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Adams, John Hurst  

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 ...


Amini, Johari  

Margaret Ann Reid

Johari Amini, born Jewel Christine McLawler to William and Alma (Bazel) McLawler on 13 January 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, changed her name after her consciousness-raising by Haki R. Madhubuti (then Don L. Lee), whom she met as a thirty-two-year-old freshman at Wilson Junior College. Johari is Swahili for “Jewel,” and Amini is Swahili for “honesty and fidelity.” Amini believes that the meaning of a name becomes an inherent part of the person carrying that name, and she wanted names that would reflect her personality and her values of honesty and fidelity—values that she lived by and that she wanted her writings to convey.

Amini's meeting Madhubuti was the beginning of a long literary and political association which is demonstrated in her poetic style as well as in her social criticism She was a staff member of the Institute of Positive Education and she was assistant then associate editor ...


Asante, Molefi Kete  

Ama Mazama

scholar and author, was born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. in Valdosta, Georgia. He was the first son of Lillie Wilkson, a domestic worker, and Arthur L. Smith, a railroad worker. The family grew over the years and eventually included sixteen children.

Valdosta, a small southern town also known as the Azalea City, was the arena in which young Arthur first saw the abuses and injustices suffered by black people under segregation. He picked cotton during the summer to help his family, a task representing for him not only the injustices of the present but also the awful, backbreaking conditions that his ancestors had to endure for hundreds of years during slavery. While shining shoes at age eleven, he was spat upon by a white man, an experience he would later recall in describing his growing determination to fight against racism.

Identified early in life as possessing exceptional intellectual ...


Asante, Molefi Kete  

One of the most important intellectuals at work today, Asante is the founding and preeminent theorist of Afrocentricity, an intellectual movement that insists on the study of Africa and African peoples from an African perspective. In 1996 the Utne Reader called Asante “one of the 100 leading thinkers” in the United States. His development of the methodology of Afrocentricity initiated debates, both inside and outside the academy, on the nature of a pluralistic society in a postcolonial age. A prolific writer with an impressive intellectual range, he has authored over 40 books and more than 200 scholarly articles. Asante is professor and former chair of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he created the first Ph.D. program in African American Studies.

Asante was born Arthur Lee Smith, Jr., in Valdosta, Georgia one of sixteen children in a working class family ...


Babb, Valerie Melissa  

Ondra Krouse Dismukes

writer, editor, and scholar, was born in New York City to Dorothy L. Babb and Lionel S. Duncan, both of whom were immigrants from the Republic of Panama. Her parents were part of the larger West Indian community, the “diggers” as many were called, who built the Panama Canal. Babb shared a close relationship with her mother, who instilled in her the value of an education.

Babb attended the Bronx High School of Science, a high school specializing in math and sciences and with some of the best English teachers, whose influence Babb credits for choosing this profession. After graduating from high school in 1973, she enrolled in Queens College of the City University of New York. She graduated with honors in 1977 earning a bachelor s degree in English with a minor concentration in Romance Languages Babb went on to attend graduate school ...


Baker, Houston A., Jr.  

Michael Awkward

In an October 1985Pennsylvania Gazette profile, Houston A. Baker, Jr., speaks of his intellectual journey from graduate studies in late-Victorian literature to the then relatively uncharted field of African American literature as “a great awakening and a conversion experience rolled into one.” Baker's blues journey home has resulted in the field's richest, most consistently probing body of work, and has established him as one of a handful of preeminent scholars of American literature to have emerged in the wake of the civil rights movement struggles of the 1960s.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Baker matriculated at Howard University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and then earned a PhD in English at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968. After brief stints at Yale University, the site of his conversion, and the University of Virginia, Baker moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 ...


Bell, Derrick  

Jared A. Ball

law professor, writer, and theoretical pioneer in critical race theory, narrative scholarship, and the economic-determinist approach to race history. As a student and professor of law, Derrick Bell pioneered critical race theory as a tool to explain and challenge the centrality of an apparently immutable racism that permeates every aspect of U.S. society. Bell sees this amorphous yet unremitting racism as essential to the maintenance of the U.S. socioeconomic order. His perspective derives from his personal experience coming of age in an era marked by global struggles for liberation. In his essay “Great Expectations” he vividly describes the effect of government policies on black Americans:

If the nation s policies towards blacks were revised to require weekly random round ups of several hundred blacks who were then taken to a secluded place and shot that policy would be more dramatic but hardly different in result than the policies ...


Bonner, Marita  

Marita Odette Bonner was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, one of the four children of Mary Noel and Joseph Bonner. She was educated at Brookline High School. In 1922 she graduated from Radcliffe College with a B.A. degree in English and comparative literature. After teaching for two years at Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, West Virginia, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she taught high school until 1930.

As a member of the literary “S” salon in Washington, Bonner met members of the Harlem Renaissance, including poet Langston Hughes, playwright Georgia Douglas Johnson, and writer Jean Toomer. In 1925 Bonner published her first story, “The Hands,” in Opportunity. In the same year, she wrote the autobiographical essay for which she is best known, “On Being Young—A Woman—and Colored.” As a member of Washington's Krigwa Players she wrote three experimental plays: The Pot Maker ...


Bonner, Marita  

Kim Jenice Dillon

Born 16 June 1899 in Boston, Marita Bonner graduated from Radcliffe in 1922 and taught high school in West Virginia and Washington, D.C. She married William Almy Occomy in 1930. While living in Washington, she was a member of the “S” Street Salon, a group of writers who met usually at the home of Georgia Douglas Johnson. Encouraged and influenced by writers such as Johnson, May Miller, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, and other major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, Occomy began to publish works that embodied her concern for the deplorable conditions facing African American men and women living in an America characterized by racial, class, and gender inequities.

Occomy published two essays that Elizabeth Brown Guillory describes as those that captured the spirit of the Black Renaissance On Being Young A Woman and Colored which won first ...


Bonner, Marita Odette  

Althea E. Rhodes

educator and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Joseph Bonner, a machinist and laborer, and Mary A. Nowell. Educated in the Brookline, Massachusetts, public schools, Bonner applied to Radcliffe College at the urging of her high school adviser and was one of the few African American students accepted for admission. She majored in English and comparative literature and founded the Radcliffe chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a black sorority. A gifted pianist and student of musical composition, Bonner won the Radcliffe song competition in 1918 and 1922. Bonner also studied German, a language in which she became fluent. During her last year in college she taught English at a Cambridge high school. After graduating with a BA in 1922, she taught at the Bluefield Colored Institute in Bluefield, Virginia, until 1924 and at Armstrong High School in Washington, D.C., from 1924 to 1930 ...


Bradley, David  

Maha Marouan

writer and educator, was born David Henry Bradley Jr in Bedford, Pennsylvania, the only son of Reverend David Henry Bradley Sr. and Harriette M. (Jackson) Bradley. His family has been closely involved with the black church for three generations, as he told an interviewer in 1992: “I'm a super preacher's kid. My great-grandfather was a preacher, my grandfather and granduncle were preachers, my father was a preacher. This is the first generation of my family since we liberated ourselves from slavery where there hasn't been a preacher” (Bonetti, 69). This familiarity with the black church and with preachers would influence his work and inspire his characters.

After he graduated from Bedford Area High School in 1968, Bradley entered the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated in 1972 with a bachelor of arts summa cum laude in Creative Writing and was awarded a Thouron British American Exchange Scholarship ...


Bradley, David Henry, Jr.  

Author of the award-winning novel The Chaneysville Incident (1981), writer David Bradley is profoundly concerned with personal and community history. Born and raised in Bedford, Pennsylvania, a rural coal-mining town, Bradley is the son of the late Rev. D. H. Bradley, Sr. and Harriet M. Jackson Bradley, a local historian. A National Achievement Scholar in high school and a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Bradley began a serious study of nineteenth-century American history while doing postgraduate work in London, England, in 1974.

Having come from a rural background, Bradley was alienated from urban blacks while a student in Philadelphia. He based his first novel, South Street (1975 on his own experience as an outsider in the city The novel centers on the observations and interactions of a young black poet with the local hustlers prostitutes and bar patrons Although ...


Brawley, Benjamin  

Roger A. Schuppert

educator and author, was born Benjamin Griffith Brawley in Columbia, South Carolina, the son of Margaret Saphronia Dickerson and Edward McKnight Brawley, a prosperous Baptist minister and president of a small Alabama college. Brawley was an exceptionally bright boy, and the family's frequent moves never interfered with his learning. Up until the third grade he was tutored at home by his mother, but he also attended schools in Nashville, Tennessee, and Petersburg, Virginia. During summers, when he was not studying the classics, Latin, and Greek at home, he earned money by doing odd jobs, working on a tobacco farm in Connecticut or in a printing office. One summer he drove a buggy for a white doctor—and studied Greek while the doctor was out. At age twelve he was sent to Virginia to be tutored in Greek and he also studied the language with his father.

By age thirteen Brawley ...


Brown, Sterling  

Daniel Donaghy

English professor, poet, essayist, and anthologist. Sterling Allen Brown was born in Washington, D.C., into the middle-class family of Sterling Nelson Brown, an esteemed minister and theologian, and Adelaide Allen Brown. He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1918 as class valedictorian, and in the fall of that year he enrolled at Williams College on a minority scholarship. Brown excelled at Williams, studying French and English literature and winning the Graves Prize for an essay titled “The Comic Spirit in Shakespeare and Molière.” He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and graduated from Williams in 1922 as the only student awarded final honors in English. Brown accepted a Clark Fellowship for graduate studies in English at Harvard University, where he studied with, among others, George Lyman Kittredge whose work with the vernacular of the British Isles influenced Brown to take ...


Burch, Charles Eaton  

Florence M. Coleman

educator, literary scholar, and biographer of the English novelist Daniel Defoe, was one of five sons born to Helena Burch in Saint George's, Bermuda. Nothing is known of his father. Charles Burch was educated in the elementary and secondary schools of Bermuda. Burch met and married Willa Carter Mayer, who at one time served as a professor of education at Miner Teacher's College in Washington, D.C. She also served as a supervisory official of the public schools of the District of Columbia and authored Clinical Practices in Public School Education (1944). Whether or not they had children is not known.

Burch attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, from which he was awarded a BA in 1914. Four years later, he earned a MA from Columbia University. Fifteen years later in 1933 he was awarded a PhD in English from Ohio State University He taught ...


Cassamo, Suleiman  

Luis Gonçalves

Mozambican writer, journalist, and professor, was born in Marracuene, in the southern province of Maputo. Cassamo is of Indian and African descent. His father’s family descends from an important Muslim family that migrated from India to Mozambique in the nineteenth century and intermarried with black and mestizo women. His mother descends from a local family from the south of Mozambique. Their native language, spoken at home during Cassamo’s upbringing, is Ronga, a language in the Bantu family.

Cassamo received his early schooling in Catholic missions. It was a strict education. He recalls that besides studying, the students were required to complete chores and errands for the teachers. It was at this time, however, that he had his first contact with literature, specifically the Portuguese literature included in his textbooks. He started to write his first poems, which were highly influenced by these readings.

For Cassamo s secondary education his family ...


Clarke, John Henrik  

John Henrik Clarke was a central figure in late-twentieth-century vernacular American black nationalism. As a teacher, writer, and popular public speaker, he emphasized black pride, the African heritage—especially communalism—and black solidarity. From the rural South he rode a freight train to the North, where he actively participated in the literary and political life of Harlem, New York in the 1930s. Arthur Alfonso Schomburg, the black bibliophile, was a major intellectual influence. Largely self-educated, Clarke became professor of Africana and Puerto Rican Studies at New York's Hunter College and president of Sankofa University, an on-line Internet school.

Born to sharecropping parents, Clarke grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and aspired to be a writer. He produced poetry, short stories (notably “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black”), and books on African history (The Lives of Great African Chiefs) and on Africans in the diaspora (Harlem U.S.A An original member ...


Collins, Julia C.  

Mitch Kachun

novelist, essayist, and teacher, was the married name of an African American woman whose maiden name and place and date of birth are unknown. Collins is best known for her novel The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride, which was originally serialized in the Christian Recorder, the weekly newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, between February and September 1865. Some scholars regard The Curse of Caste as the first non-autobiographical novel written by an African American woman to appear in print.

Nothing is known of Collins's life before April 1864, when a letter to the Christian Recorder mentioned that she was to serve as schoolteacher for the African American children in the small north-central Pennsylvania city of Williamsport. The same issue of the newspaper also printed Collins's first known published work, a nonfiction essay titled “Mental Improvement.” By January 1865 she had ...


Condé, Maryse  

Richard Watts

It would not be inappropriate to refer to Maryse Condé as a “restless soul.” Born the last of eight children, she was raised in Guadeloupe and was sent to boarding school in Paris—partly because of her extreme boredom in local schools—at the age of sixteen. At the Lycée Fénelon in Paris, Condé developed a love of literature that was dormant during her years in Guadeloupe. In Paris she became acquainted with Marxist anticolonial circles, joining the Communist youth movement in the mid-1950s. While attending the Jean Genet play Les Nègres at the end of the decade, she met and fell in love with one of the actors, a Guinean named Mamadou Condé. (She would later say of the man she married in August of 1959 that she fell in love with the character he played in Les Nègres.) They left for Africa in 1960 Condé s husband ...


Cooper, Ada Augusta Newton  

Debra Jackson

writer, temperance advocate, and educator, was born Ada Augusta Newton in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of the three children of Alexander Herritage Newton, a trained mason, and Olivia Augusta (Hamilton) Newton, who was the eldest daughter of Robert Hamilton, the radical abolitionist and owner and editor of the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper. When Ada was eight years old her mother died and shortly thereafter her father, a recently licensed preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, was directed by the AME leadership to manage the church at Pennington, New Jersey. This was the first of dozens of appointments for Newton, and Ada's early years were characterized by constant travel from city to city as her father's ministry took him to all regions of the country. Despite the incessant moving, Ada received a good elementary education.

Ada worked closely with her father on church matters Indeed she ...