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Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

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James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

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Margaret Blair Young

prominent Mormon entrepreneur, was born enslaved in Pickens County, Alabama, but was soon sent to Mississippi. Chambers's death certificate lists his parents as James Davidson and Ester Glaspy. In Mississippi he heard Mormon missionaries and was persuaded to be baptized. Missionary Preston Thomas secretly baptized him at night—a secret he kept to himself until his emancipation. At the time of his baptism, Chambers was between twelve and thirteen years old. He reflected upon his youthful decision in later life, suggesting scriptural precedent for his early faith. “Joseph was a boy and also Samuel, and the Lord spoke to them, so we see the Lord is willing to speak to boys,” Chambers said on 14 December 1875 (Young, n.p.).

After the Civil War, the newly emancipated Chambers worked as a shoe cobbler and as a sharecropper. In 1870 he began his trek west to join his fellow Latter day ...

Article

Rochell Isaac

pastor, educator, and entrepreneur, was born a slave in Christian Country, Kentucky. Clark never knew his biological father. While Clark was still a baby, his father escaped from slavery. His mother, Mary Clark, subsequently married Jerry Clark, who would join the Union army in 1860. Charles Henry Clark remained a slave for a total of nine years, and it was at the age of seven that the overseer's wife took him as her servant. She taught Clark to spell and initiated his path to literacy, but the outbreak of the Civil War would separate Clark from his teacher. During this period, Clark's mother moved from Kentucky to New Providence, Tennessee, to await her husband, Jerry Clark, who was returning from the army. Mary Clark had difficulty financially supporting her family, since her only income at this time came from her eldest son, George W. Clark As ...

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Carla J. Jones

a former slave, became a respected minister, entrepreneurial landowner, and philanthropic community leader during the years after Civil War. Born on a plantation in Elkton, Giles County, Tennessee, Gardner was the eldest son of the four children of Rachel Vasser Gardner and Martin Gardner, both of whom were slaves. While enslaved, his family was owned by three different families. Little is known about their first owner except that he was an Atlantic slave trader by the name of Franklin; his forename may have been Isaac. Gardner's second slave master was Richard Whitehead Vasser, who owned his own dry goods and mortgage company in Limestone County, Alabama. During this time Gardner's father, Martin, was sold or died, and his mother Rachel took another husband, Tom Gardner with whom she had three children The Vassers proved especially cruel Occasionally the slave master s son went out and got ...

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Alonford James Robinson

George Gordon was born in Jamaica to a black slave and her wealthy white master. His father, Joseph, devoted more time to running his estate and furthering his political career than he did to his colored son. Like most wealthy whites in Jamaica during the 1820s, Joseph Gordon was both a member of Jamaica's exclusive House of Assembly and a custos in Saint Andrew's Parish—the highest administrative official in the local province.

As the illegitimate son of the slave master, George Gordon learned the importance of self-reliance at an early age, even teaching himself how to read and write. Much to his father's surprise, he showed signs of proficiency in accounting at an early age. By age ten he was a skilled bookkeeper, and around this time Joseph Gordon decided to free his son, sending him to live with his godfather, businessman James Daley, in Black River, Jamaica.

With ...

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Richard Newman

better known as Daddy Grace or Sweet Daddy Grace or by his self-proclaimed title, Boyfriend of the World, was one of the more flamboyant religious leaders of the twentieth century. He was born, probably as Marceline Manoel da Graca, in Brava, Cape Verde Islands, of mixed Portuguese and African ancestry, the son of Manuel de Graca and Gertrude Lomba. In the charismatic church that he founded and headed, however, he managed to transcend race by declaring: “I am a colorless man. I am a colorless bishop. Sometimes I am black, sometimes white. I preach to all races.” Like many other Cape Verdeans, Grace immigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts, around the turn of the century and worked there and on Cape Cod as a short-order cook, a salesman of sewing machines and patent medicines, and a cranberry picker.Also known as Bishop Grace he may have established his first church ...

Article

Charles Emmanuel Grace was of mixed African and Portuguese descent, born in the Cape Verde Islands around 1882, probably as Marceline Manoël de Graça. Grace was among the numerous Cape Verdean immigrants who arrived in the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century. In the Cape Verdean communities of New Bedford and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Grace worked as a short-order cook, a cranberry picker, and a sewing machine and patent medicine salesman.

Grace founded his first church in West Waltham, Massachusetts, around 1919. By the mid-1920s he had moved south, and was holding large, popular revivals and tent-meetings around Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1927 with an estimated 13 000 followers Grace incorporated The United House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith The church grew rapidly and soon included branches all along the eastern seaboard ...

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Amber Moulton-Wiseman

minister, congressman, businessman, philanthropist, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of William H. Gray Jr., a minister and university president, and Hazel Yates Gray, a university dean. During Gray's early childhood, his father was president of both Florida Memorial College and Florida A&M University, and his mother was dean of students at Southern University in Baton Rouge. However, the family then moved to Philadelphia in 1949. There, Gray's father took a position as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. William H. Gray Jr.'s own father had held that post since 1925.

Gray was educated in the public school system and graduated from Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High School in 1959. Upon graduation, Gray enrolled at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and pursued his joint interest in religion and politics, even taking an internship with Democratic Congressman Robert ...

Article

Rebecca L. Hankins

businesswoman, civil rights and peace activist, and United Methodist Church leader, was born Emma Augusta Clarie Collins in Meridian, Mississippi, the only child of Malachi C. and Mary Rayford Collins, owners of a funeral home and insurance business. The Harveys lived comfortably, despite the impositions of Jim Crow segregation. Collins began her education at two of the South's most important black institutions: Tougaloo College and Spelman College—the renowned Atlanta school for African American women—where she completed her BA degree in Economics in 1937. She went on to attend Indiana Institute of Mortuary Science, in 1942 becoming one of the first African Americans to receive a degree in Mortuary Science. She continued her education and in 1950 received an MA in Personnel Administration from Columbia University and then attended New York University's Graduate School of Business Administration.

On 1 August 1943 Collins married Martin Luther Harvey ...

Article

Angela M. Gooden

pastor, community organizer, and activist, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Damon Lynch Jr., a pastor and store owner, and Barbara (Davis) Lynch, a former American Airlines reservations supervisor. As a somewhat rebellious and easily bored teen at a boys' parochial school, Lynch ran into opposition when the priests insisted that he shave his facial hair. Lynch bounced from high school to high school before eventually graduating from Woodward High School. Summer jobs in his father's store gave Lynch important entrepreneurial experience that he later drew upon to establish nonprofit organizations in low-income communities. After graduation Lynch held several jobs, including a stint at the United Parcel Service (UPS) where he was taught a serious work ethic. At Burke Marketing and Research, Lynch met his future wife, Johanna Bolden, who also happened to be his on-the-job trainer. The couple married on 3 ...

Article

Whittington B. Johnson

pastor and businessman, was probably born in Goose Creek, South Carolina. His mother was a slave, and his father was the English overseer on the plantation where the family lived; their names are unknown. Shortly after Marshall's birth, his father died while on a trip to England, thus ending abruptly the Englishman's plans to free his family. Marshall, his mother, and an older sibling (whose sex is not revealed in extant records) were subsequently sold to John Houstoun of Savannah, a prominent public official.

Houstoun was the second of five masters that Marshall had during his half century of servitude. Marshall became devoted to Houstoun, whose life he once saved, and Houstoun apparently grew fond of Marshall, for whose manumission Houstoun provided in his will. Nevertheless, when Houstoun, who had twice served as governor of Georgia and later as mayor of Savannah, died in 1796 the executors of ...

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Whittington B. Johnson

Marshall, Andrew Cox (1756–11 December 1856), pastor and businessman, probably, was born in Goose Creek, South Carolina. His mother was a slave and his father was the English overseer on the plantation where the family lived; their names are unknown. Shortly after Marshall’s birth, his father died while on a trip to England, thus ending abruptly the Englishman’s plans to free his family. Marshall, his mother, and an older sibling (whose sex is not revealed in extant records) were subsequently sold to John Houstoun of Savannah, a prominent public official.

Houstoun was the second of five masters Marshall had during his half century of servitude Marshall became devoted to Houstoun whose life he once saved and the latter apparently grew fond of Marshall for whose manumission he provided in his will Nevertheless when Houstoun who had twice served as governor of Georgia and later as mayor of ...

Article

Jeri Chase Ferris

slave, nurse, landowner, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Hancock County, Georgia, of unknown parents. Though her slave name was Bridget, she was almost always called Biddy, and not until she achieved her freedom in Los Angeles, California, in 1865 did she take the surname Mason. It is not definitively known why she chose “Mason,” although Amasa Mason Lyman was the company captain on Biddy Mason's journey from Mississippi to Salt Lake City, and later to San Bernardino. Biddy was an infant when she was given or sold to the John Smithson family of Mississippi, to whom she belonged until she was eighteen. Smithson then gave her, along with two other slaves, as a wedding present to his cousin Rebecca when she married Robert M. Smith Biddy Mason s new duties included nursing care of the frail Rebecca Smith and the making ...

Article

Born into slavery to unknown parents and raised on John Smithson's plantation in Hancock, Mississippi, Biddy Bridget Mason was given by her owners as a wedding gift in 1836 to Robert Marion Smith and Rebecca Crosby Smith. After converting to Mormonism in 1847, Smith's family and their slaves made the 2,000-mile trek to Utah. Traveling with her three daughters, Ella, Ann, and Harriet, who were probably fathered by her owner, Mason acted as midwife, nurse, and caretaker for the caravan. After four years in Salt Lake City, Smith took the group to a new Mormon settlement in San Bernardino, California. Smith had apparently forgotten that California was declared a free state in 1850, and under this law Mason and her family were manumitted on January 1, 1856.

Now free, Mason moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a nurse. By 1866 she ...

Article

John Howard Smith

clerk, storekeeper, and millenarian prophet, was born in Louisa County, Virginia, and was the property of David Ross of Richmond until Ross emancipated him in 1792. Much of what is known of McPherson's life is chronicled in the posthumously published A Short History of the Life of Christopher McPherson, alias Pherson, Son of Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1855), written by McPherson around 1811. According to McPherson's account, while a slave of Ross he was given an elementary education and became a capable bookkeeper, gaining skills that he briefly used to clerk for one of the commissary generals in the Continental Army during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. Upon his emancipation, McPherson remained in Ross's employ until 1799 when his conversion to Christianity led him to believe that he was a divinely commissioned millenarian prophet That transformation ...

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Loren Schweninger

Meachum, John Berry (1790?–1854), craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, he was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they would have an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only $3 in his pocket. There Meachum used the carpentry skills he had learned under slavery to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper’s shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, Meachum was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they had an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only three dollars in his pocket. There Meachum used his carpentry skills to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper's shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them earn money to pay him back for their ...

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Ana Paula Nadalini Mendes

Yoruba Muslim who purchased his freedom, also known by the name Abuncaré, was born in the state of Oyo in West Africa’s Bight of Benin Hinterland. His life and travels demonstrate the active exchange of culture, cuisine, and religion between Africa and Brazil during the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade and a cycle of revolts closely associated with African Muslims.

Rufino’s life story is strongly affected by the politics and religion surrounding Islamic rebellions both in Africa and in Brazil at the time. In 1822 Rufino was captured as a young man in West Africa and transported as a slave to Brazil as a result of the war between different groups of Muslims and the Yoruba people in Oyo. He landed in Bahia, where he served the apothecary João Gomes da Silva, helping him to prepare food and medicines. In 1830 da Silva and some of his slaves ...

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Charles Rosenberg

business owner, barber, and local church leader, stands out for his success in running a Main Street business in a small town in Mississippi during the most virulent years of Jim Crow. His mother, Mary Ollie Shuler, was a domestic worker who managed in 1883 to purchase a small home in Starkville, Mississippi, where Wier was born.

He attended a grade school designated for “colored” students from the age of 6 to 14, but spent a year after completing 8th grade recovering from an accidental sling shot wound to his eye. Wier never went back to school. He worked at construction jobs, as a water carrier, and shining shoes, until he was taught the basic skills of cutting hair by H. M. Carpenter, a barber classified by the laws of Mississippi as “white.” Carpenter advised Wier to gain some experience in the trade, so starting in 1904 ...