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Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

Article

Justin David Gifford

pimp-turned-novelist, autobiographer, essayist, and central figure of the black crime fiction movement that began in the 1960s, was born in Chicago, Illinois, as Robert Lee Maupin Jr., the only child of Mary Brown, a hairdresser, and Robert Maupin Sr., a hustler and one-time cook for Chicago mayor William “Big Bill” Thompson. In 1919, the year of the bloodiest race riots in Chicago's history, Robert Maupin Sr. tossed his infant son against a wall and abandoned the family. Beck survived, and Mary Brown supported her infant son by working as a door-to-door hairstylist. In 1924 she met Henry Upshaw the owner of a cleaning and pressing shop the only black business in Rockford Illinois Remembered by Beck as the only father I had ever really known Iceberg Slim 23 Upshaw provided Beck and his mother with a relatively stable middle class life However ...

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

Wendy Pflug

activist and author, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of Dorothy Clark, a factory worker, and Dr. Horace Scott, a neurosurgeon who never publicly acknowledged his daughter's existence. As a result Elaine was raised by a single mother.

Elaine Brown grew up in poverty in a row house on York Street in North Philadelphia. Hoping for a better life for her daughter, Dorothy Clark enrolled Elaine in an experimental elementary school Thaddeus Stevens School of Practice There she was exposed to the lives of her often privileged white Jewish classmates and from an early age she learned to assimilate their habits She learned to adopt their speech patterns and cadence of voice using words such as these instead of dese or he ll be going instead of he be goin Thus Brown lived in two worlds in which she was able to act white while ...

Article

Marva Griffin Carter

entertainer, was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, the son of Luther Fletcher, a steamboat fireman, and Mary Eliza Cox, a cook. A stage performance sometime before 1888 of Harriet Beecher Stowe'sUncle Tom's Cabin that featured a cadre of African American actors and in which he played a small part initially inspired Tom Fletcher to pursue a career in entertainment. Later Fletcher became the first black actor to play the role of Uncle Tom.

Fletcher spent more than sixty years on the stage or performing in various venues As a boy soprano he sang in local talent shows and played in the Portsmouth fife corps His professional theatrical career began at age fifteen when he appeared with such groups as Howard s Novelty Colored Minstrels the Old Kentucky show Ed Winn s minstrel company and Richard and Pringle s Georgia Minstrels At the turn of the twentieth century ...

Article

John E. Hallwas

actress and author, was born in Du Quoin, Illinois, the daughter of Braxton Berkley, a coalminer and union organizer, and Sophia Jane Holmes, who had nine other children. She graduated from high school there and in 1920 moved with her parents to Imperial Valley in California. She attended San Diego State Teachers' College for one year and later taught in El Centro, where in 1924 she married Lee Goodwin, an auto mechanic. They had five children and adopted another. In 1931 the Goodwin family moved to Fullerton, where she attended Fullerton Junior College, held various jobs, and was extensively involved in civic organizations. From 1936 to 1952 she worked as personal secretary to the actress Hattie McDaniel and more briefly as secretary to the actress Ethel Waters.

During the 1920s Goodwin had won a $100 prize in a short story contest and was encouraged to ...

Article

Jodie Foley

singer, actor, and writer, was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, the youngest child of John Francis Gordon and Mary Anna Goodall, who were married in 1879. John Gordon claimed Zulu ancestry, while Mary Anna Goodall was born into slavery in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1853. Moving to Montana in 1881, John Gordon traveled by steamboat up the Missouri River to work as cook for a Fort Benton mining company. Mary joined him a year later with their son Robert, the first of their five children. An expert chef, John Gordon worked as a cook in several Montana mining camps. In 1893 John left to work as a cook for a Canadian railroad, but reportedly died in a train wreck. Mary Gordon left to raise five children alone supported her family with wages earned as a cook laundress and nurse working ...

Article

David Killingray

entertainer, author, and impostor who posed as an African, was born Joseph Howard Lee in Baltimore, Maryland, the fifth child of Joseph, a cook, and Lucy Cook, a domestic servant. Little is known of Lee's early life other than that he attended the Kasesha Public School for four years and also went to the St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic church. He went to sea and in 1906 or early 1907 arrived in Liverpool, England, and joined a black touring theatrical company, the Dahomey Warriors, which performed in Scotland and in the English Midlands. After his time with the group he began to re-invent his life as a popular entertainer, describing himself as an African named LoBagola. Twenty-five years later his autobiographical account was published in New York, first in Scribner's Magazine (1929), and then as a book entitled LoBagola. An African Savage's Own Story ...

Article

Reinhold Misselbeck and Kimberly Juanita Brown

African American photographer, writer, film maker, and composer. Parks was the youngest of 15 children and, after the early death of his mother, he took on responsibilities for himself and his family as a teenager. Parks worked in a number of professions before becoming a self-taught freelance photographer in 1937. After getting his start in fashion photography, he worked as one of the Farm Security Administration’s photographic team (1942–3) and held a similar post with the Office of War Information (1943–5). During this time he produced now iconic pictures such as American Gothic (1942), which features a black cleaner in front of the American flag staring into the camera with mop and broom upturned, as if in salute. Parks was soon hired as a photographer for Life magazine, where he worked from 1948 to 1961 During this period ...

Article

Elizabeth Schul

Gordon Parks's first two publications-Flash Photography (1947) and Camera Portraits: The Techniques and Principles of Documentary Portraiture (1948)-while written primarily for the professional photographer, reveal an aesthetic and a social commitment that structures the astonishing diversity of his subsequent work. Embodying his conviction that the photographer must combine technical intelligence, especially in the use of light, with a sensitive response to people, both works are photographic portfolios representing a cross-section of American lives—rural and urban, wealthy and leisured, poor and laboring.

Frequently identified as a Renaissance man, given the range of his accomplishments and the variety of media he has used, Parks was also the first African American to work for Life, Vogue the Office of War Information and the Farm Security Administration and one of the first African Americans to write direct produce and score a film While the commercial success of his ...

Article

Ann Wilde

photographer, poet, writer, composer, and filmmaker. Born the fifteenth and final child of a farming family in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born on 30 November 1912 Parks attended a segregated school where he was often stoned beaten and called derogatory names Three of his close friends had been killed because of racial violence and he was distinctly aware of the constant threat that faced him simply because he was African American and lived in the United States Parks s mother died when he was sixteen after which complying with his mother s wishes Parks moved to Minneapolis to live with his sister and brother in law Unwelcome in his brother in law s home Parks spent the winter homeless but managed to finish high school by working odd jobs He believed above all that the difficulty of his experiences ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, the son of a dirt farmer and the youngest of fifteen children. He left home when he was fifteen, shortly after his mother's death. After an unhappy attempt to move in with a married sister in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Parks ended up spending a frigid winter homeless, an experience that sensitized him to the plight of the poor and that he would draw on in later photography and films. At the time, his hunger and loneliness nearly led him to a life of crime; however, he managed to struggle through high school for a while, working odd jobs herding cattle, carrying bricks, and even touring with a semiprofessional basketball team.

Working as a waiter on the Northern Pacific Railroad, Parks saw magazine photos produced by the Farm Security Administration, a federally funded project that chronicled the Great Depression in rural and ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

photographer, filmmaker, author, and composer, was born Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks in the small prairie town of Fort Scott, Kansas, to Andrew Jackson Parks, a dirt farmer, and Sarah Ross, a maid. Gordon was the youngest of fifteen children, the first five of which, he later discovered, were really half siblings, born to his father and a woman other than his mother. Parks's poor Kansas childhood, and his memories of its unbridled racism, feature prominently in his later work, especially his books “thick with those memories.” The first phase of Parks's life ended with the death of his mother in 1928. “Before the flowers on my mother s grave had wilted Parks remembered my father had me on a train to my sister in Minnesota I ran into some hell there Russell 145 Within a month of his arrival in Minneapolis ...

Article

Debbie Clare Olson

pianist, composer, writer, and journalist, was born to Josephine Codgell, a blue-eyed blonde beauty from a wealthy white Texas family, and George Schuyler, a prominent black journalist. In 1927, while in New York, Codgell went to meet George Schuyler, the black editor of a modest left-wing publication, Messenger, which had published her poetry and prose since 1923. They were immediately smitten with each other, and despite the social taboo of their union they quietly married on 6 January 1928. Codgell believed that the way to solve America's racial intolerance was through interracial marriages and biracial offspring.Schuyler proved herself a child prodigy She began to crawl at one month sat up at four months spoke at one year and could read and write by the age of three She began playing the piano when she was four years old ...

Article

Devin C. Manzullo-Thomas

evangelist and church leader, was born Thomas P. Skinner in New York City, the eldest son of Georgia (Robinson) and Alester Jerry Skinner, the latter a Baptist minister.

Growing up in the crime- and poverty-ridden Harlem of the 1940s and 1950s, Skinner rejected the church of his parents, denouncing Christianity as a “white man's religion.” As a teenager, he became a gang leader. One night, while preparing for a gang fight, Skinner heard an uneducated radio preacher and was converted to evangelical Christianity.

As a result of this experience, Skinner became a street preacher in Harlem. On 2 June 1959, he was ordained in the ministry by the United Missionary Baptist Association of Greater New York and Vicinity.

In 1961 Skinner worked with local church and community leaders to organize the Harlem Evangelistic Association A year later Skinner preached an eight month evangelistic crusade at Harlem s ...