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Mary T. Henry

bishop, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. He and his three siblings, Avery, Charity, and Lucy Rose, were raised in a spiritual and intellectually stimulating home. His father, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and social activist, in the 1920s organized the first African American bank in Columbia and the first modern statewide civil rights organization in South Carolina. None of these activities went unnoticed by young John and they helped to define his later focus and commitments. Adams was educated in the segregated Columbia school system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His undergraduate work was completed at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned an AB degree in History in 1947 After studying at Boston University School of Theology he received a bachelor of ...

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One of the most important intellectuals at work today, Asante is the founding and preeminent theorist of Afrocentricity, an intellectual movement that insists on the study of Africa and African peoples from an African perspective. In 1996 the Utne Reader called Asante “one of the 100 leading thinkers” in the United States. His development of the methodology of Afrocentricity initiated debates, both inside and outside the academy, on the nature of a pluralistic society in a postcolonial age. A prolific writer with an impressive intellectual range, he has authored over 40 books and more than 200 scholarly articles. Asante is professor and former chair of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he created the first Ph.D. program in African American Studies.

Asante was born Arthur Lee Smith, Jr., in Valdosta, Georgia one of sixteen children in a working class family ...

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Ama Mazama

scholar and author, was born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. in Valdosta, Georgia. He was the first son of Lillie Wilkson, a domestic worker, and Arthur L. Smith, a railroad worker. The family grew over the years and eventually included sixteen children.

Valdosta, a small southern town also known as the Azalea City, was the arena in which young Arthur first saw the abuses and injustices suffered by black people under segregation. He picked cotton during the summer to help his family, a task representing for him not only the injustices of the present but also the awful, backbreaking conditions that his ancestors had to endure for hundreds of years during slavery. While shining shoes at age eleven, he was spat upon by a white man, an experience he would later recall in describing his growing determination to fight against racism.

Identified early in life as possessing exceptional intellectual ...

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Jared A. Ball

law professor, writer, and theoretical pioneer in critical race theory, narrative scholarship, and the economic-determinist approach to race history. As a student and professor of law, Derrick Bell pioneered critical race theory as a tool to explain and challenge the centrality of an apparently immutable racism that permeates every aspect of U.S. society. Bell sees this amorphous yet unremitting racism as essential to the maintenance of the U.S. socioeconomic order. His perspective derives from his personal experience coming of age in an era marked by global struggles for liberation. In his essay “Great Expectations” he vividly describes the effect of government policies on black Americans:

If the nation s policies towards blacks were revised to require weekly random round ups of several hundred blacks who were then taken to a secluded place and shot that policy would be more dramatic but hardly different in result than the policies ...

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Adam Meyer

Little remembered today, Edward Wilmot Blyden was the most important African thinker of the nineteenth century, leading one of the most varied careers of any Black man in that era. Born in Saint Thomas, Blyden came to America in 1850 to attend Rutgers Theological College but was rejected because of his race. He subsequently emigrated to Liberia, grew enamored of African life, and became a staunch supporter of his new homeland. Feeling called upon to undermine misconceptions about “the dark continent” and to encourage Blacks throughout the diaspora to repatriate, Blyden spent the remainder of his life serving this cause in several capacities. As a journalist, Blyden edited the Liberia Herald and founded and edited the Negro and the West African Reporter two of the first Pan African journals As an educator he served as principal of Alexander High School Monrovia Liberia s educational commissioner to Britain and America ...

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John C. Gruesser

Born a slave in Maryland, John Edward Bruce grew up in Washington, D.C. Developing an interest in journalism, he worked as a general helper in the office of the Washington correspondent for the New York Times in 1874. By the time Bruce was twenty he was writing for newspapers, using the pen name “Rising Sun”, and in 1879 he started his own paper, the Argus, in Washington, D.C. In 1884 Bruce began writing under the name “Bruce Grit” in the Cleveland Gazette and the New York Age, eventually becoming one of the most widely read and influential African American journalists of his era. In his writings and speeches, Bruce decried mixed-race marriages, denounced Euro-American imperialism, aggressively promoted race pride and solidarity, championed self-help, and advocated the study of black history to combat the anti-Negro rhetoric of the post-Reconstruction period.

Bruce served as a conduit linking people ...

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Paul Breslin

Martinican poet, playwright, essayist, and political leader, was born on 26 June 1913, in Basse Pointe, Martinique. His parents, Fernand and Eléonore Césaire, were of modest means but devoted to their six children’s education. In 1924, Césaire entered the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. In 1931 he went to France to study at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, then, in 1935, at l’École Normale Supérieure. In Paris, Césaire developed friendships with other young black intellectuals and writers, most notably the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas (1912–1978), a French Guianese who had been his schoolmate at the Lycée Schoelcher. In 1937, he met and married a fellow Martinican student and poet, Suzanne Roussi (1915–1966). The marriage produced six children, one of whom, Ina Césaire (1942– ), became a prominent writer as well.

Césaire and his circle sought a definition of black identity They were influenced by the ...

Article

John Henrik Clarke was a central figure in late-twentieth-century vernacular American black nationalism. As a teacher, writer, and popular public speaker, he emphasized black pride, the African heritage—especially communalism—and black solidarity. From the rural South he rode a freight train to the North, where he actively participated in the literary and political life of Harlem, New York in the 1930s. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, the black bibliophile, was a major intellectual influence. Largely self-educated, Clarke became professor of Africana and Puerto Rican Studies at New York's Hunter College and president of Sankofa University, an on-line Internet school.

Born to sharecropping parents, Clarke grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and aspired to be a writer. He produced poetry, short stories (notably “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black”), and books on African history (The Lives of Great African Chiefs) and on Africans in the diaspora (Harlem U.S.A An original member ...

Article

Jacob Zumoff

Black Panther Party leader, was born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, the third child of six born to Leroy Cleaver, a nightclub pianist and waiter, and Thelma (maiden name unknown), an elementary school teacher and janitor. After a brief stay in Phoenix, Arizona, the family moved in 1947 to East Los Angeles, where Leroy Cleaver, often abusive and violent toward Eldridge and his mother, eventually abandoned them. Soon afterward, Eldridge was arrested for the first time, for stealing a bicycle, and from 1949 until 1966 he spent most of his time in reform school and prison. At one reform school in 1950, he briefly converted to Roman Catholicism—less out of religious conviction, he later recalled, than because at that school most Catholics were black or Latino and most Protestants were white. In 1952 he was returned to reform school after being caught selling marijuana.

In 1954 ...

Article

Lauren Araiza and Joshua Bloom

Cleaver, Eldridge (31 August 1935–01 May 1998), social activist and writer, was born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, the son of Leroy Cleaver, a waiter and nightclub piano player, and Thelma Hattie Robinson Cleaver, an elementary school teacher. When Cleaver was ten the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona; three years later, they moved again, this time to Los Angeles, California. Soon after, his parents separated. At this time, Cleaver became involved in criminal activities. In 1949 he was arrested for stealing a bicycle and was sent to reform school. In 1952 he was arrested for selling marijuana and was sent back to reform school. In 1954, a few days after his release, Cleaver was again arrested for marijuana possession and was sent to Soledad State Prison for a term of two and a half years.

While in Soledad Cleaver earned his high school diploma and studied ...

Article

Roger A. Berger

Born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, Leroy Eldridge Cleaver moved west to Los Angeles in 1946, where his family lived in an impoverished African American/Chicano neighborhood. In 1953 and 1957 Cleaver was convicted for narcotics possession and assault and spent almost thirteen years in the California penitentiary system. While in prison he affiliated with the Black Muslims and became an ardent follower of Malcolm X.

After his 1966 parole Cleaver worked for Ramparts magazine and met several radical and countercultural activists, among them Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, cofounders of the Oakland-based Black Panther Party, of which he soon became the minister of information. On 6 April 1968 Cleaver was wounded and arrested after a violent encounter between the Black Panthers and the Oakland police.

In February 1968 Cleaver published Soul on Ice, an enormously popular and influential collection of essays and letters on American culture race and gender ...

Article

Lawrie Balfour

Eldridge Leroy Cleaver was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. After growing up in Wabbaseka and Los Angeles, California, Cleaver spent much of his young adulthood in the California state penitentiary system. Convicted on drug and rape charges in 1953 and 1958, he used his prison time to broaden his education. During these years, Cleaver studied the teachings of the Nation of Islam and became a devoted supporter of Malcolm X. With the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, Cleaver broke his ties to the Nation of Islam and sought to carry on the mission of Malcolm X's Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Paroled in 1966, Cleaver went to work as an editor and writer for Ramparts magazine. Soon after his introduction to Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, cofounders of the Black Panther Party in Oakland California Cleaver joined the Panthers and became the party s ...

Article

Alexandra Vega-Merino

Jesús Colón was born in 1901 in Cayey, a rural town near San Juan, Puerto Rico. In a 1917 editorial, which expressed a view that remained consistent through much of his professional life, he wrote about the capacity of words to transform society. A few months later he arrived in New York, New York, where he spent the rest of his life. There, he held multiple menial jobs, such as waiting tables and washing dishes. In 1918 he became a founding member of the Puerto Rican Committee of the Socialist Party; in the following decades he became a relentless organizer of other political and cultural groups. One year after his 1922 graduation from Boys High Evening School, he started writing for Justicia, the newspaper of the Puerto Rican Free Federation of Workers. Regular columns in publications such as Gráfico and the Daily Worker followed.

Colón s essays ...

Article

Richard Watts

Raphaël Confiant was born in Le Lorrain, Martinique. Like many people on the island, Confiant was raised to speak two languages: Creole at home and French in school or at work. Confiant developed an attachment to Creole, the oft-maligned spoken language of his island, and the underclass culture associated with it. With an eye toward gaining acceptance for Creole as a literary language, Confiant wrote his first five novels in this idiom. These works—influenced by authors such as the Haitian Frankétienne (Dézafi; 1975) and the Martinican Gilbert Gratiant (Fab Compè Zicaque; 1958 who were among the first to write in Creole present the diversity of Creole culture in Martinique However these novels lack of popular success resulting in part from a limited Creole reading audience convinced Confiant that his subsequent novels should be published in French But Confiant did not simply give up on ...

Article

Frances Richardson Keller

Cooper, Anna Julia Haywood (1858?–27 February 1964), author, educator, and human rights activist, was born, probably on 10 August 1858, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Though her paternity is uncertain, she believed her mother’s master, Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, to have been her father. She later described her ancestry: “The part of my ancestors that did not come over in the Mayflower in 1620 arrived … a year earlier in the fateful Dutch trader that put in at Jamestown in 1619… . I believe that the third source of my individual stream comes … from the vanishing Red Men, which … make[s] me a genuine F.F.A. (First Family of America).”

In 1867 Anna entered the new St Augustine School in Raleigh Because there were then few teachers for African American pupils she became a student teacher at age nine Functioning ...

Article

Elizabeth J. West

Born in New York City to Charity and Boston Crum-mell, Alexander grew up in a family that placed great emphasis on freedom, independence, and education. Although his parents had not experienced the privilege of a formal education, they placed Alexander in the Mulberry Street School and hired additional private tutors for him. When Crummell decided to enter the priesthood, he applied for entry into the theological seminary of the Episcopal Church. According to Crum-mell's own account in his 1894 retirement address, “Shades and Lights”, the admissions board denied his application because its policy was to exclude blacks from positions in the church hierarchy. Crummell was then forced to study privately with sympathetic clergy. These early studies shaped the stoic and methodical style that remained evident throughout his long career as writer and orator. Although he was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1844, it was not until 1847 ...

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Stacy Braukman

radical activist, scholar, and prison abolitionist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, to Frank and Sally Davis. Her father, a former teacher, owned a service station, and her mother was a schoolteacher. Both had ties to the NAACP and friends in numerous radical groups, including the Communist Party. When Angela was four years old, her family moved from a housing project to a white neighborhood across town. The experience of being the only African Americans surrounded by hostile whites taught Davis at a young age the ravages of racism. Indeed, during the mid- to late 1940s, as more black families began moving into the area, white residents responded with violence, and the neighborhood took on the unenviable nickname “Dynamite Hill.” Davis's racial consciousness was further sharpened by attending the city's vastly inferior segregated public schools.As a junior at Birmingham s Parker High School at the age ...

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Brittney L. Yancy

actress, writer, philanthropist, activist. Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents, Marshall and Emma Wallace, worked as a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, respectively. As a baby, Ruby along with her family moved to Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Ruby's parents supplemented her education with exposure to the arts. Ruby married Frankie Dee Brown, a promoter for Schenley Distiller's Corporation. Frankie dropped his surname because Ruby preferred the name Dee. They divorced in 1945. Ruby began acting in the 1940s through an apprenticeship with the American Negro Theatre—which included Hilda Simms, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and her future husband, Ossie Davis. Dee's first stage performance was in On Strivers Row in 1940 Dee acted in a series of plays and made her Broadway debut at the Cort Theater in a ...

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Donna A. Patterson

Senegalese politician, pharmacist, and author, was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, on 30 September 1922. His father worked as a colonial official, and his mother was a homemaker. In 1935, Diop’s father died; his mother followed two years later, leaving Diop, aged fifteen, and his four siblings orphaned. The death of his parents kindled a desire to excel in his studies, and after completing his secondary education in Saint-Louis and Dakar, Diop was admitted to French West Africa’s School of Medicine and Pharmacy.

The curriculum at the School of Medicine and Pharmacy was abbreviated during the early years, with initial terms of three and fours years of study. Despite the initial brevity, graduates from these programs were extensively trained in local hospitals and clinics. Likewise, in his memoirs (Mémoires de luttes: Textes pour servir à l’histoire du Parti Africain de l’Indépendance, 2007 Diop describes his training ...

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Arnold Rampersad

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. He was born into a small community of blacks who had settled in the region since at least the Revolutionary War, in which an ancestor had fought. His mother, Mary Sylvina Burghardt, married a restless young visitor to the region, Alfred Du Bois, who disappeared soon after the birth of his son. Du Bois grew up a thorough New Englander, as he recalled, a member of the Congregational Church and a star student in the local schools, where he was encouraged to excel.

In 1885 he left Great Barrington for Nashville Tennessee to enter Fisk University The racism of the South appalled him No one but a Negro going into the South without previous experience of color caste can have any conception of its barbarism Nevertheless he enjoyed life at Fisk from which ...