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Alma Jean Billingslea Brown

civil rights activist, educator, and businesswoman, was born Juanita Odessa Jones in Uniontown, Alabama, the youngest of eight children of Ella Gilmore Jones and Alex Jones Sr., an influential and prosperous black farmer in Perry County, Alabama. When Alabama telephone and electric companies refused to provide service to the Jones homestead, Alex Jones Sr. and his brothers installed their own telephone lines and wired their own homes for electricity. One consequence of the family's financial independence was that Juanita was able to attend boarding school from age five until she graduated from high school in Selma, Alabama, where she had older sisters in attendance at the historically black Selma University. After high school, in 1947 Jones enrolled in Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in business education with a minor in history and social studies. She returned to Alabama after earning a BS in 1951 ...

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Sherri J. Norris

chemical engineer and environmental engineering entrepreneur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the second of four daughters of Ernest Buford Abron and Bernice Wise Abron, both educators. Abron was educated in Memphis public schools and was a member of the National Honor Society. Abron divorced and had three sons, Frederick, Ernest, and David; she is occasionally credited as Lilia Ann Abron-Robinson.

Abron stayed close to home when she attended LeMoyne College, a historically black college in Memphis, Tennessee. She considered medical school, but she was persuaded by her advisor, Dr. Beuler, to pursue a career in engineering instead. Her decision was a risky one. She did not know of any African Americans with engineering degrees who were actually working as engineers; instead, she once said in an interview, they were often working in post offices. In 1966 Abron received her BS in Chemistry from ...

Article

Antero Pietila

a teenaged numbers runner who become an important Baltimore business leader, was born into a family of sharecroppers. He was raised by his grandparents in Zebulon, North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore in 1929, during the Depression. He quickly grew tired of the city's Dunbar High School, working instead in a rag factory and fixing bicycles—a sideline he had begun at age ten. On his bicycle, he also ran errands for numbers operators; lucrative illegal lotteries thrived in the city under the protection of the Democratic machine. By the age of twenty, he was an aspiring kingpin, and the owner of three stores.

Adams's grip on numbers strengthened in 1938, after the death of the city's “Black King,” Democratic boss Tom Smith Adams filled the vacuum That year white Philadelphia gangsters firebombed his tavern He repelled the takeover attempt living up to his nickname Little Willie acquired ...

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Julia A. Clancy-Smith

Tunisian labor activist, women’s rights activist, and journalist, was born in the town of Gabes in southern Tunisia. Adda rose to prominence owing to her mother’s emphasis upon female education, although her parents were of modest means. One branch of Adda’s family, who are North African Jews, was originally from Batna in Algeria; her maternal grandfather had left French Algeria to seek his fortune in Tunisia, where he managed a small hotel in the south. For her parents’ generation, it was somewhat unusual for women to attend school; to achieve the “certificate of study,” as Adda’s mother did, was a noteworthy achievement. Gladys Adda’s life trajectory illustrated a number of important regional and global social and political currents: nationalism and anticolonialism, organized labor and workers’ movements, socialism and communism, women’s emancipation, and fascism and anti-Semitism against the backdrop of World War II.

In primary school Adda attended classes with Muslim ...

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James G. Spady

One of thirteen children, Robert Mara Adger was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Robert Adger, was black, and his mother, Mary Ann Morong, was Native American. In 1848 the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adger's father first found a job as a waiter in the Old Merchant's Hotel. Later, while working as a nurse, he industriously saved enough funds to open a furniture business. He was involved in many activities and was a founder of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

Robert Mara Adger received his early training at the Bird School, an early black educational institution in the United States. During his teenage years, he worked in his father's furniture stores, which had expanded from one in 1850 to three by 1858 Serving as a manager provided him with the business experience that he later found valuable as director of the Philadelphia Building and ...

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Ana Raquel Fernandes

Chemist and phosphorus manufacturer, well known for his philanthropic views, born on 3 March 1811 in Charlbury, Oxfordshire, into a Quaker family. He was the son of William Albright and Rachel Tanner. In 1842 he joined the firm of John and Edward Sturge, manufacturing chemists in Birmingham. He was responsible for the development of Anton Schrotter's (1802–75) method of producing red phosphorus, important for the use of safety matches. This interest grew out of a concern for the health of match workers. In 1854 Albright took over a phosphorus plant previously belonging to the Sturge brothers, in Oldbury, Worcestershire. In 1856 he went into partnership with J. W. Wilson. Their firm survived until the middle of the 20th century.

Throughout his life Albright travelled in Europe Egypt and the United States seeking new sources of raw materials and trying to expand his export trade ...

Article

Jacob Andrew Freedman

soldier, minister, and social activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of the six children of Levi Allensworth and Phyllis (maiden name unknown), slaves of the Starbird family. The Starbirds were respected members of the community and were partners in Wilson, Starbird, and Smith, a wholesale drug company based in Louisville. Levi died when Allen was an infant. Phyllis's other five children either had been sold down the Mississippi River or had escaped to Canada. Phyllis hoped that Allen could “even if partly educated, win his freedom” (Alexander, 9). Believing that God would play a role in his redemption as well, Phyllis named Allen after Richard Allen, the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In Allen Allensworth's early years he was given to Thomas Starbird, Mrs. Starbird's son, as a companion.

When Thomas was sent to school Allensworth s ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

journalist, war correspondent, railway mail clerk, and postal worker union activist, whose career rebounded repeatedly from the impact of his abrasive style on supervisors and fellow workers, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the son of Trezzvant E. Anderson and Amanda (Dixon) Anderson. In 1930 he and his sister, Roberta Anderson, were living in Charlotte with a stepfather, Robert Alexander, who was born in Virginia.

Trezzvant Anderson enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte in 1921, where he edited the campus paper, the University Student. He left in 1927, a year short of graduation, and worked as a railway mail clerk in Charlotte and in Washington, D.C., until 1941, while also taking on a variety of writing assignments. He was contributing editor of the Charlotte Post (1928–1929), special feature writer for the Norfolk, Virginia, Journal and Guide ...

Article

Christine Schneider

carpenter, insurance agent, contractor and activist, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1885. As a young boy, Artemus saw that discrimination and oppression was still very much alive in the South, even following Emancipation in 1865 His parents were sharecroppers thus they were subject to subordination through this system because it ultimately favored the owners of the land not the workers Although there were many important benefits to this agricultural arrangement the sharecropping system was ultimately oppressive Landlords exploited their positions by extending credit to the workers during times of bad weather and poor quality of crop and market price The interest rates were often so high that workers were unable to pay them Often this meant landlords and sharecroppers were in much the same relationship as master and slave had been It was precisely for this reason that Artemus grew up determined to fight for his ...

Article

Kristopher Cote

public servant, politician, and businessman in present-day Uganda, was born in the Kingdom of Buganda in 1894. His father, Thomas Ssemukasa, was a subcounty chief and general of Kabaka (King) Mwanga’s army. His name, which was not a customary clan name, means “it is better to die on the battlefield than to die of a natural death.” He was educated at an elite private school, King’s College in Buddo, and at Sheffield College in England. Upon his return to Uganda he was a clerk in the protectorate government, but soon he became an outspoken politician and businessman who challenged the application of British administration in Uganda.

After several years of service to the protectorate government, Baamuta was appointed secretary of the Lukiiko (the Bugandan parliament). He was a vociferous defender of the rights afforded to the Buganda Kingdom under the terms of the Uganda Agreement (1900 which ...

Article

Iris Berger

South African labor organizer and women’s movement leader, was born in the diamond-mining town of Kimberley, the fourth of six children. Her father Herman Maswabi had come from Bechuanaland (now Botswana) to work on the mines and was a steward in the local Methodist church; her mother, Sara Voss, also Tswana, came from Kimberley. When her father’s brother and sister-in-law died, Baard’s family took in their children, and her parents sent her to stay with her father’s sister in Ramotswa, a village not far from Gaborone, where she was confirmed in the local Lutheran church. After Baard, then around eight years old, suffered serious burns in a cooking fire, her mother brought her back to the family home in Beaconsfield, just outside of Kimberley. She attended a Methodist school, learning in both English and Tswana. Shortly after she returned, her mother passed away during the 1918 flu epidemic.

When Baard ...

Article

Eric Paul Roorda

labor leader in the sugar industry during the Rafael Trujillo regime, was born in Sabana Grande de Palenque in the province of San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic, on 23 September 1910. He was the son of Daniel Báez, a sugarcane cutter, and Julia de los Santos. They moved to San Pedro de Macorís with him when he was young. He began working in a company store on the Colón sugar estate, and later he became a stevedore in the port of San Pedro. These places of employment may have provided him the chance to gain literacy, although he had no formal education. What he had was intelligence, charisma, and a great public speaking ability.

Báez became a leader of the nascent labor union movement in the cane fields around San Pedro de Macorís and La Romana in the early 1940s He was one of the leaders of a brief localized ...

Article

Michael J. Murphy

automobile worker and activist, was born General Gordon Baker Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, one of five children of General Gordon Baker Sr., an automobile worker, and Clara Baker, a housewife. Baker attended Southwestern High School in Detroit and went on to take classes at Highland Park Community College and Wayne State University. In the early 1960s he took a job with Ford Motor Company and continued to work in the automobile industry for almost forty years. In 1941 Baker s father had moved his family to Detroit from Georgia in search of a job in the booming war production industries taking part in the massive migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North during the first half of the twentieth century Becoming an autoworker allowed Baker Sr to dramatically improve his family s standard of living especially in comparison to his prospects ...

Article

Janice L. Greene

first African AmericanPatent Examiner, a lawyer, and author of The Colored Inventor: A Record of Fifty Years (Crisis Publishing Co., 1913) and other works on black inventors and scientists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, was born in Columbus, Mississippi. Little is known of his parents or his early life in Columbus, except that he attended public schools and the Columbus Union Academy. Toward the end of Reconstruction, in June 1874, he was selected to attend the Annapolis, Maryland, naval academy by white Congressman Henry W. Barry R Mississippi who had commanded black troops for the union Army during the Civil War Despite government and naval policies during this period directing the military to integrate the first two African American cadets failed to survive intense hazing taunting assaults and social isolation from classmates and left before graduation Still Congressman Barry originally from New ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

pioneer settler in Los Angeles County, California, in the 1850s, blacksmith, teamster, firewood salesman, and landowner, was born in Kentucky around 1827. Although it is commonly assumed that he had been enslaved there, he arrived in California a free man prior to the Civil War, and nothing has been established about his previous life.

He was married on 6 November 1859 to a woman named Amanda, born in Texas, by Jesse Hamilton, the earliest pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal church, Los Angeles. Their first two children, Dora and Julia, were born in 1857 and 1859. In 1860 the household included a laborer named Juan Jose, recorded by the census as being of Indian ancestry. Another man of African descent, Oscar Smith from Mississippi lived next door and no race was specified for the other neighbors who had either English or Hispanic names ...

Article

Sheila T. Gregory

radio and television pioneer, Masonic Christian Order founder, ordained Baptist minister, lawyer, community advocate, and business leader, was born on a sharecroppers' farm in Geneva, Kentucky, the son of Richard and Clara Banks, both tenant farmers. In June 1922 Banks graduated from the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky and moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he secured a job at the Dodge automobile main plant. He graduated from Wayne State University in 1926 and the Detroit College of Law in 1929. He briefly opened a criminal law practice, but after two years he discontinued his criminal work and invested in property during the Depression, while helping elect liberal Democrat and future Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy as Detroit's mayor in 1930.

In 1931 Banks was the head of the International Labor Defense League ILDL a legal organization known for defending numerous labor unions which at that time were ...

Article

Florencia Guzmán

accomplished master cobbler and organizer of a guild of shoemakers of color in Buenos Aires (Argentina) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1793, with the objective of obtaining official recognition for this guild, he traveled to Spain, where he had a meeting with the royal authorities. While there he managed to obtain the permission he had fought so hard for, but he was prevented from carrying out his plans for the guild because of other restrictions. As a result, he became bitter and left Buenos Aires.

Baquero was born in Buenos Aires in 1748 and began working as an apprentice cobbler at the age of 12 Though no details are known about his parents it is clear that Baquero followed the custom of leaving his home and living with the family of a master cobbler whose scarce resources he shared After four years of working intensely as ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

labor union activist in the Chicago stockyards, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of John W. Bedford and Melcenah S. Bedford. His father was born in 1844 in Virginia and was employed in 1880 (shortly before Robert was born) in a stove foundry in Columbiana County, Ohio. His mother was born in 1852 in Ohio. Her mother was also born in Ohio. Her father, John Davis, born in Virginia, lived with the family in 1880, as did two brothers, Orville and John Davis (Census, 1880). By 1900Melcenah Bedford was raising her children alone at 492 Central Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio, making a living washing clothes. No record has been found as to what happened in the intervening twenty years, during which Robert Edward Bedford was born and grew to the age of sixteen.

It is likely that he was at least eight years old ...

Article

Hassoum Ceesay

merchant, community leader, and socialite, was born Ada Jagne to Francis and Marie Jagne in Bathurst (now Banjul), Gambia. Little is known of her life before 1916, when she married Job Beigh, the richest merchant in Bathurst. Job owned choice real estate in Bathurst, many warehouses and shops, and a fleet of riverboats that transported merchandise to the ports of the Gambia River for European firms.

Job Beigh's career as a merchant exemplified the cutthroat business environment in the Gambia colony in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Bathurst in 1847 and, following his secondary education in Freetown, Sierra Leone, he began his business career as a clerk with the Bathurst Trading Company, one of the six major European companies operating in Bathurst and upriver towns. Later, Job started trading on his own account in Bathurst in 1888 He was ...

Article

Jodie N. Mader

diamond magnate, financier, imperialist, and philanthropist in southern Africa, was born in Hamburg, Germany, the eldest of six children. His father was an affluent merchant. Beit performed poorly in school, and in his teens he was sent to be an apprentice at the office of Jules Porges and Company in Amsterdam. In 1875, Beit went to Kimberley, South Africa, as a representative of the firm. While in Africa he went into property speculation and joined up with a young German named Julius Wernher. These two men formed the Wernher, Beit, and Company firm, which was known for its deep-level mining and use of cyanide processing for treating gold ore. His most famous friendship was with Cecil Rhodes, an English financier. They formed the De Beers Mining Company. Much of Rhodes’s success depended on the financial advice he received from Beit.

Together Rhodes and Beit worked to drive out other ...