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Article

Diane L. Barnes

The American Missionary Association formed in 1846 in Albany, New York, as an alliance of Christian abolitionists who chose not to associate with the existing missionary agencies operated by various Protestant denominations. The spark for the formation of the association dates to the plight of the Amistad captives in 1839. This group of Africans enslaved in violation of international law successfully revolted against their captors aboard a Spanish slave ship—but ended up on trial in the United States when the ship drifted into a harbor on Long Island, New York. The well-publicized trial led many northern abolitionists to push mainstream missionary organizations, including the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, to assist the Amistad voyagers in their return to Africa but the organizations refused The frustrations of these Christian abolitionists led to the formation of three groups the Union Missionary Society the Western Evangelical Mission Society and ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a teacher who opened the public schools of Philadelphia to children of color, and was the city's first school principal of African descent, was born Cordelia A. Jennings in New York City, the oldest child of a Scottish father, whose first name has not been published, but is recalled by descendants as William, and Mary McFarland Jennings, a school teacher born in Virginia.

In 1850, at the age of seven, Jennings was living in Philadelphia with her mother, sister Caroline, brother William, and brother Mifflin, and an older person named Annie Meda in a racially mixed neighborhood populated by shoemakers turners and carvers of known African descent as well as cooks and blacksmiths listed as white in the federal census Since Mifflin the youngest child was two years old the family had evidently lost their husband and father only recently Mifflin was also the only child ...

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Sharon E. Wood

former slave, entrepreneur, steamboat worker, nurse, and church founder, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1801 or 1804. Although her father was a white man and also her master, his name is unknown. Her mother, Lydia, was his slave. While she was still a child, Baltimore's father sold her to a trader who carried her to the St. Louis area. Over the next few years, she passed among several masters, including the New Orleans judge Joachim Bermudez, working as a house servant for French, Spanish, and Anglo-American households in Louisiana and eastern Missouri.

In New Orleans Baltimore joined the Methodist Church Her piety so impressed one preacher that he purchased her then allowed her to hire her own time and buy her freedom Baltimore worked as a chambermaid on steamboats and as a lying in nurse According to tradition it took her seven years to earn the ...

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Mary Anne Boelcskevy

singer and actor, was born Ada Scott in Kansas City, Kansas, the daughter of H. W. and Anna Morris Scott. (Some scholars list her as being born on 1 May 1889 in Junction City, Kansas.) Nothing is known about her education, except that she began piano lessons at an early age. She also started singing in the local church choir, developing the voice that the historian Bruce Kellner calls “full, rich, and mellow” (Kellner, 55). Indeed, musical ability ran in Brown's family: Her cousin was renowned ragtime pianist and composer James Sylvester Scott.

Brown's professional life began in 1910, when she became a performer at Bob Mott's Pekin Theater in Chicago. Barely out of her teens, Brown also performed in clubs in Paris, France, and Berlin, Germany. In the early 1920s Brown joined Bennie Moten s band which was considered the Midwest s preeminent band During ...

Article

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing nearly four million American slaves. But as black historian Lerone Bennett points out: “The freedpeople … were free—free to the wind and to the rain, free to the wrath and hostility of their former slavemasters. They had no tools, they had no shelter, they had no cooking utensils; and they were surrounded by hostile men who were determined to prove that the whole thing was a monstrous mistake.” In March 1865 the federal government created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the Freedmen's Bureau, as a temporary solution to these problems.

A few days after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Chicago Tribune ran a story about the oncoming wave of Southern blacks In farm wagons in coaches on horseback afoot and in buggies this second movement from Egypt to the promised land ...

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Joshunda Sanders

former slave and landowner in central Texas at a time when few southern blacks owned land, was born a slave in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1826. The literate son of a slave mother and an Irish slaveholder father, Collins was freed in Alabama and traveled to Manor, Texas, in the mid-1800s as a skilled carpenter.

At the time he left Alabama, Collins was likely one of an estimated 500,000 free blacks in the United States in the decade before the Civil War. Free blacks were never a large population in Texas; in the 1860 census they numbered fewer than 400, but may have been twice that many. Free blacks, nevertheless, made a significant contribution to the early history of Texas. When Collins arrived in Manor, Texas, in 1863, however, he was re-enslaved.

He may have married his wife, Sarah Elizabeth Harrington at a Methodist church in the Austin ...

Article

With the emergence of free African American communities in the urban United States during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, blacks formed fraternal organizations and mutual aid societies to meet a number of pressing needs. One scholar estimates that as of 1840, more than two hundred organizations were spread across the nation's largest cities, with a membership conservatively estimated at ten thousand. Like many whites during the early years of the Republic, blacks sought ways to integrate themselves into a rapidly changing world. Black organizers in urban American, however, faced a unique set of challenges. They tried to meet the physical and social challenges to a community striving to realize the fruits of emancipation while responding to a largely hostile white population's antagonism to interracial citizenship, let alone fellowship and mutual assistance.

The leadership of African American organizations often overlapped with and sometimes preceded black religious institutions Associations ...

Article

Delano Greenidge-Copprue

The Thirty-Eighth Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau so that the federal government could shoulder relief for African Americans displaced by the Civil War. Before the establishment of the Freedmen's Bureau, relief work for the contrabands (African American war refugees) was largely accomplished by private individuals and institutions. In March 1865, as the Civil War drew to its close, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen's Bureau) was established. Following Abraham Lincoln's assassination, President Andrew Johnson appointed Oliver Otis Howard, who had been a major general during the Civil War, to serve as its first commissioner.

At its inception the Freedmen s Bureau aimed to help both former slaves and displaced white southerners settle on land abandoned during the Civil War This land was to be divided into plots no larger than forty acres The plan did not materialize however because President Johnson skeptical of the ...

Article

Terry L. Seip

To assist the adjustment of newly freed slaves in the post–Civil War South, Congress in March 1865 established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands under the leadership of General Oliver Otis Howard and the auspices of the War Department. Given an initial life of one year, the agency provided food, clothing, fuel, and medical treatment to destitute and dislocated freedpeople and white refugees. It was also supposed to parcel out abandoned and confiscated lands in forty-acre plots to freedmen, but President Andrew Johnson, a staunch critic of the agency, undercut this effort by restoring most of the available land to its former white owners. Local Bureau agents thus spent much time mediating labor contracts and disputes between the freedmen and intransigent white employers and attempting to secure economic and civil justice for the freedmen—even as they slipped into a debilitating sharecropping system.

More positive was the ...

Article

Bernadette Pruitt

the self-reliant bondsman of the legendary Sam Houston, was born to a slave mother and reared on the Temple Lea Plantation in Marion, Perry County, Alabama, three years after the territory gained statehood. Joshua stood out at an early age. Although a field hand, the boy began learning blacksmithing and other skills. With the aid of the Lea family Joshua also began reading. The remarkable youngster garnered a reputation early on as a precocious and assiduous child. Barely eighteen, he carried this reputation with him when moved to Texas.

In 1834 Joshua's owner, Temple Lea, died and willed the twelve-year-old Joshua to his teenage daughter Margaret Moffette Lea, who six years later at the age of twenty-one married and became the third wife of the forty-six-year-old Sam Houston Houston the former general who led the Anglo American victory against General Antonio López de Santa Anna s six ...

Article

Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, wealthy landowner, and community leader, was born Nicholas Augustin Metoyer in Natchitoches, in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. His mother was Marie-Thérèse Coincoin, a slave and later a free woman and successful agriculturalist, and his father was Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a wealthy French merchant and planter with whom his mother had a nineteen-year liaison. Marie-Thérèse was enslaved when Augustin and his twin sister Marie Susanne were born, and he was subsequently bought by his father on 31 May 1776 from Madame de St Denis along with three of his siblings for 1 300 livres He grew up as the oldest male child in a wealthy household where in an unusual situation an enslaved woman and a white man cohabited almost completely openly Although Pierre Metoyer never explicitly acknowledged his children with Marie Thérèse as his own most of them took ...

Article

Thomas Long

a nurse, was born into slavery and given the name Jensey (also spelled “Gensey” in the public record) Snow. She later took the name Jane Minor after being manumitted by her Petersburg, Virginia, slaveowner Benjamin Harrison May and becoming married to Lewis Minor. She demonstrated extraordinary nursing skill, courage, and generosity, first in attending to the sick during a fever epidemic (which prompted May's decision to free her), then in using the money she earned subsequently to purchase and free over a dozen other slaves, and in creating a hospital in Petersburg. She also became the mother-in-law of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a former resident of Petersburg, the African American who became the first president of Liberia.

As the historian Todd L. Savitt notes health care in the antebellum South consisted of a varied landscape of sometimes competing sometimes complementary models and methods of care Trained allopathic ...

Article

Nancy Gardner Prince's 1850Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself, chronicles the antebellum economic conditions of free blacks, her experience in the court of two Russian tsars, and the difficulties of missionary work in politically volatile, newly emancipated Jamaica. Prince's life, as told in this fascinating volume, reveals the opportunities available to and hindrances suffered by nineteenth- century black women.

Prince s early life as a free black in New England was marked by hunger hard work and racism She endured these harsh conditions by clinging to the dignity of her family history which included the exploits of an African grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War a Native American grandmother once enslaved by the British and an African stepfather who emancipated himself by jumping off a slave ship Despite her pride in her heritage her frustration with the social and ...

Article

Karla Sclater

Christian missionary and temperance advocate, was born Emma Smith, enslaved in Springfield, Missouri. She lived with her mother, Jennie Boyd, and both her sister and her father, John Smith, lived on a neighboring plantation. There were also four older siblings living on yet another plantation near Springfield. One month after her birth in 1859, Emma was put up for auction alongside her mother and sister. Her father threatened his owners that if they did not purchase his wife and daughters he would run away. The strategy proved successful and Smith was able to have his wife and two daughters live with him.

Emma Smith was only two years old when the Civil War erupted. In 1864 as the Union army secured remaining portions of Missouri from rebel control the white slaveholding Smith brothers John Smith kept the name of his owners fled south to Arkansas ...

Article

Ella Forbes

The Civil War (1861-1865) ended on 9 April 1865, when the Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The country set about restructuring itself into a new nation without slavery but with nearly 4 million former slaves to be absorbed into a different economic, political, and social order. Viewing this period with great expectations, blacks seized the opportunity to exercise their freedom and prove their worthiness for citizenship.

The fiery activist, poet, and orator, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper counseled freedpeople to exercise their new status to secure economic political and social equity Lecturing throughout the South Harper presented firsthand accounts about the condition of freedpeople to northern presses and dispensed advice to former slaves especially the women about the problems they would be facing Alluding to the negative opinions most whites held about black women ...

Article

Diane L. Barnes and Elizabeth R. Purdy

The Civil War essentially ended on 9 April 1865 with the surrender of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Yet another battle lay ahead as political leaders sought to repair the fractured Union. During the period 1863–1877 the United States focused on reuniting North and South, and as the historian Eric Foner notes, began “the adjustment of American society to the end of slavery.” The Reconstruction era witnessed the birth of federal guarantees for African American citizenship and civil rights through the passage of three important constitutional amendments, but it was also a time fraught with conflict.

The direction of Reconstruction changed irrevocably on 14 April 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the following morning, leaving Andrew Johnson a former Jacksonian Democrat to lead the country into a deeply troubled peace Unable to stand up ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

children's home founder and director, was born into slavery in Georgia, as was her father. Her mother, also a slave, was born in Virginia. As a small child, Steele was orphaned. Unlike most slaves, Steele learned to read and write. After Emancipation she spent sixteen years as a train depot “matron” in Macon, Georgia. By 1880 Steele, one of Atlanta's first black property owners, resided in a two-room house at 112 Wheat Street near Piedmont Avenue. Wheat Street, later renamed Auburn Avenue, became black Atlanta's historic heart. The 1880 Federal Census recorded Steele's occupation as “dressmaker,” her race as “mulatto,” and her marital status as “widowed.” The identity of Steele's first spouse, the date of their marriage, and the number of children they may have had together are unclear. Steele evidently had at least one child, Bob Steele, according to his obituary in the Atlanta Constitution (31 Aug ...

Article

David N. Gellman

Pierre Toussaint was a singular, yet elusive figure. The quality of his life moved some to call for his beatification as a Catholic saint in the twentieth century. His motivations and commitments as a historical figure—including his place in the history of free black life in antebellum New York City—are harder to pin down. Although he made monetary contributions to African American causes in New York and elsewhere, many of the most noteworthy beneficiaries of his assistance and sympathy were whites, with whom he forged unusually cordial connections during an era of increasing segregation and racial hostility.

Toussaint was born a slave in the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue; his year of birth has traditionally been listed as 1766, but a 1995 reassessment estimates 1778 as a more likely date, while another biographer proposes 1781 as Toussaint s birth year His mother and grandmother were house slaves ...