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Article

Genna Rae McNeil

Mary Frances Berry has to her credit a number of impressive firsts. She was the first African American woman to serve as chancellor of a major research university and the first African American woman to hold the post of the nation’s chief educational officer. Her 1984 lawsuit against President Ronald Reagan to reaffirm the independence of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as well as her sit-in, arrest, and incarceration in protest of racial injustice in South Africa, established a place for her in the national and international press. In the twenty-first century, Berry raised the ire of Republicans and achieved a new level of prominence among defenders of democracy when she led the independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in an investigation of the “Voting Irregularities in Florida during the 2000 Presidential Election.”

Berry s place in history however was created not only by significant appointments and political activism ...

Article

Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

Article

Thomas Clarkin

scholar and diplomat, was born Ralph Johnson Bunche in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family's last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in Political Science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]), graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his MA in 1928, and then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his PhD at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris they had three children Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Joseph C. Heim

scholar, university professor, diplomat, UN administrator, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In the 1950s and 1960s Bunche was the most visible African American on the world stage. But his accomplishments were far in the future when he was born in modest circumstances in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunche, a barber, and Olive Bunche. His parents, however, were constantly in poor health, and after their early deaths Bunche was raised by his grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.

His grandmother s diligence and inspiration guided and shaped Bunche s youth and he compiled a record of stellar achievement both in athletics he later was a guard on the basketball team of the University of California at Los Angeles UCLA and in academics This he did while holding numerous jobs from delivering newspapers to laying carpets on merchant ships His early years also ...

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

Jon-Christian Suggs and Dale Edwyna Smith

[This article contains three subentries, on Du Bois's life, on his historical writing, and on his literary writing.]

Article

Paul Finkelman

the most influential African American historian of the twentieth century. The son of Buck Colbert Franklin, a lawyer, and Mollie Lee Parker Franklin, a schoolteacher, John Hope Franklin—named after John Hope, the first black president of Morehouse College—was born in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. His parents had met at Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before John's birth his father practiced law in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and once had to travel to Louisiana on behalf of a client. A local Louisiana judge told him that “no ‘nigger lawyer’ could represent clients in his court.” (When not otherwise noted, all quotations come from Franklin, “John Hope Franklin,” or Franklin, Vintage Years After this experience the Franklins moved to the all black town of Rentiesville Oklahoma a village of two hundred people near Tulsa where they were less affected by the pervasive racism of the age and region At the time ...

Article

Michael Flug

She was called “the Lieutenant” by some of her colleagues and a taskmaster by many of the young people who did their research at the Chicago Public Library branch she headed. Yet Vivian G. Harsh was revered by a generation of prominent black writers and scholars. She was eulogized as “the historian who never wrote,” yet she succeeded in building one of the most important research collections on black history and literature in the United States.

Vivian Gordon Harsh grew up in the world of Chicago’s Old Settlers, the tightly knit community of pioneer black families in the city. The year after she graduated from Wendell Phillips High School on Chicago’s South Side, Harsh began working for the only employer she would ever have, the Chicago Public Library. She started as a junior clerk in December 1909 rising slowly through the ranks during her first fifteen years of service ...

Article

Andra Medea

When Anita Hill stood before the Senate committee and testified that she had been sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, she initially expected to be believed. As a lawyer, she expected to be questioned. She did not, however, expect to be virulently attacked, to trigger national debates, and finally to emerge as a leading voice on standing up to the abuse of power. In short, she expected to have her say, not to change the nation.

Anita Hill was born on her parents’ farm near Lone Tree, Oklahoma. When she was young, the house did not have running water, and a telephone was not installed until she was a teenager. She was the youngest of thirteen children of Albert and Irma Hill who were hardworking religious people Uneducated themselves they believed education was the way for their children to get ahead Anita attended public schools ...

Article

Pero Gaglo Dagbovie

A scholar of national renown, Darlene Clark Hine has published pathbreaking scholarship; introduced and developed new and existing fields of scholarly inquiries; provided leadership for various groups of scholars; and mentored and trained several generations of historians. She served as president of the Organization of American Historians (2001-2002) and the Southern Historical Association (2002-2003). During her productive, decades-long career as a professional historian, Hine has taught at eight different universities, published several books, cowritten and coedited a dozen scholarly volumes, edited three major works, written more than fifty journal articles and chapters in anthologies, presented more than sixty papers in professional venues, lectured at universities all over the United States, and served on countless programming, advisory, and nominating committees and editorial boards. Since the mid-1980s, Hine has received numerous grants, awards, and honors, including honorary doctorates from Purdue University and Buffalo State College, the Detroit News ...

Article

Florian Pajot

historian and political leader of Burkina Faso, was born in 1922 in Toma, a small village in Upper Volta, then a French colony. Often referred to as “Le Professeur” (“The Professor”), Ki-Zerbo was the son of Alfred Diban Ki-Zerbo, who was known as the first Christian in Upper Volta. His parents brought him up in the African rural tradition, which entailed pastoral and agricultural activities. This did not prevent him from studying at the missionary school run by the French Pères Blancs (White Fathers). Despite their traditional background, Ki-Zerbo’s parents allowed him to go to Bamako and then Dakar to complete his studies. He successfully passed his leaving certificate and then he turned his attention to his lifelong struggle for African independence.

Thanks to a scholarship, Ki-Zerbo went to Paris in 1950 to attend the Sorbonne where he pursued a degree in history Influenced by his father s own ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

physical anthropologist and archaeologist who discovered evidence of early human life in the Rift Valley of East Africa, was born Mary Douglas Nicol on 6 February 1913 in London, England. Her father was the painter Erskine Edward Nicol and her mother was Cecilia Marion (née Frere) Nicol. During Mary’s childhood, her family moved around a great deal. Erskine Nicol painted various portraits and subjects in England, France, Italy, Egypt, and elsewhere. Mary’s prolonged sojourns in southern France provided her with the chance to develop a fluent command of French. While she enjoyed greatly her talks and walks with her father, she found her mother’s Catholic faith stultifying even as she developed some friendships with individual priests. Her childhood came to a sudden end in the spring of 1926 when her father passed away from cancer Mary s mother decided to place her daughter in a Catholic convent but ...

Article

was born in the Vere district of the parish of Clarendon, Jamaica, on 28 September 1927 to the teachers Richard James Mahoney Lewin and Asanath Sylvia Lewin. The elder of two daughters, she grew up in the rural village of Hayes in South Clarendon, and was surrounded by music from an early age. Her father was headmaster, choirmaster, and music and history teacher at the village school she attended. Her mother was a staff member at the school, and also played the piano. Lewin was raised hearing a variety of musical styles, including Jamaican folk music and European classical music “from Handel and Mozart, Haydn and Elgar” (Lewin, 2000, p. 4).

Lewin learned to play both the piano and violin at an early age and she won one of the Vere Scholarships to attend Hampton High for Girls an elite grammar school in neighboring St Elizabeth From there ...

Article

Alessandra Benedicty

was born on 3 September 1958 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She grew up on the rue Carlstroem, which connects two main arteries of the city, Avenue John Brown and Avenue Lamartinière (also known as Bois-Verna). Her uncle owned the Eldorado cinema space, which showed mostly Italian and American Westerns, musicals, and French films. As a family member, she had unlimited free entry. Mars attended primary school with the Soeurs de St. Joseph de Cluny, in the center of Port-au-Prince, near her mother’s small souvenir shop; she attended secondary school at the Centre d’Études Secondaires, followed by accounting and secretarial school.

Mars began writing in her thirties, after a career in high-level administration, notably working for the Japanese Consulate in Port-au-Prince. She first wrote poetry and later prose fiction: novels and short stories. Her novels include Kasalé (2003), L’heure hybride (2005), Fado (2008), Saisons sauvages ...

Article

Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni

, Zimbabwean politician and academic who came to the limelight through an active life in student politics, civil society activity, and mainstream national politics in 1999, was born on 7 July 1961. His father was Gideon Gidi Mathonsi Ncube, who was killed by the Fifth Brigade in the 1980s. The Fifth Brigade was a brutal wing of the Zimbabwe National Army that was answerable to President Robert Mugabe and that targeted all those, especially the Ndebele-speaking minority, that supported the Patriotic Front–Zimbabwe African People’s Union (PF-ZAPU) led by Dr. Joshua Nkomo. His mother was Lydia Diya Ncube (née Nyathi). Ncube grew up in Lower Gwelu (now known as Lower Gweru) under Chief Sogwala in a rural communal village called Maboleni.

Ncube started his schooling at Makhulambila Primary School in a neighboring village called Makhulambila some 5 kilometers from his parents homestead In this school he attended grades one ...

Article

Mario Angel Silva Castro

to be elected to the national legislature, was born Edgardo Ortuño Silva on 10 June 1970 in Montevideo, Uruguay, the son of Jesús Ulises Ortuño, an employee of Obras Sanitarias del Estado (State Sanitation Works, or OSE), and María Julia Silva, a service assistant at a health clinic. He completed his primary studies and high school in public school, later graduating as a professor of history from the Instituto de Profesores Artigas. In 1998 he married Daniela Stinton, with whom he had three children: Mauro, Belén, and Lía.

Ortuño spent his childhood in La Blanqueada a neighborhood with few Afro descendants His family had economic difficulties and his parents instilled in him and his sisters self improvement as a goal Breaking deeply rooted stereotypes in Uruguayan society and overcoming social and personal conditions became the central focus of his life The Ortuño family maintained a close connection with Afro Uruguayan ...

Article

Robert W. Logan

Pearl Primus set out to be a doctor and became a dancer. In her lifelong study of dance she also became a choreographer, an anthropologist, an educator, and a cultural ambassador. And in her hands dance became a language, a medium of social comment, a channel for anger and frustration, a teaching tool, and an instrument of healing.

Primus was born in Trinidad to Edward and Emily (Jackson) Primus. In 1921 the family moved to New York, where she attended Hunter College High School and graduated from Hunter College in 1940 with a major in biology and premedical sciences. At that time there were no jobs available to blacks in New York’s laboratories, so she turned to the National Youth Administration (NYA) for help finding work while she began her graduate studies at night.

The NYA unable to find the kind of job Primus was looking for sent her ...

Article

Sowande' Mustakeem

Undoubtedly one of the few professors of history to have a second career as a singer-songwriter, Bernice Johnson Reagon continues to focus her work on sharing the historical legacy of the African American experience amid the relentless quest for freedom and justice within America.

Reagon was born in Albany, Georgia, one of eight children of Jessie Johnson, a carpenter, and Beatrice Johnson, a housekeeper. On days off from her housekeeping job, Beatrice Johnson picked cotton. Jessie Johnson served onSundays as minister at four different rural Baptist churches. Reagon’s musical foundation was largely shaped by the influence of the southwestern Georgia choral tradition in her father’s church, which was part of a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. Reagon entered Albany State College in 1959 where she studied Italian arias and German lieder as a contralto soloist During this time she became active in the civil ...