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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

Rob Fink

The first image of an African American in film occurred in 1903 with the silent movie Uncle Tom's Cabin. The twelve-minute-long movie, though, starred a white actor in blackface as the title character. For African American actors and actresses, the opportunity to appear in films, and subsequently in television and serious theater productions, took a while to develop. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the white actors who portrayed black characters, such as those who performed in D. W. Griffith'sThe Birth of a Nation in 1915, established several derogatory characters. Over the next century, black actors and actresses found themselves working against these stereotypes.

The practice of excluding African Americans from performing began during the post Civil War period and extended to all forms of acting In Wild West shows and circuses black actors and actresses were almost nonexistent The African Americans who appeared usually ...

Article

Baqi<ayn>e Bedawi Muhammad

pioneer Sudanese woman singer and activist during the struggle for Sudanese independence and the first woman to perform on the radio in Sudan. Born in 1905 in Kassala City in the eastern region of Sudan, Ahmad was the eldest among her seven siblings, including three brothers and four sisters. Among them was a sister Jidawiyya who played a crucial role with Ahmad in their journey as female musicians. Ahmad’s family was originally from Nigeria and migrated to Sudan in the late nineteenth century as pilgrims on their way to the holy places in Saudi Arabia. Her father, Musa Ahmad Yahiyya, was from the Fulani-Sokoto ethnic group, while her mother, Hujra, was from Hausa. Ahmad’s nickname is Aisha al-Falatiyyia, a reference to her father’s ethnic group, the Fulani, or Fallata, as they are known in Sudan.

The documented history indicates that Sudan served as a crossroads to the holy places in ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...

Article

On January 1, 1992, the two black-owned radio networks in the United States, the National Black Network and the Sheridan Broadcasting Network, merged to become the American Urban Radio Networks. The merger represented the culmination of the effort by African Americans to participate fully in radio broadcasting.

The history of African Americans in radio can be organized into three broad categories: blackface radio, from 1920 to 1941; black-appeal radio, from 1942 to 1969; and black-controlled radio, from 1970 to the present Blackface radio describes the period during which African Americans neither provided nor consumed radio based entertainment Only one in ten black households owned a radio and blacks were generally represented by white actors and musicians in the minstrel tradition an imitation of African American culture The black performers who worked in radio tended to be cast in stereotypical roles Black humor was widely imitated most ...

Article

Maria Stilson

actor and comedian. Anderson's character Rochester, the manservant in the Jack Benny radio shows and films of the 1930s and 1940s and later on the Jack Benny Show on network television brought him fame and fortune and made him a household name in mid twentieth century America During the 1930s and later most African American screen actors and actresses who took roles in white produced Hollywood films were depicted in subservient or demeaning parts Anderson however was the independent hilariously witty favorite loved by audiences across the nation His unique ability to stir his audience with humor and sympathy made him the highest paid black actor of his time Though his role as a manservant was superficially subservient he was in fact saucy sarcastic ironic and anything but subservient His trademark answer to his boss Yes Mister Benny was delivered in a tone that let viewers know that ...

Article

The humor and energy between Benny and Anderson led to the development of a twenty-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences. The relationship between Anderson and Benny, for all of its sarcasm, wit, and camaraderie, was typical of the “Uncle Tomism” of the era. Anderson's trademark line to Benny became “What's that, Boss?” Yet blacks not only appreciated the comedy but were also pleased that the character was played by a black actor instead of by a white actor attempting to imitate black expression.

Anderson was born in Oakland, California. His parents performed in vaudeville, and he began acting when he was eight. His formal show business career began in 1919 when he appeared in a black revue and continued when he and his older brother Cornelius toured as a two-man music and dance team. After appearing in his first film, Green Pastures (1936 Anderson ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

(now Suffolk), Virginia to Florence Avery. He was one of three children whom his mother raised on her own. When he was still very young, his family moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he spent most of his early life. After graduating high school in 1963, Avery enlisted in the Navy, serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

After leaving the military, he relocated to San Diego, California and began writing for PBS. He won an LA Area Emmy Award for a show he produced, Ameda Speaks: Poet James Avery. He received a scholarship from the University of California, San Diego, from which he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor s degree in Literature and Drama Writing was always what he aspired to do professionally but his rich voice and imposing physical presence opened the door to an acting career He performed in community plays ...

Article

Clinton Palmeri

actor and voice actor, was known for his role as Judge Philip Banks in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and for the voice of the antagonist Shredder in the TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Born in Pughsville near Hampton Roads, Virginia, and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Avery's early life still remains widely unknown. His mother was Florence J. Avery; in an interview with The History Makers, Avery claimed that his father denied paternity. Additionally, Avery recalled moving to Atlantic City with his mother and struggling in high school and college as an “underachiever.”

Avery joined the US Navy in 1968, during the Vietnam War, and served until 1972 participating in several covert operations in Cambodia and Laos and in the Tet Offensive Avery liked to write poetry He developed this talent during his days in the navy when he had ...

Article

Abigail Finkelman

(b. 4 December 1973), model and talk show host. Tyra Lynne Banks was born in Los Angeles to Carolyn London, a medical photographer and business manager, and Donald Banks, a computer consultant. Her parents divorced when she was six, but their relationship remained friendly, and both parents helped manage her career. Banks attended Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girls Catholic school. She was teased, as she recalled, for being a “tall beanpole freak all the girls would laugh at” and remembered this being “a really unhappy time” (Allan). She was accepted to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Weeks before school started, she was “discovered” and began modeling at age seventeen. She said that she “didn't leave [for Paris] thinking [she] was going to be some big fashion model” and “just wanted to make money for college” (Lenord). Her first week in Paris, in 1991 she booked ...

Article

Robyn McGee

His parents were Eva Mae Reeves from Augusta, Georgia and Emory Barnes from Kansas City, Missouri. Barnes has one older sister, Joyce Higa.

Their parents arrived in Los Angeles in 1948, during the post–World War II era, a time when African Americans migrated from the American South to the West for employment. Barnes’ father was an employment consultant and a backup singer for the renowned popular entertainer Nat “King” Cole.

Barnes graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1970 and attended Los Angeles City College and Pepperdine University, majoring in Communications Arts, before leaving school in 1973. In 1995, Barnes married Toni Young, with whom he had a daughter, Nicki Barnes, who went on to a career in theater. Barnes and Young later divorced.

Barnes’ first published work The Locusts was co-written with legendary sci fi writer Larry Niven, author of the long-running Ringworld series The ...

Article

Sandra Y. Govan

A Los Angeles native and later resident of Vancouver, Washington, Steven Emory Barnes is the third African American author after 1960 to have chosen science fiction and fantasy writing as his primary profession. Barnes established himself through the 1980s as a determined and disciplined writer, one who had followed a cherished childhood dream to become a commercially successful professional writer.

The youngest child of Emory F. Barnes and Eva Mae (Reeves) Barnes, Steven Barnes grew up in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles High, Los Angeles City College, and Pepperdine University, Malibu, California (1978–1980 At Pepperdine he majored in communication arts but withdrew from school before completing a degree frustrated because he thought no one on the faculty could teach him about building a career as a professional writer It was not until Barnes made contact with established science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who sent the novice ...

Article

Stephanie Y. Evans

television, stage, and film actor. The Oscar-nominated actor Angela Bassett has managed to attain success while maintaining personal integrity and social conscience. Although her principles have cost her some measure of fame, she has appeared in more than forty television movies and films.

Bassett was born in New York City and was raised in Saint Petersburg, Florida. Her mother, a civil servant, raised Angela and her sister to value hard work and education. After an eleventh-grade Upward Bound trip to see a James Earl Jones performance, Bassett took up acting and was awarded a scholarship to Yale University. In 1980 she earned a bachelor's degree in African American studies, and she earned an MFA from the Yale School of Drama in 1983.

Bassett's screen career began in 1985, and F/X (1986) marked her feature-film debut. She gained recognition in Boyz in the Hood (1991 ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Clayton Bates was born in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He lost his leg in a cottonseed mill accident at age twelve but decided at age fifteen to tour the country with a homemade wooden leg. Bates worked as a minstrel in racially integrated vaudeville circuits. He danced in Harlem ...

Article

Peter Hudson

While Louise Bennett was not the first writer to use Jamaican dialect, the facility with which she reproduces it in her writing and performances has marked her as a pioneer. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bennett was the daughter of baker Augustus Cornelius Bennett, who died when she was seven years old, and dressmaker Kerene Robinson. Bennett, known as Miss Lou, studied social work and Jamaican folklore at Friends' College, Highgate, Jamaica. In 1945 she received a British Council Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, England.

Bennett began writing in dialect in the late 1930s, inspired by the language she heard spoken by Jamaicans on the streets of Kingston. Soon after she began writing, she staged public performances of her poems. In 1942 her first collection of poetry, Dialect Verses, was published. Starting in 1943 Bennett contributed a weekly column to ...

Article

Timothy J. O'Brien

rock-and-roll pioneer. Chuck Berry is truly the father of rock and roll. His vibrant songwriting, innovative guitar playing, and live performances inspired legions of followers, and he was the single most important figure in defining a new genre that mixed country and rhythm and blues.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born to Henry William Berry Sr., a carpenter, and Martha Bell Banks, a housewife, in Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1926. The family belonged to a Baptist church, and Berry's earliest memories were of his parents singing gospel songs around the house. His first try at show business, singing “Confessin’ the Blues” to a friend's guitar accompaniment at a high school talent show, inspired him to play guitar.

While still in high school in Saint Louis he left for a trip to California with two friends When their money ran low they robbed a few small businesses and ...

Article

Charmaine A. Flemming

In 2002 the highest honor for a film actor, the Oscar, was awarded for the first time to an African American female, Halle Berry, for her work in Monster’s Ball. Berry is considered one of America’s most beautiful women, a first-rate performer, and one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading ladies.

Born to Jerome and Judith Berry in Cleveland, Ohio, Halle Berry was the second daughter of this interracial couple. Halle and her older sister, Heidi, lived their early childhood years in an inner-city neighborhood. When Berry was four, her abusive father left the family, leaving his daughters to be raised almost totally by their mother, a psychiatric nurse. Some time later, Judith Berry moved Halle and her sister to the predominantly white Cleveland suburb of Bedford.

When discussing the family s move to Bedford Berry said it was there that her growth as an interracial child and teenager was ...

Article

Stephanie Y. Evans

actor. Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Jerome Berry, an African American hospital attendant, and Judith Hawkins Berry, a white psychiatric nurse. Leaving an abusive relationship, Judith Berry moved Halle and her older sister Heidi to the Cleveland suburb of Bedford where, despite many racist attitudes, Halle flourished in high school.

In 1985 Berry won the Miss Teen All American pageant, in 1986 she was first runner-up in the Miss USA pageant, and also in 1986 she represented the United States in the Miss World competition in London. After her pageants she enrolled in Cleveland's Cuyahoga Community College to study broadcast journalism. She moved to Chicago and then to Manhattan, where she managed to get small roles in several television programs.

Berry first gained widespread recognition as Vivian, a crack addict, in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991), and she won roles in The ...

Article

Scott Sheidlower

singer and actress. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles—or, as she is also known, Beyoncé—was born to Mathew and Tina Knowles in Houston, Texas. Her father sold medical scanners, and her mother ran a hair salon. With LaTavia Roberson and Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé was recruited by two Houston businessmen to form a preteen rhythm-and-blues group under the name Girl's Tyme, which the businessmen managed. In 1992 the group appeared on a nationally syndicated televised talent competition, Star Search, and lost doing a rap song.

Shortly thereafter Beyoncé's father took over as her manager. He added LeToya Luckett to the group, creating a rhythm-and-blues quartet that they named the Dolls. The Dolls began to perform in concerts starring artists such as Nas. In 1997 they changed their name to Destiny s Child and they signed with the Columbia recording label Their first recording Killing Time appeared on the soundtrack for ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Black Entertainment Television Holdings, Inc. (BET Holdings) was founded in 1979 by former cable industry lobbyist Robert Johnson. The company's primary business is its twenty-four-hour cable channel, Black Entertainment Television Cable Network (BET). The BET Cable Network has an estimated 45 million subscribers nationwide and its predominantly black viewing audience has transformed this once-struggling company into a powerful social and economic force in the media industry.

BET began by broadcasting music videos in 1980 and eleven years later became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Since then BET has diversified its holdings by moving into the publishing industry. The company publishes several magazines targeting black readers, including Emerge, BET Weekend, and Heart & Soul. The company has also acquired three other cable channels, including a cable jazz channel (BET on Jazz) and the BET Movies/Starz! channel. In 1994 BET ...