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Born in Sanford, Florida, Claude Barnett was sent at a very young age to live with his grandparents and other relatives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. He returned to the South to study engineering at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), from which he graduated in 1906. Back in Chicago, he worked as a postal clerk and, exposed to a wide range of advertising journals, decided to make a career in advertising. In 1913 he produced a series of photographs of famous blacks, which he sold through the mail, furthering his interest in business.

Five years later Barnett and several other entrepreneurs formed the Kashmir Chemical Company which sold cosmetics Barnett left the post office took the job of advertising manager at Kashmir and toured the country selling cosmetics as well as his photographs In each town he visited the local black newspaper hoping to bargain for ...

Article

Robert L. Harris

entrepreneur, journalist, and government adviser, was born in Sanford, Florida, the son of William Barnett, a hotel worker, and Celena Anderson. His father worked part of the year in Chicago and the rest of the time in Florida. Barnett's parents separated when he was young, and he lived with his mother's family in Oak Park, Illinois, where he attended school. His maternal ancestors were free blacks who migrated from Wake County, North Carolina, to the black settlement of Lost Creek, near Terre Haute, Indiana, during the 1830s. They then moved to Mattoon, Illinois, where Barnett's maternal grandfather was a teacher and later a barbershop owner, and finally to Oak Park. While attending high school in Oak Park, Barnett worked as a houseboy for Richard W. Sears cofounder of Sears Roebuck and Company Sears offered him a job with the company after he graduated from high school but ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

editor and public official, was born in Tarboro, North Carolina, the younger son and third child of John C. Dancy and Eliza Dancy, slaves owned by John S. Dancy, a local planter. After the Civil War, John C. Dancy became a prosperous carpenter and contractor, and was later elected as an Edgecombe County commissioner. John Campbell Dancy was educated in the common schools in Tarboro, where he worked briefly as a newspaper typesetter before entering the normal department at Howard University in Washington, DC.

After his father's death, John Dancy interrupted his studies to return to Tarboro, where he became a schoolteacher and principal of the public school for African American children. U.S. Congressman John Adams Hyman (R-NC) secured an appointment for Dancy at the U.S. Treasury Department in 1876, and Dancy briefly returned to Washington. By 1880 he was again teaching in Tarboro where ...

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Helen R. Houston

Willis Richardson's interest in the theater was encouraged when he viewed a production of Angelina Weld Grimké's Rachel and by his belief that African American life was richer in theme and character than was being portrayed on the stage in musicals, comedies, and “serious” plays by whites. These were limited to stereotypical roles and one-dimensional representations. Added to this, theatrical groups were without plays by African American writers. With Richardson, all of this changed.

He began to write one-act plays; his early plays presented heroes such as Crispus Attacks, Antonio Maceo, and Simon the Cyrenian for children's edification and were published in The Brownie's Book. In 1920, he published his first adult play, The Deacon's Awakening, in the Crisis. In 1923, he became the first African American playwright to have a nonmusical production on Broadway: The Chip Woman's Fortune; and in 1924 ...

Article

Frank A. Salamone

journalist, diplomat, civil rights advocate, and philanthropist. Carl Thomas Rowan was born in Ravenscroft, Tennessee, but was raised in McMinnville. Rowan attended Tennessee State University and Washburn University in the 1940s and then became one of the first African American commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy. In 1943 the navy sent him to Northwestern for summer training as an officer, but Northwestern refused him residence because he was black. So the navy transferred him to Oberlin. After the war he returned to Oberlin because, according to his autobiography, Breaking Barriers (1991), “Oberlin would permit me to study in a special oasis, sheltered from the hurts, the anger, the rage, that all victims of racism experience.” He graduated from Oberlin in 1947 and from the University of Minnesota—with a master's degree in journalism—in 1948.

Rowan's journalism career began in 1948 at the Minneapolis Tribune ...

Article

Marian Aguiar

Carl Thomas Rowan was born in Ravenscroft, Tennessee. After serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy, which was segregated at the time, Rowan began a career as a newspaper journalist at the white-owned Minneapolis Tribune. One of the first African American reporters for a large urban daily newspaper, Rowan captured the racial struggles of the 1950s with a series on discrimination in the South and an article on the landmark segregation case before the U.S. Supreme Court—Brown v. Board of Education.

In 1961 Rowan entered government service as deputy assistant secretary of state to President John F. Kennedy. Appointed ambassador to Finland in 1963 he was one of the first African Americans diplomats to serve in a predominantly white nation That same year he became head of the United States Information Agency USIA the highest post in the government s executive branch that ...

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Pamela Newkirk

journalist, diplomat, and United States Information Agency director, was born in Ravenscroft, Tennessee. He was one of three children of Thomas David Rowan, a lumberyard worker with a fifth-grade education who had served in World War I, and Johnnie Bradford, a domestic worker with an eleventh-grade education. When Rowan was an infant, his family left the dying coal-mining town of his birth to go to McMinnville, Tennessee, lured by its lumberyards, nurseries, and livery stables. But there, in the midst of the Great Depression, they remained mired in poverty. The elder Rowan sometimes found jobs stacking lumber at twenty-five cents an hour and, according to his son, probably never made more than three hundred dollars in a single year. Meanwhile his mother worked as a domestic, cleaning houses and doing the laundry of local white families.

The family lived in an old frame house along ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a civil rights activist, dedicated civil servant, and distinguished advocate for rural farmers, known for her candid accounts of her own struggles with the way racism infuses American culture, was born Shirley Miller in Baker County, Georgia, to Hosea and Grace Miller. As a child she picked cucumbers, cotton, and peanuts, coming home from school and going directly to work in the fields. She was the oldest child, with four sisters, and one brother who was born two months after their father died. The family lived in an area called Hawkins Town, made up of several related families who owned their own farms, and a few landless agricultural laborers who, Sherrod recalled “were also like family,” some of whom continued years later to attend family reunions. Everyone pitched in to help with each other's harvests (Melissa Walker, Southern Farmers and Their Stories Memory and Meaning ...

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Todd Steven Burroughs

lawyer, politician, and newspaper publisher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a newspaper publisher, Robert Vann's periodical, the Pittsburgh Courier, became a newspaper not ashamed to publish sensational news and not afraid to be controversial. He saw the paper as an agitation vehicle to improve all facets of black life in Pittsburgh.

Robert Vann was born in 1879 on a North Carolina farm near a town called Ahoskie. His mother, Lucy Peoples, worked for a family named Vann. When her son's father deserted them, she gave him the Vann surname. After attending the Waters Training School in Winston, North Carolina, and the Wayland Academy (the latter a preparatory school for Virginia Union University), he attended the Western University of Pennsylvania. He became the first African American to become the editor of the Courant, the campus newspaper. Vann earned his BA from Western in 1906 and his ...