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Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...

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Onita Estes-Hicks

librarian, Harlem Renaissance cultural worker, and playwright, was born Regina Anderson in Chicago, the daughter of Margaret (Simons) Anderson, an artist, and William Grant Anderson, a prominent criminal attorney. She was reared in a black Victorian household in Chicago's Hyde Park district, amply provided for by a father who counted W. E. B. Du Bois, Theodore Roosevelt, and Adlai Stevenson among his friends and clients. Regina attended normal school and high school in Hyde Park, studying later at Wilberforce University and the University of Chicago, and eventually receiving a degree in Library Science from Columbia University's School of Library Science.

The Chicago of her youth and early adulthood struck her as provincial, yet it was flavored by migrants from the deep South and enlivened by the voice of Ida B. Wells whose writings on lynching gave Anderson an understanding of the link between race and violence ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

In her 1970 article “My Years as a Children's Librarian,” Augusta Baker summed up what she had learned in her long career: “Library work with children has had a great past and has a still greater future. Young black men and women have an opportunity to be part of this exciting future and for the sake of their children they should be.” From her appointment as assistant children's librarian in the New York Public Library system in 1937 to her retirement in 1974, Baker pursued a career of library service to children with enthusiasm, vision, and leadership. During the 1940s, while working at the library's 135th Street branch, she spearheaded the creation of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, whose purpose, she wrote, was “to bring together books for children that give an unbiased, accurate, well rounded picture of Negro life in all parts of the world.”

Born in ...

Article

DaMaris B. Hill

storyteller, librarian, and author, was born Augusta Braxton in Baltimore, Maryland, the only child of two educators, Winford J. and Mabel Braxton. Her father later became a wood craftsman, and her mother retired from formal teaching to raise her daughter. Baker skipped at least two grades in elementary school and might have skipped more—she explained later in an interview with Robert V. Williams—if her father hadn't insisted that she be educated among her peers. Baker's maternal grandmother, Augusta Fax Gough, was an integral part of-Baker's childhood and found that the only means of quieting the young Baker was to entertain her through storytelling. These beloved experiences with storytelling would become the catalysts for a career in storytelling and would inspire Baker to write children's literature.

At age sixteen Baker was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh She did well with the academic material despite ...

Article

John Gilmore

Writer, art collector, and owner of plantations in Jamaica. He was the son of William Beckford, on whose death in 1770 he inherited an enormous fortune. This came under his control when he attained his majority in 1781 and for many years enabled him to travel extensively in Europe, to fund his enthusiasm for building Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire as a Gothic extravaganza to house himself and the books, pictures, and works of art that he collected on a prodigious scale. In the 1790s his income was estimated at well over £100,000 a year, and in 1809 the poet Lord Byron hailed him as ‘England's wealthiest son’. From the 1820s the income from his Jamaican estates declined significantly, and he was forced to sell Fonthill and major parts of his collections. Beckford is remembered as the author of the novel Vathek an Orientalist fantasy published in ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

book collector, historian, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia to George Bolivar, and Elizabeth LeCount Proctor Bolivar. There is some uncertainty about his precise year of birth, with historians suggesting 1844 (Silcox) or 1849 (Welborn), while census data inclines toward an 1847 date. His father was employed as a sailmaker by James Forten, a local businessman and founder of the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons.

The family numbered themselves among the “O.P.”—Old Philadelphians—of the African American community. George Bolivar had been born in Philadelphia, to a Pennsylvania-born mother and a father from North Carolina. Elizabeth Bolivar was born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Maryland (1850 census). In 1850George Bolivar owned real estate valued at $8,000, while a North Carolina–born cousin, Nicholas Bolivar, lived with the family, working as a tailor. Throughout Bolivar s life there were relatives or ...

Article

Carmen De Michele

Nigerian curator, art critic, writer, and academic, was born in Kalaba, Nigeria, a middle-sized city close to the Cameroonian border, on 23 October 1963. He grew up in Enugu in eastern Nigeria, where he attended a British boarding school. He was taught to speak in English in addition to his native Igbo.

In 1982 Enwezor moved to the United States, where he enrolled at the Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) in Jersey City, New Jersey, as a political science major. He earned a BA in political science in 1987. Enwezor entered the world of art through friends and by visiting a large number of art exhibitions. He turned his attention not only to contemporary American and European art but also to modern African art. He noticed that African artists were severely underrepresented in the American art scene. In 1989 Enwezor became a freelance ...

Article

Pamela Lee Gray

painter, graphic artist, printmaker, curator, and educator, was born in Dayton, Ohio. His family later moved to Indianapolis, where he attended high school in 1903 and 1904. While Farrow was in high school, the noted muralist William Edouard Scott recognized his artistic potential and encouraged him to enroll at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1908 Farrow moved to Chicago to begin classes at the Institute, Scott's alma mater and one of the first U.S. art schools to admit black students.

Farrow studied intermittently at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1908 to 1918, while working for the U.S. Postal Service. When Farrow arrived at the institute, founded as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879 it was not yet a world class art institution In the early twentieth century the institute was actively building ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

librarian, journalist, and African Methodist Episcopal lay church leader, was born in Shannon, Mississippi, the son of William and Sarah Forbes, who had been enslaved until freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the arrival of the United States Army in Mississippi, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Working at a young age in brickyards and farms, Forbes left the state at the age of fourteen, attended Wilberforce University in Ohio for a time, then moved to Boston in the 1880s. Mr. and Mrs. Mungin of Smith Court, a forgotten couple who assisted many struggling students, assisted him in finding work as a laborer at Memorial Hall in nearby Cambridge, saving money and studying. In 1888 Forbes enrolled at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Sherman W. Jackson later principal of M Street High School in ...

Article

Robert L. Gale

bibliophile, researcher, and photographer, was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Jacob Gardiner and Martha (maiden name unknown). In 1902 he and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From childhood he was interested in reading, cross-country running, hiking, camping, and bicycling. Later he developed an interest in music, choir singing, and photography. Racial discrimination kept him from attending the photography school of his choice in Philadelphia, to his great disappointment. In the early 1900s he began to collect material of various kinds concerning black achievements, black institutions, and the lynching of blacks.

From about 1908 to 1923 Gardiner attended meetings of the Philadelphia Afro American Historical Society later the American Negro Historical Society expressed his ideas and described his findings in what he called race literature He continued to build his collection of black memorabilia and helped to form a group of bibliophiles ...

Article

John G. Turner

the son of Darius McKinley Gray (named for William McKinley, elected president in the year of his birth) and Elsie Johnson Gray. Neighbors in Colorado Springs introduced Darius Aiden Gray to the scriptures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Christmas Day 1964, one day before his scheduled baptism into the church, the missionaries planning to baptize him informed him that African Americans could not hold the priesthood. For Mormon men in good standing, ordination into the priesthood is an expectation. The ban on persons of African descent holding the priesthood meant that the church’s black members could not hold positions of authority or participate in the sacred ordinances the church taught were necessary for exaltation into celestial glory.

Gray chose to be baptized despite the ban I went home and prayed he later recounted And I received a personal revelation an inspiration from God This ...

Article

J. James Iovannone

collector, historian, author, and social personality, was born in Maryland, the son of Levi Thomas and Louisa Morris Gumby. In 1901 Gumby and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents, and it was there, at age sixteen, that Gumby began his scrapbook collection, making his first book—a practice that he would continue throughout the rest of his life—out of wallpaper, paste, and clippings of the September 1901 assassination of President McKinley. In 1902 Gumby entered Dover State College (later Delaware State University) in Delaware and began to study law. Before completing his studies Gumby withdrew from school and moved to New York City around 1906, where he would live until his death nearly sixty years later.

Gumby was immediately dazzled by life in the big city and sought to integrate himself into the urban community During his early years in New ...

Article

Saundra Liggins

Sharon Bell Mathis's concern for the welfare of young people is evident in her career as a teacher and librarian, but closest to her heart is her role as author. Mathis explains that “I write to salute the strength in Black children and to say to them, ‘Stay strong, stay Black and stay alive’” (quoted in Something about the Author, vol. 3, 1987).

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mathis grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she attended parochial schools. Her parents, John Willie and Alice Mary Frazier Bell exposed her to a vast array of literary works and encouraged her to write poems stories and plays Despite her affinity for this work however Mathis decided not to pursue a career as an author believing that she would neither be able to make a living at it nor be as great a contributor ...

Article

Adebe DeRango-Adem

was born Beatrice Murphy in Monessen, then a booming steel town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The 1910 U.S. Census records a two-year-old Beatrice Murphy living with her father, Benjamin Murphy, her mother, Maude, and her older brother, Selmo, all of whom are listed as “Negro” in McMahan borough near Monessen. Her mother died that year and by 1914 Beatrice was living in Washington, D.C., where she would spend the rest of her life. Murphy graduated from Dunbar High School—the place where she would publish her first poem—in 1928. She worked as a columnist and book review editor at the Washington Tribune from 1933 to 1935 During this time she was also a regular columnist for the Associated Negro Press and contributed poetry and book reviews to numerous serials and collections Historian Maureen Honey notes that Murphy was evidently married in the 1930s presumably to a man named Campbell and ...

Article

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, Beatrice Murphy lived most of her life in Washington, D.C. In 1928 she graduated from Dunbar High School and published her first poem. From 1933 to 1935 she was a columnist and for the next two years an editor at the Washington Tribune. Converting to Catholicism in 1938, she also became book review editor that year for the Afro-American and published her first poetry anthology, Negro Voices. She was also a secretary at Catholic University and part owner of a circulating library and stenography shop. She became a regular columnist for the Associated Negro Press and contributed poetry and reviews to numerous serials and collections. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked for the Office of Price Administration and then the Veterans Administration. In 1954 she was suspended without pay from her job as procurement clerk for supposedly having joined a subversive ...

Article

Elizabeth Simoneau

librarian, bibliographical researcher, and political figure, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngest son of George Murray, a free black who worked as a timber inspector, and Eliza (Wilson) Murray, a woman of mixed African and American Indian ancestry. Daniel Murray, who was named after his father's close friend, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, began school at the age of five at a small primary school in his neighborhood. He continued to study in Baltimore public schools and entered a Unitarian seminary, graduating in 1869. On 19 April 1861 he witnessed the attack on the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment in Baltimore. An early account of Murray's life in Colored American Magazine reported that as a young boy he supplied Union soldiers with water during an attack in Baltimore and earned accolades for spying a rebel soldier trying to ...

Article

Trevor Hall

was born Thommaso Parentucelli in the Ligurian region of Italy, around Genoa in 1397. The son of an unknown physician, he received a classical education at the University of Bologna. He was a learned man who read the thousands of books in his extensive private libraries.

Although he was not a member of the Italian aristocracy, he used his intellect and diplomatic skills to navigate through the complex maze of Vatican politics, which culminated with his papacy in 1447. His reason for renown in the history of transatlantic slavery is that in 1455 he issued the papal bull Romanus pontifex giving Portugal the right to reduce West Africans to a status of perpetual slavery.

Pope Nicholas V came from a humble background and after his father died he left university to support himself He worked as a tutor for rich Italian families who brought teachers and professors into ...

Article

Hassoum Ceesay

director of The Gambia National Library and author of the first Gambian Who’s Who, was born in Bathurst and attended the Methodist Girls’ High School. She worked at the General Post Office and later at the British Council. She pioneered library services in The Gambia, and she was one of the earliest professional librarians in black Africa. In 1957, she had a yearlong internship at the Ghana National Library Board, and did further studies in the United Kingdom, where she qualified as a chartered librarian in 1959. At the time, very few Gambian women were in professions outside the traditionally female jobs of teaching, nursing, and secretarial work.

Bishop John Daley of the Anglican Mission opened the first public library in Banjul in 1945; a year later, the British Council opened its library and reading room. When the British Council closed operations in 1963 it handed ...

Article

María de Lourdes Ghidoli

of his family since slavery, was born in the city of La Plata in the province of Buenos Aires in 1928. He was the son of Tomás Nemesio Platero, a historian of African descent, and Ana Francisca Prola, of Italian descent, who had five other children: Ana María, Rodolfo, Sara, María Isabel, Susana and Carmen. He was also the grandchild of Tomás Braulio Platero, a prestigious notary and one of the first African-descended people to obtain a university degree in Argentina. At the end of the 1950s Platero married his first wife, Dalila Manganiello. From this first marriage he had at least three children, two of whom survived him. His second wife, Marta Susana Gutiérrez, died in 2008 and was the library director of the Central Bank of the Republic of Argentina.

For the Platero family it was essential that their sons and daughters attend university This emphasis ...

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Etnairis Ribera

was born on 30 January 1945 in Ponce Puerto Rico to Leopoldo Quiñones de la Cruz a candy merchant turned civil engineer and Concepción Pérez García a seamstress Quiñones s African ancestry came from her maternal grandmother a mulatto woman born to a black mother and a white father The family fell on hard times after her brother contracted meningitis Upon his recovery when Quiñones was almost 5 years old she and her brother moved to New York City for a year with their mother who was seeking a job to support her family while her husband stayed behind in Puerto Rico studying to become a civil engineer After he secured a job in San Juan with the construction board of the Puerto Rican government the economic situation of the family together again improved tremendously Quiñones attended Eugenio María de Hostos primary school and Gabriela Mistral secondary school in ...