Henry Dumas was born on July 20, 1934, in Sweet Home, Arkansas, and moved to Harlem at the age of ten. He graduated from Commerce High School and studied at City College in New York before a stint in the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed on the Arabian Peninsula (which piqued his abiding interest in Arabic culture) and in San Antonio, Texas. Following discharge, Dumas attended Rutgers University, worked for a year at IBM, and taught at Southern Illinois University's Experiment in Higher Education in East St. Louis from 1967 to 1968. An editor, supporter of, and contributor to numerous small magazines, Dumas was also active in the Civil Rights Movement and a seminal force in the Black Arts Movement. On May 23, 1968, Dumas was shot and killed by a New York City Transit policeman in the subway.