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Edward Wilmot Blyden. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ6-1944).

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Blyden, Edward Wilmot (03 August 1832–12 February 1912), advocate of Pan Africanism, was born on the island of St. Thomas, part of the present-day Virgin Islands, the son of Romeo Blyden, a tailor, and Judith (maiden name unknown), a schoolteacher. The family lived in a predominantly Jewish, English-speaking community in the capital, Charlotte-Amalie. Blyden went to the local primary school but also received private tutoring from his father. In 1842 the Blydens left St. Thomas for Porto Bello, Venezuela, where Blyden showed his facility for learning foreign languages. By 1844 the family had returned home to St. Thomas. Blyden attended school only in the morning, and in the afternoons he served a five-year apprenticeship as a tailor. In 1845 the Blyden family met the Reverend John P. Knox, a famous white American minister who had assumed pastorship of the Dutch Reformed Church in St. Thomas, where the Blydens were members. Knox quickly became Blyden’s mentor and encouraged his academic studies and oratorical skills. Because of Knox’s influence, Blyden decided to become a clergyman, an aspiration his parents supported....

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Briggs, Cyril Valentine (28 May 1888–18 October 1966), journalist, Pan-Africanist, black nationalist, and Communist, was born in Nevis, West Indies, now part of St. Kitts–Nevis. His mother, Marian Huggins, was black, while his father, Louis E. Briggs, a plantation owner, was white. He graduated from the Ebenezer Wesleyan school in 1904. As a youth he worked as a library assistant and later as a reporter for the ...

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Crummell, Alexander (03 March 1819–10 September 1898), clergyman, activist, and Pan-Africanist, was born in New York City, the son of Charity Hicks, a freeborn woman of Long Island, New York, and Boston Crummell, an African of the Temne people, probably from the region that is now Sierra Leone. Boston Crummell had been captured and brought to the United States as a youth. The circumstances of his emancipation are not clear, but it is said that he simply refused to serve his New York owners any longer after reaching adulthood. Boston Crummell established a small oyster house in the African Quarter of New York. Alexander Crummell received his basic education at the African Free School in Manhattan. In 1835 he traveled to Canaan, New Hampshire, along with his friends Thomas Sidney and ...

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Cuffe, Paul (17 January 1759–07 September 1817), entrepreneur and Pan-Africanist, was born Paul Slocum on Cuttyhunk Island near New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of Coffe Slocum, a freedman from West Africa, and Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Native American. Cuffe moved with his family from insular Cuttyhunk and Martha’s Vineyard to mainland Dartmouth, a bustling maritime community. After his father’s death, Cuffe shipped out on local vessels bound for the Caribbean. He was twice jailed, once in New York during the American Revolution, when the British blockade captured the vessel he was on, and later in Massachusetts, when Dartmouth selectmen ordered him and his older brother John confined for tax evasion. Unable to vote because of their color, they had unsuccessfully petitioned the Massachusetts legislature not to tax them....

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Martin Robison Delany. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum.

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Delany, Martin Robison (06 May 1812–24 January 1885), black nationalist, was born in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), the son of Samuel Delany, a slave, and Pati Peace, a free black seamstress. In 1822 his mother moved the family to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to avoid punishment for violating state law after whites discovered that she had taught her five children to read and write. In 1823 Samuel joined the family after he had, with his wife’s assistance, purchased his freedom. In 1832 Martin Delany moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the next year began an apprenticeship with Andrew N. McDowell, a local white doctor. In 1843 he married Catherine Richards. The couple had seven children, whom Delany proudly named after famous blacks. After being rejected by a number of medical schools, he entered Harvard Medical School in 1850 but was dismissed under the pressure of student protests....

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Marcus Garvey Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109626).

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Garvey, Marcus (17 August 1887–10 June 1940), black nationalist, was born Marcus Moziah Garvey in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, the son of Marcus Moziah Garvey, a stonemason, and Sarah Jane Richards. He attended the local elementary school and read widely on his own. Difficult family finances forced him into employment at age fourteen as a printer’s apprentice. Three years later he moved to Kingston, found work as a printer, and became involved in local union activities. In 1907 he took part in an unsuccessful printers’ strike. These early experiences honed his journalistic skills and raised his consciousness about the bleak conditions of the black working class in his native land....

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Logan, Rayford Whittingham (07 January 1897–04 November 1981), historian of the African diaspora, university professor, and civil rights and Pan-Africanist activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Arthur Logan and Martha Whittingham, domestic workers. Two circumstances of Logan’s parents are germane to his later life and work. Although he grew up in modest circumstances, his parents enjoyed a measure of status in the Washington black community owing to his father’s employment as a butler in the household of Frederic Walcott, Republican senator from Connecticut. And the Walcotts took an interest in the Logan family, providing them with occasional gifts, including money to purchase a house. The Walcotts also took an interest in Rayford Logan’s education, presenting him with books and later, in the 1920s and 1930s, introducing him to influential whites in government. Logan grew up on family lore about the antebellum free Negro heritage of the Whittinghams. It is open to question how much of what he heard was factual; nevertheless, he learned early to make class distinctions among African Americans and to believe that his elite heritage also imposed on him an obligation to help lead his people to freedom and equality....

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Michaux, Lewis H. (04 August 1885–25 August 1976), bookseller and black nationalist, was born in Newport News, Virginia, the son of Henry Michaux and Blanche Pollard. Some uncertainty about his birthdate exists because his death certificate from the New York Vital Records Department lists it as 23 August 1884. Before coming to New York, Michaux worked variously as a pea-picker, window-washer, and deacon in the Philadelphia church of his brother, Solomon Lightfoot Michaux. According to Edith Glover, his secretary while a deacon, Michaux started selling books in Philadelphia with an inventory of five. When he founded his bookstore in 1932 in Harlem, he still had only a few books with him, including ...

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Singleton, Benjamin (15 August 1809–1892), black nationalist and land promoter, known as “Pap,” was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee. Little is known about the first six decades of his life. In his old age Singleton reminisced that his master had sold him to buyers as far away as Alabama and Mississippi several times, but that each time he had escaped and returned to Nashville. Tiring of this treatment, he ran away to Windsor, Ontario, and shortly thereafter moved to Detroit. There he quietly opened a boardinghouse for escaped slaves and supported himself by scavenging. In 1865 he came home to Edgefield, Tennessee, across the Cumberland River from Nashville, and supported himself as a cabinetmaker and carpenter....

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Whitfield, James Monroe (10 April 1822–23 April 1871), African-American poet, abolitionist, and emigrationist, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, the son of parents whose names are unknown. Little else is known of his family except that he had a sister, a wife, two sons, and a daughter....