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Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

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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 ...

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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 ...

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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

Bilali  

Allan D. Austin

Muslim leader and plantation manager, was born in Africa, sold into slavery, and transported to the Bahamas and then to Sapelo Island, Georgia. His name is also given as Bilali Mahomet and Bul‐Ali. Almost nothing is known about Bilali's life in Africa, but his fellow Fula or Peul (originally Malian) friend, Salih Bilali, who was enslaved on the neighboring island of Saint Simons, said that Bilali came from the village of Timbo, in Futa Jallon (later Guinea). This was an important Muslim educational and political community and the homeland of another Fula, Ibrahima abd al‐Rahman, who was enslaved in Mississippi. Bilali's strict adherence to Muslim ways and the book he wrote in Arabic show that he paid attention to his teachers in Africa. In the Bahamas Bilali married at least one of his four known wives before being brought to Georgia around 1802 He had a ...

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Lester C. Lamon

The son of Richard Henry Boyd and Hattie Moore, Henry Allen Boyd was born in Grimes County, Texas, on April 15, 1876, and grew up in San Antonio. During the early 1870s his father, a former slave and Texas cowboy, received the call to the ministry and launched a successful career as a minister, church promoter, and entrepreneur. More than any of his eight brothers and sisters, Henry Allen identified with his father's aggressive concern for race achievement and personal initiative. While still in his teens, the younger Boyd attained a clerkship in the San Antonio post office (the first African American to hold such a position), and he held this post until he moved his wife and young daughter to Nashville, Tennessee, just before the turn of the century. Nashville remained Henry Boyd's residence until his death in 1959.

Richard Henry Boyd had become active ...

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Charles Rosenberg

was born in Charles City County, Virginia, the son of Abraham Brown, and his wife Sarah Brown. (The elder Abraham Brown called himself “Abraham Brown, Jr.” in a 1789 will, but Abraham Brown, Sr. was his uncle, not his father). The Browns were descended from William Brown, born around 1670, sometimes referenced in Virginia court records as “William Brown Negro.” Arthur Bunyan Caldwell, in History of the American Negro and his institutions, briefly refers to the family history being traceable back to England, but provides no details.

The Browns had been free for over a century, and many had owned enough property to be taxable, when Abraham Brown was born. Several had owned title to enslaved persons; Abraham owned three in 1810. His father at various times owned both slaves and indentured servants, including one John Bell, indentured in 1771 Abraham Brown Jr ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

sharecropper and minister, was born in the Mississippi Delta, the tenth of twelve children of Miles Carter, a sharecropper descended from Georgia slaves owned by the forebears of President Jimmy Carter. The name of Miles Carter's wife is not recorded The Carters lived a peripatetic existence moving from one plantation to another but never escaping the cycle of poverty that characterized much of black life in the Jim Crow South Despite the hopelessness of that situation Miles Carter was an ambitious man who occasionally advanced to the position of renter Unlike sharecroppers who usually possessed antiquated farming tools and equipment and received only half of the value of their crop renters often owned their own mules and implements and could expect to earn a three quarter share of their crop which in the Delta was inevitably cotton Miles Carter s success as a renter required however that his ...

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Nicolette M. Kostiw

also known as Hilária Pereira Ernesto da Silva, Brazilian religious figure and patron of the arts, was born on 13 January 1854 (Saint Hilary of Poitiers Day) in Santo Amaro da Purificação, in the province of Bahia, Brazil. She arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1876 at the age of 22, but the details of her early life remain unknown. In Rio, she worked as a quituteira, a street-side seller of sweets, dressed in white, an African-inspired hoopskirt, and a turban. Her involvement in a local terreiro, or gathering of believers in the African religion Candomblé, earned her the nickname “Tia Ciata.” Although she initially made her mark on Rio as a spiritual leader, she would eventually foster the rise of one of Brazil’s most distinctive musical styles: samba.

Tia Ciata s first marriage to Norberto da Rocha Guimarães was brief They had one daughter Isabel and then ...

Article

Kenneth J. Blume

businessman, Masonic leader, attorney, and diplomat, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, to John Clark, a freed slave, and Rebecca Darnes, who may have been born in Africa. He was educated in the Washington County public schools and in 1839 was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he excelled in academic studies and learned barbering from his uncle, William Darnes. In October 1841 Clark headed south on the Ohio River aboard the steamer George Washington, where he worked as a barber. In May 1842 he settled in Muscatine (then called Bloomington), Iowa. In Muscatine, Clark began a profitable barbering business, supplied wood to Mississippi River steamboats, and invested in timberland and urban property. His real estate transactions made him wealthy, and his ethical practices won him a broad and positive reputation. On 8 October 1848 Clark married Catherine Griffin a former slave in Iowa City The ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a minister who helped consolidate the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church in the postbellum South, was born Jesse B. Colbert in Cedar Creek township, Lancaster County, South Carolina, the son of farm laborers Tillman Colbert and Mariah House Colbert. Neither of his parents could read, but they made sure their children attended school (1870 and 1880 Census, Kentucky Death Certificate). Colbert attended county schools until the age of eighteen and then entered Lancaster High School, originally called the Pettey High School after its founder and principal, Rev. (later Bishop) Charles Calvin Pettey, pastor of the Lancaster Courthouse AMEZ church.

After teaching school himself in South Carolina, Colbert entered Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, in January 1883, shortly after it was established by Dr. Joseph Charles Price, who served as president from 1882 to 1888. Bishop James Walker Hood recorded that Colbert ...

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Kathryn L. Beard

the rector of Detroit's St. Matthew's Protestant Episcopal Church and anti-union labor recruiter for Ford Motor Company, was born in St.-Thomas, Danish Virgin Islands, of middle-class parents, about whom little is known. His father was a Danish-speaking white man and his mother, Clementina, a black woman from the British colony of St. Kitts. Daniel was bilingual and considered Danish his first language. St. Thomas had a tradition of liberal education of slaves and free blacks and Daniel, considered a brilliant student, would benefit from the educational policies of the colony. He emigrated from St. Thomas in 1892 to New York to complete his education and his mother followed a year later. Daniel became an American citizen in 1901, twenty-six years before the United States purchased the Danish Virgin Islands.

Daniel attended St Augustine College in Raleigh North Carolina where he received his BA and then moved to New ...

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Andree Layton Roaf

Virginia state legislator, brick mason, plasterer, contractor, and educator, was born free in Manchester (later South Richmond), Chesterfield County, Virginia, the son of Edward Bradbury Edwards Jr. and Mary Trent Edwards. Edwards's family, of black, white, and American Indian ancestry, had been free landowners since the early 1700s. His father was a carpenter and his mother a teacher. Edwards was taught to read and write at an early age by his mother and learned the construction trades from his father. In 1850 Edwards married Sara Ann Coy, also a teacher, and together they had thirteen children.

Throughout his life Edwards was a prominent member of the historic First Baptist Church in South Richmond, which was established by free blacks as the African Baptist Church of Manchester in 1821 Edwards s family was among the founding members of the church which his father ...

Article

Monte Hampton

preacher, shoemaker, and founder of the world's third oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, was born in Charles City County, Virginia. Little is known of his parents, upbringing, or eventual marriage.

En route to Charleston in the 1780s Evans arrived in Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to William Capers, a Methodist bishop, Evans stayed in Fayetteville because “the people of his race in that town were wholly given to profanity and lewdness, never hearing preaching of any denomination, and living emphatically without hope and without God in the world.” Evans's initial efforts to instruct slaves in the vicinity of Fayetteville met with stout resistance from whites. Fearing that his preaching would incite sedition and insurrection, white officials jailed him. Eventually released, Evans continued his evangelistic efforts at clandestine meetings in the sand hills outside of town.

Evans's persistence paid off. By 1802 the public morals of the negroes ...

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 ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

minister, U.S. Congressman, educator, and business executive, was born in Los Angeles, California, the eighth of thirteen children of Robert Flake Sr., a janitor, and Rosie Lee Johnson. Shortly after Floyd's birth, the family moved into a two-bedroom home in Houston, Texas. The roots of many of Floyd's political beliefs can be traced to his southern upbringing: his family was poor, but proud; racism abounded, but faith and optimism ruled the Flake home.

Floyd s early education took place in segregated poorly equipped schools but his teachers were dedicated and took a stern interest in his academic development One teacher cared enough to make sure that Floyd spent much of his free time involved in youth programs at her African Methodist Episcopal AME Church After graduating from high school Flake entered Wilberforce University the nation s oldest private African American University in Ohio He ...

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Michael L. Krenn

boxer and businessman, was born George Edward Foreman in Marshall, Texas, the son of J. D. Foreman and Nancy Ree. His father, a railroad employee and a heavy drinker, was absent for much of George's childhood. His mother worked several jobs, including as a waitress, to support George and his six siblings.

As Foreman describes it his childhood was marked by intense want and hunger and an anger that often exploded into fighting Even at a young age he was larger than normal and he used his intimidating size to bully his peers He had little love for school although football in junior high school proved attractive for its violence and aggression Foreman did not last long in high school however By the age of fifteen he was spending most of his time on the streets of Houston where his mother had moved the family when he was ...

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Carla J. Jones

a former slave, became a respected minister, entrepreneurial landowner, and philanthropic community leader during the years after Civil War. Born on a plantation in Elkton, Giles County, Tennessee, Gardner was the eldest son of the four children of Rachel Vasser Gardner and Martin Gardner, both of whom were slaves. While enslaved, his family was owned by three different families. Little is known about their first owner except that he was an Atlantic slave trader by the name of Franklin; his forename may have been Isaac. Gardner's second slave master was Richard Whitehead Vasser, who owned his own dry goods and mortgage company in Limestone County, Alabama. During this time Gardner's father, Martin, was sold or died, and his mother Rachel took another husband, Tom Gardner with whom she had three children The Vassers proved especially cruel Occasionally the slave master s son went out and got ...

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Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, William H. Gray III was the son of William H. Gray Jr., a Baptist minister and president of two Florida colleges, and Hazel Yates Gray, a high school teacher. In 1949 his father became the pastor of the large and powerful Bright Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and moved the family north. In 1963 Gray graduated from Franklin and Marshall College and became an assistant pastor in Montclair, New Jersey. He earned a master of divinity degree from Drew Theological School in 1966, became senior minister at his church the same year, and earned a degree in theology from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1970 As a minister Gray tried to help his poor parishioners by promoting fair housing programs He also set an important precedent by successfully suing a landlord who refused to rent an apartment to him ...

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Amber Moulton-Wiseman

minister, congressman, businessman, philanthropist, was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of William H. Gray Jr., a minister and university president, and Hazel Yates Gray, a university dean. During Gray's early childhood, his father was president of both Florida Memorial College and Florida A&M University, and his mother was dean of students at Southern University in Baton Rouge. However, the family then moved to Philadelphia in 1949. There, Gray's father took a position as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church. William H. Gray Jr.'s own father had held that post since 1925.

Gray was educated in the public school system and graduated from Philadelphia's Simon Gratz High School in 1959. Upon graduation, Gray enrolled at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and pursued his joint interest in religion and politics, even taking an internship with Democratic Congressman Robert ...