Ralph Ellison Ralph Ellison
Ralph Waldo Ellison was born March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Lewis Alfred and Ida Millsap Ellison. At the beginning of this century, Oklahoma had not been a state for very long and was still considered a part of the frontier. Lewis and Ida Ellison had each grown up in the South to parents who had been slaves. The couple moved out west to Oklahoma hoping the lives of their children would be fueled with a sense of possibility in this state that was reputed for its freedom. Though the prejudices of Texas and Arkansas soon encroached upon Oklahoma, the open spaces and fighting spirit of the people whom Ellison grew up among did provide him with a relatively unbiased atmosphere.
The death of Lewis Ellison in 1917 left Ida, Ralph, and his younger brother Herbert quite poor. To support the family, Ida worked as a domestic and stewardess at the Avery Chapel Afro-Methodist Episcopal Church. The family moved into the parsonage and Ellison was brought into close contact with the minister's library. Literature was a destined medium for Ellison, whose father named him after Ralph Waldo Emerson and hoped that he would be a poet. His enthusiasm for reading was encouraged over the years of his youth by his mother bringing books and magazines home for him from the houses she cleaned. In addition, a black episcopal priest in the city challenged the white custom of barring blacks from the public library and the custom was overturned. Ellison's horizons were broadened to a world outside his own sheltered life in Oklahoma City, by the many books now available to him in the library.
During his teenage years, Ellison and his friends imagined being the eclectic combination of frontiersmen and Renaissance Men. The ideal they created gave them the courage to expect anything out of life. They believed that they had the ability and power to do whatever they wanted in life as well as or better than men of any race. Ellison first used this...
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