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Article

Charles Rosenberg

college president, activist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Born Mary Rice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she was the acknowledged daughter of confederate general John R. Jones and Malinda Rice, who was hired as a servant in his household at the age of seventeen in 1873. There appears to have been some enduring affection between Jones and Rice. He acknowledged paternity of Mary and her brother William, and his first wife, Sarah, ill and often confined to bed, asked to see the children and gave them presents. Mary Rice was raised in part by John Rice, Malinda's brother, and his wife Dolly. She also spent time in Jones's household, and after Sarah Jones died in 1879 the general bought a house for Malinda and her children The immediate neighborhood was racially mixed ...

Article

Charles Lemert

Anna Julia Cooper is best known for her book A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), a classic in the tradition known today as the woman of color standpoint in social theory. No one before, except perhaps Sojourner Truth, had so clearly defined what Cooper called “the colored woman’s office” in the moral politics of late-nineteenth-century America.

Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Her white biological father, George Washington Haywood, was her mother’s owner. Of her biological father, Cooper once wrote: “I owe him not a sou and she [her mother] was always too shamefaced ever to mention him.” The child grew to carry herself with the mother’s sense of dignity and propriety.

Anna Julia s life began just before the outbreak of the American Civil War and ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

“Only the Black Woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’” In this passage from her speech “Womanhood a Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” published in her 1892 work A Voice From the South: By a Black Woman of the South Anna Julia Cooper expresses one of her most important beliefs In her writings and speeches Cooper often argued that the status of the entire black race was dependent on the status of the women who run the homes and raise the children and that one of the best ways to elevate black women s status was to increase their educational opportunities As an activist and educator she spent most of her life simultaneously promoting these ideas and putting ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Of her college experience, Frances (Fanny) Jackson Coppin remembered: “I never rose to recite in my classes at Oberlin but I felt that I had the honor of the whole African race upon my shoulders. I felt that, should I fail, it would be ascribed to the fact that I was colored.” This describes a burden that many blacks still carry 150 years later—the suspicion that for their white peers, they somehow represent the entire race. Despite this pressure, however, Coppin shone at Oberlin College in Ohio, and she went on to shine as a teacher, school principal, and activist throughout the next fifty years.

Coppin was born a slave in Washington, D.C. the daughter of a slave mother and a white father An aunt purchased Coppin s freedom when she was twelve years old and sent her to live with another aunt in New Bedford Massachusetts They moved ...

Article

Michelle D. Commander

educator and civic activist, was born Mary Elizabeth Garvin in Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents, George Washington Garvin, a carpenter, and Rebecca Mary Logan Bellinger, a seamstress, had seven other children, four of whom died in childhood. As a young girl, Fields was enthralled with learning new ideas, and she began attending Shaw School in her neighborhood when she was just three years old. Her mother's side of the family, particularly the Middleton branch, was regarded as middle class, and many of her relatives were formally educated beyond high school in preparation for professional careers. Fields and her siblings were encouraged by their parents to attend Avery Institute, a private school renowned for the excellent education that it offered middle- and upper-class African American youth. While Herbert, Harriet, and Ruth accepted their parents prodding a defiant Mamie refused to be educated at a school ...

Article

Kelly J. Baker

Abby Kelley was born in Pelham, Massachusetts, to parents of Irish-Quaker descent. She graduated from a Friends' school in Rhode Island in 1829 and became a teacher. In 1836 she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, for a teaching position. While in Lynn, Kelley became involved with the Lynn Female Society, an antislavery organization for women. She quickly gained positions as secretary and eventually as director of the organization. Kelley became involved in the abolitionist cause, and William Lloyd Garrison's attacks on slavery in particular impressed her. After hearing her speak at an antislavery meeting, Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld encouraged Kelley to join the antislavery cause as a lecturer; in 1839 she left teaching to join the lecture circuit It is possible that she was the first woman after the Grimké sisters to speak before mixed audiences Kelley was scorned and mocked by many of her audiences ...

Article

Sophia D. West

Angelina Emily Grimké was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the youngest daughter of John and Mary Grimké. Her father was a well-known South Carolina judge as well as a powerful planter and slaveholder. Grimké owed much of her early upbringing and education to her sister, Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873), who was thirteen years her senior and her godmother. Maintaining their close relationship throughout their lives, the sisters often collaborated on and influenced each other's writing. They traced their abhorrence of slavery to their earliest memories of the struggles of slaves in their own home. The sisters were remarkable not only for their positions on slavery and women's rights but also because they turned their backs on an affluent slaveholding lifestyle, choosing instead a life of poverty without slaves and working for the freedom of slaves and the emancipation of women.

Eventually the Grimké sisters moved north to ...

Article

Olivia A. Scriven

feminist scholar and educator, was born Beverly Lynn Guy in Memphis, Tennessee. The oldest of three daughters, Beverly was raised in a traditional African American extended-family household. Her mother, Ernestine Varnado Guy, separated from husband, Walter P. Guy Jr., when Beverly was eleven and moved with the children to live with Beverly's stay-at-home grandmother and her Baptist-minister grandfather. Hard work, education, independence, and self-reliance were central principles in the Guy household. “Every tub sits on its own bottom,” Beverly recalls being told by her mother. She supported the three girls by working as a public school math teacher and later as an accountant at two black colleges. Beverly credits her mother with developing her earliest sense of “feminist consciousness,” often urging Beverly and her sisters Francine and Carmella to respect the dignity of all women that irrespective of marriage a woman should always have resources or ...

Article

Nicole Sealey

intellectual, feminist, educator, cultural critic, social activist, and poet, was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to Veodis Watkins, a custodian, and Rosa Bell Watkins, a housekeeper. One of seven children, hooks grew up in a poor family in which poetry was a well-respected art form. On stormy nights the Watkins family would host talent shows in their living room. As a youth, hooks would recite poems by such authors as Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. By the age of ten, hooks was already writing and reading her own work.

Hooks attended Booker T. Washington Elementary, a segregated black school. Her teachers, mostly single black women, nurtured and fostered her young mind. With the integration of public schools in the 1960s, however, black students were bused to white schools. Hooks soon learned that the white teachers at Crispus Attucks ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Cited in Booklist as a “formidable feminist social and cultural critic,” bell hooks is widely known for her pioneering and provocative scholarship on racism and sexism in the United States. A prolific essayist and the author of nearly twenty books, she has written on a range of issues, including feminist politics and the representation of race in Film, Television, and advertising.

In a 1995 interview with Carl Posey of Essence magazine, hooks affirmed that “fundamentally, my life is committed to revolutionary Black liberation struggle, and I don't ever see Black liberation and feminism as being separate.” She has criticized both white, middle-class feminists and black liberation activists for neglecting women of color, and has encouraged African American women to “claim a critique of sexism” based on the black experience. Seeing class divisions among blacks as a principal obstacle to racial justice, she wrote, in her 1996 book Killing Rage ...

Article

Amy Grant

The intrepid bell hooks has been one of America’s premier social critics, although often incorrectly categorized as merely a black feminist. It would be more accurate to characterize her as a public intellectual engaged in the arts of literary, film, and popular cultural criticism and committed to the struggle against racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Many of her writings, interviews, and public speeches identified these dominant discourses as serious impediments designed to inhibit people from realizing a fuller understanding of themselves and their fellow human beings. Hooks sought to dismantle these dominant political discourses by exposing their use in art, literature, and film. Meanwhile, hooks encouraged those most damaged by these ideas, such as black women, to join this struggle, believing strongly that the elevation of black womanhood will result in the liberation of blacks and American society itself.

Bell hooks was born Gloria Jean Watkins in Hopkinsville, Kentucky ...

Article

Eric Gardner

writer and educator, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, to Daniel W. and Mary (sometimes listed as Margaret) Jane (Lewis) Gibson. Her father, who had been born in Virginia, and her mother, who had been born in the District of Columbia, were free African Americans who moved to the Cincinnati area in 1849 with their three children. Daniel Gibson worked as a barber and a porter in the years before the Civil War and was able to keep his growing family on the edges of the tiny black middle class in Cincinnati. In his Noted Negro Woman entry on Sarah Gibson, Monroe Majors wrote that her father was a man of unusual strength of intellect and will self reliant and well read and that her mother was a quiet and practical woman gentle firm and efficient pp 138 139 Sarah Gibson studied in a range of private ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

the granddaughter of slaves who became the first African American elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction, grew up as one of twelve children born to the sharecropper William Pittman and the domestic worker Carrie Pittman in Tallahassee, Florida. Meek grew up in the shadow of the Capitol in a neighborhood called the Bottom and attended Primitive Baptist churches. A gifted track and field athlete, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology and physical education from Florida A&M University in 1946. Unable to attend graduate school in Florida because African Americans were not permitted to do so, she went to the University of Michigan and earned a master's degree in public health and physical education in 1948 Meek returned to her home state to work as a physical education instructor at Miami Dade Community College She would ultimately spend more than forty years at the school as ...

Article

Kathryn M. Silva

educator, textile mill supervisor, dressmaker, was born Gertrude C. Hood in North Carolina, the eldest daughter of four children to Sophia J. Nugent, of Washington, D.C., and James Walker Hood of Pennsylvania. Miller's father was a prominent bishop and educator in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church. Gertrude Hood Miller, also known as “Gertie,” spent her life in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Miller's mother, Sophia Nugent died in 1875. Two years after her mother's death, James Walker Hood married Keziah “Katie” Price McCoy of Wilmington, North Carolina. The couple went on to have more children, making Hood the eldest of eleven children (Martin, p. 41) Shortly after her birth, Miller's father moved the family to his new post with the Evans AMEZ Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Henry Evans, an African American pastor, built the church in 1796 and it became the ...

Article

activist, was born in Rochester, New York, to Nathan Sprague and Rosetta Douglass (the eldest daughter of Frederick Douglass, for whom Fredericka was named). Nathan Sprague had great difficulty holding a job, and the family—which included Fredericka's five sisters and one brother—often depended on Frederick Douglass for support. Rosetta and Nathan moved to Washington in 1877.

Most of Sprague's childhood was spent in Washington, D.C., where her mother sometimes worked as a government clerk. She attended public schools and witnessed her mother's growing participation in the clubwoman's movement, which undoubtedly influenced her own later engagement with the National Association of Colored Women and a range of other groups. Around the turn of the century, she returned to Rochester as a student at the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (later the Rochester Institute of Technology). By 1900 she was teaching in the Washington area though she was ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

educator, journalist, and feminist, was born Sarah E. C. Dudley in New Bern, North Carolina, one of the nine children of Edward Dudley, a politician, and Caroline Dudley, a teacher, whose maiden name is unknown. Both of Sarah's parents had been born in slavery, but both had learned to read and write and were determined that their daughter should learn to do so at the earliest opportunity. Alongside her mother-in-law—for whom Sarah had been named—Caroline Dudley began educating Sarah in her home, teaching the child how to read and write by the time she was six. As a Republican representative in the North Carolina state legislature from 1870 to 1874 Edward Dudley worked to make such opportunities available to all black children as well as his own daughter By the time Sarah was of school age the legislature had established a new graded public ...

Article

Martha L. Wharton

abolitionist, writer, lecturer, women's rights activist, and social critic, was born Nancy Gardner in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the daughter of an African American and Indian mother and an African American father, Thomas Gardner, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and died within three months of Nancy's birth. What is known about her is drawn primarily from her 1850 memoir, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. While Prince does not name her mother in her narrative, she provides descriptions of both parents that highlight their African descent, and she recounts her grandfather's violent removal to America, along with his memories of a proud life in Africa. She briefly notes the capture of her Indian grandmother by local English colonials. Her narrative speaks clearly to issues of race, gender, slavery, and morality in the United States and the Caribbean.

Prince s childhood ...

Article

Barbara Bair

writer, feminist, editor, teacher, social welfare administrator, and woman's club activist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second child and only daughter of the women's club leader Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and George Lewis Ruffin, attorney, the state's first black judge, legislator, activist in the National Convention of Colored Men, and graduate of Harvard Law School. One of five children, Ridley was—through her mother—of mixed African, French, Indian, and English heritage. (Her maternal grandfather was from Martinique, and her maternal grandmother was a white woman from Cornwall, England.) Ridley benefited greatly from the home environment and example created by her two highly educated activist parents, both of whom were dedicated to the causes of African American and women's rights.

Ridley s career choices were strongly influenced by the spirit of her family s middle class values and the social justice advocacy citizenship and ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

writer, feminist, and educator, was born Frances Anne Rollin in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five daughters born to William Rollin, a businessman whose family migrated from Saint Domingue (now Haiti) in 1792, and Margarette, a woman whose family was also from the Caribbean. Frances and her sisters—Charlotte (Lottie) Rollin (b. 1849); Katherine E. Rollin (b. 1851); Louisa Rollin (b. 1858); and Florence Rollin (b. 1861)—grew up in a small middle-class free black community in Charleston, where their father was well known as a successful property owner, slave owner, lumber trader, and member of the prominent French-Creole De Caradeuc family. The Rollins were members of the Brown Fellowship Society, an elite organization for freed people of color that was founded in 1790 and they lived within a community of about 120 educated and politically active free ...

Article

Vivian Njeri Fisher

political and civil rights activist, suffragist, and educator, was born free in Charleston, South Carolina, as Katherine Euphrosyne Rollin, the third daughter of William Rollin, wood factor, and Margarette, housekeeper. Her mother's maiden name is unknown. Family and friends referred to her as Katie. Rollin and her parents were listed as mulatto in the 1850 U.S. census. Her parents wanted their four daughters to have a fine education. A law passed in 1834 in Charleston, however, “prohibited the maintenance of schools by and for free people of color and slaves.” As a result of this legislation, free blacks were forced to find other ways to educate their children (Holt, 53). Like her older sisters Frances Rollin and Charlotte Rollin Katie was privately tutored and she attended private schools in Charleston She also enrolled in secondary schools in Boston and in ...