Charlie Parker

Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker

Charlie Parker was one of the most influential improvising soloists in jazz, and a central figure in the development of bop in the 1940s. A legendary figure in his own lifetime, he was idolized by those who worked with him, and he inspired a generation of jazz performers and composers.

Parker was the only child of Charles and Addle Parker. In 1927, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, an important center of African-American music in the 1920s and 1930s. Parker had his first music lessons in the local public schools; he began playing alto saxophone in 1933 and worked occasionally in semi-professional groups before leaving school in 1935 to become a full-time musician.  Continue reading

Amiri Baraka

Amiri Baraka
(formerly LeRoi Jones)

Amiri Baraka, born in 1934, in Newark, New Jersey, USA, is the author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism, a poet icon and revolutionary political activist who has recited poetry and lectured on cultural and political issues extensively in the USA, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.

With influences on his work ranging from musical orishas such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, and Sun Ra to the Cuban Revolution, Malcolm X and world revolutionary movements, Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s that became, though short-lived, the virtual blueprint for a new American theater aesthetics.  Continue reading

Matthew Alexander Henson

1866-1955
Matthew Alexander Henson accompanied Admiral Robert Peary to the North Pole in 1909, and according to Peary’s son Kali, Peary “could not have reached the Pole without Matthew Henson.” Henson’s most valu-
able contribution to the expedition was his befriending of the Eskimo people, who respected him and taught him their language, customs, and survival skills. Henson in turn taught Peary to hunt for food, build a sledge, and drive a dogsled.

Folk history has it that Henson was the first to reach the North Pole, but the discovery was attributed entirely to Peary: Congress gave his account the official stamp of legitimacy, and Peary received numerous awards and honors. Although Peary did not share his honor with Henson, he did proclaim that “Henson is [an example] of the fact that race or color or upbringing or environment count nothing against a determined heart if it is backed and aided by intelligence.”

Whitney Moore Young

Whitney Moore Young

A civil rights leader who urged African Americans to work within the system, Whitney Moore Young, as executive director of the National Urban League from 1961 to 1971, played a leading role in persuading America’s corporate elite to provide better opportunities for African Americans.

Young worked with President Lyndon Johnson on civil rights and anti-poverty programs during the 1960s, while calling for a “domestic Marshall Plan” (similar to U.S. aid to revive Europe after World War II).

He was one of the leaders of the 1963 March on Washington and in 1964 he organized the Community Action Assembly to fight poverty in African-American communities. He was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1969.

Two years later at the age of 49, Young drowned in Lagos, Nigeria while participating in an annual African-American dialogue on relations between the two continents.

Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones

Founder of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Sussex County, Delaware, on November 6, 1746. He taught himself to read and knew the New Testament thoroughly at an early age. When he was 16, Absalom’s owner took him to Philadelphia, Pa., where he served as a clerk and handyman in a retail store.

He was allowed to work for himself in the evenings and keep his earning. He was married in 1770. By the time Jones was 38 years old, he had purchased his wife’s freedom, and his own, and had bought a house. Later he built two more houses and used them for rental income.  Continue reading

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