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Article

Baker, LaVern  

Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

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Bell, Dennis  

Sibyl Collins Wilson

journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Muskegon, Michigan, to Ezra Douglas and Natalie VanArsdale Bell. As a youngster, Bell was such a committed reader that visits to the library were withheld from him as punishment for misbehaving. His love for reading served him well throughout his life.

Bell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and remained in the service until 1970, after which he attended the University of Michigan for a year. After relocating to New York, he attended Hofstra University for free because he worked as a custodian, maintaining classrooms in 1970. Applying those same principles of hard work in exchange for opportunity, he joined the staff at Newsday and worked his way up from custodian to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. According to a biography written for the Pulitzer Prize award book, he held many positions in the Newsday organization including porter clerk ...

Article

Brown, Wilson  

Marlene L. Daut

escaped slave, navy landsman, and U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1841 of unknown parentage. Brown was a slave in Mississippi on a cotton plantation, and nothing is known of his childhood or to whom he belonged. In the early 1860s, at the start of the Civil War, Brown ran away from his master on a skiff that eventually managed to reach a Union ship stationed on the Mississippi River. This encounter with the navy probably accounts for his subsequent enlistment. The navy was a likely choice for an escaped slave; many escaped slaves, as well as free blacks from the North, were often drawn to the service because of its better pay and purported fairer treatment of blacks. Brown enlisted in the Union navy on 18 March 1863 under the title 1st Class Boy and was officially described as a Contraband Negro five ...

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Bunche, Ralph  

Thomas Clarkin

scholar and diplomat, was born Ralph Johnson Bunche in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunch, a barber, and Olive Agnes Johnson. His grandmother added an “e” to the family's last name following a move to Los Angeles, California. Because his family moved frequently, Bunche attended a number of public schools before graduating first in his class from Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1922. He majored in Political Science at the University of California, Southern Branch (now University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA]), graduating summa cum laude and serving as class valedictorian in 1927. He continued his studies in political science at Harvard, receiving his MA in 1928, and then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., while working toward his PhD at Harvard. In 1930 he married Ruth Ethel Harris they had three children Bunche traveled to Europe and Africa researching ...

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Bunche, Ralph Johnson  

Lawrie Balfour

Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ralph Johnson Bunche spent his early years with his parents in Detroit and in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He attributed his achievements to the influence of his maternal grandmother, Lucy Johnson, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, California, after he was orphaned at age thirteen. Johnson not only insisted that her grandson be self-reliant and proud of his race, but also that he, a high school valedictorian, go to college.

Bunche enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles, and after graduating summa cum laude in 1927, he entered graduate school at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He was the first black American to earn a Ph.D. degree in political science from an American university. Bunche won the prize for the outstanding doctoral thesis in the social sciences in 1934 He conducted his postdoctoral research on African colonialism He did his research ...

Article

Bunche, Ralph Johnson  

Joseph C. Heim

scholar, university professor, diplomat, UN administrator, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In the 1950s and 1960s Bunche was the most visible African American on the world stage. But his accomplishments were far in the future when he was born in modest circumstances in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Fred Bunche, a barber, and Olive Bunche. His parents, however, were constantly in poor health, and after their early deaths Bunche was raised by his grandmother, Lucy Johnson, in Los Angeles.

His grandmother s diligence and inspiration guided and shaped Bunche s youth and he compiled a record of stellar achievement both in athletics he later was a guard on the basketball team of the University of California at Los Angeles UCLA and in academics This he did while holding numerous jobs from delivering newspapers to laying carpets on merchant ships His early years also ...

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Cameron, James Herbert  

Rose Pelone Sisson

survivor of a lynching attempt, civil rights activist, and founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron, a barber, and Vera Cameron who was employed as a laundress, cook, and housekeeper. At the age of fifteen months, James was the first African American baby ever admitted as a patient to the St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, where he underwent an emergency operation on the abdominal cavity. By the time James started school, his parents had moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and his parents separated.

When Cameron was sixteen he was living with his mother, two sisters, and grandmother in Marion, Indiana. His stepfather Hezikiah Burden hunted and fished long distances from home so was away from his family most of the time The family lived in a segregated section of Marion Indiana which counted about four thousand blacks among its ...

Article

Cole, Maria Hawkins  

Andre D. Vann

singer, writer, and socialite, was born Maria Hawkins in the Roxbury section of Boston, Massachusetts. Her father, Mingo Hawkins, was a mail carrier with the U.S. Postal Service, which at the time was considered a prestigious position for an African American; her mother, Carol Saunders, was from Bermuda. Maria was born the second of three daughters, and when she was only two years old her mother died while giving birth to her youngest sister, Carol. Immediately all three girls were sent to live with their father's sister, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who was the founder and president of the Palmer Memorial Institute, the nation's most distinguished finishing school for blacks. There Cole was exposed to the likes of Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McCleod Bethune, and even Eleanor Roosevelt, among other noteworthy guests.

As a student at the Palmer Memorial Institute Cole ...

Article

Collins, Addie Mae  

Steven J. Niven

schoolgirl and terrorist bombing victim, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the seventh of eight surviving children of Oscar Collins, a busboy in a Chinese restaurant, and Aline Collins, a domestic. Addie Mae grew up in a small four-room house on a dirt road in Sixth Court West, one of Birmingham's poorest neighborhoods. When her parents separated, making an already difficult home life even harder, Addie Mae and her sisters Janie and Sarah helped the family finances by going door to door after school, selling cotton aprons and potholders that their mother made. Interviewed by the Birmingham News in April 2001, her sisters recalled that Addie Mae was a quiet—but by no means shy or timid—child who emerged as the peacemaker whenever quarrels broke out in the family. “She just always wanted us to love one another and treat each other right,” her younger sister Sarah remembered.

In ...

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Crawford, Anthony P.  

Caroline DeVoe

businessman, landowner, farmer, and lynching victim, was born into slavery in Abbeville, South Carolina, the youngest son of Thomas and Louisa, slaves on the plantation of Ben Crawford in Abbeville, South Carolina. After Emancipation and Ben Crawford's death, his widow Rebecca may have bequeathed land to her former slave, Thomas, Anthony's father. Thomas continued to acquire land, and in 1873 he purchased 181 acres of fertile land from Samuel McGowan, a former Confederate general and South Carolina Supreme Court Justice. Thomas Crawford's “homeplace” was located in an alluvial valley, approximately seven miles west of the town of Abbeville. The rich land was flanked on the east by Little River and on the west by Penny Creek.

While Crawford's brothers worked the family farm Anthony was sent to school walking seven miles to and from school each day Seventeen year old Anthony was ...

Article

Dahmer, Vernon Ferdinand  

Mark Newman

civil rights activist, was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the eighth of twelve children of a white father, George Dahmer, and a mother of mixed racial heritage, Ellen Kelly. Vernon Dahmer's complex heritage derived from both sides of the family. Born the illegitimate son of a German immigrant and a white American mother, George Dahmer had been raised with eight younger black siblings, the result of his mother's later marriage to a former slave. Ellen Kelly was the daughter of a white planter father, who gave Ellen and George Dahmer part of his land near Hattiesburg, Kelly Settlement. The Dahmer children looked white and three of Vernon's five brothers migrated to the North, where they married white women and passed as white. Some members of the family on both sides of the color divide were ignorant of the existence of relatives on the other. In adulthood, Vernon Dahmer ...

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Douglass, Amelia Loguen  

Paul A. Minifee

The second of eight children born to Caroline and Jermain Loguen, Helen Amelia Loguen grew up in Syracuse, New York, where her parents were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. Educated by her mother and local public schools, Amelia studied chemistry, French, and trigonometry. Her father was a bishop of the American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church and a prominent abolitionist, who employed their home as a depot for fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad and opened schools for African Americans in Utica and Syracuse. Amelia's mother came from a prosperous family of farmers in Busti, New York. Caroline's father, William Storum was a free black and one of three citizens in Chautauqua County to vote for abolitionists evidencing his politics and prosperity since New York required blacks to own at least $250 of property in order to vote An active abolitionist himself Storum utilized his farm as ...

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

Earle, Willie  

Winsome Chunnu-Brayda

symbolic civil rights martyr, was born to Richard, a farmer, and Tessie (McKinley) Earle on 25 May 1922 in Liberty (Pickens County), South Carolina. Little is known of his formative years; however his father died in December 1939, leaving young Earle to care for his mother and four siblings at the age of seventeen.

The historical memory of Earle begins and ends in a conflicted world that was both shifting and static. By 1947 the United States, including the southern states, experienced an economic boom begun during World War II. Nevertheless the social, political, and economic opportunities for African Americans in the postwar American South were limited. For example, despite the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Allwright, which outlawed the white primary in the American South, ten African Americans in Greenville, South Carolina were denied the right to vote in the 1946 Democratic ...

Article

Evers-Williams, Myrlie  

Myrlie Williams was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and raised by her grandmother, McCain Beasley, and her aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. She married civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1951. Together they worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its mission to end racial discrimination and segregation in Mississippi.

In 1963 white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith assassinated Medgar Evers. After her husband's death, Evers-Williams moved her family to California, where she continued to work for the NAACP by speaking publicly about her struggles for black equality. With William Peters, she coauthored For Us, the Living (1967). In 1987 Evers-Williams became the first black woman to serve as commissioner on the Los Angeles board of public works. She was elected vice chairperson of the NAACP in 1994, and in 1995 she became the organization s first ...

Article

Evers-Williams, Myrlie  

Kimberly Springer

civil rights activist, was born Myrlie Beasley in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and was raised, following her parents divorce, by her grandmother Annie McCain Beasley and her aunt, Myrlie Beasley Polk. Both women were schoolteachers who encouraged young Myrlie in her educational pursuits through activities such as singing, public speaking, and piano lessons. Myrlie hoped to major in music in college, but neither of Mississippi's state schools for blacks, Alcorn A&M College or Jackson State, had such a major. In 1950 Myrlie enrolled at Alcorn, intending to study education and music. Only two hours after arriving on campus, however, she met Medgar Evers, an upperclassman and army veteran seven years her senior. He soon proposed, and they were married on 24 December 1951 Following Medgar s graduation and Myrlie s sophomore year the couple moved to Mound Bayou Mississippi where Medgar took a position as an insurance salesman with ...

Article

Evers-Williams, Myrlie  

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist and chairperson of the NAACP. Raised by her grandmother and aunt in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Myrlie Beasely entered Alcorn A&M College in 1950 to study education and music. Shortly after enrolling she met an upperclassman, Medgar Wylie Evers, and the couple married in 1951. The next year they moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where Medgar Evers became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Ignoring threats from white racists, Myrlie and Medgar Evers participated wholeheartedly in the civil rights movement, but on 12 June 1963 Medgar Evers was shot and killed. His assailant, a segregationist named Byron De La Beckwith, was captured and tried but not convicted. For thirty years Myrlie Evers fought for a retrial, and on 5 February 1994 Beckwith was finally convicted of murder. The trial was dramatized in the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi.

Following ...

Article

Factor, Pompey  

John Herschel Barnhill

Black Seminole scout, was born either in Arkansas or in Indian territory west of Arkansas. Nothing is known of his parents or childhood. Sixteen Native Americans won the Medal of Honor for their service in the Indian Wars, as the conflicts between indigenous Native Americans and European settlers and their descendents were known. Four of them, including Factor, a private, were Seminole-Negro Indian Scouts, descendants of the slaves who had found refuge with the Seminoles of Florida during the Seminole Wars of 1817 and 1836 and later migrated to Nacimiento, Mexico, in 1850.

When the Seminoles moved to Texas in 1857 the Black Seminoles remained in Mexico rather than risk being enslaved They adapted their survival skills to the new region and became invaluable scouts serving as militia for Mexico against the Comanche and Lipan Apaches Soon though they were sought after by the segregated U S Army ...

Article

Frank, Leo  

Sandra D. Harvey

Jewish businessman, convicted of murder and lynched by vigilantes in Georgia. It is believed that his case contributed to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

Leo Max Frank was born in Texas but soon moved with his parents, Rudolph and Rachel Frank, to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Cornell University in 1906, Frank apprenticed in his uncle's factory. In 1907 Frank was given a supervisory position with the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, which had a sizable Jewish population. He met Lucille Selig there, and on 30 November 1910 they were married. Frank and his wife lived in an upscale Jewish neighborhood and were prominent members of the Jewish community.

On 27 April 1913, Atlanta police discovered the strangled and possibly raped body of a thirteen-year-old National Pencil Company factory worker, Mary Phagan. Authorities arrested the night watchman, Newt Lee ...

Article

Franklin, Buck Colbert  

Melissa Nicole Stuckey

attorney, freedman, father of the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and Tulsa race riot survivor, was born Buck Colbert Franklin in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma, the son of David Franklin and Millie Colbert. David Franklin raised cattle, horses, and other livestock for sale. He also farmed. Millie Colbert taught school. The seventh of ten children, B.C. went by his initials as an adult to prevent whites from calling him by his first name. His efforts were only partially successful, as many whites called him Ben, assuming that he was named after Ben Franklin. In reality he was named Buck in honor of his paternal grandfather and Colbert to honor his mother's family name.

Franklin s parents were freedmen a term used to define the black citizens of the Cherokee Chickasaw Choctaw Creek and Seminole Nations known ...