Important Historical Figures In Having Our Say
Reprinted By Permission Of Mccarter Theatre Center
Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was a renowned contralto who performed in major American and European venues between 1925 and 1965, including the Metropolitan Opera House as its first black performer. When the Daughters of American Revolution refused to have her sing at Constitution Hall in 1939, she performed to great acclaim at the Lincoln Memorial.
Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) served as the 39th President of the U.S. from 1974-1981 and received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his advancement of international human rights. Although the end of his term was marred by the taking of hostages in Iran, Carter managed to create the Department of Energy and the Department of Education, establish a national energy policy, reform civil service, protect national parks and orchestrate the Camp David Accords.
Dr. Anna J. Cooper (1858-1964) was an early African-American feminist and author of A Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South. An alumna of St. Augustine’s College, she graduated from Oberlin and received a doctorate from the University of Paris. Bessie (Annie Elizabeth) was named after her.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was a civil rights activist, leader, Pan-Africanist, scholar, sociologist, educator, historian, writer, poet, editor of The Crisis magazine, and a founder of the NAACP. Less assimilation-oriented and more radical than his contemporary Booker T. Washington, he fought against myths of racial inferiority and promoted equal treatment of African-Americans.
Franklin Frazier (1894-1962) was a sociologist who specialized in the study of the black family and the black middle class. His work focused on the global effects of racism, the character of the African-American middle class, the urban socialization of African-American youth, and the social problems affecting the African-American community. He served as professor at a variety of colleges and universities and worked for a number of U.S. sociological institutions.
Anita Hill (b. 1956) is a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University and a former coworker of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Education. During his Senate confirmation hearings, Hill accused Thomas of making inappropriate sexual statements, but Thomas ultimately received confirmation by a 52-48 vote.
Alberta Hunter (1895-1984) was a jazz and blues singer, songwriter and actress who reached the peak of her career during the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1950s, she enrolled in nursing school and entered the medical profession but returned to singing for the latter part of her life.
Robert Kennedy (1925-1968) served as Attorney General, adviser to his brother John F. Kennedy, and Democratic Senator, and was assassinated during his presidential campaign. He was a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and lobbied for African-American rights.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was a clergyman, activist and leader in the Civil Rights Movement. Before his assassination, he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and received the Nobel Peace Prize. In his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in 1963, King painted a picture of his goal: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Rosa Parks (1913-2005) became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in Montgomery, AL. She thus initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a movement organized in part by Martin Luther King, Jr., which ultimately led to the Supreme Court’s outlawing of segregated public transport.
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was an accomplished athlete, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author and political activist. A native of Princeton, NJ he broke down color barriers in the theater, and played many serious classical roles to great acclaim. His career floundered severely at the hands of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who punished him for his political activism and social justice work.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was First Lady from 1933 to 1945, supporting her husband’s New Deal policies, civil rights reform and women’s rights.
Harry Truman (1884-1972) served as president of the United States from 1945-1953. He ordered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, signed the charter of the United Nations, established the Truman Doctrine to aid Turkey and Greece, introduced the Marshall Plan to bolster the European post-war economy and organized NATO.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was an educator, orator, author, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, and leader in the African-American community throughout his life. A much more moderate reformer than some of his contemporaries, Washington believed that education and work, rather than legal and political action, were key to elevating the status of African-Americans.
Walter White (1893-1955) served as executive secretary of the NAACP from 1931 to 1955. During his tenure, he fought lynching, segregation, discriminatory voting practices and racial discrimination. He helped bring about the founding of a federal civil rights commissionand contributed to the Harlem Renaissance as a writer.
Malcolm X (b. Malcolm Little, 1925-1965) was a radical African-American activist, and leader and national spokesperson for the Nation of Islam for almost twelve years before he renounced his membership in 1964. Before his assassination, he traveled to Mecca and founded both Muslim Mosque, Inc., and the Organization of Afro-American Unity.