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Johnie D. Smith

lawyer and judge, was born A. Macon Bolling in Indiana; the names of his parents and the exact date of his birth are unknown. He changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen by an act of the Massachusetts legislature on 26 January 1844. Details of Allen's early life and education are sparse and contradictory. His birth name is given in some sources as Malcolm B. Allen, and his birthplace as South Carolina. Evidence suggests that he lived in Maine and Massachusetts as a young man. Maine denied his initial application to the Maine bar because of allegations that he was not a state citizen, but he purportedly ran a Portland business before 1844. It is known that he read law in the Maine offices of two white abolitionist lawyers, Samuel E. Sewell and General Samuel Fessenden and that Fessenden promoted his admission to the Maine ...

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Werner Stangl

jurist and notable in the viceroyalty of Nueva Granada (present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama), was born in Portobelo, Panama, the oldest son of Pedro Antonio de Ayarza. He had two brothers, Pedro Crisólogo and Antonio Nicanor. The existing biographic data on José Ponciano are tenuous and largely based on a series of petitions to the Spanish king presented by his father Pedro.

Ponciano’s father was a Portobelo merchant of considerable wealth, despite his status as a pardo (free person of darker skin color). He served as captain of the town’s pardo militia for decades. His commercial activity was long-distance trade, which rested in the hands of a very small group and was heavily dependent on mutual trust, most often including forms of kinship.

Although this degree of success was remarkable, pardos were generally the most upwardly mobile social group in colonial Nueva Granada However their integration could not ...

Article

George C. Wright

journalist and lawyer, was born on the island of Saint Kitts in the West Indies. Details about his early life, including the names of his parents and the nature of his education, are unknown. In the fall of 1869 he arrived in New York, where he worked as soliciting agent for the New York Star and then as city editor for the Progressive American. Benjamin apparently became a U.S. citizen in the early 1870s, and in 1876 he gave speeches in support of Rutherford B. Hayes the Republican candidate for president He was rewarded with a position as a letter carrier in New York City but quit after nine months and moved to Kentucky where he taught school While there Benjamin also took up the study of law He continued his studies after being named principal of a school in Decatur Alabama and he was admitted to ...

Article

Tayren Woodard

lawyer, politician, missionary, and diplomat, was born in Ohio to Rebecca and Billy Bowser in 1831, the year of the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia. To avoid being sold into slavery, the Bowsers, who were free-born black natives of Virginia, left the state soon after the revolt, in which over sixty whites were killed. The Bowser family relocated to Logan County, Ohio. Rebecca, who worked as a house servant, owned about $500 worth of real estate around the time of her death. During this time, her real estate was considered impressive for a free black in Ohio. Shortly thereafter, Billy also died.

At the time Bolding was the only boy and the oldest of four children Bolding had three younger sisters Cristine Mary and Elizabeth All of the Bowser children attended school Although little is known about his early years we do know that Bolding attended school at the ...

Article

Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

Article

Russell Hopley

jurist, was born in al-Qayrawan in southern Tunisia to a family that originated among the Banu Birzal tribe of Zenata Berbers. His full name was Abu ʾl-Qasim b. Ah.mad b. Muh.ammad al-Balawi al-Qayrawani al-Burzuli.

Burzuli received his early education in al Qayrawan where he pursued a traditional course of study in the Islamic sciences and showed considerable promise in the field of Islamic law Central to his training in jurisprudence was the eminent theologian Ibn ʿArafa d 1401 who played a significant role in the elaboration of the Maliki school of Islamic law in North Africa in the fourteenth century Burzuli likewise received a firm grounding in the various fields of Islamic learning at the hand of several influential scholars from al Qayrawan among them Abu Muh ammad al Shabibi d 1380 an important jurist with whom Burzuli served a lengthy apprenticeship and from whom he learned the skill of ...

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 ...

Article

Timothy J. McMillan

slave, janitor, magistrate, teacher, principal, and the first black elected official in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was born Wilson Swain at the home of University of North Carolina president David Swain in Chapel Hill. His father was (Doctor) November Caldwell, a slave of the former university president Joseph Caldwell; his mother was Rosa Burgess, a slave of Swain's. Under the law and practice of slavery in North Carolina, children took on the surnames of their owners, not of their fathers. As a child Wilson Swain was a personal servant to Robert Swain, his owner's son, and then as a young teenager he was an apprentice to the University of North Carolina's chief gardener, Mr. Paxton. In violation of law and custom, but due, no doubt, to the university atmosphere, he was taught to read and write.

As an adult Wilson Swain served the University of North Carolina ...

Article

Russell Duncan

abolitionist and Georgia politician, was born free in Middlebrook, New Jersey, the son of John Campbell, a blacksmith, and an unknown mother. From 1817 to 1830 he attended an otherwise all-white Episcopal school in Babylon, New York, where he trained to be a missionary to Liberia under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. Rebelling against his training and calling himself “a moral reformer and temperance lecturer,” Campbell moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, converted to Methodism, joined an abolition society, and began to preach against slavery, colonization, alcohol, and prostitution. He joined Frederick Douglass on speaking tours and participated in the Colored Convention Movement, a new nationwide organization that aimed at racial uplift and black voting rights.

From 1832 to 1845 Campbell lived and worked in New York City as a steward at the Howard Hotel Later for an undetermined period he worked at the Adams House ...

Article

Julie Winch

writer, adventurer, and perennial litigant, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the grandson of Jacques Clamorgan, a French entrepreneur and land speculator. Jacques died in 1814, leaving as his heirs the four children he had fathered with his various slaves whom he then emancipated. One of those children, Apoline, was Cyprian Clamorgan's mother. Apoline never married. Instead, she lived with a series of white “protectors.” A Catholic by upbringing in a deeply Catholic community, she presented each of her children for baptism at the Old Cathedral and revealed to the priest the name of the father so it could be entered in the baptismal register. However, she did not live long enough to have Cyprian baptized, and the identity of his father died with her.

Clamorgan and his siblings, Louis, Henry, and Louise, were left in the care of a white neighbor, Charles Collins ...

Article

Connie Park Rice

newspaper editor and civil rights lawyer, was born in Williamsport, Virginia (later West Virginia), the youngest of three sons born to Isaac Clifford, a farmer, and Mary Satilpa Kent, free blacks living in Hardy County. John Robert joined the Union army on 3 March 1865, rising to the rank of corporal in the 13th U.S. Heavy Artillery. After serving in Kentucky, Tennessee, and eastern Virginia under General Ulysses S. Grant, Clifford volunteered for service at Chicago, Illinois.

After the Civil War, Clifford remained in Chicago, staying from 1865 to 1868 with the Honorable John J. Healy, an acquaintance of his father, and graduating from Chicago High School. Clifford worked as a barber before going to live with an uncle in Zeno, Muskingum County, Ohio, where he attended a school taught by Miss Effie McKnight and received a diploma from a writing school conducted by a Professor ...

Article

Stephen Gilroy Hall

lawyer and historian, was born a slave in Portsmouth, Virginia, the son of Willis Hodges Cromwell, a ferry operator, and Elizabeth Carney. In 1851Cromwell's father purchased the family's freedom and moved to West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Cromwell attended public school. In 1856 he was admitted to the Preparatory Department of the Institute of Colored Youth. Graduating in 1864, he embarked on a teaching career. He taught in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and in 1865 opened a private school in Portsmouth, Virginia. Cromwell left teaching temporarily after an assault in which he was shot at and his school burned down. He returned to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was employed by the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Intellectual Improvement of Colored People. Then he served as an agent for the American Missionary Association and went back to Virginia. In 1867 he became active in local politics serving as a ...

Article

María Eugenia Chaves Maldonado

was born near the city of Guayaquil, on the Pacific coast of present-day Ecuador, but then part of the Royal Audience of Quito, in the Viceroyalty of Peru. When María Chiquinquirá was around 45, she decided to legally claim her own and her daughter’s freedom in a major legal battle that lasted nearly five years, from 1794 to 1798. She was the daughter of an African woman brought as a slave to Guayaquil, presumably in 1730 Named María Antonia she was one of the many slaves belonging to the Cepeda family among the most influential and richest in Guayaquil Some years before Díaz was born María Antonia had become infected with leprosy Expelled from the family house she finally died abandoned in a miserable hut by the Baba River in the mountainous outskirts of the city Her illness did not prevent her from becoming pregnant with several offspring ...

Article

Xiomara Santamarina

civil rights litigant, known as Mum Bett, was born a slave in Claverack, New York, most likely to African parents. Mum Bett and her sister were owned by the Dutch Hogeboom family in Claverack. At an uncertain date, the sisters were sold to the family of John Ashley, a judge in the Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas and a prominent citizen of Sheffield, Massachusetts. Little is known about Mum Bett's life with the Ashleys, but it probably resembled the life of many northern slaves during the eighteenth century. Most slaves lived in small households in close proximity to their owners and performed a wide range of tasks to support the North's diversified economy.

Mum Bett's decision to sue for freedom was sparked by an incident of cruelty that is prominent in accounts of her life. When her mistress, Hannah Ashley struck Mum Bett s sister in ...

Article

Taunya Lovell Banks

in Massachusetts in 1781. “I heard that paper read yesterday that says, ‘all men are born equal, and that every man has a right to freedom.’ I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?” According to Catherine Sedgewick, Elizabeth Freeman said this to Theodore Sedgewick, a young Massachusetts lawyer who was Catherine’s father.

Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved black woman also known as Mum Bett (or Mumbet), was born in Claverack, New York, and sold to Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield Massachusetts She approached Theodore Sedgewick after hearing the Declaration of Independence read at the village meetinghouse in Sheffield Another account claims that Freeman overheard talk about the Massachusetts state constitutional provision while waiting on tables There is at least one possible explanation for the conflict over the legal source of Freeman s claim She may have asked about the Declaration of ...

Article

Elizabeth Freeman was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman's bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman's mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781.

The proposed dates for her birth, which range from 1732 to 1744 are derived from an estimate carved on her tombstone suggesting that she was about eighty five ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

lieutenant‐governor of South Carolina and the leading nineteenth century African American freemason, was born in Philadelphia to parents whose names have not been recorded. His father was a free person of color from Haiti and his mother was a white Englishwoman. Gleaves was educated in Philadelphia and New Orleans, and as a young man worked as a steward on steamboats along the Mississippi River.

Gleaves first came to prominence as an organizer of Masonic lodges in Pennsylvania and Ohio. While black freemasonry had gained a foothold under Prince Hall in Massachusetts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, by the 1840s, Pennsylvania was the center of black fraternalism, and Gleaves would become one of the Order's leading evangelists before the Civil War. In 1846 the year he was first initiated as a brother mason the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masons appointed Gleaves a District Deputy Grand ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

attorney, was born in Canada, probably in St. Catharines, Ontario. His parentage is uncertain, but it appears that he was born into the family of Thomas and Mary Green, two African Americans who had migrated to Canada. His father was a laborer; neither parent was literate.

Green's early schooling is undocumented. He may have attended St. Catharines Collegiate Institute, but no records substantiate that. In 1884 he moved to the United States, probably to Chicago; no records support his claim that he became a naturalized citizen. Three years later he settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Employed as a waiter in the prestigious Plankinton House, he was at home in the upper circles of Milwaukee's black society. While he was at Plankinton House it is likely that Green benefited from the schooling that the African American head of dining services, John J. Miles arranged for members of his all ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Leila Kamali

British barrister who came to prominence in the Somerset case. Hargrave was born in London, and entered Lincoln's Inn as a student in 1760. Having written to the abolitionist Granville Sharp offering his services, Hargrave was the most prominent of the five lawyers who appeared on behalf of James Somerset, a slave who was brought from Boston, Massachusetts, then a British colony, to England in 1769. Somerset escaped, but was recaptured and imprisoned on a ship bound for Jamaica, also a British colony. At Sharp's intervention, hearings began in February 1772.

In this Hargrave s first appearance in court he argued that while colonial law might permit slavery those laws did not apply in England and further that English law did not allow for any person to enslave himself by contract Somerset was freed and Hargrave s argument was decisive in Lord Mansfield s ruling ...