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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

Mary Hughes Brookhart

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Samuel Allen (also known as Paul Vesey) studied creative writing under James Weldon Johnson at Fisk where he graduated magna cum laude in 1938. He received his JD from Harvard in 1941. Until 1968 when he formally left law for literature, he was active in both fields.

He was drafted into the U.S. Armed Services in 1942 and served as an officer, though under the constraints of the segregated system, until 1946. From 1946 to 1947 he was deputy assistant district attorney in New York City. The following year he studied humanities at the New School for Social Research. In 1948 he went to Paris on the GI Bill, and after studying French, studied at the Sorbonne. He was employed variously with the U.S. Armed Forces from 1951 to 1955 as historian claims officer and civilian attorney in Wiesbaden Germany and in ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ottilie Assing was the eldest daughter of David and Rosa Maria (Varnhagen) Assing. Her mother was an energetic teacher with a flair for singing and storytelling; her father was a well-known doctor who penned poetry and was prone to depression. David, born with the surname of Assur, was raised as an Orthodox Jew but associated with Christians. He and Rosa, who was not Jewish, raised Ottilie and her younger sister, Ludmilla, as "freethinking atheists, as true daughters of the Enlightenment, who saw themselves as members of a universal human race of thought and reason." They saw education as a "secular form of individual salvation."

Assing's life was not always easy; she witnessed savage anti-Jewish riots, and by the age of twenty-three she had lost both parents. In 1842 she and her sister moved from their hometown to live with an uncle Ludmilla adapted ...

Article

Martin Tsang

As a second-generation, Cuban-born Afro-Chinese (his father was Chinese and his mother Afro-Cuban), Chuffat Latour’s Chinese heritage originated with the more than 125,000 indentured laborers who arrived on the island between 1847 and 1874, primarily from China’s southeastern Guangdong Province. He was born while both African slavery and Chinese indenture were active in Cuba and, as such, witnessed as well as formed part of the growing Chinese presence on the island. In addition, his generation of Chinese and mixed Chinese Cubans experienced the struggle for independence from Spain (1868–1898), the gradual abolition of slavery (1870–1886), and the US military intervention (1898) and occupation (1899–1902). Like fellow Afro-Chinese Cuban Wifredo Lam (1902–1982), this generation envisioned on a large scale an ethnically homogenizing national identity later theorized as transculturation by Fernando Ortiz.

Being of mixed race Chuffat Latour was positioned in ...

Article

Ghirmai Negash

Eritrean-born Ethiopian linguist, Africanist scholar, and political activist, was born in Asmara, Eritrea. He was fluent in several European and African languages including Italian, French, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, and Tigrinya, his mother tongue. His main area of expertise was linguistics, with particular focus on the Semitic languages of Eritrea and Ethiopia, but his intellectual interest covered a broad spectrum, including history, policy studies, and culture.

Demoz graduated from Haile Selassie University, Addis Ababa, with a bachelor’s degree in 1956. He received a master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 1957 and later studied linguistics at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received master’s and PhD degrees in Semitic languages in 1959 and 1964, respectively. Demoz started his professional career at Haile Selassie University, where he taught and served as dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1964 to 1967 He was also a ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Jack Mapanje, one of Africa’s most respected poets and a scholar of linguistics, became an internationally recognized victim of censorship when the regime of Malawi’s president, Dr. Hastings Banda, imprisoned him without charges or trial in 1987. The human rights monitoring group Amnesty International declared him a political prisoner, and other groups, including those devoted to human rights and artistic freedom, launched a letter-writing campaign that resulted in his 1991 release.

Mapanje attended local Catholic schools as a child and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Malawi and a Ph.D. in linguistics from University College, London. While in London he wrote his first collection of poetry, Of Chameleons and Gods (1981), which contained much veiled criticism of the repressive Banda government but was not one of the many books that the government banned.

At about the time Of Chameleons and Gods was published ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

linguist and scholar, was born John Hamilton McWhorter V in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was John McWhorter IV, a university administrator. His mother was a college professor, and so McWhorter's world was one of learning and educational attainment. He attended Friends Select School, a small Quaker K-12 school in Philadelphia, and was a precocious student who often felt himself more intelligent than his teachers and who reportedly began teaching himself Hebrew when he was still just a young child.

McWhorter's academic skill led him to be invited to attend the Bard College at Simon's Rock, a preparatory college for especially gifted young people in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was in the tenth grade when he enrolled, and he graduated with honors and an associate's degree. He then matriculated at Rutgers, from which he graduated in 1985 with a B A in French and Romance Languages He removed ...

Article

Margaret Wade-Lewis

linguist, diplomat, and educator, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to Raleigh Morgan Sr., a porter at Union Station, and Adrien Louise Beasley Morgan. The eldest of three children, Raleigh Jr. lived with his extended family; his mother left the household when Morgan was four years old. In addition to his father (b. 1888), Morgan's nurturers were his grandfather Jackson (b. 1865), a business owner; his-grandmother Anna (b. 1868), a homemaker; his uncle John W. (b. 1890); and his aunts Elizabeth and Adrien (both b. 1895). His younger siblings were John Edward (b. 1918) and Helen A. (b. 1919).

Morgan took his first course in Latin at age twelve and began to study German and French at ages fourteen and fifteen respectively He eventually became a contemporary Renaissance man whose life unfolded in three phases professor and ...

Article

Meghan Healy-Clancy

was born in rural Gqubeni in South Africa’s Eastern Cape on 7 January 1920. A descendent of Xhosa royalty and a fourth-generation Christian, she grew up in a proud family of farmers and teachers, educated in mission schools. In her youth few young women reached university, and those who did were most likely to return to teach near home. Ntantala, who left for the University of Fort Hare as a precocious fifteen-year-old, was to lead a more cosmopolitan life than most Transkei women—both by choice, and by apartheid’s cruel fate.

Ntantala’s life was shaped profoundly by one of her classmates at Fort Hare: A. C. Jordan. An experienced teacher thirteen years older than Ntantala, Jordan tried unsuccessfully to court her at Fort Hare. He then recruited her to teach with him at a high school in Kroonstad, Free State, where they formed an enduring intellectual partnership, marrying in 1939 ...

Article

Mathias Hanses

Howard University professor of five decades, international authority on blacks in the ancient Mediterranean, and “dean” of African American classicists, was born in York County, Virginia, the son of Alice (née Phillips) and Frank Martin Snowden Sr., a War Department employee. The transatlantic turmoil of the 1910s swept the Snowdens from the rural South to Boston, Massachusetts. In 1917, the year the United States entered World War I, they joined increasing numbers of southern blacks who migrated to the brimming industrial centers of the North as military production needs peaked. For the Snowdens, at least, the move to New England was a success. Later in life, Frank Junior did not recall experiencing any discrimination as he grew up in racially diverse Roxbury, Massachusetts.

In 1922 Frank passed the entrance examination to the highly selective Boston Latin School The institution rigorously discarded those whose performance was considered subpar ...

Article

Margaret Wade-Lewis

linguist, anthropologist, and activist, was born in Kansas City, Kansas, to Mack Spears Sr. and C. R. Spears. Both his parents were from enterprising, educated, upper-middle-class families. Mack Spears Sr. taught at Lincoln University at Sumner High School and at the black branch of the segregated Kansas City Kansas Community College He received a master s degree in Business at the University of Kansas in the early 1930s and was active in bringing the AFL Teachers Union to the public schools in Kansas City Kansas and in managing his father s estate and other businesses in the twin cities of Kansas City Kansas and Kansas City Missouri Becoming one of the key business leaders in the black community he initiated various projects including the first black housing development the eponymous Spears Crest built on a portion of a tract of property he owned Mack Spears ...

Article

linguist, politician, and diplomat in the Seychelles, was born Danielle d’Offay, on 30 September 1941 on Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles archipelago. Descended from a historical Franco-Seychellois family, Danielle de St Jorre completed her secondary education and her university studies in the UK. She obtained her Master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1965 and a postgraduate certificate in education a year later from the University of London. Her growing interest in language and education led her to return to UK in the 1970s for a BPhil in linguistics at York University. Returning to the Seychelles, she joined the Teachers Training College, which she headed for some time before her appointment as principal secretary to the minister of education.

In 1976 St Jorre participated in the first Colloque International d Études Créoles International Conference on Creole Studies held in Nice France The main outcome of that ...

Article

John Gilmore

Linguisticsscholar and polemicist born in Trinidad, the son of former slaves. Little is known of his early life, but he did well as a pupil at the Woodbrook Normal School (which would now be called a teacher training college), which was then on the outskirts of Port of Spain. In 1860 he was placed in charge of a remote rural school. He moved to another school on an increased salary in 1865, but in 1867 success in a recently introduced system of competitive examinations secured him a place in the local Civil Service. He rose through a succession of posts until he was forced by ill health to retire in 1879.

As a rural schoolmaster, Thomas came into close contact with and made a special study of the French Creole which was then the vernacular of most Trinidadians while at the same time studying French and ...

Article

Matteo Salvadore

Ethiopian cleric, known in Europe as Zaga Zabo or Tsega Zabo, traveled to Lisbon and Bologna in 1527 as representative of Emperor Dawit II (1508–1540) to King João III (1521–1557). While in Lisbon he drafted a confession of faith that Portuguese humanist Damião de Góis (1502–1574) printed in 1540 as Fides religio moresque Aethiopum sub imperio Preciosi Ioannis degentium. The facts of Tsega Ze’ab’s upbringing remain unknown: when the 1520s Portuguese mission to Ethiopia led by Don Rodrigo de Lima (1500–?) reached Emperor Dawit II’s court, Tsega was already a distinguished cleric helping in the writing and translating of the emperor’s letters to João III, and he was later selected to represent Ethiopia at his court. To this purpose he joined the Portuguese party on its way back to Lisbon, which he reached in 1527 Traveling in the company of the mission s chaplain Francisco Álvares 1465 c ...

Article

Gloria Chuku

a local ruler in Nigeria, was most likely born in the late nineteenth century in the northern Igbo village of Umuida in Enugu-Ezike town, near present-day Nsukka. Her father, Ugbabe Ayibi, was a farmer and palm-wine tapper, and her mother, Anekwu Ameh, was a farmer and petty trader. As a teenager she moved to Igala country, perhaps to avoid being dedicated as a living sacrifice to the Ohe Goddess of Enugu-Ezike in payment for a crime committed by her father, or possibly because she was sold into slavery there. Or it may simply be that she sought the life of a “free woman.” Whatever was the case, what is certain is that Ahebi had some Igala connections prior to her disappearance from home. Members of her extended family and lineage were of Igala origin, aiding her integration into that community.

However Ahebi got to Igala country it is possible that ...

Article

Annarita Puglielli

Somali linguist, author, educator, and government official, was born at Ceelhuur (Obbia or Hoobyo) in Somalia. His name is also spelled Yasin Osman Kenadid. He was the son of Cismaan Yuusuf Keenadiid, the poet scholar who, in the 1920s, invented the first phonetically standardized script for the Somali language. This script, called in Somali Far Soomaali or “Somali alphabet,” is also known as the “Cismaaniyya (or Osmaniya) script,” called this after his name. Until that time, Somali had been written in Arabic characters.

Yaasiin studied linguistics and classical languages (Greek and Latin) at the universities of Rome and Perugia (Italy) from 1955 to 1957 and Slavic philology at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow in 1962. He got his Arts Degree (Lettere) at the University of Rome–La Sapienza in 1963.

In 1949 he founded Goosanka Afka iyo Suugaanta Soomaalida the Somali Language and Literature Society within the ...