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Ariel Bookman

Nigerian novelist, poet, dramatist, educator, and political activist, was born Christopher Uchechukwu Andrew Abani, on 27 December 1966, in Afikpo, Nigeria. Abani’s life has been dramatically shaped but not defined by the political violence associated with the Nigerian state. Born in the Igbo heartland of southeast Nigeria to an Igbo father and British mother, Abani was six months old when the Biafran War began. His mother fled to Britain with him and his siblings, an experience that he would later narrate in poetic form in Daphne’s Lot (2003). Returning to Nigeria after the war, Abani demonstrated precocious literary talent, publishing his first short story at age ten and finishing his first novel, Masters of the Board (1984), at sixteen. The novel, a political thriller, imagines a Nazi plot to return to power by using unwitting Third World governments as its pawns.

Abani was arrested in ...

Article

Sierra Leonean public intellectual, was born in the southwest Nigerian city of Abeokuta in 1848. His father was from the Krio community in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Many people from Freetown were former slaves originally of Yoruba descent, and still others traded in southern Nigeria by the 1840s. His father may have been a Muslim notable in Freetown, but his Christian missionary uncle took him under his wing. His parents agreed to send him to the Church Missionary Society (Anglican) mission school in Freetown. Though he did not stay long in school, Abayomi-Cole proved to be a formidable intellect. He mastered Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. In the 1870s and early 1880s, Abayomi-Cole made a living as a teacher. His lively intelligence attracted the interest of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which appointed him a catechist in the Sierra Leonean town of Shenge in the Shebro district in 1885 ...

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Alice Bernstein

carpenter, newspaper editor, and state representative during Reconstruction, was born free, of “unmixed African blood,” in New Bern, North Carolina, to Israel B. Abbott and Gracie Maria Green. His father died in 1844, and Abbott was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Hannah, the wife of Bristow Rue (Rhew). His mother's second husband was Nelson Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Hannah Cora, and stepsons Samuel H. Brown and George M. Brown. She married her third husband, the Reverend Joseph Green, a Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, in 1854. When Abbott was four, his grandmother contributed one dollar toward his education, and he attended a school taught by Mrs. Jane Stevens. He went to school regularly until age ten, when he began serving two years as apprentice to a carpenter, completing his trade with his stepfather, Joseph Green ...

Article

Ellis Goldberg

Egyptian jurist, government official, and author of one of the most important and controversial books of the twentieth century on Islam and politics, Islam and the Foundations of Governance. This short book, published in 1925, caused a storm of protest, and ʿAbd al-Raziq was arraigned before a jury of Egyptian religious leaders (including the grandfather of the late-twentieth-century al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri) and officially stripped of his status as a religious scholar (ʿalim).

Abd al-Raziq was born in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya to a well-known and relatively well-off family. He studied at Al-Azhar University. Although he was too young to have known the prominent Egyptian ʿalim Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905), his work appears to have been influenced by Abduh’s break with prevailing orthodoxy. Abduh was the highest jurisconsult (mufti) in Egypt at the time of his death. In 1915 ʿAbd al Raziq became a ...

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Ann Biersteker

Kenyan poet, is East Africa’s most renowned contemporary Kiswahili poet, even though he has published only one collection of poetry and one epic poem. He is a political activist and scholar and teaches Swahili at Leipzig University in Germany.

Abdilatif ʿAbdalla was born in 1946 in Mombasa, Kenya. He was raised by his grandfather Ahmad Basheikh bin Hussein, who was a poet and teacher. ʿAbdalla attended primary school in Faza and Takaungu and did secondary studies through the British Tutorial College. He worked briefly as an assistant accountant for the Mombasa City Council. In the late 1960s Abdalla wrote and distributed a political pamphlet, Kenya Twendapi? (Kenya, Where Are We Headed?), in support of the opposition party the Kenya People’s Union (KPU). During the government crackdown on KPU activities, ʿAbdalla was arrested on 20 December 1968 and detained for three years He was held first in Kamiti prison ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

The son of an Ethiopian father and a mother of French and African descent, Peter Abrahams was considered “Coloured” in the South African racial classification scheme. He grew up outside Johannesburg and began working at the age of nine, never having attended school. He later enrolled, however, after he was inspired by hearing Othello read to him by a coworker. As a teenager Abrahams discovered works by African American writers such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer in the library at the Bantu Men's Social Centre.

Abrahams began publishing his own poems in local newspapers while studying at a teachers’ training college. While enrolled at St. Peter's Secondary School—a fertile political environment—Abrahams became a member of the Communist Party of South Africa (later renamed the South African Communist Party After his failed attempt to start a school for poor African ...

Article

Jessica Falconi

Angolan anthropologist, writer, and political activist, was born Mário de Carvalho Moutinho in Lisbon on 29 September 1932. Portuguese by birth and Angolan by nationality, Henrique Abranches also used the pseudonyms “Mwene Kalungo” and “Mwene Kalungo-Lungo.” In 1947 he and his family left Portugal to settle in Luanda, where he attended the Liceu Salvador Correia, a pioneering institution of secondary education in Angola whose students included several names that were later important in Angolan literature. After five years in Luanda, Abranches moved to the city of Sá de Bandeira (now Lubango) in the Huíla Plateau in southern Angola, where he became interested in the customs and traditions of the people of the region. He returned briefly to Portugal, where he finished secondary school and attended the Society of Fine Arts. He returned to Lubango on his own and began working for the Bank of Angola. In 1952 he ...

Article

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

Christopher Phelps

a Philadelphia radio journalist who became an international icon in debates over race and the death penalty after he was convicted for the murder of a police officer, was born Wesley Cook to Edith and William Cook, migrants from the South. The family subsisted on welfare in the housing projects of North Philadelphia. As a boy Cook read avidly and sought enlightenment, attending services with his Baptist mother and Episcopalian father, then dabbling in Judaism, Catholicism, and the Nation of Islam. When he was about ten years old his father died of a heart attack, prompting him to assume a protective role toward his twin brother, Wayne, and younger brother, William.

The black liberation movement shaped Cook's coming of age. In a 1967 school class in Swahili, a Kenyan teacher assigned him the first name Mumia. In 1968 at age fourteen he and some friends protested ...

Article

Todd Steven Burroughs

radical prison journalist and author. Mumia Abu-Jamal was born Wesley Cook in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a teenager in the 1960s he was attracted to the Black Panther Party (BPP). Cook—christened “Mumia” by one of his high school teachers—helped form the BPP's Philadelphia chapter in spring 1969 and became the chapter's lieutenant of information. He wrote articles for the Black Panther, the party's national newspaper, and traveled to several cities to perform BPP work. He left the party in the fall of 1970 because of the split between Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton.

After attending Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont Cook now calling himself Mumia Abu Jamal the surname is Arabic for father of Jamal Jamal being his firstborn returned to Philadelphia and began a radio broadcasting career in the early 1970s Abu Jamal was part of the first generation of black journalists to become professional newscasters for ...

Article

Mpalive Msiska

Nigerian novelist, was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on 15 November 1930 at Saint Simon’s Church, Nneobi, near Ogidi, in British colonial Nigeria. His father, Isaiah Okafo Achebe, was a teacher and evangelist and his mother, Janet Anaenechi Iloeghunam, was from the Awka area of eastern Nigeria. Until the age of five, Achebe was brought up at a church school, where his father taught. When his father went into semiretirement in 1935 in Ogidi, Achebe became a child of two worlds, the modern world and the world of indigenous tradition. He began primary school at Saint Philip’s Central School at Akpakaogwe, Ogidi, moving on to Nekede Central School near Owerri in 1942. Achebe developed into a studious young man, passing entrance examinations for two prestigious secondary schools.

It was at Government College Umuahia which had a good library and extremely able and dedicated teachers that Achebe cultivated his love of ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

journalist and public official, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the younger son of the Reverend Henry and Margaret Priscilla (Corbin) Adams. Their father administered a respected school in Louisville. Cyrus and his older brother, John Quincy Adams (1848–1922), received excellent educations, Cyrus graduating from preparatory school and college at Oberlin College. In 1877 Cyrus began to teach in the Louisville public schools, and soon pooled savings with his brother to open the weekly Louisville Bulletin. They ran the newspaper until 1885, when it was acquired by the American Baptist newspaper owned by William Henry Steward, chairman of trustees at State University, a black Baptist university in Louisville, where Cyrus taught German. Already a dedicated traveler, Cyrus had spent much of 1884 in Europe, and was also fluent in Italian, French, and Spanish.

Both brothers had served as Louisville correspondents for the Western Appeal ...

Article

Wilbert H. Ahern

John Quincy Adams was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican Party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican Party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return ...

Article

Wilbert H. Ahern

newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican Party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both of his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas during Reconstruction. By 1874 Adams had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican Party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican Party in 1874 and the ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...

Article

Melissa Castillo-Garsow

was born Maymie Leona Turpeau De Mena in 1891, to Isabella Regist and Francisco Hiberto De Mena in San Carlos, Nicaragua. She was raised in an upper-middle-class family—her father was the government minister of lands in San Carlos—and was privately educated. De Mena traveled to the United States in 1913–1914 and 1917–1925. She was employed as a clerk-stenographer and teacher before she began her career in Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) as an interpreter, lecturer, organizer, and journalist. Originally, she joined the Chicago chapter of the UNIA, serving as one of their delegates to the national convention in 1924.

Although in 1925 she was still listed as part of the Chicago UNIA, following her participation at the 1924 convention De Mena was tapped by Garvey to accompany George Emonei Carter and Henrietta Vinton Davis on the SS Goethals when it toured the Caribbean to ...

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Rosemary Elizabeth Galli

nationalist, journalist and indigenous rights advocate, was born in Magul, Mozambique, on 2 November 1876. His father, Francisco Albasini, married the granddaughter of the head of Maxacuene clan in the Portuguese colony’s capital; her name is not recorded. João dos Santos was also known by his Ronga nickname, Wadzinguele. His grandfather João Albasini, a Portuguese trader, later established himself and a second family in the republic of the Transvaal where he became the vice-consul of Portugal. João dos Santos Albasini received a limited education at the Catholic Mission of Saint José Lhenguene; secondary education was not available in Mozambique. However, he was a keen reader especially of political tracts and gained great facility in writing both Portuguese and Ronga. Sometime around 1897 Albasini married Bertha Carolina Heitor Mwatilo but the marriage was unhappy and they divorced in 1917. They had two children.

As Albasini reached adulthood Portugal defeated ...

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Frances Smith Foster

Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert 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. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in The House of Bondage, the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They were married in 1874 and had one daughter.

Sometime around 1877 Albert s ...

Article

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 ...

Article

lawyer, businessman, and secretary of the army, was born in New York City, the only child of Clifford Leopold Sr. and Edith McAllister. Alexander's father, a Jamaican native, became an apartment building manager of Harlem's Young Christian Association. His mother was from Yonkers, New York, where she worked for a real estate firm. Later she headed the New York City welfare department. She was the first African American woman to get elected to the Democratic Party's Electoral College. In this position she became a prominent figure in the broader civil rights struggle. Both parents inspired Alexander's later work to end racial discrimination.

Alexander spent his childhood in New York City. He received his early education at the Ethical Cultural School and Fieldston Schools in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, Alexander went to Harvard University. Here he met McGeorge Bundy Harvard s Dean of Arts ...