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Belinda  

Roy E. Finkenbine

a former slave who achieved renown in the era of the American Revolution by laying claim to a portion of the wealth of her former master's estate, was born in the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (later Ghana). Her early years were spent in a village on the Volta River. According to her later memories, it was an Edenic existence. However, when she was about age twelve, the Atlantic slave trade shattered this bucolic world. She was captured in a slaving raid, permanently separated from her parents, marched overland to the coast, and sold to European slave traders. For several weeks she endured the horrific Middle Passage with some three hundred other Africans in chains, who were “suffering the most excruciating torment” (Carretta, 143).

In about 1732, after six or seven years in North America, Belinda became the slave of Isaac Royall Jr. a ...

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Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Bell was born in New York City and educated at the African Free Schools in New York. He rose to national prominence on 25 January 1831, as secretary for a group of black New Yorkers protesting colonization.

Bell's reform work took place on the local and national levels, with an emphasis on black enfranchisement. As a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he served as subscription agent for William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. In addition, Bell advocated the organization of African American self-help programs and opposed segregation in churches and schools. He helped promote the National Negro Conventions of the 1830s and served as the New York delegate at three conventions. As director of the Phoenix Society, he promoted education for African Americans, and as a leader of the New York Political Association, Bell agitated for black suffrage and political rights.

Newspapers helped Bell spread ...

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Clifton H. Johnson

clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received a basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended the Oneida Institute in New York.

Beman was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1839. At about this time he married a woman whose name is not known. In 1841 ...

Article

Susan B. Iwanisziw

commercial painter, artist, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only known child of Jeremiah Bowser from Maryland and Rachel Bustill, daughter of the prosperous black abolitionist and educator Cyrus Bustill. The intermarriage among the region's free black Quaker families headed by Cyrus Bustill, Robert Douglass Sr., Jeremiah Bowser, and David Mapps created a dynamic force that benefited all African Americans and particularly spurred David s personal growth and accomplishments Jeremiah a member of the Benezet Philosophical Society served as a steward on the Liverpool lines and later it seems he was the proprietor of an oyster house near the intersection of 4th and Cherry Streets where David Bowser first hung up his sign as a commercial painter Later the Bowser family moved to the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia into a house at 481 North 4th Street where Bowser remained for the ...

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David Dabydeen

African‐American leader of the abolitionist movement in the United States who toured and lectured in the British Isles. Douglass was born a slave in February 1818 on Holmes Hill Farm on Maryland's eastern shore in the United States. All his life, Douglass was renowned for his oratory skills. He travelled to Great Britain in 1845 because the widespread publicity of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, meant that his former owner in America would be able to track him down and reclaim his ‘property’. His friends thus encouraged him to go on tour in Britain. He set sail on the Cambria for Liverpool on 16 August 1845 and arrived in Ireland where he lectured to crowds who were spellbound by his rhetoric Douglass was known to have verbal stamina and could speak for up to three hours at a time His ...

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James Sellman

Frederick Douglass was more than a great African American leader. He was, in the words of his biographer William S. McFeely, “one of the giants of nineteenth-century America.” He was a man driven by his anger at injustice, McFeely observed, a man who “never ran away from anything”—except the bondage of slavery. Even in that, he took flight not simply to escape but to engage. After gaining his freedom, the former slave turned in his tracks and confronted the institution head-on.

Douglass played a prominent role in nineteenth-century reform movements, not only through his abolitionism but also in his support for women's rights and black suffrage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he stayed true to his principles, remaining steadfast in his commitment to integration and civil rights. Douglass was militant but never a separatist. He rejected the nationalist rhetoric and latter-day conservatism of black abolitionist Martin Robison Delany ...

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David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass lived for twenty years as a slave and nearly nine years as a fugitive slave. From the 1840s to his death in 1895 he attained international fame as an abolitionist, editor, orator, statesman, and the author of three autobiographies that became classics of the slave narrative tradition. Douglass lived to see the Emancipation of the slaves during the Civil War and made a major contribution to interpreting the meaning of those epochal events. He labored for the establishment of black civil rights and witnessed their betrayal during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. He advocated women's rights long before they were achieved.

It took nearly a century after his death for Douglass s work to receive widespread attention in school curriculums and in the scholarly fields of literature and history With the flowering of African American history and culture in the 1960s and a greatly increased attention to slavery ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel Edward Lloyd. Two years later he was sent to Baltimore to labor in the household of Hugh and Sophia Auld, where he remained for the next seven years. In spite of laws against slave literacy, Frederick secretly taught himself to read and write He began studying discarded newspapers and learned of the growing national debate over slavery And he attended local free black churches and found ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

George Thomas Downing was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School #2 on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American males to fight for the elective franchise in New York ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with the future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American men to fight for ...

Article

Eric Gardner

the first child of Hannah Francis and Charles Highgate, was born in Albany, New York. Census records for 1850 list her as living with her parents, three younger siblings, and a boarder in Albany’s Ward 6. Five years later, according to a New York State census, the family had moved to Syracuse. She grew up in a home on the edges of the black middle class; her father was a barber and, along with her mother, also kept a boardinghouse. The Highgates were deeply engaged in abolitionism and broader civil rights struggles and counted among their friends black activists like Jermain Loguen and Caroline Loguen and Henry Highland Garnet and Julia Garnet as well as white Unitarian activist Samuel Joseph May. Highgate attended Syracuse’s Plymouth Congregational Church, a largely white but also deeply anti-slavery body, and in 1861 she was one of the earliest African American students to graduate ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

abolitionist, civil rights activist, and community leader, was born in Pennsylvania. Almost nothing is known of his parents and early life. He relocated to Boston by the mid-1820s and established himself as a hairdresser, a trade that he would pursue most of his life. In 1825 he married the Bostonian Lavinia F. Ames. The couple had six children over the next dozen years: an unnamed daughter who died in 1826, Lucretia (b. 1828), Louisa (b. 1829), John W. (b. 1831), Henry (b. 1834), and Thomas (b. 1837).

In addition to plying his trade and raising a family, Hilton established himself as a leader in Boston's black community by the late 1820s. He joined the African Baptist Church and became a protégé of the Reverend Thomas Paul the congregation s pastor With Paul s guidance he served as a lay leader ...

Article

Colleen Cyr

barber, orator, and activist, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Mary Ann (Campbell) and George W. Jeffrey. George's father was one of the first trustees of the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church of Middletown that was formed in 1828. Middletown's small black activist community shaped the life and work of George S. Jeffrey. There were several intermarriages between the Jeffrey family and the family of the Reverend Jehiel C. Beman, Cross Street AME Zion's first minister. Jeffrey's maternal aunt Clarissa Marie Campbell Beman founded the Middletown Colored Female Anti-Slavery Society. Citizens of color of Middletown, including his grandparents, uncles, and father, petitioned the Connecticut state legislature seven times between 1838 and 1843 over such issues as repealing the “Canterbury Law” (which effectively restricted young women of color from attending the boarding school founded for them by Prudence Crandall ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

probably the second black attorney to be admitted to practice law in the United States, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to York Morris, a waiter, and Nancy Thomas. His grandfather, Cumons Morris, was brought to the United States from Africa while York Morris gained his freedom in 1781 and moved to Salem, working as a waiter. There he married Nancy Thomas, who gave birth to Robert and ten other children. Morris attended a private school in Salem and then became a waiter like his father. At age thirteen he moved to Boston under the patronage of the abolitionist attorney Ellis Gray Loring. Initially he was a servant in the Loring home; then he became a clerk in Loring's office, mostly copying documents. In 1844 be began reading law in Loring's office, and in 1847 shortly after his twenty first birthday he passed the Massachusetts bar ...

Article

Lynn Hudson

Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, probably sometime in 1852. For the next fifty years, she worked as cook, accountant, abolitionist, and entrepreneur in the bustling town on the bay. Histories of the West describe her as madam, voodoo queen, and prostitute. Pleasant herself requested that the words “she was a friend of John Brown’s” be printed on her gravestone, indicating her own desire to be remembered as an abolitionist. She was the target of what one historian has called an “avid conspiracy” that sought to silence her, and it was said that she harbored the skeletons of San Francisco’s elite in her closet.

The folklore about Pleasant reveals conflicting stories of her background (some say she was from Georgia, others Virginia), but Pleasant herself claimed she was born in Philadelphia She described her mother as a free colored woman and her ...

Article

One of San Francisco's most colorful and controversial characters in the late nineteenth century was Mary Ellen Pleasant, a former slave who moved to the city in 1849. She began managing a boarding house whose reputation for cards, liquor, and beautiful women—it is likely her services included procuring prostitutes—earned it a devoted following.

No mere businesswoman, Pleasant involved herself in both local and national politics. In 1858, she personally presented abolitionist John Brown with a $30,000 U.S. Treasury Bond, after which she traveled south to promote his upcoming revolt. When Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, Pleasant returned to California under an assumed name, where she raised money for the Union cause in the Civil War, and continued her work for civil rights.

Throughout her life Pleasant helped escaped and former slaves find work in San Francisco mostly as domestic servants Some historians speculate that Pleasant ...

Article

Frank R. Levstik

James P. Poindexter was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Evelina Atkinson, a woman of African American and Cherokee descent, and Joseph Poindexter, a white journalist for the Richmond Enquirer. Poindexter attended school in Richmond until his tenth year, when he began an apprenticeship as a barber, an occupation he practiced for many years. In 1837 he married Adelia Atkinson. During 1837 the Poindexters moved to Dublin, Ohio, a village sixteen kilometers (ten miles) north of Columbus. Dissatisfied with life in this farming community, they moved to Columbus the following year, residing there for the remainder of their lives.

Soon after settling in Columbus, Poindexter joined Second Baptist Church, where he preached and officiated when there was no regular minister. In 1847 an African American family that had previously owned slaves in Virginia joined the church Although the family had sold the slaves ...

Article

J. D. Bowers

minister, educator, civil servant, and social activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Evelina Atkinson, of both African American and Cherokee descent, and Joseph Poindexter, a white newspaperman. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding his birth or of the nature of his parents' relationship, only that his mother passed away when he was four. At the age of ten he became an apprentice barber and practiced the trade for the next twenty-eight years.

Poindexter left Virginia at the age of eighteen, having already married his wife, Adelia maiden name unknown and moved to Dublin Ohio and soon thereafter settled in Columbus which then had the state s largest population of African Americans Because of his mixed blood and light complexion Poindexter although it was known that he was African American was allowed to actively participate in the political process and even to vote a right not ...

Article

Michael F. Hembree

abolitionist and activist, was born in New York City, the son of Edward Powell, a slave. His mother's name is unknown. A passport application later described Powell as “of mulatto colour but of Indian extraction.” He apparently received some education before becoming an apprentice sailor and spending several years at sea in the 1820s. By the early 1830s he had settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an active whaling port, and established a boardinghouse for sailors. He married Mercy O. Haskins of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1832; they had seven children.

Powell readily embraced the immediate abolitionism of William Lloyd Garrison and participated in the immediatist movement from its beginnings in the early 1830s He signed the constitution of the American Anti Slavery Society and joined the New England Anti Slavery Society Powell s abolitionism emanated from a deeply held religious conviction that slavery was a sin and ...

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Martha L. Wharton

abolitionist, writer, lecturer, women's rights activist, and social critic, was born Nancy Gardner in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the daughter of an African American and Indian mother and an African American father, Thomas Gardner, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and died within three months of Nancy's birth. What is known about her is drawn primarily from her 1850 memoir, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. While Prince does not name her mother in her narrative, she provides descriptions of both parents that highlight their African descent, and she recounts her grandfather's violent removal to America, along with his memories of a proud life in Africa. She briefly notes the capture of her Indian grandmother by local English colonials. Her narrative speaks clearly to issues of race, gender, slavery, and morality in the United States and the Caribbean.

Prince s childhood ...