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Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

George Thomas Downing was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School #2 on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American males to fight for the elective franchise in New York ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

George Thomas Downing lived nearly eighty-four years, but the results of his struggles for civil rights persisted long past his death. He was born to Thomas and Rebecca West Downing in New York City and attended the Mulberry Street School, which educated many future leaders in the fight for black civil rights. When George turned fourteen, he and several schoolmates organized a literary society in which to read, write, and talk about various issues of the day—primarily slavery. The young men in the society adopted a resolution against celebrating the Fourth of July because they believed that the Declaration of Independence mocked black Americans.

Downing graduated from Hamilton College in Oneida County, New York, and began his fight for black civil rights by serving as an agent for the Underground Railroad. From 1857 to 1866 he led the fight against separate public schools for blacks and whites in Rhode ...

Article

Christopher Devine

baseball player and activist, was born Welday Wilberforce Walker in Steubenville, Ohio. He was the fifth of six children born to Moses W. Walker, a physician and minister. He was reared, along with the rest of his siblings, by Caroline (O'Harra) Walker, but Weldy's death certificate lists his mother as Maria Simpson. This information was supplied to the coroner by Walker's nephew Thomas Gibson, who in the early 1920s claimed not to know Weldy's mother's identity. It is unclear whether the change in Gibson's information evidences newfound knowledge, a disclosed Walker family secret, or fiction. Walker's first name likely paid homage to the local pioneer Alexander Welday (although when and why Walker changed its spelling is unknown), and his middle name likely honored the English abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Steubenville where Walker would spend most of his life was a racially progressive town known for ...

Article

Shennette Garrett-Scott

hotelier and entertainment entrepreneur, was born William Nathaniel Wilson in Columbia, South Carolina. His mother, Rebecca (Butler) Wilson, worked as a cook and maid, and his father, William Wilson, whom Sunnie barely knew, worked as a Pullman porter and hotel waiter. As a young child, Rebecca moved Sunnie and his older sister Irene to live with his maternal grandparents. His grandfather's status as a doctor allowed him entrée into Columbia's elite black society. While in high school, he worked several odd jobs. One summer he went with his uncle to New York. His outgoing personality and a bit of good fortune landed him a job as a bellboy at the exclusive Lotus Club, a private millionaires' club. When he returned to South Carolina, he completed high school with the help of a private tutor and went on to study drama at Allen University in Columbia.

Wilson struggled ...

Article

John N. Ingham

James Wormley was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Pere Leigh Wormley and Mary (maiden name unknown). Both his parents were free people of color before their 1814 arrival in Washington, where his father became proprietor of a livery stable on Pennsylvania Avenue between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets, near the famous Willard Hotel. Wormley's early life is obscure, but it is certain that he went to work at a young age as a hack driver for his father, whose business was thriving by the 1820s. Eventually Wormley bought a horse and carriage of his own and began to work independently. Wormley's exposure to the city's fine hotels and high society through his clientele, which inevitably included many prominent public figures, might perhaps have influenced his later vocation.

In 1841 Wormley married Anna Thompson; they had four children. In 1849 he left his home to join the ...

Article

Shennette Garrett-Scott

millionaire franchiser, real-estate developer, and hotelier, was born Alonzo Gordon Wright in Fayetteville, Tennessee, the eldest of three children of Alonzo Wright and Joyce Kelso Wright. Wright had two younger brothers, William and Charles Kelso. His father died when Wright was about six. His mother moved to the Lakeside community of Cleveland, Ohio, during World War I for better job opportunities. Wright started out as a teenager with only an eighth-grade education and a few cents in his pocket. Ambitious and resourceful, he worked several odd jobs, including stints as a teamster, foundry worker, and mail-truck driver.

While working as a parking attendant at the city's Auditorium Garage, he had occasion to talk with a number of business executives who parked there. He struck up a friendship with the Standard Oil executive W. T. Holliday. In 1928 President Holliday offered Wright a receptionist position at Standard Oil and ...