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Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ottilie Assing was the eldest daughter of David and Rosa Maria (Varnhagen) Assing. Her mother was an energetic teacher with a flair for singing and storytelling; her father was a well-known doctor who penned poetry and was prone to depression. David, born with the surname of Assur, was raised as an Orthodox Jew but associated with Christians. He and Rosa, who was not Jewish, raised Ottilie and her younger sister, Ludmilla, as "freethinking atheists, as true daughters of the Enlightenment, who saw themselves as members of a universal human race of thought and reason." They saw education as a "secular form of individual salvation."

Assing's life was not always easy; she witnessed savage anti-Jewish riots, and by the age of twenty-three she had lost both parents. In 1842 she and her sister moved from their hometown to live with an uncle Ludmilla adapted ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

slave and later servant, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Perry Blake, a free African American, and his wife Charlotte, a slave in the household of a prominent merchant, Jesse Levering. The couple had several other children. In 1897 Jesse's daughter Sarah R. Levering published a booklet about Margaret Jane Blake's life through the Press of Innes & Son in Philadelphia. As of 2011 other sources concerning Blake s life were unknown Thus we should read this account with care recognizing that it provides only one perspective on Blake s life and that it comes from a member of the family who once owned her It nonetheless offers several insights on the life of an urban African American woman in slavery and freedom Levering designated the proceeds from the booklet s sale to a Presbyterian affiliated manual labor school for the benefit of the ...

Article

Yasmine Ali

a literate domestic servant, grew up in Philadelphia and in New York City with her family. While her parents' names remain unknown, in one of her 1859 letters, she revealed that her father owned a restaurant. Brown severed ties with her family after her father's death in October 1862. In her letters to Rebecca Primus, her beloved friend, she discussed how her mother had remarried a man whom Addie described as often present in her nightmares.

Brown is known today primarily because of her relationship to Rebecca Primus of Hartford, Connecticut. Primus was the only African American among the five teachers selected by the Freedman's Society in 1865 to head to the south and start schools for freed blacks. She relocated to Royal, Maryland, and founded a school there, working until 1869 She was an inspirational figure and a close friend to Addie Brown and seems ...

Article

Stephen Bourne

Black Londoner whose life as a working‐class seamstress was documented in Aunt Esther's Story (1991), published by Hammersmith and Fulham's Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, and co‐authored with Stephen Bourne. Aunt Esther's Story provides a first‐hand account of Bruce's life as a black Briton in the pre‐Empire Windrush years. Her father, Joseph (1880–1941), arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 1900s and settled in a tight‐knit working‐class community in Fulham. He worked as a builder's labourer. When Bruce was a young child, Joseph instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress, and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular African‐American stage star Elisabeth Welch. She also befriended another black citizen of Fulham: the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey She told Bourne he was a nice chap ...

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

N. Gregson Davis

Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) was a major literary figure, statesman, and intellectual leader, both in the francophone Antilles and in the international arena, from the middle of the twentieth century. As a young social activist, he played a formative role in the articulation of the seminal concept of négritude, a neologism that he is credited with having invented. As literary artist he has achieved global recognition for his poetry and lyric drama in signal ways; for example, his lyric volume Corps Perdu (Lost Body) was published in a deluxe edition with illustrations by Pablo Picasso in 1950; several of his poetry collections won literary prizes in metropolitan France (e.g., the Prix René Laporte for Ferrements [1960], and the Grand Prix National de la Poésie for moi, laminaire … [1982]). La Tragédie du roi Christophe The Tragedy of King Christophe a play based ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

writer and poet, was born in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, one of two children to Mary Ann and William Henry Scott. Scott was a buffalo soldier stationed at Fort Elliott, located in the eastern Texas panhandle. According to some sources, Coleman's mother was a slave whom her father had purchased and emancipated. She worked as an on-base laundress and later took work in private life as a domestic. When William Henry left service, the family relocated briefly to Mexico, but Mary's poor health (she apparently suffered from a weak heart) convinced them to return to the States to homestead in New Mexico. The family was politically engaged, if not actively involved in politics, and Scott was a member of some of the local fraternal societies and much interested in the “race question” of the day.

Coleman attended local schools in Silver City including Silver City High School and eventually ...

Article

Antoinette Broussard Farmer

educator, writer, and community leader, was born Lulu Mae Sadler, in Platte County, Missouri, the daughter of Harriet Ellen Samuels, a homemaker, and Meride George Sadler, a farmer and laborer. Both were former slaves. As a young man, Lulu's father ran away from the Foley plantation and his slave owner to join the military and fought for his freedom with the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, Volunteers for the Union in the Civil War. Meride registered in the military under his slave name Foley and reclaimed his father's name of Sadler after the war.

When Sadler was a little boy his mother whose name was China was tied to a tree to be whipped by her angry slave owner Lulu s grandfather Meride Sr ran to China s rescue and threw an axe that landed close to the slave master Foley s head To punish him Foley sold ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author, was born Leon DeCosta Dash Jr. in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Leon Dash Sr. and Ruth Dash. His father worked as a postal clerk (and eventually a supervisor) and his mother was employed as an administrator for New York City's Health Department. Dash was raised in the Bronx and Harlem, New York, and originally aspired to become a lawyer. His interest shifted to journalism while he worked as an editor of the school newspaper at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. He studied at Lincoln for two and a half years before transferring to Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s. He found work steam-cleaning building exteriors, but in winter the work was too challenging for him, so in 1965 he started working indoors at the Washington Post as a copy person He worked the lobster shift ...

Article

Denise Burrell-Stinson

writer and professor, was born Percival Leonard Everett II, the elder of the two children of Percival Leonard Everett, a dentist, and Dorothy (Stinson) Everett, who assisted her husband in his practice for thirty years. The younger Percival was born on a U.S. Army base in Fort Gordon, Georgia, while his father was assigned a post as a sergeant and communications specialist. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he spent his childhood, eventually graduating from A. C. Flora High School in 1974.

The climate of Everett s youth was stimulating nurturing a strong intellect The senior Everett was part of a long family legacy in the field of medicine his own father and two brothers were all doctors and he was also a voracious reader filling the family home with books The younger Everett inherited his father s literary ...

Article

Michael Dash

Joseph Antenor Firmin was born in 1850 in the town of Cap Haitien in the north of Haiti. He was a lawyer, a minister of government, and a diplomat. Haitian politics in the late nineteenth century were dominated by two major groups: the nationalist and liberal parties. These parties representing black and mulatto factions fought for supremacy in the 1870s and 1880s. The nationalist party championed a black ideology and claimed to speak on behalf of the masses against the elite. The liberal party played down the color question and advocated that Haiti be governed by the most competent. Firmin is particularly interesting because he was black and associated himself with the liberal party. He was a liberal candidate for the legislature in 1879. In 1889 he became a cabinet minister under President Florvil Hyppolite and as foreign minister he worked with Frederick Douglass to foil ...

Article

educator, literary and cultural critic, and leading scholar in African and African American studies, was born Louis Smith Gates in Keyser, West Virginia. Gates, nicknamed “Skip” by his mother at birth, grew up in nearby Piedmont, the son of Henry Louis Gates Sr., a mill worker and janitor, and Pauline Coleman Gates, a homemaker and seamstress. Born four years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and encouraged by his parents, he excelled in Piedmont's integrated schools, including the Davis Free School and Piedmont High School, as did his older brother Paul, known as “Rocky,” who would become Chief of Oral Surgery at Bronx Lebanon Hospital.

At age fourteen Gates experienced two cataclysmic events in his young life the first a misdiagnosed slipped epithesis a hip injury that led to three surgeries in a year and the second his joining the Episcopal ...

Article

Maggie Gerrity

writer, gay activist, and educator, developed a fascination with language early in life. Born in the Bronx, New York, Glave grew up both there and in Kingston, Jamaica, in neighborhoods populated with storytellers. These people, Glave recalled in a 2000 article in the Village Voice, could “go from irony to outrage to feigned surprise to deep drama with all of these gesticulations, intonations, and coded references in the span of just one sentence.”

From an early age Glave worked to capture this vibrant language in his own writing. He attended private schools in New York and began sending his stories to magazines while still in high school. He graduated from Bowdoin College with honors in 1993, and his writing first gained attention when he was in the MFA program at Brown University. In 1997 his story The Final Inning won an O Henry Prize ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

enslaved African American, mother, yarn spinner, weaver, and housekeeper, was born on the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia to Bill Grimshaw, a carpenter, and to Esther Jackson, a textile worker and cotton spinner, who were married in the early 1820s. Grimshaw's grandparents were Henry and Winney Jackson, domestic workers. Grimshaw's parents named her after her grandmother. By the time Grimshaw was born, their family was owned by William Henry Tayloe. Grimshaw had five siblings: Elizabeth (b. 1824), Anna (b. 1827), Juliet (b. 1929), Charlotte (b. 1834), James (b. 1831), and Henry (b. 1837). Charlotte died when she was young, but the remainder of her siblings survived into adulthood. At the time, most African American slaves were listed in records by their first name or a nickname. It was not until 1862 that Grimshaw was documented by her ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

slave narrative author, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on the Charles Canory plantation. She was the second of three daughters born to Ellen Turner and Westly Jackson, a married couple with different slavemasters. Mattie's sisters were Esther or Hester (married surname: Diggs) and Sarah Ann, who died as a small child. Mattie's great grandfather was born in Africa, kidnapped, and sold to a slavemaster in New York State. Her grandfather was born into slavery there, but lived as a free man and property owner for thirty years, only to be tricked into reenslavement in Missouri. Westly was his only child with another slave he married.

Although she last saw him when she was three Mattie remembered her father s little kindnesses and deep affection Jackson p 5 and her parents struggles as slaves to continue their loving relationship Finally Westly felt his only choice was escape ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

In 1960 the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, an impoverished black woman, was published in Brazil—a development that brought her national and international celebrity. Titled Quarto de despejo (Portuguese for “the trash room”), the diary sold 90,000 copies within the first six months, making it the most successful book in the history of Brazilian publishing. It was translated into more than a dozen languages and attracted worldwide attention. It was published in English as Child of the Dark in 1962. The book also brought Jesus financial success, allowing her to move out of the Favelas, or squatter settlements.

But Jesus's success was short-lived. Her subsequent writings, including a second diary, Casa de alvenaria (I'm Going To Have a Little House, 1961), were not successful, and she soon drifted into obscurity. As scholar Robert M. Levine has said Ill prepared for her meteoric ...

Article

Alexander J. Chenault

educator and founder of Harlem's The Modern School, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the only daughter of Nora Ethel Floyd and J. Rosamond Johnson. Her father, a singer, composer, and musician, and her uncle, the lawyer and poet James Weldon Johnson, cocreated the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Her mother was a homemaker. Mildred Johnson was married once to Hedley Vivian Edwards, a wealthy Jamaican businessman and horticulturist with whom she had one daughter, K. Melanie Edwards, and whom she later divorced (1963).

When Mildred was very young, the family moved to New York City, settling in Harlem. Mildred was homeschooled through kindergarten by her Bahamian paternal grandmother, Helen Louise Billet an educator herself When Mildred was six she began attending the School of Ethical Culture an elite private school in New York City She grew up in a house ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, to Agnes, a slave of the Burgwell family, and George Pleasant, who was owned by a man named Hobbs. When Elizabeth was in her teens, the Burgwells sold her to a slaveowner in North Carolina by whom she was raped and had one child, George. Shortly thereafter, a Burgwell daughter, Anne Burgwell Garland, bought Elizabeth and her son. They were taken to St. Louis, where Elizabeth married James Keckley. She later found he had deceived her by claiming to be a free man, and the couple separated.

To support her owner's household, Keckley worked as a seamstress. She acquired many loyal customers, one of whom loaned Keckley $1,200 to buy her freedom in 1855. In 1860, Keckley relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, and then to Washington D C where she opened a successful ...

Article

Anne Bradford Warner

Elizabeth Keckley became a center of public controversy with the 1868 publication of Behind the Scenes, or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House.

Born a slave in Dinwiddie Court House, Virginia, Keckley became such an accomplished seamstress that she was able to purchase her own freedom and her son's. After manumission she moved from St. Louis to establish herself in Washington, D. C., in 1860, becoming modiste first to the wife of Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis and finally to Mary Todd Lincoln during Abraham Lincoln's first term. Two-thirds of Behind the Scenes concerns Keckley's life with the Lincolns and the difficult period following the president's assassination, especially Mary Lincoln's desperate attempt to raise money through what became known as the “Old Clothes Scandal.” A misplaced trust in her editor, James Redpath and the sensationalist marketing of Carleton and Company culminated ...

Article

Donna Tyler Hollie

chef, restaurant owner, author, and teacher, was born in Orange County, Virginia. She was one of eight children, three sons and five daughters, born to Eugene and Daisy Lewis. Her community, called Freetown, was established by her grandfather, Chester Lewis, a farmer, and other freedmen after the Civil War. Her grandfather's home was the site of the community's first school.

Although little is known about Lewis's formal academic education, she learned to cook by observing and assisting her mother and paternal aunt, Jennie These women cooked in the tradition of their African forebearers using seasonal ingredients frying in oil flavoring vegetables with meat improvising and relying on their senses to determine whether food was appropriately seasoned and thoroughly cooked For example whether a cake was done could be determined by listening to the sound made by the cake pan Wonderful dishes were created ...