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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 ...

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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 ...

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Danielle Taana Smith

Black entrepreneurship has been important for the American economy from the 1600s, when the first Africans arrived in America.

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Adah Ward Randolph

educator, politician, activist, pastor, author, and Masonic leader, was born in Essex County, Virginia, to free parents of mixed white and black ancestry. In 1831 Virginia outlawed the education of free blacks, and many of them migrated to other states, including Ohio. The Act of 1831 may account for the migration of Ferguson's family to Cincinnati, which Ferguson listed as his home when he attended Albany Manual Labor Academy (AMLA) in Albany, Ohio. While it is unclear how Ferguson attained an elementary education, the Albany Manual Labor University records list T. J. Ferguson of Cincinnati as a student in the collegiate department during the 1857–1859 academic year. James Monroe Trotter, veteran of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Regiment and musicologist, also attended AMLA. Incorporated as a university in 1853 Albany Manual Labor University AMLU offered an integrated education which accepted students regardless of color ...

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Debra Jackson

abolitionist, political activist, and journalist, was born in New York City, the son of Hannah (1793–1864, maiden name unknown) and William Hamilton. William Hamilton, a freeborn black, was a carpenter by trade who set a stellar example for the New York black community as a strong leader in the fight for political and civil equality. William Hamilton was a staunch supporter of William Lloyd Garrison and the Liberator but stopped short of adopting Garrison's doctrine of pacifism. This aspect of William Hamilton's abolitionist ideology made a deep impression on his son Robert—one that lasted a lifetime. During the riotous summer of 1834 in New York when the mob spirit was in the city Robert recalled that his father took him to a hardware store purchased a pistol and instructed him to use it if attacked by the rampaging mob Boys as we were ...

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Debra Jackson

journalist and abolitionist, was born in New York City, the youngest son of the abolitionist and political activist William Hamilton and Hannah (1793–1864, maiden name unknown). William Hamilton, a freeborn black, worked as a carpenter and was a respected, influential member of the New York City black community. His son Thomas followed this example and became a prominent member of the community in his own right.

As a young boy Thomas Hamilton learned the newspaper business by working in the neighborhood of “Printing House Square,” the lower Manhattan area where many newspaper offices were located. Hamilton first worked as a carrier and in many other capacities for a variety of newspapers, including the Colored American. The journalist Philip A. Bell offered posthumous praise when he recalled that Hamilton went from the offices of the Colored American and worked “as mailing clerk on the Evangelist and ...

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Elliott S. Hurwitt

songwriter, was born Richard C. McPherson in Norfolk, Virginia. Nothing is known of his parents or his early life. He studied at the Norfolk Mission College and at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and set his sights on the study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. At first music was merely an avocation, but he gradually found his musical interests crowding out his medical ones; he began serious music studies in New York with the eminent Melville Charlton, the organist at some of New York's leading churches and synagogues for several decades. His activities during the years around 1900 were manifold evincing a considerable degree of energy In addition to his musical activities he was an enthusiastic member of the New York Guard rising to the rank of lieutenant He was also later active in the African American entertainment brotherhood known as the Frogs together with the ...

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Charles Rosenberg

physician, newspaper founder, and attorney, initiated the challenge to Louisiana's “Separate Car Law,” which led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold “separate but equal” public accommodations in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Martinet was born free, the second of eight children born to Pierre Hyppolite Martinet, a carpenter who arrived sometime before 1850 in St. Martinsville, Louisiana, from Belgium, and his wife, the former Marie-Louise Benoît, a native of Louisiana. Benoît is generally referred to as a free woman of color, but there is a record in St. Martin Parish Courthouse that Pierre Martinet purchased her freedom on 10 January 1848 from Dr. Pierre Louis Nee, along with her mother and their infant son Pierre. They were married on 7 December 1869 in St Martin de Tours Catholic Church St Martinsville Louisiana before the Civil War Louisiana law did not permit ...

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James Phillip Jeter

newspaper publisher, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the only son of Benjamin Murphy Jr., a whitewasher, and Susan Coby. John Henry Murphy was born a slave, and the Baltimore Afro-American, the newspaper that he guided to prominence during the first two decades of the twentieth century, described Murphy's educational attainment as “limited.” A short man, he walked with a limp, the result of a childhood horseback riding incident that left one leg longer than the other. Freedom for the Murphys came through the Maryland Emancipation Act of 1863.

Despite his limp Murphy answered Abraham Lincoln's call for troops and joined the Union army during the Civil War. He enlisted as a private in Company G of the mostly black Thirtieth Regiment of the Maryland Volunteers—an infantry unit—on 18 March 1864. During his twenty-one months in uniform he served under General Ulysses S. Grant ...

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Lois Kerschen

Russell Parrott was prominent in Philadelphia's black circles in the early 1800s. A lay reader at the historically important Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, Parrott became an assistant to the pastor in 1812. Parrot was a close ally of James Forten's, and these two members of the Philadelphia African Institution were both notable activists of their day.

Parrott saw the colonization of America as a desire for gain and believed that this greed had led to the slave trade. Parrott's writings were filled with vivid descriptions and strong phrases that illustrated the conditions of slavery. He decried the emotional scarring that resulted from the brutal capture of Africans and their voyage to America, the tragic separation of families, and the cruelty of the slaveholders. In 1812 in an address at the traditional New Year s Day celebration of the abolition of the slave trade Parrott expressed sympathy for ...

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Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

inventor, newspaper publisher, and editor, was born the second son and fifth child to Robert and Frances Pelham near Petersburg, Virginia. In the year of his birth his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, seeking better educational and economic opportunities. Pelham attended the public schools of Detroit and managed to finish a twelve-year educational course in nine years.

In 1871, while still in high school, Pelham sharpened his journalistic skills while working at the Daily Post, a leading Republican newspaper of the time. At the Daily Post Pelham worked under Zachariah Chandler, who not only was the owner of the Daily Post but also was a prominent Republican who went on to become mayor of Detroit and a U.S. senator. This close working relationship probably explains Pelham's later involvement with the Republican Party.

Pelham wrote for the Detroit Daily from 1883 to 1891 While ...

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Charles Rosenberg

founder, publisher and editor of the Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia city council member and sheriff's assistant, was born free in Baltimore, Maryland. While there is some uncertainty about the precise year of his birth—some sources suggest 1854—census and other records suggest that 1849 is the most likely date. Later sources give his birth year as 1851 or even 1854, but census listings from 1850 to 1870 show he was born in 1849, possibly as early as 1848. He was the son of Christopher and Rebecca Bowser Perry, who lived in the city's Twelfth Ward alongside a number of families who were free and classified by the census as either “black” or “mulatto.” His siblings included older brother Joseph, born about 1843; Lydia, named for her maternal grandmother, born about 1845; and Anna or Alverdea, born in 1850.

Perry was a common ...

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Eric R. Jackson

politician, editor, and entrepreneur, was born Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback in Macon, Georgia, the son of William Pinchback, a Mississippi plantation owner, and Eliza Stewart, a former slave of mixed ancestry. Because William Pinchback had taken Eliza to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to obtain her emancipation, Pinckney was free upon birth.

In 1847 young Pinckney and his older brother Napoleon Pinchback were sent to Cincinnati to be educated. When his father died the following year, Eliza and the rest of the children fled Georgia to escape the possibility of reenslavement and joined Pinckney and Napoleon in Cincinnati. Because the family was denied any share of William Pinchback's estate, they soon found themselves in financial straits. To help support his family, Pinckney worked as a cabin boy on canal boats in Ohio and later as a steward on several Mississippi riverboats. In 1860 he married Nina Emily Hawthorne ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

journalist and educator, was born in Brandenburg, Kentucky, a son of the slaves Henry and Frances Steward, who were freed before the Civil War. In about 1860, the Stewards moved to Louisville, where William attended a private school run by the Reverend Henry Adams, pastor of the First African Church, who became one of the strongest influences in young Steward's life.

As a young man, Steward served as a schoolteacher at Frankfort and Louisville, before working for railroad companies, and in 1876 he became the first African American letter carrier for the Post Office Department in Louisville An active member of the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Louisville he was longtime secretary of the General Association of Colored Baptists of Kentucky He also became active in local Republican politics becoming the first black man to serve as a city precinct judge of registration and elections ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

editor, federal official, Republican activist, and state legislator, was born in Henderson, North Carolina, the son of a slave woman of whom nothing is known but that she was owned by Capt. D. E. Young, a wealthy farmer. His father, who was never named publicly, was described as a prominent white resident of Henderson who financed his son's education. Although little is known of his early life before 1865, James Young attended the common schools of Henderson after the war, and in 1874 he entered the private Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In early 1877 Young left Shaw to accept a position as messenger in the office of Col. J. J. Young, the U.S. collector of internal revenue for the Raleigh district, and thus began a lengthy, intermittent career in federal service. In 1881 he married his first wife, Bettie Ellison ...