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Atwell, Winifred  

Philip Herbert

Famous pianist in the United Kingdom during the 1950s, selling over 20 million records. She was born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, in February 1914. She studied the piano as a child and had a local following. It was hoped that she would eventually work for the family business, after her training in pharmacy.

To gain further musical training, Atwell moved to the United States in 1945, and then came to London in 1946, to the Royal Academy of Music, to become a concert pianist. To sustain her studies, she performed piano rags at hotels, theatres, and clubs in London. By 1950 she had attained national celebrity, and signed to record with Decca. She recorded such hits as Let's Have a Ding‐Dong, Poor People of Paris, Britannia Rag, and many others. The Black and White Rag became the signature tune for the BBC's Pot Black ...

Article

Bonetta, Sarah Forbes  

Jane Poyner

Orphan from Dahomey (now Benin) reputed to be of royal lineage, who was brought as a slave to England, where she became Queen Victoria's protégée. Sarah was named, ignominiously, after the ship Bonetta on which she was transported to England. Ironically, she was given to Captain Frederick Forbes by King Gezo of Dahomey in a conciliatory gesture following Forbes's unsuccessful attempt to persuade the King to give up trading in slaves. Forbes, in his account of his travels Dahomey and the Dahomens (1851), used Sarah as an example of the potential for progress in the intellect of the African at a time when pseudo‐scientific enlightenment theories of race were rampant: as Forbes noted, ‘it being generally and erroneously supposed that after a certain age the intellect [of the African] becomes impaired and the pursuit of knowledge impossible’.

Sarah was presented to Queen Victoria and thereafter raised under her ...

Article

Brown, Henry “Box”  

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

Article

Dukes, Laura Ella  

Fred J. Hay

was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Alex Dukes, a musician. Her mother’s name is not known, but according to a 1940 census, a Laura Dukes, aged thirty-two, was living in a Memphis household headed by a Josie Dukes, which also included Laura’s son, John Henry Day, aged sixteen. Laura was raised in predominantly African American North Memphis. Dukes was small: she stood four feet seven inches tall and weighed only eighty-five pounds in adulthood. From childhood she was known as “Little Laura” and “Little Bit.”

Alex Dukes, Little Laura’s father was a drummer in W. C. Handy s band as well other groups The elder Dukes had Laura appearing on stage by the time she was five years old Dukes began her career as a singer and dancer working in traveling shows based out of Memphis While working in East St Louis she met Robert McCollum an outstanding and ...

Article

Fuller, Charles Henry, Jr.  

Maria Orban

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, director, educator, and screenwriter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of the three children of Lillian (Anderson) and Charles H. Fuller Sr., a printer who instilled in his son the love for words. Fuller was raised in northern Philadelphia in an integrated neighborhood. When he was thirteen he saw his first theatre performance at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The experienced made a lasting impression on him. Later, he became a voracious reader. His readings made him aware of the cultural and racial biases he made his life's mission to correct.

Success did not come easy to him, though. After graduating high school in 1956 Fuller attended Villanova University in hopes of becoming a writer There he was confronted with racism for the first time as a student being told by his professors that writing was not a good profession ...

Article

Gardner, Newport  

crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

Article

Grier, Rosey  

John Hanners

football player, social activist, author, singer-actor, and ordained minister, was born Roosevelt Grier on a farm in Cuthbert, Georgia, the seventh of Joseph and Ruth Grier's eleven children. At age thirteen he moved with his family to Roselle, New Jersey. Offered an athletic scholarship to Penn State University, he enrolled in 1950 and studied psychology, music, and education. His college athletic career was exceptional. Not only did he receive first-team All-American football honors in 1955, but he also set an Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletics of America shot-put record (fifty-eight feet) in track and field.

In 1965 Grier signed with the National Football League's New York Giants for a $500 bonus and a yearly salary of $6,500. During a long career that lasted from 1955 through 1968 Grier was a dominant defensive tackle in an era known for excellent defensive players His size ...

Article

Kemp, George  

Elaine Kemp Bragdon

musician, was born George Washington Kemp, the son of William and Angerline Moors Kemp, in Sperryville, Virginia. George and his siblings were born into slavery and would become the slaves of Major Armistead Brown and his son, Joseph, of Culpeper, Virginia. George and his family were fortunate to have had a kind master, but he decided to run away after hearing, like many others, of the freedom he could gain by escaping North.

He and seventeen other slaves ran away one night to enlist in the Union Army, under the command of General Oliver Otis Howard Mr Kemp soon became an aide to General Howard After earning the General s trust he was persuaded to come North and work at the Howard farm in Leeds Maine This was the beginning of a new life for him It was now fast approaching the end of the Civil War ...

Article

Lewis, Cudjo  

Timothy M. Broughton

slave and freeperson, storyteller, and community organizer, was born in what is now Benin, Africa. He was smuggled into Mobile, Alabama, aboard the schooner Clotilda in July 1860, over fifty years after the abolition of the North Atlantic slave trade in the United States. The Clotilda was the last known slave ship, and Lewis and the others were the last known Africans brought to America as slaves. Although Lewis's grandfather owned land, livestock, and a few slaves in Africa, his father Oluale and mother Nyfond-lo-loo lived humble lives. Nyfond-lo-loo was Oluale's second wife and Lewis their second child. Nyfond-lo-loo had five other children. Oluale also had nine by his first wife and three by his third wife.

As a young boy Lewis enjoyed playing with his siblings and playing the drums At the age of fourteen he began training to become a soldier learning how to ...

Article

Long, Sylvester  

Chris Gavaler

author, actor, and Indian celebrity, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the son of Sallie Long, a nurse and midwife, and Joe Long, a janitor. Sylvester's light-skinned mother was born a slave weeks before the end of the Civil War and was the daughter of a plantation owner and an unknown Lumbee Indian. Long's father, also born into slavery, believed his own mother to be Cherokee and his father white Their claim to exclusively white and Indian ancestry established the Long family as the social elite of Winston s African American community After attending elementary school there Sylvester twice joined traveling Wild West circuses where he passed as an Indian and learned rudimentary Cherokee After returning to Winston and working as a library janitor Sylvester taught himself to type at night in the white school where his father mopped floors The principal suggested he apply ...

Article

McCary, Warner  

John G. Turner

was born in Natchez, Mississippi to a mixed-race Pennsylvanian cabinetmaker and his slave. Upon his death, McCary’s father freed his mother and two siblings in his will, yet assigned McCary as a slave to two of his own siblings. Also known as Okah Tubbee and William Chubbee, he escaped slavery as a young man and took refuge in New Orleans, later heading north to St. Louis.

In 1846 McCary using the name William went to Nauvoo Illinois which the Mormons were at the time leaving under the threat of persecution from anti Mormon mobs Showcasing a penchant for assumed identities that characterized his subsequent exploits McCary presented himself as an Indian chief He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints and married a white Mormon woman named Lucy Stanton Bassett The couple soon left Nauvoo for Cincinnati Ohio where McCary gained prophetic influence over ...

Article

McCoy, Millie‐Christine  

Cecily Jones

Conjoined African‐American twins who became successful performers. Born into slavery in North Carolina, Millie‐Christine, as the girls were known, were often referred to as one person, and, indeed, often referred to themselves as such. While still in their infancy they were stolen from their parents, sold three times, kidnapped, and displayed as curiosities at fairs and shows across America. Their ‘owner’, the showman J. P. Smith, first exhibited Millie‐Christine as a ‘freak of nature’ to an American public avid for glimpses of this biological phenomenon. At each new venue the girls were forcibly and humiliatingly stripped and examined by physicians to prove to sceptics that the ‘two‐headed girl’ was no fraud.

A rival show owner stole Millie Christine and for two years he too toured America exhibiting them Fearing that they were about to be recaptured from him their new owner fled with them to Britian where they were ...

Article

Nnaji, Genevieve  

Jeremy Rich

was born in Mbaise, Imo State, Nigeria, the fourth of eight children born to her father, a banker, and her mother, a teacher on 3 May 1979. Both parents viewed education as extremely important. Nnaji showed interested in drama at an early age and in 1987 at the age of eight was a child actress on the Nigerian soap opera Ripples After she completed primary school Nnaji went to the Methodist Girls High School in Yaba where she had a daughter Chimebuka Nnaji was extremely protective of her daughter s privacy and would not discuss the details surrounding her birth or the name of the child s father Chimebuka was largely raised by Nnaji s parents Nnaji graduated from secondary school and enrolled at the University of Lagos where she focused on drama and the arts She appeared in commercials for products such as Omo washing powder and ...

Article

Tia Ciata  

Ben Penglase

At the end of the nineteenth century, just at the time of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro's Praça Onze was the center of a neighborhood composed largely of Afro-Brazilians. Many of these people were recent migrants from the state of Bahia, and the Praça Onze neighborhood became known as “Pequena África” (or small Africa). Tia Ciata moved to Rio from Bahia at the age of twenty-two, and during the day worked selling home-cooked food at a food stall. Tia Ciata was also deeply involved in the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomblé. At night and on the weekends she hosted gatherings at her home in Praça Onze that united some of the most famous black Brazilian musicians and composers, probably serving as one of the birthplaces of Samba music.

See also Afro-Brazilian Culture.

Article

Waters, Billy  

David Dabydeen

Actor, fiddler, and beggar who acted and busked around London in the 1780s. Waters was a common sight outside the Adelphi Theatre in the Strand. Apart from busking, he also acted, appearing as himself in a dramatized version of Pierce Egan'sLife in London (1821) at the Adelphi and at the Caledonian Theatre in Edinburgh in 1822. He would also play his fiddle, becoming a street musician outside the Drury Lane Theatre. His wooden leg as well as his outfit, which resembled that of a military uniform, made him a unique and distinct character. The well‐known cartoonist George Cruikshank caricatured him. Waters ended up penniless on the streets of London in the St Giles area, where the black poor congregated. In 1823 he became ill and died at St Giles s workhouse Just before his death he was elected King of the Beggars by fellow beggars ...