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Article

Mpalive Msiska

Nigerian novelist, was born Albert Chinualumogu Achebe on 15 November 1930 at Saint Simon’s Church, Nneobi, near Ogidi, in British colonial Nigeria. His father, Isaiah Okafo Achebe, was a teacher and evangelist and his mother, Janet Anaenechi Iloeghunam, was from the Awka area of eastern Nigeria. Until the age of five, Achebe was brought up at a church school, where his father taught. When his father went into semiretirement in 1935 in Ogidi, Achebe became a child of two worlds, the modern world and the world of indigenous tradition. He began primary school at Saint Philip’s Central School at Akpakaogwe, Ogidi, moving on to Nekede Central School near Owerri in 1942. Achebe developed into a studious young man, passing entrance examinations for two prestigious secondary schools.

It was at Government College Umuahia which had a good library and extremely able and dedicated teachers that Achebe cultivated his love of ...

Article

Michelle S. Hite

tennis player, activist, broadcast journalist, and humanitarian. Born in Richmond, Virginia, Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was the son of Arthur and Mattie Ashe. Arthur experienced a traumatic loss at age six when his mother died suddenly. He turned inward and toward books and learning. An excellent student, he graduated first in his high school class. Given his appetite for books, success as a student was likely; however, given his physical stature, his success as a tennis player was a surprise. Though physically small, the skills he honed on the public recreational courts, maintained by his father, helped mold him into a top player.

Coming of age in segregated Richmond Virginia shaped Ashe s early tennis experiences and informed his political consciousness He was not allowed to compete on the city s best courts or in the city s top tournaments To improve his game he ...

Article

Darlene Clark Hine

A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.

Anna Julia Cooper, in what is considered the first black feminist text, A Voice from the South (1892), declared, “As our Caucasian barristers are not to blame if they cannot quite put themselves in the dark man’s place, neither should the dark man be wholly expected fully and adequately to reproduce the exact Voice of the black Woman.” African American women have written autobiographies since the 1700s. Today, the many forms of autobiography—memoirs, essays, notes, diaries, advice, and self-help—constitute one of the most important genres in black writing.

Some of the most exciting and dynamic work written at the beginning of the twenty first century focused attention on the social history of black women These autobiographical writings both outside and within the academy occupied in a sense the frontier sites of public discourse ...

Article

Gloria Chuku

journalist and president of Nigeria, was born into the family of Obededan Chukwuemeka Azikiwe, a clerk with the Nigerian Regiment of the West African Frontier Force in the northern Nigerian Hausa town of Zungeru. Later known affectionately as Zik, as a child, Nnamdi learned Hausa before his parents sent him to Onitsha, their Igbo hometown, for his primary education in 1912. In 1918, he graduated from Christ Church School, Onitsha, and he briefly taught there as a pupil teacher (1918–1920).

His education also took him to the Efik town of Calabar where he enrolled in the prestigious Hope Waddell Training Institute Following his father s transfer to Lagos Nnamdi moved with the family and enrolled at the Wesleyan Boys High School Lagos a predominant Yoruba town By the time he graduated from high school Nnamdi had acquired three major Nigerian languages Hausa Igbo and Yoruba and ...

Article

Carine Bourget

Moroccan writer, was born on 1 December 1944 in Fez, Morocco. His father was a merchant, and his mother an illiterate housewife whose life is narrated in his Sur ma mère (2008; On My Mother). Both parents were devout Muslims whom Ben Jelloun credited for creating a nurturing environment. After attending the local Qurʾanic school until the age of six, Ben Jelloun received a bilingual French-Arabic education in a Franco-Moroccan elementary school. In 1955, his family moved to Tangier. Ben Jelloun’s secondary schooling was mostly French; he attended the Lycée Regnault, the oldest French high school in Morocco. After receiving his high school degree in 1963, he studied philosophy at the Muhammad V University in Rabat.

Morocco’s post-independence history was marked by the Lead Years (1960s–1980s), a period of severe political repression that spanned most of King Hassan II’s reign. Suspected of having organized student demonstrations in 1965 ...

Article

Gillian Whitlock

the Danish writer also known as Isak Dinesen, who lived in British East Africa (present-day Kenya), was born Karen Dinesen at Rungstedlund, Denmark, on 17 April 1885. Her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, was a military officer, landowner, and Member of Parliament; the Dinesens were an ancient Danish family of landed gentry. Her mother, Ingeborg Westenholtz, was the eldest daughter of the wealthy businessman and finance minister Regnar Westenholtz. Following the suicide of Wilhelm Dinesen in 1895, Ingeborg Dinesen raised her three daughters and two sons in a maternal household, where Karen was known as “Tanne.” As a young woman, Karen Blixen attended art school, mastered several European languages, frequented the aristocratic circles of upper-class young people in Denmark, and began to publish short stories in Danish periodicals in 1907 under the pseudonym Osceola None of these early stories attracted particular attention and she felt discouraged as a writer ...

Article

Paul Breslin

Martinican poet, playwright, essayist, and political leader, was born on 26 June 1913, in Basse Pointe, Martinique. His parents, Fernand and Eléonore Césaire, were of modest means but devoted to their six children’s education. In 1924, Césaire entered the Lycée Schoelcher in Martinique’s capital, Fort-de-France. In 1931 he went to France to study at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, then, in 1935, at l’École Normale Supérieure. In Paris, Césaire developed friendships with other young black intellectuals and writers, most notably the Senegalese Léopold Sédar Senghor and Léon Damas (1912–1978), a French Guianese who had been his schoolmate at the Lycée Schoelcher. In 1937, he met and married a fellow Martinican student and poet, Suzanne Roussi (1915–1966). The marriage produced six children, one of whom, Ina Césaire (1942– ), became a prominent writer as well.

Césaire and his circle sought a definition of black identity They were influenced by the ...

Article

Carrol Clarkson

South African novelist, critic, translator, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on 9 February 1940. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father was a qualified (but not always practicing) attorney. His father served with the South African Forces in Italy and North Africa between 1941 and 1945. John Maxwell Coetzee’s home language was English, even though his father’s family was Afrikaans. He spent his primary school years in the Karoo town of Worcester but later moved back to Cape Town where he attended Saint Joseph’s College and matriculated in 1956. From 1957 to 1961 Coetzee studied at the University of Cape Town, attaining his BA Honors degrees in English and mathematics. Between 1962 and 1965 Coetzee worked as a computer programmer in England; in 1963 he returned briefly to Cape Town and completed ...

Article

Charles Lemert

Anna Julia Cooper is best known for her book A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South (1892), a classic in the tradition known today as the woman of color standpoint in social theory. No one before, except perhaps Sojourner Truth, had so clearly defined what Cooper called “the colored woman’s office” in the moral politics of late-nineteenth-century America.

Anna Julia Cooper was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Her white biological father, George Washington Haywood, was her mother’s owner. Of her biological father, Cooper once wrote: “I owe him not a sou and she [her mother] was always too shamefaced ever to mention him.” The child grew to carry herself with the mother’s sense of dignity and propriety.

Anna Julia s life began just before the outbreak of the American Civil War and ...

Article

David E. Gardinier

first lady of Gabon. Patience Dabany is the name adopted by Marie-Joséphine Kama Bongo in 1986 following her divorce from President Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon. Marie-Joséphine Kama, known informally as Marie-Jo, was born on 22 January 1937, at Akiené in the Upper-Ogooué Region, which until 1946 formed part of Middle Congo. Her father was an officer in the French colonial army. Both her parents were part of the Assélé clan of the Obamba people to whom the Téké people of their district, including the family of Omar Bongo, were tributary. Marie-Jo’s father was an important figure in the ndjovi, a secret initiation society of the Obamba that wielded much influence, including among the Téké.

Marie Jo received her entire schooling in the French language She graduated from a government program that prepared teachers at the primary level Thereafter she was married to Dieudonné Pascal Ndouna Okogo 1937 1977 ...

Article

Brittney L. Yancy

actress, writer, philanthropist, activist. Ruby Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio. Her parents, Marshall and Emma Wallace, worked as a Pullman porter and a schoolteacher, respectively. As a baby, Ruby along with her family moved to Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Ruby's parents supplemented her education with exposure to the arts. Ruby married Frankie Dee Brown, a promoter for Schenley Distiller's Corporation. Frankie dropped his surname because Ruby preferred the name Dee. They divorced in 1945. Ruby began acting in the 1940s through an apprenticeship with the American Negro Theatre—which included Hilda Simms, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and her future husband, Ossie Davis. Dee's first stage performance was in On Strivers Row in 1940 Dee acted in a series of plays and made her Broadway debut at the Cort Theater in a ...

Article

Jenny Murray

Algerian writer and filmmaker, was born Fatma Zohra Imalhayène in Cherchell, Algeria, on 30 June 1936 to Tahar Imalhayène and Bahia Sahraoui. Her father was a teacher in the French colonial school in Mouzaïaville in the Mitidja region, and her mother was a descendant of the Berkani tribe. Djebar attended the school where her father taught, and from 1946 to 1953 she studied classics and English at the French secondary school in Blida. In October 1953, after passing the Baccalauréat examination, she enrolled in the Lycée Bugeaud in Algiers for the hypokhâgne, the first year of a preparatory course for entrance examinations to the École Normale Supérieure. Djebar moved to Paris in October 1954 to complete Première Supérieure in literature Greek and Latin at the Lycée Fénelon The following year she was offered a place at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure de Sèvres and from May to ...

Article

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was the most well-known African American of the nineteenth century. His legacy as an antislavery and human rights activist persists well into the twenty-first century. During his lifetime, Douglass embodied the famed self-made man. Beginning his life at the very bottom of American society, Douglass became a celebrated abolitionist and humanitarian, a somewhat less successful bank president, and a Republican politician. Although his antebellum era activities are the most well known, after 1865 Douglass held office as marshal and later recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia. In 1889 he became the second African American appointed as U.S. minister to Haiti. Because he was an eloquent writer and orator, he gained much public attention during his lifetime and provided subsequent generations with a chance to better know and understand him.

Born on a Talbot County, Maryland, plantation in February 1818 Douglass spent his ...

Article

Along with Frederick Douglass and Booker Taliaferro Washington, historians consider W. E. B. Du Bois one of the most influential African Americans before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Born only six years after emancipation, he was active well into his nineties. Throughout his long life Du Bois remained black America's leading public intellectual, despite near-constant criticism for his often contradictory social and political opinions—he was accused, at various times, of elitism, Communism, and black separatism.

Born in the small western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, Du Bois and his mother—his father had left the family when he was young—were among the few African American residents. Of his heritage, Du Bois wrote that it included “a flood of Negro blood, a strain of French, a bit of Dutch, but, Thank God! No ‘Anglo-Saxon.’” After an integrated grammar-school education, Du Bois attended the historically black Fisk University ...

Article

Gerald Horne

American social scientist, author, educator, civil rights leader, and Pan-Africanist, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois on 23 February 1868 to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt Du Bois, in the predominantly white hamlet of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. William’s maternal great-great-grandfather, Tom Burghardt, born in West Africa in the early 1730s, was captured and brought to America by Dutch slavers. Du Bois would later recall hearing in his childhood a West African song that was perhaps of Senegambian Wolof origin.

Du Bois had a fondness for his New England birthplace and by his own account had a relatively charmed childhood An only child abandoned by his father whom he did not remember his doting mother and relatives and supportive teachers muted the pangs of racism sharpened by Reconstruction These heady years permeated the nation not just the South Hence his early years were shaped by genteel poverty Victorian ...

Article

Carmen De Michele

Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, and academic, was born in Kalaba, Nigeria, a middle-sized city close to the Cameroonian border, on 23 October 1963. He grew up in Enugu in eastern Nigeria, where he attended a British boarding school. He was taught to speak in English in addition to his native Igbo.

In 1982 Enwezor moved to the United States, where he enrolled at the Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) in Jersey City, New Jersey, as a political science major. He earned a BA in political science in 1987. Enwezor entered the world of art through friends and by visiting a large number of art exhibitions. He turned his attention not only to contemporary American and European art but also to modern African art. He noticed that African artists were severely underrepresented in the American art scene. In 1989 Enwezor became a freelance ...

Article

Louis Tremaine

, Somali novelist, playwright, and essayist, was born in Baidoa, Somalia, on 24 November 1945 the fourth of ten children His father Farah Xasan a Somali reared in Nairobi Kenya was a much traveled interpreter for the British colonial administration in the region before becoming a merchant early in Farah s childhood His mother Aleeli Faduma was an oral poet of some local reputation as were two of his great grandfathers At the age of two he moved with his family to Kallafo in the Ogaden an area then under British occupation but claimed by both Somalis and Ethiopians There he received his first formal education attending both a public and an Islamic school His parents educated their daughters as well as their sons the home was rich with a great variety of books from world literature and young Nuruddin soon formed the goal of becoming a writer A ...

Article

In many parts of Africa, women have long held primary roles as storytellers, teachers, poets, and oral historians. Yet only since the 1980s has African women’s writing garnered significant national and international attention. Schools opened by missionaries during the early colonial period were based on a Western model, prioritizing boys’ education over that of girls. These schools in turn became the model for the colonial system of education throughout Africa. Fewer girls than boys have learned to read and write, and the number of women who have been able to study literature at the university level is even lower. Even among educated women, relatively few have had opportunities to pursue careers in writing.

Still, several women were publishing early on in both English and local languages. Early role models, such as Ghanaian playwright Efua Theodora Sutherland, were already publishing in the 1930s. Ghana's Ama Ata Aidoo and South Africa ...

Article

Armando Pajalich

, South African dramatist, was born Harold Athol Lanigan Fugard in the small town of Middelburg in the semiarid South African Karoo to an Afrikaans-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. When he was three, the family moved to Port Elizabeth, where local industries and the port employed huge numbers of black laborers, who soon began a period of active resistance to exploitation and, later, apartheid. Fugard studied philosophy and social sciences at the University of Cape Town (1950–1953) but left before completing his degree to undertake an adventurous journey through Africa and to work on ships around the world. Thereafter, he gained employment in Johannesburg, working in offices distributing passbooks (1958). It was here that he discovered his passion for theater and the need to create plays and companies to stage the yet-untold stories of all peoples of South Africa.

After early experiments (No Good ...

Article

Kathleen Thompson

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the writer and educator Paula Giddings to the study of black women’s history. Possibly even more important is the role she played in disseminating that history to the American public. A rigorous scholar, graceful writer, and committed advocate of black women, Giddings was a writer of history who made history herself.

Paula Giddings was born in Yonkers, New York. Her father, Curtis G. Giddings, was a teacher and guidance counselor and, later, the first black firefighter in Yonkers. Her mother, Virginia I. Giddings, was also a guidance counselor. In an interview in Essence in 1995 Giddings said of her parents My father was the race conscious person in my family but it was my mother who gave me my voice She did this I know now by clearing a space where mywords could fall grow then find ...