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Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...


Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...


Violet J. Harris

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the achievements of black women authors who create children books have been nothing short of remarkable. Virginia Hamilton and Angela Johnson received the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Award, and Mildred Taylor continued to win Newbery Honor Medals for her historical fiction series, The Land. A dozen new writers were routinely published. Two authors, Connie Porter and Deborah Gregory, entered the lucrative world of television movies and sidelines—products based on a literary character, such as dolls, CD-ROMS, and clothing—with series fiction, Meet Addy, an American Girl product, and The Cheetah Girls, a Disney Corporation creation. Comparable achievements are apparent on the editorial and production side of publishing. Burnette Ford and Andrea Davis Pinkney assumed major editorial positions in mainstream companies, while Cheryl Willis-Hudson left a career in publishing to found Just Us Books with her husband Librarians critical advocates of ...


Eva M. Thompson

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass purchased his final home, which he named Cedar Hill and is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. In addition to the more than one thousand periodicals and three thousand artifacts and archival materials housed in his library, there are also three thousand books. Two of these works are by Douglass himself: his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), considered by scholars to be an exemplary tale of the male heroic figure in African American literature; and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1893), his third and final telling of his experiences as a slave, former slave, and public figure. His library represents the university that Douglass did not attend and his determination to overcome just such a disadvantage. In Life and Times ...


A. B. Christa Schwarz

novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Obscuring details of her private life, cutting off friends in her later life, and dying in obscurity, Larsen, acclaimed novelist of the African American cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, was fittingly dubbed the Renaissance's “mystery woman” by Mary Helen Washington. It thus does not surprise that, while her literary reputation mainly rests on her two short novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), Larsen is the subject of three biographical studies. Charles R. Larson and Thadious M. Davis were the first who attempted to uncover Larsen's life, the many threads of which George Hutchinson has tried to pick up and untangle in a biography that corrects many misconceptions about Larsen's life and work.

Starting off life humbly, Larsen was born Nellie Walker to the Danish immigrant Mary Hansen Walker and the West Indian cook Peter Walker in Chicago ...


Saundra Liggins

Sharon Bell Mathis's concern for the welfare of young people is evident in her career as a teacher and librarian, but closest to her heart is her role as author. Mathis explains that “I write to salute the strength in Black children and to say to them, ‘Stay strong, stay Black and stay alive’” (quoted in Something about the Author, vol. 3, 1987).

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mathis grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she attended parochial schools. Her parents, John Willie and Alice Mary Frazier Bell exposed her to a vast array of literary works and encouraged her to write poems stories and plays Despite her affinity for this work however Mathis decided not to pursue a career as an author believing that she would neither be able to make a living at it nor be as great a contributor ...


Hassoum Ceesay

director of The Gambia National Library and author of the first Gambian Who’s Who, was born in Bathurst and attended the Methodist Girls’ High School. She worked at the General Post Office and later at the British Council. She pioneered library services in The Gambia, and she was one of the earliest professional librarians in black Africa. In 1957, she had a yearlong internship at the Ghana National Library Board, and did further studies in the United Kingdom, where she qualified as a chartered librarian in 1959. At the time, very few Gambian women were in professions outside the traditionally female jobs of teaching, nursing, and secretarial work.

Bishop John Daley of the Anglican Mission opened the first public library in Banjul in 1945; a year later, the British Council opened its library and reading room. When the British Council closed operations in 1963 it handed ...


Francisco Ortega

Little is known about the life of Arnoldo Palacios, an intensely private man. He grew up in his native Chocó, Colombia and moved to Bogotá to continue his studies at the Universidad Nacional. Later, he left the country and lived in France and the Soviet Union. His reputation was established in 1949 with publication of the critically acclaimed novel Las estrellas son negras (The Stars Are Black). Set on the riverbank of the Atrato River, in the department of Chocó, it portrays the brutal impact of utter poverty and social marginalization on the region's black communities. In its detached and cold depiction of the cruelest aspects of poverty, the novel recalls other classics in the genre such as Knut Hamsun's Hunger (1890), Richard Wright's American Hunger (1977), and Carolina Maria de Jesus's Quarto de Despejo (1962; Child of the Dark). As Richard ...


Eddie Chambers

The first substantial body of photographic images of the black presence in Britain date back to the years and decades immediately following the end of the Second World War.

1.Documenting success: 1940s–1970s

2.Vanley Burke

3.Armet Francis

4.Horace Ové

5.The 1980s onwards


Sowande' Mustakeem

Undoubtedly one of the few professors of history to have a second career as a singer-songwriter, Bernice Johnson Reagon continues to focus her work on sharing the historical legacy of the African American experience amid the relentless quest for freedom and justice within America.

Reagon was born in Albany, Georgia, one of eight children of Jessie Johnson, a carpenter, and Beatrice Johnson, a housekeeper. On days off from her housekeeping job, Beatrice Johnson picked cotton. Jessie Johnson served onSundays as minister at four different rural Baptist churches. Reagon’s musical foundation was largely shaped by the influence of the southwestern Georgia choral tradition in her father’s church, which was part of a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. Reagon entered Albany State College in 1959 where she studied Italian arias and German lieder as a contralto soloist During this time she became active in the civil ...


Rita B. Dandridge

A multitalented professional, Ann Allen Shockley has contributed to various fields, yet her contributions as writer remain invisible to much of America.

Born 21 June 1927, in Louisville, Kentucky, Shockley is the only daughter of Henry and Bessie Lucas Allen, both social workers. To her parents and a devoted eighth-grade teacher, she has attributed her insatiable desire to read and write. She edited her junior high school newspaper, wrote short pieces in the Louisville Defender, and penned essays and short fiction for the Fisk Herald while an undergraduate at Fisk University (1944–1948)—all before her twenty-first birthday. These early pieces show Shockley's interest in social and cultural issues.

In 1949 Shockley began a weekly column called “Ebony Topics” for the Federalsburg Times (Md.). From 1950 to 1953 she penned a similar column for the Bridgeville News, in Bridgeville, Delaware, where she resided with her husband, William ...


Dorothy B. Porter

Henry Proctor Slaughter was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Sarah Jane Smith and Charles Henry Slaughter. When he was six years old his father died, leaving his mother with two boys and a girl. He sold newspapers to help support his mother, and as he worked his way through school he became the main support of his family. After graduating as salutatorian from Central High School, he served his apprenticeship as a printer on the Louisville Champion. There he became associate editor with Horace Morris, who in 1894 was deputy grand master of the Prince Hall Masons of Kentucky. Slaughter also began to write feature articles for local daily newspapers.

By 1893 Slaughter was foreman of Champion Publishing Company, and in 1894 he became associate editor of the Lexington Standard. Shortly afterward, as manager of the Standard he was described as making ...


Barbara McCaskill

and muse and confidante to Harlem Renaissance intellectuals and literati. Anne Spencer was born inauspiciously on a Virginia plantation. Yet the combination of loving, though irreconcilable, parents and an unorthodox, isolated youth formed her extraordinary independence, introspection, and conviction.

Her father, Joel Cephus Bannister of African American white and Native American descent and her mother Sarah Louise Scales the mulatta daughter of a slaveholder separated when Spencer was six While her mother worked as an itinerant cook Spencer roomed with foster parents in Bramwell West Virginia where no other black children lived In insular and parochial Bramwell she was groomed for the African American bourgeoisie Her mother dressed her in the finest frocks she could afford and withheld her from an outlying school that enrolled working class children until she could attend Lynchburg s Virginia Seminary with socially suitable African American students Spencer entered the seminary at age eleven ...


Dora Jean Ashe

Spencer, Anne (06 February 1882–27 July 1975), poet, librarian, and teacher, was born Annie Bethel Scales Bannister in Henry County, near Danville, Virginia, the daughter of Joel Cephus Bannister, a former slave and saloon owner, and Sarah Louise Scales. The only child of divorced parents, at the age of eleven Annie was sent to Virginia Seminary in Lynchburg, where she excelled in literature and languages. After graduating in 1899 she taught for two years, then in 1901 married fellow student Edward Spencer and lived the rest of her life in Lynchburg.

Outwardly it was a pleasant life that Spencer spent with her husband, a postal worker, and their three children in a comfortable house built in part by Edward. For twenty years (1925–1945) Anne Spencer was a librarian and part-time teacher of literature and language at the all-black Dunbar High School, named for the poet Paul Laurence ...