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Frances Smith Foster

author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Most of the little we know of her life comes from The House of Bondage (1890), the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met her fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They married in 1874 and had one daughter.Sometime around 1877 Albert s husband was ordained as a Methodist ...

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Carolyn Wedin

author and performer. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou was given her shortened first name, Maya, by her brother Bailey. She later modified the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos, to whom she was married from 1952 to 1955, to form her last name. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and in 1930 she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, where they were raised for most of the next ten years by their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (or “Momma”). After Angelou's graduation with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School, she and her brother were put on a train for San Francisco, where they were to live with their recently remarried mother. In 1944 the unmarried sixteen-year-old Angelou gave birth to her only child, Clyde Johnson, later Guy Johnson ...

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Wesley Borucki

journalist. Born in Lansing, Michigan, Ray Stannard Baker was the son of Joseph and Alice Stannard Baker. Joseph moved the family to Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin, in 1875 where he worked as a real estate and utility agent. Ray dabbled in literary, agricultural, and scientific studies at Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) before turning his attention to the law. He studied at the University of Michigan Law School for only one semester, however, before becoming interested in prose writing. In 1893 he became a reporter for the Chicago Record newspaper. When the Panic of 1893 gripped Chicago, Baker saw levels of poverty, unemployment, and unrest beyond what he had ever seen before, and he was drawn to the experiences of the poor whom he found in soup kitchens, jails, and flophouses. Baker gained further sympathy for the common man when he covered the labor leader Jacob ...

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Charles L. Hughes

record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.

Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...

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Daniel L. Fountain

Baptist minister, missionary, and author, was born Charles Octavius Boothe in Mobile County, Alabama, to a Georgia‐born slave woman belonging to and carried west by the slave owner Nathan Howard Sr. Little is known of Boothe s Georgian parents but he proudly claimed that his great grandmother and stepgrandfather were Africans Boothe s description of his ancestors reflects his lifelong pride in his African heritage but he was equally effusive about the spiritual influence that these Christian elders had on his life His earliest recollections included his stepgrandfather s prayer life and singing of hymns and the saintly face and pure life of my grandmother to whom white and black went for prayer and for comfort in the times of their sorrows These early familial Christian influences were further reinforced by attending a Baptist church in the forest where white and colored people sat together to commune and to ...

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Steven J. Niven

rhythm and blues performer and actress, was born Ruth Alston Weston, in Portsmouth, Virginia, the eldest of Leonard and Martha Jane (Alston) Weston's seven children. Her father, a skillful athlete who had hoped to become a professional baseball player, found work as a laborer on the Portsmouth docks and worked odd jobs at nights. His weekly wages rarely exceeded $35 per week and barely covered the needs of his growing family. Ruth's mother worked as a domestic. In 1934, when she was six years old, Ruth entered Portsmouth's George Peabody Elementary School and later attended I. C. Norcom High School. Her early years were decidedly urban. She was a weekend regular at Portsmouth's Capitol movie theater, where she cheered on the black action heroes Herb Jeffries and Ralph Cooper, and idolized the young Lena Horne.

Ruth Weston belonged however to that generation of urban ...

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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 ...

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Jennifer Jensen Wallach

activist and writer who popularized the “Black Power” slogan in the 1960s. A native of Trinidad, Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, immigrated to the United States at the age of eleven to join his parents, who had migrated several years earlier. Even as a child he demonstrated an interest in politics, and the socialist activist Bayard Rustin was one of his earliest role models.

A gifted student, Carmichael attended the Bronx High School of Science, graduating in 1960. Although he was offered admission to a number of colleges and universities, his growing racial consciousness led him to the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1964.

While a student he became involved in the civil rights movement participating initially in demonstrations organized by the Nonviolent Action Group NAG an organization devoted to challenging segregation in the vicinity of Washington ...

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Marilyn Demarest Button

educator, administrator, writer, and activist, was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the daughter of Thomas Cornelius Cuthbert and Victoria Means. She attended grammar and secondary school in her hometown and studied at the University of Minnesota before transferring to Boston University, where she completed her BA in 1920.

Following her graduation, Cuthbert moved to Florence, Alabama, and became an English teacher and assistant principal at Burrell Normal School. Promoted to principal in 1925, she began to lead students and faculty in bold new perspectives on gender equality and interracial harmony.

In 1927 Cuthbert left Burrell to become one of the first deans of Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. In her essay, “The Dean of Women at Work,” published in the Journal of the National Association of College Women (Apr. 1928 she articulated her belief that covert sexism at the administrative level of black colleges limited their ...

Article

Brittney L. Yancy

activist, philosopher, Marxist, and professor. Angela Davis was born 26 January 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama, in an area that was so frequently bombed by the Ku Klux Klan it was known as Dynamite Hill. Born to B. Frank Davis, a teacher and businessman, and Sally Davis, who was also a teacher, Angela Davis's political activism started in her early childhood, and by high school, she volunteered for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the age of fifteen, Davis received a scholarship to finish school at the Elizabeth Irwin School in New York City. Davis's teacher introduced her to socialist ideas that would inform her political participation in the civil rights and Black Power movements. When Davis finished high school in 1961, she moved to Massachusetts to attend Brandeis University, where she graduated in 1965 with degrees in philosophy and French ...

Article

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

Jeff Shantz

writer and union activist, was born in rural Alabama. As a youth Denby endured the hardships of farm labor. During the 1920s he joined the Great Migration of African American workers who migrated to the northern industrial centers in search of employment. Denby ended up in Detroit, where he found work as an auto assembler on the production lines.

The 1930s were a period of militant mobilization and organization among workers in the auto industry and Denby became a leading participant in the wildcat strikes that swept through the industry in the 1930s and 1940s crucial struggles in the development of the United Auto Workers UAW His involvement in these organizing campaigns both reinforced his view that struggles over race and class were intricately enmeshed and convinced him that working class gains could not be made unless unions were prepared to attack systemic racism a perspective that was not ...

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Valerie Hill-Jackson

youngest college president in the United States, orator, integrationist, and multivolume biographer of exceptional blacks in America, was one of ten children born to Lucretia Hollis Downs and John Wesley Downs in Abilene, Texas. John Wesley Downs was a minister and district superintendent for the Methodist Church. According to the 1910 U.S. census, John Wesley augmented his income by transporting wood. Following in his father's shoes, Karl became a member of the Methodist clergy, although he developed a special niche in youth leadership and community service. In 1929 Karl graduated from Moore High School in Waco, Texas, and received a bachelor of arts degree from Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin, Texas, in 1933; a bachelor of divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1936; and a master of sacred theology degree from Boston University in 1937.

Due ...

Article

Rachelle Gold

civil rights leader. James Forman was executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s. During the 1960s Forman's SNCC was a more aggressive civil rights organization than were the NAACP, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Forman was born in Chicago, but he lived with his grandmother in rural Mississippi until he was six. At that time his parents returned to Chicago; he still spent his summers in Mississippi. In 1947 he graduated with honors from Chicago's Englewood High School, and during the Korean War he served in Okinawa in the Air Force. After his military discharge in 1952, Forman attended the University of Southern California. One day in 1953 having been reading at the library Forman went outside for a study break Responding to a reported robbery two Los Angeles police officers saw Forman ...

Article

educator, literary and cultural critic, and leading scholar in African and African American studies, was born Louis Smith Gates in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates, nicknamed “Skip” by his mother at birth, grew up in nearby Piedmont, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr., a mill worker and janitor, and Pauline Coleman Gates, a homemaker and seamstress. Born four years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and encouraged by his parents, he excelled in Piedmont's integrated schools, including the Davis Free School and Piedmont High School, as did his older brother Paul, known as “Rocky,” who would become Chief of Oral Surgery at Bronx Lebanon Hospital.

At age fourteen Gates experienced two cataclysmic events in his young life the first a misdiagnosed slipped epithesis a hip injury that led to three surgeries in a year and the second his joining the Episcopal ...

Article

DaMaris B. Hill

novelist, essayist, educator, and activist, was born and raised in Washington, D.C. She was an only child. Golden's mother, a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, was a cleaning woman who played the lottery and became wealthy enough to afford many properties; her father was a taxicab driver. Neither parent had any formal education, but Golden was inspired to write by her father's bedtime stories, which involved African American history and culture. Her mother encouraged her writing talents, too. At age ten Golden had a letter published in the editorial section of the Washington Post. Around age fourteen Golden's mother told her that she was going to write books. This was surprising to Golden because she never even saw her mother reading.

In 1968 Golden graduated from high school and attended American University in Washington, D.C., on a Frederick Douglass Scholarship that was developed as ...

Article

Arthur Ben Chitty

author, black activist, and clairvoyant, was born near Sewanee, Tennessee, to a college student, Edward H. Wicks, later a Texas attorney, and Lena Green, a fourteen-year-old kitchen servant and daughter of a privy cleaner who had been a slave. In Green's own words, he was “a half-white bastard.” His mother died when he was eight, and he was reared by Mattie Davis, a sympathetic neighbor who worked as a domestic. He did not finish the second grade and was largely self-taught. His phenomenal vocabulary came about because, as he said, “I studied from every man who would talk to me.”

Green s youth up to age eighteen was spent in Sewanee the site of the University of the South He worked odd jobs such as shining shoes carrying spring water to the third floor of dormitories and selling peanuts at sports events He had ...

Article

Sheila Gregory Thomas

educator, civil rights activist, and author, was throughout his life a brilliant and forceful figure in the push for equal rights and the higher education of African Americans. He was born in Lexington, Virginia, the elder of two sons of William Lewis and Maria A. Gladman, both free persons. After the death of her first husband, his mother later married Henry L. Gregory, a minister, who supported the family as a laborer. Maria was one of eight offspring of Claiborne Gladman and Anna Pollard. The Gladmans were prominent members of Lynchburg, Virginia's community of free African Americans (Delaney and Rhodes, 2).

In 1859 eager to be free of the repressive Virginia environment Henry Maria and their young sons set out from Lynchburg for the Midwest primarily in order to assure a good education for their boys Residing temporarily in Indiana Illinois and Michigan ...

Article

clubwoman, suffragette, and author was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Dr. Nathan F. Mossell and Gertrude E. H. (Bustill) Mossell. Born into one of the elite families of Philadelphia, Mazie attended Philadelphia public schools and the F. F. Jones Private School for Girls. After graduation she taught kindergarten for one year in Darby, Pennsylvania. She married Dr. Joshua R. Griffin Jr. of Richmond, Virginia, in 1909. They had one son, Francis Raleigh.

Following in her mother's footsteps, Mazie became a writer and contributed to a variety of newspapers. Her columns were published in the Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia Courant, Washington Sun, and Chicago Defender. Griffin founded the Phyllis Wheatley Club in order to encourage young women to write. While Griffin also published a book, Afro-American Men and Women Who Count, in 1915 her true calling was in public service As ...

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Melinda R. Weidman

legal scholar, author, historian, civil rights advocate, and prominent federal judge. Brought up in humble circumstances in Trenton, New Jersey, Aloysius Leon Higginbotham Jr. grew up to become an influential judge and a strong advocate of civil rights and affirmative action.

Early on Higginbotham encountered intense racism and discrimination He was raised in a modest home his mother was a domestic worker and his father was a laborer He attended a segregated all black elementary school Ewing Park but then became the first African American student to attend the local all white academic high school His mother worked hard for this hounding the principal until he agreed to enroll Higginbotham In order to enroll Higginbotham had to persuade the school s Latin teacher to teach him Latin the summer before A year of Latin was a prerequisite to attending the high school and Ewing Park ...