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Rashauna R. Johnson

banker, real estate magnate, activist, and philanthropist, considered the first southern African American millionaire. Robert Reed “Bob” Church was born in 1839 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to an enslaved mother, Emmeline, and a white steamboat captain, Charles B. Church. His mother, a seamstress, died when Robert was twelve years old, and he spent much of his childhood on the Mississippi River with his father. Because of his closeness to his father, Robert enjoyed privileges not generally associated with slavery. While working on a steamboat during the Civil War, however, Union troops captured him, and he soon settled as a freedman in Memphis, Tennessee.

Church entered into business in postwar Memphis, but success did not shield him from the violence of Reconstruction. During the 1866 Memphis riot in which white mobs attacked freedmen vigilantes ransacked Church s saloon and shot him Church survived and ...

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Alonford James Robinson

Robert Reed Church, Jr., was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Church, who is believed to be the first African American millionaire, and Anna Wright Church. He was the youngest child of the wealthy businessman, and after graduating from Oberlin College in 1904, took a job with a Wall Street bank in New York City. Three years later, he returned to Memphis to work as a cashier in his father's Solvent Savings Bank and Trust, where he was named president in 1909. After his father's death in 1912, Church resigned as president, choosing instead to monitor his father's extensive property holdings throughout Memphis.

Turning to politics, Church founded the Lincoln League in 1916. He became a major contributor and director of the Tennessee Republican Party He was a delegate to eight Republican National Conventions an official on the National Advisory ...

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Maria Elena Raymond

Barney Launcelot Ford was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Given simply the name “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is reputed to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that Barney could practice his studies. Upon the death of his mother (circa 1837 Barney was enslaved ...