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Article

Marion Barry's 1994 election to a fourth term as mayor of Washington, D.C., three years after his conviction for cocaine possession, was just another twist in the turbulent career of the sharecropper's son from the Mississippi Delta. Born near the small town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, Barry moved to Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of five. Barry grew up amid poverty, segregation, and racism. Despite these circumstances, he excelled academically and became the first member of his family to attend college. At LeMoyne College, a racially mixed institution in Memphis, Barry joined the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), becoming its president in his senior year.

Barry received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1958 and that fall began postgraduate study at historically black Fisk University in Nashville. Barry organized the campus's first NAACP chapter and helped stage nonviolent Sit-Ins ...

Article

Juliette Bridgette Milner-Thornton

author, conservationist, philanthropist, pioneer of safari camps and walking safaris in Northern Rhodesia (present day Zambia), was born on 19 July 1912 in Chinde, a British coastal concession in Mozambique. In 1940 Carr married Barbara Lennon, daughter of the senior British warden at the local “native” prison in Zomba. Barbara was an employee of the Nyasaland Secretariat. Norman and Barbara had three children Judy, Pamela, and Adrian. Their daughter Pam Guhr and her husband, Vic Guhr, are conservationists and wildlife artists in Zambia. Pam is also a licensed safari guide; her brother Adrian at some point was a professional hunter in Sudan, he is currently co-owner and director of Norman Carr Safaris, a safari company founded by his father. Barbara Carr, like her husband was an author. Her first book, Cherries on my Plate (1965 describes her schooling in England return to and ...

Article

Osire Glacier

Moroccan explorer, professor, and astronomer, was born on 11 October 1969 in Casablanca. Her father was a blacksmith and her mother a housewife who took care of the couple’s seven children. In spite of her humble origins, Chadid decided to be an astronomer at the age of twelve, when her brother Mustapha gave her a book by the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler. Since then, she has pursued her goal one step at a time.

During her adolescent years, Chadid read extensively about the sky, the stars, and the planets. In 1992 she graduated with a master s degree in Physics from the University of Casablanca After graduation Chadid faced a difficult decision leave her family in order to pursue the relevant field of study for her professional objectives at a French university or remain with her family and renounce the opportunity to turn her passion into a profession The ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

astrophysicist and politician, was born in Nioro a town in Mali close to the border with Mauritania He was the son of Moussa Diarra a clerk for the French colonial government and a trade unionist who backed the Parti Progressiste Soudanais of Fily Dabo Sissoko The leftist regime of the early 1960s had Moussa Diarra exiled to a town in northern Mali Modibo Diarra and three of his four brothers had remarkable careers later in life Cheick Sidi Diarra went on to become the special Africa advisor for United Nations chairman Ban Ki Moon Cheick Hamallah Diarra later was an urban planner for the New York City municipal government Sidi Sosso Diarra the eldest of the brothers was a skilled accountant who later went on to be an influential civil servant for the Malian government Modibo Diarra relocated to the larger city of Segu when he was relatively ...

Article

Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts

Senegalese visual artist, was born in a rural Senegalese town in 1954 and moved to Dakar in 1973, where he received a degree in fine arts from the National Institute of the Arts of Senegal and his baccalaureate in 1979. He also earned a four-year degree in arts education from the National School of Art Education. Diba was then awarded a scholarship to pursue a doctorate in urban geography at the University of Nice, where he wrote a dissertation comparing human impact on the environments of Dakar and Nice. Since 1986 Diba has been a professor of visual arts at the National School of Art Education in Dakar and has served as president of the Senegalese National Association of Visual Arts He was one of the founders of Dak Art the Biennial of Contemporary African Art and serves on its Scientific Commission Diba has been instrumental in ...

Article

Molefi Kete Asante

major Senegalese scholar in the fields of anthropology, history, and physics, was born in the village of Keitou, Senegal, not far from the town of Diourbel in the interior of Senegal on 29 December 1923 By all accounts as a youth he was a serious student and an avid participant in the sports of the village Yet he was always searching to reach higher goals and when the opportunity came for him to study in Dakar and St Louis he quickly took the chance to prove himself He was an extraordinary student noticed by all of his classmates and teachers as someone who could make an enormous contribution to knowledge At an early age Diop had shown a keen mind an argumentative streak and an ability to make logical arguments Diop like most Senegalese children had to learn Islamic traditions as well as Western ones His ancestors and larger ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Ecosystems across the globe are in danger of becoming desertified. Desertification is of particular concern in countries where population growth and economic disadvantage exacerbate ecological instability. Africa has many such countries, especially in the Sahel region near the southern border of the Sahara.

Hundreds of qualified people have tried to explain desertification, but no consensus exists because the process invokes questions of sociology, biology, politics, and culture. The history of African desertification has included recurring conflicts between and among peasants, pastoralists, European colonial regimes, intrusive local governments, and international environmental organizations. Often one party will brandish inconclusive scientific data against another, clouding conflicts that were already murky. The social and scientific complexity of desertification leaves more questions than answers. Are “natural” cycles or human abuses the greater culprit?

A careful look at the actual physical processes in arid semiarid and subhumid environments helps to clarify the problem Scientists have ...

Article

Political and social movements organized to address environmental threats to health and livelihood. International conservation groups have focused worldwide attention on the threats to Africa’s wildlife and forests. These issues, however, are not necessarily the primary concerns of most environmental movements in Africa itself. Such movements tend to focus instead on threats to local or regional natural resources that are considered crucial to people’s health and livelihood. In some regions, people do consider wildlife a vital natural resource, but elsewhere they are more concerned with protecting land and water.

African environmental movements do not necessarily share the priorities of national governments For example some governments in wildlife rich regions of eastern and southern Africa have displaced farming and pastoral communities to create large wildlife reserves partly to meet the requests of foreign nations that donate aid and partly to encourage wildlife tourism Another kind of problem seen in all parts ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Jane Goodall, the daughter of an engineer father and a novelist mother, was born in London, England. She had not received any college training in biology before taking her first trip to Africa as a tourist at the age of twenty-three. She went to Kenya, where she met paleontologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey. Goodall was a passionate amateur natural historian, and Leakey hired her as his assistant. In 1960, with Leakey's help, Goodall established a camp in the Gombe Stream Game Reserve in Tanzania, from which she ventured out each day to observe chimpanzees.

During the early 1960s, with extreme patience and slow progress, Goodall became acquainted with a group of chimpanzees on the shores of Lake Tanganyika By winning their trust Goodall was able to sit among them observing a hitherto undiscovered complexity of their relationships Goodall learned that chimpanzees maintain specific social ...

Article

Emmanuel Asiedu-Acquah

Ghanaian gold miner and business executive, was born in Kibi, a town in the Eastern Region of the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), on 19 November 1949. His father, Thomas Jonah, was a veteran of the Second World War who had started his own construction business by the time Sam was born. His mother, Beatrice Sampson, was a housewife who sold homemade goods on the side. One of seven siblings and two cousins in the Jonah household, Jonah grew up in the mining town of Obuasi, where his father had relocated as a subcontractor for the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation (AGC/Ashanti Goldfields) in 1950. Sam Jonah received his secondary school education at the prestigious Adisadel College in Cape Coast between 1962 and 1969. After working for about a year as a laborer at the Ashanti Goldfields in 1969 he went on to study mine engineering at the Camborne ...

Article

Gary L. Frost

Malawian inventor, was born on 5 August 1987 in Dowa, Central Region, Republic of Malawi, to Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba. He is the second of their seven children and the only son. Kamkwamba’s father is a member of the Chewa people, and his mother belongs to the Yao ethnic group. When Kamkwamba was one year old, his family began living in Dowa as subsistence farmers, raising tobacco, maize, and other food crops.

At an early age Kamkwamba began to investigate electrical phenomena by examining everyday technologies When thirteen years old he tinkered with radios for example in an attempt to understand how they worked Malawi had only two broadcast stations but radio constituted the principal means of contact with the larger world for farmers so battery powered receivers were ubiquitous even in rural areas Although he had only trial and error to learn by he nevertheless acquired sufficient knowledge to make ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

physical anthropologist and archaeologist who discovered evidence of early human life in the Rift Valley of East Africa, was born Mary Douglas Nicol on 6 February 1913 in London, England. Her father was the painter Erskine Edward Nicol and her mother was Cecilia Marion (née Frere) Nicol. During Mary’s childhood, her family moved around a great deal. Erskine Nicol painted various portraits and subjects in England, France, Italy, Egypt, and elsewhere. Mary’s prolonged sojourns in southern France provided her with the chance to develop a fluent command of French. While she enjoyed greatly her talks and walks with her father, she found her mother’s Catholic faith stultifying even as she developed some friendships with individual priests. Her childhood came to a sudden end in the spring of 1926 when her father passed away from cancer Mary s mother decided to place her daughter in a Catholic convent but ...

Article

Richard Erskine Frere Leakey's parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, introduced him to paleoanthropology, the study of fossilized remains of extinct humanlike creatures called hominids. The elder Leakeys, whose discoveries at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania revolutionized theories of early Human Evolution, often took Richard with them on their fossil-hunting expeditions. Leakey left Nairobi's Duke of York School at the age of seventeen to start a business leading wildlife photography safaris.

Although he had no formal training, Leakey began fossil-hunting when he was only nineteen. His most famous discoveries were made in the area around Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf) in northern Kenya where he uncovered more than 200 fossils of early hominids These include an almost complete skeleton of an adolescent boy found at Nariokotome on the western shore The 1 6 million year old Turkana Boy is the most complete skeleton ever found from that period of ...

Article

Eric Bennett

Wangari Maathai grew up in a farming family in Nyeri, in what was then colonial Kenya's “white highlands.” Her parents sent her to Loreto Limuru Girls School, and her teachers there helped her get a scholarship to Mount Scholastica College in Kansas. After graduating with a B.S. degree in biology in 1964, Maathai attended the University of Pittsburgh. She returned to Kenya in 1966 for graduate study at the University of Nairobi and in 1971 became one of the first women in sub-Saharan Africa to earn a doctorate (in veterinary medicine). After receiving her Ph.D. degree, Maathai went to work as a professor at the University of Nairobi, eventually becoming the head of the faculty of veterinary medicine there.

Maathai is most famous, however, for her environmental activism. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 which aimed to prevent or reverse deforestation and also to improve ...

Article

Kathleen Sheldon

Kenyan environmental leader and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was born and raised in a rural village near Nyeri in Kenya’s central highlands. Her mother Wangiru Kibicho (better known as Lydia) was a subsistence-level farmer; her father Muta Njugi worked as a driver and mechanic for a British farmer. She writes about her early memories in her memoir Unbowed (2006 describing a vibrant landscape with many trees and clear running streams She attended primary school in the village then transferred to St Cecilia s Intermediate Primary School and finally continued her education at Loreto Girls High School in Limuru both institutions run by Catholic missionaries She credits her high school science teacher with mentoring her and instigating her lifelong love of chemistry and biology She decided that she did not want to be a teacher or a nurse the careers open to African girls in the 1950s and ...

Article

Joel Gordon

Egyptian technocrat who guided agrarian reform under Gamal Abd al-Nasser and became a close political adviser to Anwar al-Sadat, was born on 26 August 1913 in a Delta village in Egypt’s Sharqiyya province to a family of rural notables. In 1920, a year after Egypt’s nationalist uprising against British rule, Marei’s family moved to Cairo, where he began primary school. His school years were marked by the growing frustrations of Egypt’s quasi-independence, the failure of successive governments to rule without British or monarchical interference, and the attendant corruption that came to characterize the liberal era.

His father was a fervent supporter of the Wafd Egypt s majority nationalist party and served in the parliament Marei initially avoided direct political affiliation Like others of his generation political activism carried with it an increasing distrust of the political establishment and a conviction that Egypt needed social reform as much as total ...

Article

Judith Imel Van Allen

BaTawana mohumagadi (queen or queen mother) and regent, was born in the Orange Free State, South Africa. Her parents were from the BaRolong, a Tswana subgroup resident both in South Africa and the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now Botswana. Pulane was trained as a nurse and took a job at Tiger Kloof School in South Africa, where she met her husband-to-be, Moremi, heir to bogosi (rulership) of the BaTawana of Ngamiland in northwestern Bechuanaland. They married in 1937, the year that he became the BaTawana kgosi (king) as Moremi III. Pulane had three children, including Letsholathebe, the heir to BaTawana bogosi.

Moremi III’s relationship with the British colonial government was conflictual, with repeated British accusations of corruption under his rule. In 1945 the British suspended Moremi III and named Pulane, whom they regarded as trustworthy, as tribal treasurer. When Moremi III was killed in a car crash in 1946 ...

Article

Robert Maxon

Kenyan herbalist, cook, farmer, and the paternal grandfather of US President Barack Obama, was born in Kanyadhiang near Kendu Bay on Lake Victoria in what is now Rachuonyo District in Kenya’s Nyanza Province. Onyango’s grandfather, Opiyo, had moved to the Kendu Bay region from Alego, north of the Nyanza Gulf, earlier in the nineteenth century in search of more and better land than was available to the family in Alego.

From an early age Onyango was characterized by a seriousness of purpose and a wanderlust His wandering off on his own and desire to learn led to study with specialists to become an herbalist Onyango s curiosity and thirst for knowledge also led him to leave his home for the port town of Kisumu Colonial rule was not established in the Kendu Bay area until some five years after the transfer of Nyanza Province from Uganda to the East Africa ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

environmentalist and civil society activist, was born on 17 December 1962 in the eastern Ogooué-Ivindo province of Gabon. At the age of six Ona Essangui suffered a case of polio and lost the ability to walk. Despite the challenge of being physically disabled in a country where accommodations for people unable to walk were rare, he managed to overcome these challenges. Ona Essangui attended the well-known Lycée de l’Immaculée Conception in the Gabonese capital of Libreville, then passed his baccalaureate examinations and was admitted into the Université Omar Bongo. Like so many other Gabonese university students between 1990 and 1993 Ona Essangui had difficulty completing his courses during the tumultuous transition of Gabon to multiparty democracy in the early 1990s Ona Essangui had sought an undergraduate degree in psychology but he finally abandoned his studies after several years in which the entire academic year was cancelled In ...

Primary Source

Neil DeGrasse Tyson (b. 1958) is one of the most respected astrophysicists in the world. Since the publication of his first book Merlin’s Tour of the Universe in 1989, Tyson has made a career of answering complex questions about the universe in simple prose for a general audience. As a result, he has received numerous honorary degrees and awards (including the Public Service Medal from NASA), hosted the PBS series NOVA Science Now, served on several government-sponsored commissions on space exploration, and in 1996 became in the youngest director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Tyson is also a noted skeptic of religion, and in the essay below from Natural History he analyzes the contentious relationship between faith and science throughout the ages focusing specifically on intelligent design and the god of the gaps explanation for unknown phenomena The tendency to invoke the supernatural he argues greatly ...