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April Taylor

Born Wesley Cook in Philadelphia, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a political activist from adolescence. At the age of fourteen he was arrested and beaten for demonstrating against segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace. He was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1968 and worked on the party's newspaper in California during the summer of 1970.

Returning to Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal became a radio journalist with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and had his own talk show on station WUHY. He was highly critical of Philadelphia's police department and of the city's “law and order” mayor, Frank Rizzo. He provided coverage of the police treatment of MOVE, a Philadelphia black militant group, which further alienated the authorities. Forced to leave his position as a journalist, Abu-Jamal took a job as a taxi driver.

While Abu Jamal was driving his cab on the ...

Article

Leticia Franqui-Rosario

was born Wilfred Robert Adams, in Georgetown, British Guiana (now Guyana), the son of Robert Adams, a boat builder. He was educated in Georgetown at St. Stephen’s Scots School, and St. Joseph’s Intermediate. He studied engineering drafting, but then trained as a teacher at the leading British West Indian teachers’ training college, Mico College in Jamaica. After his marriage broke down, he left for England, arriving there in September 1930. Failing to study law because of a lack of the necessary qualifications, he did a number of menial jobs and even became a professional wrestler with the name “The Black Eagle” (there is a 1934 painting by William Roberts of one of his bouts).

Acting then took over. His stage debut, with Paul Robeson in Stevedore, received favorable reviews. A year later he played Jean-Jacques Dessalines to Robeson’s Toussaint Louverture in C. L. R. James’s Toussaint Louverture ...

Article

John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

Article

Greer C. Bosworth

attorney, was born Sherry Franchesca Bellamy in Harlem, New York, the youngest of seven children of Athelston Alhama Bellamy and Mary Elizabeth Reeves. Sherry's father, born and raised in Harlem, was a career military officer who served with the Tuskegee Airmen and eventually rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Air Force. After retiring from the military he became a court officer and court clerk in the Civil Court of the City of New York. Sherry's mother was born and raised on a race-horse breeding farm outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Sherry grew up in Harlem and graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School, a Roman Catholic high school whose graduates include many successful minority judges, attorneys, and other professionals.

In 1974 Bellamy graduated from Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, with a BA in Political Science. She later received her juris doctor in 1977 from Yale Law School During ...

Article

Adam Rosen

subject of popular civil rights ballad by the renowned American folksinger Bob Dylan, lived her adult life, and possibly childhood, in Baltimore, Maryland. The sensationalist circumstances surrounding Carroll's death, which occurred eight hours after being assaulted by a wealthy white farmer at the hotel where she was working, coupled with the short sentence given to Carroll's victimizer, sparked a national outcry over the treatment of blacks in the United States. Within months of the verdict, Bob Dylan—at the time a relatively unknown twenty-two-year-old—wrote the song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a haunting elegy that would memorialize the incident, although with considerable inaccuracy. Little information is available on Carroll's early life, but at the time of her death she was a resident of Cherry Hill, the United States' first planned neighborhood for African Americans and a major residence for returning black World War II veterans. Carroll's husband, James ...

Article

Edward J. Robinson

evangelist, farmer, educator, postmaster, justice of the peace, and “race man,” was born Samuel in Prince William County, Virginia. Even though an oral tradition among Cassius's descendants insists that Robert E. Lee was his biological father, circumstantial evidence suggests that James W. F. Macrae, a white physician and politician and relative of Robert E. Lee, was probably his father and Jane, an enslaved African, was his mother (Robinson). After emancipation Cassius probably added the names “Robert” to commemorate Robert E. Lee's kindness of purchasing him and his mother to prevent them from being sold to the Deep South and he may have attached Cassius to honor the ancient Roman general as many slaves adopted names of famous people from classical antiquity Robinson Little is known about Samuel s mother a slave who served in the Macrae household While working for the Macrae family as a house servant ...

Article

John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

radio personality and conservative pundit, was born Laurence Allen Elder, the middle of three sons of Randolph Elder, who owned a local café, and Viola Elder. The family called the Pico-Union neighborhood of Los Angeles home, and it was in Los Angeles that the young Elder attended school. Both his father and mother placed a heavy emphasis on education and hard work. Elder's father had scrimped and saved and faced years of prejudice before being able to open his own business. Elder's mother urged her son to pursue a life of education. Elder took their lessons to heart, graduating from Crenshaw High in 1970 near the top of his class and matriculating to Brown University. He graduated with a B.S. in Political Science in 1974. He continued his education at the University of Michigan Law School, from which he earned the J.D. in 1977 ...

Article

Reid Badger

(b Mobile, AL, Feb 22, 1880; d Boston, May 9, 1919). American bandleader and composer. A champion of black American music and musicians, he played a significant role in the transformation of orchestral ragtime into jazz. As a teenager in Washington, DC, Europe studied the violin, the piano and composition. After moving to New York in 1903, he continued his studies informally with organist Meville Charlton and singer/composer Henry T. Burleigh. By 1909 he had achieved considerable success as a composer of popular songs and as music director for several important theatrical productions, including Red Moon (1908–9) and Mr Lode of Koal (1909). The following year he organized and was elected president of the Clef Club, the first effective union for black musicians in the city’s history. He also conducted the club’s symphony orchestra. On 2 May 1912 ...

Article

Reid Badger

music administrator, conductor, and composer, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Henry J. Europe, an Internal Revenue Service employee and Baptist minister, and Lorraine Saxon. Following the loss of his position with the Port of Mobile at the end of the Reconstruction, Europe's father moved his family to Washington, D.C., in 1890 to accept a position with the U.S. Postal Service. Both of Europe's parents were musical, as were some of his siblings. Europe attended the elite M Street High School for blacks and studied violin, piano, and composition with Enrico Hurlei of the U.S. Marine Corps band and with Joseph Douglass, the grandson of Frederick Douglass.

Following the death of his father in 1900 Europe moved to New York City There he became associated with many of the leading figures in black musical theater which was then emerging from the ...

Article

Bill Egan

musician. James Reese “Jim” Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama, the fifth of six children. His parents were Henry J. Europe, a former slave and a Baptist pastor employed in various public positions, and Lorraine Saxon Europe, a teacher. Europe learned music from his mother, playing violin and later mandolin.

In 1889 the family moved to Washington, D.C. John Philip Sousa was a close neighbor, and Europe received tuition on piano and violin from Enrico Hurlei, the assistant director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Around 1903 Europe moved to New York and studied with the noted African American composer and spirituals expert Harry T. Burleigh. Though aware of his traditional religious heritage, Europe embraced secular black music—ragtime and the show music of entertainers like Bert Williams and George Walker, Ernest Hogan, and Bob Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson He joined Hogan ...

Article

Norman Weinstein

Prince Far I was born Michael Williams in Spanish Town and grew up in the Waterhouse area of Kingston, Jamaica. His musical career began in 1970 when he convinced the Reggae producer Coxsone Dodd (who employed him as a security guard at Studio One, Jamaica's most famous recording studio) to let him record when a scheduled musician failed to appear for a session. Dodd was so taken by Prince Far I's talent as a DJ (someone chanting or talking-singing spontaneously over prerecorded rhythm tracks) that he released several Prince Far I recordings under the name he created for the performer, King Cry-Cry As he gained confidence and sought other producers for his recordings Williams changed his name to Prince Far I Distinguishing features of his recordings under the name King Cry Cry or Prince Far I include a thunderously deep bass delivery of intensively personal lyrics laced ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

drummer, producer, and member of Booker T. and the MGs, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Little is known of his mother, but his father Al Jackson Sr., led one of Memphis's most popular big bands, and it was with his father that Al Jr. first played professionally, beginning as a drummer at age ten. This apprenticeship proved fulfilling for the young musician: he got to play the jazz of his musical idols, and his tenure with his father won him gigs with the prominent dance groups led by Ben Branch and Willie Mitchell, respectively. These bands, which bridged the gap between postwar jazz and 1950s R&B, performed regularly in black clubs around the region, like the Flamingo Room and Plantation Inn. Aside from his steady gig, playing with the highly talented Mitchell soon brought Jackson into contact with Booker T. Jones a prodigious keyboardist ...

Article

Regina N. Barnett

hip-hop and DJ pioneer, was born Jason William Mizell, the youngest of Connie and Jessie Mizell's three children. The family lived in Brooklyn, New York, where his mother Connie was a teacher and his father Jessie was a social worker. Moving to the Hollis neighborhood of Queens from Brooklyn in 1975, Mizell quickly became a respected and powerful force in that small neighborhood. While Mizell was a student at Andrew Jackson High School, teachers and students alike would ask him to stop altercations between students because of his dominating presence and amiable nature. Mizell dropped out of high school but eventually obtained his equivalency diploma. Drumming, playing the guitar, and socializing with friends took up most of Mizell's free time. Mizell credited a desire to be “part of the hottest thing” as one of the main reasons for becoming a DJ in an interview with DJ Times ...

Article

Bill McCulloch and Barry Lee Pearson

blues artist, was born Nehemiah James in Yazoo County, outside Bentonia, Mississippi, the son of Eddie James and Phyllis Jones. His father, reputed to be a musician and a bootlegger, moved north to Sidon, near Greenwood, to evade the law, leaving Skip with his mother on the Woodbine plantation, where she worked as a cook. After an attempt to reunite the family in Sidon failed, Skip and his mother returned to Bentonia, where he attended St. Paul School and Yazoo High School. At the age of eight or nine, inspired by local musicians—particularly the guitarist Henry Stuckey—Skip persuaded his mother to buy him a guitar. At the age of twelve he took one piano lesson from a cousin. Unable to pay for more lessons, he continued learning on an organ owned by an aunt.

After dropping out of high school at about age fifteen James went to ...

Article

Shana L. Redmond

taxi driver whose videotaped beating by police officers in March 1991 provoked international outrage, was born in Sacramento, California, to working-class parents. His father was a construction worker and cleaner, and as a child Rodney worked long hours as a cleaner along with his father. His work schedule along with a learning disability contributed to his lack of academic success, and despite considerable athletic ability, he dropped out in 1984 during his senior year of high school. Afterward King found work in construction. During his early adulthood he had two daughters and married Crystal Waters, a woman with two children of her own. Prior to 1991 King was in and out of jail for crimes ranging from robbery to intoxication.King became an international celebrity and emblem of police abuse in 1991, when a videotape, shot by the amateur cameraman George Holliday was broadcast by Los Angeles ...

Article

Robert Farrell

hip-hop artist and performer. Born Christopher George Latore Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G. released only two full-length albums during his lifetime. His work under the names “Biggie Smalls” and “Notorious B.I.G.,” guided by the producer Sean Combs, had a lasting stylistic influence on late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century rap music. With the aid of Combs's shrewd executive productions and canny sense for hit making, Wallace's recordings blended street-level gangsta raps with a pop sensibility, a formula similar to that of the West Coast rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

The son of a Jamaican immigrant, Volleta Wallace, and a Jamaican father, George Letore Wallace was born and raised in Brooklyn New York His parents soon separated leaving Wallace to be raised by his mother in the Clinton Hill Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn Wallace was doted on by his mother who after attaining her GED went on to ...

Article

Notorious B.I.G. was born Christopher Wallace in New York City. His debut album, Ready to Die, appeared on Sean “P. Diddy” Combs's Bad Boy Entertainment music label in 1995. The record was a critical and commercial success, exhibiting the rapper's lyrical talents through a series of taut, first-person narratives chronicling life as a hustler on the streets of New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The grim humor of B.I.G.'s lyrics emphasized the claustrophobia of his ghetto universe. On “Warning,” he raps, “There's gonna be a lot of slow singing / and flower bringing / If my burglar alarm starts ringing.” Songs like “Suicidal Thoughts” and “Things Done Changed” helped create one of “gangsta rap's” most sophisticated personas, a strange brew of subdued self-loathing and energetic violence. In B.I.G.'s world, the sexual boasting typical of Rap and Hip-Hop became an occasion for self parody as on Me Interlude ...

Article

Todd Steven Burroughs

journalist and prisoner, was born in Lawtell, Louisiana, to Gladys a and Rideau's family moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana, when he was six years old. His parents divorced before he became a teenager. He attended the Second Ward Elementary School, followed by the W.-O. Boston Colored High School until he dropped out.

Rideau worked a series of menial jobs from age thirteen to nineteen, when he was convicted of robbery and murder. On 16 February 1961, he robbed the Gulf National Bank. During thefourteen-thousand-dollar heist, he kidnapped three of the bank's white employees and killed one of them, Julia Ferguson, a forty-nine-year-old woman. An all-white, all-male jury convicted him and sentenced him to death that same year. He would be tried again by all-white, all-male juries in 1964 and in 1970 and he would remain in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola known nationally for being ...

Article

attorney, was born in Navasota, Texas, the daughter of Frank and Sarah E. Reinhardt Durden. Her birth year is chronicled in some sources as 1880 and in others as 1883 (and erroneously listed as 1909 in yet others). She completed high school in Parsons, Kansas, and received a degree from Quincy (Illinois) Business College (reportedly in 1906, although Who's Who in Colored America listed 1919 as her graduating year). She moved to Des Moines, Iowa, in 1907, where she married James B. Rush on 23 December of that year. She subsequently obtained a BA at Des Moines College in 1914 and prepared for the Iowa bar exam by reading law with her husband, a successful criminal trial attorney; she also took some courses at Drake University Law School in Des Moines. Her husband passed away prior to the completion of her studies.

When she was admitted ...