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Robert Fay

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., in Harlem, New York. Raised in a middle-class household and educated at Catholic schools in Manhattan, the young Alcindor was introduced to Basketball at age nine and played competitively throughout elementary and high school. Alcindor was six feet eight inches (2.05 meters) tall by the time he was fourteen years old and became a star center for Power Memorial Academy, leading the high school to two city championships. He continued his dominant play at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he led the university's team to three consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. He lost only two games in his college career. An outspoken political activist who was influenced by the Black Power Movement, Alcindor changed his name in 1971 after converting to Islam. A popular NBA star from 1969 to 1989 Abdul Jabbar thwarted opponents ...

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Marty Dobrow

basketball player, was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the son of Ferdinand Lewis “Al” Alcindor, a police officer with the New York Transit Authority, and Cora Alcindor, a department-store price checker. The almost thirteen-pound baby arrived in Harlem one day after the major league debut of Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn; as with Robinson, fiercely competitive athletics and the struggle against racial injustice would define much of his life.

From a young age Alcindor was introspective and intense He had an artistic sensibility drawn in part from his father a stern and silent cop who played jazz trombone and held a degree from Juilliard An only child in a strictly Catholic household he moved from Harlem at age three to the Dyckman Street projects on the northern tip of Manhattan a racially mixed middle class community In third grade he was startled to see a class photo that featured him not ...

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Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

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Charles Orson Cook

African “Pygmy” who was put on display at the Bronx Zoo. In 1904, the white missionary Samuel Phillips Verner brought Ota Benga whose freedom he had purchased with a bribe to Belgian Congo officials and seven other Congolese Pygmies to the Saint Louis World s Fair as part of an ethnological exhibit of primitive peoples which included among others the Native American Apache chief Geronimo Verner s agreement with the World s Fair required him to bring several Africans and as much of their village intact as possible He actually brought fewer tribesmen than his contract required and many fewer artifacts but the exhibit was one of the most popular attractions at the fair The Africans were the objects of constant public attention and they also drew the interest of professional and academic ethnologists who measured the physical and mental characteristics of the Pygmies concluding that they were ...

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John Hanners

football player, social activist, author, singer-actor, and ordained minister, was born Roosevelt Grier on a farm in Cuthbert, Georgia, the seventh of Joseph and Ruth Grier's eleven children. At age thirteen he moved with his family to Roselle, New Jersey. Offered an athletic scholarship to Penn State University, he enrolled in 1950 and studied psychology, music, and education. His college athletic career was exceptional. Not only did he receive first-team All-American football honors in 1955, but he also set an Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletics of America shot-put record (fifty-eight feet) in track and field.

In 1965 Grier signed with the National Football League's New York Giants for a $500 bonus and a yearly salary of $6,500. During a long career that lasted from 1955 through 1968 Grier was a dominant defensive tackle in an era known for excellent defensive players His size ...

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Maud C. Mundava

basketball player and coach, actor, and author Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr and known early on as Lew he was a very big baby about 13 pounds and 22 inches He grew up in a racially mixed middle class neighborhood in Manhattan as the only child of Al Alcindor and Cora Alcindor Al Alcindor was originally from Trinidad and he was a fairly successful jazz musician and a New York City Transit Authority police officer Jabbar grew up a Catholic and attended St Jude s Elementary School and a boys only Catholic school Power Memorial Academy He was a shy and withdrawn child because he was taller than most of the kids his age but he showed a lot of determination in pursuit of excellence He always wanted to be the best As a result of his values and upbringing Jabbar was well spoken stayed out of ...

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Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York, the fourth of five children born to James and Deloris Jordan. The family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, when Michael was still a young child. As a teenager, Jordan became well known for his baseball skills, and he was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Babe Ruth League after his team won the state championship.

Jordan attended Wilmington's Laney High School, but failed to make the varsity basketball team. Laney's coach, Clifton “Pop” Herring, decided that Jordan could improve his skills with more playing time on the junior varsity team. As a sophomore on the junior varsity, Jordan, then 5 feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters) tall, averaged 25 points per game.

The following summer Jordan worked diligently on his own and at basketball camps to improve his game During this early period in his career Jordan ...

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David F. Smydra

basketball player, was born Michael Jeffrey Jordan in Brooklyn, New York, the fourth of five children of James Jordan and Deloris Peoples. The family soon relocated to Wilmington in the parents' home state, North Carolina, where Jordan's father rose to supervisor in a General Electric plant and his mother worked as a bank teller. James Jordan's air force pension boosted the family into the middle class, and they instilled in their children a solid work ethic with an emphasis on loyalty and commitment.

Like his brothers and sisters Jordan was a relatively short child but exceptionally quick He preferred baseball to basketball and pitched several no hitters in Little League Although he was initially a lazy child who bribed his siblings to do his chores Jordan was invigorated by athletic competition Regular one on one basketball games against his older brother Larry fueled a fiery competitiveness in him since ...

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Jill Dupont

basketball player, businessman, and NBA owner. It is always something of a mystery how those born in unremarkable circumstances achieve transcendence within and beyond their fields of expertise. By whatever alchemy of talent, hard work, and historical circumstance, perhaps no one in recent history has better embodied the earthbound problems and gravity-defying aspirations of the United States than Michael Jordan.

Growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Michael Jeffrey Jordan took to heart his parents lessons in diligence and human relations Instructed to treat everyone equally and with courtesy he experienced relatively few of the racial incidents that had occurred routinely in previous generations Jordan s anger flared once as a boy though when in response to a girl s racial slur he planted his popsicle on her head He acquired his work ethic like his height over time fueling himself with the real and imagined slights of ...

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Shana L. Redmond

taxi driver whose videotaped beating by police officers in March 1991 provoked international outrage, was born in Sacramento, California, to working-class parents. His father was a construction worker and cleaner, and as a child Rodney worked long hours as a cleaner along with his father. His work schedule along with a learning disability contributed to his lack of academic success, and despite considerable athletic ability, he dropped out in 1984 during his senior year of high school. Afterward King found work in construction. During his early adulthood he had two daughters and married Crystal Waters, a woman with two children of her own. Prior to 1991 King was in and out of jail for crimes ranging from robbery to intoxication.King became an international celebrity and emblem of police abuse in 1991, when a videotape, shot by the amateur cameraman George Holliday was broadcast by Los Angeles ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

hip-hop performer, songwriter, and actor, was born James Todd Smith in New York City. Raised in the St. Albans district of Queens, Smith was the only child of James Smith Jr. and Ondrea Smith, whose turbulent, abusive relationship led to their split when Smith was four years old; the boy and his mother moved in with her parents. Unfortunately, the trouble did not end there: when Smith was four, James Smith Jr. shot his ex-wife in the back and legs as she returned to her parents' house after work, wounding her father in the attack as well. Though both survived, this escalation of violence in his family marked the young James Smith throughout his life, and—according to his 1998 autobiography he credited this early turmoil and a later unfortunate reprise when his mother became the victim of further abuse by a later boyfriend with helping ...

Article

Andrew Du Bois

Born James Todd Smith in Queens, New York, LL Cool J was raised in the Hollis neighborhood, an area that also produced the pioneering rappers who formed Run-DMC. He adopted the performing name LL Cool J—short for “Ladies Love Cool James”—and released Radio, his 1985 debut album, which sported such signature songs as “Rock the Bells” and “I Can't Live Without My Radio.” It sold more than one million copies. The kid in the sneakers, gold chains, and Kangol hat rapped over spare, programmed beats that were sometimes splashed with rock guitar. In an art form founded on cocky sparring, LL Cool J was the king of the boast. Fans admired him for his cherubic looks and smooth style as well as for his lyrical skills.

While Bigger and Deffer (1987 LL s second release contained one of the all time great battle raps I m ...

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Chris Gavaler

author, actor, and Indian celebrity, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the son of Sallie Long, a nurse and midwife, and Joe Long, a janitor. Sylvester's light-skinned mother was born a slave weeks before the end of the Civil War and was the daughter of a plantation owner and an unknown Lumbee Indian. Long's father, also born into slavery, believed his own mother to be Cherokee and his father white Their claim to exclusively white and Indian ancestry established the Long family as the social elite of Winston s African American community After attending elementary school there Sylvester twice joined traveling Wild West circuses where he passed as an Indian and learned rudimentary Cherokee After returning to Winston and working as a library janitor Sylvester taught himself to type at night in the white school where his father mopped floors The principal suggested he apply ...

Article

Robert A. Pratt

a housewife, whose marriage in 1958 to Richard Loving sparked one of the nation's most important civil rights cases, was born Mildred Delores Jeter, of African American and Native American ancestry. Loving was one of five children born to Theoliver Jeter, a sharecropper, and Musiel Byrd, a homemaker. She also had four half brothers. She graduated from Union High School in Bowling Green, Virginia in 1957. In 1958 she married her childhood sweetheart who was white Both Jeter and Loving were born in Caroline County Virginia an area with a well known history of black white interracial sexual liaisons As was the local custom however and true for most of the South these unions occurred under cover of darkness and without legal sanction Many states had laws prohibiting interracial marriages some with restrictions dating back to the nineteenth century While enforcement of these laws ...

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Janelle Harris

civil rights activist, was born the eldest daughter in a family of eight children and reared in a tight-knit, segregated community near downtown Mobile, Alabama. From early in her childhood, her father, Willie Malone, a carpenter and maintenance man, and her mother, Bertha Malone, a maid at Brookley Air Force Base, impressed upon Malone and her siblings two basic but lasting principles: love God and value education.

As a student at Central High School in Mobile Malone excelled academically and blossomed socially As graduation approached Malone turned her attention to the future and began making plans for a college education Her first choice was the University of Alabama UA the state s oldest university a sprawling picturesque campus in Tuscaloosa more than 200 miles away from her home To the frustration of many would be students and the chagrin of white empathizers the University of Alabama was ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

elephant hunter, Bronx Zoo exhibit, and tobacco worker, was born in the rain forest near the Kasai River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The historical record is mute on the precise name of his tribe, but they were a band of forest-dwelling pygmies—averaging less than fifty-nine inches in height—who had a reciprocal relationship with villagers of the Congolese Luba tribe. Otabenga and his fellow pygmies hunted elephants by playing a long horn known as a molimo to replicate the sound of an elephant bleat. Once they had roused the animal from the forest, they killed it with poisoned spears and traded the elephant hide and flesh to the Luba villagers in exchange for fruits, vegetables, and grains. Very little is known about Otabenga's family life, other than that he was married with two children by the age of twenty.

Around that time while ...

Article

RuPaul  

Monica Hairston

drag performer, singer, songwriter, and actor, was born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, the only son of four children to Ernestine “Toni” Fontenette (a registrar) and Irving Andrew Charles (an electrician). RuPaul was close to his sisters Renae, Renatta, and Rosalind, and to his mother, particularly after his parents' bitter 1967 divorce. Shortly afterward, RuPaul moved in with Renatta and her husband in El Cajon, California, and then moved with them to Atlanta in the summer of 1976 While there RuPaul worked with his brother in law as a used car salesman but also attended the Northside School of the Performing Arts RuPaul s experiences as a drama major at Northside as well as his exposure to the liberating and bohemian climate in Atlanta fueled his desire to succeed as a performing artist RuPaul experienced his first drag queen performance ...

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Roanne Edwards

Since the release of his 1992 debut album Supermodel of the World, RuPaul has become a nationally recognized celebrity. Although best known as a drag queen, he also enjoys surprising audiences by appearing as a man. “Drag queens are like the shamans of our society, reminding people of what's funny and what's a stereotype,” he told People Weekly writer Tim Allis in 1993. “I feel very powerful when I'm in drag, and when I'm out of drag I observe our culture.” Six feet, seven inches tall in heels, RuPaul is painfully aware of the contradictions of being a black man who wears a platinum wig and platform heels. “When I'm dressed up as this goddess,” he told Allis, “people trip over themselves to give me things. But as an African American male, I can walk into an elevator and have people clutch their handbags.”

Born RuPaul Andre Charles ...

Article

O.J. Simpson was born in a poor neighborhood of San Francisco, California, the third of four children. His father left the family when Simpson was a child. At a young age Simpson wore leg braces to correct weakness in his legs, but as a teenager at Galileo High School, he was a star athlete, participating in baseball, track, and football. At the same time Simpson received several suspensions from school for misbehavior. He graduated from Galileo in 1965, but his grades kept him from attending a major university. Instead, he enrolled at City College in San Francisco, where he had a remarkable first season of football and was offered several athletic scholarships. He remained another year at City College before meeting the admissions standards for the University of Southern California (USC), which he entered in 1967. That same year, he married his first wife, Marguerite.

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Steven J. Niven

football player, sportscaster, and actor, was born Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, California, to Jimmie Simpson, a cook, and Eunice Durden, a nurse's aide. The child disliked his unusual first name, which was-given to him by an aunt who had heard of a French actor named Orenthal. Sometime during his childhood—accounts differ as to when—he began using his initials “O. J.,” which friends later adapted to “Orange Juice” and, later, to “Juice.” When O. J. was four, Jimmie Simpson abandoned his wife and family, leaving Eunice to raise four children in a two-bedroom apartment in the run-down Potrero Hill public housing projects near San Francisco's Chinatown. Eunice Simpson worked long hours to provide for her children but it was often a hard struggle When O J contracted rickets as an infant for example he was left bowlegged and in need of leg braces that his ...