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Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...

Article

Sharon Pruitt

artist, art historian, curator, critic, and educator, was born Lynda Faye Peek in Atlanta, Georgia. Amaki, who legally changed her name in 1978, is the fourth of six surviving daughters of Mary Lee Hill, a homemaker, gardener, and quilter, and Norman Vance Peek, a landscape designer and gardener during the summer, and a cake and candy caterer during the winter. Early in her life and throughout her artistic career Amaki was influenced by her parents' penchant for recycling materials into creative forms.

Amaki's parents supported and encouraged her early artistic pursuits. Her mother enthusiastically showed Amaki's drawings to family friends and members of the community. Aware of Amaki's interest, the Reverend William Holmes Borders, a friend of the family and pastor of the Wheat Street Baptist Church where the Peek family worshipped, introduced ten-year-old Amaki to Hale Aspacio Woodruff a ...

Article

Theodore Cohen

was born in the town of Hopelchén, Campeche, on 7 January 1892 to Francisco José Baqueiro and Teodosía Fóster. Probably of Mayan and not of African descent, he was a relative of the famous nineteenth-century Yucatecan musician Chan Chil (Cirilio Baqueiro Prevé). Baqueiro Fóster attended primary school in Hopelchén before moving to Mérida, Yucatán, to continue his education. He learned to play the guitar, mandolin, violin, oboe, and flute, his instrument of choice. In 1921 he moved to Mexico City, and the following year he enrolled at the National Conservatory, where he studied with the renowned musical theorist Julián Carrillo. He later married Eloisa Ruiz Carvalho (1925–1980), a music critic and educator.

Baqueiro Fóster began to make a name for himself during Mexico’s First National Congress of Music in 1926 With fellow Carrillo disciple Daniel Castañeda he argued that Mexican composers could study indigenous music more accurately ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

book collector, historian, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia to George Bolivar, and Elizabeth LeCount Proctor Bolivar. There is some uncertainty about his precise year of birth, with historians suggesting 1844 (Silcox) or 1849 (Welborn), while census data inclines toward an 1847 date. His father was employed as a sailmaker by James Forten, a local businessman and founder of the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons.

The family numbered themselves among the “O.P.”—Old Philadelphians—of the African American community. George Bolivar had been born in Philadelphia, to a Pennsylvania-born mother and a father from North Carolina. Elizabeth Bolivar was born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Maryland (1850 census). In 1850George Bolivar owned real estate valued at $8,000, while a North Carolina–born cousin, Nicholas Bolivar, lived with the family, working as a tailor. Throughout Bolivar s life there were relatives or ...

Article

Nancy T. Robinson

historian, collector, archivist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born Wallace Michael Branch in Brooklyn, New York, one of two sons of Byrd Branch, an entrepreneur who operated a cleaning and tailoring business in New York City and held down a thirty-five-year job at the weekly newspaper Irish Echo to support his family, and Vera Barbour Branch. In Brooklyn, Branch and his family lived a solid middle-class lifestyle, making their home in a four-floor brownstone home that they owned.

Branch was born with sickle cell anemia a hereditary incurable chronic disorder with which patients suffer severe pain and tissue and organ damage as a result of oxygen and nutrient deficiencies At the time of Branch s birth information about and treatment of the disease were limited According to his family doctors who treated Branch as a child never gave him much hope for survival At fourteen Branch became so ill that he ...

Article

Theodore Cohen

was born on 22 November 1904 in Mexico City to José Covarrubias and Elena Duclaud. José was a civil engineer and government official who helped provide Miguel with access to Mexico’s cultural and intellectual elite. Miguel was born into a family with Spanish, French, and Mexican—but no African—ancestry. He had an elite education, attending the Horace Mann School and the Alberto Correo School in Mexico City. He married the dancer Rosa Rolando (née Rose Cowan, 1898–1870) on 24 April 1930. Although he never officially divorced her, he also married Rocío Sagaón in 1955.

Covarrubias started to draw caricatures as a child. Mexico City newspapers and cultural magazines began to publish them in 1920. With a little support from the Mexican state, Covarrubias left for New York City in the summer of 1923 Mexico s foremost cultural promoter in the United States José Juan Tablada helped ...

Article

Elsie A. Okobi

Nigerian historian, educator, and archivist, was born on 17 December 1917 in Awka, eastern Nigeria. In 1933 he started his secondary education at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, before moving to the prestigious Achimota College, Accra, Ghana, in 1936. Two years later he entered Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, an affiliate of Durham University in England, which awarded Durham University degrees. Dike graduated in 1943 with bachelor of arts in English, geography, and literature and returned to Nigeria. In 1944 he went to the United Kingdom on a British Council Scholarship to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he earned an MA in history. In 1947 he enrolled in Kings College, London, for doctoral studies in history. His 1950 dissertation “Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830–1879” (published in 1956 has come to be appreciated as one of the greatest contributions to African historiography Among his ...

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

Richard Newman

William Plummer French was born February 19, 1943 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Frank J. French, vice-president of Allied Chemical Co. and Bettina Plummer French. He worked at University Place Book Shop in New York, owned by Walter Goldwater, and became fascinated with African American books and literature, a field the shop specialized in to serve two major collectors, Arthur Schomburg and Arthur Spingarn.

Self-taught by the books in the store, French became probably the country's most knowledgeable expert on African American books and bibliography. He compiled two biographical pamphlets on black poetry, and in 1979 co-edited Afro-American Poetry and Drama, 1760–1975. Pre-deceased by his wife, the painter Garland Eliason, French died in New York of a stroke on January 14, 1997 survived by his son Will A book collecting prize at the Department of Afro American Studies at ...

Article

Robert L. Gale

bibliophile, researcher, and photographer, was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Jacob Gardiner and Martha (maiden name unknown). In 1902 he and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From childhood he was interested in reading, cross-country running, hiking, camping, and bicycling. Later he developed an interest in music, choir singing, and photography. Racial discrimination kept him from attending the photography school of his choice in Philadelphia, to his great disappointment. In the early 1900s he began to collect material of various kinds concerning black achievements, black institutions, and the lynching of blacks.

From about 1908 to 1923 Gardiner attended meetings of the Philadelphia Afro American Historical Society later the American Negro Historical Society expressed his ideas and described his findings in what he called race literature He continued to build his collection of black memorabilia and helped to form a group of bibliophiles ...

Article

Robert L. Gale

Leon Gardiner was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Jacob Gardiner and Martha (maiden name unknown). In 1902 he and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From childhood he was interested in reading, cross-country running, hiking, camping, and bicycling. Later he developed an interest in music, choir singing, and photography. Blatant racial discrimination kept him from attending the photography school of his choice in Philadelphia, to his great disappointment. In the very early 1900s he began to collect material of various kinds concerning the achievements of blacks, black institutions, and Lynchings of blacks.

From 1908 to 1923 or so Gardiner attended meetings held by Philadelphia s Afro American Historical Society later the American Negro Historical Society expressed his ideas and described his findings in what he called race literature and was encouraged by fellow members in various ways He kept adding to his collection ...

Article

J. James Iovannone

collector, historian, author, and social personality, was born in Maryland, the son of Levi Thomas and Louisa Morris Gumby. In 1901 Gumby and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents, and it was there, at age sixteen, that Gumby began his scrapbook collection, making his first book—a practice that he would continue throughout the rest of his life—out of wallpaper, paste, and clippings of the September 1901 assassination of President McKinley. In 1902 Gumby entered Dover State College (later Delaware State University) in Delaware and began to study law. Before completing his studies Gumby withdrew from school and moved to New York City around 1906, where he would live until his death nearly sixty years later.

Gumby was immediately dazzled by life in the big city and sought to integrate himself into the urban community During his early years in New ...

Article

David Michel

librarian, was born in Chicago, the daughter of Fenton W. Harsh and Maria L. Drake Harsh, two graduates of Fisk University. Vivian attended Forrestville Elementary School and completed Wendell Phillips High School in 1908. In 1909 she took the first step toward what would become her life's career—a position, as a clerk, at the Chicago Public Library (CPL).Harsh pursued her education by matriculating at Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science (Boston). In 1921 she earned a degree in Library Science and three years later was appointed the head of a local branch of the CPL becoming Chicago s first black librarian She joined the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History ASNLH which allowed her to remain abreast of literary developments in black history Thanks to a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation she pursued advanced studies in library science at ...

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

Paul Von Blum

art historian, educator, curator, and artist, was born Samella Sanders in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Samuel Sanders, a strawberry farm owner and Rachel (Taylor) Sanders, a seamstress. Lewis's childhood in New Orleans exposed her to black history, culture, and art—a background that informed all of her professional activities. Her early experiences with segregation catalyzed the powerful antiracist vision that influenced her entire life. For example, as a young art student, she encountered a major barrier in visiting the Delgado Art Museum, located in a municipal park reserved exclusively for whites. Her teacher, Elizabeth Catlett managed to secure a bus and had everyone in her class move directly from the bus to the museum technically avoiding the racial restrictions of the park itself Lewis began her formal art studies at Dillard University studying with Catlett who became her lifelong friend and mentor ...

Article

Melanie R. Thomas

educator, university librarian, and historian, was born in Texarkana, Texas, to Early Marshall, a carpenter and railroad worker, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, native Mary (Bland) Marshall. Little is known about Marshall's early life, but his father died when “A.P.” was still a boy, and the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. There Marshall began his library work experience at one of the public library branches while he attended high school. Marshall prepared himself for a professional career by attending Lincoln University at Jefferson City, Missouri (1934–1938), earning a BA in English and History. He continued his studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, receiving a BS degree in Library Science in 1939.

His foremost contribution to the field of library services was A Guide to Negro Periodical Literature (vols. 1–4, Nov. 1941–Dec. 1946 which he began while working as a library ...

Article

María de Lourdes Ghidoli

of his family since slavery, was born in the city of La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires in 1928. He was the son of Tomás Nemesio Platero, a historian of African descent, and Ana Francisca Prola, of Italian descent, who had five other children: Ana María, Rodolfo, Sara, María Isabel, Susana and Carmen. He was also the grandchild of Tomás Braulio Platero, a prestigious notary and one of the first African-descended people to obtain a university degree in Argentina. At the end of the 1950s Platero married his first wife, Dalila Manganiello. From this first marriage he had at least three children, two of whom survived him. His second wife, Marta Susana Gutiérrez, died in 2008 and was the library director of the Central Bank of the Republic of Argentina.

For the Platero family it was essential that their sons and daughters attend university This emphasis ...

Article

David Christopher Brighouse

historian, curator, writer, and educator, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He graduated magna cum laude, probably majoring in history, from the historically black Fisk University in 1932, where he studied under African American scholars Charles S. Johnson, Horace Mann Bond, and with white history professor Theodore Currier, who is perhaps best known as the undergraduate mentor of historian John Hope Franklin. Reddick went on to receive a MA in History from Fisk the following year and then pursued doctoral work at the University of Chicago, receiving his PhD in History in 1939 under the direction of Avery Craven, a prominent historian of the South. Reddick's dissertation, a study of four antebellum New Orleans newspapers and their depiction of African Americans (especially slaves), was entitled “The Negro in the New Orleans Press, 1850–1860: A Study in Attitudes and Propaganda.” In 1939 ...

Article

Deborah H. Barnes

also wrote under the name Guarionex. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg's vast private collection, now housed in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (formerly the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library), is one of the outstanding collections of materials concerning the history and culture of people of African descent.

Schomburg was born on 24 January 1874 to an unwed freeborn mulatta, Maria Josepha, in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and raised in Puerto Rico by his mother's family. Although he adopted his surname, there is no evidence that Schomburg's father, Carlos Federico Schomburg, a German-born merchant living in San Juan, acknowledged or supported his son. Little is known about Schomburg prior to his emigration to the United States. Upon arriving in New York in 1891 he settled into the Puerto Rican and Cuban community on Manhattan s east side For most of his ...

Article

Louis J. Parascandola

bibliophile and champion of black culture. Arthur (Arturo) Alfonso Schomburg was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His father, a merchant, was the son of a Puerto Rican mother and a German immigrant father. It was his mother, a black migrant worker from the Virgin Islands, and his maternal grandparents who early on instilled in him a pride in his African heritage and spurred his interest in black culture. According to a perhaps apocryphal story, hearing the taunts of his white teachers and classmates that blacks had made no significant achievements inspired Schomburg to collect as many works by black authors as he could find.

Schomburg came to the United States on 17 April 1891 and soon gained employment in a law office in New York. He took a position at Bankers Trust Company in 1906 It was during his years as a law clerk and banker that he ...