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Article

Nathan Zook

minister, civil rights leader, and member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, was born Avery Caesar Alexander in the town of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to a family of sharecroppers. The names of his parents are not known. Seventeen years later, his family moved to New Orleans. Avery Alexander maintained an active life there and in Baton Rouge for the next seventy-two years.

Prior to his election to the Louisiana legislature, Alexander was employed as a longshoreman. At the same time, he pursued an education by taking night courses, receiving his high school diploma from Gilbert Academy in 1939. He became politically active by working as a labor union operative for a longshoreman's union, Local 1419. He also held the occupations of real estate broker and insurance agent.

Alexander received a degree in theology from Union Baptist Theological Seminary and became an ordained Baptist minister ...

Article

Peter Wallenstein

educator and civil rights litigant, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. The Alstons owned their home, and Melvin grew up in a middle-class environment. After attending Norfolk's segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated in 1935 from Virginia State College, where he was honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship. Following graduation he began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men's Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church.

Alston played a key role in an effort by black teachers in the Norfolk city public schools to challenge racial discrimination in their salaries. In 1937 the Virginia Teachers Association VTA and ...

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Joy Gleason Carew

civil rights lawyer, community activist, editor, and publisher, was born in Winston, North Carolina, the sixth and last son of nine children of Simon Green and Oleona Pegram Atkins. His father was the founder and first president of the Slater Industrial Academy, later known as Winston‐Salem State University. Atkins graduated from the Slater Academy in 1915 and then went to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating magna cum laude in chemistry in 1919.

When Atkins obtained his LLB cum laude at Yale University in 1922, he was the first African American to graduate with honors from that institution. While there, Atkins was a member of the debate team and served as a monitor of the Yale Law Library, where he oversaw the indexing of thirty‐one volumes of the Yale Law Journal. In 1921 he was the first African American elected to the editorial board of the Yale ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Marine Corps soldier in the Vietnam War and‐Medal of Honor winner, was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, the son of Frank and Mildred Austin, and‐was raised in Phoenix, Arizona. A graduate of Phoenix Union High School, Austin was inducted for service in the U.S. Marine Corps during the height of the Vietnam War on 22 April 1968. Upon joining the marines, he was sent to boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California, and served as a member of the Third Recruit Training Battalion through July 1968. Austin subsequently received individual combat and infantryman training at Camp Pendleton, California, from August to September 1968 as part of the Second Infantry Training Regiment, following which, in October 1968, he was promoted to private first class. Later that month, on 15 October he was sent to the Republic of Vietnam for his first tour of ...

Article

Lili C. Behm

politician and civil rights activist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the youngest son of Adlena (Gilliam) and Earnest Barbee, the latter a painting contractor and the first African American member of the Tennessee state contractor's union. Lloyd Barbee became involved with the struggle for African Americans’ civil rights when he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1937 at age twelve. Though his family lived in poverty in the Depression‐era Jim Crow South, Barbee's father and uncles encouraged him to pursue higher education. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, Barbee earned his bachelor of arts degree at Memphis's all‐black LeMoyne College in 1949, and decided to pursue legal studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Law School. He had received a scholarship to the school, and sought to leave behind virulent Southern racism.

Though he suspended his studies out ...

Article

Mayda Grano de Oro

José Celso Barbosa played a key role in the politics of the Spanish-American War, denouncing the Creoles' political aspirations. At the same time, his involvement reflected the complexities and contradictions in race issues confronted by black Puerto Ricans at the time. Barbosa's achievements were not typical of blacks in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. He represented the “self-made man” that came from humble origins. He had the opportunity to study at the only institution of secondary education on the island, thanks to the determination of his aunt. He completed his studies in the Jesuit seminary before going to the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, where he graduated in 1880. His experience in the United States made him an admirer of republican ideals for social equality and justice.

When Barbosa returned to Puerto Rico he started his medical practice and became a member ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born in Salvador, Bahia, Rui Barbosa de Oliveira studied at the law academies of Recife and São Paulo, where he met Antônio de Castro Alves, the “Poet of the Slaves,” and future abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco. Barbosa's abolitionist campaign began in 1869, when he organized the conference “O Elemento Servil” (The Servile Element). Although the slave trade had been outlawed on November 7, 1831, slaves who had entered Brazil before that time remained in bondage, and many Africans had since been illegally enslaved. At the Elemento Servil conference, Barbosa condemned slavery on legal grounds by invoking this 1831 law.

In the following years Barbosa frequently challenged the proslavery Conservative Party. During the provincial elections of 1874 he criticized the Free Womb Law, which freed the children of all female slaves, as “a superficial improvement.” In 1884 he joined a reform cabinet led by Manoel Dantas ...

Article

David A. Spatz

attorney and journalist. Ferdinand Lee Barnett was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1859. His father, born a slave, purchased his freedom and worked much of his life as a blacksmith. The family moved to Canada soon after Ferdinand was born and then to Chicago in 1869. Barnett was educated in Chicago schools, graduating from high school in 1874 with high honors. After teaching in the South for two years, he returned to Chicago and attended Chicago College of Law, later affiliated with Northwestern Law School.

Barnett graduated from law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1878. Rather than immediately practicing law, he founded the Conservator, Chicago's first African American newspaper. The Conservator was a radical voice for justice and racial solidarity as means to equal rights for African Americans. The Conservator also drew national attention to Barnett He served as Chicago ...

Article

Brett Gadsden

teacher, civil rights activist, plaintiff in Belton v. Gebhart (1952), a companion case to Brown v. Board of Education (1954), was born in Hazelhurse, Georgia, the daughter of Glover and Ida Hall.

Around 1948, almost a decade after her husband Louis passed away, Ethel Belton moved with her seven children to Claymont, Delaware, a suburban community northwest of Wilmington, Delaware, to join her extended family. There she taught general education in a one-room school. Her daughter, Ethel Louise Belton was eleven years old at the time of the move and was later assigned to Howard High School the only free public school for blacks in the entire state at the time Located in Wilmington it was a fifty minute nine mile commute for Ethel Louise who had a congenital heart condition Although Claymont High School the school for white children in ...

Article

Charles F. Casey-Leninger

first black mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, to a white farmer whom he never knew and Cora Berry. When he was a toddler, Berry's mother brought him to Cincinnati, where they settled in the emerging African American community in the city's West End. Severely hearing impaired and with difficulty speaking, his mother earned little as a domestic, and Berry's sister Anna, fifteen years his senior, eventually assembled the family in her own household.

Berry attended the segregated Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School and graduated from the racially mixed Woodward High School in 1924 as valedictorian, the first black student in Cincinnati to achieve that honor in an integrated high school. Berry received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1928 and his juris doctorate from the UC College of Law in 1931 He worked his way through school by selling ...

Article

Carlos Dalmau

Although he was officially considered white, Ramón Emeterio Betances proudly affirmed that he was of African descent. Born to a well-to-do family in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, Betances was sent to study in Toulouse, France at the age of ten. He later moved to Paris and in 1855 graduated from medical school.

In 1856 Betances returned to Puerto Rico. At that time an epidemic of cholera hit the island and killed more than 30,000 people from all social levels of the population. The plague lasted more than a year and Betances was exceptionally compassionate in looking after poor patients, including slaves. His medical service to the underprivileged and oppressed during the plague caused him to become known as “doctor of the poor.”

The colony s political and social problems concerned Betances as much as the health of his patients Convinced that slavery was the cruelest institution of the colonial ...

Article

J. D. Jackson

civil rights attorney and political activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. One of three sons, he attended Birmingham public schools, including the city's first and oldest, and, at one time, the South's largest African American high school, Industrial (A. H. Parker) High.

After graduating from high school Billingsley attended two highly respected, historically black institutions of higher learning. The first was Talladega College, a private liberal arts college located in Alabama, fifty miles east of Birmingham. He graduated with high honors in 1946 and headed for Washington, D.C., where he attended Howard University School of Law. He earned his law degree there in 1950. Afterward, he returned to Alabama, where he was admitted to the Alabama state bar in 1951, one of the first ten African Americans to do so.

Instantly Billingsley threw himself behind the post World War II fight for full black citizenship in America Always ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Edward Wilmot Blyden is considered a pioneer in Pan-Africanist thought, although the term “Pan-Africanism” was not coined until the very end of Blyden's long life and career. Throughout his career as a diplomat, statesman, educator, and one of Liberia's most prominent champions, Blyden encouraged people of African descent around the world to embrace their history and culture, and to return to Africa, their ancestral homeland. His call for “Africa for Africans” represented a vision that was truly ahead of its time, that of a proud, rich, black civilization spread throughout the African continent. Blyden's writings and speeches influenced leaders and philosophers such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, and C. L. R. James.

Blyden was born in 1832 into a middle-class free black family in Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands Although he was brought up in relative privilege ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Paul Bogle is a beloved figure in Jamaica. Although his legal status at the time of his birth is unclear, most scholars believe that he was born free in Stony Gut, Jamaica, in 1822. He operated a small independent farm there and became a lay preacher in the Native Baptist Church. His affiliation with this antislavery branch of the Baptist Church brought him into contact with British and Jamaican abolitionists, including activist George Gordon. Methodist and Baptist leaders, as well as leaders of other religious denominations, were active participants in the antislavery struggle. As a result, members of local black congregations like Bogle's were often exposed to antislavery debates, pamphlets, and sermons.

When slavery was abolished in 1834 blacks in Jamaica were promised freedom at the end of what turned out to be a four year period known as apprenticeship The apprenticeship policy forced slaves ...

Article

Joseph P. Reidy

Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley's youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In Boston he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freed people who were resisting President Andrew Johnson's policy of restoring plantation land to its antebellum owners Bradley ...

Article

Robert Ross

South African lawyer and politician, was born in Cape Town on 6 December 1823. His father, Christoffel J. Brand, a member of a leading Cape family, was a noted journalist and parliamentarian and the first speaker of the Cape Parliament in 1854. Brand Sr. had presented a doctoral thesis to Leiden University in 1820 on the rights of colonists, which the British might have considered treasonable if it had not been written in Latin. By the 1840s he, along with a number of his fellow Dutch-speaking settlers, decided to cooperate with British rule, believing, accurately as it would turn out, that they would be able to dominate democratic institutions in the colony when they were eventually granted.

Jan, as he was known, followed his father to Leiden University in the Netherlands, where he studied law, and thereafter he was admitted to the British Bar. In 1849 ...

Article

After schooling and naval service in France, the Italian-born Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza became a naturalized French citizen in 1874. The following year he led his first official trip to Africa to explore Gabon. From 1875 to 1878 he traveled along the Gabon coast and up the Ogooué River to its source, also reaching the Alima River, a tributary of the Congo River. In 1880, in competition with American journalist and explorer Henry Stanley, Brazza traveled into the Congo River basin interior. There he signed a treaty with leaders of the Téké people, clearing the way for French control of the northern bank of the Congo River, an area that would be known as the Moyen-Congo. He served as general commissioner of the Moyen-Congo from 1884 to 1898, establishing the town that became Brazzaville and building the colonial administration As commissioner Brazza became disenchanted with ...

Article

Linda M. Carter

state legislator, attorney, police officer, and social worker, was born Cora Mae Brown in Bessemer, Alabama, the only child of Richard and Alice Brown. Her father and mother were employed as a tailor and cook respectively. In 1922 the family moved to Detroit when Brown was seven years old. After graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1931, Brown attended Fisk University and received a degree in sociology in 1935.

Brown returned to Detroit, and until 1941, she was employed as a social worker. After working for the Children's Aid Bureau, Old Age Assistance Bureau, and the Works Progress Administration, Brown, as a policewoman in the Women's Division of the Detroit Police Department from 1941 to 1946, prepared legal cases. In 1946 Brown enrolled in Wayne State University's School of Law; she received her LL.B degree in 1948 and passed ...

Article

Cheryl Dudley

attorney, judge, and civil rights activist, was born in Huntington, West Virginia, to the Reverend William Roderick Brown and Maria Wiggins Rowlett Brown. He attended Virginia Union University in Richmond and in 1923 earned a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, graduating third in a class of twenty-two students.

Following his graduation in October 1923, Brown joined the Allegheny County Bar Association and became active in his community to reduce crime and improve the quality of life for youth. He married Wilhelmina Byrd in 1927, and the couple had one son, Byrd Rowlett Brown who also became a well known attorney and civil rights activist in Pittsburgh During the 1930s when there was an increase in crime as a result of the Great Depression Brown chaired the Friendly Service Bureau a committee established to help reduce crime in Pittsburgh Along with the help of the ...

Article

William C. Harris

a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was the light-skinned favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master's son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri, where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal.

After the war Bruce briefly attended ...