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Thomas Clarkin

scholar and diplomat, was born Ralph Johnson Bunche in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family's last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in Political Science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]), graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his MA in 1928, and then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his PhD at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris they had three children Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching ...

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Ben Keppel

Born in Detroit, the son of a barber, Bunche graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1927 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in government from Harvard in 1934. His dissertation, French Administration in Togoland and Dahomey, won an award as the best political science dissertation produced at Harvard that year. Bunche founded the political science department at Howard University, where he taught from 1928 to 1950. His book A World View of Race (1936) saw racial conflict as a product of class conflict. He was an influential adviser to the Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal on his classic 1944 study of U.S. race relations, An American Dilemma. Bunche married Ruth Ethel Harris, a Washington, D.C., schoolteacher, in 1930. They had three children.

During World War II Bunche served in the Office of Strategic Services ...

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Lawrie Balfour

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Johnson Bunche spent his early years with his parents in Detroit and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attributed his achievements to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, California, after he was orphaned at age thirteen. Johnson not only insisted that her grandson be self-reliant and proud of his race, but also that he, a high school valedictorian, go to college.

Bunche enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, and after graduating summa cum laude in 1927, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science from an American university. Bunche won the prize for the outstanding doctoral thesis in the social sciences in 1934 He conducted his postdoctoral research on African colonialism He did his research ...

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Joseph C. Heim

scholar, university professor, diplomat, UN administrator, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In the 1950s and 1960s Bunche was the most visible African American on the world stage. But his accomplishments were far in the future when he was born in modest circumstances in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunche, a barber, and Olive Bunche. His parents, however, were constantly in poor health, and after their early deaths Bunche was raised by his grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.

His grandmother s diligence and inspiration guided and shaped Bunche s youth and he compiled a record of stellar achievement both in athletics he later was a guard on the basketball team of the University of California at Los Angeles UCLA and in academics This he did while holding numerous jobs from delivering newspapers to laying carpets on merchant ships His early years also ...

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Rose Pelone Sisson

survivor of a lynching attempt, civil rights activist, and founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron, a barber, and Vera Cameron who was employed as a laundress, cook, and housekeeper. At the age of fifteen months, James was the first African American baby ever admitted as a patient to the St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, where he underwent an emergency operation on the abdominal cavity. By the time James started school, his parents had moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and his parents separated.

When Cameron was sixteen he was living with his mother, two sisters, and grandmother in Marion, Indiana. His stepfather Hezikiah Burden hunted and fished long distances from home so was away from his family most of the time The family lived in a segregated section of Marion Indiana which counted about four thousand blacks among its ...

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Mark Newman

civil rights activist, was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the eighth of twelve children of a white father, George Dahmer, and a mother of mixed racial heritage, Ellen Kelly. Vernon Dahmer's complex heritage derived from both sides of the family. Born the illegitimate son of a German immigrant and a white American mother, George Dahmer had been raised with eight younger black siblings, the result of his mother's later marriage to a former slave. Ellen Kelly was the daughter of a white planter father, who gave Ellen and George Dahmer part of his land near Hattiesburg, Kelly Settlement. The Dahmer children looked white and three of Vernon's five brothers migrated to the North, where they married white women and passed as white. Some members of the family on both sides of the color divide were ignorant of the existence of relatives on the other. In adulthood, Vernon Dahmer ...

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Donald Yacovone

Civil War soldier, reformer, and businessman, was the second of five children of the abolitionist leader and orator Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and Anna Murray Douglass (1813–1882). Lewis, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father settled shortly after his flight from slavery, proved the most successful of the Douglass children and the one his father most relied upon in later years. After the family moved to Rochester, New York, the eight-year-old Lewis and his siblings became beneficiaries of his father's successful efforts to desegregate the city's public schools—a tradition that Lewis maintained as an adult when he lived in the District of Columbia. As soon as he was old enough, he helped his father with the publication of his antislavery newspapers and after his father fled Federal authorities in the wake of John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry the nineteen ...

Article

Mark G. Emerson

and a son of Frederick Douglass. Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Lewis Henry Douglass was the second child and eldest son of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass. When Lewis was eight the family moved to Rochester, New York, where the boy was educated in public schools. After finishing his education, Lewis helped his father with his newspaper North Star, learning the printer's trade. Considered the ablest of Douglass's children, Lewis was the person Frederick Douglass asked to secure his papers from John Brown after the Harpers Ferry raid to prevent federal marshals from discovering them.

During the Civil War, Lewis enlisted in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, attaining the rank of sergeant major and taking part in the attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July 1863 After the war Lewis and his brother Frederick Jr went to Denver Colorado where Lewis worked as a ...

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Myrlie Williams was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and raised by her grandmother, McCain Beasley, and her aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. She married civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1951. Together they worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its mission to end racial discrimination and segregation in Mississippi.

In 1963 white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith assassinated Medgar Evers. After her husband's death, Evers-Williams moved her family to California, where she continued to work for the NAACP by speaking publicly about her struggles for black equality. With William Peters, she coauthored For Us, the Living (1967). In 1987 Evers-Williams became the first black woman to serve as commissioner on the Los Angeles board of public works. She was elected vice chairperson of the NAACP in 1994, and in 1995 she became the organization s first ...

Article

Kimberly Springer

civil rights activist, was born Myrlie Beasley in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and was raised, following her parents divorce, by her grandmother Annie McCain Beasley and her aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. Both women were schoolteachers who encouraged young Myrlie in her educational pursuits through activities such as singing, public speaking, and piano lessons. Myrlie hoped to major in music in college, but neither of Mississippi's state schools for blacks, Alcorn A&M College or Jackson State, had such a major. In 1950 Myrlie enrolled at Alcorn, intending to study education and music. Only two hours after arriving on campus, however, she met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman and army veteran seven years her senior. He soon proposed, and they were married on 24 December 1951 Following Medgar s graduation and Myrlie s sophomore year the couple moved to Mound Bayou Mississippi where Medgar took a position as an insurance salesman with ...

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist and chairperson of the NAACP. Raised by her grandmother and aunt in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Myrlie Beasely entered Alcorn A&M College in 1950 to study education and music. Shortly after enrolling she met an upperclassman, Medgar Wylie Evers, and the couple married in 1951. The next year they moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where Medgar Evers became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Ignoring threats from white racists, Myrlie and Medgar Evers participated wholeheartedly in the civil rights movement, but on 12 June 1963 Medgar Evers was shot and killed. His assailant, a segregationist named Byron De La Beckwith, was captured and tried but not convicted. For thirty years Myrlie Evers fought for a retrial, and on 5 February 1994 Beckwith was finally convicted of murder. The trial was dramatized in the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi.

Following ...

Article

Blake Wintory

photographer, politician, sheriff, assayer, barber, and lawyer, was born a slave in Carroll County, Kentucky. William Hines Furbush became a member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as the first sheriff of Lee County, Arkansas. His Arkansas political career began in the Republican Party at the close of Reconstruction and ended in the Democratic Party just as political disfranchisement began.

Little is known about Furbush's early life, though his literacy suggests a formal childhood education. Around 1860 he operated a photography studio in Delaware, Ohio. In March 1862 he traveled to Union-controlled Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas, on Kate Adams and continued to work as a photographer. In Franklin County, Ohio, that December he married Susan Dickey. A few years later, in February 1865 he joined the Forty second Colored Infantry at Columbus Ohio He received an honorable discharge at the ...

Article

Eric Gardner

activist and educator, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parentage or youth. He was probably the James Gilliard listed in the 1860 Federal Census of Stockton, California; if this is the case, he was a barber, his wife was named Charlotte (c. 1835– ?), and had a step-daughter, Mary E. Jones (c. 1848– ?). In the late 1860s Gilliard worked as a teacher and sometime-minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and spent time in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. He wrote several short pieces for the San Francisco Elevator—sometimes under his full name and sometimes using simply “J. E. M.”—and was noted by the editor Philip Bell as one of the weekly's best contributors (along with Thomas Detter and Jennie Carter). Gilliard was even occasionally noted as the paper's “associate editor.”

Gilliard lectured throughout California in 1870 ...

Article

Nigel Watson

a post office worker who gained notoriety by claiming to have been abducted by extraterrestrial aliens, was born in Newport News, Virginia, the fourth and youngest son of a shipyard worker. Family lore had it that Hill's maternal great-great grandfather was a white plantation owner. Hill's maternal great-grandmother's fair skin allowed her to live inside her father's home, where she was brought up by her aunts, even though technically she was still a slave. When she was married, her father gave her 250 acres of land, and it was on this land near Newport News that Barney Hill grew up along with his parents and an aunt and uncle, who then owned the farm.

Hill was unhappy when his family moved from Virginia to Philadelphia Pennsylvania where he attended high school for two years and spent a freshman year at Temple University He found life in Philadelphia tough and a ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

The second of three children of Obadiah and Bernice (McMurry) Scott, Coretta Scott King grew up in rural Alabama, where she helped her family harvest cotton and tend their farm. Her father hauled lumber for a white sawmill owner, a job that enabled him to purchase and operate his own sawmill. The local white community resented her father's success. Vandals allegedly burned his sawmill, and the Scotts' house, to the ground. King was deeply shaken by her family's trials. She dreamed of moving to the North, and she diligently focused on her education, enrolling in a local private high school, where she pursued her talent for music. In 1945 she won a scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She studied music and elementary education and in 1948 debuted as a vocalist at the Second Baptist Church. Also while at Antioch, she performed in a program with Paul ...

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Barbara Woods

was born in Heiberger, near Marion, Alabama, the second of three children of Obadiah Scott and Bernice McMurry, who farmed their own land. Although Coretta and her siblings worked in the garden and fields, hoeing and picking cotton, the Scotts were relatively well off. Her father was the first African American in the community to own a truck, which he used to transport pulpwood, and he also purchased his own sawmill, which was mysteriously burned to the ground a few days later. The family blamed the fire on whites jealous of their success.

Wanting a better life for their children, the Scotts sent all three to college. The eldest, Edythe, graduated at the top of her class at Marion's Lincoln High School in 1943 and earned a scholarship to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio; her brother, Obie attended Central State University in nearby Wilberforce Ohio Coretta ...

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Angela D. Brown and Clayborne Carson

The founding president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia, Coretta Scott King emerged as an African American leader of national stature after the death in 1968 of her husband Martin Luther King Jr.

Born in Marion, Alabama, Coretta Scott spent her childhood on a farm owned by her parents, Obie Leonard Scott and Bernice McMurry Scott. By the early 1940s, her father’s truck-farming business had become increasingly successful, prompting harassment from white neighbors. The family suspected that resentful whites may have been responsible for a 1942 fire that destroyed the Scott family s home Hoping for better opportunities for their offspring Obie and Bernice Scott encouraged their three children to excel in school Coretta Scott graduated from Lincoln High School a private black institution with an integrated faculty and then followed her older sister Edyth to Antioch College in ...

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott was born in Marion, Alabama, the second of three children of the farmers Obadiah Scott and Bernice Scott. By the standards of the time, the Scott family was financially successful. The family attributed a 1942 fire—which destroyed their home—to the actions of local whites who were envious of their prosperity.

The Scott parents encouraged all three of their children to attend college. Coretta was valedictorian of her high school class and earned a scholarship to attend Antioch College in Ohio. She graduated in 1951 with a degree in music and elementary education. A talented vocalist, she made her solo debut at the Antioch Second Baptist Church in 1948 While in college she also performed alongside the renowned singer and actor Paul Robeson After graduation she received a scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music ...

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John A. Kirk

Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, 15 January 1929. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1944 to 1948. Following in the footsteps of his father and his maternal grandfather, King decided to enter the ministry, and he completed his divinity degree at the predominantly white Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1951. King went on to complete his PhD at the also predominantly white Boston University in June 1955. King took up his first post as a Baptist minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, while writing his doctoral thesis. In December 1955, King became involved in a boycott of the city’s buses to protest segregation. The thirteen-month boycott ended in December 1956 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered buses to desegregate.

The Montgomery bus boycott launched King’s civil rights leadership. In 1957 he helped ...

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Emily M. Lewis and Keith D. Miller

Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on 15 January 1929, the child of Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Alberta King's father, Rev. A. D. Williams, helped found the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP and pastored Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King, Sr., commanded after Williams's death. Both preachers rocked the Ebenezer walls with their thunderous folk sermons while Alberta King played the organ and organized the choir. King, Jr., grew up immersed in the doctrine of Christian love and in the music and oratory of African American Baptist worship.

In 1948 King, Jr., earned a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College, where he heard Benjamin Mays, his father's friend and president of the college, preach during chapel services. Electing to become a minister, King studied at Crozer Theological Seminary and at Boston University where he received a PhD in ...