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Article

Anderson, John  

Patrick Brode

fugitive slave and abolitionist, was originally named Jack Burton after his enslaver, a Missouri planter. His parents are unknown. Raised in his master's household, Anderson (the name he used in later life) eventually supervised other slaves and farmed his own small plot. In 1850 he married Maria Tomlin, a fellow slave from a nearby farm, and devoted himself to buying their freedom. In the meantime he had become accustomed to visiting Maria at her plantation and was growing impatient with the restrictions of slavery. His master tried to curb his wandering, but Anderson refused to submit to the lash. When this resulted in his sale to a planter on the far side of the Missouri River, Anderson resolved to run off.

On 3 September 1853 the third day of his escape he encountered a planter Seneca Digges and four of his slaves By Missouri law Digges had the ...

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 ...

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

Cooper, Thomas  

Julia Sun-Joo Lee

slave and minister, was born in Maryland. The names of his parents are unknown. For the first twenty-five years of his life Cooper was known as “Notly.” He escaped to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, around 1800 and took the name John Smith. Employed at a lumberyard, he married a free black woman and had four children. Around this time Cooper's identity was betrayed by a friend. He was separated from his family and sent to Washington, D.C., to be sold at auction. He managed to escape and, with the help of a friend, return to Philadelphia, where he was reunited with his family. Still in danger of recapture, Cooper concealed himself at the home of a Quaker, where he stayed for a week while his master attempted to locate him.

Cooper fled to New Jersey where he was hired by a farmer His whereabouts were again discovered and Cooper escaped by ...

Article

Davis, Anthony  

Eric Bennett

The son of the first African American professor at Princeton University, Anthony Davis studied classical music as a child in New York and as an undergraduate at Yale University he played free-jazz with Anthony Braxton. After earning his B.A. at Yale in 1975, Davis moved to New York City, where he supported himself as a Jazz pianist. As Davis developed musically, his compositions deviated from traditional jazz. He often abandoned improvisation and drew elements from Western classical music and African and South Asian rhythms. His recordings from this period include Hidden Voices (1979) and Lady of the Mirrors (1981). In 1981 Davis formed an eight-piece ensemble, Episteme, whose repertoire included a combination of improvised and scored music, blurring the distinction between jazz and classical music.

In the 1980s Davis began focusing much of his work on historical subjects. Middle Passage (1984 ...

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

Hall, Edmond  

Barry Kernfeld

clarinetist, was born Edmond Blainey Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana, son of Edward Blainey Hall, a plantation and railroad worker, and Caroline Duhé. His father had played clarinet with a brass band in Reserve, Louisiana. Edmond's four brothers all became professional musicians. His brother Herb Hall had a distinguished career in jazz.

Edmond taught himself to play guitar and then one of his father's clarinets. He worked occasionally with such New Orleans trumpeters and cornetists as Kid Thomas Valentine, Lee Collins, and Chris Kelly around 1919–1920. From 1921 to 1923, while with Buddy Petit's band in New Orleans and around the Gulf Coast, he began playing alto saxophone as well. He traveled to Pensacola, Florida, with the trumpeter Mack Thomas then joined the pianist Eagle Eye Shields in Jacksonville in 1924 and brought the trumpeter Cootie Williams into the band. In 1926 ...

Article

Henderson, Angelo B.  

Sibyl Collins Wilson

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and radio talk show personality, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Ruby (maiden name unknown) and Roger Henderson. When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to Oakland, California. After graduating from high school, Henderson attended the University of Kentucky and graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. He pledged the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. After obtaining his degree, he interned with The Walt Disney Company and newspapers such as The Detroit Free Press and the Lexington Herald Leader.

In 1986 he took a job with the Louisville Courier‐Journal in Kentucky, after which he worked as a beat reporter for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. In 1995 he joined the Detroit bureau of the Wall Street Journal to cover the automotive industry with a focus on the Chrysler Corporation He was appointed as the deputy bureau ...

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

King, Bernice  

Sibyl Collins Wilson

minister and youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was born Bernice Albertine King in Atlanta, Georgia. The youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, she was named after both her maternal and paternal grandmothers, Alberta Williams King and Bernice McMurray. One of the most memorable images of young King was a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of her as a sad girl leaning on her mother during her father's funeral taken by Moneta Sleet Jr. and published in Ebony magazine In the shadow of her father s murder their mother covered King and her siblings protectively as she promoted her husband s legacy Every attempt was made to provide a normal upbringing for her and the other three King children The strength of her family history propelled her desire to chart her professional course in life so ...

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

LL Cool J  

Charles L. Hughes

hip-hop performer, songwriter, and actor, was born James Todd Smith in New York City. Raised in the St. Albans district of Queens, Smith was the only child of James Smith Jr. and Ondrea Smith, whose turbulent, abusive relationship led to their split when Smith was four years old; the boy and his mother moved in with her parents. Unfortunately, the trouble did not end there: when Smith was four, James Smith Jr. shot his ex-wife in the back and legs as she returned to her parents' house after work, wounding her father in the attack as well. Though both survived, this escalation of violence in his family marked the young James Smith throughout his life, and—according to his 1998 autobiography he credited this early turmoil and a later unfortunate reprise when his mother became the victim of further abuse by a later boyfriend with helping ...

Article

LL Cool J  

Andrew Du Bois

Born James Todd Smith in Queens, New York, LL Cool J was raised in the Hollis neighborhood, an area that also produced the pioneering rappers who formed Run-DMC. He adopted the performing name LL Cool J—short for “Ladies Love Cool James”—and released Radio, his 1985 debut album, which sported such signature songs as “Rock the Bells” and “I Can't Live Without My Radio.” It sold more than one million copies. The kid in the sneakers, gold chains, and Kangol hat rapped over spare, programmed beats that were sometimes splashed with rock guitar. In an art form founded on cocky sparring, LL Cool J was the king of the boast. Fans admired him for his cherubic looks and smooth style as well as for his lyrical skills.

While Bigger and Deffer (1987 LL s second release contained one of the all time great battle raps I m ...

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

RuPaul  

Monica Hairston

drag performer, singer, songwriter, and actor, was born RuPaul Andre Charles in San Diego, California, the only son of four children to Ernestine “Toni” Fontenette (a registrar) and Irving Andrew Charles (an electrician). RuPaul was close to his sisters Renae, Renatta, and Rosalind, and to his mother, particularly after his parents' bitter 1967 divorce. Shortly afterward, RuPaul moved in with Renatta and her husband in El Cajon, California, and then moved with them to Atlanta in the summer of 1976 While there RuPaul worked with his brother in law as a used car salesman but also attended the Northside School of the Performing Arts RuPaul s experiences as a drama major at Northside as well as his exposure to the liberating and bohemian climate in Atlanta fueled his desire to succeed as a performing artist RuPaul experienced his first drag queen performance ...

Article

RuPaul, Andre Charles  

Roanne Edwards

Since the release of his 1992 debut album Supermodel of the World, RuPaul has become a nationally recognized celebrity. Although best known as a drag queen, he also enjoys surprising audiences by appearing as a man. “Drag queens are like the shamans of our society, reminding people of what's funny and what's a stereotype,” he told People Weekly writer Tim Allis in 1993. “I feel very powerful when I'm in drag, and when I'm out of drag I observe our culture.” Six feet, seven inches tall in heels, RuPaul is painfully aware of the contradictions of being a black man who wears a platinum wig and platform heels. “When I'm dressed up as this goddess,” he told Allis, “people trip over themselves to give me things. But as an African American male, I can walk into an elevator and have people clutch their handbags.”

Born RuPaul Andre Charles ...

Article

Simpson, O. J.  

Steven J. Niven

football player, sportscaster, and actor, was born Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, California, to Jimmie Simpson, a cook, and Eunice Durden, a nurse's aide. The child disliked his unusual first name, which was-given to him by an aunt who had heard of a French actor named Orenthal. Sometime during his childhood—accounts differ as to when—he began using his initials “O. J.,” which friends later adapted to “Orange Juice” and, later, to “Juice.” When O. J. was four, Jimmie Simpson abandoned his wife and family, leaving Eunice to raise four children in a two-bedroom apartment in the run-down Potrero Hill public housing projects near San Francisco's Chinatown. Eunice Simpson worked long hours to provide for her children but it was often a hard struggle When O J contracted rickets as an infant for example he was left bowlegged and in need of leg braces that his ...

Article

Simpson, O. J.  

O.J. Simpson was born in a poor neighborhood of San Francisco, California, the third of four children. His father left the family when Simpson was a child. At a young age Simpson wore leg braces to correct weakness in his legs, but as a teenager at Galileo High School, he was a star athlete, participating in baseball, track, and football. At the same time Simpson received several suspensions from school for misbehavior. He graduated from Galileo in 1965, but his grades kept him from attending a major university. Instead, he enrolled at City College in San Francisco, where he had a remarkable first season of football and was offered several athletic scholarships. He remained another year at City College before meeting the admissions standards for the University of Southern California (USC), which he entered in 1967. That same year, he married his first wife, Marguerite.