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Michael Bieze

artist, was born in Colquitt County, Georgia, son of John Henry Adams, a former slave and preacher in the Methodist Church, and Mittie Rouse. Many questions surround Adams's early life. While he reported in an Atlanta Constitution article (23 June 1902) that he came from a humble background, his father served parishes throughout Georgia. According to the History of the American Negro and His Institutions (1917), Adams Sr. was a man of accomplishment, leading black Georgians in a colony in Liberia for two years and receiving two honorary doctorates, from Bethany College and Morris Brown University. Educated in Atlanta schools, Adams claimed in the Atlanta Constitution article to have traveled to Philadelphia in the late 1890s to take art classes at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (later Drexel University). Drexel, established in 1891 opened its doors to a diverse student ...

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Deborah Garfield

Born to slaves, Lucy Delaney cherished her St. Louis childhood. Like Frederick Douglass and Harriet A. Jacobs, however, she soon witnessed the breach between its “joyful freedom” and slavery's later realities. When owner Major Taylor Berry, who had arranged for the family's emancipation, was killed in a duel, and his widow died, the family remained enslaved. With Lucy's father sold South, mother Polly fiercely urged her two daughters’ escape. While Nancy fled to Canada and Polly to Chicago, the latter returned to bondage to protect Lucy. Polly successfully petitioned the St. Louis courts for her own liberation, and later for Lucy's in 1844 Visiting Nancy in Toronto Lucy wed Frederick Turner soon to be killed in a steamboat explosion her second marriage to Zachariah Delaney in St Louis endured at least forty two years When their four children died young Delaney tempered her mourning with a liberationist ...

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Eric Gardner

author and teacher, was born into slavery near Petersburg, Virginia. According to her narrative, which remains the source of most of her biographical information, Drumgoold lived with her mother and sisters until her mother was sold south in 1861. Cared for by her mistress Bettie House—whom she referred to as her “white mother”—for three years, Drumgoold was reunited with her real mother near the end of the Civil War. In 1865 the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where they joined the Reverend David Moore's Washington Avenue Baptist Church. Drumgoold, already working as a domestic, was baptized in 1866. Through the church, she gained basic literacy skills, and through work with a kind boardinghouse keeper, Lydia A. Pousland as well as summer work in Saratoga Springs she attained some level of economic security Still her domestic work was repeatedly interrupted by illness and she felt a ...

Article

John Saillant

Olaudah Equiano identified himself by this name only once in his life—on the title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). In the Narrative itself Equiano wrote of his forename that it was an Ibo word meaning “change,” “fortunate,” or “loudly or well spoken,” but this derivation has not been corroborated. Words similar to his surname have been identified in languages spoken both east and west of the Niger River, which flows south through Iboland, the southeastern region of present-day Nigeria, where Equiano claimed to have been born. He was accused almost immediately of fabrication, however, and he may have been born in North America. All other documentation of his life, including vital records and his own signatures, used the name Gustavus Vassa (sometimes Vasa, Vassan, and other variations). Both the Narrative and commercial and public ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

former slave and narrator, was the youngest of thirteen children born to a slave woman in Powhatan, Virginia, probably in the late 1830s. All that is known about Garlic appears in a 1937 Federal Writers' Project (FWP) interview she gave in Fruithurst, Alabama, when she claimed to be one hundred years old. In that interview Garlic provides one of the most searing indictments of life under slavery in the nearly twenty-five hundred FWP interviews of former slaves. As in many Works Progress Administration narratives, Garlic's interviewer transcribed her speech in a dialect that somewhat exaggerates the rhythm and syntax of southern Black English.

Delia Garlic never knew eleven of her siblings or her father When Delia was an infant she her mother and her brother William were taken by slave speculators to Richmond Virginia where they were kept in a warehouse before being placed on an auction block Delia ...

Article

Kara M. McClurken

minister and abolitionist, was born William Waugh Grimes in Alexandria, Virginia, the eldest of five children of Thomas Grimes and Elizabeth Ann Waugh. Little is known about Grimes's early life other than that he started earning a living at the age of nine, after his father died. In 1841 Grimes traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the inauguration of William Henry Harrison, and he was employed during the early part of the decade by several members of Congress, including Millard Fillmore, then a Whig congressman from New York. In 1847 Grimes married Mary Ann Brown. Following the death of President Zachary Taylor on 9 July 1850, Grimes worked in the White House for the Fillmore family; he remained there until 1855, when he left to work full time as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

Grimes joined Union Bethel African ...

Article

Richard J. Bell

Methodist preacher and seaman, was born in the port town of Old Calabar, in Nigeria, West Africa, to Margaret and Hambleton Robert Jea. At age two Jea and his family were captured in Old Calabar and transported to America on a slave ship. With his parents and several siblings he was immediately sold to the family of Oliver and Angelika Tiehuen, members of the Dutch Reformed Church who owned land outside New York City. This knowledge comes from Jea's narrative, The Life, History, and Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher, written and published in 1815; it is the only source of information about most of Jea's life and travels.

The newly enslaved family was set to work as field hands and quickly felt the hardship of poor conditions and physical abuse Jea found little comfort in the message of obedience and humility preached to ...

Article

John Saillant

Around 1816 he published two books, a Collection of Hymns and his Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings; from the latter is derived virtually all available information on his life. The autobiography, which was undoubtedly embellished in some of its particulars, recounts Jea's birth in Africa, his childhood in colonial New York, the abuses he suffered under slavery, his manumission, his family life, and the travels and religious exercises of his maturity.

Jea reported that after he became restive under slavery around the age of fifteen he was baptized in a Christian church a circumstance that he claimed to use to compel his master to liberate him He told of preaching in North America Europe and the East Indies as well as of marrying three women in succession one Native American one Maltese and one Irish His children all preceded him in death Like many early African American authors Jea ...

Article

Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

Johnson, Edward Austin (23 November 1860–24 July 1944), educator, lawyer, and politician was born near Raleigh North Carolina the son of Columbus Johnson and Eliza A Smith slaves He was taught to read and write by Nancy Walton a free African American and later attended the Washington School an establishment founded by philanthropic northerners in Raleigh There he was introduced to the Congregational church and became a lifelong member Johnson completed his education at Atlanta University in Georgia graduating in 1883 To pay his way through college he worked as a barber and taught in the summers After graduation he worked as a teacher and principal first in Atlanta at the Mitchell Street Public School 1883 1885 and then in Raleigh at the Washington School 1885 1891 While teaching in Raleigh he studied at Shaw University obtaining a law degree in 1891 He joined the faculty shortly ...

Article

Devorah Lissek

diarist and entrepreneur, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, the son of William Johnson, a slaveholder, and Amy Johnson, a slave. When William was five years old his mother was emancipated and established her household in Natchez. In 1820 the eleven-year-old William was freed by the Mississippi legislature at the request of his owner. Once emancipated, he apprenticed with his brother-in-law, James Miller, in Miller's barber business in Natchez. Johnson became proprietor of the business—reportedly the most popular barbershop in Natchez—when Miller moved to New Orleans in 1830. Johnson and his African American staff ran the shop, which served a predominantly white clientele. Not only did Johnson's barbers offer haircuts and shaves, they also fitted wigs, sold fancy soaps and oils, and, beginning in 1834, operated a bathhouse at the Main Street location.

Between 1830 and 1835 Johnson frequently traveled to New Orleans and ...

Article

Devorah Lissek

Johnson, William (1809–17 June 1851), diarist and entrepreneur, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, the son of William Johnson, a slaveholder, and Amy Johnson, a slave. When William was five years old his mother was emancipated and established her household in Natchez. In 1820 the eleven-year-old William was freed by the Mississippi legislature at the request of his owner. Once emancipated, he apprenticed with his brother-in-law, James Miller, in his barber business in Natchez. Johnson became proprietor of the business—reportedly the most popular barber shop in Natchez—when Miller moved to New Orleans in 1830. Johnson and his African-American staff ran the shop, which served a predominantly white clientele. Johnson’s barbers not only offered haircuts and shaves, they also fitted wigs, sold fancy soaps and oils, and, beginning in 1834, operated a bathhouse at the Main Street location.

Between 1830 and 1835 Johnson frequently traveled to New Orleans and ...

Article

Kenneth R. Manning

zoologist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Charles Fraser Just, a carpenter and wharf builder, and Mary Mathews Cooper. Following his father's death in 1887, his mother moved the family to James Island, off the South Carolina coast. There she labored in phosphate mines, opened a church and a school, and mobilized farmers into a moss-curing enterprise. A dynamic community leader, she was the prime mover behind the establishment of a township—Maryville—named in her honor. Maryville served as a model for all-black town governments elsewhere.

Just attended his mother's school, the Frederick Deming Jr. Industrial School, until the age of twelve. Under her influence, he entered the teacher-training program of the Colored Normal, Industrial, Agricultural and Mechanical College (now South Carolina State College) in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in 1896. After graduating in 1899 he attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden New ...

Article

Cynthia Current

entrepreneur, abolitionist lecturer, and autobiographer, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the only child of Clarissa Haywood and Edward Lane. Clarissa Haywood was the slave of Sherwood Haywood, an agent for the Bank of Newburn and clerk of the North Carolina State Senate from 1786 to 1798. Edward Lane belonged to John Haywood, the brother of Sherwood Haywood, and though manumitted at the death of John, circa 1830, continued to serve the family as a steward for fourteen years. As a slave, Lunsford Lane was fortunate to be raised by both of his parents who were certainly models for what Lane would later achieve in his life.

About the time that Lane became emotionally aware of his enslaved state when set to work at the age of ten or eleven he recalls that his father gave him a basket of peaches ...

Article

minister and author, was born in the area around Centerville, Queen Anne's County, Maryland. He was one of three children born to an enslaved woman from Virginia and a free black man from Maryland whose names are unknown. Offley's mother was freed by her master's will, and that document also ordered Offley and his sister freed at age twenty-five. Apparently, a codicil to the will required that Offley's younger brother be similarly freed at twenty-five, but Offley's mistress destroyed it before probate.

This complex but not uncommon arrangement a mix of free and enslaved people within a family could well have led to significant problems First it was likely that Offley s mistress and her children having already destroyed part of the will and so enslaving his brother for life might have attempted to sell off Offley and his sister Second Maryland like several states with strict black codes ...

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

John Saillant

Sancho was baptized as an infant in a Roman Catholic Church but confirmed as a youth in the Church of England. His baptismal name was Ignatius, while his surname came from his first owners in England, who fancifully named him after Don Quixote's servant in Miguel de Cervantes's famous novel. Charles Ignatius Sancho was the name he used in 1758 to sign his marriage certificate. Two volumes of his letters were gathered from their recipients and published in 1782, prefaced by Joseph Jekyll's Life of Ignatius Sancho; Jekyll undertook this work, from which virtually all biographical information on Sancho derives, after his acquaintance Samuel Johnson, the poet, critic, and compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language, failed to fulfill his intention to write Sancho's biography himself. Additional information survives in vital records, as do a few comments from such contemporaries as Johnson.

Jekyll wrote that ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

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Rhae Lynn Barnes

abolitionist and slave narrative author, was born to James Smallwood in Prince George's County, Maryland. Smallwood's 1851 slave narrative, the Narrative of Thomas Smallwood, (Coloured Man) Giving an Account of His Birth, the Period He Was Held in Slavery, His Release, and Removal to Canada, Together with an Account of the Underground Railroad, is the only slave narrative published in Canada by an ex-slave from the United States.

Smallwood, along with his sister, were born into slavery. He became the property of Reverend J. B. Ferguson for the sum of $500; the price paid for his sister is unknown. Ferguson bequeathed the Smallwood siblings to his wife and children with the stipulation that they were to gain their freedom at the age of thirty.

Ferguson and his wife taught Thomas Smallwood the alphabet Smallwood vividly described the way literacy made him a walking curiosity in the village ...

Article

Ellen Nickenzie Lawson

teacher of freedmen, was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the daughter of John Stuart Stanley and Frances Griffith, teachers who ran an antebellum private school in New Bern that was patronized by free blacks from throughout North Carolina. The Stanleys, free blacks related to a prominent slave-owning family of the same name, identified with their African American community. As a youth, Sara corrected people who mistook her for a white woman by explaining, “I am a colored woman having a slight admixture of negro blood in my veins.”

Stanley was a pioneer for her gender and for her race in being an antebellum college student, studying at Oberlin College, Ohio, from 1852 to 1855 She left college before receiving her degree Many North Carolina free blacks emigrated to Ohio at this time because of persecutions in the South and this may have been why the entire ...

Article

Tyler D. Parry

enslaved laborer, minister, and author, was born in Atala County, Mississippi, the only son of an unnamed slave mother and father known as “Uncle Jack.” The Reverend Charles Thompson is most well known for his rich autobiography divulging his experiences while enslaved in the antebellum South, Biography of a Slave: Being the Experiences of Rev. Charles Thompson, a Preacher of the United Brethren Church, While a Slave in the South (1875). When Thompson was nine years old, his family was forcibly separated upon the death of the plantation owner, and Thompson along with two of his sisters were sold to a man named James Wilson. The two sisters’ names are not mentioned, and any further discussion of his immediate family disappeared from the narrative. Thompson's story mainly discusses his experiences as a slave coming of age in the antebellum South.

Thompson s autobiography provides ...