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Michael Mizell-Nelson

poet, historian, civil rights activist, college instructor, and small businessman, was born in Houma (Mechanicsville), Louisiana, to Emanuel Banks Christian and Rebecca Harris. Christian was born into a family of teachers; both his father and grandfather had taught in rural Louisiana. The latter was a former slave who served as a director of the Lafourche Parish public school system during Reconstruction. Christian's mother died when he was three, and his father, who had tutored him, died ten years later. Little else is known of his early education. He moved with his siblings to New Orleans in 1919, where he worked as a chauffeur before opening his own dry cleaners business. During the 1920s he started writing and publishing poetry, and he studied in the evening division of the New Orleans public school system. The publication of more than a dozen of Christian's poems in Opportunity during the ...

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Connie Park Rice

newspaper editor and civil rights lawyer, was born in Williamsport, Virginia (later West Virginia), the youngest of three sons born to Isaac Clifford, a farmer, and Mary Satilpa Kent, free blacks living in Hardy County. John Robert joined the Union army on 3 March 1865, rising to the rank of corporal in the 13th U.S. Heavy Artillery. After serving in Kentucky, Tennessee, and eastern Virginia under General Ulysses S. Grant, Clifford volunteered for service at Chicago, Illinois.

After the Civil War, Clifford remained in Chicago, staying from 1865 to 1868 with the Honorable John J. Healy, an acquaintance of his father, and graduating from Chicago High School. Clifford worked as a barber before going to live with an uncle in Zeno, Muskingum County, Ohio, where he attended a school taught by Miss Effie McKnight and received a diploma from a writing school conducted by a Professor ...

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Alma Jean Billingslea Brown

civil rights activist, educator, and motivational speaker, was born Dorothy Lee Foreman, one of four girls of Maggie Pelham and Claude Foreman, a laborer, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. After graduating from Dillard High School in Goldsboro, she was encouraged by one of her high school English teachers to enroll at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she began her undergraduate education. Along with several other jobs she took to enable her education at Shaw, Dorothy worked as the housekeeper for the president of the institution, Robert Prentiss Daniel, and his wife, Blanche Daniel. Because the couple had no children and because of Cotton's efficiency as a worker, in 1950 when Robert Daniel became president of Virginia State College in Petersburg, Cotton, who had become part housekeeper and part daughter, accompanied the couple and completed her education at Virginia State.

Cotton earned an AB degree in 1954 ...

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LaVerne Gyant

actress, activist, and elocutionist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Mansfield Vinton Davis, a musician, and Mary Ann (Johnson) Davis. Davis's talents as an actress and elocutionist were apparently inherited from her father, while her inclination toward activism came from her stepfather, George A. Hackett, who was a recognized leader within the African American community in Baltimore. Both Mansfield Davis and George Hackett died while she was still young After her stepfather s death Davis and her mother moved to Washington D C where she had the advantage of attending the best schools and with her fondness for books made rapid progress in her studies At the age of fifteen she passed the necessary exams to become a teacher and began teaching in the Maryland school district During this time she was recruited by the Louisiana State Board of Education who tendered her ...

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Frank R. Levstik

Thomas J. Ferguson was born on September 15, 1830, in Essex County, Virginia, the son of freeborn parents of mixed blood. Little is known of his early years, but it is recorded that by the 1850s he resided in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, Ferguson became an active member of the Masonic order, serving as junior warden of the Cincinnati lodge in 1859 and 1860. During 1859 he moved to Albany, in Athens County, Ohio, where he became a landowner and enrolled as a student at the integrated Albany Manual Labor University. Four years later, he was a leader in establishing the Albany Enterprise Academy in Ohio. Ferguson served on the first board of trustees of the school.

The Enterprise Academy opened its doors to students in 1864, following an appropriation from the Freedmen's Bureau and private gifts from individuals such as Union general Otis Oliver Howard ...

Article

Adah Ward Randolph

educator, politician, activist, pastor, author, and Masonic leader, was born in Essex County, Virginia, to free parents of mixed white and black ancestry. In 1831 Virginia outlawed the education of free blacks, and many of them migrated to other states, including Ohio. The Act of 1831 may account for the migration of Ferguson's family to Cincinnati, which Ferguson listed as his home when he attended Albany Manual Labor Academy (AMLA) in Albany, Ohio. While it is unclear how Ferguson attained an elementary education, the Albany Manual Labor University records list T. J. Ferguson of Cincinnati as a student in the collegiate department during the 1857–1859 academic year. James Monroe Trotter, veteran of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment and musicologist, also attended AMLA. Incorporated as a university in 1853 Albany Manual Labor University AMLU offered an integrated education which accepted students regardless of color ...

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David C. Driskell

Edwin A. Harelston was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father was a seaman, Captain Edwin Guillard Harleston, who became one of Charleston's leading undertakers and died at age seventy-six on April 21, 1931, shortly before his son's death. Edwin Agustus's early education did not prepare him for the career of an artist, even though he expressed interest in art at an early age. Instead he earned a B.A. degree in 1904 from Atlanta University in Georgia where he excelled in several sports From Atlanta he went with the blessings of his family to Harvard University in Massachusetts hoping to become a physician The urge to gain creative expression in the visual arts outweighed his interest in medicine however and he spent seven years studying at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts During his stay in Boston he pursued with distinction the study of anatomy ...

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Mary Anne Boelcskevy

painter and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. “Teddy,” as he was called, was one of six children of Edwin Gailliard Harleston and Louise Moultre. Harleston's father, born in 1852, was one of eight children of the white plantation owner William Harleston and his slave Kate. Edwin Gailliard Harleston had worked as a rice planter but returned to Charleston and his family's Laurel Street home in search of a better living for his-wife and children. There he ran a produce-transporting business for a few years and then brought his nickname “Captain” along when he left boating in 1896 to set up the Harleston Brothers Funeral Home with his brother Robert Harleston a former tailor The segregated funeral business meant they would have no competition from whites Most of Captain s sons were uninterested in joining the business after their uncle Robert left however ...

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Donna Tyler Hollie

educator, lecturer, journalist, and activist, was born in Darke County, Ohio. She was one of eight children of Lucinda Johnson. Her father, whose name has not been discovered, was dead by 1880.

Johnson grew up in Preble County, a rural area of Ohio in which African Americans made up less than 1 percent of the total population. In a community called New Paris, she attended public schools. Her stepfather, Harper Orchard, a former slave and a landowning farmer, was an active member of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. It was, in large measure, because of his encouragement and support that Johnson enrolled at Wilberforce University, the oldest, private, historically black college established by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856 and later operated by the AME Church In an era when many doubted the intellectual capabilities of African Americans and wanted them ...

Article

Kristal L. Enter

lawyer, author, and motivational speaker, was born in Queens, New York, to Earl Martin (onetime singer with the doo wop group, the Del Vikings), and his wife Alma Martin. Lesra Martin had seven younger brothers and sisters. The family eventually moved to the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Beauford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick. The Martin family lived in poverty with seven other families in a four-storey house that had long been condemned, and Lesra Martin was illiterate until he was sixteen because he began working at the age of ten to help support his family. One of his brothers died of AIDS in prison after being convicted of manslaughter, while another brother was murdered after intervening in a fight.

Martin's life however changed radically at the age of sixteen A group of Canadian business owners living in a commune visited New York City to test a gas saving ...

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 ...

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Nancy Gardner Prince's 1850Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself, chronicles the antebellum economic conditions of free blacks, her experience in the court of two Russian tsars, and the difficulties of missionary work in politically volatile, newly emancipated Jamaica. Prince's life, as told in this fascinating volume, reveals the opportunities available to and hindrances suffered by nineteenth- century black women.

Prince s early life as a free black in New England was marked by hunger hard work and racism She endured these harsh conditions by clinging to the dignity of her family history which included the exploits of an African grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War a Native American grandmother once enslaved by the British and an African stepfather who emancipated himself by jumping off a slave ship Despite her pride in her heritage her frustration with the social and ...

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Australia Tarver

Prince’s autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself (1850), is distinctive for several reasons. Its narrator wrote it as evidence of her energy, leadership, and agency during the antebellum era, when few black American women wrote or traveled beyond the locations where they were enslaved. It is textual evidence of the presence of a limited number of blacks living in czarist Russia. It defines Prince’s leadership, spiritual prowess, and transnational awareness as a black woman traveler, missionary, and reporter across lands and cultures outside the experience of most nineteenth-century African Americans and whites as well. Prince’s narrative authenticates her family background, its multiracial origins, the history of traveling seamen, and the extreme difficulties of being nominally free in a slave society.

Prince was born free in Newburyport Massachusetts the second of eight children Although her narrative does not name her mother ...

Article

Anthony Aiello

Born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to free parents, Nancy Prince and the details of her life are known largely through her own autobiography, Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince (1850). Nancy Gardner had as many as seven siblings and was the daughter of Thomas Gardner, a seaman from Nantucket who died before Nancy was three months old. Her mother, whose name Prince never gives in her autobiography, was the daughter of Tobias Wornton, or Backus, who was taken from Africa and, though he was a slave, fought at Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary army; Gardner's maternal grandmother, a Native American, was captured and enslaved by English colonists. Gardner's stepfather, Money Vose was her mother s third husband the other two having died He escaped a slave ship by swimming ashore but was later kidnapped and pressed into ship service During the ...

Article

Liliana Obregón

José Antonio Saco received what was a typical education for Catholic boys in early-nineteenth-century Cuba. He first studied in a small schoolhouse next to his home and later transferred to a Catholic school in Santiago de Cuba. Saco continued higher-level education in modern philosophy at the San Carlos seminar in Havana. Under the tutelage of Father Félix Varela y Morales, one of the most influential professors and prominent intellectuals of his time, Saco studied with a group of young men who were to become representatives of the urban bourgeoisie that promoted the independence of Cuba from Spain. In his autobiography Saco claims that these early years with Varela, who provided guidance and friendship and whom Saco considered the “most virtuous man” he ever met, were definitive in the formation of his thinking and ideology.

In 1821 Varela asked Saco to take over his seminar in ...

Article

Amanda J. Davis

writer, activist, editor, speaker, was born Barbara Smith in the central part of Cleveland, Ohio. Smith's mother died at age thirty-four, exactly one month before Smith's tenth birthday; her father, she writes, was a “total mystery” to her. Smith and her twin sister, Beverly, were reared in a modest, working-class home by their mother, maternal grandmother, and great-aunt Phoebe. When Smith was six years old she and her family moved into a two-family house that her aunt LaRue and uncle Bill had bought and she lived there until she was eighteen and went away to college It is this house that Smith most vividly remembers as home and from which she learned many of the fundamentals of black feminism before such a term even existed As Smith watched the women in her family struggle with dignity strength and perseverance against a segregated society marred ...

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Frank León Roberts

essayist, activist, anthologist, and publisher. Barbara Smith and her twin sister Beverly Smith were born in Cleveland, Ohio. Smith and her sister were raised in an extended family of black women that included their mother, their grandmother, and a great-aunt. Smith's woman-centered upbringing had a profound influence on her personal and political aspirations. Smith attended the elite women's liberal arts institution Mount Holyoke College, where she received her BA in 1969 with a self-designed major that focused on black women's literature. In 1971 she received her MA from the University of Pittsburgh.

Smith, who identifies herself as a lesbian, is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in the history of twentieth-century black feminism. Smith's landmark essay Toward a Black Feminist Criticism, which proposed the radical call for a specifically black lesbian literary criticism, was first published in 1977 Over the course of her ...

Article

Don Schanche

Georgia commissioner of labor, state representative, and lawyer, was born in Athens, Georgia, the youngest of nine children of Sidney and Vanilla Thurmond. His parents were sharecroppers.

Athens is home to the University of Georgia, which remained segregated until Thurmond was eight years old. Thurmond's home in rural Clarke County was a world away from the university. He recalled, “I was sixteen before we got an indoor bathroom” (author's interview with Thurmond, 2005). But his parents made education a priority. All the Thurmond children finished high school and four of them—including Michael—finished college.

Thurmond attended segregated schools until his senior year in high school, when the county schools were consolidated in 1971. The black high school, Burney Harris was slated for closure not integration and Thurmond led an unsuccessful protest against the closing When the school board sought and won an injunction to ...

Article

Sybil Collins Wilson

was born in McComb, Mississippi, the fourth of seven children of L. S. Travis, a sharecropper, and Icie Martin Travis. She recalled that her civil rights activism “was always predetermined, even from the womb,” since her birth in McComb was the result of her parents fleeing an abusive sharecropping situation near Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta (Peacock et al.). The landowner had demanded that Icie Travis work in his cotton fields even though she was heavily pregnant, and then threatened to shoot L.S. when he argued on her behalf. Travis grew up at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was very prominent and active in the Deep South and the group’s terror tactics were well known. In 1955, the year that Emmett Till was lynched in the Delta, she witnessed her older brother being arrested by local police without explanation or cause. Four years later Mack Charles ...

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Chesya Burke

civil rights activist, was born Rosina Harvey in Northwest Washington, D.C., to Lee Roy and Henrietta Harvey. The daughter of former slaves, she said her parents never talked about those days. “Very few former slaves talked about it,” she later said in the hour-long 1982 documentary Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle, “I overheard them talking to each other, but they didn't discuss it with the children.” Tucker's father taught himself how to read and always instilled the value of a good education to his nine children.

After graduating from M Street High School, Tucker married Reverend James Corrothers on 2 December 1899. The two soon had one son, Henry Harvey Corrothers. The couple lived in New York for a while and then moved back to Washington, D.C., in 1904.

After her husband died in 1917 Tucker worked as a clerk for the ...