Soprano Leontyne Price was born Mary Violet Leontine Price in Laurel, Mississippi, on February 10, 1927, the daughter of James and Katherine Price. Leontine was a very musical child and became a local success at an early age, singing at local weddings and funerals. After receiving local training, she sang in her first recital on December 17, 1943.
After studying at Wilberforve College (now Central State University) in Ohio, Leontine enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She began studying with Florence Page Kimball and, shortly after changing the spelling of her name to “Leontyne”, she was accepted into the Juilliard Opera Workshop. Much of Leontyne’s musical education was supported by a wealthy family from Laurel, Alexander and Elizabeth Chisolm.
At Juilliard, she appeared in 1952 as Nella in Gianni Schicchi and and, later that year, as Mistress Ford in Falstaff. Also in 1952, she was invited by composer Virgil Thompson to appear as Saint Cecilia in a revival of his Four Saints in Three Acts in New York and Paris. Continue reading
In 1861, Victoria Matthews was born. She was an African-American educator, writer, and racial advocate. Born a slave in Fort Valley near Macon County, Georgia she was the youngest of nine children. Victoria’s father, and that of her sister Anna as well, was also the family’s Master; the light-skinned sisters were raised in his house when their mother ran away and freed when the Civil War began.
Their mother eventually came back to Georgia, regained custody and moved them to New York City in 1873. Victoria attended public school in New York for a while but had to leave to work as a domestic.
She married in 1879, settling in Brooklyn where she soon began writing for the Brooklyn Eagle and the Waverly Magazine under the pen name Victoria Earle. In 1893 her story Aunt Lindy: A Story Founded on Real Life was published. Matthews took a deep interest in Black women’s issues. Continue reading
Plaintiff for a landmark Supreme Court case, Homer A. Plessy was born on March 17, 1863 in New Orleans. He was a light-skinned Creole of Color during the post-reconstruction years.
With the aid of the Comité des Citoyens, a black organization in New Orleans, Homer Plessy became the plaintiff in the famous Plessy v. Ferguson case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 1896. The decision established the “separate but equal” policy that made racial segregation constitutional for the next six decades.
In order to challenge the 1890 Louisiana statute requiring separate accommodations for whites and blacks, Homer Plessy and the Comité des Citoyens used Plessy’s light skin to their advantage. On June 7, 1892 Plessy bought a first class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway. Continue reading
Mary Church was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 23rd September, 1863. Both her parents, Robert Church and Louisa Ayers, were both former slaves. Robert was the son of his white master, Charles Church.
During the Memphis race riots in 1866 Mary’s father was shot in the head and left for dead. He survived the attack and eventually became a successful businessman. He speculated in the property market and was considered to be the wealthiest black man in the South.
Mary was an outstanding student and after graduating from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1884, she taught at a black secondary school in Washington and at Wilberforce College in Ohio. Through her father, Mary met Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. She was especially close to Douglass and worked with him on several civil rights campaigns. Continue reading
Roy Wilkins (August 30, 1901 – September 8, 1981) was a prominent civil rights activist in the United States from the 1930s to the 1970s. Wilkins was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and between 1931 and 1934 was assistant NAACP secretary under Walter Francis White. When W. E. B. Du Bois left the organization in 1934, Wilkins replaced him as editor of Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP.
Roy Wilkins was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up in the home of his aunt and uncle in a low-income, integrated community in St. Paul, Minnesota. Working his way through college at the University of Minnesota, Wilkins graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in sociology in 1923. Continue reading
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was born on September 24, 1825 to free parents. A few years later, she was orphaned. Harper received her education at a school for free African-Americans run by her uncle, William Watkins. The school was located at the present day site of the Baltimore Convention Center. At the age of 13, Harper’s formal education came to an end when she took a job as a nursemaid.
Harper’s first publication was a collection of poetry and prose entitled Autumn Leaves. It was published while she was a teenager. Harper moved to Philadelphia. She published another volume of poems entitled Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1857). This work sold over 10,000 copies within its first five years of publication. In 1860, Harper married the love of her life, Fenton Harper. Continue reading
On October 13, 1898, Edith Sampson was born in Pittsburgh, the first black woman elected judge to a municipal court. She was born Edith Spurlock, one of seven children.
Her father, Louis Spurlock, earned $75 per month as a shipping clerk in a cleaning, pressing, and dyeing business. Her mother, Elizabeth Spurlock, worked at home making buckram hat frames and twisting switches of false hair.
Edith graduated from Peabody High School, and three years later married Rufus Sampson, a field agent for the Tuskegee Institute. She also attended the New York School of Social Work. There, one of her instructors was George W. Kirchwey, also a professor at Columbia University Law School. After distinguishing herself in his criminology class, he told her she had the talent to be a lawyer. Continue reading