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Article

Tasha M. Hawthorne

Angelou’s creative talent and genius cut across many arenas. One of the most celebrated authors in the United States, Angelou writes with an honesty and grace that captures the specificity of growing up a young black girl in the rural South.

Born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, to Bailey, a doorman and naval dietician, and Vivian, a registered nurse, professional gambler, and rooming house and bar owner, Angelou spent her early years in Long Beach, California. When she was three, her parents divorced, and she and her four-year-old brother, Bailey Jr., were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their maternal grandmother, Annie Henderson. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou recalls in vivid detail this lonely and disconcerting journey to Stamps.

Under the watchful and loving gaze of her grandmother Angelou lived a life defined by staunch Christian values and her grandmother s ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

writer, poet, and performer, was born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second of two children of Bailey Johnson, a doorman and a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a card dealer who later became a registered nurse. Her parents called her “Rita,” but her brother, Bailey, who was only a year older, called her “My Sister,” which was eventually contracted to “Maya.” When Maya was three years old, she and Bailey were sent to Stamps, Arkansas, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, whom Maya often referred to as “Mother.”Mrs. Henderson was a strong independent black woman who owned a country store in which Maya lived and worked Maya was a bright student and an avid reader she absorbed the contradictory messages of love emanating from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and of hatred revealed in the pervasive mistreatment of ...

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Brett Gadsden

teacher, civil rights activist, plaintiff in Belton v. Gebhart (1952), a companion case to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), was born in Hazelhurse, Georgia, the daughter of Glover and Ida Hall.

Around 1948, almost a decade after her husband Louis passed away, Ethel Belton moved with her seven children to Claymont, Delaware, a suburban community northwest of Wilmington, Delaware, to join her extended family. There she taught general education in a one-room school. Her daughter, Ethel Louise Belton was eleven years old at the time of the move and was later assigned to Howard High School the only free public school for blacks in the entire state at the time Located in Wilmington it was a fifty minute nine mile commute for Ethel Louise who had a congenital heart condition Although Claymont High School the school for white children in ...

Article

Paul K. Sutton

was born on 23 September 1949 in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad, the second of six children. Her father, Roy, was an estate security officer and jazz musician who emigrated to England when she was 8. Floella followed two years later to join the family in London where her father had found work as a garage mechanic. In later years she spoke of the difficulties she had in adjusting to life in London, including racism, which were chronicled in her autobiographical children’s book Coming to England (1995). This was adapted for a BBC television program, which won a Royal Television Society award in 2004.

Benjamin left school at the age of 16 to work as a clerk in Barclays Bank. In 1973 she won a part in Hair, a successful musical, and so began a theatrical career. Appearances in the London West End musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and The ...

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Regina Harris Baiocchi

Margaret Bonds was a perfectionist whose meticulous manuscript preparation rivaled that of most printing presses, and she left a legacy of mesmerizing music.

Margaret Allison Bonds was born in Chicago, Illinois. She was the only child of Monroe A. Majors, MD, and Estella C. Bonds, although Monroe Majors had an older daughter, Grace Boswell. Estella Bonds played organ for Berean Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side and taught her daughter piano, organ, and music theory. Estella Bonds was a close friend of the composers Florence S. Price, Will Marion Cook, William Dawson, and Langston Hughes, all of whom mentored young Margaret. Bonds composed her first work, “Marquette Street Blues,” at the age of five. When Price moved into the Bonds home at 6652 South Wabash to escape racism in Little Rock, Arkansas, she taught Bonds piano and composition.

Bonds earned bachelor of ...

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Barbara Garvey Jackson

composer, pianist, and teacher, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the daughter of Dr. Monroe Alpheus Majors, a pioneering black physician, medical researcher, and author, and Estelle C. Bonds, a music teacher and organist. Although legally born Majors, she used her mother's maiden name (Bonds) in her youth and throughout her professional life. She grew up in intellectually stimulating surroundings; her mother held Sunday afternoon salons at which young black Chicago musicians, writers, and artists gathered and where visiting musicians and artists were always welcomed.Bonds first displayed musical talent in her piano composition “Marquette Street Blues,” written at the age of five. She then began studying piano with local teachers, and by the time she was in high school she was taking lessons in piano and composition with Florence B. Price and William Levi Dawson two of the first black American symphonic composers both of whom were ...

Article

educator, was born Lottie Hawkins in Henderson, North Carolina, the daughter of Edmund H. Hight, a brick mason, and Caroline Frances Hawkins. Accounts vary as to whether her father and mother separated before or after her birth, and it is also unclear whether her parents ever married. After her mother married Nelson Willis, Lottie (as she was called until she changed her name to Charlotte Eugenia in high school) relocated with nineteen members of her extended family to Massachusetts in 1888. By joining the widespread migration of African Americans, the family hoped to enjoy greater economic opportunities and a better life. After settling in Cambridge, her stepfather worked odd jobs to support the family, while her mother boarded African American Harvard students, operated a laundry, and babysat. Hawkins began her elementary education at the Allston School in Cambridge, where she befriended two of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ...

Article

Valinda Littlefield

Born Lottie Hawkins in Henderson, North Carolina, Charlotte Eugenia Hawkins Brown was the daughter of Carolina Frances Hawkins and Edmund H. Hight. Her mother and stepfather, Nelson Willis, along with nineteen extended family members, moved from Henderson to Cambridge, Massachusetts, when Lottie was seven years old. After graduating from high school and changing her name to Charlotte Eugenia, Brown attended the State Normal School in Salem, Massachusetts, for two years.

In 1901 Brown accepted a position with the American Missionary Association AMA to teach at a one room school housed in a run down church in Sedalia North Carolina The AMA a nondenominational society worked to develop educational opportunities for African Americans during and after the Civil War and founded more than five hundred schools for blacks in the South Brown s school consisted of fifty children from the surrounding poor area of Guilford County North ...

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Carolyn Wedin

educator. Born in Henderson, North Carolina, to Caroline Frances Hawkins, an unwed mother of sixteen, at age six “Lottie” moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her mother, with her mother's new husband, Nelson Willis, with her brother Mingo, and with several cousins and aunts. Brown excelled at the Allston Grammar School and Cambridge English High School. The whole family worked, from doing laundry to taking in boarders. Pushing a baby carriage with one hand and reading her Latin book in the other, Brown encountered Alice Freeman Palmer, president of Wellesley College, and with Palmer's assistance she ended up attending the State Normal School in Salem. Another chance encounter led to a job offer from the American Missionary Association (AMA); she accepted a teaching position at Bethany Institute, a small school in Sedalia, outside Greensboro, North Carolina.

Within a year the AMA closed the school and the ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

elocutionist, educator, women's and civil rights leader, and writer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Thomas Arthur Brown, a riverboat steward and express agent, and Frances Jane Scroggins, an educated woman who served as an unofficial adviser to the students of Wilberforce University. Thomas Brown was born into slavery in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of a Scottish woman plantation owner and her black overseer. Brown purchased his freedom and that of his sister, brother, and father. By the time of the Civil War, he had amassed a sizable amount of real estate. Hallie's mother, Frances, was also born a slave, the child of her white owner. She was eventually freed by her white grandfather, a former officer in the American Revolution.

Both of Hallie's parents became active in the Underground Railroad. Around 1864 the Browns and their six children moved to Chatham Ontario where ...

Article

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

As a national leader in education at age twenty-one, Nannie Helen Burroughs was catapulted to fame after presenting the speech “How the Sisters Are Hindered from Helping” at the annual conference of the National Baptist Convention (NBC) in Richmond, Virginia, in 1900. Her outspoken eloquence articulated the righteous discontent of women in the black Baptist church and served as a catalyst for the formation of the largest black women’s organization in America—the Woman’s Convention Auxiliary to the NBC. Some called her an upstart because she led the organization in the struggle for women’s rights, antilynching laws, desegregation, and industrial education for black women and girls. Most people, however, considered her an organizational genius. At the helm of the National Baptist Woman’s Convention for more than six decades, Burroughs remained a tireless and intrepid champion of black pride and women’s rights.

Burroughs was born in Orange, Virginia to John ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

sculptor, printmaker, and teacher, was born Alice Elizabeth Catlett to Mary Carson, a truant officer, and John Catlett, a math teacher and amateur musician who died shortly before Elizabeth's birth. Elizabeth and her two older siblings were raised by their mother and paternal grandmother in a middle-class neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Encouraged by her mother and her teachers at Dunbar High School to pursue a career as an artist, she entered Howard University in 1931, where she studied with the African American artists James Lesesne Wells, Loïs Mailou Jones, and James A. Porter. After graduating cum laude with a BS in Art in 1935, Catlett taught art in the Durham, North Carolina, public schools before beginning graduate training at the University of Iowa in 1938 Under the tutelage of the artist Grant Wood Catlett switched her concentration from painting to sculpture and ...

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Freida High (Wasikhongo Tesfagiorgis)

I don’t have anything against men but, since I am a woman, I know more about women and I know how they feel. Many artists are always doing men. I think that somebody ought to do women. Artists do work with women, with the beauty of their bodies and the refinement of middle-class women, but I think there is a need to express something about the working-class Black woman and that’s what I do.

(Gladstone, p. 33)

As a reputed sculptor and printmaker whose career began in the 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett is a major figure in modern American and Mexican art. Catlett’s work embraces the human condition, revealing a deep passion for dignifying humanity, especially working-class women and, in particular, African American and Mexican women. Titles of her sculpture suggest this interest: Black Woman Speaks (1970), Mother and Child (1940, 1993), Mujer (1964 ...

Article

Daniel A. Dalrymple

Chisholm made a career out of breaking down barriers. She was both the first black woman to be elected to United States Congress and the first woman or African American to mount a serious run at a major party’s nomination for president. Chisholm forged a strong reputation for doing things her own way, spurning both the New York Democratic political machine and political decorum. Despite the obstacles that came with bucking the system, Chisholm always held her ground on important issues such as abortion, women’s rights, and civil rights.

Chisholm was born the eldest of three sisters to West Indian parents, Charles St. Hill and Ruby Seale in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York Shirley s father worked as a baker s helper and later a factory hand and her mother found employment as a seamstress However Hill and Seale quickly realized that their wages were insufficient ...

Article

Patricia E. Canson

U.S. congresswoman, was born Shirley St. Hill in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest daughter of Charles St. Hill, a laborer born in British Guiana (now Guyana), and Ruby Seale, a seamstress born in Barbados. Shirley's first three years were spent in Brownsville, a predominantly Jewish area of Brooklyn. Finding the wages for unskilled factory work insufficient to care for three children properly, the St. Hills sent their three daughters to Barbados, where they lived with their maternal grandparents on the family farm. Shirley credits her grandmother Emily Seale with instilling in her a strong character and determination.

The girls returned to Brownsville in 1934 after their mother gave birth to another daughter Despite the social and financial hardships of the Depression Ruby encouraged her children to respect the values of civility thrift poise humility education and spirituality though the sisters endured a substantial amount of teasing in the ...

Article

Jacqueline A. Rouse

educator, activist, and community leader, was born Septima Poinsette in Charleston, South Carolina, the second child of Peter Porcher Poinsette, a caterer, and Victoria Anderson, who took in laundry. Peter Poinsette emerged from slavery free of animosity or a spirit of rebellion but determined to serve others, to educate his children, and to follow Jesus Christ with a passion. Victoria Anderson Poinsette, who was born free and at one point lived in Haiti with relatives, boasted that she had never been a servant to any white family. Septima's parents met and married in Florida, later relocating to Charleston.

Septima graduated from Avery Institute in Charleston in 1916 and began teaching on Johns Island She quickly learned that the educational season on the island was determined by the agricultural contracts between sharecroppers and landowners and that illiteracy and poverty contributed to a system akin to slavery The children could ...

Article

Jocelyn L. Womack

activist, educator, and lawyer, was born Kathleen Neal in Dallas, Texas, to Ernest Neal and Juette Johnson, educators. Activism and scholarship were staples of the Neal family home, as both of her parents held advanced degrees. Ernest and Juette met while attending the University of Michigan in the 1940s. Juette held a master's degree in mathematics, and Ernest earned a PhD in Sociology. Ernest was working as a Wiley College sociology professor in Marshall, Texas, at the time of Kathleen's birth.

Shortly after Kathleen s birth Ernest accepted a job at Tuskegee Institute relocating the family to Alabama In addition to Kathleen s early exposure to academia her father s work in foreign aid promoted a family environment in which social progress was frequently discussed At the age of nine Kathleen had already embarked upon a life of global travel and had an appreciation of diverse cultures Her father ...

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Dianne Johnson

Clifton said plainly:

I am a woman and I write from that experience. I am a Black woman and I write from that experience. I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have never had bad scenes relating to being Black and/or a woman, it means that other people’s craziness has not managed to make me crazy. At least not in their way because I try very hard not to close my eye to my own craziness nor to my family’s, my sex’s, nor my race’s.

(quoted in Evans, 1984)

This statement is an apt introduction to Clifton’s considerable body of work, both for adults and for young people, comprising fiction, poetry, essays, autobiography, and interviews. She is one of the prolific writers of picture books created out of an African American consciousness and experience. She is also a 1980 ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

anthropologist, educator, and college president, was born Johnnetta Betsch in Jacksonville, Florida, the second of three children to Mary Frances Lewis, an English teacher, and John Thomas Betsch Sr., an insurance executive. Johnnetta grew up in one of Florida's most prominent African American families; her great-grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, co-founded the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, Florida's first insurance company. An ambitious and civic-minded businessman, Lewis established several black institutions, including the colored branch of the public library, the Lincoln Golf and Country Club, and the seaside resort known as American Beach, the only beach allowing blacks in north Florida. Johnnetta's childhood was shaped by competing influences: her supportive family and community, and the racist attitudes and institutions of the Jim Crow South. Educated in segregated public and private schools, Johnnetta credits the influence of her teachers and her family friend Mary McLeod Bethune with encouraging her ...

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Beverly Guy-Sheftall

Johnnetta Betsch Cole was the seventh president of Spelman College (1987-1997), the oldest college for black women in the United States. Under her leadership, Spelman became the first historically black college or university to receive top ratings by U.S. News & World Report and Money magazine. During her presidency she raised over $113 million in the Capital Campaign Fund, which was the largest sum ever raised by a historically black college or university. After leaving the Spelman presidency in 1997, she joined the faculty at Emory University, where she was professor of anthropology, women’s studies, and African American studies for four years. She also has the distinction of being the only black woman to have been president of the only two historically black colleges for women. In July 2002 she was appointed president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, becoming its fourteenth president.

Cole ...