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Robert Fay

Blanche Kelso Bruce's professional career followed the arc of Reconstruction history. Bruce escaped from slavery during the Civil War (1861–1865). He moved south after the war to capitalize on opportunities for economic and political advancement that were newly available to African Americans there. His political fortunes waned after the late 1870s, when Southern Democrats regained control of politics and blacks were again relegated to second-class status socially and politically.

Bruce was born a slave in rural Farmville, Virginia, but his childhood differed from that of most other slave children. His owner, Pettus Perkinson regarded him more as a son than as a slave A favored playmate of Perkinson s son Bruce was educated by the Perkinson tutor and rarely worked in the fields He lived in Missouri at the outbreak of the Civil War and escaped to Lawrence Kansas There he tried to enlist in the Union ...

Article

William C. Harris

a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was the light-skinned favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master's son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri, where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal.

After the war Bruce briefly attended ...

Article

Lois Kerschen

from Mississippi. Blanche Kelso Bruce, the son of a black mother and white planter father, was born into slavery in Prince Edward County, Virginia. He escaped in 1861 while in St. Louis and in 1869 went to Mississippi, where over time he served as a supervisor of elections, the tax collector, the superintendent of schools, the sergeant-at-arms of the Mississippi State senate, the county assessor, and a member of the Board of Levee Commissioners of the Mississippi River. His public service brought him sufficient wealth to buy a large plantation in Floreyville. Bruce sided with other prominent blacks in their belief that freedmen should earn the money to buy land rather than receive acreage as a form of compensation.

When asked in 1873 to head the Republican ticket as a candidate for governor because of his popularity as sheriff of Bolivar County Bruce declined Instead he was elected ...

Article

Chad Morgan

Calhoun did more than anyone else to chart the Slave South's increasingly defiant course from the 1830s onward; the trajectory of his career closely mirrors that of his region. Born into a family of ardent patriots and Revolutionary War veterans, Calhoun's early nationalism steadily gave way to the need to construct ever-moreelaborate defenses of the South's slave society. Ironically, in doing more than perhaps any other individual to set the stage for the Civil War, this “father of secession” and unapologetic slaveholder became a great practical force in the bringing about of Emancipation.

John Caldwell Calhoun was born just outside the town of Abbeville in the South Carolina Upcountry. After studying at Yale and then the Litchfield Law School, Calhoun began his meteoric rise to political prominence with a promising stint in the South Carolina state legislature. In 1811 he married his cousin Floride Bonneau Colhoun [sic a Lowcountry ...

Article

Sam Hitchmough

Stephen Arnold Douglas was born in Brandon, Vermont, the son of Stephen Arnold Douglass, a college-educated physician, and Sarah Fisk. (Douglas dropped the final “s” in his name in 1846.) In 1830 Douglas moved with his family to New York, where he began to study law, but three years later he headed west, where the training and qualifications for the legal profession were less formal. He eventually settled in Illinois, the state with which he is most associated, and was admitted to the bar a year later. He held a series of state positions, culminating in his serving as secretary of state and on the Illinois Supreme Court at the age of twenty-seven.

In 1843 the young Democrat was elected to the House of Representatives, where his first speech was a vigorous defense of Andrew Jackson He quickly fashioned his political philosophy which called for robust expansion ...

Article

Christopher Bates

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. His parents, Mary and Jacob, were barely literate and scratched out a living by working for a local inn. With Jacob Johnson's death in 1812, the family's financial situation became dire, and Mary struggled to support Andrew and his brother, William, before finally binding young Andrew in the apprenticeship of a tailor at the age of thirteen.

Johnson spent several years learning his trade before leaving Raleigh for Greeneville, Tennessee. There he established his own tailoring shop and also met Eliza McCardle, whom he married in 1827 Eliza took responsibility for her husband s education teaching him arithmetic and reading to him The future president eager to put his newfound knowledge to use and hone his natural rhetorical skills made his shop into an informal gathering place for political discussion Enthralled and energized by these exchanges Johnson sought ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

lawyer, federal official, state legislator, and congressional aspirant, was the first of two sons born to a slave mother, Eliza Mabson, and her wealthy white owner, George W. Mabson, in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was educated at an early age in Massachusetts, where he resided until after the end of the Civil War. How George W. Mabson's father arranged to send his oldest son to Massachusetts in the early 1850s is not known, but presumably he either freed the light-skinned youth or smuggled him out of the state. From the age of eight, George reportedly lived with family friends in the Boston area, where he later worked as a waiter after the outbreak of the Civil War. On 15 February 1864 claiming to be eighteen years old George enlisted in the Union army joining the Fifth Massachusetts Colored Cavalry Regiment s Company G the ...

Article

Robert Fay

Hiram Revels, the son of former slaves, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He studied at several seminaries in Indiana and Ohio before becoming a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). During the American Civil War Revels helped to organize African American regiments in Maryland and ...

Article

Kenneth H. Williams

clergyman, educator, and first African American senator, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of free parents of mixed blood. Little is known of his family or early years. At eight or nine he enrolled in a private school for black children, where he was “fully and successfully instructed by our able teacher in all branches of learning.” About 1842 his family moved to Lincolnton, North Carolina, where Revels became a barber. Two years later he entered Beech Grove Seminary, a Quaker institution two miles south of Liberty, Indiana. In 1845 he enrolled at another seminary in Darke County, Ohio, and during this period may also have studied theology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Revels's preaching career with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church began at this time. He was ordained as a minister in the Indiana Conference at some point between 1845 and 1847 ...