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Bunche, Ralph Johnson  

Lawrie Balfour

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Johnson Bunche spent his early years with his parents in Detroit and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attributed his achievements to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, California, after he was orphaned at age thirteen. Johnson not only insisted that her grandson be self-reliant and proud of his race, but also that he, a high school valedictorian, go to college.

Bunche enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, and after graduating summa cum laude in 1927, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science from an American university. Bunche won the prize for the outstanding doctoral thesis in the social sciences in 1934 He conducted his postdoctoral research on African colonialism He did his research ...

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Keckly, Elizabeth Hobbs  

Jennifer Fleischner

slave, dressmaker, abolitionist, and White House memoirist, was born Elizabeth Hobbs in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the daughter of Armistead Burwell, a white slaveholder, and his slave Agnes Hobbs. Agnes was the family nurse and seamstress. Her husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, the slave of another man, treated “Lizzy” as his own daughter, and it was not until some years later, after George had been forced to move west with his master, that Agnes told Lizzy the identity of her biological father. While her mother taught her sewing, the skill that would make her name and fortune, it was George Hobbs who first instilled in Lizzy a profound respect for learning. Ironically, it was Armistead Burwell, who repeatedly told Lizzy she would never be “worth her salt,” who probably sparked her ambition to succeed and prove him wrong.

As a young girl Hobbs lived in ...

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Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla  

Kate Tuttle

The first black president of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became a worldwide symbol of resistance to the injustice of his country’s Apartheid system. Imprisoned for more than twenty-seven years, and before that banned from all public activity and hounded by police for nearly a decade, Mandela led a struggle for freedom that mirrored that of his black compatriots. After his 1990 release from Victor Verster prison, his work to end apartheid won him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize (which he shared with South African president F. W. de Klerk) and then the presidency itself a year later.

Mandela’s father, Chief Henry Mandela, was a member of the Thembu people’s royal lineage; his mother was one of the chief’s four wives. Mandela was born in Mvezo, Umtata, but grew up in Qunu, a small village in what is now the Eastern Cape Province At the age of ...