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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 ...

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Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

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Baptiste Bonnefoy

was born Mariano de la Cruz on 14 September 1749, the illegitimate son of an unknown father and Feliciana Barros, who was described on her son’s baptismal certificate as a parda, a designation commonly applied in eighteenth-century Chile to free men and women of African descent. In 1769, at age 20, he married Josefa Guerrero Morales (1748–1842), a mixed-race slave of Inés Echevarría Portillo.

Barros established his candle making workshop with the financial assistance of someone named José Baeza and with the earnings from this shop he was able to buy his wife s freedom They would ultimately have ten children Barros s status as a master candle maker allowed him to join the black militia a group of free men of African ancestry who were charged with patrolling the city at night and protecting its stores and warehouses He soon became an officer in ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

Medal of Honor recipient, actor, and playwright, was born in Richmond, Virginia, of unknown parentage. Beaty (sometimes spelled Beatty) was born a slave, but little else is known of his early years or how he came to be free. Beaty left Richmond in 1849 for Cincinnati, where he would spend the majority of his life, and became a farmer. Later, Beaty's education consisted of an apprenticeship to a black cabinetmaker in Cincinnati, as well as a tutelage under James E. Murdock, a retired professional actor and dramatic coach.

On 5 September 1862 Powhatan Beaty along with 706 other African American men was forced to join Cincinnati s Black Brigade after Confederate troops repeatedly threatened the city The Black Brigade was one of the earliest but unofficial African American military units organized during the Civil War but it did not engage in any military action since the city was ...

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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 A. Kemmick

decorated soldier and expert marksman, was born in Pungoteague, Accomack County, Virginia, the eighth of nine children born to Severn and Elizabeth Bivins. His father was a farmer who was also active in religious and educational endeavors. Four years before Horace Bivins was born, his father provided the money for the first church and schoolhouse for freed slaves built on the eastern shore of Virginia. The Accomack County census of 1870 said of Bivins's mother only that she “keeps house.”

Bivins worked on his parents' farm until the age of fifteen, when he was put in charge of another farm near Keller Station, Virginia. Three years later he entered Hampton School as a work student and received his first military training. “Having a very great desire for adventure and to see the wild West,” as Bivins later put it (Cashin, 58), he enlisted in the U.S. Army on 7 ...

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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 ...

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Shennette Garrett-Scott

Revolutionary War soldier and fifer, was born in Africa and brought to work in the British colonies as a slave. Some sources assert that he was a free man when he enlisted in the Continental Army, but it is more likely that he secured his freedom in exchange for enlistment. His name does not appear on the list of enslaved recruits to the First Rhode Island Regiment compiled by historian Lorenzo Greene in his seminal 1952Journal of Negro History article Some Observations on the Black Regiment of Rhode Island in the American Revolution which may explain why historians and writers consider Cozzens a free person Greene admits that the primary source records are incomplete In addition like other enslaved recruits Cozzens would be emancipated if he passed muster and then served through the end of the war Cozzens may have been enslaved by members of the distinguished ...

Article

Virginia Whatley Smith

W. E. B. Du Bois argued in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) that African Americans possessed a unique “double consciousness” because of their “twin rooted” heritage of being both African and American. For William Demby, this dichotomy of racial and national oppositions became an asset rather than a handicap. Born 25 December 1922 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Demby spent his formative years in a middle-class, multiethnic neighborhood where its three African American families resided harmoniously with first-generation immigrants. Individualism prevailed concomitantly with nationalism so that people felt proudly ethnic, but still American, recalls Demby. He never felt divided because of nationalistic practices of discriminating against blacks.

Demby's parents, however, experienced the color problem that Du Bois predicted would be facing the twentieth century. William Demby and Gertrude Hendricks had been aspiring architectural and medical students to Philadelphia s colleges but were denied entrance They lived during the ...

Article

Charles Johnson

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 21, 1840, Christian Fleetwood was the son of Charles and Anna Maria Fleetwood, who were both free blacks. Fleetwood received his early education in the home of wealthy sugar merchant John C. Brunes and his wife, the latter treating him like her son. He continued his education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (later Lincoln University) in Pennsylvania. He and others briefly published, in Baltimore, the Lyceum Observer, which was said to be the first black newspaper in the upper South. After the Civil War (1861–1865) disrupted trade with Liberia, he enlisted in the Union Army.

Fleetwood enlisted as a sergeant in Company G, Fourth Regiment, United States Colored Volunteer Infantry, on August 11, 1863 He ...

Article

Michael Frank Knight

, clerk, editor, Civil War veteran, and recipient of the Medal of Honor, was born to Charles and Anna Marie Fleetwood, free people in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1863 Christian left a lucrative position as a clerk in the Brune shipping and trading empire and joined the Fourth United States Colored Troops as a private. Just over a year later Fleetwood received the Medal of Honor for bravery and coolness under fire at the Battle of New Market Heights (Chaffin's Farm), 29 and 30 September 1864. He was one of only sixteen African American soldiers to receive the Medal of Honor during the Civil War.

Christian Fleetwood's remarkable story begins in the home of the prominent Baltimore businessman John C. Brune Fleetwood s father served for a long time as the majordomo in the Brune household and it was there that Christian received his early education in reading ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

World War II veteran, Bronze Star recipient, musician, and educator was born in Anderson, South Carolina, the eldest child of Reverend Charles Francis and his wife Hermena. In 1934 the Francis family moved to Keysville, Georgia, where his father accepted an assignment to lead Boggs Academy, a Presbyterian college preparatory school for African Americans founded in 1906. Charles Francis Jr. graduated from Boggs Academy in 1936 and subsequently attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, earning a degree in history in 1941.

Following his graduation, Francis briefly worked as a traveling salesman and also may have worked as a railroad porter, but with America's entry into World War II in 1942, Francis enlisted as a soldier in the US Army. His early military career is unknown, but by early 1943 Francis was assigned to the divisional staff of the all ...

Article

Michael Adams

actor, director, and educator, was born Albert Cornelius Freeman Jr. in San Antonio, Texas, to Albert Cornelius Freeman and Lottie Brisette Coleman Freeman. His parents divorced when Freeman was nine, leaving him to shuttle between his mother in San Antonio and his father, a jazz pianist, in Columbus, Ohio. Freeman later said that he regretted never getting to know his father, who died in 1968.

Freeman entered Los Angeles City College in 1951, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1954, and returned to college in 1954, studying theater, broadcasting, and speech. He made his stage debut in a 1954 Ebony Showcase Theatre production of Sidney Kingsley'sDetective Story. Freeman also studied acting in Los Angeles with Harold Clifton, Jeff Corey, and the legendary black actor Frank Silvera. In an interview with Ebony he joked ...

Article

Wallace McClain Cheatham

opera singer, college and music conservatory professor, composer, activist, and genealogist, the youngest of seven children, was born in Columbia, Tennessee, and reared in Louisville, Kentucky, where his family moved in search of suitable employment and better schools. Andrew's mother, Lue Vergia Esters Frierson, was a homemaker. His father, Robert Clinton Frierson, was a laborer.

At age three Frierson first dramatically showcased his musical talent. One afternoon he accompanied his mother to the home of an old family friend where there was a piano. Frierson saw the instrument, went to it, and instinctively began to play recognizable songs. Frierson's mother and her friends were astounded because he had never even seen a piano. By the age of five Frierson was playing all over the town.

After four years of piano study with William King and graduation from high school Frierson went to ...

Article

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, director, educator, and screenwriter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the three children of Lillian (Anderson) and Charles H. Fuller Sr., a printer who instilled in his son the love for words. Fuller was raised in northern Philadelphia in an integrated neighborhood. When he was thirteen he saw his first theatre performance at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The experienced made a lasting impression on him. Later, he became a voracious reader. His readings made him aware of the cultural and racial biases he made his life's mission to correct.

Success did not come easy to him, though. After graduating high school in 1956 Fuller attended Villanova University in hopes of becoming a writer There he was confronted with racism for the first time as a student being told by his professors that writing was not a good profession ...

Article

Angela Bates

buffalo soldier, pioneer settler, and entrepreneur, was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, to a Native American mother and an African American father. At the age of fourteen he boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi River and became a cabin boy. During the Civil War, Garland served as a Union volunteer. After the war, in 1867, he joined the Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was assigned to Company F at Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth became the first headquarters for the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. In 1866 the U S Congress designated the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and the Twenty fourth and Twenty fifth Infantries These regiments were composed solely of African Americans except for their white officers the soldiers of these regiments were the first to officially serve in the military after the Civil War After training Company F was assigned to forts in western Kansas responsible for a ...

Article

Baptiste Bonnefoy

was born Juan Ramón Gil Ibáñez in 1780 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Bermundo Gil, bassist for that city’s Coliseum Theater orchestra, and María Ibáñez. Ramón Gil’s baptismal record describes him as a pardo, a designation commonly applied in the eighteenth-century Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata to free persons of color. By 1804 Gil was hired as a cellist in the Coliseum Theater orchestra, becoming a close friend of its director, the Spanish composer Blas Parera (1776–1840), under whom his father also worked.

In 1793 the cathedral in Santiago, Chile, hired José Campderrós (1742–1812), a Catalonian composer then active in Lima, Peru, to reorganize its chapel music. As part of this project, Campderrós traveled to Buenos Aires in the early 1800s in search of talented musicians. He found and hired Gil as well as the pardo violinist Teodoro Guzmán At the time Santiago ...

Article

Suzanne Cloud

pianist, arranger, and composer, was born Clifton Edward Green Jr. in Abington, Pennsylvania, the son of Clifton Edward Green Sr., a paper hanger and carpenter, and Carrie Townes, who worked as a domestic. Self taught, Eddie Green began playing piano at five years of age and became active in music in public school. His formal secondary education ended at Abington High School when he was in the tenth grade. At age sixteen he came under the tutelage of the hard bop pianist Richie Powell and his brother, the bebop legend Bud Powell. During this time, Green learned the essentials of jazz by listening to and absorbing the lessons of his mentors. Green also formed a band and regularly played a local African American venue in Willow Grove called the Three C s Like many African American communities that supported young musicians and vocalists the ...

Article

Kofi Natambu

actor, playwright, screenwriter, director, and novelist, was born William Harrison Gunn in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of William Gunn, a songwriter, musician, comedian, and unpublished poet, and Louise Alexander, an actress, theater director, and community activist. Gunn grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and attended integrated public schools in Philadelphia, graduating from high school in 1952.

After serving two years in the U.S. Navy, Gunn moved to New York City's East Village in 1954, intending to become an actor. At twenty, he won critical acclaim in 1954 for his portrayal of the young boy in the New Theatre Company's revival of Take a Giant Step. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he continued to appear in plays on and off Broadway, including The Immoralist with James Dean and productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida in 1956 and 1957 ...

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Jason Philip Miller

actor and performer, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the oldest of seven children of George Gunn, a blue-collar laborer, and Mary Briggs Gunn. He attended local schools and had a relatively uneventful upbringing until, when he was twelve, his mother died of complications related to asthma, and the family imploded. Gunn ran away and drifted, riding the rails and generally living an unmoored life, until he at last returned to St. Louis and fell in with a foster family headed by Jewel Richie, an English teacher and diction coach. Richie recognized Gunn's nascent dramatic talents and encouraged him to pursue training and further education.

Gunn was an able student and upon his graduation from high school he found himself with a veritable raft of scholarship offers He attended historically black Tennessee State University TSU in Nashville paused for a three year stint in the army ...