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Jim McWilliams

was born in Noblesville, Indiana, the eldest of two children in a middle-class family. His father, James Alexander Colter, an insurance salesman, was active in the NAACP and was also an amateur actor and musician. His mother, Ethel Marietta Bassett Colter, died when he was six, and the family soon moved to Youngstown, Ohio, where Colter’s maternal grandparents helped to raise him and his sister.

Colter attended a private school in Youngstown and then matriculated into Youngstown University. He soon transferred to Ohio State University, from which he graduated in 1936. Colter then attended Chicago-Kent College of Law, from which he graduated in 1940, and soon married Imogene MacKay, and, after serving in World War II, began a distinguished career as an attorney in Chicago.

After reading deeply in Russian literature, Colter, aged fifty, published his first story, “A Chance Meeting,” in the Irish magazine Threshold in 1960 ...

Article

James Robert Payne

After careers in government service, law, the Army, and academia, Cyrus Colter began writing at fifty. Colter placed his first short story, “A Chance Meeting,” in Threshold in 1960. He went on to place stories in such little magazines as New Letters, Chicago Review, and Prairie Schooner. Fourteen of his stories are collected in his first book, The Beach Umbrella (1970). In 1990 Colter published a second collection of short fiction, The Amoralists and Other Tales.

Colter's first novel, The Rivers of Eros (1972) relates the efforts of Clotilda Pilgrim to raise her grandchildren to lives of respectability When Clotilda discovers that her sixteen year old grandaughter is involved with a married man the grandmother becomes obsessed with the idea that the girl is repeating her grandmother s own youthful mistakes Clotilda eventually kills the girl in order to stop what ...

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

Clarence G. Contee

Born about 1846 in New York City on Sullivan Street in Lower Manhattan, a son of Henry Downing and Nancy (Collins) Downing, Henry Francis Downing was the grandson of Thomas Downing, operator of an oyster-selling business and well-known free black. He was the nephew of George Thomas Downing, a well known politician in New York City and in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as a friend of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The family maintained the oyster business and a refectory (dining hall) on Broad Street into the 1850s. Henry Downing received enough education to enable him to read and to write.

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Downing was still in school. Eager to serve, he enlisted in the Union Navy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on August 25, 1864, beginning his service on board the North Carolina He was ...

Article

Lawrence R. Rodgers

Born in New York City into a family of successful free African Americans who ran an oyster business, Henry Downing was the nephew of the esteemed politician George Thomas Downing. Henry Downing served two terms in the U.S. Navy (1864–1865 and 1872–1875). Following the Civil War, he traveled around the world, a journey punctuated by a three-year residence in Liberia, where his cousin Hilary Johnson later served as president (1884–1892). After returning to New York, he became politically active in the Democratic Party. For his strong support, President Cleveland appointed Downing consul to Loanda, Angola, a West African colony of Portugal, where he served less than a year before resigning in 1888. After returning to New York for several years, he emigrated to London in 1895 where he remained for twenty two years There he began a productive if undistinguished career as a writer ...

Article

Brian R. Roberts

diplomat, editor, and author, was born in Manhattan to Henry and Nancy (Collins) Downing. His family operated an oyster business and restaurant, and his uncle was George Thomas Downing, a Rhode Island businessman and civil rights leader. Nothing is known of Henry Downing's education before he entered the U.S. Navy at age eighteen.

Serving from 1864 through 1865 he worked on three vessels, the North Carolina, Pawtuxet, and Winooski. Afterward he traveled widely, spending three years in Liberia, where his cousin, Hilary Johnson, later became president (1884–1892). In Liberia, Downing worked as secretary to the Liberian secretary of state. Upon his return to New York he reenlisted in the navy, serving from 1872 to 1875 on the Hartford in the Pacific.

After his discharge Downing again returned to New York City and married Isadora (maiden name unknown) on 8 ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

writer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Joseph Leonard and Myrtle Baugh Goines, business owners. He attended parochial schools, and his parents expected him to work in the family dry cleaning and laundry business. Donnie, as he was known, first had difficulties in his studies at school in the third grade and was held back that year. He lost interest in classes, dropped out after finishing the ninth grade, and, beginning in 1952, served three years in the U.S. Air Force, having used a fake ID to enlist because he was too young to serve. It was during his overseas assignments in Japan and Korea that he became addicted to heroin.

Goines s street legend finds him returning to the United States becoming a street hustler running numbers and bootleg liquor and pimping prostitutes All of this he purportedly documented in his later autobiographical works In ...

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 ...

Article

Justin David Gifford

forensic psychiatrist, novelist, and filmmaker, was born in Washington, D.C., to Devonia Jefferson, a teacher and playwright, and Bernard Jefferson, a judge. At an early age, Jefferson moved with his family to Los Angeles where he attended integrated public schools. Raised in a family that discouraged him from pursing a career as a writer, Jefferson studied anthropology in college, earning his BA from the University of Southern California in 1961. In 1965 Jefferson earned his MD from Howard University and became a practicing physician in Los Angeles. In 1966, he married a teacher named Melanie L. Moore, with whom he would eventually have four children, Roland Jr., Rodney, Shannon, and Royce. Between 1969 and 1971 he served as a captain and psychiatrist at Lockborne Air Force Base in Columbus Ohio It was during this time that he ...

Article

Lila Luce

Algerian novelist and former army officer, was born Mohammed Moulessehoul on 10 January 1955 in Kenadsa, a Saharan town in the province of Bechar in western Algeria. His novels, written in French and translated into over thirty languages, address pressing global issues of our time including war, terrorism, and questions of national and individual identity. His writing flows easily in several different registers, rich with creative metaphorical uses of verbs and adjectives.

Moulessehoul’s mother came from a nomadic family. His father, a nurse by profession, fought in Algeria’s war for independence (1954–1962) as an officer in the National Liberation Front and subsequently joined the army of independent Algeria. The family later moved to Oran on the northwest coast. In 1964 when Mohammed was just nine years old his father enrolled him in a military academy for raising officers in the army He pursued a military career for the next ...

Article

Drew Thompson

Angolan opponent of Portuguese colonialism, originally named Deolinda Rodrigues Francisco de Almeida, was born in 1939 in Cateste, Angola, near Luanda. She was the cousin of Agostinho Neto.

The product of a missionary education and the recipient of a Methodist church scholarship, she traveled to São Paulo, Brazil, in 1959, where she studied sociology. Shortly after her arrival, Portugal and Brazil established a treaty that permitted Portugal to extradite individuals deemed subversive or threatening to the stability of the Portuguese state and its colonies. Fearing arrest for her political activities and views, Rodrigues sought asylum in the United States and continued her studies at Drew University in New Jersey. She returned to Angola in 1962 and joined the Angolan Volunteer Corps for Refugee Assistance in Leopoldville Congo later to become the organization s secretary She was an active member of the People s Movement for the Liberation of ...