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Nathalie Pierre

born Dédée Bazile, was also known as Défilée la folle (madwoman) and was born enslaved in Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), to unknown parents. She is remembered for burying the revolutionary leader, and independent Haiti’s first ruler, Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Some historical accounts pinpoint Défilée’s rape and torture by her enslaver at age 18 as the genesis of her madness. Défilée was homeless and publicly spoke to invisible beings, possibly lwas (spirits) of Vodou, which is a syncretic religious system incorporating West African and Catholic beliefs. These actions defied emerging social conventions and contributed to her reputation as la folle, the madwoman. It is possible, however, that the twelve-year anticolonial war against France had much to do with Défilée’s seemingly odd behavior. The arrival of the French general Donatien Rochambeau in Cap Français in 1802 dramatically shifted the course of the Haitian ...

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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 ...

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Karen E. Sutton

property owner and matriarch of eighteenth-century free black Albany, New York. Records indicate that Jackson was the first African American to own property in Albany. In January 1779 she bought a city lot on the South side of lower Second Street. We know little of her origins; however, by the time of this fortuitous purchase she had married Jack Johnson, a free man of color from Albany. They had two sons, Jack and Lewis. In 1790Dinnah Jackson worked as the housekeeper at the Masonic Lodge and at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church. Exactly how she was able to purchase her property is unclear, but she may have been extremely frugal and resourceful, or perhaps she had an unknown benefactor.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries people lived near their work and most free blacks lived near one another for support and companionship Unlike many other northern ...