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Jessica Falconi

Angolan anthropologist, writer, and political activist, was born Mário de Carvalho Moutinho in Lisbon on 29 September 1932. Portuguese by birth and Angolan by nationality, Henrique Abranches also used the pseudonyms “Mwene Kalungo” and “Mwene Kalungo-Lungo.” In 1947 he and his family left Portugal to settle in Luanda, where he attended the Liceu Salvador Correia, a pioneering institution of secondary education in Angola whose students included several names that were later important in Angolan literature. After five years in Luanda, Abranches moved to the city of Sá de Bandeira (now Lubango) in the Huíla Plateau in southern Angola, where he became interested in the customs and traditions of the people of the region. He returned briefly to Portugal, where he finished secondary school and attended the Society of Fine Arts. He returned to Lubango on his own and began working for the Bank of Angola. In 1952 he ...

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Angie Colón Mendinueta

was born on 8 November 1908 in San Casimiro, in the state of Aragua, Republic of Venezuela. He was the son of Miguel Acosta Delgado, a native of Maturín in the state of Mongas, and Adela Saignes Roulac, from the village of Saignes Roulac, of French origin. From childhood onward, Miguel received a good education, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1927. After graduation, he became a teacher in the Colegio San Pablo de Caracas (San Pablo de Caracas High School), where he had formerly been a student, and the vice principal of the Zamora School (also in Caracas).

In 1928 Acosta began medical school at the Universidad Central de Venezuela That same year along with several of his classmates he was arrested and taken to prison for his participation in student protests against the regime of the military dictator Juan Vicente Gómez They were taken to ...

Article

Theodore Cohen

was born on 20 January 1908 in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, to Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, a medical doctor, and Pilar Beltrán Luchirí, the descendant of Ignacio María Luchichí, a well-known writer in the surrounding Papaloapan basin of southern Mexico. Though born into an elite family with no African ancestry, Aguirre Beltrán had a major impact on how we understand the African heritage of Mexico. In addition, he was interested in social issues, had an affinity for anarchism, and read scholars such as Georg Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. In 1921 he moved to Mexico City to continue his preparatory studies, and in 1927 he enrolled in medical school at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Having finished his thesis, “El metabolism basal en lasnefrosis” (Elemental Metabolism in Nephrosis), he graduated in 1931. He married Judith Avendaño, and they had five children.

After finishing medical school Aguirre ...

Article

Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán was born and received his primary and secondary schooling in Veracruz, where there was a strong African influence, before studying medicine in Mexico City. In the 1920s and 1930s intellectuals such as José Vasconcelos undertook pioneering studies of Indians in Mexico, whose culture and history had largely been viewed with disdain until then. The studies resurrected a degree of interest in and dignity for Indian heritage. Although Vasconcelos argued that much of indigenous culture should be subsumed in a larger Mexican culture, Aguirre Beltrán believed that indigenous cultures were worthy of study for their own sake. After graduating from the University of Mexico with a medical degree, Aguirre Beltrán returned to Veracruz, where he held a post in public health that further sparked his interest in Indian ethnicity and history. In 1940 he published two studies on the ethnohistory of colonial and precolonial Indians in ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

pioneer in discrediting the racist concepts that characterized early twentieth-century anthropology and other social sciences. Franz Boas was born in Minden, Germany. He received his PhD in physics from the University of Kiel in 1881, but he soon shifted interest into the field of human geography. In 1883 he conducted his first fieldwork, among the Inuit people of Baffin Island. In 1887 he began research among the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. In 1899 he became the first professor of anthropology at Columbia University. When Boas began his anthropological work, anthropology was far from being a scientific field. It was infested with racist practitioners and amateurs. Boas held that too often people developed theories and then sought to gather information to prove their theories.

Article

Andrea A. Davis

was born on 20 April 1940 in the rural Jamaican village of Woodside, St. Mary. Her parents, Ernest Brodber, a farmer, and Lucy Brodber, a teacher, provided important models for her later development as a scholar and academic firmly rooted in the values of community. Brodber credits her maternal grandmother, Eva Harris, however, as her most important early influence. Harris raised seven children on her own after her husband died, earning a living as a cane farmer and using the sugar produced from her farm to make baked goods for sale. An entrepreneur before her time, she was the symbol of black women’s strength and creativity that Brodber later came to value and embody. Brodber attended Excelsior High School in Jamaica and earned a B.A. in history, with honors, from the University College of the West Indies in 1963, and an M.Sc. in sociology (1968 and Ph ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Lydia Cabrera, along with Fernando Ortiz, is widely considered one of the two most important twentieth century researchers and writers on Afro-Cuban culture. She wrote more than a dozen volumes of investigative work on the subject, including her pioneering El monte (1954), subtitled “Notes on the Religion, the Magic, the Superstitions and the Folklore of Creole Negroes and the Cuban People,” and Reglas de congo (1980), a book on Bantu (known as congo in Cuba) rituals. According to Ana María Simo, author of Lydia Cabrera: An Intimate Portrait, Cabrera's “is the most important and complete body of work on Afro-Cuban religions” of its time. Cabrera also wrote four volumes of short stories inspired by Afro-Cuban legends and beliefs. Her fiction is rich in metaphor and symbolism and has been compared stylistically with the writings of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca ...

Article

Edison Carneiro was born and lived in Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia. Unlike many mestiços (people of indigenous and European descent) from his generation who denied their African origins, Carneiro dedicated his studies to the customs and traditions of the descendants of Africans in Brazil, particularly regarding religious ritual. This was pioneering work at the time, when African religions were still repressed by the Brazilian government. Carneiro is considered to be the first person to systematically record the practices, beliefs, and history of the Afro-Brazilian people. Among the rituals developed by Afro-Brazilians, Carneiro identified the Nagô rituals as the only authentic variant of the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé, as opposed to the Bantu rituals. In his search for the pure African religion, he considered the Bantu sect to be a degenerated form of African religion.

Carneiro combined his studies with a strong political activism He participated in the ...

Article

Paulette A. Ramsay

was born in the predominantly black province of Esmeraldas, but lived most of her life in Quito, along with her husband, the distinguished Afro-Ecuadorian writer Nelson Estupiñan Bass (1912–2002). During the 1900s and early 2000s, the two traveled extensively throughout the United States promoting their literary works as well as the history and culture of Afro-derived people of Esmeraldas. Chiriboga is highly esteemed for her research on Ecuadorian people of African descent and for her involvement in the women’s movement in Ecuador. Regarded as the most prolific and important black woman writer in Ecuador, her published works include both fiction and nonfiction.

Chiriboga studied biology at the Universidad Central in Quito but later developed a deep love for anthropology and this interest facilitated her research into her African derived heritage in particular the Afro Ecuadorian oral tradition Chiriboga has thus explained her commitment to unearthing important cultural information ...

Article

Robert Fay

William Montague Cobb was born in Washington, D.C., the son of William Elmer and Alexzine Montague Cobb. After earning an A.B. degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1925, Cobb entered Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1929. He then earned a Ph.D. degree in anatomy and physical anthropology from Western Reserve University in Ohio in 1932. Cobb taught at Howard University from 1932 to 1973, chairing the Department of Anatomy from 1947 to 1969. In 1969 he was awarded Howard's first distinguished professorship.

Cobb was an authority on physical anthropology and published over 600 related articles in professional journals. He contributed to E. V. Cowdry's Problems of Aging: Biological and Medical Aspects, Gray's Anatomy, Henry's Anatomy, and Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy Cobb also dispelled myths about African American biological inferiority in the ...

Article

Paul A. Erickson

physical anthropologist and anatomist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of William Elmer Cobb, a printer, and Alexzine Montague. Experiencing racial segregation in education, he graduated in 1921 from Dunbar High School, an elite college-preparatory school for African Americans. Cobb attended Amherst College, where he pursued a classical education in arts and sciences, graduating in 1925. After graduation he received a Blodgett Scholarship to study biology at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory in Massachusetts. There he met the Howard University biologist Ernest Everett Just and decided to attend Howard University's College of Medicine. At the time, Howard was undergoing a transformation as-its first African American president, Mordecai Johnson, attempted to place the university under greater African American control. Showing great academic promise, Cobb was groomed to become a new member of the faculty. After receiving his medical degree in 1929 he was sent to ...

Article

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

educator and college president. Johnnetta Betsch was born in Jacksonville, Florida, into a middle-class family. A precocious learner, she entered Fisk University at the age of fifteen, transferred to Oberlin College the next year, and earned a degree in anthropology in 1957. Continuing her study of anthropology, she then attended Northwestern University, earning an MA in 1959 and a PhD in 1967. In 1960 Betsch married Robert Cole, a white economist whom she met at Northwestern; they had three sons and divorced in 1982. In 1988 she married Arthur J. Robinson Jr.

Cole held teaching positions at Washington State University, at the University of California at Los Angeles, and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she remained for thirteen years, 1970 to 1983, both as a professor and later as an associate provost She also taught at Hunter College of the City University ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

anthropologist, educator, and college president, was born Johnnetta Betsch in Jacksonville, Florida, the second of three children to Mary Frances Lewis, an English teacher, and John Thomas Betsch Sr., an insurance executive. Johnnetta grew up in one of Florida's most prominent African American families; her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, co-founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, Florida's first insurance company. An ambitious and civic-minded businessman, Lewis established several black institutions, including the colored branch of the public library, the Lincoln Golf and Country Club, and the seaside resort known as American Beach, the only beach allowing blacks in north Florida. Johnnetta's childhood was shaped by competing influences: her supportive family and community, and the racist attitudes and institutions of the Jim Crow South. Educated in segregated public and private schools, Johnnetta credits the influence of her teachers and her family friend Mary McLeod Bethune with encouraging her ...

Article

Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Johnnetta Betsch Cole was the seventh president of Spelman College (1987-1997), the oldest college for black women in the United States. Under her leadership, Spelman became the first historically black college or university to receive top ratings by U.S. News & World Report and Money magazine. During her presidency she raised over $113 million in the Capital Campaign Fund, which was the largest sum ever raised by a historically black college or university. After leaving the Spelman presidency in 1997, she joined the faculty at Emory University, where she was professor of anthropology, women’s studies, and African American studies for four years. She also has the distinction of being the only black woman to have been president of the only two historically black colleges for women. In July 2002 she was appointed president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, becoming its fourteenth president.

Cole ...

Article

Kathleen Gyssels

was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 6 November 1898, the eldest daughter of Eugénie Malebranche (1875–1931), writer, and Georges Sylvain (1866–1925), minister of culture. Her uncle was the pan-Africanist Benito Sylvain, and she inherited from her father a sense of pride in the first black republic’s rich culture and religion. In particular, she was fascinated with the numerous facets of Haitian cultural expression, especially Vodou.

Sylvain attended religious schools for girls in Kingston, Jamaica, Port-au-Prince, and Paris. These primary and secondary schools were institutions that prepared young girls from Haitian upper-class families to become accomplished housewives. However, Sylvain left Port-au-Prince to go to Paris for her higher education, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree and doctorate at the Sorbonne.

While at the Sorbonne she was invited by the Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski to attend his seminar at the London School of Economics Malinowski also found ...

Article

Marilyn Demarest Button

educator, administrator, writer, and activist, was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Thomas Cornelius Cuthbert and Victoria Means. She attended grammar and secondary school in her hometown and studied at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Boston University, where she completed her BA in 1920.

Following her graduation, Cuthbert moved to Florence, Alabama, and became an English teacher and assistant principal at Burrell Normal School. Promoted to principal in 1925, she began to lead students and faculty in bold new perspectives on gender equality and interracial harmony.

In 1927 Cuthbert left Burrell to become one of the first deans of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. In her essay, “The Dean of Women at Work,” published in the Journal of the National Association of College Women (Apr. 1928 she articulated her belief that covert sexism at the administrative level of black colleges limited their ...

Article

William Allison Davis was born October 14, 1902, in Washington, D.C., to John Abraham Davis, a government employee, and Gabrielle Dorothy Beale Davis, a homemaker. As a child, Davis was exposed to an array of intellectual and cultural interests, including the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and other writers. Davis attended M-Street High School (later renamed Dunbar High School), which was known for its talented faculty and rigorous curriculum.

Davis received his B.A. degree in 1924 from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He was named class valedictorian, graduated summa cum laude, and earned membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. After graduation he applied for a teaching assistantship at Williams, but he was denied the position. Undaunted, Davis applied for admittance to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard accepted him, and in 1925 he received his M.A. degree in English.

Davis then ...

Article

Jayne R. Beilke

social anthropologist, psychologist, and educator, was born William Allison Davis in Washington, D.C., the son of John Abraham Davis, a federal employee, and Gabrielle Dorothy Beale, a homemaker. His younger brother John Aubrey Davis became a civil rights activist and educator. He also had a sister, Dorothy. Davis enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts, where segregationist policies prevented him from living on campus. He earned a BA in English and was the valedictorian of the class of 1924. From 1925 to 1932 he taught English literature at Hampton Institute, an historically black school in Virginia. One of his students at Hampton was the sociologist St. Clair Drake Jr., who later collaborated with Davis and Gunnar Mydal on The Negro Church and Associations in the Lower South: Research Memorandum [and] The Negro Church and Associations in Chicago (1940).

Davis earned an MA ...

Article

Jennifer L. Freeman Marshall

anthropologist, educator, sociologist, was born Ellen Irene Diggs in Monmouth, Illinois, to Henry Charles Diggs and Alice Scott. Her working-class parents lived in a community of about ten thousand, about two hundred of whom were black. They supported their precocious child, one of five, who read voraciously and achieved the highest grade average in her school. Recognizing her ability, the Monmouth Chamber of Commerce awarded her a scholarship to attend Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. In 1924 she transferred to the University of Minnesota, which offered a far larger number of courses, where she majored in sociology and minored in psychology. She received an AB degree in 1928 and then attended Atlanta University, a premier institution for the education of African Americans founded in 1865 and located in Atlanta, Georgia. The institution began to offer graduate degrees in 1929 and in 1933 under the direction ...

Article

Molefi Kete Asante

major Senegalese scholar in the fields of anthropology, history, and physics, was born in the village of Keitou, Senegal, not far from the town of Diourbel in the interior of Senegal on 29 December 1923 By all accounts as a youth he was a serious student and an avid participant in the sports of the village Yet he was always searching to reach higher goals and when the opportunity came for him to study in Dakar and St Louis he quickly took the chance to prove himself He was an extraordinary student noticed by all of his classmates and teachers as someone who could make an enormous contribution to knowledge At an early age Diop had shown a keen mind an argumentative streak and an ability to make logical arguments Diop like most Senegalese children had to learn Islamic traditions as well as Western ones His ancestors and larger ...