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Article

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 ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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Kimberly A. Sisson

poet, clubwoman, and political activist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Mary Evans and Joshua T. Williams, whose occupation is now unknown. In 1870 the family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Mary Evans opened a successful wig-making business that operated for over twenty years. Carrie Williams attended the first integrated school in Columbus; whether she pursued higher education is unknown, however it is known that during the 1880s she taught in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

In 1886, at the age of twenty-four, she married William H. Clifford, a two-term Republican state representative from Cleveland. They would have two sons. As part of the black middle class in Cleveland, Clifford and her husband socialized with other important black figures such as Charles W. Chesnutt and George A. Meyers. Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois made frequent appearances in Cleveland joining the Cliffords ...

Article

Roxanne Y. Schwab

writer and educator, was born in Dresden, Ontario, Canada, the fourth child of William and Nancy Newman. Little is known of her family, and the exact dates of her birth and death are unknown, but she was most likely born sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. As a young woman, she accompanied her father to the West Indies for missionary work, then returned to the United States when he became pastor of a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following her father's death, she moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she looked after her invalid mother for thirteen months. Upon her mother's death, Lucretia Newman became the head of the household for her siblings. After her early education she completed a course of scientific study at Lawrence University in Appleton before finding work as a high school music teacher and as a clerk in a dry goods store.

In 1883 Coleman was ...

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Mitch Kachun

novelist, essayist, and teacher, was the married name of an African American woman whose maiden name and place and date of birth are unknown. Collins is best known for her novel The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride, which was originally serialized in the Christian Recorder, the weekly newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, between February and September 1865. Some scholars regard The Curse of Caste as the first non-autobiographical novel written by an African American woman to appear in print.

Nothing is known of Collins's life before April 1864, when a letter to the Christian Recorder mentioned that she was to serve as schoolteacher for the African American children in the small north-central Pennsylvania city of Williamsport. The same issue of the newspaper also printed Collins's first known published work, a nonfiction essay titled “Mental Improvement.” By January 1865 she had ...

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Debra Jackson

writer, temperance advocate, and educator, was born Ada Augusta Newton in Brooklyn, New York, the eldest of the three children of Alexander Herritage Newton, a trained mason, and Olivia Augusta (Hamilton) Newton, who was the eldest daughter of Robert Hamilton, the radical abolitionist and owner and editor of the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper. When Ada was eight years old her mother died and shortly thereafter her father, a recently licensed preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, was directed by the AME leadership to manage the church at Pennington, New Jersey. This was the first of dozens of appointments for Newton, and Ada's early years were characterized by constant travel from city to city as her father's ministry took him to all regions of the country. Despite the incessant moving, Ada received a good elementary education.

Ada worked closely with her father on church matters Indeed she ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

seamstress and domestic, was born free in Pennsylvania, one of four children born to Charles and Helena Davis. She grew up in Philadelphia with her sister, Elizabeth, and her two brothers, Alfred and Thomas. Davis was raised in the lower section of the Seventh Ward, near the shipyards, and probably attended one of the local black schools. Very little is known about Davis’s childhood, but her daily journal, which she kept from 1863 to 1865 provides some insight into her lifestyle, her educational background, and her political, social, and religious choices. Davis’s three pocket diaries are one of only four known unpublished primary sources written by a free black woman during the nineteenth century. In her diary, which begins on 1 January 1863 Davis chronicles her daily experiences living and working during the latter half of the Civil War The Jubilee Day celebrations of Abraham Lincoln s ...

Article

Sara Kakazu

autobiographer and religious leader, was born Lucy Ann Berry in St. Louis, Missouri, to Polly Crocket Berry, who was born free in Illinois, but was kidnapped and enslaved as a child. She and her husband, whose name is not known, were enslaved by Major Taylor Berry of St. Louis and had two children, Lucy and Nancy. Delaney's early childhood was relatively happy; she was not aware of her position as a slave nor was she expected to perform any labor for her owners. Lucy Delaney's peaceful childhood was interrupted when Major Berry who had paradoxically been both a master and a friend to her father was killed in a duel After Berry s death his widow remarried and Delaney s father was sold south contrary to the Major s will This traumatic separation only increased Polly Berry s determination to escape with her daughters to freedom she ...

Article

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

Zilpha Elaw was born around 1790 to free parents who brought her up in the vicinity of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In her midteens, while working as a domestic servant, she began to have religious visions. She was converted to Christianity and joined a Methodist society in an outlying region of Philadelphia in 1808. Two years later she married Joseph Elaw, a fuller, and moved with him to Burlington, New Jersey, where their daughter was born in 1812.

During a camp meeting in 1819, Zilpha Elaw became convinced that she had been called to preach the gospel. Her Memoirs state that the ministers of the Methodist Society of Burlington endorsed her aspirations and that she enjoyed initial success in her local ministry despite her husband's opposition. In 1823, Joseph Elaw died forcing his widow to find employment as a domestic A few years thereafter Elaw opened ...

Article

Zilphia Elaw was born to a free family in Pennsylvania and was raised near Philadelphia. When her mother died in 1802, Elaw was forced to live with a Quaker family as a servant. She found the Quaker practice of silent worship too dry, and preferred more expressive devotion. In Memoirs, the only source of information on her life, Elaw reports that at age fourteen she had a vision of Jesus Christ that changed her life. She joined the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1808.

Two years later she married Joseph Elaw and the couple moved to Burlington, New Jersey. Her husband had been expelled from the Methodist Church and disapproved of his wife's zeal, which nevertheless became more intense. At a revival in 1817, Elaw fell into a trance during which, she believed, God sanctified her soul. After her husband died in 1823 she dissociated ...

Article

Sharon Harrow

the first English woman to write and publish a narrative of her travels to West Africa, was born Anna Maria Horwood to Grace Roberts and Charles Horwood in Bristol.

In 1788 she married the physician and abolitionist Alexander Falconbridge; friends and family disapproved of the match. Alexander’s vehement abolitionist views resulted from his service as surgeon on four slave ships. The year of their marriage, he published An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa in order to publicize the horrors of the Middle Passage. He worked with Thomas Clarkson’s abolitionist campaign and was subsequently contracted by the St. George’s Bay Company (later renamed the Sierra Leone Company) to rescue the ailing colony of Sierra Leone. Earlier in the century, it had been a trading site for the Royal Africa Company, and it remained a country of economic interest to England. In 1787 the abolitionist Granville ...

Article

Martha L. Wharton

evangelist and writer, was born the fourth child of freed parents in Schenectady, New York. Little is known of her early life except what can be gleaned from her autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire (1879). It is known that she had a brother and an elder sister. She never reveals her family surname, nor does she provide her full name in the text.

Julia's mother—unnamed in Brand, though deeply influential in Julia's life—was born a slave in New York and suffered under a cruel master and mistress. Though this is a traditional claim in texts grounded in the slave narrative tradition, as popularized by such accounts as those of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth Foote to use her married name provides graphic detail to support her mother s claim of suffering When Julia s mother refused her master s sexual advances and reported ...

Article

Eric Gardner

poet and educator, was born Mary Weston in Charleston, South Carolina, to Furman Weston, a millwright, and Louisa Bonneau, a seamstress. Both parents were free African Americans. Furman Weston was the son of Mary Furman (Mary Furman Weston Byrd, who is eulogized in Fordham's collection of poetry) and John Weston. Furman Weston was part of the extended Weston family of free African Americans who owned land in the Charleston area and that included the noted clergyman Samuel Weston, a founder of Claflin University. Fordham's eulogy to Samuel Weston—which contains the figurative phrase “fond parent”—has misled scholars into assuming that he was actually her father. Louisa Bonneau's mother Jeanette Bonneau (also eulogized by Fordham) also owned land as a free African American in antebellum Charleston and was a daughter of Thomas Bonneau, a pioneering black educator. Mary had one sister, Jeanette who lived much ...

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

Sue Thomas

was born in Antigua in 1768. Her parents, Ann Hart (née Clearkley) and Barry Hart, classified legally as free colored, were well-educated Methodists. Barry Hart was a planter and locally published poet, and he was active in the political life of the colony. Anne was home educated. After the death of her mother in 1785, Anne and her sister Elizabeth would become involved in teaching their younger siblings, including those from Barry Hart’s second marriage.

Both converted to Methodism in 1786. Methodists in Antigua were overwhelmingly of African heritage (3,516 in a total congregation of 3,538 in 1804 and their cultures of worship community and lay pastoral care were creolized Anne and Elizabeth were deeply committed to the Methodist social ideal of practical piety and to othermothering the African and African diasporic practice of women sustaining and developing community through care for and teaching of children ...

Article

Laura M. Calkins

professor and newspaper editor in chief, was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Few details about her family's background have come to light, except that her mother, Sarah M. Graham, took an active part in her daughter's life and supported Mary's educational ambitions. During the 1850s and 1860s, southwestern Ontario was a hub of fugitive and free black settlements. The schools that were open to black students were either denominational, often short-lived, private schools or racially segregated public schools. These factors may have influenced Sarah Graham's decision to move to Flint, Michigan, a growing manufacturing town and rail hub about sixty-five miles north of Detroit. Flint, the seat of Genesee County, had few black residents and no school segregation ordinances.

Genesee County also had one of Michigan's most developed public school systems during the 1870s, when Mary Graham initially enrolled in elementary, or common, school. Although only organized in 1867 ...

Article

singer and teacher, known as the “Black Swan,” was born a slave in or near Natchez, Mississippi. Her father may have been born in Africa, and her mother, Anna, was of mixed ancestry. Various sources offer no fewer than seven different birth dates between 1807 and 1824. Greenfield's use of “Taylor” rather than “Greenfield” in certain documents suggests that her parents used this surname, but little record of them survives.

When their owner, the wealthy widow Elizabeth Holliday Greenfield, joined the Society of Friends and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the 1820s, Greenfield's parents were manumitted and immigrated to Liberia. Though records suggest her mother planned to return, Greenfield never saw her parents again. She lived with her mistress until she was about eight years old and then rejoined her as a nurse-companion in about 1836 she seems to have lived with relatives in the ...