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Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...


Charles D. Grear

musician, performer, songwriter, and southern musical legend. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown—“Gatemouth” because of his deep voice—emerged as a musical legend in the South for more than fifty years. Brown was heavily influenced by the music of Texas and Louisiana, and his range of styles included the blues, rhythm and blues (R&B), country, swing, jazz, and Cajun. A virtuoso on guitar, violin, mandolin, viola, harmonica, and drums, Brown influenced and was influenced by performers as diverse as Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, Lonnie Brooks, Guitar Slim, and Joe Louis Walker. Throughout his career he recorded more than thirty albums. Those who have been featured on his albums include Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Amos Garrett, Jim Keltner, Maria Muldaur, and Leon Russell.

Born on 18 April 1924 in Vinton Louisiana Brown was raised in Orange Texas ...


Donald Roe

comedian, actor, philanthropist. When Bill Cosby, the wealthy, well-educated, mild-mannered comedian, goes on stage and begins a monologue of funny stories relating to his poverty-stricken background, the stories are most likely true. William Henry Cosby Jr. was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to William Henry Cosby Sr. and Anna Cosby in 1937. Known by its inhabitants as the “Jungle,” the Richard Allen housing projects, where Cosby grew up, were depressing, stylized, beige-colored, concrete housing, seemingly designed to prevent poor people from “contaminating” the rest of society.

When an IQ test confirmed that Cosby was highly intelligent his mother enrolled him in Central High School a school for gifted children However Cosby found it difficult to adjust there and transferred to Germantown High School There athletics provided a positive outlet for Cosby but his academic performance declined When school officials required him to repeat the tenth grade he ...


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 ...


Michael Frank Knight

, clerk, editor, Civil War veteran, and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born to Charles and Anna Marie Fleetwood, free people in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1863 Christian left a lucrative position as a clerk in the Brune shipping and trading empire and joined the Fourth United States Colored Troops as a private. Just over a year later Fleetwood received the Medal of Honor for bravery and coolness under fire at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin's Farm), 29 and 30 September 1864. He was one of only sixteen African American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

Christian Fleetwood's remarkable story begins in the home of the prominent Baltimore businessman John C. Brune Fleetwood s father served for a long time as the majordomo in the Brune household and it was there that Christian received his early education in reading ...


Debbie Clare Olson

actor, producer, director, nightclub owner, and restaurateur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Mayme Edna Revere Freeman and Morgan Porterfield Freeman. When he was two years old, Morgan's parents, like many others at the time, went north to look for work and to escape the Jim Crow conditions of the Deep South. Morgan and his sister, Iris, went to Mississippi to live with their paternal grandmother until her death four years later. Morgan and his sister then rejoined his parents in Chicago. A few months later, Morgan's mother and father separated and for a few years Morgan and his sister moved back and forth between Mississippi and Chicago.

After graduating in 1955 from Greenwood High School in Mississippi, Morgan joined the air force, where he served as a radar mechanic between 1955 and 1959 After he was discharged Morgan went to Los Angeles ...


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 ...


Emmett P. Tracy

songwriter, musician, and guitarist. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle, Washington, to James “Al” Hendrix and Lucille Jeter, Hendrix played as a sideman for several rock-and-roll bands throughout the 1960s before emerging as the most recognizable guitarist of the twentieth century.

Hendrix's early life was troubled. Al Hendrix, a private in the U.S. Army during World War II, was serving when his son was born; when Al returned from the war, he renamed his son James Marshall Hendrix. Between 1942 and 1953 Al Hendrix and Lucille Jeter had five children: four of them were sent to foster care for different amounts of time, and three were born with severe developmental disabilities. Al struggled to find work and battled an addiction to alcohol. Lucille, equally addicted to alcohol, died on 1 February 1958 from splenic rupture and hemorrhage Of all the Hendrix children only the ...



Jason Philip Miller

hip-hop artist and actor, was born Tracy Marrow in Newark, New Jersey, to Solomon Marrow and Alice (maiden name unknown) but relocated to the Crenshaw district of south central Los Angeles, California, following the untimely deaths of his parents due to heart failure. There he was raised by an aunt. Unfocused and undisciplined, Marrow drifted into a life of crime and violence as a member of the Crips street gang. He attended Crenshaw High School, where he became known for entertaining his classmates with impromptu performances of rhyming poetry. In high school he began going by the name “Ice-T,” a moniker inspired in part by the onetime pimp, novelist, and poet Iceberg Slim. Marrow had memorized much of Iceberg Slim's work and frequently recited it to listeners. In 1979 Marrow left school to join the U.S. Army. He served in the military until 1981 Upon his ...


Marianne Wilson

composer, was born in Tucson, Arizona, the son of Ulysses Simpson Kay Sr., a barber, and Elizabeth Kay, who was from Louisiana. As a young child he was surrounded with musical sounds—from his parents' singing to his brother and sister practicing music. When it was time for Ulysses Kay to start music instruction, his mother sought advice from Uncle Joe—the legendary cornetist King Oliver—concerning trumpet lessons. King Oliver replied, “No, Lizzie. Give that boy piano lessons so's he can learn the rudiments. And then he'll find what he wants to do in music (Slonimsky, 3). Kay began formal piano studies at age six. Besides piano, Kay also played the violin and the saxophone. He was very active in his high school's musical ensembles, playing in the dance orchestra and marching band. Additionally Kay enjoyed listening to the sounds of the contemporary jazz giants Benny ...


professional boxer and actor, was born in Jacksonville, Illinois, to George Florence, a World War II veteran, and Ruth Norton, an activities director at a hospital, who would later marry John Norton a fireman and police dispatcher From an early age Norton excelled in sports which he claimed protected him from much of the racism that pervaded his hometown In high school Norton became a star in football baseball and track and field Although gifted intellectually Norton did only the work required of him and as a result did not do well in school However his athletic achievements led to scholarship offers from over ninety institutions Fearful of venturing too far from home Norton accepted a football scholarship from Northeast Missouri State University later Truman State University a teacher s college where he played basketball and football During his sophomore year Norton got into an argument ...


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 ...


Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer and college professor, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where his family moved when he was six years old. His mother, Daisy Bell Shirley, was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and died at ninety years of age. She sang in the church choir as a soprano and recited poetry. His father, Irving Ewing Shirley, was born in Summer Shade, Kentucky, and died at one hundred years of age. He was an untrained musician who played guitar, fiddle, piano, and sang bass. An insurance salesman, he remained professionally active in insurance until age ninety.

The younger Shirley encouraged by his musically inclined parents began singing in church at the age of six As a teenager while playing the baritone horn in a community band he decided upon a career in music Shirley graduated from Detroit s Wayne State University ...


Ronald P. Dufour

saxophonist and composer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Joseph Shorter, a welder, and Louise Paige, who worked for a furrier. Wayne grew up in a middle-class black community. He showed an original, creative bent even as a youngster; he read science fiction and was nicknamed “Mr. Weird” by his friends. His interest in jazz developed when he heard Thelonious Monk on the radio and grew when his father urged him to play the clarinet when he was sixteen; he switched to the tenor saxophone the following year and played at area high school dances. He graduated from the Newark High School of Music and Art in 1952 and enrolled as a clarinet major at New York University, where he received a BS in Music Education in 1956.

Shorter participated in jam sessions while in college and played briefly with Horace ...


James Fargo Balliett

musician and record producer, was born in Buffalo, New York, to Lillian Washington, a hairdresser and business owner, and Grover Washington Sr., a steelworker. Young Washington grew up in a family that encouraged creativity in music. His father played saxophone and was an avid record collector, and his mother sang in the church choir. Both of Washington's brothers were also musically inclined: Darryl played the drums and Michael played the keyboard At age ten Washington began playing saxophone and by his teenage years was sneaking out of the house to watch and play in jazz clubs His parents enrolled him in the Wurlitzer School of Music to study classical music He took lessons on the piano bass guitar and drums By high school he was a member of the Buffalo all city high school band as a baritone saxophonist At age sixteen Washington left home to become a professional ...


John Saillant

singer, guitarist, and songwriter, was born William H. Withers Jr. in Slab Fork, West Virginia, the youngest of six children of William H. Withers Sr., a coal miner, and Mattie Galloway. After his father's death in 1951, Withers was reared by his mother and his grandmother. His mother worked as a maid. Withers served in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1965. While he was on duty in the Far East, he made his first attempts at songwriting.

After his discharge from the navy, Withers moved to Los Angeles in 1967 and began pursuing a musical career. While promoting his compositions, he worked at a factory. Clarence Avant of Sussex Records gave Withers his first break. The result was the classic album Just as I Am (1970 which included the hits Ain t No Sunshine and Grandma s Hands Ain t ...