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Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker

Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana plantation, this daughter of former slaves transformed herself from an uneducated farm laborer and laundress into one of the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs.

Orphaned at age seven, she often said, “I got my start by giving myself a start.” She and her older sister, Louvenia, survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. At 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape abuse from her cruel brother-in-law, Jesse Powell.

Her only daughter, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia Walker) was born on June 6, 1885. When her husband died two years later, she moved to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. Continue reading

James Arthur Baldwin

James Baldwin

James Baldwin

Born: August 2, 1924 – Harlem, New York, U.S.
Died: December 1, 1987 (aged 63) – Saint-Paul de Vence, France
Occupation: Writer, Novelist, Poet, Playwright, Activist

Baldwin spent an impoverished boyhood in Harlem and at 14 became a preacher in the Fireside Pentecostal Church. His first two novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), reflecting his experience as a young preacher, and Giovanni’s Room (1956), which dealt with his homosexuality, were written while he lived in Paris. He returned to the United States in 1957 and participated in the civil-rights movement, later returning to France where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Another Country (1962), a bitter novel about sexual relations and racial tension, received critical acclaim, as did the publication of the perceptive essays in The Fire Next Time (1963). His eloquence and unsparing honesty made Baldwin one of the most influential authors of his time.  Continue reading

Sarah Grimké

Sarah Moore Grimké

Sarah Moore Grimké

Sarah Grimke, along with her sister Angelina, were the first women in the United States to publicly argue for the abolition of slavery. Cultured and well educated, Sarah had gone north from South Carolina with her sister with firsthand knowledge of the condition of the slaves. In 1836 Angelina wrote a lengthy address urging all women to actively work to free blacks.

The sisters’ lectures elicited violent criticism because it was considered altogether improper for women to speak out on political issues. This made them acutely aware of their own oppression as women, which they soon began to address along with abolitionism. A severe split developed in the abolition movement, with some antislavery people arguing that it was the “Negro’s hour and women would have to wait.”  Continue reading

Sammie Davis Jr.

Sammie Davis Jr.

1925 to 1990. In the over hyped world of popular music music, there are legends, and then there are Legends with a capital L. There’s no doubting which category Sammy Davis Jr falls into. For a staggering 60 years, from his debut as a four year old child star in the late 1920′s to his untimely death in 1990 at the age of 64, he more than justified his title of ‘Mr Entertainment’ and when he wasn’t inspiring headlines on stage he was making news of it, as a founder member of the Rat Pack with fellow superstars Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

He owed his early start to his parents, vaudeville star Sammy Davis Sr and Puerto Rican ‘Baby Sanchez, who performed with the youngsters adopted uncle, Will Mastin, in his act ‘Holiday In Dixieland’. But Sammy Jr soon became the star of the show as the newly rechristened ‘Will Mastin’s Gang, Featuring Little Sammy’ acknowledged. When the authorities forbade him to appear, so legend has it his father shrugged his shoulders, gave his son a rubber cigar and billed him as a ‘dancing midget’.   Continue reading

Bernice Gaines Hughes

During World War II, Fort Des Moines served as a training center for the Women’s Army Corps.

One of the accomplished graduates of that training course was Bernice Gaines Hughes, the first black woman to become a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Philadelphia’s Free Africa Society

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones formed the Free African Society in Philadelphia, a mutual aid society designed to provide socioeconomic guidance to newly freed people. Among its main objectives were teaching thrift and saving to build wealth in the community. These mutual aid societies and fraternities served as a model for banks later formed in the black community.

By the late 1700s there were nearly 2,000 free blacks in Philadelphia. The community had a strong need to establish financial institutions to support businesses and to provide a secure place for accumulating wealth. In 1778, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two ministers, founded the first quasi-financial organization in Philadelphia. These leaders understood the connection between saving and investing and economic growth and stability. Within 10 years, the society had a balance of 42.416 pounds on deposit at the Bank of North America. By 1838 the number of benevolent organizations grew to 100, with membership recorded as 7,448.

Similar organizations were established in Boston, New York, Baltimore, and other cities with large black populations. Although these organizations kept their money on deposit at many local banks, by the mid-19th century African Americans found it increasingly difficult to secure credit supporting commerce and industry. In the years leading up to the Civil War, there was extensive conversation about African Americans establishing their own bank.

Bill Bojangles Robinson

Bill Bojangles Robinson

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949) was an American tap dancer and actor of stage and film. Audiences enjoyed his understated style, which eschewed the frenetic manner of the jitterbug in favor of cool and reserve; rarely did he use his upper body, relying instead on busy, inventive feet, and an expressive face.

A figure in both the black and white entertainment worlds of his era, he is best known today for his dancing with Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930s, and for starring in the 1943 musical Stormy Weather, loosely based on Robinson’s own life.

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