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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 ...

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Wilbert H. Ahern

newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican Party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both of his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas during Reconstruction. By 1874 Adams had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican Party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican Party in 1874 and the ...

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John Marinelli

teacher and abolitionist, said in a letter of protest to the Hartford Courant that he was born to enslaved parents, but their names are unknown. Slavery was not formally abolished in New York State until 1827, and the census of 1820 recorded 518 slaves in New York City. One source suggests that Africanus was born in New York City in 1822; it is possible that he may have been connected to the brothers Edward Cephas Africanus and Selas H. Africanus, who taught at a black school in Long Island in the 1840s. Africanus is now remembered only through his few published writings and journalistic documentation of his actions; the earliest records of his activity in Connecticut date from 1849 when he attended a Colored Men s Convention and a suffrage meeting His most notable publication was the broadside he created to warn Hartford African Americans about ...

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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 ...

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Charles Rosenberg

book collector, historian, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia to George Bolivar, and Elizabeth LeCount Proctor Bolivar. There is some uncertainty about his precise year of birth, with historians suggesting 1844 (Silcox) or 1849 (Welborn), while census data inclines toward an 1847 date. His father was employed as a sailmaker by James Forten, a local businessman and founder of the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons.

The family numbered themselves among the “O.P.”—Old Philadelphians—of the African American community. George Bolivar had been born in Philadelphia, to a Pennsylvania-born mother and a father from North Carolina. Elizabeth Bolivar was born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Maryland (1850 census). In 1850George Bolivar owned real estate valued at $8,000, while a North Carolina–born cousin, Nicholas Bolivar, lived with the family, working as a tailor. Throughout Bolivar s life there were relatives or ...

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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 ...

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Sandy Dwayne Martin

Baptist minister, educator, and editor, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of free African American parents, Ann L. (maiden name unknown) and James M. Brawley. Brawley's parents took a keen interest in the education and professional development of their son, providing him private schooling in Charleston, sending him at the age of ten to Philadelphia to attend grammar school and the Institute for Colored Youth, and apprenticing him to a shoemaker in Charleston from 1866 to 1869. He enrolled as the first theological student at Howard University for a few months in 1870 but then transferred to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in January 1871 The first African American student at Bucknell Brawley completed his education with the encouragement and financial support of a white couple named Griffith and with his own work teaching vocal music and preaching during school vacations The white Baptist church ...

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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 ...

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Michael J. Ristich

journalist, musician, and politician, was born James Henri Burch in New Haven, Connecticut, to Charles Burch, a wealthy black minister, and his wife. Burch was the sole black student at Oswego Academy in New York, where he was trained in journalism and music. He lived in Buffalo, New York, before the Civil War, where he became involved in the antislavery movement and taught music. Burch became an active member in the Garnet League, which championed the rights of former slaves. Upon moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Burch quickly worked his way in the political circles of Louisiana, serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Louisiana Senate.

At age thirty two with his father s encouragement Burch left the North for Louisiana to aid and educate free blacks during Reconstruction Soon thereafter Burch began directing the local school for blacks and began his rise through the Louisiana state ...

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 ...

Article

Dickson D. Bruce

journalist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of William H. Chase, a blacksmith, and Lucinda Seaton. He attended schools in Washington, and at the age of ten, upon the death of his father, he went to work selling newspapers and later doing odd jobs around newspaper offices. Completing the preparatory department at Howard University, he took a position in the government printing office. He was later appointed by Frederick Douglass to a position in the office of the recorder of deeds, a post once held by Douglass, then moved on to become a clerk in the War Department. In 1886 he married Arabella V. McCabe; they had two children.

Despite his government appointments, Chase early in his life showed a keen interest in journalism. Even as he held government posts, he wrote for and even served as the editor of newspapers serving Washington's black community. In 1882 ...

Article

Todd Steven Burroughs

In the late nineteenth century, black comedy was about to burst out of the shadows of minstrelsy that it had been forced into by whites. Born in Africa via folktales and verbal contests and raised in America, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African American humor was created by several tensions: the relationship between the master and the slave, the folktales stressing trickery and mental skill, the stories that showed the superiority of the slave over the master, and the parodies of slave life. The creation of the minstrel shows had resulted in a struggle between whites attempting to control black humor and black minstrels attempting to subvert the degrading black stereotype, performing instead a pantomime that mocked the white audience by playing exaggeratedly to its expectations while at the same time injecting a strain of human dignity into the parts they played.

Bert Williams, who appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

journalist, businessman, and civil rights organization leader, was born into slavery, probably near Smyrna, Tennessee, to unnamed parents, and apparently orphaned soon afterward. Little is known of his childhood, except that Cooper moved at an early age to Nashville, where he was educated at the old barracks school for African American children on Knowles Street, later the nucleus of Fisk University.

Cooper later recalled working on a farm for two years before he began selling newspapers on passenger trains. He also worked briefly as a hotel waiter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Centennial Exposition there in 1876. About 1877 Cooper migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he worked as a book-seller and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the city's Shortridge High School in 1882 He began working for the Railway Mail Service and soon rose to chief clerk on the Louisville ...

Article

Eric Gardner

educator and journalist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the son of William Corbin and Susan, both Virginia-born former slaves. Corbin's parents eventually settled in Cincinnati to raise their family of twelve children. Corbin attended school sporadically because of economic circumstances (one of his classmates was John Mercer Langston), though his family emphasized education. In the late 1840s Corbin and his older sister Elizabeth moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where their father had family. Both lived with the Reverend Henry Adams, the pastor of the black First Baptist Church. Though the 1850 census takers listed him as a cook, Corbin taught at least some of the time in a school supported by Adams.

Thirsty for further education, Corbin traveled north to Ohio University, where he earned a BA in 1853 and an MA in 1856 He settled in Cincinnati worked as a bank messenger and steward gained prominence ...

Article

Diane L. Barnes

Samuel Eli Cornish was born free in Sussex County, Delaware. At the age of twenty Cornish traveled to Philadelphia, where he trained for the ministry under John Gloucester, the founder of the First African Presbyterian Church, and was licensed on probationary status in 1819. After briefly working as a missionary among the enslaved population of Maryland's Eastern Shore, in 1821 Cornish settled in New York City, where he served as a missionary among black residents. Formally ordained in 1822, Cornish established the first African American Presbyterian congregation in New York, at the New Demeter Street Presbyterian Church. Two years later he married Jane Livingston, with whom he would have four children.

In 1827 Cornish became the founding editor of Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper in the United States edited by African Americans. Along with his coeditor, John Brown Russwurm, Cornish used Freedom's Journal to ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

Samuel Eli Cornish was born in Sussex County, Delaware, the son of free black parents. Cornish was educated after 1815 in Philadelphia, where he studied for the ministry with John Gloucester, pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church. During Gloucester's illness, Cornish served as minister to the church for a year. In this brief tenure Cornish learned much about the tenuous finances of black churches, knowledge that would serve him later. Cornish gained a probationary license to preach from the Presbyterian synod in 1819. He then spent six months as missionary to slaves on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where his license gave him greater credibility than most black preachers enjoyed. In 1821 he moved to New York City where he worked in the blighted ghetto around Bancker Street and organized the first black Presbyterian congregation in New York the New Demeter Street Presbyterian Church Ordained in ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

clergyman and newspaper editor, was born in Sussex County, Delaware, the son of free black parents. Cornish was educated after 1815 in Philadelphia, where he studied for the ministry with John Gloucester, pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church. During Gloucester's illness, Cornish served as minister to the church for a year. In this brief tenure Cornish learned much about the tenuous finances of black churches, knowledge that would serve him later. Cornish gained a probationary license to preach from the Presbyterian synod in 1819. He then spent six months as missionary to slaves on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where his license gave him greater credibility than most black preachers enjoyed. In 1821 he moved to New York City where he worked in the blighted Lower East Side ghetto around Bancker Street and organized the first black Presbyterian congregation in New York the New Demeter Street Presbyterian Church ...

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 ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

editor and public official, was born in Tarboro, North Carolina, the younger son and third child of John C. Dancy and Eliza Dancy, slaves owned by John S. Dancy, a local planter. After the Civil War, John C. Dancy became a prosperous carpenter and contractor, and was later elected as an Edgecombe County commissioner. John Campbell Dancy was educated in the common schools in Tarboro, where he worked briefly as a newspaper typesetter before entering the normal department at Howard University in Washington, DC.

After his father's death, John Dancy interrupted his studies to return to Tarboro, where he became a schoolteacher and principal of the public school for African American children. U.S. Congressman John Adams Hyman (R-NC) secured an appointment for Dancy at the U.S. Treasury Department in 1876, and Dancy briefly returned to Washington. By 1880 he was again teaching in Tarboro where ...

Article

R. J. M. Blackett

educator and editor, was born in New York City, the son of John Day, a sailmaker, and Eliza Dixon, a seamstress. J. P. Williston, an inkmaker from Northampton, Massachusetts, first met Day during a visit to a school for black children in New York City. Williston was so impressed with the young student that he persuaded Day's mother to allow him, a white man, to adopt her son. Day spent five years in Northampton, where he attended school and was apprenticed as a printer at the Hampshire Herald. Refused admission to Williams College because of his race, Day enrolled at Oberlin College in Ohio (1843–1847). Soon after graduating, he was hired by the Cleveland True Democrat as a reporter, compositor, and local editor. He later published and edited the Aliened American (1853–1854 which aimed to promote education and defend the rights of African ...