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Charles Rosenberg

known as “one of the best educated colored ladies of Oakland,” California (Beasley, p. 236), was born Rebecca Crews in or near Halifax or Pittsylvania counties, Virginia, the youngest child of Richard and Sylvia Crews. In 1870, when Rebecca Crews was five years old, her father was a blacksmith, her mother did washing and ironing, her older sister Martha Ann (who later took the married name of Ford) was hired out as a domestic servant, and her older sister Susan, like Rebecca, remained at home. She and Susan appear to have been the first in the family who learned to read and write.

Her parents and older siblings had been enslaved and an older brother George born in Halifax County Virginia was sold away from his parents at the age of two into Richmond Virginia He acquired the surname Mitchel It was by no means universal that formerly enslaved ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by electric chair in Georgia, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, to Queenie Baker, a sharecropper, and a father whose name is unknown. Little is known about her early life. If typical of the African American experience in southwestern Georgia in the early 1900s Baker's childhood was probably one of long working hours and low expectations. Indeed, it was in the debt-ridden and desperate Georgia black belt of the early 1900s that W. E. B. Du Bois discovered the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury Litwack 114 In an attempt to escape from that world of debt and desperation Baker began working at an early age at first helping her mother chop cotton for a neighboring white family the Coxes Like other black women in the community she also worked as a laundress and occasional domestic for white families in town Despite the legacy ...

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Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

Article

Kimberly Cheek

enslavedAfrican-American woman, was born free in Illinois around 1818. The exact date and place of her birth, and the names of her parents are not known. The memoir From Darkness Cometh Light; or Struggles for Freedom, which was published by her daughter Lucy Ann Delany in 1891, provides an account of her mother's life. Despite this extant narrative the chronological record of Berry's origins, movements, and transfer of ownership during her enslavement remains vague.

Her enslavement began in the 1820s, when Polly was abducted, taken to St. Louis, Missouri, and sold into slavery. Shortly afterward she resided in Wayne County, Kentucky. Eric Gardner in Unexpected Places asserts that the Beatty family of Wayne County Kentucky were Polly s first owners p 33 Eventually the Beattys sold her to a poor farmer named Joseph Crockett and she became known as Polly Crockett When she was fourteen ...

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

Lou-Ann Crouther

housekeeper, nurse's aide, and writer, was born in New York City, the oldest of the three daughters of James Lee Dickens, a barber and night watchman, and Laura Breckinridge Paige Dickens Potter, a housekeeper and cook. The household also included extended family members, Ethel and Edna Paige (Dorothy's older half-sisters), whose father was deceased. They attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem during some of the years in which Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (who was Laura Dickens's first cousin) was the head pastor. The family moved from Harlem to Mamaroneck, New York, when Dorothy was young, on the recommendation of the family doctor who suggested a more favorable location to cure her case of rickets. Her younger sisters, Evelyn and Irene were born in Mamaroneck and all three of the Dickens girls attended local schools in that city The three Dickens sisters shared the ...

Article

John G. Turner

domestic servant, teacher, and missionary, was born in Gainesville, Alabama, the daughter of Mary and Jesse Fearing, who were slaves of the planter Overton Winston and his wife Amanda Winston. At a young age Mrs. Winston removed Fearing from the care of her parents and began to train her, alongside her older sister, for work inside the plantation house.

Mrs. Winston, a Presbyterian, taught Fearing Bible stories, hymns, and the Westminster catechism, and she impressed upon Fearing the importance of foreign missions. As a young woman Fearing joined the Winstons' church, a congregation affiliated with the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States.

After the Civil War Fearing stayed in Gainesville and sought employment as a domestic servant. Motivated by a desire to read the Bible for herself, Fearing gained some measure of literacy through the help of friends. In 1871 a minister told ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

White House chief butler, was born in Lyles Station, Indiana, an all-black community founded by freed slaves in the 1850s, where his father ran a general store and his mother kept a boarding house. Fields's early love of music was influenced by his father, who directed the only African American brass band in southern Indiana. In 1920 the family moved to Indianapolis, where Fields and his father played together in a YMCA military brass band; Alonzo trained the choir, studied voice, and learned Irish ballads. His dream of becoming a professional singer had to be balanced, however, with his need to make a living, and he again followed in his father's footsteps by running a grocery store. When his business began to decline in 1925 Fields left Indianapolis for Boston where he enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music There he trained at first to be a ...

Article

John Gruber

photographer, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and attended Howard High School in Chattanooga. His parents were King and Hattie Murfrees Ganaway. Ganaway did not go to college, although his sister, Mamie Egester, graduated from college in Chattanooga. He worked as a butler from 1906 to 1925 for Mary A. Lawrence, the widow of Edward F. Lawrence, a prominent Chicagoan, who lived on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago's “Gold Coast.” During these years, he tried to revive a childhood interest in drawing, but frustrated with his efforts, he turned to photography. He was self-taught, spending his off days perfecting his photographic skills.

Ganaway's photo, “Spirit of Transportation”—an image of two sections of a passenger train, the 20th Century Limited, arriving in Chicago on a cold day in February 1918 captivated the media when it won the first prize in the fifteenth annual exhibition of photographs at ...

Article

Theresa Vara-Dannen

former slave and butler to Samuel Clemens, waiter, and businessman, was born to unknown enslaved parents. Although an 1880 census record indicates he was born in Virginia, Samuel Clemens, the author known as Mark Twain, maintained he was born in Maryland. An 1870 census record shows a twenty-two-year old George Griffin working as a waiter and residing in the Bay State House, a residential hotel; this record indicates that Griffin reported Maryland as his state of birth.

The little known about Griffin's youth was written by Samuel Clemens in an unpublished piece, “A Family Sketch”: Griffin was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation; in his youth, he saw the Civil War firsthand as a servant of General Charles Devens Jr., who fought at Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg and was later named attorney general under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Clemens met Griffin in 1875 ...

Article

Cheryl Laz

humanitarian and founder of Hale House, was born Clara McBride in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Her father was murdered when she was a child, and her mother died when Clara was sixteen. She left high school without graduating, although she eventually earned her high school equivalency diploma at the age of eighty-seven. After leaving school she married Thomas Hale and moved with him to New York City. There she did cleaning, worked as a domestic, and studied business administration by taking night classes at City College. When she was twenty-seven her husband died, leaving her with three children.

The conflict between financially supporting and physically caring for three young children spurred Hale to begin caring for children in her home. She became a licensed foster parent, taking in seven or eight children at a time. Between 1941 and 1968 she reared more than forty foster children.

Hale ...

Article

Eric R. Jackson

personal assistant to President James Madison and the First Lady Dolley Madison, author, and enslaved African American, was born in Montpelier, Virginia. More importantly, Jennings is best known as perhaps the first non-president or member of a president's family to write a narrative about one's life experience in the Oval Office. His father, Benjamin (or William) Jennings, was a white English trader, his mother was an enslaved African American (unnamed) who was owned by President and First Lady Madison. As a child, young Paul was befriend by the Madison's son Payne Todd. When James Madison was elected as the fourth president of the United States in 1808 Jennings who at the time ten years old accompanied the family to Washington where he served the first family in the executive mansion On one occasion Jennings aided the First Lady as she greeted numerous guests during one of her legendary ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

school teacher and domestic worker, is best known for a poignant and detailed autobiography that provides a window into daily life for the Americans who were stigmatized legally and socially, during the middle of the twentieth century, by their dark complexion.

Sarah Lucille Webb was born in Clio, Alabama, to Elizabeth (Lizzie) Janet Lewis Webb, a schoolteacher, and Willis James Webb, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. In her early years she moved with her parents to Troy, Andalusia, Birmingham, Batesville, and Eufala, Alabama. As an itinerant minister ordained by a Methodist church, Reverend Webb was subject to reassignment to a new church at any annual conference, and every one to two years he had to move. The family supplemented his minister's salary by sharecropping cotton and corn and grew field peas, greens, and vegetables for their own use or for sale.

The family ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, Civil War veteran, author, and itinerant minister, was born in New Bern, North Carolina. His mother was Lettice Nelson, a slave on John Nelson's plantation at Garbacon Creek in eastern North Carolina; his father was a white man believed to be William Singleton. As a young child of four, William was sold by his owner and thus separated from his mother and two brothers for the first time.

Singleton was purchased by a Georgia widow who speculated in slaves buying people cheaply when they were young and selling them at a premium when they had reached adulthood He was given the common tasks of a slave child running errands and carrying goods Around the age of six Singleton decided to escape the constant whippings and his bondage in Georgia and return to New Bern He was able to ride a stagecoach from ...

Article

William A. Allison

housekeeper for Thaddeus Stevens, was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a black mother surnamed O'Neill and a white father. She took Hamilton as her surname. Even though Lydia Hamilton Smith was merely a housekeeper, she became widely known because of her employment with Thaddeus Stevens. When Thaddeus Stevens came to Washington in 1849 as a Whig representative to Congress from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he was known as an implacable foe of slavery. He labored tirelessly to make the slavery-ending Thirteenth Amendment (1865) a permanent part of the United States Constitution. He also played a major role in the enactment of the Fourteenth Amendment (1866).

After moving into a house on South Queens Street in Lancaster, Stevens decided that he needed a housekeeper. He first attempted to employ a woman by the name of Anna Sulkey, but Anna became the wife of Dennis Martin ...