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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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Frances Smith Foster

author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Most of the little we know of her life comes from The House of Bondage (1890), the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met her fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They married in 1874 and had one daughter.Sometime around 1877 Albert s husband was ordained as a Methodist ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

slave and state legislator, was born to unknown slave parents near Holly Springs in Marshall County, Mississippi, just south of that state's border with Tennessee. His parents were owned by different masters, and in 1857, when George was eleven, his father was sold and forced to move to Texas.

Later when he was in his nineties Albright recalled that he had learned to read and write as a child even though the state of Mississippi prohibited slaves from doing so Historians have estimated that despite legal restrictions at least 5 percent of all slaves were literate on the eve of the Civil War though literacy rates were probably lowest in rural Black Belt communities like Holly Springs In Albright s recollection a state law required that any slave who broke this law be punished with 500 lashes on the naked back and have his or her thumb cut ...

Article

Susan Bragg

tailor, store owner, and newspaper editor, was born in Pennsylvania, to parents whose names and occupations are now unknown. Little is known about Anderson's early life except that he was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, ultimately gaining appointment as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge for the State of Pennsylvania. Anderson migrated west in the waning days of the California gold rush and in 1854 set up a tailor shop and clothing store in San Francisco. There he plunged into the city's small but energetic black community, a community linked by both the mining economy and by shared protest against injustices in the new state of California.

Anderson soon became a regular contributor to political discussions at the recently organized Atheneum Institute, a reading room and cultural center for black Californians. In January 1855 he and other prominent African Americans joined together to call ...

Article

Michael C. Miller

The son of Jonathan Andrew, a farmer and storeowner, and Nancy Green Pierce, a schoolteacher, John Andrew was born in Windham, Massachusetts (in the part of the state that became Maine in 1820). He attended Bowdoin College and graduated in 1837. He moved to Boston, where he entered the law and became active in politics. An idealistic lawyer, devoting much of his early career to pro bono work for prisoners and blacks, he made a name for himself fighting fugitive slave laws. He considered the abolitionist John Brown a hero and arranged for his defense counsel after Brown was caught at Harpers Ferry in 1859. In politics he was active with the “Young Whigs,” an antislavery splinter group that became the Free-Soil Party. He served a term in the Massachusetts legislature (1857).

During the 1860 elections Andrew was the head of the Massachusetts delegation ...

Article

Rob Garrison

José Antonio Aponte, a free black man, worked as a carpenter and a wood carver in Havana, Cuba, before taking the role of revolutionary leader. Like many other Afro-Cubans in the early 1800s, he was discontented with the continuation of slavery and Spanish dominance that kept blacks from freedom. Afro-Cubans had already supported an unsuccessful independence movement in 1810, and had their hopes raised when Spanish courts briefly considered ending slavery. Once this proposal was rejected, blacks knew that freedom could be achieved only through their own means. Aponte seized this opportunity and proceeded to gather both the free and enslaved blacks of Havana in 1811 to form the Central Revolutionary Junta. The group quickly expanded and established smaller units throughout Cuba. Aponte solicited the help of Haitian general Jean François, who promised support for the proposed revolt.

Aponte s intention was not only to end Afro ...

Article

Adam W. Green

was the second of three children born to two freed slaves, Eben Tobias, a farmer, and Susan Gregory, a mixed-race Pequot Indian, in Derby, Connecticut. An education proponent and political activist, Bassett became America's first black diplomat when he served as Resident Minister in Haiti for eight years, helping pave the way for those seeking opportunities in international diplomacy and public service.

Along with his mixed race birth and royal lineage that his family claimed from Africa Bassett whose surname came from a generous white family close to his grandfather s former owners also had elected office in his blood His grandfather Tobiah who won his freedom after fighting in the American Revolution had been elected a Black Governor as had Bassett s father Eben The largely nominal honorific was bestowed upon respected men in various locales via Election Days sometimes by a voice vote these Black Governors ...

Article

Chandra M. Miller

dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. Nothing is known about his parents. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As Martin's slave, Nixon learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor's assistant and to make dental house calls. He also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor's accounts.

In Norfolk, Nixon became involved with the Underground Railroad. Befriending the captains of many of the schooners sailing in and out of Norfolk, he often convinced them to hide fugitive slaves aboard ship and carry them north, usually to Philadelphia or to New Bedford, Massachusetts. After conducting many other slaves through the Underground Railroad, Nixon decided to become a passenger himself in March 1855 He and three other slaves disguised themselves and ...

Article

Belinda  

Roy E. Finkenbine

a former slave who achieved renown in the era of the American Revolution by laying claim to a portion of the wealth of her former master's estate, was born in the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (later Ghana). Her early years were spent in a village on the Volta River. According to her later memories, it was an Edenic existence. However, when she was about age twelve, the Atlantic slave trade shattered this bucolic world. She was captured in a slaving raid, permanently separated from her parents, marched overland to the coast, and sold to European slave traders. For several weeks she endured the horrific Middle Passage with some three hundred other Africans in chains, who were “suffering the most excruciating torment” (Carretta, 143).

In about 1732, after six or seven years in North America, Belinda became the slave of Isaac Royall Jr. a ...

Article

Belinda  

Roy E. Finkenbine

who gained notoriety by petitioning for a portion of her former master's estate. Some scholars have labeled this the first African American call for reparations for slavery. Born in a village near the Volta River in the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), Belinda spent her first years living a bucolic existence. That peace was broken at age eleven, when she was captured, sold into slavery, and transported to North America via the Middle Passage. For more than fifty years, she labored in bondage for her master, Isaac Royall, first in Antigua and then, after 1732, in Medford, Massachusetts. Royall, the largest slaveholder in the state, became an outspoken Loyalist and fled the colonies for Britain at the beginning of the American Revolution. After that, Belinda lived in an unofficial state of freedom until the Massachusetts courts ruled slavery unconstitutional in 1783 ...

Article

Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Bell was born in New York City and educated at the African Free Schools in New York. He rose to national prominence on 25 January 1831, as secretary for a group of black New Yorkers protesting colonization.

Bell's reform work took place on the local and national levels, with an emphasis on black enfranchisement. As a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, he served as subscription agent for William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. In addition, Bell advocated the organization of African American self-help programs and opposed segregation in churches and schools. He helped promote the National Negro Conventions of the 1830s and served as the New York delegate at three conventions. As director of the Phoenix Society, he promoted education for African Americans, and as a leader of the New York Political Association, Bell agitated for black suffrage and political rights.

Newspapers helped Bell spread ...

Article

Clifton H. Johnson

clergyman and abolitionist, was born in Colchester, Connecticut, the son of Jehiel C. Beman, a clergyman. Nothing is known of his mother. He grew up and received a basic education in Middletown, Connecticut, where his father was pastor of the African church. A Wesleyan University student, L. P. Dole, volunteered to tutor Beman after the university refused his application for admission because he was an African American. Dole and Beman suffered ridicule and harassment from other students, and an anonymous threat of bodily harm from “Twelve of Us” caused Beman to give up the effort after six months. He went to Hartford, where he taught school for four years, and around 1836 he briefly attended the Oneida Institute in New York.

Beman was ordained as a Congregational minister in 1839. At about this time he married a woman whose name is not known. In 1841 ...

Article

Sean Patrick Adams

James Gillespie Birney was born in Danville, Kentucky, to a slaveholding family. He attended Transylvania University in nearby Lexington, Kentucky, and eventually graduated from Princeton University in 1810. After admittance to the bar, Birney returned to Danville to practice law and soon married into an influential Kentucky family. By the time he moved to Madison County, Alabama, in 1818, he already owned several slaves.

Following a brief stint in Alabama's General Assembly and some financial difficulties, Birney relocated to Huntsville, Alabama, to begin a law practice. After selling many of his slaves, he became involved with the colonization movement and supported the idea of restricting the internal slave trade. By 1832 Birney was an active agent for the American Colonization Society and made a lecture circuit around the South supporting the idea of emancipating slaves and transporting them to the new African colony of Liberia He ...

Article

Susan B. Iwanisziw

commercial painter, artist, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only known child of Jeremiah Bowser from Maryland and Rachel Bustill, daughter of the prosperous black abolitionist and educator Cyrus Bustill. The intermarriage among the region's free black Quaker families headed by Cyrus Bustill, Robert Douglass Sr., Jeremiah Bowser, and David Mapps created a dynamic force that benefited all African Americans and particularly spurred David s personal growth and accomplishments Jeremiah a member of the Benezet Philosophical Society served as a steward on the Liverpool lines and later it seems he was the proprietor of an oyster house near the intersection of 4th and Cherry Streets where David Bowser first hung up his sign as a commercial painter Later the Bowser family moved to the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia into a house at 481 North 4th Street where Bowser remained for the ...

Article

Joseph P. Reidy

Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley's youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In Boston he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freed people who were resisting President Andrew Johnson's policy of restoring plantation land to its antebellum owners Bradley ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

was born in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown. (The elder Abraham Brown called himself “Abraham Brown, Jr.” in a 1789 will, but Abraham Brown, Sr. was his uncle, not his father). The Browns were descended from William Brown, born around 1670, sometimes referenced in Virginia court records as “William Brown Negro.” Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, in History of the American Negro and his institutions, briefly refers to the family history being traceable back to England, but provides no details.

The Browns had been free for over a century, and many had owned enough property to be taxable, when Abraham Brown was born. Several had owned title to enslaved persons; Abraham owned three in 1810. His father at various times owned both slaves and indentured servants, including one John Bell, indentured in 1771 Abraham Brown Jr ...

Article

Diane Mutti Burke

author of a slave narrative, was born to slave parents in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The Lemuel Bruce family, including Pettis and Rebecca (Bruce) Perkinson, owned Henry Bruce and his mother and siblings. Bruce's many siblings included his younger brother, Blanche Kelso Bruce, the senator from Mississippi from 1875 to 1881.

Bruce spent most of his early childhood years on plantations and farms in Virginia, Missouri, and—briefly—Mississippi. Pettis Perkinson brought Bruce, his mother, and siblings back to Chariton County, Missouri, where he permanently settled in 1850 From the age of nine Bruce was frequently hired out to other employers in the community and worked at a variety of occupations including brick making tobacco manufacturing and general farm labor Bruce had a self described desire to learn and was taught to read by his young owner and playmate William Perkinson The older Bruce children taught their younger siblings ...

Article

Diane L. Barnes

Hailing from Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, James Buchanan was the son of the storekeeper James Buchanan and Elizabeth Speer. Following a local school education, Buchanan read law and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1812. Buchanan never married, instead concentrating his energies on his political career. He began in the Pennsylvania state legislature, serving a single term from 1814 to 1816, and was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served five terms starting in 1821. Buchanan began his political career as a moderate Federalist, but by the early 1830s he was an ardent supporter of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, and the newly forming Democratic Party. Jackson rewarded his loyalty by appointing him as minister to Russia in 1832. Upon his return to the United States in 1833 Buchanan was appointed by the Pennsylvania legislature to fill the U S Senate seat ...

Article

Eric Gardner

politician and activist, was born into slavery in North Carolina. Both he and his mother, Susan, were owned by the wealthy Thomas Burke Burton, who moved to Fort Bend County, Texas, from Halifax County, North Carolina, in the 1850s. Most accounts claim that the slaveholder favored Burton, taught him to read and write, and, after the Civil War, sold land to him; some accounts claim that Burton supported his former owner's wife when she was widowed during Reconstruction.

On 28 September 1868 Burton married Abba Jones (sometimes listed as Abby and sometimes as Hattie). The couple had three children, Horace J., Hattie M., and an unnamed child who died in infancy. Susan Burton lived with the young family until her death c. 1890.

Propertied, literate, and articulate, Burton quickly became active in the local Republican Party, the local Union League, and larger Reconstruction efforts. In 1869 ...

Article

Agnes Kane Callum

slave, farmer, teacher, Reconstruction-era state legislator and lawyer, was born in South Carolina's famed Edgefield District. He was literate and the favored slave of Major Thomas Carwile the commissioner in equity of Edgefield Cain was probably raised much like other slave children on Edgefield plantations they would be cared for by an elderly lady while their mothers worked in the fields until the children were about six or seven years old when they were sent to work in the fields many serving as water carriers or weed pullers In some instances they were sent to work by the side of an adult Generally the children were called quarter workers since they produced about one fourth as much labor as an adult It is not known exactly how Cain learned to read and write but it is likely that he was taught by his owner as he was known as ...