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Steven Leikin

diplomat, preacher, and author, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Sallie Montgomery. Nothing is known of his biological father. His mother, however, was an African American, and Dennis was of mixed race parentage. In 1897 he was adopted by Green Dennis, a contractor, and Cornelia Walker. During his youth Dennis was known as the “mulatto child evangelist,” and he preached to church congregations in the African American community of Atlanta before he was five years old. By the age of fifteen he had toured churches throughout the United States and England and addressed hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite his success as an evangelist Dennis had ambitions to move beyond this evangelical milieu. In 1913, unschooled but unquestionably bright, he applied to Phillips Exeter Academy and gained admission. He graduated within two years and in 1915 entered Harvard.

Dennis s decisions to ...

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Archibald Henry Grimké was born a slave in Charleston, South Carolina, to parents Henry Grimké, a European-American plantation owner, and Nancy Weston, an African American slave. Henry Grimké's sisters Sarah and Angelina were prominent white abolitionists. After emancipation, Archibald Grimké attended Lincoln University (Pennsylvania). With the help of his aunts Sarah and Angelina, he attended Harvard Law School. Graduating in 1874, he practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts, where he became editor of Hub, a Boston Republican newspaper in 1884. He also wrote for the Boston Herald and Boston Traveler. He left the Republican Party in 1886 because of its indifference to the plight of African Americans, joined the Democratic Party, and quickly became one of the most powerful African American Democrats in Massachusetts.

As a scholar and writer, Grimké published major biographies of William Lloyd Garrison (1891 and ...

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Dickson D. Jr. Bruce

scholar and activist, was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, near Charleston, the eldest of three sons of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and member of one of South Carolina's leading families, and Nancy Weston, a slave owned by Grimké. He was also a nephew, on his father's side, of the noted white southern abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld. Although Archibald was born a slave, Henry acknowledged him as his son. After Henry's death in 1852 his mother took him to Charleston, where, even though he was still legally a slave, he attended a school for free blacks.

This condition was to change with the coming of the Civil War, when, in 1860, one of Henry's adult white sons, from an earlier marriage, forced the Grimké brothers—Archibald, John, and Francis J. Grimké—to work as household slaves. Archibald escaped in 1863 hiding in ...

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Sylvie Coulibaly

lawyer, editor, diplomat, and civil rights activist. Archibald Henry Grimké was born a slave outside Charleston, South Carolina. His white father was the prominent plantation owner Henry Grimké, and his mother was Nancy Weston, a house slave of mixed ancestry. Widowed in 1843, Henry Grimké fathered two more sons with Weston, Francis in 1850 and John in 1852.

When Henry Grimké died in 1852, the family moved to Charleston. Still legally slaves owned by Henry Grimké's son Montague, Weston and her sons lived as free people, according to Henry's wishes. Weston supported the family alone and sent her sons to school at an early age. In 1860 Archibald and Francis became house slaves in Montague's household. They worked for their half brother for two years until Archibald ran away, hiding in Charleston until the Civil War ended.

In 1865 ...

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Kenneth J. Blume

clergyman, politician, educator, and diplomat, was born a slave on the plantation of Thomas Jones in Elbert County, Georgia. William's mother died when he was nine, and he was obligated to rear his younger siblings while working as a plowboy. His education during his last years of enslavement (1860–1865) was in Sunday school in Elberton, Georgia. Legally prohibited from learning to read or write, he learned largely by memorizing Bible passages. But when he was fifteen the Civil War ended, and Union troops appeared. As he wrote in his memoir, From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church (1924): “Freedom had come, and I came to meet it” (28). Freedom also meant the end of his Sunday school education, but Heard's father had earned enough money as a wheelwright to pay for William's lessons in spelling, reading, and arithmetic. From 1865 ...

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Elizabeth R. Schroeder

journalist, businessman, military leader, and diplomat, was born in Albany, Georgia, to Richard and Eliza (Brown) Jones. Richard Lee Jones, also known as Dick Jones, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, with his family at fifteen saying

In the South, I was not the submissive kind, but I learned respect for authority. Many Negroes have not learned that yet. They come up here and try to run away with the town. I had no trouble in the South. I avoided trouble. If you see a nail, why sit on it? Much trouble could be avoided by Negroes in the South if they tried to. Get me straight! I am not for conditions down there. They are bad, but could be bettered.”

(Wilson, “Interview with Dick Jones, Manager of South Center,” Negro in Illinois Papers)

He attended the University of Cincinnati from 1912 to 1915 and later abandoned his law ...

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Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

William Alexander Leidesdorff was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more as a son than as a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle's cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth enabled him to propose to a woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully, shortly before the wedding day, when Leidesdorff told his fiancée that he was of African descent through his mother. Hortense called off the wedding, and he, heartbroken, left New Orleans.

Arriving in California in 1841 aboard ...

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Elizabeth Zoe Vicary

pioneer, diplomat, and businessman, was born in St. Croix in the Danish Virgin Islands, the son of William Leidesdorff, a Danish planter, and Anna Marie Sparks, an Afro-Caribbean slave. He was educated by his owner, who reportedly treated him more like a son than a slave. As a young man he was sent to New Orleans to work for his uncle's cotton business as a master of ships sailing between New York and New Orleans. Both his father and his uncle died soon after, leaving Leidesdorff a sizable inheritance. His newly acquired wealth allowed him to propose to a white woman he had been courting, Hortense, who accepted. The engagement ended painfully shortly before the wedding date when Leidesdorff told his fiancée of his partial African descent. She called off the wedding, and he left New Orleans.

Arriving in California in 1841 aboard his ...

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Theodore W. Eversole

U.S. ambassador and successful businessman. Born in Arkansas City, Kansas, Delano Eugene Lewis Jr. received a BA in political science from the University of Kansas in 1960 and a JD from Topeka's Washburn University School of Law in 1963. Following law school Lewis initially worked as an attorney in the Justice Department and with the U.S. Equal Opportunities Commission.

From 1965 to 1969 Lewis expanded his experience by serving in the Peace Corps, first as an associate country director in Nigeria and later as director in Uganda. Upon returning from overseas he remained with the Peace Corps as director of the East and South African divisions, a post that gave him particular insights into political conditions inside Africa.

After the Peace Corps, Lewis joined the staff of the District of Columbia's representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, Walter Fauntroy, and remained there until 1973 This introduction to ...

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Steven J. Niven

minister, magistrate, and diplomat, was born Owen Lun West Smith in Giddensville, Sampson County, North Carolina, the son of Ollen Smith and Maria (Hicks), both slaves. Although Owen was only ten years old when the Civil War broke out in 1861, he served for part of the war as the personal servant of a Confederate officer, most likely his owner or a son of his owner. Several accounts suggest that Smith was present at the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina near the war's end in March 1865. Some of these accounts insist that he was still a body servant for a Confederate soldier. Others claim that that by the age of thirteen, in 1864 Smith like many eastern North Carolina slaves and some buffaloes poor whites hostile to the area s wealthy and all powerful slave owners had fled the Confederate lines to ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

lawyer, journalist, and diplomat, was born in Perry County, Alabama, the son of a slave, Rufus Carson, and an unnamed slave mother. In 1869, after teaching himself to read and write, the youth ran away from his father's cotton farm to Savannah, Georgia, and took a new surname: Taylor.

An ambitious, gifted student, C. H. J. Taylor enrolled at Savannah's Beach Institute while delivering newspapers and working as a commission house messenger. Much of the higher education he later claimed, however, cannot be documented. No definitive records exist for his claimed enrollments at Oberlin College or the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, though he may well have studied law at Wilberforce University. In 1877 he was admitted to the Indiana state bar and became a deputy district attorney, before arriving in Leavenworth, Kansas, in about 1880 (Smith, p. 494).

Taylor soon moved to Wyandotte ...

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John Saillant

colonizationist, statesman, editor, and author of the Liberian Declaration of Independence, was born in Goochland County, Virginia, the son of Colin or Collin Teage (1785–1839), probably a slave on the plantation of Joshua Nicholson. His mother (name unknown) was probably also a slave in the Nicholson household. Details of Hilary Teage's early life are sketchy. Colin Teage was an artisan who made stable gear, a position above that of a field laborer but one that led to his separation from his family when he was sold in 1807 to the owners of a Richmond tack shop. Sometime in the next thirteen years, Colin Teage was licensed to preach in Baptist churches and saved enough money to purchase the freedom of his wife, son, and daughter in 1819 and 1820 and to reassemble his family He bought land in Henrico County outside Richmond ...

Article

Gary R. Kremer

educator and diplomat, was born a slave in St. Louis County, Missouri, the son of John Turner, a free black farrier, and Hannah, the slave of Aaron and Theodosia Young, formerly of Kentucky. Mother and son were freed by Theodosia Young on 12 March 1844. Educated in clandestinely operated schools in St. Louis in defiance of Missouri law, Turner was sent by his parents to preparatory school at Oberlin College in Ohio during the mid-1850s. He remained there for no more than two years and returned to St. Louis during the late 1850s. He worked as a porter until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the war effort as a body servant to Colonel Madison Miller, a Union officer.

Turner began his public career in 1865 when he became a member of the Missouri Equal Rights League an organization formed ...

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Allison Blakely

politician and foreign service officer, was born in New Madrid County, Missouri, the son of Anthony Waller and Maria (maiden name unknown), household slaves of Marcus S. Sherwood. Early in the Civil War, Union troops relocated Waller's family to Inka, Iowa, where his father was able to acquire a small farm. However, they lived in such poverty that his father hired John out to a local farmer at the age of twelve to help support the family. To John's good fortune, his employer encouraged literacy and allowed him to begin formal education in a rural schoolhouse in 1863. With the aid of citizens in nearby Toledo, Iowa, he was then able to gain admission to the local high school in 1867, graduating around 1870 At about this time he began to support himself by working as a barber a trade he was also to ...

Article

Allison Blakely

John Louis Waller was born in New Madrid County, Missouri, the son of Anthony Waller and Maria (maiden name unknown), household slaves of Marcus S. Sherwood. Early in the Civil War, Union troops relocated Waller's family to Inka, Iowa, where his father was able to acquire a small farm. However, they lived in such poverty that his father hired John out to a local farmer at the age of twelve to help support the family. To John's good fortune, his employer encouraged literacy and allowed him to begin formal education in a rural schoolhouse in 1863. With the aid of citizens in nearby Toledo, Iowa, he was then able to gain admission to the local high school in 1867, graduating around 1870 At about this time he began to support himself by working as a barber a trade he was also to pursue intermittently ...

Article

Nina Davis Howland

government official, was born in New York City, the daughter of James S. Watson, the first black elected judge in New York, and Violet Lopez. After receiving her BA from Barnard College in 1943, she served as an interviewer with the United Seaman's Service in New York from 1943 to 1946; as owner and executive director of Barbara Watson Models, a modeling agency, from1946 to1956; as a research assistant for the New York State Democratic Committee, from 1952 to 1953; as a clerk at the Christophers, a nonprofit Catholic organization in New York, from 1956 to 1957; and as foreign student adviser at Hampton Institute in Virginia, from 1958 to 1959.

Watson, who was honored as “the most outstanding law student in the City of New York,” received an LLB from New York Law School in 1962 graduating third highest in ...

Article

Bill Dickens

economist, educator, businessman, and diplomat, was born Clifton Reginald Wharton Jr. in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four children of Clifton Reginald Wharton, an ambassador, and Harriette B., a social worker in Boston and a French and Latin teacher at Virginia State University. His father was the first African American to pass the Foreign Service examination and became the first black career ambassador.

Wharton attended the prestigious Boston Latin School and graduated in 1943. The precocious Wharton enrolled at Harvard University at age sixteen. At the age of nineteen he served as an army aviation cadet and was stationed in Tuskegee, Alabama. However, with five weeks remaining to earn his aviator wings, he decided to return to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree. He earned his AB in History in 1947 Wharton was the first African American to enroll in the Johns Hopkins School ...