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Fifty Influential Figures

In African-American History




John Oliver Killens (1916-1987)

Novelist (Youngblood, And Then There Was the Thunder, Cotillion, and other novels), a founder of the Harlem Guild Writers.


Marcus Bruce Christian (1900-1976)

Marcus Bruce Christian was a New Orleans-base writer and a historian of blacks in Louisiana. In addition he was an exceptional poet on race

and other social topics and semi-autobiographical topics. Christian’s BioBibliographical Record 

Jan Carew (Born 1925)

Educated in British Guiana, at Howard University (1945-46), University of Western Reserve (1946-47, Charles University (Prague, Czechoslovakia; 1949-50).

Plays broadcast on the BBC. Publications include Black Midas (a novel, 1958), The Last Barbarian (a novel, 1961),

Moscow Is Not My Mecca (nonfiction, 1964). Part V of West Indian Narrative


Kalamu ya Salaam (Born 1947)

Mr. Salaam is a professional editor/writer, filmmaker, producer and arts administrator. His latest books are the anthologies

From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate Press 1998) and 360 Degrees: A Revolution of Black Poets (BlackWords Press 1998).

Mr. Salaam latest spoken word CD is My Story, My Song  (AFO Records).


Kalamu Table

Yusef Komunyakaa (Born 1947)  

Pulitzer prize-winning poet (1994) Yusef Komunyakaa is a unique figure in American poetry and the author of eleven poetry volumes.

Komunyakaa’s poetry is celebrated for its short lines, its simple vernacular, its jazzy feel, and its rootedness in the poet’s experience

as a black of the American South, and as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.


Louis Reyes Rivera

Known as the Janitor of History, poet/essayist Louis Reyes Rivera has been studying his craft since 1960 and teaching it since 1969.

   (compulsion strikes the witness)   John Oliver Killens: Lest We Forget

Margaret Walker (1915-1998) 

Walker began her writing career as a poet in the late 1930s. But she was cast into the limelight

in 1966 when her novel Jubilee was published to wide critical and commercial acclaim.

Juanita E. Jackson (1913-1992)

Over the years, Mitchell fought discrimination in the courts. She served as counsel in suits to eliminate segregation in municipal recreation facilities,

restaurants and public schools in Baltimore City and other jurisdictions in Maryland, namely, the desegregation

of the Fort Smallwood Municipal Park Beach and the swimming pools in Baltimore. Youth and the Lynching Evil  Lynching Index


Cliff Chandler (Born 1930s) 

Like most artists he has worked as a taxi driver, Hospital Aide, Paramedic, Professional Photographer  Germain School of Photography, Jazz Musician, T

he New Muse, Brooklyn, NY, and editorial writer for a local newspaper.   Devastated 

Amiri Baraka (Born 1934)

Amiri Baraka is today a beloved poet, an elder statesman of the African-American community. Presently, politicians in New Jersey

are using legislation to remove him from the appointed position of Poet Laureate of New Jersey. “Somebody Blew Up America” 


Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998)

Published in 1968 at the end of a vibrant decade of intense civil rights struggle in the South and and flamboyant racial rhetoric in the North, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice was an immediate sensation among white liberals and the New Left. 


Monroe Nathan Work (1866-1945

In 1921 the Carnegie Coporation of New York made a grant to the Department of Records and Research of the Tuskegee Institute which enabled the writer to begin in a large way to compile “A Bibliography of the Negro.”

 Monroe Work Bibliography

Scipio Africanus Jones (1863-1943)

Judge Jones, appointed to the bench in 1915, was primarily noted for his defense of twelve black men who in 1919 were convicted of murder after race related violence in Philips County, Arkansas. He successfully appealed on behalf of these twelve black men who had been convicted of murder following the Elaine Race Riot. This case brought Jones national recognition.

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993)

Marshall was nominated by President John F. Kennedy for appointment to the Second Supreme Court of Appeals (New York, Connecticut, and Vermont) September 23, 1961. The appointment was confirmed by the Senate. President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Judge Marshall to become an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Marshall on Labor 


Anna Julia Cooper (1859?-1964)

In 1884, Anna received her undergraduate degree and then secured a position at Wilberforce University and during the summer sessions earned an A.M. in mathematics from Oberlin. To be near her mother and family, Anna in 1885 returned for a year to St. Augustine. In 1887 she was employed to teach math and Latin at Washington High School.


Lucy Craft Laney (1854-1933)

Before her death from nephritis and hypertension in October 1933, Lucy Craft Laney started the first black kindergarten in Augusta, Georgia and the first black nursing school in the city, the Lamar School of Nursing.

Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915)

Smith rose from slavery and poverty to become a world famous Methodist evangelist. A black washerwoman, she witnessed the Spirit like Christian women throughout the centuries who have been used by God. 

Haki Madhubuti (Born 1942)

Among his honors and awards are an American Book Award (1991) and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is currently a professor of English and Director of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University. 


Romare Bearden (1921-1988) 

Romare Bearden has been called by American art critics Myron Schwarzman “the foremost American artist who portrayed

the African American experience through the language of narrative and metaphor.”

Chester Himes (1909-1984)

Many movie buffs  probably know indirectly Himes work from the movies Cotton Comes to Harlem and A Rage Up in Harlem, which featured Himes’ black detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. Like most things that Hollywood gets its hands on, Himes’ work was desecrated by filmmakers only out  to make a fast buck. 

Negro Martyrs Are Needed


Robert Lee “Rob” Penny (1941-2003)


The phenomenal Rob Penny also co-founded the Black Horizon Theatre with the dynamic August Wilson in 1968. Their love for words and the powerful effect they can have on and in ones life have given them life long positive careers that show true craftsmanship and diligent effort. 

Larry Neal (1937-1981)  

Neal’s reorientation of critical focus–his stress on the importance of racial and political consciousness in the forging of a uniquely Afro-American ethos, or “black aesthetic”–is rooted in the change of sensibility (from what Harold Cruse has termed an “assimilationist” to a “Nationalist” perspective) occurring in the early sixties among Afro-American thinkers.

Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

When Cullen began to write, he was a great admirer of Tennyson. later he was influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Housman, Robinson, and, most of all, Keats. He is essentially an emotional and lyrical poet. His only present tendency towards free verse is limited to experimental attempts and he finds himself more and more inclined towards rigid forms. 


Sonia Sanchez (Born 1934)

Sonia Sanchez has lectured at more than five hundred universities and colleges in the United States and traveled extensively, reading her poetry, in Africa, Cuba, England, the Caribbean, Australia, Nicaragua, the People’s Republic of China, Norway, and Canada


Robert “Kaki” McQueen (Born 1946)

Kaki also finds his subject material or motifs in African sculpture, political heroes (such as Martin, Malcolm, and Marcus), jazz musicians (such as Coltrane, Dolphy, and Miles), R & B stars (such as James Brown, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye), and in religious themes.


Claudia Tate (1947-2002)

Tate’s first book, titled “Black Women Writers at Work,” was published in the United States in 1983 and subsequently released in Great Britain, Mexico and Japan. “Her probing, provocative and insightful questions (in the book) set a new standard for the interview as a genre,” said Valerie Smith, professor of English and African-American studies at Princeton.

Carrie Mae Weems (Born 1953)

Weems’ first major body of work, and a key precedent for the work presented in this exhibition, was the series Family Pictures and Stories, begun in 1978 and completed in 1983, which combined casual images of her relatives in their daily lives with audiotaped interviews and printed commentary.


Amilcar  Cabral (1924-1973)

Cabral theorized on the condition of the Cape Verdean man, the result of the miscegenation of the archipelago’s first inhabitants, black and white. He knows that the number of mestiços (people of mixed races) was already six times that of the whites and three times that of the Negroes. 

Michael S. Harper

For Harper, history and mythology are related.  The mythologies of white supremacy, for instance, is marred by the history it engenders,  rigidly encasing humanity in static categories. Harper’s writings manipulate old European and American myths and create new ones. 


Bob Moore (Born 1944) 

  Asked what he envisioned for labor and Baltimore, Bob Moore expressed his hopes and desires. “I want to grow our union at a faster rate. To do so we must have an industry wide approach. We must leverage employers so that they do not wage hostile campaigns. In this effort, politics play a role. Health care has much to do with electoral politics because of tax dollars. . . . ”


Walter H. Lively (1942-1976)

Walter’s mind was massive and his energy boundless and had a thousand things going on at once. He needed a trusted administrative assistant to manage his papers and his affairs. But no such person was available. At his death, uncashed checks were found under stacks of paper. Money was always a means for him rather than an end in itself.

William Washington Browne (1849-1897

In 1881, Browne founded The United Order of True Reformers. This organization was most influential not only in the small rural community of Sussex, but also it ascended to national prominence. In 1885 the Order organized and put in operation the Rosebud Department which addressed the great need for reform among children in teaching them the higher and nobler purpose of assisting each other in sickness, sorrow, and afflictions.


H. Rap Brown (Born 1943)

Struggling with black Americans who were ready, if necessary, to give up their lives for the cause of freedom and the brutal response to that effort by conservative and liberal whites alike began to have a profound impact on Rap’s thinking. He began to see “integration” as “impractical.” 

Reginald Lewis (1942-1993)

Reginald Francis Lewis was special. On this, the 58th Anniversary of his birth, most will remember his one billion dollar leverage buy out of Beatrice International, one of the top five food companies in the world. For those of us who knew Reggie, up close and personal, we thank God for his presence in our lives. 

Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975)

Under his rigidly centralized authority, the Black Muslims developed hundreds of small businesses around the country – restaurants, dry cleaning establishments, beauty shops, grocery stores and bakeries. An estimated 25,000 acres of land, mostly in the south, is owned by the sect. The total assets of the Nation of Islam have been valued at $80 million – no mean achievement for the former laborer who had only a fourth-grade education.


George Schuyler (1895-1977)

Schuyler eventually became associate editor of the Pittsburgh Courier. He supplied the weekly paper with a regular column and was one of its chief editorial writers. On one assignment he took the Jim Crow tour of the Southern states. books written by Schuyler include The Negro Art Hokum (1926), Slaves Today: A Story of Liberia (1930) and Black No More (1931). 


Thomas Wyatt Turner (1877-1978)

Dr. Turner was active in Catholic organizations and in societies for the advancement of the Negro. He founded in 1925 the Federated Colored Catholics (FCC), an organization, national in scope, composed of catholic Negroes who placed their services at the disposal of the Church for whatever good they were able to effect in the solution of the problems facing the group in Church and country.


Robinson Robert Taylor (1868-1942)

Taylor entered MIT in 1888 and seemingly the first black student to enroll in MIT. His master’s thesis was the design of a retirement home for Civil war veterans. After graduation he was recruited by Booker T. Washington. In his lifetime, Taylor was well-respected. 


Dr. Robert Russa Moton (1867-1940)

The principal and president (1915-1935) of Tuskegee Institute, Moton was  viewed as “the sanest force seeking social and economic progress for his race.”  Moton also published Finding a Way Out: An Autobiography (1921). 


Arna Bontemps (1902-1973)

In the decade of the thirties, Bontemps wrote three acclaimed novels God Sends Sunday (1931); Black Thunder (1936); and Drums at Dusk (1939). Frustrated in his ability to reach his own generation Bontemps to literature for children and young graders. In 1937 he published the Sad-Faced Boy; and others for  young audience included We Have Tomorrow (1945) Slappy Hopper (1946) and Story of the Negro (1948).


W.C. Handy (1876-1958)

In his later years, even after the gradual, devastating loss of his eyesight, Handy continued to write, perform, arrange and publish secular and sacred numbers that are now considered cornerstones of pure American music. He also wrote or compiled three books related to the blues – “Blues Anthology” (1926), “Treasury of the Blues” (1949) and his autobiography, “Father of the Blues” (1941).

Sterling Brown (1901-1989

In his book, The Negro in American Fiction (1937), Brown shows parallels of how treatment of an oppressed group in literature reflects

 its treatment in life. His pioneering work brought recognition to African-American literature and folklore. Christian-Brown Letter

Charles Mingus (1922-1979) 


Both New York City and Washington, D.C. honored him posthumously with a “Charles Mingus Day.”

The National Endowment for the Arts provided grants for a Mingus foundation called “Let My Children Hear Music,” which catalogued all of Mingus’ works.


John William Coltrane (1926-1967)

The influence of Coltrane’s very passionate approach appears in unlikely places, like in an occasional near scream

from cool saxophonist Stan Getz. Coltrane said that Sidney Bechet was an important influence on his own playing.

Mahalia Jackson (1911-1972)

 Moving easily among people from both worlds, Mahalia embodied the truth of James Cone’s contention (expressed in his  The Spirituals and the Blues) that both secular blues and sacred spirituals “flow from the same bedrock of experience,” though the blues deal only with the existential while the spirituals look to the supernatural. Funeralizing Mahalia 

Muddy Waters (1915-1983)

PBS’s I Can’t Be Satisfied is a magnificent rendering of the life of Muddy Waters, perhaps the second most important figure in Blues history.

Only the legendary Robert Johnson has made a greater impact than Muddy has on the music.

Babatunde Olatunji (1927-2003)

Olatunji’s first album Drums of Passion, released  by Columbia  Records, was the first album to bring genuine African music

to Western ears. It became an unprecedented, worldwide smash hit, selling over five million copies and remains a popular recording.


Nina Simone (1933-2003)

Nina’s voice  sometimes changes from dark and raw to soft and sweet — pauses, shouts, repeats, whispers and moans.  She used her voice with its remarkable timbre and her careful piano playing as means to achieve her artistic aim, expressing alternately love, hate, sorrow, joy, loneliness – the whole range of human emotions — through music, in a direct way. At times piano, voice, and gestures seem to be separate elements, then, at once, they meet. Her audience became captivated by her spell. Nina Simone was a unique artist, the High Priestess of Soul.

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011  


#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar’s astonishing rise to become the world’s principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar’s changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America’s economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan’s bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar’s dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power–and the enormous risks–of the dollar’s worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 2 December 2011




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