk in December 1909 rising slowly through the ranks during her first fifteen years of service ...

Article

Peter Wallenstein

civil rights attorney, law school professor, and federal judge, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Roberta Childs, a teacher, and William Henry Hastie, a clerk in the U.S. Pension Office (now the Veterans Administration). He was a superb student and athlete. His father's transfer to Washington, D.C., in 1916 permitted Hastie to attend the nation's best black secondary school, the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, from which he graduated as valedictorian in 1921. He attended Amherst College, where he majored in mathematics and graduated in 1925, valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, and magna cum laude. After teaching for two years in Bordentown, New Jersey, he studied law at Harvard University, where one instructor adopted the custom of saying after asking a question of the class, “Mr. Hastie, give them the answer” (Ware, 30). He worked on the Law Review and earned an ...