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Harry Belafonte may be best known to audiences in the United States as the singer of the “Banana Boat Song” (known popularly as “Day-O”). However, it is his commitment to political causes that inspired scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to observe: “Harry Belafonte was radical long before it was chic and remained so long after it wasn't.” Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, to West Indian parents. The family moved to Jamaica in 1935 but returned five years later. Struggling with dyslexia, Belafonte dropped out of high school after the ninth grade and, at the age of seventeen, joined the U.S. Navy. The work was menial: scrubbing the decks of ships in port during World War II. Naval service, however, introduced Belafonte to African Americans who awakened his political consciousness and introduced him to the works of radical black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois.

In ...


Chris Bebenek

singer, actor, activist, and producer, was born Harold George Belafonte Jr. in Harlem in New York City, the son of Harold George Belafonte Sr., a seaman, and Melvine Love, a domestic worker. Belafonte Sr. was an alcoholic who contributed little to family life, other than occasionally hitting his spouse, and the young Harry was brought up almost exclusively by his mother. Harold and Melvine, who were both from the Caribbean, had a difficult time adjusting to life in New York, and after the Harlem race riots of 1935 Melvine and her son moved to her native Jamaica where Harry spent five years shielded from American racism When World War II broke out the Belafontes returned to Harlem Hoping for better conditions the family would often try to pass for white With white relatives on both the mother s and father s sides they were ...


Christine G. Brown

writer and editor, was born in 1890; his parents’ names and his birthplace are now unknown. Little is known of his early life and education. He married Thelma Johnson, with whom he had one daughter. Carter and his wife lived in New York City at the same address, 409 Edgecombe Avenue, from the 1940s until their deaths.

A devoted New Yorker, Carter was a prolific writer and speaker for civil rights, especially concerning jobs, housing, and public office. A committed member of the National Urban League, on 23 July 1928 he delivered a speech on employment and fair housing issues during Negro Week on the Common. In September of that year he took over the editorship of Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, the Urban League's in-house magazine, when Charles Spurgeon Johnson stepped down as editor With more than 10 000 subscribers when Carter took over the ...


Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...


Niambi Lee-Kong

actor, playwright, producer, director, and civil rights activist. Ossie Davis, though commonly known for his work in the dramatic arts, was a humanitarian and activist who used his talents and fame to fight for the humane treatment of his people and for recognition of their contributions to society.

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, to Kince Charles Davis and Laura Cooper Davis. Though neither parent was formally educated, Davis's father was a preacher and a railroad construction engineer. Davis's name “Ossie” came from a clerk's misunderstanding the pronunciation of the initials “R. C.” when recording his birth.

In 1935 Davis graduated from Central High School in Waycross, Georgia. He then attended Howard University, where he met Alain Locke a professor of philosophy who had been the first black Rhodes scholar Locke recognized Ossie s talent introduced him to black theater and encouraged ...


David Koenigstein

actor, activist, producer, and director, was born in San Francisco, California, the eldest of five children born to James and Carrie Glover, lifelong postal workers and political activists in the NAACP and Postal Workers Union. As a child, Glover spent the school year with his parents, living in a government housing project in the Haight-Ashbury district. During summer vacations, however, he stayed with his grandparents on their farm in rural Louisville, Georgia, in the mid-1950s. The Glovers' ride from California across the South was always fearful, as the country was still in the grip of Jim Crow laws Upon their arrival in Georgia they would have to use the back door for restroom use and sit at separate lunch counters apart from whites These experiences stayed with Glover throughout his life and fueled his commitment to civil and human rights causes in the United ...


Shelia Patrice Moses

comedian, civil right activist, nutritionist, and actor, was born Richard Claxton Gregory in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up on North Taylor Street with his mother, Lucille, and his five siblings. His father, Presley Sr., abandoned the family when Gregory was very young. On North Taylor Street, Gregory told jokes to the neighborhood children, jokes that would later lead to his fame as a comedian. For most of his childhood, however, he faced poverty and racism. His first brush with segregation came at an early age when he raised his hand and volunteered to give five dollars to needy children after the teacher asked his class if their parents would be able to make donations for Christmas. His teacher told him to “put your hand down, Richard this money is for your kind The entire class laughed at him as he ran out ...


Karl Rodabaugh

Americancomedian and satirist, human and civil rights activist, author, and nutritionist. Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory has been recognized as the first African American comedian to break through to white audiences on a national level. Appearing at the Playboy Club and other trendy Chicago nightclubs, Gregory gained fame as a stand-up comic whose humor offered a lighter side to the emerging civil rights movement. From the perspective of comedic history, Gregory is listed alongside other “satirical renaissance” comics of the 1950s and 1960s—Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Shelley Berman. By the early 1960s Dick Gregory and other satirical comics had been brought to the fore by the supportive hosts of the Tonight Show: Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson.

Gregory was popular among urbane whites sympathetic to the early civil rights movement They readily ...


Pamela Lee Gray

musician, activist, author, painter, and sculptor, was born Richard Pierce Havens in Brooklyn, New York, the oldest of nine children. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. His father, Richard Havens, worked as a metal plater and dreamed of becoming a professional pianist, eventually learning to play a number of instruments. Richie's mother Mildred a bookbinder and casual singer at home encouraged her young son when he started singing background vocals at the age of twelve for local groups All kinds of music were played in the Havens home Richie s grandmother listened to Yiddish gospel and big band music his mother enjoyed country music and his father loved jazz He joined the doo wop singing group the Five Chances at age fifteen and performed the next year with the Brooklyn McCrea Gospel Singers a group that sang hymns for neighborhood churches Havens ...


Michaeljulius Idani

conservative activist, diplomat, and radio personality, was born in Long Island, New York, the youngest of the five children of Allison L. Keyes, a U.S. Army sergeant, and Gerthina Quick Keyes, a homemaker. Keyes spent the majority of his childhood on various military bases. He developed a close relationship with his mother, whom he admired greatly for raising a family under difficult circumstances. Both parents instilled in Keyes a strong sense of faith, which would underpin his later political activism.

From an early age Keyes displayed a talent for public speaking viewing it as an effective means of influencing others particularly in regards to moral issues While attending Robert G Cole High School in San Antonio Texas Keyes became active in debating clubs and civic organizations He competed in numerous speech contests winning the majority of them His oratorical skills aided in his elections to ...



Jason Philip Miller

hip-hop artist, social activist, was born Lawrence Kris Parker in Brooklyn, New York's Park Slope neighborhood but was raised largely in the Bronx. At twelve, his mother kicked Kris and his younger brother Kenny out of the house (no further information on his parents is available). Although his brother soon returned to his mother's home, Parker remained on the streets, often seeking shelter in public libraries. The next few years of his life were marked by lawlessness and run-ins with police and other authority figures. Such misadventures came to a head when a routine police stop led to the arrest of Kris and an unidentified partner following an attempt to flee (the pair was hauling drugs for a small-time local dealer). A judge sentenced Parker to a South Bronx juvenile home. There he met Scott Sterling a social worker and youth counselor who performed hip hop and ...


Sola Olorunyomi

Nigerian musician and political activist, was born Fela Ransome-Kuti on 15 October 1938 in Abeokuta Nigeria to the Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti a clergyman and Funmilayo Ransome Kuti née Thomas a women s activist Fela along with his mother would later drop the Ransome from his name as a rejection of British colonialism and adopt the Yoruba middle name Anikulapo which means one who has death in his pocket Fela was the fourth of five children born into the Ransome Kuti family which belonged to the Ègbá Yorùbá community One of his older brothers Olikoye Ransome Kuti was a noted medical doctor and Nigerian minister of health Another brother Beko Ransome Kuti was a leading human rights activist The Nigerian writer and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was a cousin Though he was deprived of interacting with the vital and deep rooted Ègbá cultural tradition as a youth his ...


Prudence D. Cumberbatch

television and radio host, U.S. congressman, and president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, was born Frizzell Gray, the first of four children of Mary Elizabeth Willis in Turners Station, Maryland. His mother worked at several occupations, including as an elevator operator and as a domestic, while Clifton Gray his stepfather was employed as a truck driver Gray was raised believing that he shared the father of his three sisters only later did he learn that he was not Clifton Gray s biological son Gray spent his early childhood in Turners Station a small rural black community thirteen miles south of Baltimore City wedged between predominantly white Dundalk and Sparrows Point home to Bethlehem Steel the largest employer in the area Founded in the late 1880s by an African American doctor Turners Station was isolated on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay In ...


Todd Steven Burroughs

Academy Award–winning American actor, civil rights activist, and ambassador. Sidney Poitier pioneered portrayals of African American men on the movie screen during the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement. He was the first black actor to be nominated for an Academy Award and the first black man to play a romantic lead in major Hollywood films. His on-screen work in the 1950s and 1960s and his directorial work in the 1970s and beyond inaugurated a new era of black film: an era in which filmmaking was taken out of the hands of the studios and was seized by a new generation of filmmakers who wanted to show America's internal conflicts.

Born on 20 February 1927 on the seas east of Miami Poitier grew up on Cat Island in the Bahamas As a boy he went to the theater for the first time in Nassau At about age fifteen he moved to ...


Abdul Karim Bangura

Paul Leroy Bastill Robeson’s character and worldview were the products of a complex mix of forces at a time when segregation was legal in the United States and blacks were being lynched by white mobs especially in the South It is within this historical context that Robeson was able to forge a revolutionary ethic from a religion that allows African influences through musical creativity that did not divorce the sacred from the secular Although he spent eight years in segregated elementary schools during his high school days Robeson had positive encounters with whites with the exception of a racist principal who hated him because of his outstanding scholarly and athletic qualities Consequently Robeson perceived whites on balance as individuals but he also realized that most of them did not welcome competition from blacks Because his father insisted on personal integrity which included the idea of maximum human fulfillment throughout ...


James Sellman

Paul Robeson was one of the most gifted men of the twentieth century. His resonant bass and commanding presence made him a world-renowned singer and actor and proved equally valuable when he spoke out against bigotry and injustice. By the 1930s Robeson was active in a wide range of causes, but his radicalism led to a long period of political harassment that culminated in his blacklisting during anti-Communist campaigns in the 1950s. Although he resumed performing in the late 1950s, his return to public life was brief. In the 1960s serious health problems sidelined him for good.


Larry R. Gerlach

actor, singer, and civil rights activist, was born Paul Leroy Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of William Drew Robeson, a Protestant minister, and Maria Louisa Bustill, a schoolteacher. Robeson's mother died when he was six years old, and he grew up under the influence of a perfectionist father, a former runaway slave who fought in the Union army. During his senior year at the Somerville, New Jersey, high school, he achieved the highest score in a statewide scholarship examination to attend Rutgers College (later Rutgers University). The lone black at Rutgers as a freshman in 1915 and only the third African American to attend the institution Robeson was an outstanding student and athlete A varsity debater he won class prizes for oratory all four years was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior was one of four seniors chosen for membership ...


Paul Finkelman

athlete, actor, singer, civil rights activist, and Communist sympathizer. Paul Leroy Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, the youngest of five children. In 2004 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp for Paul Robeson. The press release issued by the Post Office recounted his career as an All-American college athlete, a film star, and an internationally acclaimed singer. The release also noted his fearless opposition to racism, describing him as

well known as an activist and an outspoken participant in labor and peace movements [whose] public appearances were infused with his strong political beliefs, especially his principled stand against racism in the U.S. and around the world. He was opposed to colonialism in Africa and worked to assist and support African liberation Movements. Alarmed by the spread of fascism in Europe, Robeson was also a prominent supporter of the Allied war effort during World War II.

The ...


Steven J. Niven

football player, sportscaster, and actor, was born Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, California, to Jimmie Simpson, a cook, and Eunice Durden, a nurse's aide. The child disliked his unusual first name, which was-given to him by an aunt who had heard of a French actor named Orenthal. Sometime during his childhood—accounts differ as to when—he began using his initials “O. J.,” which friends later adapted to “Orange Juice” and, later, to “Juice.” When O. J. was four, Jimmie Simpson abandoned his wife and family, leaving Eunice to raise four children in a two-bedroom apartment in the run-down Potrero Hill public housing projects near San Francisco's Chinatown. Eunice Simpson worked long hours to provide for her children but it was often a hard struggle When O J contracted rickets as an infant for example he was left bowlegged and in need of leg braces that his ...


Livia Apa

Mauritanian film director and producer, was born 13 October 1961 in Kiffa, Mauritania, to a Mauritanian mother and a Malian father. As he has recounted in numerous interviews, his early years were marked by the intense “presence” of his absent half brother, his mother’s child by her first husband, who took the boy away to live with him in Algeria. As he was growing up, Sissako’s mother talked to him incessantly about her absent son, and he longed to occupy the same privileged position in her affections as his half brother did. When he was seven years old, Sissako met his considerably older half brother, who was about to depart for Russia to study filmmaking, as Sissako himself would eventually end up doing.

His family emigrated to Bamako Mali soon after his birth and Sissako spent a good part of his childhood there the homeland of his father a meteorologist ...