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Alice Bernstein

carpenter, newspaper editor, and state representative during Reconstruction, was born free, of “unmixed African blood,” in New Bern, North Carolina, to Israel B. Abbott and Gracie Maria Green. His father died in 1844, and Abbott was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Hannah, the wife of Bristow Rue (Rhew). His mother's second husband was Nelson Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Hannah Cora, and stepsons Samuel H. Brown and George M. Brown. She married her third husband, the Reverend Joseph Green, a Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, in 1854. When Abbott was four, his grandmother contributed one dollar toward his education, and he attended a school taught by Mrs. Jane Stevens. He went to school regularly until age ten, when he began serving two years as apprentice to a carpenter, completing his trade with his stepfather, Joseph Green ...

Article

Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

Article

Michele Valerie Ronnick

newspaperman, bookkeeper, novelist and short fiction writer, was born in Sandusky, Ohio. His father, Richard, had come from Kentucky and his mother, Mary Lott Anderson, from Indiana. After attending common schools in Sandusky, he came to Detroit at age sixteen, and in June 1875 graduated from Detroit High School as a member of the school's sixteenth class. Soon after Anderson began working for the Newcomb Endicott department store, one of the most important emporia in Detroit at that time. He rose from a parcel carrier in the 1870s to become a bookkeeper in the 1880s, and according to John M. Henderson in The Christian Recorder (7 November 1895, p. 2), he held “one of the highest and most responsible places.” His wife, Lucy Bowdree Anderson (1857–1961), from Jefferson, Ohio, whom Anderson had married in 1885 was similarly employed She was a bookkeeper ...

Article

Charles Vincent

Antoine was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1836. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812; he had fought the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Antoine's mother was a native of the West Indies and the daughter of an African chief; her parents were taken as slaves from the shores of Africa. On his father's side (so the story goes), Antoine's grandmother Rose Antoine was a remarkable woman who purchased her freedom and acquired a small fortune through her work as a midwife.

Caesar C. Antoine spent his childhood in New Orleans and attended private schools. He was fluent in both French and English. After graduating, he entered one of the few occupations open to African Americans in the antebellum South: the barber trade. After federal troops captured Baton Rouge in 1862 Antoine organized a black company known subsequently as Company ...

Article

Born in Sanford, Florida, Claude Barnett was sent at a very young age to live with his grandparents and other relatives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. He returned to the South to study engineering at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), from which he graduated in 1906. Back in Chicago, he worked as a postal clerk and, exposed to a wide range of advertising journals, decided to make a career in advertising. In 1913 he produced a series of photographs of famous blacks, which he sold through the mail, furthering his interest in business.

Five years later Barnett and several other entrepreneurs formed the Kashmir Chemical Company which sold cosmetics Barnett left the post office took the job of advertising manager at Kashmir and toured the country selling cosmetics as well as his photographs In each town he visited the local black newspaper hoping to bargain for ...

Article

Robert L. Harris

entrepreneur, journalist, and government adviser, was born in Sanford, Florida, the son of William Barnett, a hotel worker, and Celena Anderson. His father worked part of the year in Chicago and the rest of the time in Florida. Barnett's parents separated when he was young, and he lived with his mother's family in Oak Park, Illinois, where he attended school. His maternal ancestors were free blacks who migrated from Wake County, North Carolina, to the black settlement of Lost Creek, near Terre Haute, Indiana, during the 1830s. They then moved to Mattoon, Illinois, where Barnett's maternal grandfather was a teacher and later a barbershop owner, and finally to Oak Park. While attending high school in Oak Park, Barnett worked as a houseboy for Richard W. Sears cofounder of Sears Roebuck and Company Sears offered him a job with the company after he graduated from high school but ...

Article

Florence M. Coleman

slave, Civil War soldier, politician, and Baptist minister, was born Peter Barnabas Barrow, a Virginia slave. The month and day of his birth are unknown. It is believed that he was born near Petersburg, Virginia, and may have been taken to Mississippi or Alabama with his owner. In 1864 Barrow joined Company A, 66th U.S. Colored Infantry and in 1865 became a sergeant. A year later Barrow was discharged because of an injury he received. He went on to teach school at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Barrow, who was most likely self-educated, served as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives for Warren County, Mississippi, from 1870 to 1871. From 1872 to 1875 he served in the Mississippi State Senate. He migrated to Spokane, Washington, in 1889 and settled there in the city s African American community Barrow and other African Americans were determined to thrive by establishing ...

Article

Mason I. Lowance

Henry Bibb is best known through his Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave, which was first published by Bibb himself in 1849. While Frederick Douglass gained credibility through his assertion of authorship and by way of the introductions composed for his narrative by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, Bibb enjoyed no such reception and was forced to subvene the publication of his own story. The narrative is rich in detail, including an account of Bibb's use of “conjuring” to avoid punishment for running away, and the use of “charms” to court his slave wife. Bibb also gives eloquent testimony to the conditions and the culture of slavery in Kentucky and the South. John Blassingame describes it as “one of the most reliable of the slave autobiographies,” and it firmly established Bibb, together with Douglass and Josiah Henson as one ...

Article

Heidi L. Scott Giusto

Henry Walter Bibb was born a slave on the plantation of David White in Shelby County, Kentucky. His father, James Bibb, was a slaveholding planter and state senator; his mother, Mildred Jackson, was a slave. By 1825 Bibb began what he referred to as his “maroonage,” or scheming of short-term escape. Excessively cruel treatment by several different masters engendered this habit. Bibb's life lacked stability; the slave's owner began hiring him out at a young age, and between 1832 and 1840 he would be sold more than six times and would relocate to at least seven southern states.

In 1833 Bibb met and fell in love with Malinda, a slave who lived four miles away in Oldham County, Kentucky. After determining that they had similar values regarding religion and possible flight, the two pledged honor to one another and considered themselves married in December 1834 Approximately one year later ...

Article

Adam R. Hornbuckle

was born in Laurel, Mississippi, the youngest of ten children born to Peter and Eulalia Boston. His father, who worked as a fireman for the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad before losing sight in his right eye, provided for the family by farming, hauling junk, and doing other odd jobs. His mother was a homemaker. As a student at Oak Park High School in Laurel, Boston developed both academic and athletic skills. As quarterback on the football team, he led Oak Park to the African American state high school football championship in 1956. In track and field, Boston excelled in the hurdling, sprinting, and jumping events. As a junior in 1956 he established a national high school record in the 180-yard low hurdles and led Oak Park to the first of two consecutive African American state high school track championships.

After graduating high school in 1957 Boston earned ...

Article

Ralph E. Luker

Methodist educator and theologian, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Edward Bowen and Rose Simon. John's father was a carpenter from Maryland who was enslaved when he moved to New Orleans. After purchasing his own freedom, Edward Bowen bought that of his wife and son in 1858 and served in the Union army during the Civil War. After the war, young J. W. E. Bowen studied at the Union Normal School in New Orleans and at New Orleans University, which was founded by the Methodist Episcopal Church for the education of freedmen. Bowen received a bachelor's degree with the university's first graduating class in 1878. Eight years later, New Orleans University awarded him a master's degree. From 1878 to 1882 Bowen taught mathematics and ancient languages at Central Tennessee College in Nashville.

In 1882 Bowen began theological studies at Boston University While he was ...

Article

David Michel

publisher, entrepreneur, and banker, was born to Richard Henry Boyd, a publisher, and the former Harriet Moore in Grimes County, Texas, one of nine children. Henry Allen went to public school in Palestine, Texas, and attended the West Union Baptist Church. The Boyd family later moved to San Antonio and Henry found work at the local postal office. He became the first black to be hired as a postal clerk in San Antonio. He married Lula M. Smith, who bore him a daughter, Katherine. Lula did not live long after her daughter's birth. In 1908 he married again, this time to Georgia Ann Bradford. Around the early 1900s Henry Allen moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at the request of his father who had preceded him there. R. H. Boyd was making a name for himself in Nashville as founder and secretary treasurer of the National Baptist ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

business manager, journalist, entrepreneur, and political activist, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Ulysses and Curtis Heard Boykin. The elder Ulysses Boykin was employed by the Knoxville Journal. He and his wife were natives of Georgia, where she had taught school in La Grange. Boykin had an older brother, Alfred Wade Boykin, and a sister, Eleanor. In the early 1920s the family moved to Michigan, settling first in Grosse Ile, then in Detroit, where their father found work in a foundry.

In 1934 Boykin graduated from Detroit’s Northeastern High School and began writing a column for young readers in the Detroit Tribune. He took courses at Wayne State University, but did not enter a degree program. The following year Boykin was hired as an assistant to Russell J. Cowans, tutor and secretary to boxing sensation Joe Louis Louis s career was a business managed ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

escaped slave, navy landsman, and U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1841 of unknown parentage. Brown was a slave in Mississippi on a cotton plantation, and nothing is known of his childhood or to whom he belonged. In the early 1860s, at the start of the Civil War, Brown ran away from his master on a skiff that eventually managed to reach a Union ship stationed on the Mississippi River. This encounter with the navy probably accounts for his subsequent enlistment. The navy was a likely choice for an escaped slave; many escaped slaves, as well as free blacks from the North, were often drawn to the service because of its better pay and purported fairer treatment of blacks. Brown enlisted in the Union navy on 18 March 1863 under the title 1st Class Boy and was officially described as a Contraband Negro five ...

Article

John C. Gruesser

Born a slave in Maryland, John Edward Bruce grew up in Washington, D.C. Developing an interest in journalism, he worked as a general helper in the office of the Washington correspondent for the New York Times in 1874. By the time Bruce was twenty he was writing for newspapers, using the pen name “Rising Sun”, and in 1879 he started his own paper, the Argus, in Washington, D.C. In 1884 Bruce began writing under the name “Bruce Grit” in the Cleveland Gazette and the New York Age, eventually becoming one of the most widely read and influential African American journalists of his era. In his writings and speeches, Bruce decried mixed-race marriages, denounced Euro-American imperialism, aggressively promoted race pride and solidarity, championed self-help, and advocated the study of black history to combat the anti-Negro rhetoric of the post-Reconstruction period.

Bruce served as a conduit linking people ...

Article

David Alvin Canton

John Edward Bruce was born in Piscataway, Maryland, the son of Martha Allen Clark and Robert Bruce, who were both enslaved Africans. In 1859Major Harvey Griffin, Robert Bruce's slaveholder, sold him to a Georgia slaveholder. Raised by his mother, Bruce lived in Maryland until 1861 when Union troops marching through Maryland freed him and his mother, taking them to Washington, D.C., where Bruce lived until 1892. In 1865 Bruce's mother worked as a domestic in Stratford, Connecticut, where Bruce received his early education in an integrated school. One year later they returned to Washington, where Bruce continued his education. Although he did not complete high school, he enrolled in a course at Howard University in 1872. Bruce married Lucy Pinkwood, an opera singer from Washington, D.C. They had no children. In 1895 Bruce married Florence Adelaide Bishop with whom he had ...

Article

David Alvin Canton

journalist and historian, was born in Piscataway, Maryland, the son of Martha Allen Clark and Robert Bruce, who were both enslaved Africans. In 1859Major Harvey Griffin, Robert Bruce's owner, sold Robert to a Georgia slaveholder. Raised by his mother, John lived in Maryland until 1861, when Union troops marching through Maryland freed him and his mother, taking them to Washington, D.C., where John lived until 1892. In 1865 John's mother worked as a domestic in Stratford, Connecticut, where her son received his early education in an integrated school. One year later they returned to Washington, D.C., where John continued his education. Although he did not complete high school, he enrolled in a course at Howard University in 1872. John married Lucy Pinkwood, an opera singer from Washington, D.C. In 1895 he married Florence Adelaide Bishop, with whom he had one child.

Bruce began ...

Article

Edward L. Lach

business executive and civic leader, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Hayward G. Burrell and Fannie Miles. Although his parents’ occupations are unknown, both his father and his mother were natives of the District of Columbia, and Burrell's roots in the area ran deep. After graduating from Dunbar High School at the age of fifteen, he worked as a driver for a local pharmacy and apparently also drove a cab for a while. He married at age sixteen (his wife's name is unknown), and the marriage produced a son before ending in divorce seven years later.

In 1941 Burrell gained a position at the federal Bureau of Standards, where he worked in the glass section producing prisms and bombsights. He also attended nearby Howard University between 1941 and 1943 but did not graduate. He entered the U.S. Army in 1945 and rose to the rank of ...

Article

Robyn McGee

journalist, radio broadcaster, and founder of Calvin's News Service, was born in Washington,-Arkansas, to Joseph Edward and Hattie Ann (Mitchell). Calvin attended the Rural School in Clow, Arkansas, until the seventh grade. From 1916 to 1920 he attended Shover State Teacher Training College in Arkansas, and from 1920 to 1921 he was enrolled at Townsend Harris Hall, City College in New York City.

In 1922, shortly after leaving City College, Calvin was hired by the labor activist A. Philip Randolph as the associate editor of The Messenger magazine. The Messenger—the third most popular magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, after The Crisis and Opportunity—had been founded in 1917 by Randolph and the economist Chandler Owen to advance the cause of socialism to the black masses. They believed that a socialist society was the only one that would be free from racism. The Messenger contained poetry stories and ...

Article

newspaper publisher and editor, and political activist, was born a slave in the Port Gibson area of Mississippi. An intelligent person, he managed to get an extensive formal education, an uncommon feat for a former slave during the post-Civil War period. He furthered his education when he attended Alcorn University, whose president was former U.S. Senator Hiram Revels (the first U.S. senator of African descent). Among the subjects he studied was Latin, which, later as a newspaperman, he would periodically interject in his articles, especially when he was riled.

Cayton was outspoken throughout his life and had several serious scrapes because of it. Indeed, when Cayton left Mississippi after Reconstruction ended, he may have left in a dress disguised as a woman, according to Seattle resident Georgia Spencer, a distant relative. Cayton had been warned that some whites had intentions of lynching him. An older relative of Spencer, Jefferson Thomas ...