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Article

Tasha M. Hawthorne

Angelou’s creative talent and genius cut across many arenas. One of the most celebrated authors in the United States, Angelou writes with an honesty and grace that captures the specificity of growing up a young black girl in the rural South.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian, a registered nurse, professional gambler, and rooming house and bar owner, Angelou spent her early years in Long Beach, California. When she was three, her parents divorced, and she and her four-year-old brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their maternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou recalls in vivid detail this lonely and disconcerting journey to Stamps.

Under the watchful and loving gaze of her grandmother Angelou lived a life defined by staunch Christian values and her grandmother s ...

Article

Aisha X. L. Francis

(b. 25 March 1939; d. 9 December 1995), author, activist, essayist, film critic, and educator. Bambara was born in New York City and raised in and around the New York–New Jersey area. Her given name was Miltona Mirkin Cade, which she shortened to Toni at age five. As an adult she added Bambara to her signature after discovering that one of her grandmothers had used the name in her sketchbooks. In 1970 she had her name legally changed to Toni Cade Bambara. Her mother, Helen Brent Henderson Cade Brehon, to whom Bambara's first novel, The Salt Eaters (1980) is dedicated, encouraged her love of learning and her appreciation for oral history. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater arts from Queens College in 1959 she became a social worker with the Colony Settlement House ...

Article

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 ...

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

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 ...

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 ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, printmaker, and teacher, was born Alice Elizabeth Catlett to Mary Carson, a truant officer, and John Catlett, a math teacher and amateur musician who died shortly before Elizabeth's birth. Elizabeth and her two older siblings were raised by their mother and paternal grandmother in a middle-class neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Encouraged by her mother and her teachers at Dunbar High School to pursue a career as an artist, she entered Howard University in 1931, where she studied with the African American artists James Lesesne Wells, Loïs Mailou Jones, and James A. Porter. After graduating cum laude with a BS in Art in 1935, Catlett taught art in the Durham, North Carolina, public schools before beginning graduate training at the University of Iowa in 1938 Under the tutelage of the artist Grant Wood Catlett switched her concentration from painting to sculpture and ...

Article

Freida High (Wasikhongo Tesfagiorgis)

I don’t have anything against men but, since I am a woman, I know more about women and I know how they feel. Many artists are always doing men. I think that somebody ought to do women. Artists do work with women, with the beauty of their bodies and the refinement of middle-class women, but I think there is a need to express something about the working-class Black woman and that’s what I do.

(Gladstone, p. 33)

As a reputed sculptor and printmaker whose career began in the 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett is a major figure in modern American and Mexican art. Catlett’s work embraces the human condition, revealing a deep passion for dignifying humanity, especially working-class women and, in particular, African American and Mexican women. Titles of her sculpture suggest this interest: Black Woman Speaks (1970), Mother and Child (1940, 1993), Mujer (1964 ...

Article

Violet J. Harris

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the achievements of black women authors who create children books have been nothing short of remarkable. Virginia Hamilton and Angela Johnson received the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Award, and Mildred Taylor continued to win Newbery Honor Medals for her historical fiction series, The Land. A dozen new writers were routinely published. Two authors, Connie Porter and Deborah Gregory, entered the lucrative world of television movies and sidelines—products based on a literary character, such as dolls, CD-ROMS, and clothing—with series fiction, Meet Addy, an American Girl product, and The Cheetah Girls, a Disney Corporation creation. Comparable achievements are apparent on the editorial and production side of publishing. Burnette Ford and Andrea Davis Pinkney assumed major editorial positions in mainstream companies, while Cheryl Willis-Hudson left a career in publishing to found Just Us Books with her husband Librarians critical advocates of ...

Article

Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

Alice Childress was never flattered by the litany of firsts that were used to refer to her works She believed that when people have been barred from something for so long it seems ironic to emphasize the first Instead Childress looked to the day when she would be the fiftieth or one hundredth African American artist to accomplish something Long regarded as a champion of the masses of poor people in America Childress wrote about the disparity between rich and poor underscoring that racism and sexism are added burdens forced upon women of color A reticent and private person Childress boldly spoke out in her works against an American government that either exploits or ignores poor people in the name of capitalism One of Childress s strongest convictions was that black authors must explore and include black history in their writings Her sagacity and commitment to preserving black culture and ...

Article

Spanning more than a century, the lives of the Delany sisters are a testament to their indomitable spirits and enduring faith. Sarah Louise (“Sadie”) Delany was the first African American woman to teach home economics in a New York City high school, and younger sister Annie Elizabeth (“Bessie”) Delany was the second African American female dentist in New York State. However, it was a book they collaborated on when they were both over one hundred years old, the best seller Having Our Say (1993), that brought them to the attention of the world.

Sadie Delany was born in 1889 in Lynch’s Station, Virginia, and Bessie Delany was born in 1891 in Raleigh, North Carolina. They were the second and third of ten children born to Henry Beard Delany Sr. and Nanny James Logan Delany. Their father was born a slave in 1858 on a plantation in ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

The illustrious career of Carmen DeLavallade began at the midpoint of the twentieth century and continued into the twenty-first century. In that time she graced the arenas of dance, theater, movies, and television as one of the great dancers of her time, as well as a distinguished choreographer, actor, and teacher.

Carmen Paula DeLavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, to Leo Paul DeLavallade, a bricklayer and postman, and Grace DeLavallade She was a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles when she won an apprenticeship in the Lester Horton Dance Theater Horton a pioneer of modern dance believed that a dancer s education should be well rounded and his apprentices were taught ballet modern and ethnic dance forms as well as painting sculpture and acting Being a Horton apprentice also meant learning from experience the rudiments of scenic design costuming and stage lighting With ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Carmen De Michele

Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, and academic, was born in Kalaba, Nigeria, a middle-sized city close to the Cameroonian border, on 23 October 1963. He grew up in Enugu in eastern Nigeria, where he attended a British boarding school. He was taught to speak in English in addition to his native Igbo.

In 1982 Enwezor moved to the United States, where he enrolled at the Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) in Jersey City, New Jersey, as a political science major. He earned a BA in political science in 1987. Enwezor entered the world of art through friends and by visiting a large number of art exhibitions. He turned his attention not only to contemporary American and European art but also to modern African art. He noticed that African artists were severely underrepresented in the American art scene. In 1989 Enwezor became a freelance ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded in 1867 by George L. White, the treasurer and vocal-music teacher at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk had been established two years earlier to educate newly freed black slaves. Few students could afford Fisk's tuition, so the school needed other sources of revenue. White came up with the idea of a performing choir as a way to raise money.

After several successful local appearances, the reputation of the eleven-member choir began to spread. In 1871 the Jubilee Singers embarked on a tour of the Northeast, performing mainly in churches before all-white audiences. Their repertoire included anthems, popular ballads, and operatic excerpts, but their most popular pieces proved to be African American spirituals and work songs Many people in their audiences were hearing these songs for the first time Highlights of the tour included a performance before 40 000 people at the ...

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

Kathleen Thompson

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the writer and educator Paula Giddings to the study of black women’s history. Possibly even more important is the role she played in disseminating that history to the American public. A rigorous scholar, graceful writer, and committed advocate of black women, Giddings was a writer of history who made history herself.

Paula Giddings was born in Yonkers, New York. Her father, Curtis G. Giddings, was a teacher and guidance counselor and, later, the first black firefighter in Yonkers. Her mother, Virginia I. Giddings, was also a guidance counselor. In an interview in Essence in 1995 Giddings said of her parents My father was the race conscious person in my family but it was my mother who gave me my voice She did this I know now by clearing a space where mywords could fall grow then find ...

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 ...

Article

Pero Gaglo Dagbovie

A scholar of national renown, Darlene Clark Hine has published pathbreaking scholarship; introduced and developed new and existing fields of scholarly inquiries; provided leadership for various groups of scholars; and mentored and trained several generations of historians. She served as president of the Organization of American Historians (2001-2002) and the Southern Historical Association (2002-2003). During her productive, decades-long career as a professional historian, Hine has taught at eight different universities, published several books, cowritten and coedited a dozen scholarly volumes, edited three major works, written more than fifty journal articles and chapters in anthologies, presented more than sixty papers in professional venues, lectured at universities all over the United States, and served on countless programming, advisory, and nominating committees and editorial boards. Since the mid-1980s, Hine has received numerous grants, awards, and honors, including honorary doctorates from Purdue University and Buffalo State College, the Detroit News ...

Article

James S. Humphreys

Black historians have made monumental contributions to the writing of U.S. and world history, overcoming racial prejudice as well as economic and educational discrimination in their effort to produce outstanding scholarship. Not surprisingly, most black historians in the United States have focused on studying the role of blacks in American history. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, most black historians labored in obscurity, their work receiving only scant attention from white scholars. In the United States, changes both within the academy and in the larger society boosted the profile of black historians and black history, but only after decades of struggle on the part of black intellectuals to be taken seriously as scholars.

The study of black history for instance was three quarters of a century away from being accepted as a legitimate field of study in academe in the late nineteenth century Few blacks were studying history in graduate programs ...