William Edward Burghardt Du Bois February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, socialist, historian and Pan-Africanist civil rights activist. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Du Bois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
Robert Smalls (April 5, 1839 – February 23, 1915) was an American politician, publisher, businessman, and maritime pilot. Born into slavery in Beaufort, South Carolina, he freed himself, his crew, and their families during the American Civil War by commandeering a Confederate transport ship, CSS Planter, in Charleston harbor, on May 13, 1862, and sailing it from Confederate-controlled waters of the harbor to the U.S. blockade that surrounded it. After the American Civil War he returned to Beaufort and became a politician, winning election as a Republican to the South Carolina Legislature and the United States House of Representatives during the Reconstruction era.
Anna Julia Haywood Cooper (1858-1964) was a writer, teacher, and activist who championed education for African Americans and women.
Born into bondage in 1858 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Anna Haywood married George A.G. Cooper, a teacher of theology at Saint Augustine’s, in 1877. When her husband died two years later, Cooper decided to pursue a college degree. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio on a scholarship, earning a BA in 1884 and a masters degree in mathematics in 1887. After graduation, Cooper worked at Wilberforce University and Saint Augustine’s before moving to Washington, D.C. to teach at Washington Colored High School. During her years as a teacher and principal at M Street High School, Cooper also completed her first book, titled A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, published in 1892, and delivered many speeches calling for civil rights and women’s rights.
On February 27, 1964, Cooper died in Washington, DC at the age of 105.
This month will feature quotes from individuals who were born free.
Egbert “Bert” Austin Williams was one of the greatest entertainers in America’s history. Born in the Bahamas on November 12, 1874, he came to the United States permanently in 1885. Williams met George Walker in San Francisco in 1893 and the two formed what became the most successful comedy team of their time. When Walker retired in 1908 due to illness, Williams starred in Mr. Load of Koal (1909)–the last black musical on Broadway for more than ten years. Unable to continue producing shows without Walker, Williams signed on with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1910–the only black performer in this famous review. He explained this controversial move saying, “… colored show business is at a low ebb just now … it was far better to have joined a large white show than to have starred in a colored show, considering conditions.” Williams stayed with the Follies through 1919, after which he appeared with Eddie Cantor in Broadway Brevities (1920) and Under the Bamboo Tree (1921-22). While on tour with the latter show, his failing health caught up with him and he contracted pneumonia. Williams died in New York City on March 4, 1922.
Harriet Jacobs was an African-American writer whose autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published in 1861 under the pseudonym Linda Brent, is now considered an “American classic”. Born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina, in Feb of 1811 she was sexually harassed by her enslaver. She was the first woman to write a fugitive slave narrative.