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Lisa Clayton Robinson

“We are responsible for the world in which we find ourselves, if only because we are the only sentient force which can change it.” In this statement from his 1972 essay “No Name in the Street,” James Baldwin sums up a philosophy that drove much of his work. Baldwin was continually conscious of the hypocrisies and injustices in the world around him, and as a writer he strove to make his audiences aware of the possibility that people could do, and be, better. An expatriate most of his adult life, Baldwin nevertheless wrote tirelessly about the contradictions inherent in American identity, and especially about the state of American race relations. He came to be respected as one of the most insightful intellectuals in the Civil Rights Movement and as a leading figure in the African American literary tradition.

Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York, in 1924 Shortly ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

writer and civil rights activist. James Arthur Baldwin was born James Arthur Jones in Harlem Hospital in New York City to Emma Berdis Jones. He was adopted by Jones's husband David Baldwin, a Baptist preacher and factory worker, in 1927.

By the time of his death Baldwin had become a kind of prophetic spokesperson—as both artist and activist—for black life and black history in America, a strong critic of the country he loved. This he accomplished with considerable reflective time spent outside the country, especially in France and Turkey; with wide-ranging artistic and literary contacts; and with a consummate skill in several literary genres, especially the essay, the novel, and the play.

Home life for Jimmy was hectic and demanding He moved frequently between crowded apartments in Harlem with his overworked mother his angry stepfather David Baldwin s mother and oldest son and eight brothers and sisters ...

Article

Ann Rayson

author, was born James Arthur Baldwin in Harlem, in New York City, the illegitimate son of Emma Berdis Jones, who married the author's stepfather, David Baldwin, in 1927. David Baldwin was a laborer and weekend storefront preacher who had an enormous influence on the author's childhood; his mother was a domestic who had eight more children after he was born. Baldwin was singled out early in school for his intelligence, and at least one white teacher, Orrin Miller, took a special interest in him. At P.S. 139, Frederick Douglass Junior High School, Baldwin met black poet Countée Cullen, a teacher and literary club adviser there. Cullen saw some of Baldwin's early poems and warned him against trying to write like Langston Hughes, so Baldwin turned from poetry to focus more on writing fiction. In 1938 he experienced a profound religious conversion at the ...

Article

Floris Barnett Cash

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), the leading agent of change and promoter of a new “relevant” black literature of the 1960s, influenced the development of contemporary black letters. Amiri Baraka is the author of twenty plays, three jazz operas, seven books of nonfiction, and thirteen volumes of poetry. Born Everett Jones in Newark, New Jersey, he is the son of Coyette Jones, a postal worker and elevator operator, and Anna Lois Russ Jones, a social worker. Baraka graduated with honors from Newark’s Barringer High School in 1951 at the age of fifteen and received a scholarship to Rutgers University in Newark. A year later, “LeRoi” transferred to Howard University, where he remained briefly before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Stationed at Ramsey Field, Puerto Rico, for two years, he read extensively, wrote poetry, and traveled to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

In 1957 ...

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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

Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...

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Wayne J. Urban

college professor and administrator, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of James Bond, a Congregationalist minister, and Jane Alice Browne, a graduate of Oberlin College and a schoolteacher. Horace Bond's paternal grandmother, Jane Arthur Bond, was a slave who raised two sons by herself. These two sons, Bond's father and his uncle, Henry, both earned college degrees and embarked on professional careers. Three of Bond's four siblings earned college degrees, and his cousins on his father's side also distinguished themselves academically. This family achievement was important to Horace Bond, because it exemplified the way in which numerous scholars of his generation were nurtured within the African American community. He published a book on the family origins of African American scholars near the end of his life, Black American Scholars: A Study of Their Beginnings (1972).

Bond was an intellectually precocious child He was ...

Article

Leslie Sanders

was born 7 January 1953 in Guayaguayare, Trinidad and Tobago. Information on her parents is unavailable. She attended Naparima Girls’ High School in San Fernando, graduating in 1970. The same year, she immigrated to Canada for further schooling, graduating from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in 1975, and from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education with an M.A. in 1976. She lives in Toronto and, since 2004, has been a research professor in the Department of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph. Brand is the author of ten books of poetry; four novels; a collection of short stories; four substantial works of nonfiction, including the resonant and influential meditation on being in diaspora, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging (2001 other uncollected essays and four documentary films She has won many awards for her work ...

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

Vanita Vactor

writer, performance artist, and activist, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but grew up in Detroit, Michigan, as the younger of two daughters of Albert Buford Cleage Jr., a minister, and Doris Graham Cleage, an elementary school teacher. Her father created his own religious denomination, the Black Nationalist Christian Church. His church, the Shrine of the Black Madonna, was most noted for its eighteen-foot pulpit portrait of a black Madonna painted by Glanton Dowdell. Cleage's parents bestowed upon her family an Afrocentric view of the world. She grew up surrounded by books and listening to political discussions about black liberation and empowerment. She and her sister Kristen were taught early on that growing up in a home of black middle-class privilege meant also having social and political responsibilities to contribute to the black community's liberation out of poverty, disenfranchisement, and racism.

A gifted student Cleage attended Northwestern High ...

Article

Jacob Zumoff

Black Panther Party leader, was born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, the third child of six born to Leroy Cleaver, a nightclub pianist and waiter, and Thelma (maiden name unknown), an elementary school teacher and janitor. After a brief stay in Phoenix, Arizona, the family moved in 1947 to East Los Angeles, where Leroy Cleaver, often abusive and violent toward Eldridge and his mother, eventually abandoned them. Soon afterward, Eldridge was arrested for the first time, for stealing a bicycle, and from 1949 until 1966 he spent most of his time in reform school and prison. At one reform school in 1950, he briefly converted to Roman Catholicism—less out of religious conviction, he later recalled, than because at that school most Catholics were black or Latino and most Protestants were white. In 1952 he was returned to reform school after being caught selling marijuana.

In 1954 ...

Article

Regina V. Jones

Michelle Cliff is concerned with the consciousness of people in Jamaica and the United States. In her work she confronts issues of gender, sexuality, class, race, and identity as well as the distinctions between colonizer and colonized. Although Cliff is known primarily as a novelist, she also writes poetry and short stories.

Michelle Cliff was born in Kingston, Jamaica at a time when that country was still a British colony Her family moved to the United States when she was three years old and she began grade school in New York City However she moved to and from Jamaica frequently and attended school there when her family returned to her birth country when she was ten In Jamaica she was a child of privilege of the upper class because her family owned land She describes herself as a light skinned colonial girlchild both in Jamaica and in the Jamaican ...

Article

Kaiama Glover

was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 19 January 1969. Her father André and mother Rose came from the city and surrounding region of Léogâne, respectively, and migrated from the provinces to Port-au-Prince in search of economic opportunity. Throughout her life, Danticat has maintained both a physical and an emotional connection to her family’s rural origins, despite the fact that she was born and raised, and made her home as an adult, in a series of urban centers—from Port-au-Prince to Brooklyn, New York, to Miami, Florida, where she ultimately settled with her husband Faidherbe Boyer and their two daughters.

When Danticat was 2 years old her father migrated to New York to seek work and to escape the constraining political reality of life under President for Life François Duvalier Her mother followed two years later leaving Danticat and her brother André in the care of her aunt Denise and uncle ...

Article

Arnold Rampersad

novelist and essayist, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the oldest of two sons of Lewis Ellison, a former soldier who sold coal and ice to homes and businesses, and Ida Milsaps Ellison. (Starting around 1940 Ellison gave his year of birth as 1914; however, the evidence is strong that he was born in 1913.) His life changed for the worse with his father's untimely death in 1916, an event that left the family poor. In fact, young Ralph would live in two worlds. He experienced poverty at home with his brother, Herbert (who had been just six weeks old when Lewis died), and his mother, who worked mainly as a maid. At the same time, he had an intimate association with the powerful, wealthy black family in one of whose houses he had been born.At the Frederick Douglass School in Oklahoma City ...

Article

Louis Tremaine

, Somali novelist, playwright, and essayist, was born in Baidoa, Somalia, on 24 November 1945 the fourth of ten children His father Farah Xasan a Somali reared in Nairobi Kenya was a much traveled interpreter for the British colonial administration in the region before becoming a merchant early in Farah s childhood His mother Aleeli Faduma was an oral poet of some local reputation as were two of his great grandfathers At the age of two he moved with his family to Kallafo in the Ogaden an area then under British occupation but claimed by both Somalis and Ethiopians There he received his first formal education attending both a public and an Islamic school His parents educated their daughters as well as their sons the home was rich with a great variety of books from world literature and young Nuruddin soon formed the goal of becoming a writer A ...

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Carol Polsgrove

civil rights leader and writer, was born in Chicago to Octavia Allen and Jackson Forman. He lived on a farm with his maternal grandmother in Marshall County, Mississippi, until he was six. Then his mother and stepfather, John Rufus, who worked in the stockyards, took him back to Chicago, where he attended St. Anselm's—a Catholic school—and Betsy Ross Grammar School. As a teenager he discovered that John Rufus was not his biological father, and he met Jackson Forman, then a taxi driver. Graduating from Englewood High School in 1947, Forman studied at Wilson Junior College for one semester before he joined the air force, where he served for four years.

The year after his discharge in 1951 Forman started classes at the University of Southern California One night when he emerged from the library two Los Angeles police officers arrested him on suspicion of robbery ...

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Lisa K. Perdigao

novelist, short-story writer, and professor, was born in Oscar, Louisiana, to Manuel and Adrienne J. Gaines, sharecroppers. The first of Adrienne's twelve children—seven to Manuel and five to her second husband—Ernest Gaines was raised on River Lake Plantation in Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana, and was very much part of the landscape when he was a child, working in the fields like his father.His childhood was marked by his father's absence, his parents having separated when he was eight. Gaines was by most accounts raised by his great-aunt Augusteen Jefferson when his parents worked in the fields and then when his father left and his mother moved to New Orleans in search of work. “Aunt Teen” is a figure who dominated Gaines's childhood memories and literary reconstructions, most notably in the figure of Jane Pittman the title character of what is arguably Gaines s most ...

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Graham Russell Hodges

Born to petit bourgeois parents in Vého, Lorraine, in rural France, Henri-Baptiste Grégoire was educated at a Jesuit college. He then became a teacher and was consequently ordained as a priest in Lorraine at the age of twenty-five. Frustrated by hierarchical barriers to advancement, he turned to writing.

Grégoire's first essays, published in the late 1770s, advocated tolerance of Jews, a position that placed Grégoire in opposition to the wave of anti-Semitism in France. In 1785 he won awards for a book reflecting his passion for Jewish rights Grégoire contended that temporal salvation by which he meant absorption into the Roman Catholic Church was individual rather than racial or national He defined his duty as working for the creation of conditions under which Jews could convert to Catholicism and be eligible for salvation To avoid social corruption he believed Jews were to be encouraged to migrate to the countryside ...

Article

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 ...

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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 ...