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Roanne Edwards

Best known for his weekly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown has become a controversial figure in the landscape of American race relations. Although once active in the Civil Rights Movement, he has criticized present-day black activists for prioritizing civil rights at the expense of black business initiatives and education programs in computer technologies. He advocates black economic self-sufficiency and has consistently opposed welfare as well as Affirmative Action policies that he believes mainly benefit middle-class blacks. “If America were capitalist,” said Brown in an interview with Matthew Robinson of Business Daily, “it could not be racist. Racism is flourishing because we are awash in socialistic controls.”

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown was reared by two domestic workers, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes who informally adopted him at the age of two months after his father deserted the family ...

Article

Patit Paban Mishra

academician, businessperson, author, talk-show host, and journalist. The fifth son of Royal Brown and Katherine Davis Brown, William Anthony Brown was born in Charleston, West Virginia. The marriage of his parents broke down in the racist environment of Charleston. His father was a light-skinned person, whereas his mother was of dark color. For several years he was raised by a foster family, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes, before he was reunited with his mother and three siblings. Brown had a turbulent childhood, but by sheer determination, perseverance, and hard work along with the support of his foster parents and several school teachers, he rose in life—primarily through education. After high school he attended Wayne State University in Detroit, where he earned a BA in sociology (1959) and an MSW in psychiatric social work (1961).

After graduation Brown obtained a ...

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Pamela Lee Gray

actor, comedian, and writer, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the only child of Fred Hall, a Baptist minister, and Annie Hall. Hall entertained himself as a child by learning magic tricks and watching television talk shows. He played basketball during his teens, and the love of the sport carried over to frequent attendance at professional basketball games as an adult. His parents divorced in 1964, when Hall was nine, and he went to live with his mother, grandmother, and godmother. Hall still had a relationship with his father, but they spent limited time together because of his father's travel schedule. He attended Warrensville Heights High School near Cleveland and then Ohio University, where he was a member of the speech team. He transferred to Kent State University and graduated with a degree in speech.

After graduation he worked for Noxell Corporation and then left ...

Article

Marva O. Banks

Born in Newark, New Jersey, on 7 November 1936, to Nathan E. and Gladys Fruitt Heard (a blues singer), Nathan Cliff Heard was reared by his mother and maternal grandmother in Newark's inner city; he dropped out of school at fifteen, drifted into a life of crime, and spent the next seventeen years (1951–1968) in and out of New Jersey State Prison at Trenton where he served time for armed robbery.

While in prison Heard distinguished himself as a talented and award-winning athlete. It was not until fellow prisoner Harold Carrington introduced him to the masters—Langston Hughes, Samuel Beckett, James Baldwin, Jean Genet, Amiri Baraka, and others—that Heard began to write, at first about music and African history. In 1963, encouraged by his fellow inmates, he wrote the manuscript for To Reach a Dream Although the novel did not sell ...

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Justin David Gifford

author, professor of creative writing, actor, television host, and key figure in the black crime fiction movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Gladys Pruitt Heard, a blues singer, and Nathan E. Heard, a laborer. Heard was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, and, at the age of fifteen, he dropped out of high school. Heard spent much of the 1950s and 1960s in reform school and then in New Jersey State Prison at Trenton for armed robbery and parole violation.

Like his fellow African American crime writers Chester Himes and Donald Goines, Heard began his literary career while behind bars. It was while he was serving eight years in prison for armed robbery in the early 1960s that Heard began reading the fiction of the Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs and other ...

Article

Karen Beasley Young

philanthropist, entrepreneur, syndicated radio and television talk show host, and activist was born Thomas Joyner in Tuskegee, Alabama, the second son of H. L. Joyner, an accountant, and Buddy Joyner, a secretary. He attended Tuskegee Institute and graduated with a degree in sociology in 1970. At Tuskegee he met and married Dora Chatmon in 1970 while both were in their senior year of college. The couple had two sons, Thomas Jr. and Oscar, and divorced in 1996.

During his time as a student at Tuskegee, Joyner developed both a social consciousness, born of his involvement in the civil rights movement, and a passionate sense of social responsibility, born of the mission and vision of historically black colleges and universities. These elements, when combined with his love for music, were instrumental in shaping his life into one of altruism and advocacy.

While growing ...

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 ...

Article

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

Shanteé Woodards

ventriloquist, radio personality, and emcee, was the oldest child born to Bertha and Arthur Takeall in Annapolis, Maryland. His father worked at the Navy Experimental Station, and his mother was a homemaker and community activist. Takeall was a sickly child who stuttered and developed rheumatic fever in the seventh grade. To regain strength from his illness, he ran track at Wiley H. Bates High School, the area's all-black school. He also learned ventriloquism to cope with his stutter. Takeall continued to participate in a variety of sports throughout his life and learned karate from U.S. Marine Corps gunning sergeant Howard George. By the time he was seventeen, Takeall had a black belt and gave lessons to others at the nearby white school, Annapolis High School, in 1964 He also held a variety of jobs including one as a cashier at Dairy Queen which was an ...

Article

Stephanie Y. Evans

businesswoman, actress, and talk-show host. In 1994, for her fortieth birthday, Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., and finished in four hours, twenty-nine minutes, and fifteen seconds. Her ability constantly to challenge herself, as exemplified by the Marine Corps Marathon, has resulted in Winfrey's becoming an international icon for motivation, a universal symbol of business savvy and philanthropy, and an unsurpassed representation of popular American culture.

Oprah Gail Winfrey was born to unwed parents in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was an eighteen-year-old domestic worker, and her father, Vernon Winfrey was a twenty year old doing duty in the armed forces Oprah initially was reared by her grandmother on a farm in Mississippi where she reportedly learned to read aloud and perform recitations in church at the age of three From age six to age thirteen she lived in Milwaukee ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo and Julie Wolf

talk show host, actor, and entrepreneur, was born Oprah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to eighteen-year- old Vernita Lee, and Vernon Winfrey, a twenty-year-old soldier. Vernita intended to call the baby “Orpah,” after the biblical figure, but accepted “Oprah” when the name was misspelled by a clerk. Shortly after her daughter's birth, Vernita left Mississippi for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, leaving her newborn under the watchful eye of Oprah's paternal grandparents, Hattie Mae Bullock and Earless Lee, who were pig farmers. In 1960 Oprah went to Milwaukee to join her mother, who was working as a maid and who had given birth to a second daughter, Patricia. Another child, Jeffrey followed a few years later and Vernita struggled to support herself and her three young children Bright and precocious Oprah skipped several grades in elementary school but despite her siblings and her early academic ...

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Kathleen Thompson

It should surprise no one with a sense of history that, as soon as race and gender obstacles began to fall in society, an African American woman rose to a position of dizzying success and influence. All the characteristics and values that helped black women survive against the worst forms of oppression helped one black woman, Oprah Winfrey, to soar.

Oprah Winfrey was born to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi When her parents who were not married separated she went to live with her maternal grandmother on a farm Although life was austere the young girl thrived She learned to read before she was three and was in the third grade by the age of six At that point she went to live with her mother in Milwaukee Vernita Lee managed a subsistence level existence with income from welfare and domestic work and she had little ...

Article

Robert Fay

Oprah Winfrey was born on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her paternal grandmother raised her until she was six years old, when she moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to live with her mother, Vernita Lee. Though Winfrey did well in school, she was allegedly sexually abused by male relatives and became increasingly troubled as a teenager. Her mother, a maid who was busy raising two other children, eventually sent Winfrey to live with her disciplinarian father, a barber and businessman in Nashville, Tennessee. Winfrey flowered under Vernon Winfrey's strict supervision, excelling academically and as a public speaker. At sixteen, she won a partial scholarship to Tennessee State University in a public speaking contest sponsored by the Elks Club.

As a freshman at Tennessee State University Winfrey worked briefly as a radio newscaster before victories in two local beauty pageants helped land her a news anchor position at WTVF TV ...