Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback

(b. May 10, 1837, Macon, Ga., U.S.–d. Dec. 21, 1921, Washington, D.C.), freeborn black who was a Union officer in the American Civil War and a leader in Louisiana politics during Reconstruction (1865-77).

Pinchback was one of 10 children born to a white Mississippi planter and a former slave–whom the father had freed before the boy’s birth. When the father died in 1848, the family fled to Ohio, fearing that white relatives might attempt to re-enslave them.

Pinchback found work as a cabin boy on a canal boat and worked his way up to steward on the steamboats plying the Mississippi, Missouri, and Red rivers. After war broke out between the states in 1861, he ran the Confederate blockade on the Mississippi to reach Federal-held New Orleans; there he raised a company of black volunteers for the North, called the Corps d’Afrique. When he encountered racial discrimination in the service, however, he resigned his captain’s commission.  Continue reading

Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughn

Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1924, Vaughan was immediately surrounded by music: her carpenter father was an amateur guitarist and her laundress mother was a church vocalist. Young Sarah studied piano from the age of seven, and before entering her teens had become an organist and choir soloist at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.

When she was eighteen, friends dared her to enter the famed Wednesday Night Amateur Contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. She gave a sizzling rendition of “Body and Soul,” and won first prize. In the audience that night was the singer Billy Eckstine. Six months later, she had joined Eckstine in Earl Hines’s big band along with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.  Continue reading

William Eldon ‘Willie’ O’Ree

William Eldon ‘Willie’ O’Ree

While Willie O’Ree career was short, it was historic. Willie became the first black player in NHL history on January 18, 1958, when he debuted with the Bruins in a 3-0 win over Montreal in the Forum. Willie was a skater, but only managed 45 games in the NHL, although he played professional hockey until 1971, mostly in San Deigo, California, where upon his retirement he became director of Parks with the City of San Deigo.

Another strike against Willie was an accident playing hockey as a junior in Kingston had left him blind in one eye. Willie played professionally in the Quebec Senior League, with another, Fredericton native, Manny McIntrye. Manny along with brothers Herb and Ossie Carnegie of Toronto, formed what is believed to be the only All-Black line in Professional hockey.

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was one of the most gifted men in the history of the world. He was an athlete, actor, author, attorney, a scholar and concert singer. Born in Princeton, New Jersey on April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson showed that he was a man of many talents. He gave 296 performances as Othello on Broadway.

He was subsequently recognized as an internationally famous singer and performed on concert stages throughout the world. Robeson spoke and performed in over twenty languages and dialects, and became a spokesman throughout the world against exploitation, injustice, and racism. His attacks on injustice and racism in the United States became a severe international embarrassment to the United States government.  Continue reading

Lucy Terry

Lucy Terry

Married name LUCY PRINCE, also called BIJAH’S (ABIJAH’S) LUCE, or LUCE (LUCY) ABIJAH (b. 1730, West Africa–d. 1821, Vermont, U.S.), American poet, storyteller, and activist of the colonial and postcolonial period. Her only surviving work, the poem “Bars Fight” (1746), is the earliest existing poem by an African-American; it was transmitted orally for more than 100 years, first appearing in print in 1855. Consisting of 28 lines in irregular iambic tetrameter, the poem commemorates white settlers who were killed in an encounter with Indians in 1746.

Born in Africa, Terry was taken by slave traders to Rhode Island at a very young age. She was baptized a Christian at age five, with the approval of her owner, Ebenezer Wells of Deerfield, Mass.; she became a full church member in 1744.  Continue reading

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

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.