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Banneker, Benjamin  

Brad S. Born

Benjamin Banneker was born 9 November 1731in Baltimore County, Maryland, the first child of free African American parents Mary Banneker and Robert, a former slave whose freedom she had purchased and who took her surname upon marriage. Growing up on their tobacco farm, Benjamin received little formal schooling, learning to read and write from his grandmother and attending for several seasons an interracial school where he first developed his lifelong interest in mathematics. Following his parents’ deaths and three sisters’ departures from home, Banneker remained on the farm, working the crops and cultivating his intellect in relative seclusion.

In 1771, he befriended George Ellicott a Quaker neighbor whose family had developed a large complex of mills on the adjoining property With astronomical texts and instruments borrowed from Ellicott he trained himself to calculate ephemerides tables establishing the positioning of the sun moon and stars for each day ...

Article

Boakye, Kwasi  

Adam Jones

traveler and writer from what is now southern Ghana, was born c. 1827 in or near the Asante capital of Kumasi. In contemporary documents, his name often appears as Aquassie Boachi. His father Kwaku Dua (c.1797–1867) was Asantehene (King of Asante) from 1834 to 1867. According to the “History of Ashanti,” prepared in the mid-twentieth century under the chairmanship of Asantehene Prempeh II (1892–1970), Kwasi Boakye belonged to the village of Atomfuo, 8 miles (13 km) east of Kumasi. This suggests that on his mother’s side he came from the lineage of royal blacksmiths, which may explain why, in 1837 in accordance with his father s wishes he and a close relative of the same age Kwame Poku were chosen to accompany a Dutch embassy under Major General Jan Verveer on its return to Elmina on the coast They were subsequently brought to ...

Article

Dongala, Emmanuel Boundzéki  

Kahiudi C. Mabana

Congolese writer and chemist, was born on 14 July 1941 to a Congolese father and a central African mother. He was nineteen when Congo-Brazzaville achieved independence, which allowed him to refine his views on history and the surrounding world.

After secondary school in the Congo, Dongala embarked for the United States, where he obtained a BA in chemistry at Oberlin College and an MA at Rutgers University. He completed a doctorate in organic chemistry in France. Returning to his country, he worked as a chemistry professor at the Université Marien Ngouabi in Brazzaville, where he passed a large part of his life. But he spent most of his time on literature and theater. For years he ran the Théâtre de l’Éclair in Brazzaville, until the political troubles that arose in the Congo forced him into exile in 1998 First he went to France where to the surprise of all involved ...

Article

Ellison, Ralph  

Ralph Sr. Reckley

Ralph Ellison is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America's most prominent literary personalities. Best known as a novelist, he was also a scholar who taught at many of America's most prestigious colleges and universities and a literary and social critic who prodded America to recognize the humanity of its minorities. And like Nick Aaron Ford, Alain Locke, Hugh M. Gloster, and other Black scholar-critics before him, he was not afraid to chide Black literary artists for not living up to their creative potential. An Uncle Tom to some, a literary father figure to others, Ralph Ellison has secured his niche in the canon of African American and American letters.

Named after another literary giant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on 1 March 1914. His father, Lewis Alfred Ellison originally from Abbeyville South Carolina was a ...

Article

Flipper, Henry Ossian  

James N. Leiker

soldier, engineer, and author. Although Flipper is best remembered as the first African American graduate of West Point, he later had an important career as an authority on the border between the United States and Mexico. Born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, Henry was the son of Festus and Isabella Flipper. His father, a slave and local shoemaker, and his mother, the slave of a Methodist minister, believed in the importance of formal education, and this was a value they passed on to their sons during the heady optimism of Reconstruction. While attending Atlanta University, Flipper attracted the attention of a local congressman, who appointed him to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The social atmosphere at West Point proved difficult and demanding for its handful of young black cadets, but Flipper persevered and graduated in 1877 A prolific writer he chronicled this ...

Article

Granville, Evelyn Boyd  

Olivia A. Scriven

mathematician, college professor, and public school reformer, was born Evelyn Boyd, the second of two girls of William Boyd, a blue-collar worker who held various jobs as a custodian, chauffeur, and messenger, and Julia Walker Boyd, a civil servant who worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during the Depression. Granville received her early education in the pre–Brown v. Board of Education era of separate but equal public schools for blacks and whites Despite the dual system Boyd would later insist that she received a quality education in elementary and middle school and later at Dunbar High School one of three public high schools in the Washington D C area designated for black students Dunbar had a reputation for high academic standards and for emphasizing the importance of racial pride and personal excellence Recalling that period Granville writes My generation benefited ...

Article

Hilyer, Andrew F(ranklin)  

Robert G. McGuire

Born a slave in Georgia on August 14, 1858, Andrew Franklin Hilyer was taken to Nebraska as a child by his mother. At her death he moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was befriended by the wealthy Gale and Pillsbury families. In 1882 he graduated from the University of Minnesota. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where he received his LL.B. (bachelor of laws) in 1884 and his LL.M. (master of laws) in 1885 from Howard University. In 1886 he married Mamie Elizabeth Nichols a descendant of free blacks who had lived in the Washington area for several generations The Hilyers had two sons Gale P and Franklin and one daughter Kathleen Hilyer served as a Class II clerk in the Treasury Department and later as a member of the Interior Department Division of the General Accounting Office Seven years after the death of his first wife ...

Article

Knox, William Jacob  

Robert Jr. Johnson

chemist, was the third of five children born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to parents whose names are not recorded. The grandson of a former slave, his father worked in the local post office, and his mother was self-educated. His was a close-knit family that embraced education as the main route to economic independence and prosperity. All of the children graduated from high school. Knox's older sister went to normal school, and his brothers earned their doctorates. New Bedford had fewer than one thousand blacks when Knox was a child there, yet it was a prosperous community with black physicians and lawyers and even its own black police force. Frederick Douglass had lived there following his escape from slavery and the town had also been an important stop on the Underground Railroad Knox s sense of independence and self reliance was derived from this cultural milieu and it became ...

Article

Laye, Camara  

Ada Uzoamaka Azodo

Guinean engineer, novelist, diplomat, and collector of oral literature, was born Laye Camara on 1 January 1928 in Kouroussa, Upper Guinea, in West Africa, the eldest of twelve siblings in a polygamous household. His father, Camara Komady, was a blacksmith and goldsmith; his mother, Dâman Sadan, famous for her totemic powers, was from Tindican and descended from a long line of blacksmiths. Laye’s first and last names were reversed when he attended French school, following the trend in colonial days to emphasize the family name over the individual.

The Camara family belonged to the Malinké ethnic group also known as Manden Mandikan or Manding peoples the second largest ethnic group in the Upper Niger valley with a genealogy dating back to the thirteenth century under the King of Tabon Fran Kamara whose guiding spirit was the black snake For the Malinké Islam and animism existed in almost perfect symbiosis Laye ...

Article

Lewis, Robert Benjamin  

Reginald H. Pitts

inventor, entrepreneur, and historian, was born in what is now Gardiner, Maine, the son of Matthias Lewis, a farm laborer of Mohegan Indian ancestry. Nothing is now known of Lewis's mother. Sometime after 28 July 1800 Lewis's father married Lucy Stockbridge of Pittston, Maine, the daughter of African slaves. It is not known whether this marriage legalized a longstanding relationship or was Matthias's actual second marriage.

Although little is known of Lewis's early life, it appears that he first went to sea in ships that worked the Atlantic rim and the coastal trade down to the Caribbean. It is known that Lewis wanted to become a missionary to Africa; after his death, his neighbors remembered, “it was said … that the Congregational Church in Hallowell [where Lewis moved around 1820 had in consequence of the intelligence he had manifested in youth obtained for him an ...

Article

Mickens, Ronald Elbert  

'Kale Oyedeji

mathematician, theoretical physicist, and university professor, was born in Petersburg, Virginia, the son of Joseph Percivall Mickens, a carpenter, and Daisy Brown Williamson, a house wife. His twin brothers Calvin and Carroll were born a year later on 13 February 1944. As a child, Mickens's interest in mathematics and science was sparked by his maternal grandfather who taught him to read and write, and discussed the nature of science. As a consequence, in high school, he enrolled in all of the available courses in these areas. After graduation from Peabody High School, in 1960, he entered Fisk University where in 1964 he completed a BA in Physics with a minor in mathematics. Mickens continued his education at Vanderbilt University and earned a doctoral degree in Theoretical Physics in August 1968. From 1968 to 1970 he continued his research in high energy ...

Article

Nobel Prize  

Liliana Obregón

Generally considered the world's most prestigious awards, Nobel Prizes come from a trust fund established by Swedish chemist, inventor, and philanthropist Alfred Bernhard Nobel. As designated in Nobel's will, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards prizes for physics and chemistry; the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinksa Institute awards prizes for physiological or medical works; the Swedish Academy awards prizes for literature; and the Norwegian Nobel Committee selects the winner of the peace prize. In 1968 a new prize for economics was established and endowed by the national bank of Sweden.

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded on December 10, 1901, but it was not until 1950 that a black person was a recipient. An American from Detroit, Ralph J. Bunche was the first person of African descent to receive the distinguished prize for his work as a United Nations mediator; his efforts led to the 1949 ...

Article

Ortiz, Fernando  

Alan West

Fernando Ortiz's intellectual legacy is one of astonishing breadth and erudition. Cuban scholar Juan Marinello has likened him to a third discoverer of Cuba, after Columbus and Humboldt. A Cuban-American critic has called him “Mr. Cuba.” The claim is no exaggeration: he is one of a great line of Caribbean intellectual figures such as Eugenio María de Hostos, José Martí, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Frantz Fanon, and C. L. R. James.

Along with the work of Lydia Cabrera Ortiz s seminal works deal with the African traditions that have uniquely shaped the identity of Cuban music religion society and culture His major theoretical contribution is in coining the concept of transculturation a term used to describe the rich textured and sometimes bloody encounter between two or more cultures that mutually transforms them It provides a refined framework for understanding the complexity ...

Article

Pelham, Robert A., Jr.  

Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

inventor, newspaper publisher, and editor, was born the second son and fifth child to Robert and Frances Pelham near Petersburg, Virginia. In the year of his birth his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, seeking better educational and economic opportunities. Pelham attended the public schools of Detroit and managed to finish a twelve-year educational course in nine years.

In 1871, while still in high school, Pelham sharpened his journalistic skills while working at the Daily Post, a leading Republican newspaper of the time. At the Daily Post Pelham worked under Zachariah Chandler, who not only was the owner of the Daily Post but also was a prominent Republican who went on to become mayor of Detroit and a U.S. senator. This close working relationship probably explains Pelham's later involvement with the Republican Party.

Pelham wrote for the Detroit Daily from 1883 to 1891 While ...

Article

Robeson, Eslanda Cardozo Goode  

Ann Zeidman-Karpinski

chemist, author, and activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Goode, a clerk in the U.S. War Department, and Eslanda Cardoza Goode, an osteopath and beautician. Eslanda, or Essie as she was known to her friends, attended the integrated public schools in New York and finished high school in just three years, when she was sixteen years old. She won a scholarship to attend the University of Illinois. Originally encouraged to major in domestic science, she was so bored after two years that she considered leaving. An adviser asked her what classes she liked, and when she said that chemistry was her favorite subject, she was encouraged to pursue that instead. For her senior year she attended Columbia University Teachers College.

Through her adviser at Columbia and due to the labor shortages created by World War I Robeson secured employment as a chemist ...

Article

Tyson, Neil deGrasse  

Amy Sparks Kolker

noted astrophysicist, astronomer, and writer, was born in New York City, second of three children born to Cyril deGrasse Tyson, a former commissioner for human resources for the mayor of New York City, and Sunchita Tyson a gerontologist Tyson grew up in New York City attending the Bronx High School of Science His interest in science particularly astronomy began early when he was nine years old he saw his first magnified view of the moon through a pair of binoculars Receiving a telescope for his twelfth birthday only furthered his already intense fascination with the universe Tyson also took regular trips to the Hayden Planetarium and benefited from the classes offered there When he was fourteen years old he participated in an astronomy camp held in the Mojave Desert These experiences gave Tyson enough expertise in the field of astronomy to begin giving lectures on ...

Article

Vassanji, Moyez Gulamhussein  

Tina Steiner

Kenyan writer and physicist, was born in Nairobi, Kenya, to Indian parents, but grew up in Tanzania. When he was nineteen, he left the University of Nairobi on a scholarship to study physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. He graduated with a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1978 he settled in Toronto, Canada, where he still lives with his Tanzanian-born wife, Nurjehan, and his two sons, Anil and Kabir. From 1978 to 1980 he held a postdoctoral fellowship at Atomic Energy of Canada, and from 1980 to 1989 he worked as a researcher at the University of Toronto.

While at the University of Toronto Vassanji started to write short stories and began working on his first novel He also developed a keen interest in medieval Indian history and literature and together with his wife cofounded the multicultural literary ...