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Mark Richardson

Half-way between Maine and Florida, in the heart of the Alleghenies,” wrote W. E. B. Du Bois in John Brown (1909), the year before he helped found the NAACP, “a mighty gateway lifts its head and discloses a scene which, a century and a quarter ago, Thomas Jefferson said was ‘worthy a voyage across the Atlantic.’ ” Whereupon he continues citing Jefferson's words from Notes on the State of Virginia (1785):

You stand on a very high point of land; on your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to find a vent; on your left approaches the Potomac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea.

The place is Harpers Ferry Virginia later West Virginia where in ...

Article

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

Article

Arna Bontemps was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, to parents of Creole descent who eventually converted to the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. While Arna was young, the Bontemps family moved to Los Angeles, California. The childhood loss of his mother and the stern upbringing by his pragmatic father affected him deeply. His father hoped, mistakenly, that his son would make the family trade of masonry his life's work. Educated at Seventh-Day Adventist institutions, Bontemps graduated from Pacific Union College in 1923. In 1924 he took a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in New York City.

Literary notice and success came early to Bontemps. His creativity and social conscience were excited by the cultural vitality he found in New York in the 1920s. By 1926 his poetry had appeared in two of the most important journals of the period, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ...

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

Robert E. Fleming

writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.Bontemps then moved to Harlem, New York, where the Harlem Renaissance had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize from Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and The Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes, with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator. In Harlem, Bontemps also came to know Countée Cullen, W ...

Article

Robert E. Fleming

Bontemps, Arna Wendell (13 October 1902–04 June 1973), writer, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the son of Paul Bismark Bontemps, a bricklayer, and Maria Carolina Pembroke, a schoolteacher. He was reared in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was three. He graduated from Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, in 1923.

Bontemps then moved to New York’s Harlem, where the “Harlem Renaissance” had already attracted the attention of West Coast intellectuals. He found a teaching job at the Harlem Academy in 1924 and began to publish poetry. He won the Alexander Pushkin Prize of Opportunity, a journal published by the National Urban League, in 1926 and 1927 and the Crisis (official journal of the NAACP) Poetry Prize in 1926. His career soon intersected that of the poet Langston Hughes with whom he became a close friend and sometime collaborator In Harlem Bontemps also ...

Article

David L. Dudley

Claude Brown was born in New York City on 23 February 1937 to Henry Lee and Ossie Brock Brown, South Carolinians who had come north in 1935 looking for economic opportunities unavailable in the South. Growing up in Harlem involved Claude Brown in crime and violence early in his life. By the time he was ten, he had joined the stealing division of a notorious street gang and had a history of truancy and expulsion from school. At eleven, Brown was sent to the Wiltwyck school for delinquent boys, where he came under the supervision of Dr. Ernest Papanek, whose positive influence in his life Brown would later acknowledge.

Back on the streets after two years at Wiltwyck at age thirteen Brown was shot during an attempted robbery A year later he was sent to the Warwick school for boys where he completed three terms before his final ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

writer, was born in Harlem, New York, the eldest of four children of Henry Lee, a railroad worker, and Ossie Brock, a domestic. Both parents had moved in 1935 from South Carolina to New York, seeking a better life in the North. Brown characterized his father as a man who worked hard, drank too much, enjoyed gospel music (especially when under the influence of alcohol), and whose parenting skills were limited to corporal punishment, which he meted out with great frequency. Brown's mother attended to the material needs of her children and attempted to save their souls by occasionally bringing them to an evangelical preacher who ran a makeshift church in her apartment.Growing up in a household with two working parents Brown got much of his upbringing on the streets and thus developed a tough attitude He recalls that around the age of four he was hit ...

Article

Claude Brown was born in New York City, the son of Ossie Brock Brown, a domestic worker, and Henry Lee, a railroad worker. In 1963 Brown began writing Manchild in the Promised Land; it was published in 1965. The book tells of his troubled childhood in Harlem, New York, where he ran with a gang and was in and out of reform schools.

Brown abandoned street life, resumed his education, and was awarded a grant to study government at Howard University. He graduated from Howard in 1965, studied law at Stanford University, and then studied at Rutgers University, which he left in 1968 without a degree. In 1976 he published The Children of Ham about struggling young blacks in Harlem Brown was working on a third book about the traumatic impact of violence on the young when he died of lung ...

Article

crystal am nelson

to Joseph Cassey Bustill, an educator, conductor on the Underground Railroad, and founder of the First Colored Presbyterian Church of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Sarah Humphrey, who was a member of a band of Chippewa Indians from Niagara Falls, New York. Anna’s exact birthday and death are unknown, as are many of the details of her life, such as where she was educated and whom she married, though her husband’s surname was Smith. However, her genealogy offers clues to understanding her reasons for becoming an educator and historian of not only her family, but also of the black bourgeoisie in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. As a fourth generation Bustill, Anna was born into a prominent Philadelphia family of intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and abolitionists, including her second cousin singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson, by her first cousin Maria Louisa Bustill Robeson In addition to her father among her most ...

Article

Philip Nanton

Britishwriter best known for his books The French Revolution (1837) and Frederick the Great (1858–65). Born in Scotland, and settling permanently in London in 1834, Carlyle was the author of many other works, including essays and articles in periodicals. Among these was his ‘Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question’, originally published in Fraser's Magazine (London) in December 1849, and later rewritten and republished as a pamphlet called Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question (1853) and in some of the collected editions of the author's Latter‐Day Pamphlets (first published 1850).

In form, the Occasional Discourse is an imaginary report of a speech by a fictional orator and it would be unwise to assume that everything in the speech should be regarded as identical with the personal opinions of Carlyle who may have deliberately exaggerated some elements for effect The speaker ...

Article

Alice Bernstein

journalist, editor, and commentator, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the eldest of four children and the only son of Martha Brownlee Curry, a domestic worker, and Homer Lee Curry, an automobile mechanic. Curry's parents divorced when he was a boy, and he and his sisters were raised in public housing by their stepfather, William Henry Polk, a dumptruck driver. Polk, an avid reader of black newspapers with a deep interest in current events beyond the South, was a major influence in Curry's life. Other important influences were his neighbors, including Miss Bessie and Miss Dot, and his high school principal McDonald Hughes, who encouraged children to pursue higher education and to overcome the hardships of segregation. Curry was also inspired by the civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Louis Jackson Sr., Ralph Abernathy, Cordy Tindell (C. T.) Vivian, Fred ...

Article

Joshunda Sanders

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author, was born Leon DeCosta Dash Jr. in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Leon Dash Sr. and Ruth Dash. His father worked as a postal clerk (and eventually a supervisor) and his mother was employed as an administrator for New York City's Health Department. Dash was raised in the Bronx and Harlem, New York, and originally aspired to become a lawyer. His interest shifted to journalism while he worked as an editor of the school newspaper at Lincoln University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania. He studied at Lincoln for two and a half years before transferring to Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s. He found work steam-cleaning building exteriors, but in winter the work was too challenging for him, so in 1965 he started working indoors at the Washington Post as a copy person He worked the lobster shift ...

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

David Levering Lewis

Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, W. E. B. Du Bois earned undergraduate degrees at Fisk University (1885) and Harvard (1890), and a doctorate in history from Harvard in 1895. Du Bois taught history and economics at Atlanta University in 1897–1910 and 1934–44. From 1910 to 1934, he served as founding editor of the Crisis, the official organ of the new National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

When his most influential book, The Souls of Black Folk, was published in 1903, Du Bois became the premier architect of the civil rights movement in the United States and among the first thinkers to grasp the international implications of the struggle for racial justice. The problem of the twentieth century, he wrote then, was the problem of the “color‐line.”

Du Bois s legacy is complex A severe critic of racial ...

Article

Thomas C. Holt

scholar, writer, editor, and civil rights pioneer, was born William Edward Burghardt Du Bois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the son of Mary Silvina Burghardt, a domestic worker, and Alfred Du Bois a barber and itinerant laborer In later life Du Bois made a close study of his family origins weaving them rhetorically and conceptually if not always accurately into almost everything he wrote Born in Haiti and descended from mixed race Bahamian slaves Alfred Du Bois enlisted during the Civil War as a private in a New York regiment of the Union army but appears to have deserted shortly afterward He also deserted the family less than two years after his son s birth leaving him to be reared by his mother and the extended Burghardt kin Long resident in New England the Burghardts descended from a freedman of Dutch slave origin who had ...

Article

Arnold Rampersad

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1868. He was born into a small community of blacks who had settled in the region since at least the Revolutionary War, in which an ancestor had fought. His mother, Mary Sylvina Burghardt, married a restless young visitor to the region, Alfred Du Bois, who disappeared soon after the birth of his son. Du Bois grew up a thorough New Englander, as he recalled, a member of the Congregational Church and a star student in the local schools, where he was encouraged to excel.

In 1885 he left Great Barrington for Nashville Tennessee to enter Fisk University The racism of the South appalled him No one but a Negro going into the South without previous experience of color caste can have any conception of its barbarism Nevertheless he enjoyed life at Fisk from which ...

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

Jody Benjamin

Having embraced a notion of transnational racial solidarity early in his career, W. E. B. Du Bois continued to elaborate and promote his ideas of “Pan-Africanism,” as both a scholar and a political activist, with increasing urgency throughout his life, culminating with his emigration from the United States to Ghana, where he died a few years after that country won its political independence from Great Britain.

The notion of “Negro race” as a conceptual and political unit has roots in Enlightenment-era views of race as an essential marker of human difference. It was also shaped by both the discourses of nineteenth-century movements to abolish slavery in the United States and those of nationalism in Europe. Du Bois was exposed to this thinking throughout his education, beginning at Fisk University in 1885, where some of his teachers had been abolitionists.

Continuing his education at Harvard University Du Bois was taught ...