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Article

Lia B. Epperson

attorney and civil rights activist, was born Sadie Tanner Mossell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three children of Aaron Albert Mossell Jr., an attorney, and Mary Louise Tanner. In 1899 Mossell's father deserted the family and fled to Wales. During elementary school Sadie and her mother divided their time between Mossell's grandparents' home in Philadelphia and an aunt and uncle's home on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. When her mother returned to Pennsylvania, Mossell remained under the care of her aunt and uncle in Washington until she graduated from M Street High School.

Mossell entered the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1915 and majored in education Her years as a student in an institution with so few women students and even fewer African Americans were extremely challenging Yet with her family s financial and emotional support she prospered academically and graduated ...

Article

Alexander, the first black woman to earn a PhD in Economics, in a 1981 interview provided this advice for young black men and women: “Don’t let anything stop you. There will be times when you’ll be disappointed, but you can’t stop. Make yourself the best that you can make out of what you are. The very best.”

Sadie Tanner Mossell was born into a prominent Philadelphia family. Her father, Aaron Albert Mossell, had been the first African American to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Her grandfather, Benjamin Tucker Tanner, was a well-known author, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the editor of the country’s first African American scholarly journal, the African Methodist Episcopal Review. The famous painter Henry Ossawa Tanner was her uncle At the turn of the century the Tanner home was a gathering place and intellectual center ...

Article

John R. Howard

scholar and civil rights advocate, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to George Berry, a laborer, and Frances Southall, a beautician. She was the middle child between two brothers. After attending public schools in Nashville, she entered Howard University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1961 and her master of arts degree in 1962. During the 1962–1963 academic year she was a teaching fellow at Howard University, after which she moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to pursue a doctorate in history at the University of Michigan. She served as a teaching assistant during the 1965–1966 academic year and, after completing work on her PhD in 1966, was appointed assistant professor in the Department of History. In 1968 she was promoted to associate professor. Simultaneously she pursued the study of law and in 1970 received her JD degree from the University of Michigan Law ...

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

Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

Article

Dalton Gross and Mary Jean Gross

poet, critic, and anthologist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Smith Braithwaite and Emma DeWolfe. Of his two avocations—American poetry and the status of the American Negro—the second clearly had its origins in an unusual cultural heritage. The Braithwaite family, of mixed black and white descent, was wealthy and held prominent positions in British Guiana. Braithwaite's father studied medicine in London but quit because of apparent mental strain and moved to Boston, where he married DeWolfe, whose family had been in slavery. His father remained aloof from neighbors, educating his children at home. Braithwaite's autobiography mentions no employment held by his father, whose death, when his son was eight years old, left the family destitute.Braithwaite s mother was forced into menial employment and at the age of twelve so was Braithwaite After showing interest in reading he was given a job as a typesetter ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, was born in Harlem, New York, the eldest of four children of Henry Lee, a railroad worker, and Ossie Brock, a domestic. Both parents had moved in 1935 from South Carolina to New York, seeking a better life in the North. Brown characterized his father as a man who worked hard, drank too much, enjoyed gospel music (especially when under the influence of alcohol), and whose parenting skills were limited to corporal punishment, which he meted out with great frequency. Brown's mother attended to the material needs of her children and attempted to save their souls by occasionally bringing them to an evangelical preacher who ran a makeshift church in her apartment.Growing up in a household with two working parents Brown got much of his upbringing on the streets and thus developed a tough attitude He recalls that around the age of four he was hit ...

Article

Michele Valerie Ronnick

Latinphilologist, school administrator, and educational reformer, was born in Greenville, South Carolina, to Vincent Henry Bulkley and his wife Madora, freeborn African Americans. He was the couple's firstborn son, and as a child he saw his father make important contributions to the establishment of Claflin University in 1869 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. He matriculated at Claflin in 1878 and graduated four years later on 6 June 1882. The school's catalog for the academic year 1881–1882 lists him as the only member of the senior class, and he and Nathaniel Middleton were among the first students that Claflin's college program produced. Prior to graduation he taught Greek, Latin, and German at his alma mater, and from 1886 to 1899 he held the title of professor. He served as secretary of Claflin's faculty in 1895, and from 1896 to 1899 was the school's vice president.

In ...

Article

Thomas Clarkin

scholar and diplomat, was born Ralph Johnson Bunche in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family's last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in Political Science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]), graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his MA in 1928, and then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his PhD at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris they had three children Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching ...

Article

Lawrie Balfour

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Johnson Bunche spent his early years with his parents in Detroit and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attributed his achievements to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, California, after he was orphaned at age thirteen. Johnson not only insisted that her grandson be self-reliant and proud of his race, but also that he, a high school valedictorian, go to college.

Bunche enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, and after graduating summa cum laude in 1927, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science from an American university. Bunche won the prize for the outstanding doctoral thesis in the social sciences in 1934 He conducted his postdoctoral research on African colonialism He did his research ...

Article

Joseph C. Heim

scholar, university professor, diplomat, UN administrator, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In the 1950s and 1960s Bunche was the most visible African American on the world stage. But his accomplishments were far in the future when he was born in modest circumstances in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunche, a barber, and Olive Bunche. His parents, however, were constantly in poor health, and after their early deaths Bunche was raised by his grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.

His grandmother s diligence and inspiration guided and shaped Bunche s youth and he compiled a record of stellar achievement both in athletics he later was a guard on the basketball team of the University of California at Los Angeles UCLA and in academics This he did while holding numerous jobs from delivering newspapers to laying carpets on merchant ships His early years also ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

French philosopher and novelist, was born on 7 November 1913 in Mondovi, Algeria. His family belonged to the working classes of the pied noir European settler community in the French colony of Algeria. Although pied noir people enjoyed great legal and political privileges over the vast majority of Muslim Algerians due to the French colonial government, Camus’ family demonstrated that Algerians of European descent were not all living in affluence. His mother, Catherine Hélène Sintés, was of Spanish descent, like many other pied noirs and worked as a maid She was illiterate and a stroke had left her partially deaf His father Lucien Auguste Camus had been an agricultural worker before joining the French military on the onset of war with the Central Powers in World War I He died in the first battle of the Marne in the opening months of the conflict and his body never was ...

Article

Paul Breslin

Martinican poet, playwright, essayist, and political leader, was born on 26 June 1913, in Basse Pointe, Martinique. His parents, Fernand and Eléonore Césaire, were of modest means but devoted to their six children’s education. In 1924, Césaire entered the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. In 1931 he went to France to study at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, then, in 1935, at l’École Normale Supérieure. In Paris, Césaire developed friendships with other young black intellectuals and writers, most notably the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas (1912–1978), a French Guianese who had been his schoolmate at the Lycée Schoelcher. In 1937, he met and married a fellow Martinican student and poet, Suzanne Roussi (1915–1966). The marriage produced six children, one of whom, Ina Césaire (1942– ), became a prominent writer as well.

Césaire and his circle sought a definition of black identity They were influenced by the ...

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

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

Along with Frederick Douglass and Booker Taliaferro Washington, historians consider W. E. B. Du Bois one of the most influential African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Born only six years after emancipation, he was active well into his nineties. Throughout his long life Du Bois remained black America's leading public intellectual, despite near-constant criticism for his often contradictory social and political opinions—he was accused, at various times, of elitism, Communism, and black separatism.

Born in the small western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, Du Bois and his mother—his father had left the family when he was young—were among the few African American residents. Of his heritage, Du Bois wrote that it included “a flood of Negro blood, a strain of French, a bit of Dutch, but, Thank God! No ‘Anglo-Saxon.’” After an integrated grammar-school education, Du Bois attended the historically black Fisk University ...

Article

Gerald Horne

American social scientist, author, educator, civil rights leader, and Pan-Africanist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on 23 February 1868 to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt Du Bois, in the predominantly white hamlet of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. William’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Tom Burghardt, born in West Africa in the early 1730s, was captured and brought to America by Dutch slavers. Du Bois would later recall hearing in his childhood a West African song that was perhaps of Senegambian Wolof origin.

Du Bois had a fondness for his New England birthplace and by his own account had a relatively charmed childhood An only child abandoned by his father whom he did not remember his doting mother and relatives and supportive teachers muted the pangs of racism sharpened by Reconstruction These heady years permeated the nation not just the South Hence his early years were shaped by genteel poverty Victorian ...

Article

Thomas C. Holt

scholar, writer, editor, and civil rights pioneer, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois a barber and itinerant laborer In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins weaving them rhetorically and conceptually if not always accurately into almost everything he wrote Born in Haiti and descended from mixed race Bahamian slaves Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward He also deserted the family less than two years after his son s birth leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin Long resident in New England the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had ...

Article

Jon-Christian Suggs and Dale Edwyna Smith

[This article contains three subentries, on Du Bois's life, on his historical writing, and on his literary writing.]

Article

Joyce Aschenbrenner

An artist of many talents, Katherine Dunham is best known as a popular and widely acclaimed dancer who, with her dance company, performed on stages throughout the world in the 1940s and 1950s, choreographing Caribbean, African, and African American movement for diverse audiences. Her concerts were visually and kinesthetically exciting and appealing; they were also based on a profound understanding of the peoples and cultures represented as well as on a keen knowledge of social values and human psychology. Her achievements as anthropologist, teacher, and social activist are less well known.

By her own account, in her autobiography, A Touch of Innocence (1959), Dunham was born in Chicago. The family lived in Glen Ellyn, a predominantly white suburb of the city. Katherine’s mother, Fanny June Guillaume was an accomplished woman of French Canadian and Indian ancestry She died when Dunham was young Dunham s father Albert ...