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Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...

Article

Onita Estes-Hicks

librarian, Harlem Renaissance cultural worker, and playwright, was born Regina Anderson in Chicago, the daughter of Margaret (Simons) Anderson, an artist, and William Grant Anderson, a prominent criminal attorney. She was reared in a black Victorian household in Chicago's Hyde Park district, amply provided for by a father who counted W. E. B. Du Bois, Theodore Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson among his friends and clients. Regina attended normal school and high school in Hyde Park, studying later at Wilberforce University and the University of Chicago, and eventually receiving a degree in Library Science from Columbia University's School of Library Science.

The Chicago of her youth and early adulthood struck her as provincial, yet it was flavored by migrants from the deep South and enlivened by the voice of Ida B. Wells whose writings on lynching gave Anderson an understanding of the link between race and violence ...

Article

DaMaris B. Hill

storyteller, librarian, and author, was born Augusta Braxton in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of two educators, Winford J. and Mabel Braxton. Her father later became a wood craftsman, and her mother retired from formal teaching to raise her daughter. Baker skipped at least two grades in elementary school and might have skipped more—she explained later in an interview with Robert V. Williams—if her father hadn't insisted that she be educated among her peers. Baker's maternal grandmother, Augusta Fax Gough, was an integral part of-Baker's childhood and found that the only means of quieting the young Baker was to entertain her through storytelling. These beloved experiences with storytelling would become the catalysts for a career in storytelling and would inspire Baker to write children's literature.

At age sixteen Baker was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh She did well with the academic material despite ...

Article

John Gilmore

Writer, art collector, and owner of plantations in Jamaica. He was the son of William Beckford, on whose death in 1770 he inherited an enormous fortune. This came under his control when he attained his majority in 1781 and for many years enabled him to travel extensively in Europe, to fund his enthusiasm for building Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire as a Gothic extravaganza to house himself and the books, pictures, and works of art that he collected on a prodigious scale. In the 1790s his income was estimated at well over £100,000 a year, and in 1809 the poet Lord Byron hailed him as ‘England's wealthiest son’. From the 1820s the income from his Jamaican estates declined significantly, and he was forced to sell Fonthill and major parts of his collections. Beckford is remembered as the author of the novel Vathek an Orientalist fantasy published in ...

Article

Shivohn N. García

was born on 2 February 1899 in Cidra, Puerto Rico, to Felipe Belpré and Carlota Nogueras. Belpré’s passion for stories and her desire to share the culture of Puerto Rico through storytelling and children’s literature can be traced to her childhood. In an unpublished autobiographical essay, she mused that “growing up on the island of Puerto Rico in an atmosphere of natural storytellers was fun: a father whose occupation took him all over the island; a grandmother whose stories always ended with a nonsense rhyme or song, setting feet to jump, skip, or dance; elder sisters who still remembered tales told by a mother; and finally, a stepmother whose literary taste was universal” (Pura Teresa Belpré Papers, hereafter PBP). As Belpré reached adulthood, Puerto Rico was undergoing a dramatic change: in 1917 the Jones Shafroth Act bestowed US citizenship on Puerto Ricans which triggered a migration from the island ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

book collector, historian, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia to George Bolivar, and Elizabeth LeCount Proctor Bolivar. There is some uncertainty about his precise year of birth, with historians suggesting 1844 (Silcox) or 1849 (Welborn), while census data inclines toward an 1847 date. His father was employed as a sailmaker by James Forten, a local businessman and founder of the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons.

The family numbered themselves among the “O.P.”—Old Philadelphians—of the African American community. George Bolivar had been born in Philadelphia, to a Pennsylvania-born mother and a father from North Carolina. Elizabeth Bolivar was born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Maryland (1850 census). In 1850George Bolivar owned real estate valued at $8,000, while a North Carolina–born cousin, Nicholas Bolivar, lived with the family, working as a tailor. Throughout Bolivar s life there were relatives or ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

librarian, journalist, and African Methodist Episcopal lay church leader, was born in Shannon, Mississippi, the son of William and Sarah Forbes, who had been enslaved until freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the arrival of the United States Army in Mississippi, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Working at a young age in brickyards and farms, Forbes left the state at the age of fourteen, attended Wilberforce University in Ohio for a time, then moved to Boston in the 1880s. Mr. and Mrs. Mungin of Smith Court, a forgotten couple who assisted many struggling students, assisted him in finding work as a laborer at Memorial Hall in nearby Cambridge, saving money and studying. In 1888 Forbes enrolled at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Sherman W. Jackson later principal of M Street High School in ...

Article

Saundra Liggins

Sharon Bell Mathis's concern for the welfare of young people is evident in her career as a teacher and librarian, but closest to her heart is her role as author. Mathis explains that “I write to salute the strength in Black children and to say to them, ‘Stay strong, stay Black and stay alive’” (quoted in Something about the Author, vol. 3, 1987).

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mathis grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she attended parochial schools. Her parents, John Willie and Alice Mary Frazier Bell exposed her to a vast array of literary works and encouraged her to write poems stories and plays Despite her affinity for this work however Mathis decided not to pursue a career as an author believing that she would neither be able to make a living at it nor be as great a contributor ...

Article

Adebe DeRango-Adem

was born Beatrice Murphy in Monessen, then a booming steel town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 1910 U.S. Census records a two-year-old Beatrice Murphy living with her father, Benjamin Murphy, her mother, Maude, and her older brother, Selmo, all of whom are listed as “Negro” in McMahan borough near Monessen. Her mother died that year and by 1914 Beatrice was living in Washington, D.C., where she would spend the rest of her life. Murphy graduated from Dunbar High School—the place where she would publish her first poem—in 1928. She worked as a columnist and book review editor at the Washington Tribune from 1933 to 1935 During this time she was also a regular columnist for the Associated Negro Press and contributed poetry and book reviews to numerous serials and collections Historian Maureen Honey notes that Murphy was evidently married in the 1930s presumably to a man named Campbell and ...

Article

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Beatrice Murphy lived most of her life in Washington, D.C. In 1928 she graduated from Dunbar High School and published her first poem. From 1933 to 1935 she was a columnist and for the next two years an editor at the Washington Tribune. Converting to Catholicism in 1938, she also became book review editor that year for the Afro-American and published her first poetry anthology, Negro Voices. She was also a secretary at Catholic University and part owner of a circulating library and stenography shop. She became a regular columnist for the Associated Negro Press and contributed poetry and reviews to numerous serials and collections. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked for the Office of Price Administration and then the Veterans Administration. In 1954 she was suspended without pay from her job as procurement clerk for supposedly having joined a subversive ...

Article

Christina G. Bucher

journalist, librarian, bibliographer, and fiction writer, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Henry Allen and Bessie Lucas Allen, social workers. Her mother, in fact, was the first African American social worker in Louisville. Shockley's aspirations to be a writer began at Madison Junior High School when a teacher encouraged her in her work; she later became editor of the school newspaper.

Shockley left Louisville in 1944 for Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University, where she wrote for and served as the fiction editor for the Fisk University Herald. When she returned to Louisville for the summer after her freshman year, she wrote a column titled “Teen Talk” for the Louisville Defender. Upon graduating from Fisk in 1948, Shockley moved to Maryland, where she convinced the white editor of the Federalsburg Times to include a column called Ebony Topics in which she ...

Article

Rita B. Dandridge

A multitalented professional, Ann Allen Shockley has contributed to various fields, yet her contributions as writer remain invisible to much of America.

Born 21 June 1927, in Louisville, Kentucky, Shockley is the only daughter of Henry and Bessie Lucas Allen, both social workers. To her parents and a devoted eighth-grade teacher, she has attributed her insatiable desire to read and write. She edited her junior high school newspaper, wrote short pieces in the Louisville Defender, and penned essays and short fiction for the Fisk Herald while an undergraduate at Fisk University (1944–1948)—all before her twenty-first birthday. These early pieces show Shockley's interest in social and cultural issues.

In 1949 Shockley began a weekly column called “Ebony Topics” for the Federalsburg Times (Md.). From 1950 to 1953 she penned a similar column for the Bridgeville News, in Bridgeville, Delaware, where she resided with her husband, William ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

journalist, compositor at the Government Printing Office, collector of books and manuscripts on African American history, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Charles Henry and Sarah Smith Slaughter. Since Proctor is not his mother's family name, his parents may have chosen to name him after the one-time Kentucky governor of the same name, who died in 1830. Charles Henry Slaughter died when his son was six years old. Slaughter sold newspapers to support himself and his mother. She often heard him read aloud from printed descriptions of slave life, which, having been enslaved at birth, she knew were untrue, and told him so. The existence and frequency of slave uprisings were among the many details she exposed.

Slaughter graduated from Louisville Central High School in keeping with Kentucky law at the time students considered white were sent to other schools He was salutatorian of his class and ...

Article

Dorothy B. Porter

Henry Proctor Slaughter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Sarah Jane Smith and Charles Henry Slaughter. When he was six years old his father died, leaving his mother with two boys and a girl. He sold newspapers to help support his mother, and as he worked his way through school he became the main support of his family. After graduating as salutatorian from Central High School, he served his apprenticeship as a printer on the Louisville Champion. There he became associate editor with Horace Morris, who in 1894 was deputy grand master of the Prince Hall Masons of Kentucky. Slaughter also began to write feature articles for local daily newspapers.

By 1893 Slaughter was foreman of Champion Publishing Company, and in 1894 he became associate editor of the Lexington Standard. Shortly afterward, as manager of the Standard he was described as making ...

Article

Barbara McCaskill

and muse and confidante to Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and literati. Anne Spencer was born inauspiciously on a Virginia plantation. Yet the combination of loving, though irreconcilable, parents and an unorthodox, isolated youth formed her extraordinary independence, introspection, and conviction.

Her father, Joel Cephus Bannister of African American white and Native American descent and her mother Sarah Louise Scales the mulatta daughter of a slaveholder separated when Spencer was six While her mother worked as an itinerant cook Spencer roomed with foster parents in Bramwell West Virginia where no other black children lived In insular and parochial Bramwell she was groomed for the African American bourgeoisie Her mother dressed her in the finest frocks she could afford and withheld her from an outlying school that enrolled working class children until she could attend Lynchburg s Virginia Seminary with socially suitable African American students Spencer entered the seminary at age eleven ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Annie Bethel Bannister was born in Henry County, Virginia. She spent her early years with a foster family while her mother, Sarah Scales, separated from her husband Joel Bannister, worked nearby as a cook. At age eleven she began formal schooling in the Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg under the name Annie Scales. With her first poem “The Skeptic” (1896), Scales revealed the independent thinking that would characterize her life and work. She graduated in 1899, taught for two years in West Virginia, and then returned to Lynchburg to marry Edward Spencer and raise their children Bethel Calloway, Alroy Sarah, and Chauncey Edward.

During this time Spencer cultivated her poetry as well as her famous garden. When National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) activist James Weldon Johnson visited her in 1917 he convinced her that she ought ...

Article

Dora Jean Ashe

Spencer, Anne (06 February 1882–27 July 1975), poet, librarian, and teacher, was born Annie Bethel Scales Bannister in Henry County, near Danville, Virginia, the daughter of Joel Cephus Bannister, a former slave and saloon owner, and Sarah Louise Scales. The only child of divorced parents, at the age of eleven Annie was sent to Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, where she excelled in literature and languages. After graduating in 1899 she taught for two years, then in 1901 married fellow student Edward Spencer and lived the rest of her life in Lynchburg.

Outwardly it was a pleasant life that Spencer spent with her husband, a postal worker, and their three children in a comfortable house built in part by Edward. For twenty years (1925–1945) Anne Spencer was a librarian and part-time teacher of literature and language at the all-black Dunbar High School, named for the poet Paul Laurence ...

Article

Dora Jean Ashe

poet, librarian, and teacher, was born Annie Bethel Scales Bannister in Henry County, near Danville, Virginia, the daughter of Joel Cephus Bannister, a saloon owner and former slave, and Sarah Louise Scales. The only child of divorced parents, at the age of eleven Annie was sent to Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, where she excelled in literature and languages. After graduating in 1899 she taught for two years, then in 1901 married fellow student Edward Spencer and lived the rest of her life in Lynchburg.

Outwardly it was a pleasant life that Spencer spent with her husband, a postal worker, and their three children in a comfortable house built in part by Edward. For twenty years (1925–1945) Anne Spencer was a librarian and part-time teacher of literature and language at the all-black Dunbar High School, named for the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar The ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

photographer, writer, and curator, was born in Los Angeles, California, the third of four daughters born to Evelyn Williams, a homemaker, and Wendell Williams, an aerospace industry employee. Carla showed no signs of interest in becoming an artist during her childhood, even though she already had an affinity and talent for taking photographs. As a high school senior she indicated that she could not imagine going off to college “to major in something utterly useless like art” (Williams, e-mail interview, May 2005).

Williams first became seriously interested in art during her sophomore year at Princeton University after she enrolled in a photography course The university darkrooms were located in the basement of the visual arts building it was there also that the mandatory interviews conducted prior to registration for an art class were held She later described that first journey to the basement as ...