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José Antonio Fernández Molina

was born in Cartago, Costa Rica. He amassed the nation’s largest fortune during the first half of the nineteenth century and served in several political posts. Aguilar Cubero was identified as mulatto when he was baptized and was the great-grandchild of a mulatto slave woman. His grandfather and father were involved in businesses such as cacao production in the Caribbean coast and trade with Nicaragua. Immediately after independence in 1821, ethnic categories, which were an integral part of the colonial social hierarchy imposed by Spanish rule, were abolished and legally forbidden in the new Federal Republic of Central America, which encompassed Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua for two decades.

It was within this new framework that Aguilar Cubero became an important coffee producer and trader serving as the intermediary between local coffee producers and foreign markets According to family tradition he learned to write while working ...

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Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

the first non-Indian woman to view the Black Hills. Conflicting information exists about her early years, but all sources agree that she was born in Kentucky, in 1813 or perhaps 1824. The 1813 date appeared in one of her obituaries. In later years she told of traveling up the Missouri River on the first steamboat in 1831, perhaps as a servant, cook, or lady's maid. Employment on the riverboats plying the Missouri River trade from St. Louis north during the mid-1800s provided opportunities for many black Americans to experience a measure of freedom, save some money, and have an adventure. Often they settled in one of the many northern river ports. Sarah Campbell made the most of that opportunity She worked many years on the river before purchasing property in the river town of Bismarck in present day North Dakota a territory when Campbell settled there North ...

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Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

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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 ...

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Leslie H. Fishel

abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, 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 the future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School 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 men to fight for ...

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 ...

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Charles Rosenberg

a trained agronomist who organized a team to help the Soviet Union develop its economy, and remained in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic until his death, was born on a cotton farm in Yazoo County, Mississippi, the son of Hilliard and Catherine Golden.

Golden's father was born in Mississippi in 1844, to parents born in North Carolina, while his mother was born in Texas, to a father born in North Carolina and a mother born in Virginia. He had older sisters born between the years 1862 and 1886 (Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Biddie, Miriam, Virginia Mamie), and younger brothers and sisters born between 1891 to 1900 (Willie, Lily, and Viola). Golden's parents and grandparents had all been enslaved from birth until 1863 After emancipation Hilliard Golden saved money to acquire a substantial cotton farm but ...

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Sheila Gregory Thomas

teacher, politician, and businessman, was born in Austin, Texas. His mother, Eliza, a slave of mixed race, was owned by John Hancock, a lawyer, judge, state legislator, and U.S. congressman whom Hugh knew to be his father. When he was five years of age and the Civil War was threatening, Hugh and his mother were sent by John Hancock to Oberlin, Ohio, a thriving community of whites and free blacks. This not only placed them in a safe environment but also guaranteed Hancock an education, as Oberlin College and its preparatory department welcomed all. For younger children there was the village elementary school.

Hancock was one of many offspring of white fathers and former slaves for whom Oberlin was a safe haven from the hostilities and limitations of life in the South Black residents of Oberlin in the 1800s included entrepreneurs teachers and elected officials ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman and politician, born in rural Arkansas, was the slave son of his owner, John Havis, a white farmer in Bradley and Jefferson counties, and an unnamed slave mother. Most often known simply as Ferd, his name appears in some records as Ferdinand. After the Civil War, he was educated in Freedmen's Bureau schools in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he lived for the rest of his life.

A successful entrepreneur, Ferd Havis began his career as a barber, but quickly expanded his interests, eventually operating both a saloon and retail whiskey distributorship in Pine Bluff, as well as owning tenement houses and two thousand acres of farmland in Jefferson County. He married his first wife, Dilsey, in the mid-1860s, and they had one daughter, Cora; Dilsey Havis died in 1870. In 1871 he was elected to the first of five terms as a Pine ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

body servant and minister, was born a slave at Stafford House, on the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia. The names of Lee's parents are not known, but shortly after the death of his mother he was taken to the Arlington Heights, Virginia, home of Robert E. Lee, later to command the Confederate army of northern Virginia during the Civil War. William Mack Lee married in 1855, but his brief autobiography does not mention the name of his wife, who died in 1910, nor the names of his eight daughters, the youngest of whom was born in 1875. The couple also had twenty-one grandchildren and, as of 1918, eight great-grandchildren.

Lee does not state precisely when he began serving Marse Robert whom he describes as one of the greatest men in the world but his autobiography notes erroneously that Robert E Lee freed all ...

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Steven J. Niven

cook and laborer, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, probably in 1862 or 1863. The names of his parents have not been recorded, and it is not known whether or not they were enslaved at the time of their son's birth. Indeed, but for the discovery of a package of letters written to Channing Lewis by Alice Hanley, a white Irish American woman, his life would have been largely lost to history. The letters, enclosed in a black lace stocking, fell from the attic of a house undergoing renovation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in spring 1992. When workmen opened up a hole in the ceiling, the stocking fell. Its contents provide a unique perspective on the southern black migrant experience and on the everyday life of black and white working-class people in New England at the turn of the twentieth century.

The letters also reveal a far from ...

Article

Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

adventurer, entrepreneur, and cook, was born a slave near Algood, Tennessee, probably the granddaughter of her white master, Martin Marchbanks, and the oldest of eleven children of a slave woman. Trained as a housekeeper and kitchen worker she lived on her white uncle's plantation, until while still quite young she traveled with a Marchbanks daughter to California during the gold rush, gaining first hand impressions of the West and its opportunities. After emancipation she and several siblings sought their fortunes in Colorado. Lured by the discovery of gold in the Black Hills she arrived in Deadwood on 1 June 1876 Unlike most others however she never intended to mine gold having come to believe that there was more profit in offering services to the miners using skills she already possessed She began her career in the kitchens of the Grand Central Hotel where she soon ...

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Jennifer Ky

painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Holdridge Primus, a porter at a grocery store and an active member of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, and Mehitable Jacobs, a dressmaker. The Primuses, one of the few African American families in the state to own property, consisted of the parents, Nelson, and his siblings Rebecca, Isabelle, and Henrietta, and their home was located on Wadsworth Street in Hartford. During Reconstruction, Rebecca Primus was active in efforts to educate the southern freedmen. Nelson Primus discovered his artistic talent at an early age. At the Hartford County Fair, he was recognized twice: in 1851, when he was only nine years old, he received a diploma for his sketches, and in 1859 he received a medal for his drawings.

Nelson Primus wanted to pursue that talent by painting professionally His father likely thought that this ...

Article

Richard Carlin

ragtime pianist, composer, and bar owner, was born Thomas Milton J. Turpin in Savannah, Georgia, the son of John L. “Jack” Turpin, a bar owner and amateur wrestler, and Lulu Waters. The Turpin family was prominent in Savannah's African American community, but by 1880 they had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, where John Turpin opened the Silver Dollar Saloon. Young Tom began playing piano at an early age and was employed at one of the best-known bars in the city, the Castle Club, by the early 1890s. By 1893 he had opened his own saloon, which eventually became known as the Rosebud Bar, with Turpin grandly proclaiming himself “President of the Rosebud Club.” The bar became a meeting place for local pianists, including Louis Chauvin.

Along with his brother Charles Turpin performed locally at the bar and in tent shows The duo became ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

and celebrant of George Washington. Born into slavery on George Washington's plantation, Mary Simpson Washington worked as a domestic for the general and first president. She accompanied him to New York City when it served as the nation's capital; Washington freed her when the government moved to Philadelphia. By that time she had taken the president's name and had opened a small shop on Golden Hill, at the corner of Cliff and John streets in New York. There she sold milk, butter, and eggs; became famous for her pastries and sweetmeats; and specialized in cookies named after President George Washington. Mary Simpson Washington gained further notice in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, when she begged dozens of sheep's heads from local butchers. She boiled the brains into a salubrious soup for sick humans and fed the leftovers to hundreds of starving cats.

Mary Washington was a devoted ...

Article

De Anne Blanton

cook, laundress, and Buffalo Soldier, was born into slavery in Independence, Missouri. Nothing is known of her parents, except that her father was reported to be a free black man. At some point in her early childhood, she went with her master's family to a farm near Jefferson City, where she toiled as a house servant until the start of the Civil War.

Probably in the summer of 1861, when she was nearly seventeen years old, Williams fled the plantation and joined the large group of escaped and newly freed slaves seeking the protection of Union troops occupying Jefferson City. Within months she was pressed into service as a laundress and cook for a Union regiment, possibly the Eighth Indiana Infantry. She maintained that position for nearly two years, accompanying the troops on campaigns in Missouri and Arkansas. In the summer of 1863 Williams found ...