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Genevieve Slomski

pioneer of abstract painting, was born Edward Clark in the Storyville section of New Orleans, Louisiana. Little is known about his family, but they moved north during the Depression, and he was raised in Chicago.

Following service in the U.S. Air Force, Clark attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago under the G.I. Bill from 1947 to 1951. At the Art Institute, he met abstract painter Joan Mitchell, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship, and the impressionist painter Louis Ritman, who was an encouraging instructor. During this period, Clark's work was traditional and figurative. But Clark's frustration with the Institute's academic restraints, such as the directive to avoid oils during this period, led-him to create an experimental self-portrait that took two years to complete. The classic head-and-shoulders depiction was set against a Renaissance landscape consisting of subtle layers of stippled watercolors.

In 1952 Clark ...


Willard B. Gatewood

public official and businessman, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of the prominent African American clergyman and educator John Francis Cook (1810?–1855) and Jane Mann. Educated first at his father's school, Union Seminary, he later attended Oberlin College in Ohio from 1853 to 1855. Upon the death of their father, he and his brother George F. T. Cook, also a student at Oberlin, returned to Washington to assume direction of Union Seminary. Except for a brief tenure in New Orleans as a schoolteacher, John Cook was connected with the seminary until it ceased operation in 1867 after the District of Columbia opened public schools for blacks While his brother remained in the education field and was for many years superintendent of the separate colored school system in the District of Columbia John Cook embarked upon a career in government service Republican politics and ...


Barbara McCaskill

escaped slaves, abolitionists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and autobiographers, were born into slavery in antebellum central Georgia. William recalled little of his father and mother, who, along with a brother and a sister, were sold away “at separate times, to different persons” by his first master, a merchant named Craft (Craft, 8). Ellen was the daughter of Maria, a mixed-race slave, and James Smith, a white planter from Clinton, Georgia. Like her mother, Ellen was raised as a house servant until she was given, at age eleven, as a wedding present to her white half-sister Eliza, the wife of Robert Collins, a wealthy businessman and railroad builder in Macon, Georgia. While Ellen was serving as a lady's maid and seamstress in the Collins mansion, William was brought to Macon by a bank officer named Ira Taylor.

William was much in demand for his carpentry skills as his first master ...


John C. Fredriksen

soldier and engineer, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the son of Festus Flipper and Isabelle (maiden name unknown), slaves. During the Civil War and Reconstruction he was educated in American Missionary Association schools and in 1873 gained admission to Atlanta University. That year Flipper also obtained an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy through the auspices of Republican Representative James C. Freeman. He was not the first African American to attend West Point, as Michael Howard and James Webster Smith preceded him in 1870, but neither graduated. Flipper subsequently endured four years of grueling academic instruction and ostracism from white classmates before graduating fiftieth in a class of sixty-four on 14 June 1877. He was commissioned second lieutenant in the all-black Tenth U. S. Cavalry, and the following year recounted his academy experience in an autobiography, The Colored Cadet at West Point (1878 ...


Sheila Gregory Thomas

teacher, politician, and businessman, was born in Austin, Texas. His mother, Eliza, a slave of mixed race, was owned by John Hancock, a lawyer, judge, state legislator, and U.S. congressman whom Hugh knew to be his father. When he was five years of age and the Civil War was threatening, Hugh and his mother were sent by John Hancock to Oberlin, Ohio, a thriving community of whites and free blacks. This not only placed them in a safe environment but also guaranteed Hancock an education, as Oberlin College and its preparatory department welcomed all. For younger children there was the village elementary school.

Hancock was one of many offspring of white fathers and former slaves for whom Oberlin was a safe haven from the hostilities and limitations of life in the South Black residents of Oberlin in the 1800s included entrepreneurs teachers and elected officials ...


Nancy T. Robinson

professor, lawyer, activist, and entrepreneur, was born in Eufaula, Alabama, the son of Jennie Dunn and Henry Clay Hart, an Alabama slaveholder who had been born in Rhode Island. From 1867 to 1874 Hart attended Eufaula's American Missionary Association School, where he became involved in the black voting rights movement. Hart was a youth activist who spoke publicly in opposition of local government. This behavior drew attention to him and caused great concern for his safety. Fearful and impoverished, Hart left Alabama and gradually traveled to Washington, D.C., entirely on foot.

In 1876 Hart enrolled at Howard University. He graduated in 1880 with a Preparatory Department certificate and continued his studies, graduating with a BA degree in 1885, an LLB in 1887, an MA in 1889, and an LLM in 1891 During his time as a law student Hart worked for ...


Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, school administrator, businessman, journalist, public official, and state legislator, was born a slave at the Hermitage, a large plantation on the Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina. He was the son of Allen Mebane and an unnamed mother.

George Mebane's education before the Civil War was limited by circumstance; later he attended the public schools in two Pennsylvania towns, Prentissvale and Eldred, for at least a year or more.

After much of northeastern North Carolina was occupied by Union forces in early 1862, Mebane served as a mess boy or waiter for Company A, 85th Regiment of New York State Volunteers, which was stationed at Roanoke Island. After much of the regiment surrendered to Confederate forces at Plymouth in April 1864 Mebane and his family fled North Carolina for McKean County Pennsylvania on the New York border where they remained ...


Leandi Venter, Hannah Heile and Micaela Ginnerty

a former slave who helped facilitate the establishment of the first African American school in Virginia, which allowed for the formation of a thriving African American community bearing his name. Odrick was born into slavery and owned by the Coleman family of Dranesville, a district of Fairfax County located in northern Virginia. Little was documented about his life as a slave. However, it is known that immediately following his post–Civil War emancipation, Odrick moved to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, Odrick employed his abilities as a carpenter, a trade he mastered during his enslavement. After his time in Chicago, Odrick returned to Virginia.

Once in Virginia, Odrick married “Maria” Annie Marie Riddle, who had also been born into slavery and had belonged to the Todd family of Difficult Run in northern Virginia. With Maria, Odrick started a family beginning with John, his eldest son, followed by Frank, Thadeus ...


Connor Killian

social reformer, teacher, and businessman, was born a slave in Durham, North Carolina, to George Pearson and Cynthia Pearson (maiden name unknown). By the time he was old enough to attend school, the Civil War was over and the slaves had been freed. Pearson attended public school six months out of the year, and taught himself in his free time.

When Pearson was twenty-one, he enrolled in Shaw University, a historically black university in Raleigh, North Carolina, and earned a B.S. in 1886 and an honorary M.A. in 1890. While there he joined the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, even earning “The Laurel Leaf,” a national award within the fraternity in appreciation of his “[contributing] to the fraternity every possible favor.” Pearson also won the Orator's medal at Shaw in 1883 He was later awarded an honorary Ph D from Kittrell College in North Carolina ...


Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes

African American professional organizations have been a staple of the black community. They have existed since the late eighteenth century to provide aid and educational, social, religious, business, and recreational outlets. These organizations have been buffers against slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. The late nineteenth century ushered in black professional organizations that provided blacks with membership services, advocacy, networking opportunities, continuing professional development, illustrations of best practices, and canons of ethics that often paralleled those of the mainstream agencies that had excluded them. Additionally, these organizations focused on issues that continued to negatively impact the larger black community while offering forums in which to identify and discuss solutions.

Between 1895 and 1940 professional organizations serving physicians dentists attorneys newspaper publishers and black actors were founded Of these only the Theater Owners Booking Association no longer exists The civil rights movement of the 1960s ushered in a more diverse ...


Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman, teacher, banker, philanthropist, and state legislator, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, the son of Thomas and Harriet Smith. His birth status is uncertain; he may have been born a slave, but was educated at an early age by a benevolent white family, who helped arrange for him to attend the private Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, after the Civil War.

Smith began his career as a schoolteacher in New Bern, the Craven County seat, but his relentless energy and business acumen soon propelled him into the world of residential and commercial real estate, in which he accumulated a substantial personal fortune. By the time of his death, his worth was estimated to exceed $100,000, much of it in land, buildings, and stores he owned in the so-called Smithtown section of New Bern.

Smith began buying selling and renting these ...


Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, businessman, banker, Republican Party activist, and longtime U.S. postmaster of Wilson, North Carolina, was born a slave near Castalia in Nash County, North Carolina, during the Civil War. The oldest son of five children born to carpenter Daniel Vick and Fannie (Blount) Vick, Samuel received his early education at Wilson Academy in Wilson, where the Vick family moved shortly after the war's end in 1865.

A gifted student, Vick excelled at his studies, and in 1880 he was admitted to Lincoln University (then the Ashmun Institute, after Jehudi Ashmun, leader of 1820s Liberia) in Pennsylvania, from which he received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1884 While his father helped finance his education Vick insisted on paying as much of his own expenses as possible by teaching school during summer vacations His philosophy of pragmatic independence guided his life thereafter ...


Ann M. Shumard

abolitionist, photographer, and Liberian statesman, was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the son of Christian Washington, a former slave from Virginia who operated an oyster saloon, and a woman who is identified only as a native of South Asia. She apparently died soon after his birth, for his father remarried in October 1821. Washington was raised in Trenton and until early adolescence attended school with white students. When access to such schooling ended in the face of growing racism, he was left to continue his education on his own. He worked for his father for several years, studied intermittently, and became an avid reader of Benjamin Lundy's Genius of Universal Emancipation and William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator These papers aroused Washington s hatred of slavery and racial prejudice and inspired him to become an activist Eager to contribute to the uplift of his ...


Donald Yacovone

educator, reformer, abolitionist, and businessman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of ten children of Elizabeth Miller White, a seamstress, and Jacob Clement White Sr. (1806–1872). His father, a prominent abolitionist, barber, dentist, free produce storekeeper, and successful businessman, became one of the city's wealthiest African Americans. He invested in real estate in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and became president of the Benezet Joint Stock Association and owner of Mount Lebanon Cemetery, the foundation of the family's wealth. White's father was greatly respected by the city's black community and became active in the Moral Reform Society and executive secretary of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee—his wife founded a female auxiliary to help raise funds for the committee. Jacob Jr. regularly saw his parents assist fugitive slaves, many passing through his Philadelphia home.

White grew up a prominent member of the city s black elite groomed ...


Robert C. Morris

educator and banker, was born in Whitfield County, Georgia, the son of Robert Waddell and Harriet (maiden name unknown), both slaves. His father, of mixed African and Cherokee descent, was the coachman on a plantation where his mother was a house servant. When Richard was two years old, his father escaped to free territory. Richard and his mother were taken by their slave owner to Cuthbert, Georgia, where she married Alexander Wright and had two children. After emancipation Harriet Wright moved with her three children to Atlanta to take advantage of the recent opening of a Freedman's Bureau School for Negroes. While Harriet supported the family by running a boarding house, Richard entered Storrs School, which was run by the American Missionary Association. In 1866General Oliver Otis Howard then current commissioner of the Freedmen s Bureau visited the Sunday school at the Storrs Church and ...