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Article

Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, educator, and community worker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest daughter of the abolitionist movement leaders William Still and Letitia George Still. In 1850William Still became the head of the Philadelphia Underground Railroad and Vigilance Committee. He would later chronicle his experiences in the best-selling 1872 account, The Underground Railroad.

After completing primary and secondary education at Mrs. Henry Gordon's Private School, the Friends Raspberry Alley School, and the Institute for Colored Youth, Anderson entered Oberlin College. Although she was the youngest member of the graduating class of 1868, Anderson presided over the annual Ladies' Literary Society, a singular honor that had never been awarded to a student of African ancestry.

After graduating from Oberlin, Anderson returned home to teach drawing and elocution, and on 28 December 1869 she married Edward A. Wiley a former slave and fellow ...

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Mary Krane Derr

multi‐instrumental musician, teacher, and orchestra conductor, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Some sources give her birth year as 1885; however, according to U.S. census data, it was most likely 1882. Her mother, Betty Anderson, was born March 1849 in Virginia. Little is known about Hallie Anderson's father except that he was also a Virginia native. When Hallie was three, the family migrated to New York City. As a child, Hallie took public school and private music lessons. She received classical training at the New York German Conservatory of Music. Although it did not record her occupation, the 1900 census noted that Hallie's mother was a widow who could neither read nor write, and who had seven living children. Betty Anderson was then living with three of her children, all of whom could read and write: Charles (born Sept. 1872), a waiter; John ...

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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James Chrismer

evangelist and African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister, was born a freewoman near Havre de Grace, Harford County, Maryland. One of seven children of William and Harriet Lego Cole, she was descended from a family that included a Native American maternal great-grandmother married to an Englishman, a maternal grandfather born in Guinea, and a paternal grandmother reputedly freed from slavery by a Baltimore court after enduring an unwarranted and savage beating while pregnant. In October 1845, when she was sixteen years of age, Harriet married William Baker, ten years her senior and a slave on the Edward Gallop plantation in Michaelsville, a nearby Maryland hamlet.

In 1847 when the couple learned of Gallop s plan to sell William to a slave dealer in Georgia they fled north with their infant daughter After a forty eight mile flight along the western bank of the Susquehanna River they crossed ...

Article

Briallen Hopper

educator, lecturer, and activist, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the oldest daughter of Peter L. Baldwin, a Haitian mariner who became a Boston postman, and Mary E. Baldwin, a Baltimore native whose maiden name is now unknown. Baldwin was educated in Cambridge public schools, attending Sargent Primary School, Allston Grammar School, and Cambridge High School. After graduating from high school in 1874 she attended the Cambridge Teachers' Training School. Initially refused a job by the Cambridge school district, she looked elsewhere for employment and eventually took a position teaching elementary school in Chestertown, Maryland. Within a few years, however, she was back in Cambridge. Reportedly under pressure from the African American community, the Cambridge school district decided to offer her a job. In 1881 Baldwin accepted a teaching position at the Agassiz Grammar School on Oxford Street where she would spend the remainder of ...

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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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Cynthia Neverdon-Morton

educator, school founder, and social welfare advocate, was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Barrett's parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Barrett resided in the home of the Skinners, a white family whom her mother served as housekeeper. After her mother's marriage to a railway worker, Barrett remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education.

Though the Skinners suggested that she move north, Barrett, at her mother's urging, attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, graduating in 1884. While at Hampton she became convinced that it was her duty as an educated black woman to work assiduously for the betterment of all African Americans. That belief led her to teach in Dawson, Georgia, and at Lucy Craft Laney s Haines Normal ...

Article

Patricia Reid-Merritt

social activist and spiritual adviser, was born Willie Taplin in the small rural town of Burton, Texas, the daughter of Nelson Taplin, a Baptist preacher, and Octavia, a Methodist congregant. A member of a large extended family, Barrow fondly recalled an upbringing steeped in strict traditional family values and old-time southern religion. She lived with her parents, six siblings, both sets of grandparents, and a great-grandmother in the family home, and they were sometimes joined by a cousin or two in need of temporary housing. The family lived together, worked together, and went to church together. Although they had limited economic resources, they grew the food that they needed on the family farm, and though she came to understand the family's poverty in later years, Barrow said that she never knew hunger as a child.

Barrow discovered her activist voice and spirit early in life Under the state sponsored ...

Article

Teresa L. Reed

singer, was born in Washington, D.C. Though her father's name is unknown, evidence suggests that he was a Union soldier. After her father died from injuries sustained during the Civil War, Batson moved with her mother, Mary Batson, to Providence, Rhode Island. She attended school and studied music in Providence; by the age of nine she was a featured soloist at Bethel Church as well as at other local churches in the Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts, region.

Batson's professional career began to blossom at a time when several black women were achieving renown as classically trained singers. Nellie Brown Mitchell, Sissieretta Jones, Marie Selika all classical singers and contemporaries of Batson stood in stark contrast to the Jim Crow stereotypes that prevailed in a nation only recently rid of institutionalized slavery In the early 1880s Batson was the featured soloist at People s Church ...

Article

Tonia M. Compton

Catholic nun, was born Mathilda Taylor in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Caroline Taylor, a slave owned by James C. Taylor, whose surname he gave to his slaves. Her father, whose name is not known, was Native American. Little is known about Mathilda's early years, except that she learned to read and write and that she somehow received her freedom and moved to Savannah. There she began operating a secret school for African American children in the late 1850s, an enterprise for which she risked imprisonment because state laws prohibited education for blacks.

Taylor supported herself by working a variety of jobs in Savannah. In the 1860s she was employed at the Railroad House, a restaurant owned by Abraham Beasley, a prosperous free black man. In 1869 she married Beasley His ventures included a produce market a saloon a boardinghouse and at times the slave trade The two ...

Article

Mary Krane Derr

slave and later servant, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Perry Blake, a free African American, and his wife Charlotte, a slave in the household of a prominent merchant, Jesse Levering. The couple had several other children. In 1897 Jesse's daughter Sarah R. Levering published a booklet about Margaret Jane Blake's life through the Press of Innes & Son in Philadelphia. As of 2011 other sources concerning Blake s life were unknown Thus we should read this account with care recognizing that it provides only one perspective on Blake s life and that it comes from a member of the family who once owned her It nonetheless offers several insights on the life of an urban African American woman in slavery and freedom Levering designated the proceeds from the booklet s sale to a Presbyterian affiliated manual labor school for the benefit of the ...

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John French

former slave from Fayetteville, Arkansas, was born on 10 July 1850 in Hickman County, Tennessee. She was aged eighty-seven years in 1937, when she was interviewed as part of the New Deal Works Progress Administration's Slave Narrative project. She was interviewed by Mary D. Hudgins a grand niece of the woman for whom Blakeley had worked in Fayetteville Arkansas Thus as with other WPA narratives Blakeley s testimony should be interpreted within the context of the unequal relationships between blacks and whites under slavery and in the Jim Crow South According to her interviewer she had become quite assimilated into white society and spoke with no discernable dialect She also occupied a relatively high position within the inner social circle of the woman for whom she worked as a servant as the friends and acquaintances of her deceased employer Mrs Hudgins regularly came to visit Blakeley whom ...

Article

Crystal Renée Sanders

educator and community leader, was born in Amelia County, Virginia, probably a slave, to Henry Dixon, a carpenter, and Augusta Hawkins Dixon, a domestic servant. After emancipation she moved with her family to Richmond, where they were active in the First African Baptist Church and where she would teach Sunday school for the next half century. Bowser completed her education at Richmond Colored Normal School, where she was taught by the school's founder, Rabza Morse Manly, a noted educator throughout the South.

In 1872 Bowser began her teaching career at Richmond's Navy Hill School. She became the first black woman appointed to teach in Richmond public schools and continued to teach until her marriage to James Herndon Bowser on 4 September 1878. Their only child, Oswald Barrington Herndon Bowser who became a well known physician in Richmond was born two years later Her husband died ...

Article

Simone Monique Barnes

educator and public school administrator, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the only child of Fannie Bassett of Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and John Briggs of Tiverton, Rhode Island. Her parents were married in 1831. Brigg's mother died when she was a young girl, and as a result, she was raised by her father, with the help of an aunt, Mrs. Bailey. John had grown up poor, in a rural area where he was allowed to attend school only in the winter. At about age twelve, he came to the city of New Bedford to work for George Howland, a Quaker and a whaling ship agent. John stayed employed by the Howland family until his death, more than fifty years later. When his daughter was still an infant, John was fitting Howland's whaling ships, the Java and Golconda and he developed a friendship with another of ...

Article

Verity J. Harding

community activist and founder of the Friends Association for Children, was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia, to Judith Goode and an unidentified white male. Born Lucy Goode, she learned to read while a slave by listening secretly to the lessons taught to her master's children.

Lucy Goode learnt one of slavery s harshest lessons early in life With few formal legal rights slaves lives were largely controlled by their masters as was the fate of their families A master could dictate the rules of any attempt at intimacy marriage or reproduction between slaves so the forming of durable love and relationships became one of the greatest challenges facing slaves Even if a family bond could be created under such circumstances mothers and fathers lived in fear of the not uncommon possibility that their children would be sold away from them This was another horror that Lucy had to ...

Article

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 ...

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Thea Gallo Becker

educator, was born Emmeline Victoria Brown in Georgetown, District of Columbia, the daughter of John Mifflin Brown, a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Emmeline (maiden name unknown), a dressmaker. Emma Brown and her siblings were born and raised in what the racial climate of the period called a “better class of colored.” When Brown was still a young girl her father died, and her mother worked to support the family. Brown attended Miss Myrtilla Miner's School for Colored Girls, which opened in 1851 with the goal of training teachers for public schools in the Washington, D.C., area. Brown soon distinguished herself as an outstanding student. When illness forced Miner to take a leave of absence, Brown was recruited to stay on and assist Emily Howland, who had moved from New York to be Miner's replacement. In 1858 Brown ran the school during Howland s temporary ...

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Dorothy A. Washington

museum cofounder, college equity officer, educator, and community volunteer, was born Fredi Mae Sears in Bradenton, Florida. She was the only daughter of three children born to Mary Miller, a laundress, and Oscar C. Sears Sr., a laborer at a trailer park operated by the local Kiwanis Club. She grew up in a deeply religious community that valued family, friends, and the church, and her father was a deacon and a founding member of St. Mary Baptist Church. Such lived experiences prepared Sears for a life of service.

In 1939 she graduated as valedictorian of her class at Lincoln High School in Bradenton. Upon graduation, she enrolled at Florida A&M College (later University) in Tallahassee, Florida, where in 1944 she earned a bachelor of science degree in Home Economics with minors in Science and English While at Florida A M Sears wrote for the student newspaper and her ...

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Eric Gardner

author and educator, was born in Buffalo, New York, to abolitionist and author William Wells Brown and Elizabeth Schooner. The small family moved to Farmington, New York, in 1845. Her father, soon-to-be famous as the author of a successful slave narrative and an abolitionist lecturer, separated from her mother soon after, and moved to Boston with Josephine and her older sister Clarissa. Elizabeth Brown reportedly died in January 1851. During the years surrounding the 1847 publication of Brown's Narrative and his 1849 journey to Europe (after refusing to have his freedom purchased), the sisters stayed in New Bedford with the family of local activist Nathan Johnson (a friend of Frederick Douglass) and attended school.

Josephine and Clarissa went to London to join their father in June 1851 aboard the steamer America under the care of Reverend Charles Spear a journey they shared with ...