Chapter 1Introduction

She was black. And poor. Still she rose remarkably from a life of discrimination and abuse in 1950s America to become a key figure in the civil rights movement. She was at the heart of the struggle, a prominent campaign organiser who worked for both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X prior to each of their assassinations. Even after the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, this young radical would continue to be at the forefront of the fight for social justice and women's rights.

Her continuing interest in social causes led her to take a job as a globe-trotting journalist, first for The Arab Observer in Cairo and then the Ghanaian Times in Accra. Extensive travels allowed her to satisfy her linguistic curiosity, and she would come to know a variety of European, Middle Eastern and West African languages. By the end of her life, she was considered an eminent historian of African-American affairs, with 30 honorary doctorates and a professorship at a major American university.

Accomplishment in politics, journalism, history and languages is a familiar, albeit impressive, career route. But what if I told you that the same young lady was also a professional Calypso dancer, a Tony Award–nominated theatre actress and an acclaimed film director who also happened to write a Pulitzer Prize–nominated screenplay? And all these accomplishments are not even what she's most famous for.

Ultimately, she was known as a literary giant – an outstandingly popular and critically ...

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