Countee Cullen was possibly born on May 30, although because of different accounts of the actual date in his early life, a general application of the year of his birth as 1903 is reasonable. He was either born in New York, Baltimore, or Lexington, Kentucky. Although his late wife was convinced that he was born in Lexington. Cullen was possibly abandoned by his mother, and raised by a woman named Mrs. Porter. Mrs. Porter was thought to be his paternal grandmother.
Porter brought young Countee to Harlem when he was nine. Sadly she was taken from young Countee in 1918. No known reliable information exists of his childhood until 1918 when he was adopted by Reverend and Mrs Frederick A. Cullen of Harlem, New York City. The Reverend was the local minister and founder of the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church.
When Cullen entered high school he went to DeWitt Clinton High School in The Bronx. He excelled at school academically while emphasizing his skills at poetry and in oratorical contest. At DeWitt he was elected into the honor society, editor of the weekly newspaper, and elected vice-president of his graduating class. He was an all around star at his school. In January 1922, he graduated with honors in Latin, Greek, Mathematics, and French.
After graduating high school, he started attending New York University. In 1923, he won second prize in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest, which was sponsored by the Poetry Society of America. He won with a poem entitled The Ballad of the Brown Girl. At around this time some of his poetry was featured in the national periodicals such as Harper's, Crisis, Opportunity, The Bookman, and Poetry. The following year he again placed second in the contest and finally winning it in 1925. Cullen competed in a poetry contest sponsored by Opportunity and came in second with To One Who Say Me Nay, while losing to Langston Hughes's The Weary Blues. Sometime thereafter, Cullen graduated from NYU as one of eleven students selected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Cullen entered Harvard in 1925 to pursue a masters in English, about the same time his first collection of poems, Color, was published. Written in a careful, traditional style, the work praised black beauty and exposed the effects of racism. The book included "Heritage" and "Incident", probably his most famous poems. "Yet Do I Marvel", was about racial identity and injustice, it showed the influence the writings of William Wordsworth and William Blake, but its subject was far from the world of their Romantic sonnets.
Cullen's Color was a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance. He graduated Harvard with a masters degree in 1926.The...