automobile worker and activist, was born General Gordon Baker Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, one of five children of General Gordon Baker Sr., an automobile worker, and Clara Baker, a housewife. Baker attended Southwestern High School in Detroit and went on to take classes at Highland Park Community College and Wayne State University. In the early 1960s he took a job with Ford Motor Company and continued to work in the automobile industry for almost forty years. In 1941 Baker s father had moved his family to Detroit from Georgia in search of a job in the booming war production industries taking part in the massive migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North during the first half of the twentieth century Becoming an autoworker allowed Baker Sr to dramatically improve his family s standard of living especially in comparison to his prospects ...
Michael J. Murphy
Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson
blues singer and songwriter, was born in Forest, Mississippi, between Jackson and Meridian, the son of Minnie Louise Crudup, an unmarried domestic worker. His father was reputed to be a musician, but Crudup recalled seeing him only twice. Raised by his mother in poverty, Crudup began singing both blues and religious music around age ten. In 1916 he and his mother moved to Indianapolis. After she became ill, Crudup dropped out of school and took a job in a foundry at age thirteen.
According to his own account Crudup did not start playing guitar until around 1937, by which time he had returned to the South, married and divorced his first wife, Annie Bell Reed and taken work as a farmhand Supposedly he found a guitar with only two strings and one by one added the other four while picking up rudimentary chords from a local musician ...
pianist, singer, and composer, was born Charles Edward Davenport in Anniston, Alabama, one of eight children of Queen Victoria Jacobs, a church organist, and Clement Davenport, a minister. He showed an interest in music early in childhood, teaching himself organ and briefly taking piano lessons at age twelve. At his father's urging he attended Alabama Theological Seminary (1910–1911) to train as a minister, but was later expelled for playing a march in ragtime style at a social event. Moving to Birmingham, he worked as a pianist at various venues including a club on Eighteenth Street. He then toured widely in towns in Alabama and Georgia. In 1917 he was discovered by the pianist Bob Davies and was invited to join his touring company the Barkroot Carnival Working for the carnival gave Davenport a valuable range of musical and theatrical experience including solo singing and playing ...
philanthropist and auto worker, was born the fifth of seven children to Bessie Hall and Matel Dawson, Sr. in Shreveport, Louisiana, on 3 January 1921. Like tens of thousands of other black men and women, Dawson left the South and moved to Detroit for better paying jobs created by the demands of the World War II economy.
He began working for the Ford Motor Company in 1940 initially earning about $1 15 an hour He became a forklift operator Known for consistently working twelve hour shifts and weekends and for seldom taking time off he diligently saved as much of his salary as he could He also invested in the company s employee stock program At one time he owned a large home and well appointed automobiles but after his divorce in the late 1970s he sought a simpler lifestyle and lived frugally In the early ...
guitarist, was born in Burnsville, North Carolina. Forced at a young age to work as a laborer, Riddle had a limited formal education. While employed at a local cement plant, he had a serious accident in which he lost his right leg below the knee. Riddle spent much of the 1920s working as a shoe-shiner in the industrial city of Kingsport, Tennessee, where he also sang in churches and played guitar at house parties with other African American musicians. Nicknamed “Esley” by his relatives and friends, Riddle was a fingerstyle and slide guitar player.
Riddle learned his technique by listening to two other black guitar players based in Kingsport, Steve Tarter and Ed Martin. At a gathering in 1928 Riddle met A. P. (Alvin Pleasant) Carter a singer and the chief songwriter and arranger for the Carter Family the leading country music group of the late 1920s ...
John B. Holway
Negro League baseball player, was born Norman Stearnes in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of Will S. Stearnes and Mary Everett. Although his daughter once said that he acquired his nickname because he flapped his elbows when he ran, Stearnes believed a protruding stomach during childhood was the reason. One of five children, he pitched for Pearl High School until “around 15 or 16 years old,” when his father died. He then worked at any job he could find, including slopping pigs, driving wagons, delivering groceries, and general cleaning.
In 1921 Stearnes played professionally with the Montgomery Alabama Gray Sox in the Negro Southern League a sort of black minor league After playing for a year in Memphis Tennessee he was picked up by the Detroit Stars of the Negro National League one of the two major black leagues The Stars players worked in an automobile factory when ...
Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson
blues singer and guitarist, was born in Benoit, Mississippi, the son of Joseph Taylor and Mamie Gaston, farmers. By his own account his parents separated when he was two, leaving his mother to raise three children while trying to eke out a living on a Mississippi Delta farm. When not helping out with farm chores, Taylor showed an early interest in music, possibly inspired by Elizabeth Douglas, a singer and guitarist later known as Memphis Minnie, who supposedly knew his mother and looked after him when he was still a child.
Starting around age seven or eight Taylor began sneaking out to house parties to hear itinerant blues musicians such as Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, and Big Joe Williams Taylor recalled I used to go out at night to where they were playing Sometimes they wouldn t let me in because I was ...
Lisa E. Rivo
painter, was born in Mayfield, Kentucky, one of seven children of Frank Wilson, a second-generation barber, and Minnie Wilson, a founding member of the local Second Christian Church. Frank Wilson was an amateur artist, and two of his paintings proudly hung in the Wilson home. Ellis later credited his parents with encouraging his educational and artistic pursuits. The Wilsons lived in The Bottom, the largest of several African American sections of Mayfield, a small town in the heart of western Kentucky's tobacco-growing region. After graduation from the Mayfield Colored Grade School, Ellis studied for two years at the Kentucky Normal and Industrial Institute (later Kentucky State University), an all-black school in Frankfort. In 1919 he transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he won several student prizes and studied with the school's first African American instructor, William McKnight Farrow among others Following ...