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Article

Melvin L. Butler

gospel composer and pastor, was born into a family of sharecroppers in Somerville, Tennessee. Although Brewster stemmed from a humble background, he managed to study a wide variety of subjects, including theology, law, and Hebrew. After graduating from Roger Williams College in 1922 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee. By 1930 Brewster had begun a lifelong tenure as pastor of the East Trigg Baptist Church. A major aspect of Brewster's early ministry centered on the founding of theology schools, and these centers of learning helped to establish his voice as one of moral authority and spiritual guidance in religious circles.

By the time Brewster began seriously publishing his songs in the 1940s he had gained over a decade of experience in his pastoral role This experience provided a wellspring of material for songs that often relayed Old Testament stories and were enjoyed by African American congregations across the United States ...

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David B. McCarthy

musician, educator, and prominent Presbyterian, was born Melva Ruby Wilson in Due West, South Carolina, one of five children of Azzie Lee Ellis Wilson and John Theodore Wilson Sr., both of whom were college graduates and teachers. Because the local black public schools were unaccredited, her parents sent her to a black boarding school, Harbison Junior College in Irmo, South Carolina, at the age of fourteen. Two years later, at the age of sixteen, she entered Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. There she met fellow student James Hutten Costen. She graduated with a BA in Education in 1952 and married Jim Costen the day before he graduated in 1953. They eventually had two sons and one daughter, James Jr., Craig, and Cheryl.

Costen taught elementary school in the Mecklenburg County school system from 1952 to 1955 the year her husband ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

preacher, was born Clarence LaVaughn Pitman in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Elijah J. Pitman and Willie Ann Pitman, sharecroppers. Elijah served in Europe during World War I, returned to Mississippi briefly, and then departed. Shortly thereafter, Willie Ann married Henry Franklin, a farmer; the family took his name, and Franklin became Clarence's father. As a boy Clarence usually went to school from December to March, which was when he was not needed in the field. His mother took him and his stepsister, Aretha, to St. Peter's Rock Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir, and eventually became lead tenor. His father, religious but not a churchgoer, exposed Clarence to the blues idiom of Blind Lemon Jefferson and other soulful musicians.

At the age of nine or ten Clarence attended a revival meeting and took his first step toward a career in the ministry when he joined the ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

Baptist minister and community leader. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin was born in Sunflower, Mississippi, to Willie Walker and Rachel Pittman Walker, who were sharecroppers. Before 1920, his mother remarried, to Henry Franklin, who subsequently adopted Clarence. Young “C. L.” picked cotton with his parents and three siblings, which prevented him from completing grade school.

In the summer of 1931, Franklin preached his trial sermon at Saint Peter's Rock Missionary Baptist Church. He served as an itinerant minister for several years at churches throughout the Mississippi Delta. On 16 October 1934, Franklin married Alene Gaines, but little is known about the marriage. On 3 June 1936, Franklin married Barbara Vernice Siggers and adopted her young son, Vaughn. To this union were born four children: Erma, Cecil, Aretha, and Carolyn. Aretha became a Grammy Award–winning singer.

Aware of the limited opportunities and ...

Article

was born in St. Kitts on 17 September 1925. Griffith learned to play the organ at the Methodist Church in St. Kitts before migrating to Trinidad in November 1943. She began missionary work in Trinidad by visiting hospitals and praying with the sick. Following a vision, she was baptized as a Shouter Baptist in 1951 by Pastor Lacaille, one of the leaders of the faith during the years of prohibition engendered by enactment and enforcement of the 1917 Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, which was repealed on 30 March 1951. Several years later she another vision: that of a short, dark man, clad in a black suit, felt hat, and tie. A few days later a man with a remarkable likeness to the man in her vision walked into the yard of her church. He was Elton George Griffith the leader of the public campaign to repeal the ...

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Sibyl Collins Wilson

minister and youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was born Bernice Albertine King in Atlanta, Georgia. The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, she was named after both her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Alberta Williams King and Bernice McMurray. One of the most memorable images of young King was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of her as a sad girl leaning on her mother during her father's funeral taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. and published in Ebony magazine In the shadow of her father s murder their mother covered King and her siblings protectively as she promoted her husband s legacy Every attempt was made to provide a normal upbringing for her and the other three King children The strength of her family history propelled her desire to chart her professional course in life so ...

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Kevin Sliman

blues musician and preacher, was born in Pelahatchie, Mississippi. His father, a fireman in Jackson, Mississippi, died in 1911 and Lacy was raised by his grandfather, an African Methodist preacher. He attended school for five years and quickly turned his attention to music. Coming from a musically skilled family, Lacy organized his siblings into gospel quartets while his mother or other siblings played harmonica. He learned to play guitar and mandolin in his early teens from a man named George “Crow Jane” Hendrix, a professional musician. His uncle, Herbert Meiels a German who was highly educated and spoke five languages taught Lacy German history and politics At age twenty Lacy moved to Jackson Mississippi to pursue music but stayed only a short time before he began doing railroad work that took him all over Mississippi and then to Iowa Lacy moved to Chicago and lived with Meiels ...

Article

Born in Lafayette, Alabama, Sister Gertrude Morgan became an evangelist and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1939. She took the title “Sister” in the 1950s when, with two other street missionaries, she founded a church and an orphanage.

Morgan began painting in 1956, concentrating primarily on religious visions and biblical scenes. She believed that she was mystically married to Jesus Christ which she symbolized by dressing entirely in white Her paintings frequently depicted her with Jesus as bride and groom often with herself in black before and in white after the marriage As a street preacher Morgan eschewed the formal art world preferring to make folk art with any material at hand including Styrofoam cardboard lamp shades and jelly jars Her work frequently includes calligraphy which communicates a spiritual message or a biblical verse All her inspiration she felt came from God saying He moves ...

Article

David Michel

bishop, denominational leader, and singer, was born in Windsor, Ontario, one of nine children of Matilda E. and Bishop Clarence Leslie Morton, a minister in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). His father pastored in Windsor and Detroit, Michigan. Morton started singing at an early age and developed his musical gifts while working in his father's Detroit pastorate. By the time he reached his teen years his father had already left the COGIC to lead an independent movement. Morton graduated from the J. C. Patterson Collegiate Institute and attended St. Clair College in Windsor, where he studied music. He started preaching in 1967 and was influenced by his older brother, James, who had become pastor of True Faith Baptist Church in Detroit (1970–1984). Like James, Morton would later pastor a Baptist congregation.

In 1972 the young Morton was called to work ...

Article

Alexander J. Chenault

theologian, pastor, orator and civil rights leader was born in LaGrange, Georgia on 26 February 1935, to Magnolia Moss and Otis Moss Sr., the fourth of the couple's five children. Otis became an orphan in 1951 when he was just sixteen; by nineteen, he decided that he wanted to be a preacher. In 1954, while still a student at Morehouse College, the teenaged Moss became the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1956. In 1959, he received a master's of divinity degree from the Morehouse School of Religion at Interdenominational Theological Center. Moss married Edwina Hudson Smith with whom he had three children, Kevin, Daphne, and Otis, III.

Because of his great oratory skills for a few years during the 1950s he was simultaneously leading two congregations ...

Article

David Michel

pastor and church leader, was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, the youngest son of Mary Louise Williams and William Archie Patterson, a pastor in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The family later moved to Memphis, where Patterson attended Lincoln Elementary School. In 1951 he was saved during a revival at Holy Temple, the church pastored by his father. In 1952 the Pattersons moved to Detroit, where Elder William A. Patterson became the pastor of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. The younger Patterson attended and graduated from Hutchins Intermediate School and Central High School. He also sang with the youth group of his father's church. He received a divine call to the ministry, was licensed by his father in 1957, and entered Detroit Bible College. In 1958 he was ordained and three years later returned to Memphis to serve as co pastor at Holy ...

Article

David J. Endres

Roman Catholic priest, musician, and composer, was born Clarence Rufus Rivers Jr. in Selma, Alabama, to Clarence Rufus Rivers and Lorraine (Echols) Rivers. Rivers's early life was spent in Alabama. His family relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, around 1940, where Clarence enrolled in St. Ann's school, attached to one of the oldest black Catholic parishes in the country. At that time the Rivers family was not Catholic, but when the parish offered to have Clarence baptized, his parents consented and eventually the entire family converted. Rivers continued his education in area Catholic schools through high school. Encouraged by Father Charles Murphy of St. Ann Church, Rivers aspired to become a priest. He entered St. Gregory Minor Seminary, Cincinnati, in 1946 in the eleventh grade and after completion of high school and two years of college was sent to Mt St Mary s Seminary also in ...

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Arthur C. Verge

minister and political activist, was born in Los Angeles, California. The names of his parents are unknown. Primarily educated in Los Angeles–area schools, Russell also studied theology in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the early 1930s at the nation's International College. Russell later remarked that his experiences studying abroad profoundly influenced his thinking about the plight of fellow African Americans in the United States. Foremost among his overseas memories was a visit to Weimar Germany, where the Los Angeles cleric witnessed firsthand the rise of Adolph Hitler's Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) Party and its racist ideology.

In 1936 Russell took over the pastorate of Los Angeles's People's Independent Church. This church, which had emanated in 1915 from the black community s more conservative and powerful First African Methodist Episcopal AME Church became known for its outreach programs for poor and disenfranchised blacks Within a year into Russell s tenure the People ...

Article

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold

minister, musician, and photographer, was born in Bayou Rapides, Louisiana, to Irene Lair and Giuseppe “Joe” Nasello. Nasello, who immigrated to the United States from his native Sicily in 1901, owned a dry goods store in Alexandria, Louisiana, that Willie remembered visiting with his mother from time to time. However, Joe Nasello had another family, and given the mores of the time, “Papa” Joe never acknowledged the two children he fathered with Irene. (A daughter, Alice, was born in 1912.) Although Joe Nasello lived until 1958, it appears that father and son never met face to face nor openly acknowledged their relationship. Seals talked freely yet sparingly of his paternity, and he jokingly noted to his children that he was an “Italian.”

According to Willie, “Seals” was a made-up name that he took from Lucille Ceil a favorite grade school teacher ...

Article

Nicola Cooney

Solano Trindade was born in 1908 in Recife, a town in northeastern Brazil, the son of a mulatto cobbler and a mestizo (of indigenous and European descent) woman. His interest in folklore and popular arts was instilled at an early age, as he would routinely accompany his father to local folk dances and read aloud to his illiterate mother.

After some advanced schooling, Trindade became a Presbyterian deacon and began to write poetry. His early works were mystical writings, and his black poetry would evolve soon thereafter. In 1936 Trindade published his first book, Poemas Negros, and founded the Frente Negra Pernambucana (Black Front of Pernambuco) and the Centro Cultural Afro-Brasileiro (Afro-Brazilian Cultural Center). These groups united a group of contemporary black writers with a view to collecting and disseminating the work of fellow Afro-Brazilian poets and painters. In 1959 Trindade founded the Teatro Popular Brasileiro Brazilian ...

Article

Donna L. Halper

was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the younger of two children of Charles C. Walker, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Bessie (Trotter). Elizabeth’s mother died in childbirth, and her father remarried in 1953 to Geneva (Powell), a teacher. Elizabeth and her brother, Charles, were mainly raised by their stepmother, as their father died in 1963. Despite growing up in a deeply religious home, young Elizabeth did not plan for a career in the church. Rather, she was interested in the media. A 1969 graduate of Little Rock’s Central High School, where she was the school newspaper’s first black assistant editor, she attended Olivet College, a Christian liberal arts school in Olivet, Michigan, graduating with a B.A. in Speech and Theater in 1973 Sources that say her major was Communication are incorrect Subsequently she studied broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin school for one semester but did not ...