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Amazing African Americans

Mills College Weekly

Dr. Maya Angelou has been a Renaissance woman throughout her life in more ways than many people are aware. Most widely known as a poet, she is also an actress, screenwriter and civil rights activist. She was the first African-American woman to conduct a cable car in San Francisco and the first African-American woman to direct films in Hollywood.

In 1944, World War II opened up jobs to African American women that would have otherwise not been available to them. Angelou was among those who stepped up to fill abandoned jobs by becoming a cable car conductor.

In 1953, she changed her name from Marguerite Johnson to her now famous moniker, initially as a stage name while performing at the Purple Onion. Angelou launched her acting/singing career at this same nightclub in San Francisco, and performed in a world-wide tour the next year with the Everyman's Opera Company's production of Porgy and Bess.

In 1959, Angelou moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. and joined the Harlem Writers Guild. There, she met both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and at King's request became the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's northern coordinator. Six years later she moved to Africa with her new husband Vusumi Make, a freedom fighter, where she became an associate editor for the Arab Observer, and later the feature editor of the African Review.

Angelou moved back to the United States in 1970 and published her first novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou later wrote a screenplay and a television mini-series, and in 1974 became the first African-American female movie director in Hollywood.

-Natasha Daggs

Amazing African Americans

Mills College Weekly

Paul Robeson was an accomplished lawyer, actor, activist, athlete and scholar. He received his law degree from Columbia University in 1923 where he met his wife Eslanda Cardozo Goode, the first black woman to head a pathology laboratory. He turned to a life of theater and activism after a white secretary in a law firm he worked for refused to work for him, although he continued to face overt racism. Although wildly popular in the United States, this was the only country where Robeson had to enter the theater he performed in through the back door.

Robeson sang in twenty-five languages and spread messages of equality all over the world. He was a black nationalist and an anti-colonialist. His activism during the Cold War earned him a place among many others who were considered enemies of the state, and his passport was revoked. This act effectively ended his career on stage and his active public presence.

Robeson was the son of Rev. William Drew Robeson and the socially prominent Maria Louisa Bustill in New Jersey in April 1898. His father was formerly enslaved and raised Robeson by himself after Robeson's mother died in 1903. Robeson attended Rutgers University on a full scholarship and was the valedictorian of his class in 1919. He was named a Phi Beta Kappa scholar and he also belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society. In the face of hostile and brutal racism he not only excelled academically and theatrically, but in sports as well. He played baseball, basketball and track, and was chosen to play for the All American Football team. He later starred in the controversial All God's Chillun Got Wings by Eugene O'Neill in 1924, and is known for the musical Showboat where he added his own words to the song "Old Man River". His films include Body and Soul, Jericho and Proud Valley.

A true renaissance man, Robeson will be remembered for his pro-black messages and his fight for the rights of all third world peoples.