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Alma Jean Billingslea Brown

civil rights activist, educator, and businesswoman, was born Juanita Odessa Jones in Uniontown, Alabama, the youngest of eight children of Ella Gilmore Jones and Alex Jones Sr., an influential and prosperous black farmer in Perry County, Alabama. When Alabama telephone and electric companies refused to provide service to the Jones homestead, Alex Jones Sr. and his brothers installed their own telephone lines and wired their own homes for electricity. One consequence of the family's financial independence was that Juanita was able to attend boarding school from age five until she graduated from high school in Selma, Alabama, where she had older sisters in attendance at the historically black Selma University. After high school, in 1947 Jones enrolled in Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in business education with a minor in history and social studies. She returned to Alabama after earning a BS in 1951 ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

emigrationist leader, was born Henry Houston in Newton County, Georgia, to enslaved parents whose names are not now known. Most of what is known of Henry Adams's personal life is derived from testimony he offered in 1880 to the United States Senate during a government investigation of the causes of mass African American emigration from the former states of the Confederacy.

Henry was given the surname Adams when a planter of that name brought him and his family to Desoto Parish, Louisiana, in 1850. He used that surname for the rest of his life. Upon the planter's death eight years later ownership of Henry and his family was transferred to a teenage girl, Nancy Emily Adams who hired the family out to various plantations near the Texas Louisiana border Laboring alongside his father on the plantation of a man named Ferguson in Logansport Louisiana Henry Adams was ...

Article

Paul S. Boyer and Matthew Dallek

The term “affirmative action” first appeared in a legislative context in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and was later written into state laws prohibiting racial discrimination in employment. But the phrase, implying simply that government agencies should try to prevent discrimination against African Americans, initially attracted little notice. Prior to the 1960s, virtually no one saw affirmative action as a way of giving minorities preferential treatment in hiring, promotions, and admissions.

More than anything else, the civil rights movement helped change the meaning of affirmative action. In 1964, after years of black protest, Congress passed the landmark Civil Rights Act, which among other things created new agencies run by officials eager to bring minorities into the mainstream of American life. By 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act the legal barriers to integration began to crumble and government and civil rights leaders began to ...

Article

Bertis English

Like most historically black colleges and universities in the United States, Alabama State University was created in the wake of the Civil War. In 1865, a convalescing Union soldier from the North began to educate former slaves outside Marion, the county seat of Perry County, in the racially divided and often violent Black Belt subregion of Alabama. The following year, the soldier contacted the Congregationalist-headed American Missionary Association (AMA), whose leaders wanted to found black common schools in several Southern states. Consequently, AMA officials sent an agent and minister from New York named Thomas Steward to the Alabama Black Belt.

Reverend Steward arrived in Perry County in January 1867 By this time several leading blacks and a handful of prominent whites in the county had already tried to erect a black common school in Marion Following their lead Steward created a small school in a partly finished Methodist ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

Nigerian educator, civil servant, and women’s rights activist, was born in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, on 17 May 1925. Her family was extremely affluent, as she was the daughter of Sir Adesiji Aderemi (1889–1890), the traditional king of the city of Ile-Ife, one of the most important sacred sites in the spiritual traditions of the Yoruba people. One of her sisters, Awujoola Adesomi Olagbaju, went on to become a schoolteacher and headmaster in her own right.

Alakija received her early education in Nigeria. She attended the Aiyetoro Primary and the Aiyetoro Central Schools in Ile-Ife from 1933 to 1937. She also studied at the Kudeti Primary boarding school in Ibadan for a time. Eventually Alakija moved to England in 1946, where she enrolled in Westfield College at the University of London. She acquired her undergraduate degree in 1950 in history and then proceeded to continue her ...

Article

Alexis D. McCoy

Originally founded as an institution to educate “Negro males,” Alcorn State University eventually evolved to become the primary coed institution of higher education for black students in the state of Mississippi. Named to honor the governor at the time of its founding, James L. Alcorn, the university is located in Lorman, Mississippi. Established on 13 May 1871 through the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 and an act by the Mississippi state legislature, Alcorn holds the distinctions of being the oldest land-grant university in Mississippi and the oldest historically black land-grant university in the United States. During its long history Alcorn has undergone three name changes: originally it was Alcorn University, in 1878 it became Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, and then in 1974 it became Alcorn State University.

Alcorn occupies the site where Oakland College originally existed. Oakland, founded in 1828 was a Presbyterian school devoted to ...

Article

Nancy Elizabeth Fitch

Alexander, Sadie Tanner Mossell (03 January 1898–01 November 1989), economist and lawyer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Aaron Mossell, an attorney and the first black graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Mary Tanner. While a young girl her father abandoned the family, and she was raised by her mother with the assistance of relatives.

Alexander received her degrees from the University of Pennsylvania With her Ph D in economics awarded in 1921 she became the first African American woman to receive a doctorate in economics and among the first three African American women to receive a doctorate in any field in the United States Her doctoral dissertation The Standard of Living among One Hundred Negro Migrant Families in Philadelphia was a thorough social survey investigating spending patterns from 1916 to 1918 of African American migrant families newly arrived from the South ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

college president, activist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Born Mary Rice in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she was the acknowledged daughter of confederate general John R. Jones and Malinda Rice, who was hired as a servant in his household at the age of seventeen in 1873. There appears to have been some enduring affection between Jones and Rice. He acknowledged paternity of Mary and her brother William, and his first wife, Sarah, ill and often confined to bed, asked to see the children and gave them presents. Mary Rice was raised in part by John Rice, Malinda's brother, and his wife Dolly. She also spent time in Jones's household, and after Sarah Jones died in 1879 the general bought a house for Malinda and her children The immediate neighborhood was racially mixed ...

Article

Milton C. Sernett

abolitionist and educator, was born in Virginia, the son of a Welshman and a free mixed-race mother. After the death of both parents, a young Allen was adopted by a free African American family in Fortress Monroe, Virginia. Allen soon caught the eye of the Reverend William Hall, a New Yorker who conducted a black elementary school in Norfolk. Hall wrote Gerrit Smith, the well-known philanthropist and abolitionist from Madison County, New York, asking him to sponsor Allen's education. With Smith's support, Allen studied at the Oneida Institute, an interracial and abolitionist school in Whitesboro, New York, presided over by the abolitionist Beriah Green. In a letter written to Smith, Green mentioned Allen's good conduct, his accomplishments on the flute, and his service as clerk to Reuben Hough, the institute's superintendent and treasurer.

While attending the institute, Allen spent the summer of 1841 teaching in a school ...

Article

Peter Wallenstein

educator and civil rights litigant, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. The Alstons owned their home, and Melvin grew up in a middle-class environment. After attending Norfolk's segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated in 1935 from Virginia State College, where he was honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship. Following graduation he began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men's Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church.

Alston played a key role in an effort by black teachers in the Norfolk city public schools to challenge racial discrimination in their salaries. In 1937 the Virginia Teachers Association VTA and ...

Article

aviator and instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen, was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to Janie and Iverson Anderson, of whom little else is known. During his early childhood, he lived with his grandmother in Staunton, Virginia. There Anderson longed for an airplane so he could fly to see what was on the other side of the mountains that surrounded Staunton and the Shenandoah Valley. He frequently left home in search of airplanes that were rumored to have crashed in the valley. His constant disappearances frustrated his grandmother, and she sent him back to his parents. Once back in Pennsylvania, however, he continued leaving home in search of airplanes.

At the age of thirteen Anderson applied to aviation school, but was denied admission because he was African American. In 1926 at the age of nineteen he used his savings and borrowed money from friends and relatives to purchase a ...

Article

Leonard L. Brown

musician, composer, arranger, teacher, scholar, and humanitarian, was born Thomas Jefferson Anderson in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the only son and eldest of three children born to Thomas Jefferson Anderson Sr., a college professor and school principal, and Anita Turpeau Anderson, a teacher. Anderson's early years were spent in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother was a pianist who accompanied singers in church. She was his first musical mentor, providing encouragement from a very early age through music lessons on violin and trumpet.

Anderson attended James Monroe Elementary School in Washington, D.C., where he conducted a rhythm band and impressed Esther Ballou a city supervisor of music who told his mother the musical world will hear from your son He later attended Benjamin Banneker Junior High in Washington D C It was during his time in Washington that he discovered the Howard Theatre and the big bands of ...

Article

Shari Rudavsky

nursing educator and administrator, was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, the daughter of a poor family about whom nothing is known. In 1901 Andrews applied to Spelman College's MacVicar Hospital School of Nursing. On her application, she asked for financial assistance, explaining that her family could not help her pay. Her mother had a large family to support and “an old flicted husband,” who was not Andrews's father. Andrews also said that she had been married but did not currently live with her husband and expected no support from him. Letters praising Andrews and talking about her “good moral character” that came from the pillars of Milledgeville society proved instrumental in securing Andrews's admission.

In 1906 Andrews received her diploma from Spelman and set upon her life s work During her training she resolved that I wanted to work for my people how or where this was to be done ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

author and performer. Born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey Johnson and Vivian Baxter Johnson, Angelou was given her shortened first name, Maya, by her brother Bailey. She later modified the name of her first husband, Tosh Angelos, to whom she was married from 1952 to 1955, to form her last name. Her parents divorced soon after her birth, and in 1930 she and her brother were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, where they were raised for most of the next ten years by their paternal grandmother, Anne Henderson (or “Momma”). After Angelou's graduation with honors in 1940 from Lafayette County Training School, she and her brother were put on a train for San Francisco, where they were to live with their recently remarried mother. In 1944 the unmarried sixteen-year-old Angelou gave birth to her only child, Clyde Johnson, later Guy Johnson ...

Article

Boyd Childress

From the ground up African Americans have always contributed to the design and construction of buildings in America Sadly the participation of blacks in architecture has been one not wanting of ability but wanting of opportunity African American slaves created much of the built environment in colonial America Slaves were often skilled artisans who widely contributed to the construction of much of the plantation South Even in the northern states African Americans did construction work although few had the opportunity to design and supervise construction projects Blacks found few outlets in construction after the Civil War As industrialization expanded blacks were excluded from trade unions and recessions eliminated most economic opportunities for African Americans Only with the beginnings of education for African Americans did the professional field of architecture hold any promise for blacks and even that was limited After Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT established the first architecture curriculum ...

Article

Linda Wilson-Jones

educator and activist, was the youngest of five children born to Levin and Maggie Armwood in Tampa, Florida. Armwood's father was born a slave in Thomas County, Georgia, in 1855 and in the late 1870s became the first African American police officer in Tampa, Florida, and in 1895 became a deputy sheriff.

Armwood started her education at St. Peter Claver's Catholic School. She completed her studies in 1902 at the age of twelve and passed the Florida State Uniform Teachers' Examination. Since Tampa did not have a continuing education school for African Americans, the Armwoods sent Blanche to Spelman Seminary (later Spelman College), an all‐female prep school for black women, in Atlanta, Georgia. There she studied English, Latin, and home economics, courses that would later prove an asset to her. Graduating from Spelman Seminary in 1906 with honors summa cum laude after four years of study Armwood was the ...

Article

Andrea A. Burns

schoolteacher and activist, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the daughter of Eugene Lawrence Burnett, an oil worker, and Mary Jane McGowan Burnett, a seamstress. As a youth, Burnett survived the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and was a plaintiff in the subsequent legal case, Alexander v. State of Oklahoma. Burnett grew up in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the early twentieth century, as Tulsa's economy boomed thanks to oil recently discovered in Oklahoma, Greenwood was a thriving enclave of African American businesses, schools, and churches. Her grandparents lived in Tulsa; her grandfather owned a grocery store and his family home. In a span of just a night and a day, from 31 May–1 June 1921, the lives and livelihood of the Burnett family and the Greenwood community were threatened when the Greenwood section of Tulsa was devastated by the Tulsa Race Riot.

Racial tension ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Thiven Reddy

South African academic, human rights campaigner, and respected veteran of the African National Congress (ANC) in exile, was born in Stanger, a small rural town in what is now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Asmal was a founder of the British and Irish antiapartheid movements. He was also an academic, who taught law for almost three decades at Trinity College Dublin, during his exile from South Africa.

In the broad array of constituencies and opinions that has historically constituted the ANC, Asmal has consistently stood for liberal constitutionalism and human rights. This position was most strongly associated with the ANC during the latter days of apartheid, when the international solidarity movement, based largely in Western countries, was at its height.

A key member of the ANC s Constitutional Committee during the post apartheid negotiations period Asmal directly influenced the content of the democratic constitution which was hailed internationally as a truly progressive ...

Article

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 ...