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Theodore Cohen

was born on 20 January 1908 in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, to Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán, a medical doctor, and Pilar Beltrán Luchirí, the descendant of Ignacio María Luchichí, a well-known writer in the surrounding Papaloapan basin of southern Mexico. Though born into an elite family with no African ancestry, Aguirre Beltrán had a major impact on how we understand the African heritage of Mexico. In addition, he was interested in social issues, had an affinity for anarchism, and read scholars such as Georg Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. In 1921 he moved to Mexico City to continue his preparatory studies, and in 1927 he enrolled in medical school at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (National Autonomous University of Mexico). Having finished his thesis, “El metabolism basal en lasnefrosis” (Elemental Metabolism in Nephrosis), he graduated in 1931. He married Judith Avendaño, and they had five children.

After finishing medical school Aguirre ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

pioneer in discrediting the racist concepts that characterized early twentieth-century anthropology and other social sciences. Franz Boas was born in Minden, Germany. He received his PhD in physics from the University of Kiel in 1881, but he soon shifted interest into the field of human geography. In 1883 he conducted his first fieldwork, among the Inuit people of Baffin Island. In 1887 he began research among the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. In 1899 he became the first professor of anthropology at Columbia University. When Boas began his anthropological work, anthropology was far from being a scientific field. It was infested with racist practitioners and amateurs. Boas held that too often people developed theories and then sought to gather information to prove their theories.

Article

Robert Fay

William Montague Cobb was born in Washington, D.C., the son of William Elmer and Alexzine Montague Cobb. After earning an A.B. degree from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1925, Cobb entered Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1929. He then earned a Ph.D. degree in anatomy and physical anthropology from Western Reserve University in Ohio in 1932. Cobb taught at Howard University from 1932 to 1973, chairing the Department of Anatomy from 1947 to 1969. In 1969 he was awarded Howard's first distinguished professorship.

Cobb was an authority on physical anthropology and published over 600 related articles in professional journals. He contributed to E. V. Cowdry's Problems of Aging: Biological and Medical Aspects, Gray's Anatomy, Henry's Anatomy, and Cunningham's Manual of Practical Anatomy Cobb also dispelled myths about African American biological inferiority in the ...

Article

Paul A. Erickson

physical anthropologist and anatomist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of William Elmer Cobb, a printer, and Alexzine Montague. Experiencing racial segregation in education, he graduated in 1921 from Dunbar High School, an elite college-preparatory school for African Americans. Cobb attended Amherst College, where he pursued a classical education in arts and sciences, graduating in 1925. After graduation he received a Blodgett Scholarship to study biology at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory in Massachusetts. There he met the Howard University biologist Ernest Everett Just and decided to attend Howard University's College of Medicine. At the time, Howard was undergoing a transformation as-its first African American president, Mordecai Johnson, attempted to place the university under greater African American control. Showing great academic promise, Cobb was groomed to become a new member of the faculty. After receiving his medical degree in 1929 he was sent to ...

Article

Jennifer L. Freeman Marshall

anthropologist, educator, sociologist, was born Ellen Irene Diggs in Monmouth, Illinois, to Henry Charles Diggs and Alice Scott. Her working-class parents lived in a community of about ten thousand, about two hundred of whom were black. They supported their precocious child, one of five, who read voraciously and achieved the highest grade average in her school. Recognizing her ability, the Monmouth Chamber of Commerce awarded her a scholarship to attend Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. In 1924 she transferred to the University of Minnesota, which offered a far larger number of courses, where she majored in sociology and minored in psychology. She received an AB degree in 1928 and then attended Atlanta University, a premier institution for the education of African Americans founded in 1865 and located in Atlanta, Georgia. The institution began to offer graduate degrees in 1929 and in 1933 under the direction ...

Article

Molefi Kete Asante

major Senegalese scholar in the fields of anthropology, history, and physics, was born in the village of Keitou, Senegal, not far from the town of Diourbel in the interior of Senegal on 29 December 1923 By all accounts as a youth he was a serious student and an avid participant in the sports of the village Yet he was always searching to reach higher goals and when the opportunity came for him to study in Dakar and St Louis he quickly took the chance to prove himself He was an extraordinary student noticed by all of his classmates and teachers as someone who could make an enormous contribution to knowledge At an early age Diop had shown a keen mind an argumentative streak and an ability to make logical arguments Diop like most Senegalese children had to learn Islamic traditions as well as Western ones His ancestors and larger ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

anthropologist, was born in Syracuse, New York, to Huldah Hortense Dabney, a schoolteacher, and James Lowell Gibbs Sr., executive director of a community center. He attended public primary and secondary schools in Ithaca, New York. He continued his education in Ithaca, receiving a BA in Sociology and Anthropology from Cornell University in 1952. During the 1953–1954 school term he attended the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England, where he was enrolled under the faculty of archaeology and anthropology. In addition Gibbs received a number of other graduate fellowships and honors, including a National Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. From 1956 to 1958 he was a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellow, and in 1958–1959 he was a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. Gibbs received his PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard University in 1961 His dissertation Some Judicial Implications of Marital Instability among the Kpelle examined a West ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

anthropologist, educator, author, and wood sculptor, was born in Orange, New Jersey, to Stanley and Mabel Harper Gwaltney and into a thriving, extended family environment that also included his brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Gwaltney became blind by the age of two months. His mother taught him the alphabet and the names of animals with homemade cardboard shapes, encouraged him to play the piano, and gave him pieces of wood to carve as he saw fit. Throughout his life, Gwaltney carved “ritually inspired” wood sculptures, taking as his role model his great uncle Julius in Virginia. This relative was known locally for his ritual wood carving in “the tradition of the Old Time Religion … the translation into wood sculpture … of that Core Black theology … a largely undocumented and clandestine art” (Freeman, p. 70). Concerned about John's need for formal education, Mabel Gwaltney ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

anthropologist, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, to James and Odelia Blount Harper Harrison. Her maternal grandparents, Arthur and Tola Harper, came originally from rural North Carolina. Tola Harper, the daughter of slaves, taught in a one room schoolhouse there. During the 1920s, they moved to Norfolk to improve their children's opportunities. When Faye was seven, she discovered a closet full of National Geographic magazines in her family s new house She read them repeatedly marveling at the diversity of human cultures and wondering how they became different As early as fifth grade she excelled at school Her teachers especially respected and encouraged her serious perceptive questions about human societies By high school she was so fascinated by Latin America and the Caribbean that she learned French Portuguese and Spanish One of her teachers tutored her in Spanish language literature A sorority awarded her a scholarship ...

Article

Robert Fay

Louis Leakey was born in Kabete, Kenya, to British missionaries working in colonial Kenya. Even before he received his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Cambridge in England, Leakey was convinced that human evolution began in Africa, not in Asia as was commonly believed among his contemporaries. To prove his theory, Leakey focused his archaeological research on expeditions to Olduvai, a river gorge in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He found important fossils and Stone Age tools, but until 1959 Leakey had not found definitive evidence that Africa was the cradle of human evolution.

On an expedition to Olduvai in 1959, his wife, Mary Douglas Leakey, with whom he had worked since 1933, discovered the partial remains of a 1.75-million-year-old fossil hominid. Louis Leakey classified it as Zinjanthropus (later classified as Australopithecus boisei). From 1960 to 1963 the Leakeys unearthed other important remains including another fossil hominid ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

physical anthropologist and archaeologist who discovered evidence of early human life in the Rift Valley of East Africa, was born Mary Douglas Nicol on 6 February 1913 in London, England. Her father was the painter Erskine Edward Nicol and her mother was Cecilia Marion (née Frere) Nicol. During Mary’s childhood, her family moved around a great deal. Erskine Nicol painted various portraits and subjects in England, France, Italy, Egypt, and elsewhere. Mary’s prolonged sojourns in southern France provided her with the chance to develop a fluent command of French. While she enjoyed greatly her talks and walks with her father, she found her mother’s Catholic faith stultifying even as she developed some friendships with individual priests. Her childhood came to a sudden end in the spring of 1926 when her father passed away from cancer Mary s mother decided to place her daughter in a Catholic convent but ...

Article

Mary Leakey’s deep interest in the study of prehistory began at the age of eleven, when she viewed cave paintings of the Dordogne in southern France. Although she later took courses in anthropology and geology at University College, London, and participated in excavations in England, she never earned a degree. In 1933 paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey asked her to illustrate a book he was writing. The two fell in love, married in 1936, and formed one of the most famous and successful scientific collaborations of the twentieth century.

Louis Leakey s controversial theories drove their research throughout much of their careers During the twenty years that the Leakeys spent attempting to prove that human evolution occurred in Africa and not Asia Mary developed rigorous excavation techniques that set the standard for paleoanthropological documentation and excavation A tireless worker after long days of carefully sifting the Olduvai earth for fossils ...

Article

Raimundo Nina Rodrigues was born in Vargem Grande, Maranhão, Brazil. Trained as a medical doctor, he graduated from the medical school of Bahia. He was also interested in the study of anthropology, sociology, and criminology. He became a professor of general pathology and forensic medicine at the medical school in the early 1890s and was a pioneer in Afro-Brazilian ethnology and forensic medicine. Rodrigues founded the Forensic Medicine magazine and was a member of the Forensic Medicine Society of New York and of the Société de Medico-Psychologique de Paris.

Rodrigues identified two distinct African “cults,” which he termed the Iorubanos and the Malês. He devoted most of his attention to the Iorubano cults, which he felt were more strongly influenced by Catholicism. These originated from the CandombléGêgê-Nagô, whereas the Malês were thought to be more associated with Islam.

Among his most important works were O ...

Article

Alan West

Fernando Ortiz's intellectual legacy is one of astonishing breadth and erudition. Cuban scholar Juan Marinello has likened him to a third discoverer of Cuba, after Columbus and Humboldt. A Cuban-American critic has called him “Mr. Cuba.” The claim is no exaggeration: he is one of a great line of Caribbean intellectual figures such as Eugenio María de Hostos, José Martí, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Frantz Fanon, and C. L. R. James.

Along with the work of Lydia Cabrera Ortiz s seminal works deal with the African traditions that have uniquely shaped the identity of Cuban music religion society and culture His major theoretical contribution is in coining the concept of transculturation a term used to describe the rich textured and sometimes bloody encounter between two or more cultures that mutually transforms them It provides a refined framework for understanding the complexity ...

Article

Arthur de Araójo Pereira Ramos is considered one of the most prestigious disciples of Raimundo Nina Rodrigues. Ramos represents the renaissance of Afro-Brazilian studies, which had been dormant for years after the death of Nina Rodrigues. He dedicated himself to rescuing and reediting the work of Nina Rodrigues, by directing the Biblioteca de Divulgação Científica in the 1930s.

Arthur Ramos was born in the northeastern state of Alagoas, and did his secondary studies at the Colégio São João and the Liceu Alagoano in Maceió, the capital of the state of Alagoas. He then moved to Bahia in order to attend the Medical School of Bahia. He graduated from medical school in 1926 and his interest in psychiatry took him to the Hospital São João de Deus in the city of Salvador the following year He also worked at the Instituto Nina Rodrigues as a forensic doctor ...

Article

Yolanda L. Watson Spiva

educator, Africanist, and anthropologist, was born Gloria Albertha Marshall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; nothing is known of her parents. She attended Dillard Elementary School and Dillard High School. A student of high academic prowess and promise, she skipped grade levels because of her exceptional ability and mastery of her school work and was classified as a high school junior at the age of fourteen. At fifteen she was offered and accepted early admission to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, on a Ford Foundation Early Entrant Scholarship. In 1955, while a student at Fisk, Gloria attended Oberlin College as part of an academic exchange program and was exposed to an educational setting that she perceived to be a better fit for her academic interests. Consequently she transferred from Fisk to Oberlin to complete her undergraduate degree.

Sudarkasa received her bachelor s degree in Anthropology and English ...

Article

George Baca

anthropologist, was born Council Samuel Taylor in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Walter Knight Taylor and Odelle Grace Robinson Taylor. “Count,” as his intimates called him, was dynamic, tall, a stylish dresser, and a great storyteller, using his deep voice for dramatic effect. Colleagues, students, and teachers remembered him adorned with a French beret, ascot, and an ornate walking stick.

Taylor passed as a white man during the 1940s. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the marines—well before President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to desegregate the U S Armed Forces where he saw combat duty with the Air Delivery Squadron and Aviation Supply during World War II A most striking feature of his biography is that as a gay black man Taylor served as a platoon sergeant in aviation supply in several locations in the South Pacific and near China during the war ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

anthropologist, was born into a prosperous, college-educated family, in Waco, Texas. Willis's father, William Willis Sr., the high school principal of an all-black school, resigned that position in protest of what he considered unfair and racially motivated restrictions regarding appropriate behavior for a person in that job. He went on to put his abilities to work as owner of a construction company, building homes for poor African Americans. The Ku Klux Klan drove the family out of Waco in 1923, and they relocated to Dallas.

In 1942 Willis received a BA in History from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and, after serving in World War II, earned his PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University in 1955. His dissertation, “Colonial Conflict and the Cherokee Indians, 1710–1760 was in that branch of anthropology called ethnohistory Willis continued to pursue the study of relations among Native Americans blacks ...

Article

Yvonne Captain

Manuel Zapata Olivella's frequent use of the word “mulatto” (a person of both African and European descent) to describe his background suggests a biological union as much as a cultural mixture. Focusing less on phenotype and more on what the Afro-Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén would term cultural mulatez, or the mixing of cultures that characterizes the Caribbean, Zapata Olivella explores what unites peoples rather than what separates them. Through his acclaimed works of fiction as well as scholarly studies and public service, Zapata Olivella has significantly advanced the understanding of the contribution of African culture to the world. Together with Nancy Morejón and Quince Duncan he is one of the twentieth century's most admired Afro-Hispanic writers.

Born in the small town of Lorica on the western Caribbean coast of Colombia to parents of African descent, Zapata Olivella used the area's rich folklore in his first novel, Tierra mojada ...