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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 ...

Article

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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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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Cynthia Neverdon-Morton

educator, school founder, and social welfare advocate, was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Barrett's parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Barrett 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, Barrett remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education.

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

Article

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 ...

Article

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.

Article

Anja Schüler

educator, feminist, and civil rights leader. Born near Maysville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to two former slaves, Sam McLeod and Patsy (McIntosh). Most of her brothers and sisters had been born into slavery. The family was poor, but the McLeods farmed their own land. Patsy McLeod continued to work for her former owner, while her husband grew cotton and rice with the help of their children. As a young girl, Mary was known as an expert cotton picker who at the age of nine could pick 250 pounds per day. She also helped her mother deliver laundry to white families.

McLeod recognized early in life that the ability to read and write was central to improving the lives of African Americans In the mid 1880s the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church opened a school in Maysville for the ...

Article

David F. Smydra

athlete, actor, and activist, was born James Nathaniel Brown on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, to Theresa and Swinton Brown, a onetime boxer, who abandoned Theresa and their son two weeks after his birth. A couple of years later Theresa departed for Long Island, New York, to take a domestic job, leaving Jim to be raised by his great-grandmother and grandmother, the latter an alcoholic. By 1944 Theresa had saved enough money to send for Jim, and they were reunited in Manhasset, Long Island, for the first time in six years. Despite the usual friction of being the new kid—he was once accused by his peers of fighting dirty—Brown eventually distinguished himself athletically. He gained the attention of a local policeman, who lent Brown keys to the high school gym so that the youth could organize Police Boys' Club games whenever he and his friends wanted to play.At Manhasset ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Edelman was born Marian Wright, the youngest of Arthur and Maggie Wright's five children. When blacks in her hometown of Bennettsville, South Carolina, were forbidden to enter city parks, her father, a Baptist minister, built a park for black children behind his church. Edelman would later credit him with instilling in her an obligation to right wrongs. She attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent her junior year in France, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe. Returning to Spelman in 1959, she helped organize protests for the developing Civil Rights Movement. The following year she graduated from college as valedictorian of her class, then entered Yale University, where she received a degree in law.

By 1964 the young law graduate was working as a lawyer in Mississippi where volunteers for the Civil Rights Movement were often beaten and jailed on phony charges While representing these volunteers ...

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 ...

Article

William C. Hine

Edelman was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, one of five children of Arthur Jerome Wright and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright. She was named in honor of the singer Marian Anderson. Her father was the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, and her mother was the choir director and organist.

After graduation from all-black Marlboro Training High School, she enrolled at Atlanta’s Spelman College, where she intended to major in music. She changed her major to history after coming under the influence of the historian Howard Zinn and of President Benjamin E. Mays of Morehouse College. As an undergraduate she joined thousands of black high school and college students in the burgeoning civil rights movement. She was among several hundred people arrested at sit-ins in Atlanta in March 1960. She graduated from Spelman in 1960 and planned to pursue a scholarly career in Russian and Soviet studies But ...

Article

Julie Gallagher

lawyer, activist, and children's advocate. Marian Wright was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist preacher, and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright. Raised with a strong sense of community, Marian Wright was taught that character, self-discipline, determination, attitude, and service were the substance of life.

As a student at Spelman College in Atlanta, Wright studied with the historian and civil rights activist Howard Zinn. She also traveled to Europe, where she spent fifteen months learning to take risks and to follow her own path. Wright graduated as valedictorian of her Spelman College class in 1960 and proceeded directly to Yale University Law School. While still a law student she worked on a project to register African American voters in Mississippi. She graduated with a law degree in 1963.

Wright first went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational ...

Article

Betty Kaplan Gubert

founder and national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), civil rights activist, and educator, was born James Leonard Farmer Jr. in Marshall, Texas, the son of James Leonard Farmer known as J Leonard a Methodist minister and the son of former slaves and Pearl Houston Farmer who had been a teacher Farmer s father who earned a doctorate of religion from Boston University was one of the first blacks in Texas to hold a PhD When Farmer was six months old the family which included an older sister moved to Holly Springs Mississippi where his father had accepted teaching and administrative posts at Rust College Able to read write and count by the age of four and a half Farmer was accepted into the first grade The family soon moved again as Professor Farmer joined the department of religion and philosophy at Samuel Houston College ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

leader of the Nation of Islam, was born Louis Eugene Walcott in the Bronx, New York City, to Sarah Mae Manning, a native of St. Kitts, who worked as a domestic. Farrakhan's biological father was Manning's husband, Percival Clarke, a light-skinned Jamaican cab driver. By the time young Louis was born, however, Manning had left Clarke and was living with Louis Walcott. Manning hoped her baby would be a girl and have a dark complexion like herself and Walcott. Nevertheless, when the child was born male and with a light complexion, she named him Louis and listed Walcott as the father (Magida, 10). Walcott stayed with the family during their move to the Roxbury section of Boston in 1937, but departed shortly thereafter.Raising two young children alone during the Depression was difficult, but Sarah Mae kept her boys from harm and attended to their ...

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SaFiya D. Hoskins

gang and organization founder, criminal, was born Jeff Fort in Aberdeen, Mississippi, to John Lee Fort, a steel mill worker, and a mother about whom little information is available. In 1955 Jeff moved with his parents and ten siblings to the South Side of Chicago and settled down in Woodlawn, a middle-class white neighborhood prior to the influx of blacks migrating from the South, and the backdrop for Woodlawn native Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. Jeff's father John Lee Fort had secured employment in a Chicago steel mill. Spurning hostile neighbors and a divided community, Fort, twelve years old and relatively small for his age, organized a group of boys who patrolled Blackstone Street between the corners of 64th and 66th where his family lived, to battle with white and black gangs in the area. In 1960 one year later Fort founded ...

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Ayesha Kanji

business executive and leader, was born Ann Marie Brown in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Malcolm R. Brown, a U.S. Postal Service employee, and Bettye Lewis, a manager at the National Security Agency. Fudge attended a series of Catholic schools before matriculating at Simmons College in Boston in 1969. She recalls the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 as a “hurtful but formative experience … they made me incredibly determined. I wanted to do something that black people hadn't done before” (Dobrzynski). She became involved in student government and civil rights activism at Simmons. During her sophomore year she met Richard Fudge, a graduate student at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. They married in 1971 and had two children. Fudge graduated from Simmons in 1973 with a degree in management. Two of her Simmons professors, Margaret Hennig and Charles Coverdale ...

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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

Jeffrey B. Perry

radical political activist and journalist, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), the son of William Adolphus Harrison and Cecilia Elizabeth Haines. Little is known of his father. His mother had at least three other children and, in 1889, married a laborer. Harrison received a primary education in St. Croix. In September 1900, after his mother died, he immigrated to New York City, where he worked low-paying jobs, attended evening high school, did some writing, editing, and lecturing, and read voraciously. In 1907 he obtained postal employment and moved to Harlem. The following year he taught at the White Rose Home, where he was deeply influenced by the social worker Frances Reynolds Keyser, a future founder of the NAACP. In 1909 he married Irene Louise Horton, with whom he had five children.Between 1901 and 1908 Harrison ...