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Christian Høgsbjerg

was born in 1885 in Barbados, then part of the British West Indies. As a teenager, he enrolled as a seaman in the British merchant navy, before settling in Chicago and raising a family. During the World War I, like many other black colonial seamen, he rejoined the merchant navy. After the war, Braithwaite returned to the United States, this time to New York, where he found work in a bar and possibly witnessed the month-long New York Harbor Strike in October 1919.

In the early 1920s, Braithwaite crossed the Atlantic and settled in Stepney, London, where, after meeting Edna Slack, a young white woman whom he married in 1936 he raised a new family with six children He found work with the Shipping Federation as an agent in the Pool a part of the River Thames where many ships came to dock He was charged with finding ...

Article

Robert Fikes

physician and organization president, was born in New York City, the son of Lonnie Harlis Bristow, a Baptist minister, and Vivian Wines, a nurse. At age ten Bristow was exposed to the medical profession by his mother, who was an emergency room nurse at Harlem's now defunct Sydenham Hospital. Bristow would observe the hospital staff from a distance while waiting to escort his mother to their apartment. She introduced him to the hospital's African American doctors, who became his role models as he came to believe that a career in medicine was something he could attain. Bristow graduated from the High School of Commerce in Manhattan and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1947. There he became acquainted with fellow student Martin Luther King Jr.

Two years later Bristow signed up with the U.S. Navy and was on active duty until 1950 He enrolled at the ...

Article

Jane Brodsky Fitzpatrick

basketball player, was born Charles Henry Cooper in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five children of Daniel Webster Cooper, a mailman, and Emma Caroline Brown, a schoolteacher.

Cooper played basketball at Westinghouse High School in segregated East Pittsburgh. After graduating in February 1944, Cooper attended West Virginia State College, a historically black institution. He played basketball from 1944 to 1945, until he was drafted into the U.S. Navy. He served from July 1945 to October 1946.

Upon leaving the Navy, Cooper attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh on the GI Bill and graduated in 1950 with a B.S. in Education. Although Duquesne was a predominantly white university, it was an early leader in the recruitment of black athletes. Cooper made the basketball team, The Dukes, when only a freshman. He was their first black starter and an All-American. As captain in 1949–1950 he led ...

Article

George Boulukos

slave, sailor, writer, and activist (widely known in his time as Gustavus Vassa), became the most famous African in eighteenth-century Britain as the author of his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789 While the scholar Vincent Carretta has found some evidence placing his birth in South Carolina Equiano identifies his birthplace as Essaka a small ethnically Igbo town in present day Nigeria His parents remain unknown but Equiano s family was prominent he expected to undergo a scarification ritual but was kidnapped by slavers as a young boy He experienced slavery in a variety of West African communities until he was brought to a seaport and sold to European slavers Neither Essaka nor the name Equiano has been definitively identified although both have plausible Igbo analogs such as Isseke and Ekwuano Both his African origin and his exact ...

Article

Oyekemi Oyelakin

Olaudah Equiano (ca. 1745–1797) was a freed slave whose name came to be associated with the abolitionist movement in England during the eighteenth century. His antislavery position was partly responsible for the writing of his experiences in the book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, published in 1789, which in turn is credited with influencing British lawmakers to enact the Slave Trade Act of 1807, abolishing the slave trade.

Equiano, according to his autobiography, was born in a village called Essaka situated in the Igbo-speaking eastern part of present-day Nigeria around 1745 Going by his early training in the art of warfare he seemed to have belonged to a professional class of titled warriors He was kidnapped with his sister when he was about eleven years old and sold into slavery He endured the pain of loss ...

Article

Vincent Carretta

The most important and one of the most widely published authors of African descent in the English‐speaking world of the 18th century. Equiano helped to found the genre of the slave narrative when he published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African: Written by Himself in London in March 1789. The Interesting Narrative is a spiritual autobiography, captivity narrative, travel book, adventure tale, slavery narrative, economic treatise, apologia, and argument against the transatlantic slave trade and slavery. From its first appearance the Interesting Narrative has also been recognized as the classic description of an African society before contact with Europeans, as well as of the forced transatlantic transportation of enslaved Africans known since the 18th century as the Middle Passage.

By his own account, Equiano was born in 1745 in Eboe in the kingdom of Benin in what is now south ...

Article

Leyla Keough

First published in Britain in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, became a best seller in Equiano’s lifetime, with nine English editions and one American as well as translations in Dutch, German, and Russian. Though Ottobah Cugoano, an African abolitionist in England, had published an autobiographical account in 1787 it was probably heavily edited Thus The Interesting Narrative is considered the first autobiography of an African slave written entirely by his own hand This places Equiano as the founder of the slave narrative a form central to African American literature In the book Equiano describes his abduction in Africa his enslavement in the West Indies and his manumission in Britain as well as the legal insecurity and terror faced by enslaved and free West Indian blacks Equiano s autobiography greatly influenced the rhetorical strategies content and presentation of ...

Article

E. Thomson Shields

Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography.

After Pascal rejoined the British navy Equiano accompanied him on several voyages traveling to Holland Scotland ...

Article

Brycchan Carey

slave, writer, and abolitionist, was, according to his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, born in the village of Essaka in Eboe, an unknown location in the Ibo-speaking region of modern Nigeria. Equiano recorded that he was the son of a chief and was also destined for that position. However, at about the age of ten, he was abducted and sold to European slave traders. In his narrative, Equiano recalls the Middle Passage in which “the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable” (58). Despite falling ill, Equiano survived the voyage and was taken first to Barbados and then to Virginia, where in 1754 he was bought by Michael Pascal a captain in the Royal Navy Pascal s first act was to rename the ...

Article

Angelo Costanzo

slave and spiritual autobiographer, creator of the first internationally famous slave narrative, and abolitionist leader. Olaudah Equiano (also known by his slave name Gustavus Vassa) was about eleven years of age when, according to his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789), he was kidnapped in the African country that is now known as Nigeria. Recent scholarship by Equiano's biographer, Vincent Carretta, has raised questions about whether Equiano was born in Africa, rather than in “Carolina,” as his February 9, 1759, baptismal record in Westminster, England, attests. The Interesting Narrative states that Equiano was taken to a slave ship on the west coast of Africa aboard which he endured the atrocity that was the Middle Passage Sent to Barbados and then to Virginia Equiano escaped plantation slavery when he was purchased by a lieutenant in the ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

sailor, clerk, attendant, author, and mason, is believed to have been born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, even though there is no substantial proof of that location. Various sources cite the District of Columbia or Maryland as his possible birthplace; nevertheless, it seems more probable that he was born in Virginia due to his family background. Grimshaw's parents were Juliet Grimshaw, a slave, and Robert Tyler, a slave owner. Even though there are limited facts on his personal childhood and education, a historical essay, “Winney Grimshaw, A Virginia Slave, and Her Family” by Richard Dunn, provides a detailed history on the Grimshaw family's enslavement and life on the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia. Grimshaw's surname, which was unusual in nineteenth-century Virginia, may have come from Samuel Grimshaw, who immigrated to Virginia in 1795 from England or from Thomas Grimshaw who lived near Alexandria and later ...

Article

H. Zahra Caldwell

philanthropist, activist, and numbers banker, was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. Holstein emigrated with his mother to the United States when he was nearly 12 years old. Little is known about his early childhood in the Virgin Islands. He attended high school in Brooklyn, New York, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1898. He was stationed, for a time, on the islands of his birth. After completing his tour of duty he settled in Harlem in New York City. Holstein began working as a porter and bellhop at a Wall Street brokerage firm. As he swept floors and carried packages he also observed the intricacies of the stock market. He had ambitions that stretched far beyond his work as a porter.

Holstein had arrived in Harlem when the numbers game known as Bolito was a waning but still popular recreational pastime for blacks ...

Article

Jeff Shantz

civil and labor rights activist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1941, at the age of twelve, Smith ran away from home and joined the U.S. Navy. The navy did not discover their mistake in enlisting the underage Smith until he had reached the age of fourteen, by which time Smith had successfully passed through boot camp and sailed to Europe. During his two years in the navy, Smith would learn two skills that would greatly influence the course of his life: boxing and heavy equipment operation.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh in 1943, the fourteen-year-old Smith chose not to return to school. Instead he decided to devote himself full time to boxing. In two years as a middleweight fighter Smith participated in more than one hundred professional fights. He also met and developed a friendship with Edgar Kaufmann a Pittsburgh department store owner and boxing ...

Article

Wallace D. Best

pastor, community activist, and author, was born in the racially mixed Germantown section of Philadelphia to Jeremiah Alvesta Wright Sr. and Dr. Mary Elizabeth Henderson Wright. Wright Sr. served as pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Germantown from 1938 until his retirement in 1980. Dr. Mary Wright was a schoolteacher and the first vice principal at Germantown High and Girls Schools. Both parents profoundly influenced their son, instilling in him values that shaped his intellectual pursuits, spiritual life, and political activism.

Wright attended historic Central High School in Philadelphia, graduating in 1959. Central was an all-boys school and 90 percent white at the time of his attendance. Founded in 1838 the school had established a tradition of excellence in education and fellow classmates considered Wright a model student among the 211th graduating class Following in his father s footsteps Wright enrolled in Virginia ...