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Billops, Camille  

Cynthia Hawkins

ceramist, sculptor, filmmaker, and cofounder (with her husband, James Hatch) of the Hatch‐Billops Collection, an archive of African American cultural history, was born in Los Angeles, California, to Lucius Billops, a cook and merchant seaman, and Alma Gilmore, a dressmaker, maid, and aircraft assembly worker. Billops graduated from Catholic Girls High School in 1952, and in 1954 she began her studies at the University of Southern California. She majored in occupational therapy, which included drawing, sculpture, and ceramics. She transferred to Los Angeles State College in 1956 after she became pregnant, and then she changed her major to special education. Billops worked during the day as a bank bookkeeper and maintained a full academic workload in the evening. At the end of 1956 her daughter, Christa, was born, and Billops put her up for adoption. This was an experience she would explore in her 1992 ...

Article

Coicou-Madiou, Léonie  

Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper

was born Léonie Coicou in Pétionville, Haiti, on 10 April 1891, to poet and writer Massillon Coicou and Lisebonne Joseph. While her father served as a diplomat, she studied in France. There, she began her acting career with the Théâtre de Cluny in Paris, playing the role of “Petit Sim” in her father’s play Liberté in 1904. Four years after Coicou’s return to Port-au-Prince, on the night of 14 March 1908, her father and his two brothers, avid supporters of Anténor Firmin, were accused of plotting the overthrow of then US-backed President Nord Alexis and assassinated along with more than a dozen friends. That same year, in response to a defamatory article written about her deceased father, Coicou, then only eighteen years old, entered public life by defending his legacy in the influential Haitian newspaper of the epoch, L’impartial. She married Justin Madiou on 25 April ...

Article

Dash, Damon  

Peter Carr Jones

music, fashion, and movie industry entrepreneur. The former co-owner of Roc-A-Fella Records with Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Kareem “Biggs” Burke, Damon Dash cross-promoted several products within a single brand, Roc-A-Fella. He ran the corporate side of Roc-A-Fella, especially the fashion and movie production divisions, until being bought out in 2004.

Dash was born in East Harlem, New York, to a lower-middle class, single-parent family. He earned scholarships to several prestigious private schools, though each expelled him. His mother died when Dash was only fifteen, but he continued his education until the twelfth grade, and got his GED in 1988. After this, he ran a small party promotion company, Dash Entertainment.

In 1994 he met Jay-Z and became his manager. When the established record companies passed on Jay-Z's original album, Reasonable Doubt, Dash, Jay-Z, and silent partner Burke formed Roc-A-Fella in 1996 Def Jam Records ...

Article

Davis, Ossie  

Cassandra Jackson

Born in Cogsdell, Georgia, Ossie Davis grew up in nearby Waycross. He studied at Howard University for three years, then traveled to New York to pursue a career in the theater. With the encouragement of Alain Locke, Davis obtained a position with the Rose McClendon Players of Harlem, while writing in his spare time. The following year, he joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Medical Corps and in Special Services. While stationed in Liberia, he wrote and produced Goldbrickers of 1944, a musical variety show. Discharged in 1945, Davis returned to New York and gained the lead role in the play Jeb, which propelled his stage career. Also starring in the play was Davis's future wife, Ruby Dee, with whom he would continue to costar in plays and later in film. Among Davis's stage, film, and television credits are The Joe Louis Story ...

Article

Davis, Ossie  

Roanne Edwards

Ossie Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the son of a railway engineer, and grew up in Waycross, Georgia. The harassment of his parents by the Ku Klux Klan impelled him early on to become a writer so that he could “truthfully portray the black man's experience.” At Howard University, under the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke, Davis developed his theatrical talent, performing in a 1941 production of Joy Exceeding Glory with Harlem's Rose McClendon Players. Following his theater debut, however, he received few job offers and for nearly a year found himself living on the street.

Davis never lost his sense of purpose. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he returned to New York, New York, where he won the title role in Robert Ardrey's play Jeb (1946). In 1948 he married fellow performer Ruby ...

Article

Davis, Ossie  

Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...

Article

Davis, Ossie  

Niambi Lee-Kong

actor, playwright, producer, director, and civil rights activist. Ossie Davis, though commonly known for his work in the dramatic arts, was a humanitarian and activist who used his talents and fame to fight for the humane treatment of his people and for recognition of their contributions to society.

Raiford Chatman Davis was born in Cogdell, Georgia, to Kince Charles Davis and Laura Cooper Davis. Though neither parent was formally educated, Davis's father was a preacher and a railroad construction engineer. Davis's name “Ossie” came from a clerk's misunderstanding the pronunciation of the initials “R. C.” when recording his birth.

In 1935 Davis graduated from Central High School in Waycross, Georgia. He then attended Howard University, where he met Alain Locke a professor of philosophy who had been the first black Rhodes scholar Locke recognized Ossie s talent introduced him to black theater and encouraged ...

Article

El Fani, Nadia  

Jeremy Rich

was born in Paris, France. Her father Béchir El Fani was a Tunisian Arab and her mother was of European descent. Both her parents were communists—her father was one of the leaders of the Tunisian Communist Party banned by Tunisian dictator Habib Bourguiba—and their atheist and secular attitudes deeply shaped El Fani’s intellectual development. She later recalled her childhood in Tunis as a period in which secularization had flourished, but her parents’ dream of revolution had failed to halt Bourguiba’s ascension to power as a dictator following Tunisian independence in 1956.

El Fani never had the opportunity to attend film school, and split much of her life between living in France and Tunisia. She had a brief role in a 1982 film by French director Jerry Schatzburg. From 1983 to 1990 El Fani worked with film crews serving major Western film directors such as Roman Polanski and David ...

Article

Riggs, Marlon  

David A. Gerstner

filmmaker, was born Marlon Troy Riggs in Fort Worth, Texas, to Jean Williams, director of Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights, a federal agency, and Alvin Riggs, who had a career in military and federal service. In the late 1960s Jean and Alvin Riggs moved Marlon and his sister, Sascha, to Augusta, Georgia, where, among other racist incidents, Marlon's school would not sponsor him in the state spelling bee even though he won the local contest. Alvin Riggs's military job took the family to Germany, where Marlon spent his high school years.

Like other African Americans who had lived abroad Marlon was struck by the overt racism and segregation that he experienced upon his return to the United States In addition to the ideological divides of race Riggs s homosexuality further complicated the oversimplified determinants of identity His experiences and observations of difference however served as ...

Article

Riggs, Marlon  

Malaika B. Horne

filmmaker, educator, writer, and gay and civil rights activist. Riggs was born into a military family in Fort Worth, Texas, one of two children of Jean Riggs and Alvin Riggs. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard University in 1978. In 1981 he earned a master's degree in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. A brilliant documentary filmmaker and scholar, he had a raw aesthetic sensibility that sought to shock and galvanize. The youngest tenured professor in the arts and humanities at the University of California, Berkeley, he taught in the Graduate School of Journalism from 1987 until 1994, the year of his passing.

At age eight Riggs moved with his family to Augusta Georgia Being confronted with racism was not new but an experience in Augusta that denied him recognition for winning a spelling bee had ...

Article

Riggs, Marlon Troy  

Lawrie Balfour

Reflecting on the death of Marlon Troy Riggs from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), cultural theorist Kobena Mercer observed, “Independent cinema lost the voice and vision of an important artist at the very moment that he was coming into his own.” At the time of his death, Riggs was at work on Black Is & Black Ain't. This feature-length film, complete by Riggs's collaborators in 1995, chronicled the variety of American identities seen as black.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Riggs grew up in a military family, moving from Texas to Georgia to Germany before returning to the United States to attend Harvard University. As an undergraduate he began to explore connections between black and gay identities. His studies led to a senior thesis on the treatment of male homosexuality in literature. After graduating magna cum laude in 1978 Riggs worked briefly at a Texas television station ...

Article

Walker, Elizabeth Ann (Liz)  

Donna L. Halper

was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the younger of two children of Charles C. Walker, a Congregationalist minister, and his wife Bessie (Trotter). Elizabeth’s mother died in childbirth, and her father remarried in 1953 to Geneva (Powell), a teacher. Elizabeth and her brother, Charles, were mainly raised by their stepmother, as their father died in 1963. Despite growing up in a deeply religious home, young Elizabeth did not plan for a career in the church. Rather, she was interested in the media. A 1969 graduate of Little Rock’s Central High School, where she was the school newspaper’s first black assistant editor, she attended Olivet College, a Christian liberal arts school in Olivet, Michigan, graduating with a B.A. in Speech and Theater in 1973 Sources that say her major was Communication are incorrect Subsequently she studied broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin school for one semester but did not ...

Article

Willmott, Kevin  

Jeff Loeb

independent filmmaker, playwright, director, actor, professor, and community activist, was born in Junction City, Kansas, the son of Lee Douglas Willmott, a hodcarrier and plastic tender, and Ruth Lee Willmott, a homemaker. Junction City, located in the central part of the state, in many ways owes its existence and takes its character from its proximity to Fort Riley, an army post dating from the 1850s that was home to the Tenth Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers, one of two all-black cavalry units created essentially to guard settlers from Indian attack following the Civil War.

Junction City s unusual history helped form Willmott s viewpoint from the beginning Contributing to the early presence of the Buffalo Soldiers in the nineteenth century was a substantial population of African American settlers originally attracted to Kansas as a free state haven for escaped and manumitted slaves As ...