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John Calvert

Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Battuta was one of the greatest travelers of the premodern era. Toward the end of his life he recounted his journeys in a book entitled Tuhfat al-Nuzzar fi Ghara’ib al-Amsar wa- ‘Aja’ib al-Asfar, or A Gift to the Observers Concerning the Curiosities of Cities and the Marvels Encountered in Traveling. The work is one of the principal sources available to modern researchers for the social, economic, and political conditions of the fourteenth-century Islamic world. Although not as well known as Marco Polo’s, Ibn Battuta’s travels were, in fact, more extensive than those of his younger European contemporary. Over a period of twenty-eight years, he crossed the breadth of Africa and Asia and visited the equivalent of approximately forty-four modern countries.

Ibn Battuta was born in February 1304 in Tangier Morocco into a well respected family of judges who adhered to the Maliki School ...

Article

Laura M. Calkins

lawyer, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of slaves Richard C. and Martha A. Chiles. Immediately following the end of the Civil War a public school for blacks, known as the “Freedmen's School,” was opened in Ebenezer Baptist Church on Leigh Street in Richmond, and Chiles's family arranged for his admission to the school at the age of six. Chiles's father, Richard, had emerged by this time as a leader of the African American community in Richmond. During the Civil War Richard Chiles had worked in the War Department of the Confederate States of America (CSA), whose capital was at Richmond. On 2 April 1865, while CSA President Jefferson Davis was attending a worship service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Richmond's Capitol Square, Richard Chiles delivered to him a letter written by Confederate military commander General Robert E. Lee who was then at Petersburg ...

Article

Mark G. Emerson

As the second son and namesake of his father, Frederick Douglass Jr. was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended public schools in Rochester, New York, where he also helped his brothers, Lewis and Charles, to aid runaway slaves who were escaping to Canada on the Underground Railroad. While he did not serve in the Civil War as his brothers did, Frederick acted as a recruiting agent for the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry regiments, as did his father. Following the war, Frederick attempted to enter the typographical workers' union. When that plan failed, he went with his brother Lewis in 1866 to Colorado, where Henry O. Wagoner, a longtime family friend, taught him the trade of typography. While he was in Colorado, Frederick worked with his brother Lewis in the printing office of the Red, White, and Blue Mining Company. In the fall of 1868 Frederick returned ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

lynching survivor and litigant, was born in Noxubee County, Mississippi, to parents whose names are unknown. Nothing is known of his early life, but around 1932 he married a woman named Kate, with whom he had two children. They moved a few miles south of Noxubee, to Scooba in Kemper County, where he began working as a farm laborer for Raymond Stuart, a prominent white planter. Ellington's new home county, known since Reconstruction as “Bloody Kemper” because of its reputation for racial violence, had witnessed fourteen lynchings between 1883 and 1930, all of them of African Americans. Indeed, whites in Kemper lynched blacks at twice the rate of other counties in Mississippi, the state with the nation's worst record for lynching.

On 30 March 1934 Ellington nearly became the fifteenth black man lynched in Bloody Kemper following the discovery of his employer s dead body Raymond ...

Article

Melissa Nicole Stuckey

attorney, freedman, father of the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and Tulsa race riot survivor, was born Buck Colbert Franklin in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma, the son of David Franklin and Millie Colbert. David Franklin raised cattle, horses, and other livestock for sale. He also farmed. Millie Colbert taught school. The seventh of ten children, B.C. went by his initials as an adult to prevent whites from calling him by his first name. His efforts were only partially successful, as many whites called him Ben, assuming that he was named after Ben Franklin. In reality he was named Buck in honor of his paternal grandfather and Colbert to honor his mother's family name.

Franklin s parents were freedmen a term used to define the black citizens of the Cherokee Chickasaw Choctaw Creek and Seminole Nations known ...

Article

Moroccan writer and explorer, was born in Tangier, Morocco, into a well-respected Berber family of judges who adhered to the Maliki school of jurisprudence. Toward the end of his life he recounted his journeys in a book entitled A Gift to the Observers Concerning the Curiosities of Cities and the Marvels Encountered in Traveling. The work is one of the principal sources available to modern researchers for the social, economic, and political conditions of the fourteenth-century Islamic world. Although not as well known, Ibn Battuta’s travels were more extensive than the journeys of his younger European contemporary, Marco Polo. Over a period of twenty-eight years, he crossed the breadth of Africa and Asia and visited the equivalent of approximately forty-four modern countries. He combined his travels with scholarly pursuits, or with professional posts such as that of judge (qadi in cities along the way A native speaker ...

Article

Barbara Worley

Like the majority of North Africans, Ibn Battutah (whose full name was Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad ibn’Abd Allah al-Lawati at-Tanji ibn Battutah) was ethnic Berber, and his family traced its ancestry to the nomadic Luwata ethnic group originating in Cyrenaica west of the Nile Delta. Born into the Muslim religious elite in Tangier, Morocco, he would have received a classical literary education in addition to rigorous studies in Islam.

Ibn Battutah wrote poetry in addition to traveling across Africa, Arabia, Asia Minor, India, and China. Most important of his works are his descriptions of the life and culture of peoples of the Niger Basin and Central Sahara, among the earliest and by far the most detailed. After Ibn Battutah returned from his voyages he recounted his observations to Ibn Juzayy, who recorded and edited them at Fès, in Morocco.

At the age of twenty-one, Ibn Battutah set out on ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

early legal petitioner for freedom, was born near present-day Newport News, Virginia, to an unknown slave woman and Thomas Key, a white Englishman. Key served as a burgess in Virginia's colonial assembly. That Elizabeth's mother is described in colonial records simply as a “slave” is significant for two reasons. First, it means that she was probably not a Christian, since African-born or descended slaves and servants who followed that faith were usually characterized as such in the legal record. Second, it suggests that at least some Africans were being classified as lifetime chattel in Virginia as early as the 1620s, when there were only a few hundred blacks in the colony.

Like that of her mother and of others of African descent in seventeenth century Virginia the precise legal status of Elizabeth Key was not clearly defined Was she free like her father Or a slave like her mother ...

Article

Shana L. Redmond

taxi driver whose videotaped beating by police officers in March 1991 provoked international outrage, was born in Sacramento, California, to working-class parents. His father was a construction worker and cleaner, and as a child Rodney worked long hours as a cleaner along with his father. His work schedule along with a learning disability contributed to his lack of academic success, and despite considerable athletic ability, he dropped out in 1984 during his senior year of high school. Afterward King found work in construction. During his early adulthood he had two daughters and married Crystal Waters, a woman with two children of her own. Prior to 1991 King was in and out of jail for crimes ranging from robbery to intoxication.King became an international celebrity and emblem of police abuse in 1991, when a videotape, shot by the amateur cameraman George Holliday was broadcast by Los Angeles ...

Article

Stephen Mullen

was born in West Africa. He was taken from Guinea as a child by a Captain Knight and later adopted the surname of the slave trader who sold him into chattel slavery in the West Indies. Although Joseph remembered nothing of this sale, a planter John Wedderburn purchased him soon after the human cargo landed in Jamaica around 1766. Neither could have known that Joseph Knight would become a litigant in one of the most celebrated court cases in Scottish legal history.

As a Jacobite loyal to the Stuarts, Wedderburn had fled from Scotland to the West Indies after the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745. In Jamaica, he acquired profitable sugar plantations, including Glenisla in Westmoreland. In a triumphant return home around 1768 he purchased the Ballindean estate in Perthshire As he had developed a liking toward Joseph he took him back home to work as a ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

lawyer, public official, legislator, and law school dean, was the youngest son of five children born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Matthew N. Leary, a successful saddler and a staunch abolitionist and philanthropist, and Julia A. Memorell (Menriel). Matthew Leary helped local slaves buy their freedom and often educated them, despite legal prohibitions on the practice. According to the 1850 federal census, he personally owned three slaves, though these were held for benevolent reasons.

John Leary's birth year is not certain; the 1850 census records his age as ten, although later reports indicate that he was born as late as 1849 His ethnic heritage was a blend of European Native American and African American lineage His mother a native of France migrated as a child to North Carolina from the Bahamas with her French mother His father whose family name had been shortened from ...

Article

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property holder, and washerwoman, was born into slavery in Natchez, Mississippi. The exact date of her birth is not now known. She was born to an enslaved woman, Hannah Frey, and to J. S. Miller, a white planter who lived outside of Natchez near the small town of Washington. Mrs. Margaret Overaker, a white woman, and her husband, George, owned Leiper and her mother. While Leiper was still a young girl, her mother was manumitted, but Leiper herself remained enslaved. Sometime around 1831, when Leiper was approximately twenty or twenty-one, she was freed, reportedly at the insistence of her father, who paid her owner $300. In 1834 or thereabouts, following the instructions of her white father, she was taken by boat up the Mississippi River to Cincinnati, Ohio, in the footsteps of her mother.

As was the case with ...

Article

David Brodnax

slave and civil rights litigant, was born Rafe Nelson in Virginia and renamed after his master in infancy; nothing is known about his parents. In 1834 Montgomery, then a slave in Marion County, Missouri, heard stories of fortunes to be made in the lead mines of Dubuque, a rough frontier village of about two thousand people located on the upper Mississippi River in the Iowa Territory. Montgomery's sister Tilda was already living in Dubuque, where she was one of seventy-two other African Americans and sixteen slaves recorded in the county in the 1840 census, although slavery was illegal in Iowa. Ralph and his master Jordan Montgomery drew up an agreement allowing him to work in the mines for five years, after which he would pay $550 for his freedom; he may have hoped to purchase his sister's freedom as well.

When the five year period ended Montgomery had barely ...

Article

Angelita D. Reyes

cause célèbre, was born Alice Beatrice Jones, the daughter of a white mother and supposedly “black” father, both of whom had emigrated from England to the United States in 1891. While the race of her mother Elizabeth Jones was familiar and recognizable enough for Americans to classify as white, the racial background of George Jones, her father, was not as clearly determined. While general references considered him to be British of West Indian descent, he was distinctly not African American according to an array of witnesses and census documentation in the United States.

Various newspapers of the period described Alice Jones as “dusky,” “a tropical beauty,” or of a “Spanish complexion” (Lewis and Ardizzone, 63–66, 163). Not considering herself black in the American rhetorical denotation of race, Alice Jones Rhinelander affirmed during the annulment trial of the interracial marriage to Leonard Rhinelander (1903 ...

Article

Yesenia Barragan

free black woman and former slave in the province of Chocó in the Republic of New Granada (modern-day Colombia). In 1843 she initiated a successful lawsuit in her hometown of Lloró, a small gold-mining town south of Quibdó, the capital of Chocó, to free her enslaved son Juan. Serna was one of hundreds of free blacks in the Americas throughout the colonial and republican periods who utilized the judicial system to attain the freedom of their enslaved loved ones.

A former slave of Juan Roman a slaveholder and mine owner in Lloró María Antonia Serna acquired her freedom either through self manumission or other means such as being freed in her master s last will and testament sometime in the early nineteenth century She likely mined for gold in the alluvial rivers of Chocó or worked as a domestic slave for the Roman family two common tasks for female slaves ...

Article

Eric Gardner

fugitive slave and litigant, was born to unknown parents in the late 1820s. In court documents tied to his famous 1851 fugitive slave case, Sims maintained that he was born in Florida, but both the agents of the slaveholder claiming him and the later public records listed Georgia as his place of birth. Sims also asserted that his father had purchased his freedom as a child, but Massachusetts courts never accepted this claim and instead found him to be the slave of James Potter If Sims was Potter s slave it is unlikely that the two ever interacted personally the South Carolina born Potter owned massive plantations outside of Savannah as well as several hundred slaves and he generally left their management to various agents Potter also had strong affinities for the North he graduated from Yale all of his children were born in Philadelphia and the family ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva

a prominent African free woman and fish vendor, whose lengthy judicial case would reach Mexico City’s high court and the Spanish king’s Royal Chancellery circa 1625. Although incorrectly identified in some legal documents as María de San Tomé, the African woman in question self-identified before Puebla’s courts as María de Terranova. María opted for the Terranova surname and toponym as a cultural and geographical identifier, which located her land of origin in present-day Nigeria, where she had been born around 1592. São Tomé, then, would have merely been the island and slaving port from which María was sent to New Spain as part of the massive African slave influx of the early seventeenth century. As a result, she formed part of the slave galleons that reached the port of Cartagena, before disembarking at the port-fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, Veracruz.

María de Terranova reached Puebla circa 1613 ...

Article

Gelien Matthews

a former slave who became one of the wealthiest men of African descent in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, was born on the West Indian island of St. Kitts. His father, William Wells, was a white merchant turned wealthy sugarcane plantation owner from Cardiff, Wales, and his mother was an enslaved domestic called Juggy, who later adopted the name Joardine Wells upon gaining her freedom.

When William Wells first set off for St. Kitts to make his fortune in 1749, he was married to a white woman with whom he had several children. Within five years of his arrival in the Caribbean, however, his wife and children including his male heir had all died. Williams Wells engaged in sexual relations with several of his enslaved female domestics and sired at least six of their children, but married none of them. In 1783 when Nathaniel was just ...