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Jean-Baptist-Point Du Sable

Jean-Baptist-Point Du Sable

(b. 1750?, St. Marc, Sainte-Domingue [now Haiti]–d. Aug. 28, 1818, St. Charles, Mo., U.S.), black pioneer trader and founder of the settlement that later became the city of Chicago.

Du Sable, whose French father had moved to Haiti and married a black woman there, is believed to have been a freeborn. At some time in the 1770s he went to the Great Lakes area of North America, settling on the shore of Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Chicago River, with his Potawatomi wife, Kittihawa (Catherine).

His loyalty to the French and the Americans led to his arrest in 1779 by the British, who took him to Fort Mackinac. From 1780 to 1783 or 1784 he managed for his captors a trading post called the Pinery on the St. Clair River in present-day Michigan, after which he returned to the site of Chicago. By 1790 Du Sable’s establishment there had become an important link in the region’s fur and grain trade.

In 1800 he sold out and moved to Missouri, where he continued as a farmer and trader until his death. But his 20-year residence on the shores of Lake Michigan had established his title as Father of Chicago.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm attended Brooklyn College on a scholarship and then earned a master’s degree in education from Columbia University. After becoming an expert on early childhood education, she worked as a consultant to New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare, from 1959 to 1964.

In 1968 Chisholm became the first black woman to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1972 Chisholm declared her candidacy for the office of president of the United States. She was the first black and the first woman to make this bidan effort described in her book The Good Fight. She later published an autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed.

Chisholm retired from Congress in 1983 and taught at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She spoke out against the Vietnam War until it ended, and she has continued to speak out for the interests of the urban poor.

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner

The son of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Henry Ossawa Tanner was raised in an affluent, well educated African-American family. Although reluctant at first, Tanner’s parents eventually responded to their son’s unflagging desire to pursue an artistic career and encouraged his ambitions. In 1879, Tanner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he joined Thomas Eakins’s coterie.

Tanner moved to Atlanta in 1889 in an unsuccessful attempt to support himself as an artist and instructor among prosperous middle class African-Americans. Bishop and Mrs. Joseph C. Hartzell arranged for Tanner’s first solo exhibition, the proceeds from which enabled the struggling artist to move to Paris in 1891. Illness brought him back to the United States in 1893, and it was at this point in his career that Tanner turned his attention to genre subjects of his own race.  Continue reading

Scott Joplin

(b. Nov. 24, 1868, Bowie county, Texas, U.S.–d. April 1, 1917, New York, N.Y.), American black composer and pianist known as the “king of ragtime” at the turn of the 20th century.

Studying piano with teachers near his childhood home, Joplin traveled through the Midwest from the mid-1880s, performing at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Settling in Sedalia, Mo., in 1895, he studied music at the George R. Smith College for Negroes and hoped for a career as a concert pianist and classical composer. His first published songs brought him fame, and in 1900 he moved to St. Louis to work more closely with the music publisher John Stark.  Continue reading

Malcolm X

Malcolm X

b.1925–d.1965. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, NB, Malcolm was the son of a Baptist preacher who was a follower of Marcus Garvey. After the Ku Klux Klan made threats against his father, the family moved to Lansing, Michigan. There, in the face of similar threats, he continued to urge blacks to take control of their lives.

Malcolm’s father was slain by the Klan-like Black Legionaries. Although he was found with his head crushed on one side and almost severed from his body, it was claimed he had committed suicide, and the family was denied his death benefit.

The family’s disintegration quickly followed: welfare caseworkers sought to turn the children against each other and against their mother, from whom Malcolm, then six, was taken and placed in a foster home. Mrs. Little underwent a nervous breakdown from which she never recovered.  Continue reading

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano
aka Gustavus Vassa

Captured far from the African coast when he was a boy of 11, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery, later acquired his freedom, and, in 1789, wrote his widely-read autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

The youngest son of a village leader, Equiano was born among the Ibo people in the kingdom of Benin, along the Niger River. He was “the greatest favourite with [his] mother.” His family expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a chief, an elder, a judge. Slavery was an intregal part of the Ibo culture, as it was with many other African peoples. His family owned slaves, but there was also a continual threat of being abducted, of becoming someone else’s slave. This is what happened, one day, while Equiano and his sister were at home alone.  Continue reading

Lorraine Hansberry

(b. May 19, 1930, Chicago, Ill., U.S.–d. Jan. 12, 1965, New York, N.Y.), American playwright whose Raisin in the Sun (1959) was the first drama by a black woman to be produced on Broadway.

Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry

Hansberry’s father, a prosperous real-estate broker, fought a lengthy legal battle in the late 1930s against restrictive covenants that kept Chicago’s black inhabitants in ghettos. As part of this struggle the Hansberry family moved into a white neighbourhood, where Lorraine met daily hostility in her walks to and from school. Although her father took the case to the Supreme Court and won, he became disillusioned with the prospects for black equality in the United States and moved to Mexico.

Hansberry attended the University of Wisconsin for two years and then studied painting in Chicago and Mexico, before she decided she had no talent for it. Moving to New York in 1950, she held a number of jobs, meanwhile perfecting her skill as a writer.  Continue reading

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph `

Wilma Rudolph

1940-1994 Born in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph was the first female American runner to win three gold medals in the Olympic Games. She earned the title of “World’s Fastest Woman” by winning the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash and anchoring the 400-meter relay at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

These achievements would be considered remarkable by any standard, but in light of the fact that as a child Rudolph suffered an attack of polio and scarlet fever that left her unable to walk without braces or orthopedic shoes until age twelve, they are amazing. Rudolph’s phenomenal accomplishments helped remove barriers to women’s participation in track and field events.  Continue reading