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Article

James G. Spady

One of thirteen children, Robert Mara Adger was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Robert Adger, was black, and his mother, Mary Ann Morong, was Native American. In 1848 the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adger's father first found a job as a waiter in the Old Merchant's Hotel. Later, while working as a nurse, he industriously saved enough funds to open a furniture business. He was involved in many activities and was a founder of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

Robert Mara Adger received his early training at the Bird School, an early black educational institution in the United States. During his teenage years, he worked in his father's furniture stores, which had expanded from one in 1850 to three by 1858 Serving as a manager provided him with the business experience that he later found valuable as director of the Philadelphia Building and ...

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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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David Dabydeen

Journeymantailor and prominent leader of the Chartist movement. Cuffay was born in Chatham, Kent. His father, originally from St Kitts, had come to Britain as a roots on a British Warship. Cuffay became a journeyman tailor in his teens, but involvement in the strike by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 resulted in the loss of his job. Angered by this, he joined the movement in support of the People's Charter, advocating universal suffrage. He was militant in his left‐wing views, and in 1839 contributed to the founding of the Metropolitan Tailors' Charter Association. He also became a member of the Masters and Servants Bill Demonstration Committee, which opposed the power given to magistrates to imprison employees for two months based solely on the employer's statements. His involvement in the Chartist movement grew, and in 1842 he was elected the president of the London Chartists He ...

Article

Karen N. Salt

was born in Jamaica to a local black or mixed-race woman, whose name is not recorded, and her white lover. Published records identify the father as the island’s then English attorney general, although this has not been verified by the historical record. Davidson also purportedly claimed to have a Scottish grandfather.

Davidson grew up in Jamaica, but was sent to Scotland at 14 (possibly by his father) to study law. He spent time in Edinburgh before journeying to Liverpool to apprentice with a lawyer. Fleeing this situation, he joined the British Navy. Once discharged, he studied mathematics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. A few years later, he traveled south to England, staying briefly in Birmingham (and beginning a cabinet-making trade) before traveling to London.

Davidson experienced three major shifts in his life while in London marriage to widower Sarah Lane with whom he would have two sons in ...

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Eric R. Jackson

was born in 1821 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Isom and Elizabeth Gaines. Neither of his parents had any formal education, but both of them instilled in young John the value and importance of acquiring a formal education as a child. As a result, during the early 1830s young John quickly began his academic career as a student at Lane Theological Seminary, located in the Walnut Hills community of Cincinnati. Mostly founded on the principle of academic freedom, Lane Seminary became a hotbed of antislavery and abolitionist teaching during these years. While at Lane Seminary Gaines also learned much about the system of enslavement, its impact on both African Americans and non–African Americans, as well as mastering his skills as an outstanding orator, which became most important when he moved into the political arena during the late 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s.

Unlike many prominent African American leaders during this time period ...

Article

Linda Przybyszewski

businessman and politician, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of a slave woman of mixed race. His father was reputedly his owner, James Harlan (1800–1863), a white lawyer, Kentucky politician, and the father of the first justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911). However, modern DNA analysis of male descendants from both families revealed no match. While still young, Robert Harlan arrived in Kentucky, where he began attending the public schools that were closed to black children. It seems that the boy's mixed-race heritage was not readily apparent, but he was expelled when the authorities learned of it. He continued his education at home, where James Harlan's older sons tutored him in their lessons despite his status as one of several slaves owned by James Harlan.

Robert Harlan began his business career as either a barber or a shopkeeper in Harrodsburg Kentucky He ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

newspaper editor, businessman, and politician, was born in Marion, Alabama. Nothing is known of his parents. He was sent to a primary school, and he later attended the state normal school in his hometown and Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. At age twenty he married Lillie A. Jones of Marion, and they had two children. At age twenty-six he became editor of the Mobile State Republican, and between 1894 and 1907 he edited the Mobile Weekly Press, described by Booker T. Washington as a “thoughtful Negro journal.”

In his editorials, Johnson attempted to put the best cast on racial conditions and outwardly expressed optimism about the future for African Americans in the South. At other times, however, as when the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901 disfranchised blacks he was less optimistic Whites he said then had made a mockery of popular democracy His editorials ...

Article

Susan E. O'Donovan

radical Republican, labor leader, Georgia state representative, and carpenter, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Little is known of Joiner's mother, Lucy Parker, except that she bore at least four other children (Lucy Ann Joiner, Betsey Gill, and Carter and George Murray). Even less is known of Joiner's father, a man Philip never met. One of an estimated 3 million enslaved men and women who were forcibly transported from the upper to the lower South between 1790 and 1860, Joiner was sold away from most of his Virginia kin in 1847. Accompanied by his mother, Joiner arrived as an eleven-year-old in southwest Georgia, an area of the cotton South later made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1903 Most likely coming of age on one of the plantations that ...

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Cynthia Staples

was born into slavery on a plantation in Enfield, North Carolina. At the conclusion of the Civil War, Lewis left Enfield and traveled north with a Union regiment that was returning to its home base in Concord, New Hampshire. In New Hampshire Lewis honed tailoring skills that would serve him well in later life. By 1880 he made his way to thriving Boston, Massachusetts where he set up business as a merchant tailor. Merchant tailors purchased and maintained the goods and materials necessary to make custom clothing as well as hiring skilled laborers to manufacture the clothing. In prosperous nineteenth-century hubs like Boston, well-made, distinctive clothing was in great demand. Price was not an obstacle to obtaining high quality merchandise. Handsome, articulate, and with an entrepreneurial spirit, Lewis excelled as a merchant, targeting an elite clientele.

With a starting capital of less than one hundred dollars Lewis quickly grew his ...

Article

Donna Tyler Hollie

entrepreneur, labor leader, and political and social activist, was born free in Baltimore, Maryland, to John and Chaney Locks. It is likely that he attended one of Baltimore's private schools for African Americans, and at the age of eighteen he began a three-year apprenticeship with a carpenter. In 1842 Locks s father died and willed him a house and a $900 account in the Savings Bank of Baltimore Using his training to obtain employment and his inheritance to finance a variety of business ventures Locks achieved an unusual degree of economic stability and prosperity for a free black man in a slave society He worked as a carpenter and a caulker and was promoted to foreman at a white owned shipyard With his funds saved in the Freedmen s Bank after the Civil War Locks began his most profitable enterprise a livery and hacking business ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

businessman and politician, was born in Kaufman County in the eastern part of Texas to George McDonald, a native Tennessean who had once (reportedly) been owned by the Confederate officer and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. George was a farmer by trade. McDonald's mother, Flora Scott, was either a former slave or a freewoman, depending on the source. What appears certain is that she was from Alabama and died when McDonald was still very young. His father soon married a woman named Belle Crouch. Education in the family was a matter of great importance; McDonald was in fact named after William Shakespeare and the former U.S. president James Madison. He attended local schools and graduated from high school around 1884 As a young man he took work from a local cattle rancher and lawyer named Z T Adams who discussed the law ...

Article

Nick J. Sciullo

realtor, prominent citizen, and bureaucrat. Whitefield McKinlay was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George and Mary E. Weston McKinlay. He studied at the Avery Institute, Charleston's first free secondary school for African Americans. He continued his education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of South Carolina, and Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. At West Point he suffered continued hardship from classmates and staff and was finally physically disqualified from the school. When conservatives took over South Carolina in 1876, black students were forced to leave the University of South Carolina. McKinlay was a member of the Brown Fellowship Society, which was founded in 1790 to provide education, insurance, and a cemetery to its elite membership roster.

In 1887 McKinlay married Kate Wheeler The family moved to Washington D C when conditions in South Carolina deteriorated McKinlay and Wheeler had two ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George McKinlay and Mary E. Weston. His father, a free black man, had purchased a house on Meeting Street in Charleston in 1848; his grandfather, Anthony Weston, was a well-known mixed-race millwright and slave owner in antebellum South Carolina. After the Civil War McKinlay studied at Avery Institute in Charleston, and in 1874 he enrolled at the University of South Carolina, where he remained for three years, until blacks were excluded after the Democrats came to power. After teaching school in South Carolina, he matriculated at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he remained until 1881. By the age of twenty-nine, McKinlay could boast of a very strong education.

Although the profession of teaching was open to a person of his talents McKinlay moved to Washington D C and found a job in the Government ...

Article

Sandy Dwayne Martin

shoemaker, newspaper publisher, clergyperson, denominational leader and organizer, business leader, and political activist, was born the eighth of ten children to James and Cora Cornelia Morris near Spring Place in Murray County, Georgia, as a slave. On 24 November 1884 Morris married Fannie E. Austin of Alabama; they had five children. His father, James, came to Alabama from North Carolina in 1850. The father, relatively educated for the time, practiced a trade in town and visited the farm twice weekly, during which time he taught his family reading and writing in preparation for their eventual freedom. Elias augmented this home training by attending schools between 1864 and 1875 in Dalton, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Stevenson, Alabama; and Nashville, Tennessee (the school that eventually became Roger Williams University). Converted in 1874 he was also licensed to preach by a Baptist church the same year ...

Article

was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 20 March 1857. As one of the most well-known Afroporteños (people from Buenos Aires are referred to as “porteños” because Buenos Aires is a port city), his distinguished life and career have been kept alive through the efforts of his grandson Tomás A. Platero, who has written various magazine articles, and his granddaughters Carmen Platero and Susana Platero, who keep the family name alive through their artistic activities.

Platero was the son of a man of Mina Race one of the terms used to define the enslaved persons of West African lineage who arrived in Buenos Aires His father fought in the Wars for Independence as an assistant to General Manuel Belgrano one of the most important heroes of the fight for Argentine independence and the creator of the national flag although this involvement indicates that he would have participated as a ...

Article

Robert Jr. Johnson

labor activist, journalist, and presidential candidate, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of Bryant Taylor, a slave at the time of George's birth, and Amanda Hines, a free woman. George had twelve siblings. In 1861 his mother died in Alton, Illinois, where she had been cared for by a William Lovejoy. After the death of his mother, Taylor became homeless, drifting, never knowing where his next meal would come from, and losing contact with his brothers and sisters. On 8 May 1865 he alighted from the steamer Hawkeye State in the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin. He attended public schools for one year but then met Nathan Smith a black man who sheltered him and later adopted the young boy In La Crosse Taylor worked as a farmer with his new family More important for the first time he was in ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, businessman, banker, Republican Party activist, and longtime U.S. postmaster of Wilson, North Carolina, was born a slave near Castalia in Nash County, North Carolina, during the Civil War. The oldest son of five children born to carpenter Daniel Vick and Fannie (Blount) Vick, Samuel received his early education at Wilson Academy in Wilson, where the Vick family moved shortly after the war's end in 1865.

A gifted student, Vick excelled at his studies, and in 1880 he was admitted to Lincoln University (then the Ashmun Institute, after Jehudi Ashmun, leader of 1820s Liberia) in Pennsylvania, from which he received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1884 While his father helped finance his education Vick insisted on paying as much of his own expenses as possible by teaching school during summer vacations His philosophy of pragmatic independence guided his life thereafter ...

Article

Clarence G. Contee

The only child of Eliza and David Walker, Edward Walker was born in Boston after his father's death. His mother, known as Miss Eliza, was probably a fugitive slave. His father was the author of the supposedly subversive David Walker's Appeal … to the Colored Citizens of the World, published in Boston in 1829. Walker's exact birth date is uncertain. An obituary, which called him Edwin, listed the date as September 28, 1835. However, since the father is said to have died in 1830, Edward must have been born in either 1830 or 1831.

Walker attended public schools in Boston and earned his living as a leather worker and owner of his own shop with as many as fifteen workers The heritage of his father and the Boston abolition atmosphere led Walker to aid in the release of the slave Shadrach from capture in ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

leather worker, lawyer, and politician, was born Edward Garrison Walker in Boston to David Walker, a radical abolitionist and writer, and Eliza Butler, whose occupation is unknown. Although sometimes referred to as Edward G. Walker and E. G. Walker, he most commonly appears in the historical record as Edwin G. Walker. There is some dispute as to his date of birth, which one obituary gives as 26 September 1835, five years after David's death. Most sources suggest, however, that Edwin was, indeed, the son of the author of Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), probably born several months after David's death in Boston in August 1830. His middle name may have been given in honor of the white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator in Boston in January 1831 ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

civil rights and women's rights activist, community leader, and the first black woman to found and become president of a chartered bank in America, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Draper, a former slave, and Eccles Cuthbert, a white writer. Unwed at the time of Maggie's birth, Lizzie Draper worked as an assistant cook in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew, an ardent abolitionist and Union spy. In 1869 Lizzie married William Mitchell, a former slave, who worked as Van Lew's butler and later as the headwaiter at the posh St. Charles Hotel. A son, Johnny, was born shortly after the family's move to downtown Richmond. In 1878 William was robbed and murdered, leaving Lizzie and her two young children without savings insurance benefits or financial support circumstances that informed Maggie s adult work on behalf of the economic status of black women Lizzie ...