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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

Paul Stillwell

pioneer black naval officer, was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, a predominantly black community, one of twelve children of Tecora and Alexander Arbor. He had two sisters and nine brothers, and his ancestors had received land in the area when slavery ended. Outgoing, humorous, and loquacious by nature, Arbor possessed a typically rural southern sense of place. During an oral history interview in the mid‐1980s, he described Cotton Plant as, “A little place that only me and the Good Lord knows [with a population of] 1,661 up until the day I left, and there's never been that many since.” Like his siblings, Arbor received a private school education. During his years in Arkansas he attended Arkadelphia–Cotton Plant Academy. Around 1930 the family left the farm area and moved to Chicago as part of a northerly migration of blacks seeking employment opportunities Arbor s father worked as a carpenter ...

Article

David M. Fahey

temperance reformer, federal customs official, and educator, was born William Middleton Artrell, of one quarter African and three quarters European ancestry, at Nassau in the Bahamas. There Artrell benefited from a basic education on the British model, acquired experience as a schoolteacher, and became a staunch Episcopalian.

During the American Civil War the Bahamas prospered as a result of services to blockade runners, who transported British cargo in the short but dangerous voyage between the Bahamas and the Confederate coast. When the war ended, however, economic depression forced many Bahamians to seek work in the United States. In 1870 Artrell migrated to Key West, at that time a major port in Florida. Unlike most African Americans in the South, he had never been a slave. In 1870 Key West opened the Douglass School for African American children Artrell became its first principal and as a result he was sometimes ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Burrell Township, Pennsylvania. Little is known about Bronson's life before the war except that he was a barber. Perhaps enthusiastic about getting a chance to fight for the Union cause, he journeyed from Pennsylvania to Delaware, Ohio, to enlist in the 127th Ohio Regiment on 4 July 1863. When he joined, James Bronson was in the vanguard of black service in the army less than two months prior the War Department had created the Bureau of Colored Troops This military agency was created to aid in the establishment of black regiments and the enlistment of both black troops and the white officers who would command them In some cases these regiments were raised entirely under the bureau s guidance However as was the case with Bronson s 127th Ohio Regiment some were raised by individual states and ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born a slave in Cabarrus County, North Carolina, the son of Rufus C. Barringer, a white lawyer and politician, and Roxanna Coleman. Little is known about his parents, but as a youngster he learned the shoemaker's trade and also barbering. After the Civil War he briefly attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., hawking jewelry to pay for his board and room. He also worked as an itinerant salesman in North Carolina. Coleman saved his earnings and in 1869 he purchased a 130-acre farm in Cabarrus County, paying $600 for the well-timbered land. In 1870 he was listed in the census as the proprietor of a small grocery store in the town of Concord North Carolina with a total estate of $800 in real and personal property During the same period he also began purchasing low priced rental houses in and around Concord paying between $125 ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

Coleman, Warren Clay (25 March 1849–31 March 1904), businessman was born a slave in Cabarrus County North Carolina the son of Rufus C Barringer a white lawyer and politician and Roxanna Coleman Little is known about his parents but as a youngster he learned the shoemaker s trade and also barbering After the Civil War he briefly attended Howard University in Washington D C paying for his board and room by hawking jewelry He also worked as an itinerant salesman in North Carolina he saved his earnings and in 1869 he purchased a 130 acre farm in Cabarrus County paying $600 for the well timbered land In 1870 he was listed in the census as the proprietor of a small grocery store in the town of Concord North Carolina with a total estate of $800 in real and personal property During the same period he also began ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Journeymantailor and prominent leader of the Chartist movement. Cuffay was born in Chatham, Kent. His father, originally from St Kitts, had come to Britain as a roots on a British Warship. Cuffay became a journeyman tailor in his teens, but involvement in the strike by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 resulted in the loss of his job. Angered by this, he joined the movement in support of the People's Charter, advocating universal suffrage. He was militant in his left‐wing views, and in 1839 contributed to the founding of the Metropolitan Tailors' Charter Association. He also became a member of the Masters and Servants Bill Demonstration Committee, which opposed the power given to magistrates to imprison employees for two months based solely on the employer's statements. His involvement in the Chartist movement grew, and in 1842 he was elected the president of the London Chartists He ...

Article

Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

was born in 1797 in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (renamed Haiti following its revolution). He was the son of Mary Catherine Esther Argo (also “Hester Argeaux”), a free woman of African descent. His father was purportedly Etienne Dillet, a French army officer. Naturalized as a British subject of The Bahamas in 1828, Stephen Dillet became a member of one of the earliest organized civil rights pressure groups in The Bahamas, and he was the first Bahamian of color to win election to the colony’s Parliament.

Dillet was a man whose character and social and political pursuits were deeply influenced by events of international import, which supplied the context for his life. His birth in 1797 six years after the outbreak of the Haitian revolution was attended by bloody conflict The chief combatants were the free people of color and enslaved blacks who had rebelled to free themselves ...

Article

John Garst

bootblack, barber, porter, actor, singer, and politician, was born William Henry Harrison Duncan in Columbia, Missouri, to former slaves. A close friend, Henry Massey, persuaded him to come to St. Louis, where he was a “sport, a jolly fellow, a swell dresser, a ladies' favorite, but, above all, he was a magnificent singer.” As a member of Massey's Climax Quartet Duncan gained fame for his low, smooth, rich, sure, bass voice. He was also an actor and performed regularly at the London Theatre in St. Louis.

In Clayton, Missouri, west of St. Louis, Duncan was hanged for the murder of an Irish American policeman named James Brady in Charles Starkes's saloon at 715 N. 11th Street. A popular ballad complex (“Duncan and Brady,” “Brady and Duncan,” “Brady,” “King Brady”) arose after the murder.

At about 8:30 p.m. on 6 October 1890 ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

slave, tailor, and politician, was born in Washington, in Wilkes County, Georgia, to Frances, a slave, and a white man whose surname was Finch. When William was twelve he was sent to live with another Wilkes County native, Judge Garnett Andrews, and in 1847, when he was fifteen, he apprenticed as a tailor. The following year Joseph H. Lumpkin, the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, purchased William and brought him to his home in Athens, where Finch learned to read and write and also began a lifelong commitment to Christianity. Although he later joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, it is likely that Finch first converted to the faith of his master, a devout Presbyterian. In 1854 Finch married Laura Wright, with whom he had five children.

Although still legally enslaved the Finch family enjoyed a fairly high degree of ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

barber, lawyer, and Cleveland's first city-council member of known African descent, was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Lavina Green Fleming. By 1880 Thomas Fleming had died, and his widow was raising seven-year-old daughter Larah, six-year-old Thomas, and four-year-old Ida on her own.

Men of African descent had a prominent role in civic life in Meadville during Fleming's childhood. At the age of six, he transferred from a racially segregated school to a school open to students from all local families. He had a job at a bakery when he was eleven. The bakery owner, also of African descent, was elected to the city council. A year later he quit school to work as a barber, helping support his mother and two sisters.

Fleming moved to Cleveland in 1893, opening his own barber shop within a year. On 9 July 1894 he married Mary Ingels Thompson like ...

Article

Carol Parker Terhune

abolitionist and social leader, was born in New York City to free parents, James and Dorothy Gardner. Her father was a shipping contractor who made sails for large vessels. About 1845, while Gardner was in her teens, her family took up residence in Boston, Massachusetts, and opened its own business. Gardner attended the Boston Public School for Colored Children (also known as the Smith School, after the white businessman Abiel Smith, who donated funds). She was educated by leaders in the antislavery movement and developed an appreciation for their cause. The school was also used as a meeting place for the “colored citizens” to discuss issues of concern in their communities. During Gardner's time in Boston's only “colored” grammar school, Boston's African American community was fighting tirelessly to abolish colored schools and end school segregation using the Roberts v. Boston case as the catalyst Gardner ...

Article

Elizabeth L. Ihle

educator and suffragist, was born Minisarah J. Smith in Queens County, New York, the daughter of Sylvanus Smith and Ann Eliza Springsteel, farmers who were of mixed Native American, black, and white descent. Although Garnet's great-grandmother had established a school that her father attended, little is known about Garnet's own early schooling other than that she was taught by her father. However, she was a teacher's assistant at age fourteen with a salary of twenty dollars per year while she studied at various normal schools in the Queens County area. By 1854 Garnet (known as Sarah) was teaching in the private African Free School in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. In 1863 she became the first African American principal appointed by the New York Public School System, serving at the all-black P.S. 80 from her appointment until her retirement in 1900.

The annual closing exercises at Garnet ...

Article

Theresa Vara-Dannen

seamstress, washerwoman, and founder of a New Haven home for the indigent, first appears in public records as a resident of New Haven, Connecticut in a City Directory in 1848. Nothing is known for certain about her birthplace or her parentage. In 1848 she was listed simply as “Miss Hannah Gray, col’d,” of 5 Winter Street.” In 1850, she was boarding with two white women, but on the census form, her place of birth seems to be deliberately illegible.

Although little is known about her origins, it is clear that she saved money and generously supported Connecticut's Underground Railroad and “poor strangers from slavery” (Black Women of Connecticut, p. 31) seeking freedom. The Yale University Divinity School community patronized her laundry and sewing business. Over time she saved enough to purchase a modest four-room home at 158 Dixwell Avenue in New Haven. In the 1860 ...

Article

David E. Paterson

harness maker, state legislator, community organizer, and barber, was born on James Spier's farm, the Hurricane Place, three and a half miles from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia, the fourth child of Guilford Speer and Viney, two of Spier's slaves. Guilford and Viney separated soon after William was born, and Guilford moved to Thomaston to operate a harness and shoe shop. William probably spent his earliest years with his mother, his three elder brothers, and several younger half siblings on the Hurricane Place, but by the late 1850s William had undoubtedly moved to the village and was learning his father's trade of harness making. In 1863 a devastating fire destroyed three-quarters of downtown Thomaston, and thereafter William probably worked in a shop organized by his father in Barnesville, Pike County, sixteen miles away.

Sometime during the Civil War, William married Lourinda presumably a slave but ...

Article

Eric Gardner

activist and entrepreneur, was born to free parents in Washington, D.C. Nothing is known of his parents or his early life. However, although he trained as a barber, Hall reportedly spent two years at Oberlin College and considered the ministry before moving to New York in 1845, where he ran a restaurant called the “El Dorado” on Church Street, and became active in both black Masonic organizations and the fight for black suffrage. However, at the end of the decade, like many other Americans, Hall headed west to seek gold in California.

He had some success as both a miner and a merchant and returned to New York in late 1851. He married Sarah Lavina Bailey in New York City on 16 March 1852 in a ceremony whose “splendor,” according to an item copied in the 1 April 1852Frederick Douglass's Paper was without parallel in ...

Article

Frank N. Schubert

William Jefferson Hardin was born in Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky, of unknown parents. He was raised and educated by Shakers in South Union, Kentucky, until he was able to teach school to free African American children. Hardin migrated to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and remained there for four years. He then lived for brief periods in Canada, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska before moving to Colorado in 1863. Hardin operated a barbershop in Denver for ten years and established a reputation as a Republican politician and public speaker. During his years in Denver he was a close associate and friend of African American political activist Barney Ford in the struggle for political rights for African Americans in Colorado. He also served as a delegate at several Republican conventions in Colorado Territory. Hardin left Denver in 1873 after a short stint as gold weigher and clerk ...

Article

Eugene H. Berwanger

legislator, was born in Russellville, Kentucky, the illegitimate son of a free mixed-race woman (name unknown) and a white father. Hardin claimed that his father was the brother of Ben Hardin, a Kentucky politician and congressman, but the fact cannot be verified. Raised in a Shaker community in South Union, Kentucky, Hardin's educational and social opportunities were unusual for a person considered black in the antebellum period.

Following the completion of his own education, Hardin became a teacher for “free children of color” in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but soon left the teaching profession and traveled in the midwestern states and Canada. In 1850 he returned to Kentucky, where he married Caroline K. (maiden name unknown) and fathered one child. Sometime between his marriage and the outbreak of the Civil War, Hardin moved his family to Iowa.

Leaving his first family in Iowa Hardin relocated in Denver Colorado Territory ...

Article

Theresa A. Hammond

consumer markets specialist and business school professor, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, to Thomas D. Harris Jr. and Georgia Laws Carter. Thomas Harris was a messenger for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and also worked as an embalmer, and Georgia Carter Harris was a homemaker. Thomas stressed the importance of education for his three children, tutoring them in math, anatomy, and English after dinner. Harris attended Kingsland Elementary School (one of the black primary and secondary schools funded by Sears, Roebuck philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to improve education for black southerners) in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and D. Webster Davis High School, the Virginia State College laboratory school, in Petersburg, Virginia. While in high school, Harris earned a certificate in barber practice and science. He cut soldiers' hair on the nearby Fort Lee army base to help pay for his education at Virginia State College.

Harris s education ...

Article

Mary Frances Berry

washerwoman, seamstress, organization founder, lecturer, and leader, was born into slavery in Rutherford County near Nashville, Tennessee. She had at least one sister, Sarah, and a brother, Charles. Her parents were slaves. Her father, Tom Guy, apparently served in the Union army. The 1880 Census lists her mother, Ann Guy, as a widowed washerwoman. Callie Guy had only a primary school education, probably attending Freedman's Bureau and church schools, but exhibited a high degree of literacy as an adult.

In 1883 she married William House, a laborer in Rutherford County, and bore six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In the 1890s she was a widow, taking in laundry like her mother and other impoverished black women in the South.

About this time a new idea for political action surfaced in Rutherford County and other communities where former slaves ...