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Donna Waller Harper

dancer, choreographer and actress, was born Deborrah Kaye Allen in Houston, Texas, to Andrew Allen, a dentist, and Vivian Ayers-Allen, a poet and librarian; her parents had two other children, the actress Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Allen, better known as Tex. Although she exhibited an early interest in dance and desired to join the Houston Foundation for Ballet, she was denied admission when she applied in the 1950s in what her mother saw as a clear example of discrimination. Her parents were able to pay for private ballet lessons with the Ballet Russes. She later traveled and trained in Mexico City with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964 she returned to Houston where she once again auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet This time she was not only accepted to the prestigious organization but was awarded a scholarship Her talent won her ...


Kathleen Thompson

Ambitious, talented Debbie Allen has broken ground for black women in a variety of roles, primarily behind the scenes of the entertainment industry—directing, producing, writing, and choreographing television shows, films, and musical theater.

Debbie Allen was born into a remarkable family in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Allen, was a dentist, and her mother, Vivian Ayers Allen, is a poet who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her sister, Phylicia Rashad, is a well-known actor, and one of her brothers is Andrew “Tex” Allen, a jazz musician.

Allen decided early that she wanted to be a dancer She began her training when she was three and by the time she was eight she had decided to go into musical theater When she tried to enroll in the school of the Houston Foundation for Ballet she was rejected for reasons her mother considered discriminatory As a ...


Jill Silos-Rooney

actor, athlete, singer, and producer, was born in Newark, New Jersey, to Annabelle Patricia West and John Allen Amos Sr., a self-taught diesel auto mechanic and tractor trailer driver. Shortly after his second birthday, the family moved to East Orange, New Jersey, where they lived while John Sr. served in the military during World War II. His father left after the war, and his mother struggled to support her family by working as a domestic and then as a certified dietician. Amos recalled that, “the only time [he] ever saw his mother concede to possible failure was one time when she could not find any food in the cupboards. She had to ask him to go to the next-door neighbor to borrow food” (interview with John Amos by the author, 2010 Amos first joined the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark New Jersey at about ...


Sibyl Collins Wilson

actor and director, was born in Havana, Cuba. In 1950, when he was seven years old, he moved with his family from Cuba to the United States, where they made their residence in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. At age fifteen, he formed a music group called the Parthenons, which disbanded after one television appearance. While some biographies list him as having graduated from New York's William Howard Taft High School, Brown did not graduate but dropped out at the age of sixteen. He appeared to be a disinterested student, skipping more than forty days of class each of his last semesters in high school, and school leaders allowed him to quit because of his lack of performance.

A year after leaving school Brown decided to try out for a scholarship to attend the Juilliard School s Institute of Vocal Arts He won the scholarship but declined it ...


Dylon L. Robbins

was born Jorge da Silva on 21 September 1937 in Rio de Janeiro. His father, Sebastião Alves de Brito, was an itinerant laborer without long-term or regular employment. His mother, Rita Maria da Silva, worked to raise Bulbul and his sister after separating from his father. In interviews, Bulbul recalled his childhood as characterized by his living in a single dwelling with several other families in the Rio neighborhood of Botafogo. It is during this time that he came to be called Zózimo. Because of disciplinary problems in school, Bulbul was sent to a youth reform school where he felt a greater sense of community with what he described as its almost exclusively black student body.

After leaving the reform school Bulbul enlisted in the army Upon his discharge he took university courses in accounting before enrolling at the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes National School of Fine Arts from ...


Zózimo Bulbul was born in Rio de Janeiro. In the 1970s he appeared in several films including Compasso de Espera (1973), Sagarana (1973), Pureza Proibida (1974), and Deusa Negra (1979). In 1974 Bulbul directed Soul in the Eye a powerful ...


Meredith Broussard

actor and director, was born Levardis Robert Martyn Burton Jr. in Landstuhl, Germany, to Levardis Robert Burton Sr., a career army photographer, and Erma Christian. The couple separated when their son was three. Erma returned to the United States with her son and his two elder sisters and settled in Sacramento, California. The family were devout Roman Catholics, and Burton decided at thirteen to enter a Catholic seminary to become a priest. While there, he changed his mind and decided to become an actor instead.

Burton's big break came while he was a drama student at the University of Southern California's School of Theatre. While playing Ali Hakeem, the Persian rug dealer in the musical Oklahoma!, he tried out for the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley s landmark book tracing the generations of his family through America and back to Africa Burton landed the part ...


Roanne Edwards

Ossie Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the son of a railway engineer, and grew up in Waycross, Georgia. The harassment of his parents by the Ku Klux Klan impelled him early on to become a writer so that he could “truthfully portray the black man's experience.” At Howard University, under the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke, Davis developed his theatrical talent, performing in a 1941 production of Joy Exceeding Glory with Harlem's Rose McClendon Players. Following his theater debut, however, he received few job offers and for nearly a year found himself living on the street.

Davis never lost his sense of purpose. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he returned to New York, New York, where he won the title role in Robert Ardrey's play Jeb (1946). In 1948 he married fellow performer Ruby ...


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 ...


Cassandra Jackson

Born in Cogsdell, Georgia, Ossie Davis grew up in nearby Waycross. He studied at Howard University for three years, then traveled to New York to pursue a career in the theater. With the encouragement of Alain Locke, Davis obtained a position with the Rose McClendon Players of Harlem, while writing in his spare time. The following year, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Medical Corps and in Special Services. While stationed in Liberia, he wrote and produced Goldbrickers of 1944, a musical variety show. Discharged in 1945, Davis returned to New York and gained the lead role in the play Jeb, which propelled his stage career. Also starring in the play was Davis's future wife, Ruby Dee, with whom he would continue to costar in plays and later in film. Among Davis's stage, film, and television credits are The Joe Louis Story ...


Niambi Lee-Kong

actor, playwright, producer, director, and civil rights activist. Ossie Davis, though commonly known for his work in the dramatic arts, was a humanitarian and activist who used his talents and fame to fight for the humane treatment of his people and for recognition of their contributions to society.

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, to Kince Charles Davis and Laura Cooper Davis. Though neither parent was formally educated, Davis's father was a preacher and a railroad construction engineer. Davis's name “Ossie” came from a clerk's misunderstanding the pronunciation of the initials “R. C.” when recording his birth.

In 1935 Davis graduated from Central High School in Waycross, Georgia. He then attended Howard University, where he met Alain Locke a professor of philosophy who had been the first black Rhodes scholar Locke recognized Ossie s talent introduced him to black theater and encouraged ...


Debbie Clare Olson

actor, producer, director, nightclub owner, and restaurateur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Mayme Edna Revere Freeman and Morgan Porterfield Freeman. When he was two years old, Morgan's parents, like many others at the time, went north to look for work and to escape the Jim Crow conditions of the Deep South. Morgan and his sister, Iris, went to Mississippi to live with their paternal grandmother until her death four years later. Morgan and his sister then rejoined his parents in Chicago. A few months later, Morgan's mother and father separated and for a few years Morgan and his sister moved back and forth between Mississippi and Chicago.

After graduating in 1955 from Greenwood High School in Mississippi, Morgan joined the air force, where he served as a radar mechanic between 1955 and 1959 After he was discharged Morgan went to Los Angeles ...


Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He began acting as a child, enlisted in the United States Air Force at eighteen, and later returned to acting while enrolled at Los Angeles City College. Freeman then moved to New York City, where he perfected his craft in minor stage plays and appeared on the television soap opera Another World. He made his Broadway debut in 1968 in an all-black production of Hello Dolly! and went on to win a Tony Award nomination for his performance in The Mighty Gents (1978) and Obie Awards (given for off-Broadway work) for his roles in Coriolanus (1979), Mother Courage and Her Children (1980), and The Gospel at Colonus (1983).

Freeman's film debut, in the low-budget children's feature Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow? (1971 led to a recurring role on ...


Shantel Agnew

actor, director, producer. Morgan Freeman was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and was raised in Greenwood, Mississippi, by his grandparents. He spent summers in Chicago, Illinois, with his parents, who moved there for better job opportunities. This is where Freeman developed a passion for the cinema. At the age of eight, he made his acting debut when he played the lead role in the school play. He won a statewide drama competition at age twelve and during high school he performed in a Nashville, Tennessee–based radio show. In 1955, Freeman was offered a partial drama scholarship by Jackson State University but decided to join the United States Air Force, where he worked as a mechanic. He left the Air Force in 1959 and moved to Los Angeles He worked as a transcript clerk at Los Angeles Community College where he took free acting singing and dancing ...


Kofi Natambu

actor and film director, was born William Garfield Greaves in Harlem, New York, one of seven children of Garfield Greaves, a cabdriver and part-time minister, and Emily Muir. A precocious student who was active in the arts and sports, Greaves won a scholarship at the age of fourteen to the prestigious Little Red Schoolhouse in New York's Greenwich Village. Later he attended the highly competitive and academically demanding Stuyvesant High School (a science- and math-oriented magnet school that only accepted New York's finest public school students), graduating in 1943. In 1944 Greaves enrolled as an engineering student at the City College of New York, but he soon left to pursue his love of dance. He became a skilled performer in several African and African American dance troupes, including the Pearl Primus Dance Troupe and the (West African) Sierra Leonean Asadata Dafora Dance Company.

Greaves also began studying acting ...


Klara Szmánko

poet, novelist, film producer, activist, and radio talk show host, was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Sam Greenlee Sr., was a chauffeur, and his mother a singer and dancer. Greenlee, who identifies himself as a second-generation immigrant from the Deep South, has claimed that he made up for his “non-education in Chicago ghetto non-schools at three universities: Wisconsin, Chicago and Thessalonikki, Greece” (Afterword, Blues for an African Princess). Greenlee received his BS degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1952. He studied at the University of Chicago between 1954 and 1957 and at the University of Thessalonikki for one year (1963–1964 Greenlee professes fluency in Greek Indonesian and Malay and a much more limited knowledge of Arabic French and Italian the languages he mastered while working as a foreign service officer in Iraq Pakistan Indonesia and Greece ...


Wanda Macon

Sam Greenlee has employed the Black literary tradition to produce such masterpieces as The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) and Baghdad Blues (1976). Greenlee was born on 13 July 1930 in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. As a young man he attended the University of Wisconsin, where he received his BS in 1952. Greenlee further studied at the University of Chicago (1954–1957) and the University of Thessaloniki, Greece (1963–1964). His career started as a United States Information Agency Foreign Service Officer in Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Greece. His military service included time in the U.S. Army Infantry from 1952 to 1954. Greenlee received the London Sunday Times book of the year award in 1969 for The Spook Who Sat by the Door and the Meritorious Service Award from the United States Information Agency He currently resides in Chicago Illinois ...


Isabel Morais

Mozambican film director, actor, screenwriter, writer, and lyricist, was born on 22 August 1931 and grew up in Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo) in the former Portuguese-speaking colony of Mozambique in eastern Africa. Rui (also spelled Ruy) Guerra’s parents were Portuguese immigrants. As a teenager he wrote film reviews, shot films, and became involved in anticolonial and proindependent circles.

At the age of nineteen Guerra left Mozambique for further education in France, where from 1952 to 1954 he studied cinematography at the Institute of High Cinematographic Studies in Paris. Between 1956 and 1957 he became assistant cameraman and director on various French films. In 1958 he emigrated to Brazil, where he directed his first feature film, Os Cafajestes (The Hustlers, 1962), which was selected for the twelfth Berlin International Film Festival. The high point of Guerra’s career came when he directed the political and antimilitarist film Os Fuzis ...


Kofi Natambu

actor, playwright, screenwriter, director, and novelist, was born William Harrison Gunn in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only child of William Gunn, a songwriter, musician, comedian, and unpublished poet, and Louise Alexander, an actress, theater director, and community activist. Gunn grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and attended integrated public schools in Philadelphia, graduating from high school in 1952.

After serving two years in the U.S. Navy, Gunn moved to New York City's East Village in 1954, intending to become an actor. At twenty, he won critical acclaim in 1954 for his portrayal of the young boy in the New Theatre Company's revival of Take a Giant Step. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he continued to appear in plays on and off Broadway, including The Immoralist with James Dean and productions of Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida in 1956 and 1957 ...


Cara Grace Pacifico

actor and film producer, was born Noble Mark Johnson in Marshall, Missouri, to Perry Johnson, a nationally renowned horse trainer, and Georgia Reed. Their first child, Virgel, was born in Indiana in 1879. They had relocated to Missouri before Noble Mark was born, however they soon moved permanently to Ivywild, a suburb of Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Perry built his own facilities to train the horses of gold mining millionaires. Colorado Springs is often mistakenly listed as Johnson's birthplace but is, rather, the birthplace of his siblings Iris Hazel (1883) and George Perry (1885). Georgia Johnson died two days after George's birth. As a result the infant George was turned over to Mrs. Nancy Turner a servant in the home of the Johnson s neighbors Virgel largely took responsibility for Noble and Iris The Johnson children attended public schools in Colorado ...