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David Dabydeen

Africanjournalist and nationalist born in Egypt of Egyptian and Sudanese parentage. At the age of 9 or 10 Ali was sent to England to be educated. He never returned to Egypt and spent most of his time between 1883 and 1921 living in Britain. During this period, he was poverty‐stricken, attempting to earn a living through his pen and tour acting. Ali published Land of the Pharaohs in 1911, an anti‐imperialist book that became a significant contribution to the decolonization efforts in the United States and West Africa.

In 1912Ali and John Eldred Taylor, a journalist from Sierra Leone, inaugurated the African Times and Orient Review (1912–20), a magazine that sought to deal with anti‐colonial issues that not merely embraced Pan‐African matters, but incorporated Pan‐Oriental topics as well. The journal was inspired by the Universal Races Congress in London in 1911 which advocated ...

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J. Ayo Langley

In his lifetime (1866–1945), Duse Mohamed Ali, actor, historian of Egypt, newspaper editor, Pan-Africanist, Pan-Islamist, and promoter of African American and African trade and investment, was known to African American leaders such as Booker T. Washington, the principal of Tuskegee Institute, and Washington’s successor, R. R. Moton. He was also known to Arthur W. Schomberg, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the founding father of African American history, and W. T. Ferris, author of The African Abroad (1913). He was known to African nationalist leaders, public intellectuals, merchants, and lawyers, particularly to West Africans. His book In the Land of the Pharaohs (1911) and monthly journal The African Times and Orient Review, “a monthly journal devoted to the interests of the colored races of the world,” played an important role in increasing his public outside Britain.

According to his autobiography serialized ...

Article

Nathan L. Grant

is the pseudonym of Black Theater movement playwright Ed Bullins for the publication of We Righteous Bombers in the anthology New Plays from the Black Theatre (1969) and the play's production at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in May of 1969.

New Plays from the Black Theatre lists Kingsley B. Bass, Jr., as “a 24-year-old Black man murdered by Detroit police during the uprising,” but in a panel discussion of We Righteous Bombers at the New Lafayette Theatre (11 May 1969), playwright Marvin X reported that Bullins in fact wrote the play and used the pseudonym “to suggest the type of play that a brother killed in the Detroit Revolution would have written.” Bass, who never existed, seemed able to achieve for himself a fine, if ironic, honor: a small notice by Larry Neal printed below prefatory notes to the panel discussion which ...

Article

Frank Cha

playwright, teacher, and activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Clara and John Burrill. She attended the M Street School, originally named the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth, and there developed an interest in literature and theatrics. Upon graduating high school in 1901, she moved with her family to Boston, where she enrolled at Emerson College and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the school in 1904.

In 1905 Burrill moved back to Washington, D.C., and began a career in teaching that would last almost forty years. She alternated between Armstrong Technical High School and her alma mater, renamed Dunbar High School after the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar Burrill taught English and drama eventually accepting a permanent position at Dunbar one of the leading schools for African Americans in the Washington D C area in the early ...

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Lucilda Hunter

poet, dramatist, musician, artist, was born prematurely on 11 May 1904 in Axim in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Her father was Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford, a journalist, educator, and Pan-African activist of Fante origin, and her mother was his second wife, Adelaide Smith Casely-Hayford, a Sierra Leonean–born feminist, writer, and educator.

Gladys Casely-Hayford spent the first five years of her life between the Gold Coast and England. Her mother first took her there in 1906 to consult a specialist about a congenital hip defect that had made her left leg weak and misaligned, creating mobility problems. A second visit to England was for her mother’s own health and family reasons. Both visits lasted for months and might have contributed to the failure of her parents’ marriage, which ended with a legal separation agreement in 1914 Gladys went to Freetown when her mother returned to Sierra Leone and attended the ...

Article

Gregson Davis

was born at Basse-Pointe, Martinique, on 26 June 1913, the second child of Marie Félicité Éléonore, a professional seamstress, and Fernand Césaire, then the manager of a sugar estate. After attending the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France, the capital of Martinique, from 1924 to 1931, Césaire won a scholarship to continue his studies in Paris at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, where he successfully prepared for, and obtained, admission to the highly prestigious École Normale Supérieure in 1935.

During his course of study in the metropolis, he came into contact with several fellow students of African descent—foremost among them the Senegalese Léopold Senghor, who later went on to lead his country to independence from France. Césaire also became a cofounder, along with Senghor and the French Guyanese poet Léon Damas, of the student journal L’Etudiant noir Black Student which provided an important ideological outlet for the growing anticolonial sentiment ...

Article

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

Massillon Coicou is considered one of the greatest poets in Haitian literature. His works include intimate love poems (Passions) as well as poems with nationalist themes (Poésies Nationales). His poem “Impressions” reflects the metaphysical preoccupations of the author. His two theatrical plays, Féfé Candidat and Féfé Ministre, offer a caustic tableau of Haitian politics, in which Coicou revealed his lack of consideration for political puppets. Other works include Oracle (1893), Liberté (1894), The Son of Toussaint Louverture (1895), and Emperor Dessalines (1906).

Born in Port-au-Prince, Coicou studied at the religious institution of the Frères de l'Instruction Chrétienne (in Saint Louis de Gonzague) and then at the Lycée National. After serving in the army, he worked as a public servant and as a teacher.

President Tiresias Simon Sam on friendly terms with Coicou s family appointed Coicou ...

Article

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 ...

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 ...

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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 ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Clarence G. Contee

Born about 1846 in New York City on Sullivan Street in Lower Manhattan, a son of Henry Downing and Nancy (Collins) Downing, Henry Francis Downing was the grandson of Thomas Downing, operator of an oyster-selling business and well-known free black. He was the nephew of George Thomas Downing, a well known politician in New York City and in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as a friend of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The family maintained the oyster business and a refectory (dining hall) on Broad Street into the 1850s. Henry Downing received enough education to enable him to read and to write.

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Downing was still in school. Eager to serve, he enlisted in the Union Navy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on August 25, 1864, beginning his service on board the North Carolina He was ...

Article

Lawrence R. Rodgers

Born in New York City into a family of successful free African Americans who ran an oyster business, Henry Downing was the nephew of the esteemed politician George Thomas Downing. Henry Downing served two terms in the U.S. Navy (1864–1865 and 1872–1875). Following the Civil War, he traveled around the world, a journey punctuated by a three-year residence in Liberia, where his cousin Hilary Johnson later served as president (1884–1892). After returning to New York, he became politically active in the Democratic Party. For his strong support, President Cleveland appointed Downing consul to Loanda, Angola, a West African colony of Portugal, where he served less than a year before resigning in 1888. After returning to New York for several years, he emigrated to London in 1895 where he remained for twenty two years There he began a productive if undistinguished career as a writer ...

Article

Jeffrey Green

African‐American playwright and journalist in London. Downing enjoyed a varied career. In his youth he was a sailor, and later worked for the United States foreign service in Angola. He also managed a New York press agency representing prominent black leaders including Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells. Around 1895 Downing and his reputedly white American wife, Margarita (c.1873–c.1950), arrived in England and settled in Chiswick, west London.

A fortuitous meeting with the African‐American poet Paul Dunbar in London resulted in Downing's management of Dunbar's 1897 successful reading tour throughout England. As Dunbar's manager, Downing played an instrumental role in bringing together two of the most famous and talented black artistes of the 19th century. Impressed by his stewardship of Dunbar's tour, Samuel Coleridge‐Taylor contacted the pair and thus began a series of collaborations between the ...

Article

Brian R. Roberts

diplomat, editor, and author, was born in Manhattan to Henry and Nancy (Collins) Downing. His family operated an oyster business and restaurant, and his uncle was George Thomas Downing, a Rhode Island businessman and civil rights leader. Nothing is known of Henry Downing's education before he entered the U.S. Navy at age eighteen.

Serving from 1864 through 1865 he worked on three vessels, the North Carolina, Pawtuxet, and Winooski. Afterward he traveled widely, spending three years in Liberia, where his cousin, Hilary Johnson, later became president (1884–1892). In Liberia, Downing worked as secretary to the Liberian secretary of state. Upon his return to New York he reenlisted in the navy, serving from 1872 to 1875 on the Hartford in the Pacific.

After his discharge Downing again returned to New York City and married Isadora (maiden name unknown) on 8 ...

Article

Richard Watts

Franck Etienne, who adopted the creolized spelling Franketienne in 1972, has written strikingly original works in both Creole and French, becoming a key figure in contemporary Haitian literature.

Born to a black mother and a white father, Franketienne grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In a society organized into levels by race, he had the light skin color of the mulatto elite but lacked the money and the family connections that would have let him enter their world. At school, he was called blanc manant (white peasant), an insulting nickname he later embraced.

Franketienne's work reflects his in-between status in Haitian society. He writes about the black middle class in the novel Mur à crever (1968) but also represents rural life in Haiti, as in Dézafi (1975 one of the first novels written in Creole Franketienne s poetry also ...

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Vivian Njeri Fisher

civil rights activist, educator, scholar, and dramatist, was born Ida Mae Holland in the Delta town of Greenwood, Mississippi. She was the youngest of four children of Ida Mae, a strong-willed, independent woman and midwife, who raised her children as a single parent. Holland never knew the true identity of her biological father.

Holland received her early education in Greenwood Mississippi but had dropped out of school before she reached the ninth grade At the age of eleven Holland experienced an incident that would change her life She was sexually assaulted while babysitting for a white family By the age of twelve the young and rebellious Holland was working as a prostitute She later noted I was always big for my age But after the rape and that White man gave me $5 I knew I was a woman And since I didn t want ...

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Chesya Burke

civil rights leader, English professor, editor, and award-winning poet and playwright, was born Moses Carl Holman in Minter City, Mississippi, and was raised from age three in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended St. Louis public schools, where his devotion to education was formed. He graduated from high school in 1936.

In 1942 he graduated magna cum laude from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri, and earned a master's degree from the University of Chicago in 1944; he later received a creative writing scholarship to attend Yale and obtained another master's degree (1954). Holman's love of the written word had been shaped early on, and he was known to write anywhere and everywhere he could. In 1938 the nineteen-year-old Holman had become the first black person to win one of the annual scriptwriting awards sponsored by the popular Dr. Christian radio program ...

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Selwyn Cudjoe

Cyril Lionel Robert James (1901–1989), eminent pan-Africanist and one of the most original Marxist thinkers to emerge from the Western hemisphere, was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad. He was named after his father, Robert James, the principal of several outstanding primary schools in the island. Robert’s nephew Cyril Austin, who lived with the James family for many years, observed that Robert “reveled in everything that lifted the human mind; that is, everything that was Victorian. He dabbled in the arts, the liberal arts, music and dancing.” Young James attended Arima Government School, from which he won a government scholarship to go to Queen’s Royal College (QRC), the leading high school on the island. After he completed his studies at QRC, he was offered a teaching position where, among others, he taught Eric Williams, author of Capitalism and Slavery and former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Each night ...

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Erin D. Somerville

Trinidadian historian, novelist, philosopher, and cricket fan credited with extending Marxist philosophy to black politics. Cyril Lionel Robert James was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, to Robert, a rural schoolteacher and son of a sugar plantation worker, and Bessie, an avid reader. James won an exhibition to Trinidad's Queen's Royal College at the age of 9 and taught history at the College after graduation. Teaching was coupled with a semi‐professional cricket career and the publication of two early novels, La Divina Pastora (1927) and Triumph (1929).

At the age of 31 James immigrated to England to pursue a career as a novelist. The Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine, with whom James lived in Lancashire after a short stay in London, aided his move. James's bond with Constantine was encouraged by a mutual interest in West Indian independence, which climaxed in the publication of The Case for West ...