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James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...


George P. Weick

writer, was born in Greenville, Mississippi, the son of William S. Attaway, a medical doctor, and Florence Parry, a teacher. His family moved to Chicago when Attaway was six years old, following the arc of the Great Migration, that thirty‐year period beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century during which more than 2 million African Americans left the South for the burgeoning industrial centers of the North. Unlike many of these emigrants, who traded the field for the factory and the sharecropper's shack for the ghetto, the Attaways were professionals at the outset, with high ambitions for themselves and their children in their new homeland.

Attaway attended public schools in Chicago, showing no great interest in his studies until, as a high school student, he encountered the work of Langston Hughes He became from that point on a more serious student and even tried his hand ...


Linda Chavers

actress, was born Angela Evelyn Bassett in the Bronx, New York, to Betty Bassett, a social worker, and a father whose name and occupation are unknown. Soon after Angela's birth her parents divorced, and she moved with her mother and sister to St. Petersburg, Florida. Bassett first thought of a career in acting after a 1974 school trip to Washington, D.C., where she saw James Earl Jones perform in Of Mice and Men at the Kennedy Center.

After graduating from Boca Ciega High School in St. Petersburg in 1976, Bassett won a scholarship to study at Yale University. She earned her BA in African American Studies in 1980 and a master of fine arts from the Yale School of Drama in 1983. After Yale, Bassett did a stint as a photo researcher for U.S. News and World Report while also pursuing theater roles in New York and ...


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 ...


Alice Knox Eaton

slave narrator, novelist, playwright, historian, and abolitionist leader, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a slave mother, Elizabeth, and George Higgins, the white half-brother of Brown's first master, Dr. John Young. As a slave, William was spared the hard labor of his master's plantation, unlike his mother and half-siblings, because of his close blood relation to the slave-holding family, but as a house servant he was constantly abused by Mrs. Young. When the family removed to a farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, William was hired out in various capacities, including physician's assistant, servant in a public house, and waiter on a steamship. William's “best master” in slavery was Elijah P. Lovejoy, publisher of the St. Louis Times, where he was hired out in the printing office in 1830 Lovejoy was an antislavery editor who would be murdered seven years later for refusing ...


Nathan L. Grant

writer, was born in Sag Harbor, New York, the daughter of Abraham Ward, probably a fisherman, and Eliza Draper. Both were members of the Montauk Indian tribe of Long Island and both were also of African descent. When Olivia was just nine months old her mother's death forced the family to move to Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after her father's remarriage, Olivia came under the guardianship of her maternal aunt Maria Draper, whom she credited with having given her an education and preparing her for life. Her aunt's determination and endurance, Olivia believed, resulted from her Native American upbringing. Olivia graduated from Providence High School, where she was trained as a nurse and developed strong interests in drama and literature.

In 1889 Olivia married Frank Bush in Providence and soon gave birth to two daughters, but the couple divorced by 1895 From the end of the century ...


Nathan L. Grant

Bush-Banks, Olivia Ward (27 February 1869–08 April 1944), writer, was born in Sag Harbor, New York, the daughter of Abraham Ward, probably a fisherman, and Eliza Draper, both members of the Montauk Indian tribe of Long Island and both also of African descent. When Olivia was nine months old her mother’s death forced the family to move to Providence, Rhode Island. Shortly after her father’s remarriage, Olivia came under the guardianship of her maternal aunt Maria Draper, whom she credited with having given her an education and a preparedness for life. Her aunt’s determination and endurance, Bush-Banks believed, was a result of her Native American upbringing. Olivia graduated from Providence High School, where she was trained as a nurse and developed strong interests in drama and literature.

In 1889 Olivia married Frank Bush in Providence and soon gave birth to two daughters The marriage was ill fated ...


Richard Sobel

writer and educator, was born Ian Alwyn Cuthbert Rynveld Carew in Agricola Rome, British Guiana (later Guyana), the son of Charles Alan Carew, a farmer and artist, and Kathleen Ethel Robertson, a teacher. His parents worked in New York while the family lived in Harlem from 1925 to 1927.

In 1939 Carew briefly taught at Berbice School for Girls in New Amsterdam, Guiana, and in 1940 graduated from Berbice high school in New Amsterdam, receiving an Oxford/Cambridge Senior Certificate, the equivalent of two years of college. He was called up to the British Army Coast Artillery Regiment from 1939 to 1943 and served as a customs officer from 1940 to 1943 for the British Colonial Civil Service in British Guiana. In 1943 and 1944 he worked for the government of Trinidad and Tobago as a price control officer before continuing his education abroad.

Carew came back to ...


Sharon D. Johnson

director, playwright, and actress, was born in New York City, the elder of two daughters of upper-middle-class parents, Edgar E. Carroll, a dentist, and Florence Morris, a teacher, both from Jamaica, West Indies. When Carroll was three, her parents sent her and her sister Dorothy to live with their grandparents in Falmouth, Jamaica, while Carroll's father completed his dental training at Howard University. Seven years later Carroll and her sister returned to New York, where their father's dental practice was thriving. The family's town house in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem eventually became a hub of activity that included frequent gatherings of neighborhood children and black community leaders.

Raised to be an achiever Carroll absorbed this intellectually and culturally charged atmosphere Her mother made sure that Carroll took music lessons and attended diverse cultural events particularly those featuring black artists Although Carroll wanted to become an actress ...


Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

playwright and actress, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and brought up in Harlem, New York, by her grandmother Eliza Campbell White. Although Alice's grandmother had little or no formal education, she had a natural creative spirit, and fostered in her granddaughter a thirst for knowledge and an appreciation for the arts by exposing her to museums, galleries, libraries, theater, and concerts. She also encouraged Alice to role-play and create stories and skits, many of which grew out of Wednesday-night testimonials at Harlem's Salem Church. These testimonials, Alice later realized, allowed poor people in their community to relieve themselves of burdens linked to race, class, and gender biases.

Alice lived on 118th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues and attended Public School 81 and the Julia Ward Howe Junior High School She enrolled in Wadleigh High School but dropped out after two years forced to earn a living after ...


Paulette Poujol-Oriol

Massillon Coicou is considered one of the greatest poets in Haitian literature. His works include intimate love poems (Passions) as well as poems with nationalist themes (Poésies Nationales). His poem “Impressions” reflects the metaphysical preoccupations of the author. His two theatrical plays, Féfé Candidat and Féfé Ministre, offer a caustic tableau of Haitian politics, in which Coicou revealed his lack of consideration for political puppets. Other works include Oracle (1893), Liberté (1894), The Son of Toussaint Louverture (1895), and Emperor Dessalines (1906).

Born in Port-au-Prince, Coicou studied at the religious institution of the Frères de l'Instruction Chrétienne (in Saint Louis de Gonzague) and then at the Lycée National. After serving in the army, he worked as a public servant and as a teacher.

President Tiresias Simon Sam on friendly terms with Coicou s family appointed Coicou ...


Robyn McGee

of Cuban descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, to parents whose names are unknown. Cruz's work encompassed a variety of influences, including Latin American, African, Egyptian, and Native American art. Cruz's dream‐like images in an array of dazzling colors, shapes, and movement, reflect his absorption of the Abstract Expressionist painters of American modernism. His canvases fused bold primary colors to create figurations, both animal and human, sometimes depicting distortions of violent and destructive behaviors. Through pen and brush, Cruz created a legacy of art with unique designs, historical significance and cultural awareness.

As a young man, Cruz studied art at the Art Students League and the New School for Social Research in New York, the Seong Moy in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and the New School for Social Research, New York. The year 1957 was a pivotal one in Cruz s life and ...


Clifton H. Johnson

poet and playwright, was the son of Elizabeth Thomas Lucas. The name of his father is not known. The place of his birth has been variously cited as Louisville, Kentucky, New York City, and Baltimore, Maryland. Although in later years Cullen claimed to have been born in New York City, it probably was Louisville, which he consistently named as his birthplace in his youth and which he wrote on his registration form for New York University. His mother died in Louisville in 1940.

In 1916 Cullen was enrolled in Public School Number 27 in the Bronx, New York, under the name of Countee L. Porter, with no accent on the first “e.” At that time he was living with Amanda Porter, who generally is assumed to have been his grandmother. Shortly after she died in October 1917, Countee went to live with the Reverend Frederick Ashbury ...


Samuel A. Hay

writer, actor, and director, was born in Cogdell, Georgia, the oldest of four children of Kince Charles Davis, an herb doctor and Bible scholar, and Laura Cooper. Ossie's mother intended to name him “R.C.,” after his paternal grandfather, Raiford Chatman Davis, but when the clerk at Clinch County courthouse thought she said “Ossie,” Laura did not argue with him, because he was white.

Ossie was attacked and humiliated while in high school by two white policemen, who took him to their precinct and doused him with cane syrup. Laughing, they gave the teenager several hunks of peanut brittle and released him. He never reported the incident but its memory contributed to his sensibilities and politics. In 1934 Ossie graduated from Center High School in Waycross Georgia and even though he received scholarships to attend Savannah State College and Tuskegee Institute he did ...


L. Diane Barnes

novelist, playwright, and Baptist minister. Dixon was born near the close of the Civil War near Shelby, North Carolina. The Dixon family, once a prominent southern family, was left penniless in the physical and economic devastation of the South after the war. Dixon's father, a Baptist minister, joined the Ku Klux Klan during Dixon's youth. Images of the riders in white sheets coming to save the white South had a lasting impression on Dixon. His belief that the Reconstruction era was one of history's supreme tragedies was a common theme in several of his novels and plays.

Dixon earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Wake Forest University, then pursued graduate work at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. There he befriended the future president Woodrow Wilson who was a few years ahead in his own graduate studies After a brief attempt at an acting career ...


Clarence G. Contee

Born about 1846 in New York City on Sullivan Street in Lower Manhattan, a son of Henry Downing and Nancy (Collins) Downing, Henry Francis Downing was the grandson of Thomas Downing, operator of an oyster-selling business and well-known free black. He was the nephew of George Thomas Downing, a well known politician in New York City and in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as a friend of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The family maintained the oyster business and a refectory (dining hall) on Broad Street into the 1850s. Henry Downing received enough education to enable him to read and to write.

By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Downing was still in school. Eager to serve, he enlisted in the Union Navy at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on August 25, 1864, beginning his service on board the North Carolina He was ...


Lawrence R. Rodgers

Born in New York City into a family of successful free African Americans who ran an oyster business, Henry Downing was the nephew of the esteemed politician George Thomas Downing. Henry Downing served two terms in the U.S. Navy (1864–1865 and 1872–1875). Following the Civil War, he traveled around the world, a journey punctuated by a three-year residence in Liberia, where his cousin Hilary Johnson later served as president (1884–1892). After returning to New York, he became politically active in the Democratic Party. For his strong support, President Cleveland appointed Downing consul to Loanda, Angola, a West African colony of Portugal, where he served less than a year before resigning in 1888. After returning to New York for several years, he emigrated to London in 1895 where he remained for twenty two years There he began a productive if undistinguished career as a writer ...


Jeffrey Green

African‐American playwright and journalist in London. Downing enjoyed a varied career. In his youth he was a sailor, and later worked for the United States foreign service in Angola. He also managed a New York press agency representing prominent black leaders including Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass, and Ida B. Wells. Around 1895 Downing and his reputedly white American wife, Margarita (c.1873–c.1950), arrived in England and settled in Chiswick, west London.

A fortuitous meeting with the African‐American poet Paul Dunbar in London resulted in Downing's management of Dunbar's 1897 successful reading tour throughout England. As Dunbar's manager, Downing played an instrumental role in bringing together two of the most famous and talented black artistes of the 19th century. Impressed by his stewardship of Dunbar's tour, Samuel Coleridge‐Taylor contacted the pair and thus began a series of collaborations between the ...


Peter E. Carr

Alexandre Dumas was born Alexandre Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in Villers-Cotteràts, northeast of Paris. His father was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas and his mother was Marie-Louise Elisabeth Labouret. Born in the French Caribbean, Thomas-Alexandre was the offspring of the Marquis Antoine Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie and one of his black house slaves, Marie Céssette Dumas, who was from Jérémie, Saint Domingue. She died when ThomasAlexandre was young; he was eventually brought to Paris at the age of fourteen. As Thomas-Alexandre's grandfather did not wish his mulatto grandson to officially use the name Davy de la Pailleterie, he enlisted in Napoleon's army as Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, at length attaining the rank of general.

The death of his father in 1806 left the young Alexandre Dumas and his mother in very bad financial circumstances. At the age of fourteen he apprenticed as a clerk with a local notary in Villers-Cotteràts. In 1822 ...


Jonathan Edwards

In 1893 the playwright George Bernard Shaw described Alexandre Dumas père (senior) as “a summit of art,” comparing him to Mozart: “you get nothing above Dumas on his own mountain … if you pass him you come down on the other side instead of getting higher.” Dumas's literary work is striking in its breadth and originality, and accessible to all lovers of adventure regardless of their social or educational background. In theater, Dumas created two new genres, the prose historical drama and the drame moderne, and, although dated today, his plays enjoyed unprecedented success in their time. His greatest novels, rich in passionate characters, lively dialogue, and gripping plots, have lasting appeal, and many, such as Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers), have become household names.

The story of how young Dumas a provincial light skinned boy whose tightly curled hair revealed his African ancestry rose to become the ...