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Brown, Henry “Box”  

Paul Finkelman

Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County, Virginia, probably around 1815. By 1830 he was living in Richmond, where his master hired him out to work in a tobacco factory. Around 1836, when he would have been about twenty-one, Brown married a slave named Nancy, who was owned by a bank clerk. The owner promised not to sell Nancy but soon did so anyway. She was later resold to a Mr. Cottrell, who persuaded Brown to give him fifty dollars of the purchase price. Cottrell also promised never to sell Nancy, but in 1848 he sold her, and her children with Henry, to slave traders, who removed them from the state. Brown pleaded with his own master to buy Nancy and the children. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away from him as ...

Article

Brown, Henry “Box”  

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

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Douglass, Charles Remond  

Mark G. Emerson

Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Charles Remond Douglass was the third and youngest son of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass. Named for his father's friend and fellow black antislavery speaker Charles Lenox Remond, Charles attended the public schools in Rochester, New York, where the family moved in late 1847. As a boy, he delivered copies of his father's newspaper, North Star.

As a young man, Charles became the first black from New York to enlist for military service in the Civil War, volunteering for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Unlike his brother Lewis, who also served in the Fifty-fourth and became a sergeant major in that regiment, Charles was unable to deploy with his fellow troops owing to illness. As late as November 1863 Charles remained at the training camp in Readville Massachusetts He ultimately joined another black regiment the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry rising to ...

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Douglass, Frederick, Jr.  

Mark G. Emerson

As the second son and namesake of his father, Frederick Douglass Jr. was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended public schools in Rochester, New York, where he also helped his brothers, Lewis and Charles, to aid runaway slaves who were escaping to Canada on the Underground Railroad. While he did not serve in the Civil War as his brothers did, Frederick acted as a recruiting agent for the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry regiments, as did his father. Following the war, Frederick attempted to enter the typographical workers' union. When that plan failed, he went with his brother Lewis in 1866 to Colorado, where Henry O. Wagoner, a longtime family friend, taught him the trade of typography. While he was in Colorado, Frederick worked with his brother Lewis in the printing office of the Red, White, and Blue Mining Company. In the fall of 1868 Frederick returned ...

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Douglass, Lewis Henry  

Mark G. Emerson

and a son of Frederick Douglass. Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Lewis Henry Douglass was the second child and eldest son of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass. When Lewis was eight the family moved to Rochester, New York, where the boy was educated in public schools. After finishing his education, Lewis helped his father with his newspaper North Star, learning the printer's trade. Considered the ablest of Douglass's children, Lewis was the person Frederick Douglass asked to secure his papers from John Brown after the Harpers Ferry raid to prevent federal marshals from discovering them.

During the Civil War, Lewis enlisted in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, attaining the rank of sergeant major and taking part in the attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in July 1863 After the war Lewis and his brother Frederick Jr went to Denver Colorado where Lewis worked as a ...

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Gordimer, Nadine  

Stephen Clingman

South African novelist, short story writer, essayist, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, was born on 20 November 1923 in the small gold mining town of Springs east of Johannesburg Both her parents were Jewish immigrants her father Isidore was a watchmaker and jeweler from the Lithuanian Latvian border her mother Nan came from England Her father with his foreign accent and ways was disparaged in the family he also absorbed the dominant racial models of the time while her mother took more readily to anglicized colonial mores Gordimer grew up in a nonreligious environment though she attended a convent school for the sake of its superior education Early on she was a dancer and sometimes a truant exploring the physical possibilities of veld and mine dumps with innate energy and relish At the age of eleven however her mother withdrew her from school on the putative ...

Article

Gordon  

Frank H. Goodyear

escaped slave and Union soldier, was likely born on the plantation of John Lyon near Washington, Louisiana, an important steamboat port before the Civil War. Lyon was a cotton planter whose property was located on the Atchafalya River. The names of Gordon's parents and details about his youth are not known.

Gordon received a severe whipping for undisclosed reasons from the plantation's overseer in the fall of 1862. This beating left him with horrible welts on much of the surface of his back, and for the next two months Gordon recuperated in bed. Although Lyon discharged the overseer who carried out this vicious attack, Gordon decided to escape.

In March 1863 Gordon fled his home heading east toward the Mississippi River and Union lines Upon learning of his flight his master recruited several neighbors and together they chased after him with a pack of bloodhounds Gordon had anticipated ...

Article

Keckley, Elizabeth  

Rosemary Reed

Elizabeth Keckley used her needlework skills to purchase her freedom and went on to have such a flourishing business that she became dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln. Fortunately for posterity, she also wrote a book about her life, her sewing work, and her experience as someone closely connected to the Lincoln White House. Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years as a Slave, and Four Years in the White House (1868) has been a source of historically significant information ever since.

Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Hobbs, the only child of a slave couple, Agnes and George Pleasant Hobbs, in Dinwiddie, Virginia Her mother was a housemaid and excellent seamstress owned by the Burwells a prominent family of central Virginia Her father lived on a neighboring farm and was allowed to visit his family twice a year until he was sold away from them As a ...

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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 ...

Article

Mahfouz, Naguib  

Kurt J. Werthmuller

renowned Egyptian author and Nobel laureate for literature in 1988, was born on 11 December 1911 to a middle-class, conservative Muslim family in the Gamiliyya quarter of Old Cairo. He was named for the pioneering Coptic obstetrician Naguib Mikhail Mahfouz, who conducted his mother’s difficult delivery; and he spent the first twelve years of his life with his parents and six siblings in al-Gamiliyya, a traditional hara neighborhood alley in which rich poor and middle class alike resided and rubbed shoulders on a daily basis Among his family Mahfouz s father was stern but gentle natured and while his mother fulfilled her conservative roles she also led a relatively free daily life and often toted along the young Mahfouz on excursions to explore historical sites around Cairo It was their traditional neighborhood which provided the setting and template and colorful characters for many of his most famous and ...

Article

Morrison, Toni  

Lisa Clayton Robinson

I'm interested in how men are educated, how women relate to each other, how we are able to love, how we balance political and personal forces, who survives in certain situations and who doesn't and, specifically, how these and other universal issues relate to African Americans. The search for love and identity runs through most everything I write.

In this comment from a 1992 interview Toni Morrison gives one description of the complex range of issues she explores in her work Morrison is widely recognized as one of the most influential American writers and her novels are taught in literature history women s studies and African American studies courses across the United States and around the world She has received numerous honorary degrees prizes and awards including the Nobel Prize in Literature Above all Morrison is known for her rich lyrical prose which fuses the rhythms and imagery of ...

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Morrison, Toni  

Carolyn C. Denard

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio a steel mill town on the shore of Lake Erie Morrison was the second of four children Her father was a welder in the steel mills and her mother was a homemaker Morrison s parents and maternal grandparents migrated to Lorain from the South in the early 1900s Her maternal grandparents were sharecroppers in Greenville Alabama who had lost their land in the late 1890s and were never able to get out of debt Her father s family had been sharecroppers in Cartersville Georgia and his painful memoirs of racial strife left him with a bitter attitude toward whites Morrison was thus brought up with a strong distrust of whites and an understanding that the only tangible or emotional aid on which she could depend would come from her own community Group loyalty was among the earliest values she was taught as ...

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Morrison, Toni  

Valerie Smith

novelist and Nobel laureate, was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, a poor, ethnically diverse steel town. She was the second of four children of George Wofford, who worked, variously, as a welder in a steel mill and as a road construction and shipyard worker, and Ella Ramah Willis. Both of Morrison's parents had migrated north, seeking better opportunities and to escape racial and economic oppression in the South. Her maternal grandparents had come to Ohio from Alabama and Kentucky; her father was originally from Georgia. Like many African American migrants, her family eventually realized that the North was not free of racism and poverty. Yet Morrison's childhood in Lorain taught her to value a community in which people shared the limited resources available to them. She also learned to appreciate the value of storytelling at an early age.

Morrison converted to Catholicism when she was ...

Article

Morrison, Toni  

Kimberly Burnett

writer and editor. Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931, Toni Morrison grew up in Lorain, Ohio, and had an older sister and two younger brothers. Her parents, George and Ramah Wofford, who had migrated to the steel-mill town from the South, provided Morrison with a background in African American folklore as well as an understanding of the importance of maintaining black community. After graduating from high school, Morrison left Lorain in 1949 to attend Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C.; during her time as an undergraduate, Morrison had the opportunity to travel throughout the South with the Howard University Players. After changing her first name to Toni, Morrison graduated from Howard in 1953 with a BA in English and a minor in classics. By 1955 Morrison had completed her MA degree at Cornell University and begun teaching at Texas Southern University Two years ...

Article

Morrison, Toni  

Furaha D. Norton

In her bestselling novels as well as her nonfiction Toni Morrison has created a sweeping panorama of the diasporic black experience in America In novels whose settings range from the American rural South and the industrial and urban North to the western frontier and which cover historical periods from the colonial era through the contemporary period she has used African American history myth and folklore as well as sharp insight into human behavior and motivation to create stories and characters that establish the black experience in America as one of tremendous nuance and complexity In her often fragmented nonlinear narratives the specters of slavery and ongoing racial oppression and inequality are ever present along with astonishing resilience and humanity Morrison s work has inspired an entire generation of students and scholars and has changed how readers understand race and history in literature the postmodern novel and how writers use folklore ...

Article

Parks, Suzan-Lori  

Shelle Sumners

Suzan-Lori Parks is one of a small handful of African American women, among them Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange, who have achieved professional success as playwrights in American theater. She was born in Fort Knox, Kentucky, but because her father was a colonel in the U.S. Army, she lived in several states and attended junior high school in Germany. Parks began writing at an early age, with little thought to becoming a playwright. During her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Parks took a creative writing class taught by African American novelist James Baldwin She read her character laden stories aloud in his class with a theatricality that prompted Baldwin to suggest that she try writing for the theater In describing her creative potential he called Parks an utterly astounding and beautiful creature who may become one of the most valuable artists of ...

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Parks, Suzan-Lori  

Hilary Mac Austin

Parks was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, one of only a handful of black women playwrights to make it to the Broadway stage, and one of the only African American avant-garde playwrights in history. Her plays were nonlinear, nonrealistic, poetic, challenging, and often controversial.

Born in Fort Knox, Kentucky Parks began writing stories almost as soon as she could hold a pencil An army brat whose father was a colonel in the U S Army she had lived in six different states by the time she was a teenager When the family was posted to Germany Parks experienced for the first time life outside of America s prism of race In Germany she was regarded as an American a foreigner first and a black person second Because her parents decided to place their daughter in the local German school rather than in ...

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Parks, Suzan-Lori  

Harry Elam

playwright, was born at Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Francis McMillan, an educator, and Donald Parks, an army officer and, later, professor. From her parents Parks gained cultural exposure, a love for literature, and an understanding of the value in education. Her ability as a writer surfaced early on, and she began writing stories at age five. With her father in the army, Parks spent her childhood years in a variety of different locales, including six American states and West Germany. Rather than the traditional American schools attended by the children of most servicemen, Parks attended a German high school.

Parks then entered Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1985 with a BA in English and German. While at Mount Holyoke, she studied creative writing with the celebrated writer James Baldwin Impressed with her ability as well as ...

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Sancho, Charles Ignatius  

John Saillant

Sancho was baptized as an infant in a Roman Catholic Church but confirmed as a youth in the Church of England. His baptismal name was Ignatius, while his surname came from his first owners in England, who fancifully named him after Don Quixote's servant in Miguel de Cervantes's famous novel. Charles Ignatius Sancho was the name he used in 1758 to sign his marriage certificate. Two volumes of his letters were gathered from their recipients and published in 1782, prefaced by Joseph Jekyll's Life of Ignatius Sancho; Jekyll undertook this work, from which virtually all biographical information on Sancho derives, after his acquaintance Samuel Johnson, the poet, critic, and compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, failed to fulfill his intention to write Sancho's biography himself. Additional information survives in vital records, as do a few comments from such contemporaries as Johnson.

Jekyll wrote that ...

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Soyinka, Wole  

Biodun Jeyifo

Nigerian writer and the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka on 13 July 1934 in Abeokuta Nigeria One of the most prominent writers and public intellectuals in the world his international fame rests as much on his writings as on his widely admired fearless advocacy of human rights and social justice both in his native Nigeria and in other countries in Africa Primarily a playwright and dramatist Soyinka has written in virtually all of the literary genres and he has written rather prodigiously his corpus comprising more than forty five works of drama fiction poetry translation and nonfictional criticism memoirs and philosophical reflection Now in the eighth decade of his life he has spent six of those decades in a sustained unbroken work of social activism that stands as a necessary complement to the primacy of his life and career as ...