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Sharon Carson

Although she spent most of her adult life living in France and touring the world, Josephine Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After a difficult childhood, she left home at thirteen, starting her dance career with a vaudeville troupe called the Dixie Steppers. In the early 1920s, she worked in African American theater productions in New York such as Shuffle Along and Chocolate Dandies. In 1925 Baker left for Paris to begin her long international career with companies like Revue Nègre, Folies Bergères, and, later, the Ziegfeld Follies.

As her career evolved, Baker increasingly focused on political concerns. During World War II Baker toured North Africa while providing information to French and British intelligence. Later she used her considerable fame to advance civil rights issues during her frequent visits to the United States. In 1951 the NAACP honored her political work by declaring an official Baker Day ...

Article

Charles L. Hughes

record executive, producer, and activist, was born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Arkansas, in 1940 or 1941. In 1945 his family moved to Little Rock, where Bell later graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science from the city's Philander Smith College, following this with uncompleted ministerial training; he worked as a disc jockey throughout high school and college. In 1959 Bell began working at workshops run by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His SCLC involvement was short-lived, which Bell attributed to a difference in philosophy, explaining that King's strategy of nonviolent confrontation differed from his belief in the power of black capitalist entrepreneurship in effecting social change.

Bell then worked full time at several radio stations first at WLOK in Memphis where his laid back style helped boost ratings and then at WUST in Washington D C where he introduced ...

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Roanne Edwards

Best known for his weekly Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television show Tony Brown's Journal, Tony Brown has become a controversial figure in the landscape of American race relations. Although once active in the Civil Rights Movement, he has criticized present-day black activists for prioritizing civil rights at the expense of black business initiatives and education programs in computer technologies. He advocates black economic self-sufficiency and has consistently opposed welfare as well as Affirmative Action policies that he believes mainly benefit middle-class blacks. “If America were capitalist,” said Brown in an interview with Matthew Robinson of Business Daily, “it could not be racist. Racism is flourishing because we are awash in socialistic controls.”

Born in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown was reared by two domestic workers, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes who informally adopted him at the age of two months after his father deserted the family ...

Article

Patit Paban Mishra

academician, businessperson, author, talk-show host, and journalist. The fifth son of Royal Brown and Katherine Davis Brown, William Anthony Brown was born in Charleston, West Virginia. The marriage of his parents broke down in the racist environment of Charleston. His father was a light-skinned person, whereas his mother was of dark color. For several years he was raised by a foster family, Elizabeth Sanford and Mabel Holmes, before he was reunited with his mother and three siblings. Brown had a turbulent childhood, but by sheer determination, perseverance, and hard work along with the support of his foster parents and several school teachers, he rose in life—primarily through education. After high school he attended Wayne State University in Detroit, where he earned a BA in sociology (1959) and an MSW in psychiatric social work (1961).

After graduation Brown obtained a ...

Article

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

author, composer, and activist. When Shirley Graham Du Bois was thirteen years old she met the prominent scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois. The meeting had a profound impact on her political and personal development, for she eventually married Du Bois in 1951. She became well known as W. E. B. Du Bois's second wife, causing some to overlook her tremendous personal accomplishments.

Shirley Graham was born near Evansville, Indiana, to David Graham and Etta Graham. Her father was an African Methodist Episcopal minister, a career that caused him to move his family to various locations in the United States, including Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Nashville. At his churches Shirley first discovered a love for music, learning to play the organ and piano. She completed high school in Spokane, Washington, and then moved to Seattle, where she married Shadrack T. McCants ...

Article

Diane Todd Bucci

journalist, music critic, author, filmmaker, and television producer, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended St. John's University, and while there began his writing career at the black newspaper the Amsterdam News, where he was a college intern. During this time he also contributed to the music trade journal Billboard. After graduating from St. John's in 1979, George worked as a freelance writer and lived with his mother and sister in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Brooklyn. It did not take him long, though, to begin what would prove to be a flourishing career. George found employment as a black music editor, first for Real World magazine from 1981 to 1982, and then at Billboard from 1982 to 1989. He moved on to write a successful column entitled “Native Son” for the Village Voice, from 1989 to ...

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Robert L. Gale

Graham, Shirley (11 November 1896–27 March 1977), musical composer and director, author, and political activist also known as Shirley Graham Du Bois was born Lola Bell Graham in Indianapolis Indiana the daughter of the Reverend David A Graham an African Methodist Episcopal minister and Etta Bell She accompanied them when her father held pastorates in New Orleans Colorado Springs and Spokane He delighted her with stories about important blacks in American history In his churches she learned to play the piano and the pipe organ and to conduct choirs In 1914 she graduated from high school in Spokane took business school courses and worked in government offices in Spokane and Seattle After she married Shadrach T McCanns in 1921 she gave private music lessons and played the organ in white movie theaters hidden backstage She had two sons Robert and David and was either widowed in 1924 ...

Article

Vanessa Agard-Jones

culinary anthropologist, poet, performing artist, and journalist, was born Verta Mae Smart in Fairfax, South Carolina, the daughter of Frank Smart. She grew up in Monk's Corner, South Carolina, and as a teenager moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she attended Kensington High School. Grosvenor married twice, first to Robert S. Grosvenor and later to Ellensworth Ausby, and had two children.

Grosvenor's early life in the South Carolina Lowcountry was enormously influential in her later career, grounding her in a cultural milieu that was thoroughly Geechee (or Gullah) in language (her first language was the Creole known as Gullah), in ritual, and perhaps most importantly to her later work, in food. Geechee communities of the American South have retained African linguistic and cultural practices.

At the age of thirty-two, in 1970, Grosvenor published her culinary memoir Vibration Cooking or The Travel Notes of a ...

Article

Sharon D. Johnson

writer and television executive, was born Shirley Anne Morris Taylor in Stratford, Connecticut, the third of four children of Julian Augustus Taylor, a minister, and Margaret (Morris) Taylor. Her mother named her Shirley, after the child star Shirley Temple. Much of her mother's life as a black woman abandoned by her family who chose to “pass” as white has been chronicled and published by Haizlip. She revealed in her first book, The Sweeter the Juice: A Family Memoir in Black and White (1994), that she was eight years old when she “first understood that all but one of my mother's family had become white” (13). Haizlip's entire writing career has been dedicated to the examination of the complexities of race and identity in America, as experienced through her own family life and history.

Haizlip considered her childhood to be idyllic and her comfortably upper middle ...

Article

Robert M. O'Brien

composer, bandleader, cornetist, author, and recording artist. Known as the “Father of the Blues,” William Christopher Handy was an influential songwriter and musician in the first half of the twentieth century. While Handy did not invent the blues genre, he was one of the first to use the term “blues” and helped to popularize the music.

Article

Rachel Westley

playwright and director, author, and educator, was born in Greenwich Village, New York, to Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison. Although he was reared in the North and nurtured by the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance, his roots are from below the Mason-Dixon Line, in North and South Carolina.

In the South the Harrison family was strongly immersed in Gullah culture and Marcus Garvey s Back to Africa movement Harrison s grandfather in fact was a major leader of and played an active role in the Garvey movement in North Carolina The household was also greatly involved in the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church in the Carolinas and much of the mystical curiosity in Harrison s work can be attributed to his grandmother s spiritual influence He was embraced by this richness as a young man and it created the resonating aura of self ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

dancer, painter, choreographer, actor, author, photographer, director, musician, and costume and set designer, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was one of four children of middle-class parents of Irish, French, and African descent.

Holder was educated at Queen's Royal College in Port of Spain. His grandfather, Louis Ephraim, was a French painter whose influence led both Holder and his older brother Boscoe to begin experimenting with oils Geoffrey began teaching himself to paint at age fifteen when he was forced to stay home from school due to a prolonged illness He also learned much from Boscoe who was a pianist painter and dancer When Boscoe moved to England Geoffrey took over as director of his brother s dance company while continuing to create new paintings and display work at gallery exhibitions Holder s work was displayed at ...

Article

Lisa K. Thompson

writer, educator, professional speaker. Marilyn Willingham was born in Toledo, Ohio, but moved to Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1955 with Jimmie Kern, a housepainter, and Manella Kern, a schoolteacher, who adopted her six years later. The couple had raised ten children of their own (their youngest child was a junior in high school) when they began caring for Marilyn. A very ambitious and high achieving student at Tipton Street High School, Kern hosted a radio program and served as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, The Tipton Gazette. In 1971, Kern and a white student delivered valedictory addresses, after her senior class was forced by a Supreme Court order to integrate the city's white school.

Kern enrolled at Jackson State University (JSU) in August 1971 after receiving a four year scholarship Her mother feared for her daughter s safety after the Mississippi State Guard ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

Eartha Kitt began life in an impoverished family that quickly fell apart. By the time she was six she was picking cotton to earn her keep. By the time she was twenty-six, she had grown into the toast of the international nightlife circuit and a star on Broadway. Her stage persona is that of a gold digger, a slinky seductress, a feline presence with a wry sense of humor singing jaded laments about the pursuit of pleasure and wealthy men. There are also sultry interpretations of classic torch songs, ethnic songs from around the world, and a generous supply of comic numbers that poke fun at her image.

Eartha Mae Kitt was born the illegitimate daughter of sharecroppers in North South Carolina Her father disappeared when she was just a few years old and she lost her mother when she was six For the next two years she lived with ...

Article

Lawrence J. Simpson

Patti LaBelle, Grammy-winner, best-selling author, women’s shoe and fragrance designer, and self-help guru is a bona fide diva. Her five-octave voice is passionate and compelling, and, after more than forty years in the business, shows no signs of becoming tame.

Patti LaBelle was born Patricia (Patsy) Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her parents were Bertha Lee Robinson and Henry Holte Jr. LaBelle’s mother had two children by a previous relationship: her brother Thomas and her sister Vivian were fourteen and twelve years, respectively, her senior. In addition to Patti, Bertha and Henry had two other daughters, Barbara (two years older than Patti) and Jackie (one year younger).

A very shy young girl so shy in fact that she once wet her pants in elementary school rather than raise her hand to ask for permission to go to the bathroom she first began singing in front of the mirror and later ...

Article

Elisabeth Bekers

Kenyan radio and television broadcaster and producer, public relations specialist, educator, farmer, writer, and politician, was born at Kahuhia Mission, in Fort Hall (now Murang’a) District, the daughter of Gikuyu Christian pioneers, Mariuma Wanjiura and Levi Gachanja Mgumba. Likimani’s father was one of the first Kenyan Anglican Church ministers and helped develop St. John Kahuhia Church and Mission (established in 1906). A successful commercial farmer, the Reverend Gachanja was able to provide well for Muthoni and her eight surviving siblings. Likimani was educated at Kahuhia Girls School and at the Government African Girls Teachers College, Lower Kabete.

After her graduation she briefly worked as a tutor at her old school in Kahuhia but moved to Nairobi soon after marrying Dr Jason Clement Likimani d 1989 A Masai and a fellow student of her eldest brother s at Makerere College in Kampala Uganda in the 1930s Dr Likimani was the first ...

Article

Shane Graham

South African jazz pianist, composer, journalist, writer, and broadcaster, was born 7 March 1921 in Queenstown, South Africa, to a family of musicians, the youngest of seven children born to Samuel Bokwe and Grace Matshikiza. Todd attended Adams College in Natal, and trained as a teacher at Lovedale College in Alice. He then taught English and mathematics at Lovedale High School beginning in 1940. He composed for the college choir during this time.

In 1947 Matshikiza moved to Johannesburg and met Esme Sheila Mpama, whom he married in 1950 and with whom he had one daughter, Marian, and one son, John. He taught high school, and then began teaching piano at his own private school. He played jazz piano with several groups throughout the 1950s, including the Manhattan Brothers, the Harlem Swingsters, and Nancy Jacobs and Her Sisters. In 1951 he began working for the newly founded Drum ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

writer and musician, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the youngest of eight children of Andrew Dennis McBride, a Baptist minister, and Rachel (Shilsky) McBride, an occasional typist. The exact date of his birth is not known. Part of a tide of African Americans who left the South in search of greater freedom and job opportunities in the North, McBride's father Andrew had moved in the 1940s from North Carolina to New York, where he found work in a small Manhattan leather factory. Similarly his mother, Rachel, had emigrated from Poland as a child in 1921 and settled with her family in Suffolk Virginia where her father an Orthodox rabbi ran a synagogue and managed a store that exploited the local black population One of Rachel s jobs in that store was to watch the shvartses a derogatory Yiddish term for blacks who were always suspected ...

Article

Wallace McClain Cheatham

college professor, musicologist, pianist, and writer, was born Doris Valean Evans in Washington, D.C., the second daughter of Vallean Richardson Evans and Charlie Evans. Her mother worked for the federal government, and her father was a tailor. McGinty, encouraged by her pianist mother to pursue music, began the study of piano at age seven. At age twelve she gave her first public recital. She continued the study of piano with Andres Wheatley in the Junior Preparatory Department at Howard University and played for Sunday school at the District's Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. Among her treasured mementoes were the dress and shoes she wore to the historic 1939Marian Anderson command performance at Washington's Lincoln Memorial.

Two baccalaureate degrees, in music education and German, were completed at Howard University in 1945 and 1946 respectively McGinty then went to Radcliffe College in Cambridge Massachusetts ...