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Dominique Achille

was born to Marguerite Raymonne Ferdinand and Philéas Gustave Louis Achille on 31 August 1909 in Fort-de-France, Martinique, then a French colony. His father was the first man of color who passed “agrégation” (the highest teaching diploma in France) in the English language in 1905. Achille’s family history can be traced back to slaves who were freed in 1794. He spent his childhood and teenage years in Martinique, in an upper-middle-class family.

In 1926 he began studying English at Louis-le-Grand High School and at the Sorbonne in Paris, where Georges Pompidou and Léopold Sedar Senghor were among his peers. In the 1930s he contributed to La Revue du Monde Noir The Review of the Black World issued in Paris by his cousins Paulette and Jane Nardal This publication addressed cultural links between colored writers poets and thinkers through the world because at that time no specific review ...

Article

Caroline M. Brown

aviation mechanic and pilot, was born in Quitman, Wood County, Texas, the youngest of three children; both of his parents were teachers. Allen's father died when Thomas was three months old. His mother, Polly, continued to teach school and to run the family farm.

Allen became interested in flying in 1918, when an airplane made a forced landing in a pasture. The pilots paid the two young Allen brothers to guard the plane overnight so that its fabric and glue would not be eaten by cows. From this experience, Thomas Allen decided to become either an aviator or a mechanic.

In 1919 when Allen was twelve the family moved to Oklahoma City where his mother resumed teaching school Allen often bicycled to a nearby airfield In his teens he persuaded the field owner to take a $100 saxophone as partial trade for flying lessons He worked off the ...

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William E. Bankston

Hebraic scholar, author, anointed spiritual leader of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, was born Ben Carter in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of six children of Rena and Levi Carter. Little is known about Ben's mother and father.

As a young teenager, Carter was a gregarious person, very communicative, and he knew how to vocally motivate people. Growing up, he worked a variety of odd jobs, dusting chairs, collecting garbage, running errands, delivering groceries, and shining shoes.

Around 1959 he married Patricia Price, but nothing more has been documented about his wife or possible children. As things began to intensify during the Vietnam War, Carter joined the U.S. Army. By 1960 after serving about a year and a half of military duty he was assigned to an army missile base in Chicago Becoming more perceptive and grown up Carter began to display a working knowledge of world affairs ...

Article

aviator and instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen, was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to Janie and Iverson Anderson, of whom little else is known. During his early childhood, he lived with his grandmother in Staunton, Virginia. There Anderson longed for an airplane so he could fly to see what was on the other side of the mountains that surrounded Staunton and the Shenandoah Valley. He frequently left home in search of airplanes that were rumored to have crashed in the valley. His constant disappearances frustrated his grandmother, and she sent him back to his parents. Once back in Pennsylvania, however, he continued leaving home in search of airplanes.

At the age of thirteen Anderson applied to aviation school, but was denied admission because he was African American. In 1926 at the age of nineteen he used his savings and borrowed money from friends and relatives to purchase a ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Korean and Vietnam War veteran and Medal of Honor winner, was born in Winnboro, South Carolina, the son of Frizell Anderson, a carpenter, and Blanche Rabb Anderson, a homemaker. Webster's parents had seven children, daughters Frances, Alberta, Marjorie, and Marie, and sons Frizell Jr., Webster, Billy, and Larry.

In 1953, Anderson was drafted by the Army to serve in the Korean War. Although racism suffused the armed forces despite President Harry Truman's executive order to integrate the military, Anderson's initial Army experiences were largely positive. He would later tell his son Davis that joining the Army was “a good thing for him.” He believed that his white commanding officers as much as his fellow soldiers “helped pave the way” for his military career (Anderson). Webster enjoyed a happy private life too, marrying Ida Davis in 1959 In their ...

Article

Charles Orson Cook

one of the most prolific white scholars of African American history in the twentieth century. Herbert Aptheker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1915 and was educated at Columbia University in the 1930s, where he took an undergraduate degree in geology and an MA and a PhD in history. His first important publication, American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), was based on his doctoral dissertation and challenged the prevailing wisdom that slaves were largely passive victims of white masters. In part an outgrowth of Aptheker's master's thesis on Nat Turner, American Negro Slave Revolts immediately became a controversial work and has remained so since. He was befriended by the influential African American historian Carter G. Woodson and the legendary black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, both of whom encouraged his interest in Negro history. Aptheker's other writings include a seven-volume Documentary History of the Negro People ...

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Lesley S. Curtis

from a prominent Haitian family of both European and African ancestry. Céligny’s date of birth is listed as 1801 on a birth certificate filed in 1805, which has created some confusion as to his real age. His father was Alexis Antoine Ardouin and his mother was Lolotte Félix Galez. Birth certificates of his younger siblings reveal that he grew up in close contact with his father, his father’s wife, Suzanne Léger Ardouin, and their seven children, including the famous historian Beaubrun Ardouin and the poet Corolian Ardouin. Céligny married Marie Angélique Liautaud in 1823 and had six children.

Céligny’s most significant work, Essais sur l’histoire d’Haïti (Essays on the History of Haiti) was written and published in sections in the late 1830s. It appeared as a revised collection in 1841, but was only published in its entirety in 1865 sixteen years after the author s death Beaubrun ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

sculptor, ceramicist, and educator, was one of America's most prolific and respected three‐dimensional artists in the mid‐twentieth century. Born in Washington, North Carolina, to Elizabeth Davis and Thomas Miggett, he lived primarily with his father until the fall of 1926 when he relocated to Harlem and began living with his mother and her husband, George Artis. In New York he assumed the surname of his stepfather. He attended Haaren High School and went on to study sculpture and pottery at the Augusta Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in the early 1930s, joining the ranks of Jacob Armstead Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight, Romare Bearden, Norman Lewis, and other notable artists whose initial studies included instruction under Savage. Artis was also a contemporary of his fellow sculptors Selma Hortense Burke and Richmond Barthé the latter the most exhibited and honored three dimensional artist associated with ...

Article

Susan Richardson-Sanabria

musician, composer, educator, priest, and artist, was born James Hawthorne in Yamassee, South Carolina, to Mary Hugee and Roland Hawthorne. When he was still a boy he and his family moved to New Jersey, then to New York City—first to Brooklyn and later to Harlem. In Brooklyn James and his parents lived with his grandparents, and his grandfather encouraged him to join the church choir.

His musical talents became more evident after his move to Harlem, when he began to study dance and percussion with Isame Andrews, a specialist in African music and dance and a student of Asadata Dafora. Attracting notice with his vocal skills, Hawthorne was admitted to both the Eva Jessye and the Francis Hall Johnson choirs In the mid to late 1930s he studied African drum making and performance especially the ashiko drum with Moses Miannes Mianns a Nigerian who had come to ...

Article

Edward M. Burmila

soldier, author, and educator, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Bradley Biggs, a bootlegger, and Julia DeFreece, a domestic. The couple divorced when Bradley was an infant, and he recalled his childhood as one of abject poverty. His mother struggled to earn enough to support him and his younger brother Burton, and the family lived in public housing.

In his high school years consumed by a desire to escape his harsh surroundings Biggs developed two interests that helped define his path flying and athletics As a member of the Falcon Aeronautical Club of East Orange New Jersey the first and perhaps only black flying club in the East he was exposed to the basics of flight and the mechanics of airplanes At a burly six feet three inches tall he was also able to use his athleticism to win a place on the New York Brown Bombers ...

Article

Charles Edward Wiles

first black marine officer and distinguished educator, was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, the son of a Methodist minister. Little is known of his parents or his early education, but he was educated in New York state public schools and attended Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, until he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943 Branch completed basic training at the segregated Marine Corp Recruit Depot for black recruits known as Montford Point located on a desolate portion of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina Following basic training Branch served overseas as part of the Fifty first Defense Battalion a supply unit stationed on a Pacific island near the International Dateline While in the Pacific Branch applied to the navy s V 12 commissioning program for college draftees and was accepted After participating in the V 12 program he attended the Sixteenth Platoon Leaders Class at the Marine ...

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Elvin Holt

teacher, historian, and folklorist, was born in Goliad, Texas, one of five children of John Henry Brewer, a cattle drover, and Minnie Tate Brewer, a teacher. John Mason grew up with his three sisters, Jewel, Marguerite, Gladys, and his brother Claude in a household that provided a fertile environment for his imagination. His father told exciting stories about his adventures on the cattle drives from the Media Luna Ranch in Texas to the cattle market in Kansas. His mother, a teacher in Texas for over forty years, read the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar to John Mason during his early childhood. As an adult poet, Dr. Brewer would write dialect verse in the manner of Dunbar. Dr. Brewer's love for the oral tradition in African American culture was also nurtured by his grandfathers, Joe Brewer and Pinckney Mitchell, who told him folktales. John Mason ...

Article

Suzanne Cloud

jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger, and educator, was born Cecil Vernon Bridgewater in Urbana, Illinois, into a family of musicians. His mother, Erma Pauline Scott Bridgewater, was the daughter of Ramon Mack Scott, who sang, played saxophone, piano, and drums, and led a band called Mack Scott and the Foot Warmers, in which Erma played piano for a time. Bridgewater's father, Cecil Bernard Bridgewater, played trumpet in the U.S. Navy band during World War II, and he was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base with other African American musicians such as Clark Terry, Marshall Royal, Jerome Richardson, and others. Bridgewater's grandfather, Preston Bridgewater, played trumpet and cornet professionally with the circus.

When Cecil Bridgewater was a student at Marquette Grade School in Champaign Illinois the school s band director noticed his potential and encouraged his parents to find a private trumpet teacher for ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

escaped slave, navy landsman, and U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1841 of unknown parentage. Brown was a slave in Mississippi on a cotton plantation, and nothing is known of his childhood or to whom he belonged. In the early 1860s, at the start of the Civil War, Brown ran away from his master on a skiff that eventually managed to reach a Union ship stationed on the Mississippi River. This encounter with the navy probably accounts for his subsequent enlistment. The navy was a likely choice for an escaped slave; many escaped slaves, as well as free blacks from the North, were often drawn to the service because of its better pay and purported fairer treatment of blacks. Brown enlisted in the Union navy on 18 March 1863 under the title 1st Class Boy and was officially described as a Contraband Negro five ...

Article

Boyd Childress

white soldier, minister, educator, and administrator. Horace Bumstead was a pivotal figure in the education of African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. Born in Boston to well-to-do parents, Bumstead was educated at Boston Latin School and Yale, from which he graduated in 1863. He was commissioned as a major during the Civil War and commanded black troops serving in the Richmond and Petersburg campaigns in 1864 and 1865. After the war Bumstead graduated from Andover (Massachusetts) Theological Seminary in 1870, studied in Europe, married in 1872, and served a Congregationalist church in Minneapolis. In 1875 he joined his Yale classmate Edmond Asa Ware at Atlanta University to teach natural science and Latin; he was named interim president in 1886 and president in 1888.

Bumstead an advocate of industrial instruction as well as of traditional higher education for blacks ...

Article

Genevieve Skinner

Civil War veteran, preacher, and teacher, was born free to an English sea captain and an African American mother on a ship sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. When Angus was two years old, his father died, and Angus and his mother were sold into slavery in Virginia, and later taken to Kentucky. He spent a majority of his early years in Virginia and learned how to read prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, an illegal pursuit for slaves. In 1864, now enslaved in Kentucky, at the age of sixteen Burleigh ran away from his master and enlisted in the Union Army at Frankfort, Kentucky. Upon enlisting Burleigh was trained at Camp Nelson in Kentucky, which was one of the largest areas for gathering African American soldiers during the Civil War. Burleigh became a sergeant with Company G 12th United States Colored Troops U ...

Article

Donald Scott

educator, activist, and baseball pioneer, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to Sara Isabella Cain, a woman from a prosperous mixed-race family, and William T. Catto, a Presbyterian minister. When Catto was about five years old, his father relocated the family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after being “called” to the city by the Presbytery and after some time to the ministry of the First African Presbyterian Church, a historic black church formed by the Reverend John Gloucester, a former slave, in 1807.

As a youngster Catto attended a number of Philadelphia-area public schools, including the Vaux Primary School. By 1854, though, he was enrolled in the newly opened Institute for Colored Youth, the forerunner of historically black Cheyney University, just south of Philadelphia.

William Catto and other black ministers convinced the Quaker administration to focus on classical topics including Latin Greek and mathematics and not just ...

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Richard Alperin

teacher, coroner, scrivener, selectman, and justice of the peace, was born in New Market (now Newmarket), New Hampshire, the only child of Hopestill, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, housewright, and Catherine Cheswell. The name is sometimes spelled “Cheswill.” Wentworth's grandfather, Richard Cheswell, a black slave in Exeter, New Hampshire, purchased twenty acres of land from the Hilton Grant after he gained his freedom. The deed, dated 18 October 1716/17 (the discrepancy arises from the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar) is the earliest known deed in the state of New Hampshire showing land ownership by a black man. The land was located in what was to become the town of Newmarket. Richard's only child, Hopestill (1712–? became a housewright and worked mostly in Portsmouth He took part in building the John Paul Jones House as well as other important houses Hopestill was active in local affairs and ...

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Genevieve Slomski

pioneer of abstract painting, was born Edward Clark in the Storyville section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Little is known about his family, but they moved north during the Depression, and he was raised in Chicago.

Following service in the U.S. Air Force, Clark attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under the G.I. Bill from 1947 to 1951. At the Art Institute, he met abstract painter Joan Mitchell, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship, and the impressionist painter Louis Ritman, who was an encouraging instructor. During this period, Clark's work was traditional and figurative. But Clark's frustration with the Institute's academic restraints, such as the directive to avoid oils during this period, led-him to create an experimental self-portrait that took two years to complete. The classic head-and-shoulders depiction was set against a Renaissance landscape consisting of subtle layers of stippled watercolors.

In 1952 Clark ...

Article

Jim McWilliams

was born in Noblesville, Indiana, the eldest of two children in a middle-class family. His father, James Alexander Colter, an insurance salesman, was active in the NAACP and was also an amateur actor and musician. His mother, Ethel Marietta Bassett Colter, died when he was six, and the family soon moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where Colter’s maternal grandparents helped to raise him and his sister.

Colter attended a private school in Youngstown and then matriculated into Youngstown University. He soon transferred to Ohio State University, from which he graduated in 1936. Colter then attended Chicago-Kent College of Law, from which he graduated in 1940, and soon married Imogene MacKay, and, after serving in World War II, began a distinguished career as an attorney in Chicago.

After reading deeply in Russian literature, Colter, aged fifty, published his first story, “A Chance Meeting,” in the Irish magazine Threshold in 1960 ...