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Ariel Bookman

Nigerian novelist, poet, dramatist, educator, and political activist, was born Christopher Uchechukwu Andrew Abani, on 27 December 1966, in Afikpo, Nigeria. Abani’s life has been dramatically shaped but not defined by the political violence associated with the Nigerian state. Born in the Igbo heartland of southeast Nigeria to an Igbo father and British mother, Abani was six months old when the Biafran War began. His mother fled to Britain with him and his siblings, an experience that he would later narrate in poetic form in Daphne’s Lot (2003). Returning to Nigeria after the war, Abani demonstrated precocious literary talent, publishing his first short story at age ten and finishing his first novel, Masters of the Board (1984), at sixteen. The novel, a political thriller, imagines a Nazi plot to return to power by using unwitting Third World governments as its pawns.

Abani was arrested in ...

Article

Brenna Sanchez

classical singer, author, gay rights activist, and former literary assistant to writer Langston Hughes, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Abdul's father, Hamid Abdul, was from Calcutta, India, and his mother, Bernice (Shreve) Abdul, was able to trace her ancestry back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. Abdul got his start in theater at a young age, participating in children's theater by age six. He attended John Hay High School and, after graduation, worked as a journalist for the Cleveland Call and Post. He would later go on to earn a diploma from the Vienna Academy of Music in 1962. He also studied at Harvard University, the New School for Social Research, the Cleveland Institute of Music, New York College of Music, and the Mannes College of Music.

In 1951 at age twenty two Abdul relocated to New York City There he began studying music and was ...

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Mary T. Henry

bishop, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Columbia, South Carolina, to Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. He and his three siblings, Avery, Charity, and Lucy Rose, were raised in a spiritual and intellectually stimulating home. His father, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister and social activist, in the 1920s organized the first African American bank in Columbia and the first modern statewide civil rights organization in South Carolina. None of these activities went unnoticed by young John and they helped to define his later focus and commitments. Adams was educated in the segregated Columbia school system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His undergraduate work was completed at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he earned an AB degree in History in 1947 After studying at Boston University School of Theology he received a bachelor of ...

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Malin Pereira

poet,‐educator, and cultural critic, was born in Harlem, New York, to Clifford Leopold Alexander Jr., a lawyer, political adviser, and business consultant, and Adele (Logan) Alexander, a historian, educator, and writer, and was raised in Washington, D.C. Alexander's childhood was characterized by the privileges of the black professional elite, which included travel, education, and involvement in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. She later described her father as a “race man” who worked to make things better for blacks. He was, according to one of her poems, Hajj Bahiyah “Betty” Shabazz's lawyer. Her mother published on African American history. Alexander's poems and essays about her childhood describe loving parents, a connected extended family, and the creation of an enduring sense of racial affiliation.

Alexander received her BA from Yale in 1984, an MA from Boston University in 1987 and a PhD from the University ...

Article

LaNesha NeGale DeBardelaben

physician and public health provider, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fourth of five children of Hillard Boone Alexander, a horse trainer, and Virginia Pace Alexander. Born enslaved in 1856 to James and Ellen Alexander in Mecklenburg, Virginia, Alexander's father migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. Alexander's mother was born enslaved in 1854 to Thomas and Jenne Pace in Essex County, Virginia. She and her brother migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. In 1882 Hillard and Virginia were married. A working-class but respectable family, the Alexanders lived in the city's Seventh Ward with their three boys, Raymond Pace Alexander, Milliard, and Schollie, and two girls, Irene and Virginia. Strong family values were instilled in the Alexander children at an early age. Church, education, and a solid work ethic were emphasized in the home. Shortly after the birth of the youngest child in 1903 ...

Article

Maxamed Dahir Afrax

Somali poet, dramatist, actor, and political activist, was born in Gabiley in northwestern Somalia in 1935. His father, Muxumed Amiin, was a soldier. His mother, Muumina Kaahin, Muxumed Amiin’s first wife, died when Cabdi, her only child, was still an infant. Cabdi’s grandmother Murriya took care of him until he was a teenager. He lived in the towns of Berbera and Arabsiyo where he attended a qurʾanic school. As a teenager he had to support himself through different kinds of hard physical labor.

In 1953 he moved to Hargeisa then the capital of the British Protectorate of Somaliland where he started composing his first poems Soon after in the same year he moved to Mogadishu the Somali capital There he was recognized as a talented poet and artist and was employed by Radio Mogadishu At the same time he joined the movement for national independence He worked for ...

Article

Floris Barnett Cash

Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), the leading agent of change and promoter of a new “relevant” black literature of the 1960s, influenced the development of contemporary black letters. Amiri Baraka is the author of twenty plays, three jazz operas, seven books of nonfiction, and thirteen volumes of poetry. Born Everett Jones in Newark, New Jersey, he is the son of Coyette Jones, a postal worker and elevator operator, and Anna Lois Russ Jones, a social worker. Baraka graduated with honors from Newark’s Barringer High School in 1951 at the age of fifteen and received a scholarship to Rutgers University in Newark. A year later, “LeRoi” transferred to Howard University, where he remained briefly before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1954. Stationed at Ramsey Field, Puerto Rico, for two years, he read extensively, wrote poetry, and traveled to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

In 1957 ...

Article

James Smethurst

Amiri Baraka was a highly productive writer who has written poetry, drama, novels, Jazz operas, and nonfiction. He also played a crucial role as an organizer, editor, and promoter of the avant-garde literary movements of the 1950s and early 1960s and the Black Arts Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Often controversial, Baraka became the center of a political firestorm in his home state of New Jersey in 2003 when a poem he had written was criticized as anti-Semitic.

Born Everett Leroy (later LeRoi) Jones in Newark, New Jersey, Baraka attended Newark public schools and studied chemistry at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before turning to literature and philosophy. In 1954 he left Howard and joined the United States Air Force. He became increasingly interested in literature, immersing himself in the work of American poet Ezra Pound, Irish novelist James Joyce and other modern ...

Article

Sholomo B. Levy

poet, playwright, educator, and activist, was born Everett Leroy Jones in Newark, New Jersey, the eldest of two children to Coyette Leroy Jones, a postal supervisor, and Anna Lois Russ, a social worker. Jones's lineage included teachers, preachers, and shop owners who elevated his family into Newark's modest, though ambitious, black middle class. His own neighborhood was black, but the Newark of Jones's youth was mostly white and largely Italian. He felt isolated and embattled at McKinley Junior High and Barringer High School, yet he excelled in his studies, played the trumpet, ran track, and wrote comic strips.

Graduating from high school with honors at age fifteen, Jones entered the Newark branch of Rutgers University on a science scholarship. In 1952 after his first year he transferred to Howard University hoping to find a sense of purpose at a black college that had ...

Article

Magda Romanska

playwright, poet, writer, and one of the leaders of the black revolt of the 1960s. Imamu Amiri Baraka was born Everett Leroy Jones during the Great Depression in Newark, New Jersey. He is credited as one of the most outspoken advocates of a black cultural and political revival in the 1960s. He attended Barringer High School and Rutgers University, where he pursued philosophy and religious studies, before enrolling in Howard University in Washington, D.C. It was then that he changed his name to LeRoi Jones. Baraka graduated from Howard University in 1953, and in 1954 he joined the U S Air Force in which he served for three years When an anonymous tipster suggested that he was a communist sympathizer Baraka s belongings were searched for subversive literature Because some of his books were deemed socialist Baraka was discharged from the military Shortly thereafter he ...

Article

Joanne H. Edey-Rhodes

educator, poet, and community activist, was born in Okolona, Chickasaw County, Mississippi, the only child of former slaves Mary Johnson Threat and George W. Threat. Though illiterate, her mother understood the value of education. She took in laundry and sold eggs and vegetables to save for her daughter's education. After completing studies at the Okolona Public School in 1894, Battle continued her education at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, graduating with an AB degree in 1900. She was teaching away from home when she learned that Wallace Battle had come to Okolona to establish an industrial school. Although she was in line to become principal of a Greenwood, Mississippi, school she chose to return home in 1902 to help with the development of the Okolona Industrial School. She married the school's founder the following year. They had five children.

Along with her role ...

Article

Billie Gastic

writer, poet, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Sun Fairchild Beam, a security guard, and Dorothy Saunders Beam, a teacher and school guidance counselor. Beam attended Philadelphia's public schools as well as the St. Joseph School for Boys (Clayton, Delaware), Malvern Preparatory (Paoli, Pennsylvania), and St. Thomas More (Philadelphia). In 1972, while still a teenager, Beam was honored with the Philadelphia School District's Volunteer Service Award. He later attended Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, where he studied journalism and earned his BA in 1976. As an undergraduate Beam was active in the local Black Student Union and was a member of the Franklin Independent Men. He was also active in college journalism and radio programming and was awarded the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Award for Broadcasting in 1974.

After graduation Beam remained in the Midwest where he pursued a master s degree ...

Article

Mamie E. Locke

James Madison Bell was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents' identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cause of human freedom. Through his studies Bell was thoroughly indoctrinated into the principles of radical Abolitionism.

In 1854 Bell moved his family to Chatham, Ontario, Canada where he felt he would be more free under the authority of the British government ...

Article

Mamie E. Locke

abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents' identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children. He also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law, George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cause of human freedom. Through his studies Bell was thoroughly indoctrinated into the principles of radical abolitionism.

In 1854 Bell moved his family to Chatham Ontario Canada feeling that he would be freer under the authority of the British government While ...

Article

Joan R. Sherman

The “Bard of the Maumee,” Ohio's first native African American poet, was born in Gallipolis where he spent his first sixteen years. From 1842 to 1853, Bell worked as a plasterer in Cincinnati and there married Louisiana Sanderlin with whom he had several children. He plied the plasterer's trade in Canada West, Ontario (1854–1860); there he became a friend of John Brown's, raised funds for Brown's 1859 raid, and later dedicated The Day and the War to “The Hero, Saint and Martyr of Harpers Ferry.” For the next thirty years, until he settled in Toledo in 1890, Bell pursued the trades of plasterer and poet-lecturer in San Francisco (1860–1865 and many other cities north and south He championed abolitionism and black educational and legal rights served as a prominent lay worker for the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church and briefly worked in Republican ...

Article

Christopher Campbell

London‐born poet, printer, visionary, and ‘prophet against empire’. Over the course of his lifetime Blake confronted the horrors of slavery through his literary and pictorial art. He was able both to counter pro‐slavery propaganda and to complicate typical abolitionist verse and sentiment with a profound and unique exploration of the effects of enslavement and the varied processes of empire.

Blake's poem ‘The Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Innocence (1789 examines the mind forg d manacles of racial constructions in the minds of individuals both in the poem itself in the form of the black child and his white counterpart and also in the minds of those involved in the political dispute over abolition Seeming to explain a desire for racial acceptance and spiritual purity through assimilation into white British society and seeming also to be endorsing conventional assumptions of white racial superiority the poem ...

Article

Kennedy A. Walibora Waliaula

South African painter, writer, poet, and antiapartheid activist, was born in Bonnievale in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The third-born child in a family of five (four sons, and one daughter), Breytenbach was a twin, although his twin died at infancy. The Breytenbachs descended from the lineage of one Coenrad Breytenbach, a military officer of lower rank who arrived in South Africa from Europe in 1656 It is unclear whether Coenrad Breytenbach was Dutch or whether he had other European origins On the maternal side Breyten Breytenbach descended from the Cloetes of France However he would often downplay his European origins stressing instead his ties to Africa Two of his brothers were prominent figures in South Africa and had strong associations with the apartheid system Jan was a senior military officer while Cloete was a famous photojournalist Breytenbach s opposition to apartheid and Afrikanerdom made him something of a ...

Article

Adam Biggs

Walter Henderson Brooks was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks's father was an enterprising slave who owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia's wealthiest citizens, including his wife's owner, German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife's freedom in 1862 for $800 Still a slave Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin Yarborough tobacco firm He woefully recalled his time there writing It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of the consequences of failing to do what was required of me When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother and began working ...

Article

Adam Biggs

clergyman, temperance leader, and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks's father, an enterprising slave, owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia's wealthiest citizens, including his wife's owner, the German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife's freedom in 1862 for eight hundred dollars. Still a slave, Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin & Yarborough tobacco firm. He woefully recalled his time there, writing: “It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands. What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of ‘the consequences’ of failing to do what was required of me.” When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline, Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother ...

Article

Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician and educator, was born in Mebanesville, North Carolina, one of eight children. Her parents' names are not known. There are no records of Brown's earlier education, but in 1881 she enrolled at Scotia Seminary in Concord, North Carolina, and graduated in 1885. Four years later she married David Brown, a minister, and the following year entered Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, founded in 1850 and the first medical school for women in America. When Brown matriculated at the school in 1891, it was one of the best medical colleges in the country.

After graduating from Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1894 Brown returned to North Carolina and practiced medicine in her home state for two years before going to Charleston South Carolina where she became the first female physician of African ancestry in South Carolina A year later a fellow alumna from Woman s ...