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Teri B. Weil

military leader, nurse, educator, and entrepreneur, was born Clara Mae Leach Adams in Willow Springs, North Carolina. Her parents, Otha Leach and Caretha Bell, were sharecroppers, and she was the fourth of ten children. Her parents were staunch supporters of education and made sure that all of their children knew this. Her parents further instilled in the children a sense of self-respect and a belief that with knowledge they could do anything.

As a child growing up in a family of sharecroppers, Adams-Ender realized early that she wanted more out of life. Her perseverance in continuing her education while missing school to work the farm with her family was evident when she graduated second in her class at the age of sixteen. Although she enrolled in a nursing program, her first career choice was to be a lawyer. However, in 1956 her father believed that ...

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Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

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Charles Vincent

Antoine was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1836. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812; he had fought the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Antoine's mother was a native of the West Indies and the daughter of an African chief; her parents were taken as slaves from the shores of Africa. On his father's side (so the story goes), Antoine's grandmother Rose Antoine was a remarkable woman who purchased her freedom and acquired a small fortune through her work as a midwife.

Caesar C. Antoine spent his childhood in New Orleans and attended private schools. He was fluent in both French and English. After graduating, he entered one of the few occupations open to African Americans in the antebellum South: the barber trade. After federal troops captured Baton Rouge in 1862 Antoine organized a black company known subsequently as Company ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

Union army officer and politician, was born in New Orleans, the son of a West Indian midwife and a free black soldier who had served in the Corps d'Afrique with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. His parents' names are not recorded. Family lore had it that Caesar's maternal grandfather, an African chief, had been enslaved and taken to America and that his paternal grandmother, Rose Antoine, had earned enough money from her work as a midwife to purchase her freedom. Rose Antoine also left each of her seven sons twenty thousand dollars in her will.

As a free black child in New Orleans Antoine attended private schools the public schools of the city were closed to blacks and became fluent in both English and French Upon leaving school as a teenager in the early 1850s he then apprenticed and worked as a barber one of ...

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Balthazar Becker

and entrepreneur, is presumed to have been born in New York in 1736. Most of what is known of Blue’s biography we owe to an 1823 petition, in which he details his participation in both the Seven Years’ War and in the American Revolution, and through his testimony in a court case in 1832. Earlier scholars had discredited these accounts as Blue’s fabrication and had speculated that Blue was born around 1767 in Jamaica. Yet, recent archival research by Ian Duffield and Cassandra Pybus has vindicated the key dates and locales of Blue’s autobiographical accounts, which encompass pivotal eras in the histories of North America, Europe, and Australia. This scholarship has established Blue as a central figure among the black founders of modern Australia.

In all probability William Billy Blue was born in colonial New York It is now assumed that Blue was recruited as a seaman for ...

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Rose Mary Allen

was born on 6 July 1782 in Curaçao and baptized as Phillipus Ludovicus Brion. He was the son of Pierre Luis Brión, a wealthy businessman, and Mary de Trox, originally Dutch subjects of what is now modern Belgium, who became residents of Curaçao in 1777. At a very young age, Brion traveled to the Netherlands for education. Sympathetic to its ideas of liberty and equality, he enlisted in the forces of the pro-French Batavian Republic that was proclaimed in the Netherlands in 1795, and fought against the British invasion of northern Netherlands. After being transferred to England as a prisoner of war, he was released under the 1799 Convention of Alkmaar. He returned to Curaçao at the age of 18. Between 1795 and 1800 the island experienced a series of uprisings involving both free and enslaved people Luis Brion positioned himself at the heart of the era ...

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Michelle Kuhl

businessman, anti-lynching advocate, and pioneering member of Seattle, Washington's black middle class, was born in Kentucky, but exactly when or where has not been established. Some indications of Burdett's background, however, emerge from the 1850 census of Bullitt, Kentucky. One “Sam'l Burdett” is listed as a four-year-old black child living in the household of a white Burdette family headed by a fifty-year-old man named Pyton Burdett, who had a wife and seven children. A black woman named Louisa Burdett is also included in the household along with three black children, among them, “Sam'l.” The status of Louisa and her three children as either slaves or free persons is not indicated. Whatever her background in 1850, it is clear that ten years later Louisa had prospered. In 1860 the Bullitt Kentucky census listed Louisa Burdett 36 with three children including a fourteen year old Samuel living in their ...

Article

Edward L. Lach

business executive and civic leader, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Hayward G. Burrell and Fannie Miles. Although his parents’ occupations are unknown, both his father and his mother were natives of the District of Columbia, and Burrell's roots in the area ran deep. After graduating from Dunbar High School at the age of fifteen, he worked as a driver for a local pharmacy and apparently also drove a cab for a while. He married at age sixteen (his wife's name is unknown), and the marriage produced a son before ending in divorce seven years later.

In 1941 Burrell gained a position at the federal Bureau of Standards, where he worked in the glass section producing prisms and bombsights. He also attended nearby Howard University between 1941 and 1943 but did not graduate. He entered the U.S. Army in 1945 and rose to the rank of ...

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Nick J. Sciullo

corporate executive, United States Air Force veteran, was born to Charles H. Bush, an administrator at Howard University, and his wife, Marie. Bush grew up in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood surrounding Howard University. He attended Banneker Junior High School in D.C. where he was an honor student, as well as the Capitol Page School, a special high school for youth acting as congressional and Supreme Court pages. Bush was appointed a page in 1954 at the age of fourteen, not long after the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. Bush was the first African American Supreme Court page and also one of the first three African American students to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the Air Force Academy he was a member of the debate team and rugby team, and served in student leadership as a squad commander.

Bush became the ...

Article

Paul Stillwell

pioneer black naval officer, was born in Washington, North Carolina, the eighth of eleven children of Edward L. Cooper, a sheet metal worker, and Laura J. Cooper a homemaker One of the eleven siblings died in infancy the remaining ten became college graduates During his upbringing in North Carolina Cooper often faced the tribulations of southern racism He went to segregated schools and learned from his parents that he had to go out of his way to avoid conflict with whites Once when Cooper was eight or nine years old he got into a fight with a white boy As he put it It was the wrong day for him to call me a nigger and we had it out Stillwell 76 Cooper s father had to smooth things over with the boy s father to avoid the incident s escalation When he worked as a bellhop in ...

Article

Kathryn L. Beard

soldier, sailor, and shipbuilder during the War of Independence, was born free in the British colony of St. Kitts of mixed race parentage. Little is known about his early life. Prior to adulthood he became literate, fluent in French and English, and he trained as a skilled craftsman in building dwellings and ships. As a free person of color in one of the older sugar colonies, he would have benefited from an increasing emigration of whites and, by 1745, a plantation system characterized by a high level of absenteeism by white landowners. These factors contributed to the growth of a small colored elite, financed largely by credit given by white relatives but still facing legal and de facto discrimination. For example, until 1830 the laws of St Kitts prohibited free people of color from attending the colony s few public schools although they paid taxes to ...

Article

Steven Leikin

diplomat, preacher, and author, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Sallie Montgomery. Nothing is known of his biological father. His mother, however, was an African American, and Dennis was of mixed race parentage. In 1897 he was adopted by Green Dennis, a contractor, and Cornelia Walker. During his youth Dennis was known as the “mulatto child evangelist,” and he preached to church congregations in the African American community of Atlanta before he was five years old. By the age of fifteen he had toured churches throughout the United States and England and addressed hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite his success as an evangelist Dennis had ambitions to move beyond this evangelical milieu. In 1913, unschooled but unquestionably bright, he applied to Phillips Exeter Academy and gained admission. He graduated within two years and in 1915 entered Harvard.

Dennis s decisions to ...

Article

Marcus Shepard

lawyer, businessman, civil rights leader, and Chicago alderman, was born in Canton, Mississippi, to Edward Dickerson and Emma Garrett Fielding. Earl Dickerson's maternal grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Garrett, bought his freedom in the 1850s and owned a livery stable as well as several other properties in Canton. His business was destroyed during the Civil War, however, and by the time Earl was born the family lived in relative poverty. Edward Dickerson, who worked away from home as an upholsterer, died when Earl was five and he was raised by his mother, who did laundry for local whites, his paternal half-sister, and his maternal grandmother, who ran a small boarding house in Canton.

In 1906 Dickerson was sent to live with relatives in New Orleans where he attended the preparatory school of New Orleans University Unfortunately family finances forced him to return to Canton ...

Article

Caryn Cossé Bell

businessman, Civil War veteran, and Reconstruction politician, was the son of the influential Creole New Orleanian Joseph Dumas, one of the owners of the Dumas Brothers French Quarter clothiers, a firm that specialized in imported French cloth and luxury apparel. Joseph Dumas invested his share of the firm's profits in real estate and accumulated a considerable fortune in property holdings and slaves. In 1860 African American Louisianans like François and Joseph Dumas constituted the wealthiest population of free blacks in the United States.

Joseph Dumas's import business necessitated that the Dumas family sojourn frequently in France, and it was there that François, was born, raised, and educated. François arrived in New Orleans shortly before the Civil War to manage the family business. He married Marguerite Victoria Victor, and the couple had five children, three girls and two boys. By 1860 he had become one ...

Article

Lois Kerschen

Clinton Bowen Fisk, the sixth son of Benjamin and Lydia Fisk, was born in Livingston County, New York. His father had been a captain in the army, and his grandfather served as a major general under George Washington. The Fisk family moved to a settlement they called Clinton in Lenawee County, Michigan, while Clinton Bowen was still an infant. Benjamin Fisk died when Clinton was six, however, and Lydia was not able to hold onto the property. At age nine, Clinton Fisk apprenticed himself to a local farmer, but one year later he had to return home because his younger brother died. When Fisk was thirteen, his mother married William Smith, a successful farmer from Spring Arbor, who sent Fisk to Albion Seminary, a Methodist school in Michigan.

Fisk later went into business as a clerk for L. D. Crippen of Coldwater Michigan and married Crippen s ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

William Flora was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than 2,000 free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony's statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, Flora, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves.

Nothing is known about Flora's life prior to 1775, when he joined Colonel William Woodford's Second Virginia Regiment as a private. He furnished his own musket, suggesting that he had already earned the esteem of his white neighbors, because the colony's statutes also barred free blacks from bearing arms and from serving in the militia. He fought against the British and Loyalist forces commanded by Lord ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

war hero and businessman, was born probably in the vicinity of Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of free black parents, whose names are unknown. On the eve of the American Revolution fewer than two thousand free blacks lived in Virginia. The colony's statutes forbade the manumission of slaves except those who exposed an incipient slave uprising. Consequently, William, who was known as “Billy,” was probably descended from Africans who arrived in Virginia before 1640, when blacks were treated like indentured servants rather than slaves.

Nothing is known about Flora's life prior to 1775, when he joined Colonel William Woodford's Second Virginia Regiment as a private He furnished his own musket suggesting that he had already earned the esteem of his white neighbors because the colony s statutes also barred free blacks from bearing arms and from serving in the militia He fought against British and Loyalist forces ...

Article

Julie Winch

abolitionist, businessman, and Civil War soldier, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the fifth of nine children of James Forten, a sailmaker and Revolutionary War veteran, and Charlotte Vandine. He was named for the white craftsman who befriended his father and gave him his start in business. Of his siblings, Margaretta Forten, Harriet Forten Purvis, Sarah Forten Purvis, James Forten Jr., and William Forten became active in the antislavery movement. Robert Forten received his early education at a school his parents and other affluent black Philadelphians established because of the failure of the city's board of education to provide adequate schooling for their children. Eventually Robert and his brothers transferred to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society's Clarkson School, although they may also have studied with the private tutors their parents hired to teach their sisters at home.

Growing up Forten developed a wide range ...

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Jean M. Brannon

businessman and civic leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frank Gardner, a U.S. federal employee, and Eva. Residing in his parents' West Chesterfield home on Chicago's far South Side, Gardner attended Gillespie Elementary. In elementary school Gardner exhibited his gifts of salesmanship and initiative when he began delivering the Chicago Defender newspaper door-to-door in his neighborhood. The community contacts he developed as a newspaper boy continued long after he had given up his paper route. He and his older brother Frank were the only two African American students enrolled in Fenger High School. Edward's high school extracurricular interests were intramural sports, primarily basketball, and creative art. His artistic abilities resulted in summer scholarships to the Ray Vogue Art School. Gardner was drafted into the U.S. military after his high school graduation in 1943 Stationed in Japan and the Pacific islands in World War II ...

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Angela Bates

buffalo soldier, pioneer settler, and entrepreneur, was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, to a Native American mother and an African American father. At the age of fourteen he boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi River and became a cabin boy. During the Civil War, Garland served as a Union volunteer. After the war, in 1867, he joined the Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was assigned to Company F at Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth became the first headquarters for the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. In 1866 the U S Congress designated the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and the Twenty fourth and Twenty fifth Infantries These regiments were composed solely of African Americans except for their white officers the soldiers of these regiments were the first to officially serve in the military after the Civil War After training Company F was assigned to forts in western Kansas responsible for a ...