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Alma Jean Billingslea Brown

civil rights activist, educator, and businesswoman, was born Juanita Odessa Jones in Uniontown, Alabama, the youngest of eight children of Ella Gilmore Jones and Alex Jones Sr., an influential and prosperous black farmer in Perry County, Alabama. When Alabama telephone and electric companies refused to provide service to the Jones homestead, Alex Jones Sr. and his brothers installed their own telephone lines and wired their own homes for electricity. One consequence of the family's financial independence was that Juanita was able to attend boarding school from age five until she graduated from high school in Selma, Alabama, where she had older sisters in attendance at the historically black Selma University. After high school, in 1947 Jones enrolled in Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in business education with a minor in history and social studies. She returned to Alabama after earning a BS in 1951 ...

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Mary T. Henry

bishop, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. He and his three siblings, Avery, Charity, and Lucy Rose, were raised in a spiritual and intellectually stimulating home. His father, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and social activist, in the 1920s organized the first African American bank in Columbia and the first modern statewide civil rights organization in South Carolina. None of these activities went unnoticed by young John and they helped to define his later focus and commitments. Adams was educated in the segregated Columbia school system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His undergraduate work was completed at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned an AB degree in History in 1947 After studying at Boston University School of Theology he received a bachelor of ...

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Malca Chall

civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of their mother when Frances was three, Frances and her baby sister were reared by their paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their fifty-five-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama.

Frances attended Tuskegee Institute, where she studied botany under George Washington Carver, who also advised her grandfather on productive farming techniques. In 1917 she enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., studying nursing and social work. In 1920, following the death of her grandmother, Frances left college and moved to Berkeley, California, to join her father and stepmother. Two years later she married William Albert Jackson. They had three children. Jackson died in 1930 and ...

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Christine Schneider

carpenter, insurance agent, contractor and activist, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1885. As a young boy, Artemus saw that discrimination and oppression was still very much alive in the South, even following Emancipation in 1865 His parents were sharecroppers thus they were subject to subordination through this system because it ultimately favored the owners of the land not the workers Although there were many important benefits to this agricultural arrangement the sharecropping system was ultimately oppressive Landlords exploited their positions by extending credit to the workers during times of bad weather and poor quality of crop and market price The interest rates were often so high that workers were unable to pay them Often this meant landlords and sharecroppers were in much the same relationship as master and slave had been It was precisely for this reason that Artemus grew up determined to fight for his ...

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist who was instrumental in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Ella Josephine Baker grew up in Littleton, North Carolina, listening to her grandparents’ stories about slavery and their struggle to support themselves and their families after Emancipation. Her maternal grandparents were farmers who had managed to acquire their own land, whereas her paternal grandparents, like many former slaves, were landless tenant farmers. Baker's parents, Blake and Georgianna Ross Baker, met in secondary school and were determined to use their educations to establish better lives for themselves and their children. Blake Baker worked as a waiter on a steamship, a job that required frequent travel away from his wife and three children. Before her marriage in 1896 Georgianna Baker worked as a schoolteacher Later she worked as a housewife occasionally taking in boarders to earn extra income and she was actively involved in the local Baptist ...

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Susan Gushee O'Malley

civil rights organizer, was born Ella Josephine Baker in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Blake Baker, a waiter on the ferry between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., and Georgianna Ross. In rural North Carolina where Ella Baker grew up, she experienced a strong sense of black community. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, acquired the land in Littleton on which he had slaved. He raised fruit, vegetables, and cattle, which he shared with the community. He also served as the local Baptist minister. Baker's mother took care of the sick and needy.

After graduating in 1927 from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker moved to New York City. She had dreamed of doing graduate work in sociology at the University of Chicago, but it was 1929 and times were hard Few jobs were open to black women except teaching which Baker refused to do because this was ...

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Lawrie Balfour

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, the granddaughter of slaves, Ella Baker began her career as an activist early. As a student at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker challenged school policies that she found demeaning. After graduating from Shaw as class valedictorian in 1927, she moved to New York City.

Baker responded to the suffering she witnessed in Harlem during the Great Depression by enlisting in a variety of political causes. In 1930 she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and was elected its first national director a year later. The league, founded by writer George Schuyler, aimed to develop blacks' economic power through collective planning. Baker also became involved with several women's organizations and, as an employee of the Works Progress Administration, offered literacy and consumer education to workers while educating herself about radical politics.

Baker began her affiliation with the National Association for ...

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Barbara Ransby

a pivotal behind-the-scenes figure in progressive African American political movements from the 1930s until her death in 1986. She helped to organize black cooperative campaigns in Harlem during the Great Depression; worked as a grassroots organizer and national leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 1940s; and served as the first interim director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the 1950s. She was a colleague and critic of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of the founders and chief sources of inspiration for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was founded in 1960. Baker’s life, which spanned more than eighty years, was immersed in political activity. She was affiliated with nearly three dozen organizations and coalitions over the course of her life and thus left an indelible mark on twentieth-century African American political history.

Although Baker is best ...

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Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes

politician and human relations advocate. In November 1993 Sayles Belton made history as the first African American and first female elected mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A native of Minneapolis, she was born Sharon Sayles, the daughter of Bill Sayles, the city's first African American car salesman, and Marian Sayles. After her parents divorced, Sayles Belton lived briefly with her mother. Marian Sayles moved to Cleveland, and Sayles Belton then lived with her father and stepmother. During her high school years she volunteered as a candy striper, that is, a nurse's assistant, an experience that exposed her to human suffering.

Sayles Belton attended Macalester College in Saint Paul Minnesota She continued to do volunteer work registering African Americans to vote in Jackson Mississippi She became pregnant during her senior year and her daughter was born with brain damage Unmarried and unemployed Sayles Belton dropped out of school and was ...

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Clifton H. Johnson

clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received a basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended the Oneida Institute in New York.

Beman was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1839. At about this time he married a woman whose name is not known. In 1841 ...

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Leyla Keough

Mary McLeod Bethune was born near Mayesville, South Carolina. In 1885 she enrolled at Trinity Presbyterian Mission School. With the aid of her mentor Emma Jane Wilson, she moved on to Scotia Seminary in 1888, a missionary school in Concord, North Carolina. There she was given what was known as a head-heart-hand education, which emphasized not only academic but also religious and vocational training. Her dream was to become a missionary to Africa, so Bethune entered the missionary training school now known as Moody Bible Institute. After a year of study she applied for service but was rejected because Presbyterian policy did not permit blacks to serve in Africa.

Following this rejection Bethune began teaching, first in 1896 at Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia, and a year later at the Presbyterians' Kendall Institute in Sumter, North Carolina. In 1900 Bethune moved to Palatka Florida where she ...

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Darlene Clark Hine

organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born Mary Jane McLeod in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of the former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (later Barber‐Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at Dwight Moody's evangelical Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. In 1898 she married Albertus Bethune. They both taught briefly at Kindell Institute in Sumter, South Carolina. The marriage was not happy. They had one child and separated late in 1907. After teaching in a number of schools, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Training Negro Girls in Daytona, Florida, in 1904 Twenty years later the school merged with a boys school the ...

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Elaine M. Smith

Long deemed the most influential black American woman, Bethune is, by scholarly consensus, one of the most important black Americans in history regardless of gender, alongside Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King Jr. Unflinchingly, she championed the democratic values that define the nation. She took personally the well-being of the body politic, particularly in the crisis of two world wars. President Franklin D. Roosevelt viewed Bethune as a great patriot devoted to advancing all Americans. Bethune’s accomplishments were so impressive in relationship to resources, and her interest in people, regardless of nationality and locality, was so genuine, that any freedom-loving country could feel proud to claim her as its own.

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Anja Schüler

educator, feminist, and civil rights leader. Born near Maysville, South Carolina, Mary McLeod was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to two former slaves, Sam McLeod and Patsy (McIntosh). Most of her brothers and sisters had been born into slavery. The family was poor, but the McLeods farmed their own land. Patsy McLeod continued to work for her former owner, while her husband grew cotton and rice with the help of their children. As a young girl, Mary was known as an expert cotton picker who at the age of nine could pick 250 pounds per day. She also helped her mother deliver laundry to white families.

McLeod recognized early in life that the ability to read and write was central to improving the lives of African Americans In the mid 1880s the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church opened a school in Maysville for the ...

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Ralph E. Luker

attorney, educator, and civil rights activist, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Joe Blackwell and Blanche Mary Donnell. Randolph attended the city's public schools for African Americans and earned a BS in Sociology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro in 1949. Four years later he earned a JD degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In December 1954 Blackwell married Elizabeth Knox; the couple had one child. After teaching economics for a year at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama, Blackwell became an associate professor of social sciences at Winston‐Salem State Teachers College in North Carolina.

Because of Blackwell's legal background, Wiley Branton, the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), hired Blackwell as its field director in 1962. Secretly encouraged by the Kennedy administration, the VEP was launched in April 1962 with funding from private ...

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Adrienne Lash Jones

Eva Del Vakia Bowles was born in Albany, Athens County, Ohio, the daughter of John Hawkes Bowles and Mary Jane Porter. Unlike most African Americans born during the American Reconstruction period, Bowles grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her grandfather John R. Bowles served as a chaplain for the all-black Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry and later became the first black teacher hired by the Ohio Public School Fund. Her father was the first black postal clerk in Columbus, Ohio.

Eva Bowles was educated in Columbus at a business college and attended summer courses at Ohio State University. After a short teaching career in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, she was recruited in 1905 to work in New York City as secretary of the Colored YWCA (later affiliated with the New York City YWCA as the 137th Street branch in Harlem This position made her the first employed Negro YWCA ...

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Adrienne Lash Jones

organization leader, was born in Albany, Athens County, Ohio, the daughter of John Hawkes Bowles and Mary Jane Porter. Unlike most African Americans born during the Reconstruction era, Bowles grew up in comfortable circumstances. Her grandfather John R. Bowles served as a chaplain for the all‐black Fifty‐fifth Massachusetts Infantry and later became the first black teacher hired by the Ohio Public School Fund. Her father was the first black postal clerk in Columbus, Ohio.

Bowles was educated in Columbus at a business college and attended summer courses at Ohio State University. After a short teaching career in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, she was recruited in 1905 to work in New York City as secretary of the Colored Young Women s Christian Association later affiliated with the New York City YWCA as the 137th Street branch in Harlem This position made her the first employed Negro YWCA Secretary ...

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Adrienne Lash Jones

As the longtime secretary of the Subcommittee for Colored Work of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) National Board, Bowles can be credited as the architect of race relations in the largest multiracial movement for women in the twentieth century. During the period of the nation’s most stringent segregation policies and practices, while she was in charge of work with black women in the YWCA, Bowles supervised an enormous increase in local and national black staff as well as in services to black women.

Bowles was born in Albany, Athens County, Ohio, the eldest of three children. Her parents, John Hawkes Bowles and Mary Jane (Porter) Bowles, were native Ohioans. Her grandfather, John R. Bowles served as chaplain of the all black Fifty fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and later became the first black teacher hired by the Ohio Public School Fund Her father ...

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Janet E. Moorman

educator, social activist, and clubwoman, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of a freed slave, Martha D. Webb, who had been sent north to be educated. Her father is unknown.

Elizabeth Carter began her formal education in the New Bedford public school system, where she attended New Bedford High School, the Swain School of Design, and, later, the Harrington Normal Training School. While attending the Harrington Normal Training School for Teachers, Carter started planning a home for the aged. In 1897, true to her convictions as a social activist, she opened the New Bedford Home for the Aged under her direction and financial support. The home welcomed anyone, regardless of race. Carter continued supporting the institution throughout her life, dedicating her time and experience and providing financial support.

Carter was a diligent committed and compassionate student destined to leadership After finishing high school Carter journeyed ...

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Noralee Frankel

historian, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, the daughter of Matthew Woods and Evadne Adams, professors. Her maternal grandfather, Lewis Adams, was born a slave and after the Civil War was instrumental in establishing the Tuskegee Normal School in 1881. Her parents both taught at Tuskegee Institute, continuing the family's commitment to education. Letitia attended Tuskegee Institute High School and graduated with a BS from Tuskegee Institute in 1935. In 1937 she completed her MA at Ohio State University. While working on an advanced degree at Radcliffe College, Letitia married Theodore E. Brown, a labor economist who later worked for the Agency for International Development in the U.S. Department of State. After raising two children and becoming involved in community projects in Mount Vernon, New York, she attended Harvard University, which awarded her a PhD in 1966.

As a historian Letitia Woods Brown sought to ...