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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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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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Nell Irvin Painter

Born into slavery in Georgia in 1843 and taken to Louisiana in 1850, Henry Adams exhibited special talents at an early age. He began faith healing as a child, and that gift, together with his enterprising independence, assured him economic self-sufficiency even before his emancipation in 1865.

Immediately after the Civil War (1861–1865), Adams earned money peddling along the roads of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, but he joined the United States Army to escape the slaughter of freedpeople by local whites. Adams served in the 80th Volunteers, the 39th Infantry, and the 25th Infantry. He learned to read and write in the army. Returning to Shreveport, Louisiana, after his discharge in 1869 he found that Southern whites considered Adams and other former soldiers to be corrupting influences black soldiers threatened the uncertain and abusive social order by reading contracts to freedpeople and explaining their new civil ...

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Steven J. Niven

emigrationist leader, was born Henry Houston in Newton County, Georgia, to enslaved parents whose names are not now known. Most of what is known of Henry Adams's personal life is derived from testimony he offered in 1880 to the United States Senate during a government investigation of the causes of mass African American emigration from the former states of the Confederacy.

Henry was given the surname Adams when a planter of that name brought him and his family to Desoto Parish, Louisiana, in 1850. He used that surname for the rest of his life. Upon the planter's death eight years later ownership of Henry and his family was transferred to a teenage girl, Nancy Emily Adams who hired the family out to various plantations near the Texas Louisiana border Laboring alongside his father on the plantation of a man named Ferguson in Logansport Louisiana Henry Adams was ...

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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 ...

Article

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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Frances Smith Foster

Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in The House of Bondage, the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They were married in 1874 and had one daughter.

Sometime around 1877 Albert s ...

Article

Frances Smith Foster

author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Most of the little we know of her life comes from The House of Bondage (1890), the book that made her famous. From that source we learn that in 1873 she was teaching in Montezuma, Georgia, when she met her fellow teacher A. E. P. Albert. They married in 1874 and had one daughter.Sometime around 1877 Albert s husband was ordained as a Methodist ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

slave and state legislator, was born to unknown slave parents near Holly Springs in Marshall County, Mississippi, just south of that state's border with Tennessee. His parents were owned by different masters, and in 1857, when George was eleven, his father was sold and forced to move to Texas.

Later when he was in his nineties Albright recalled that he had learned to read and write as a child even though the state of Mississippi prohibited slaves from doing so Historians have estimated that despite legal restrictions at least 5 percent of all slaves were literate on the eve of the Civil War though literacy rates were probably lowest in rural Black Belt communities like Holly Springs In Albright s recollection a state law required that any slave who broke this law be punished with 500 lashes on the naked back and have his or her thumb cut ...

Article

André Willis

Clifford L. Alexander Jr. was born in New York, New York. He graduated from Harvard University in 1955 and Yale Law School in 1958. Alexander worked on a number of community development initiatives in Harlem, New York, before being appointed to a series of political positions in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s and 1970s.

Alexander served as a National Security Council foreign affairs officer under President John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was appointed to three high-ranking advisory positions between 1964 and 1967, including deputy special counsel to the president, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1967 Johnson named Alexander chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), a position he filled until Richard Nixon took office in 1969.

After a brief return to private practice in Washington D C Alexander resumed a role in public life as host and producer of ...

Article

lawyer, businessman, and secretary of the army, was born in New York City, the only child of Clifford Leopold Sr. and Edith McAllister. Alexander's father, a Jamaican native, became an apartment building manager of Harlem's Young Christian Association. His mother was from Yonkers, New York, where she worked for a real estate firm. Later she headed the New York City welfare department. She was the first African American woman to get elected to the Democratic Party's Electoral College. In this position she became a prominent figure in the broader civil rights struggle. Both parents inspired Alexander's later work to end racial discrimination.

Alexander spent his childhood in New York City. He received his early education at the Ethical Cultural School and Fieldston Schools in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, Alexander went to Harvard University. Here he met McGeorge Bundy Harvard s Dean of Arts ...

Article

Charles Vincent

Allain was born on October 1, 1846, on a plantation in the Parish of West Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A wealthy white man, Sosthene Allain, owned the plantation. Like some other slaveholders, he made one of his slaves, “a pretty brown woman,” his mistress. They had a son, Théophile, who bore the improbable nickname of Soulouque, after the self-proclaimed black dictator of Haiti, Faustin Élie Soulouque. Théophile accompanied his father on trips to the North and to Europe. In 1856 Sosthene Allain sent for his son to join him in France, where he witnessed the christening of the prince imperial at Notre Dame. They journeyed also to Spain and England. Returning to the United States in 1859, young Allain entered school under a Professor Abadie in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1868 he was enrolled in a private school in New Brunswick New Jersey He owned ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

businessman and politician, was born a slave in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Sosthene Allain, a wealthy white planter, and one of Allain's slave mistresses, whose name is not recorded. Sosthene Allain appears to have favored his son, to whom he gave the nickname “Solougue,” after a Haitian dictator of the 1840s and 1850s. In 1856, when Théophile was ten, his father called him to France to attend the christening of the son of Louis Napoleon III in Paris and also to travel with him to Spain and Britain. Théophile returned to the United States in 1859, where he studied with private tutors in New Orleans and at a private college in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Although Allain had been born a slave his education and foreign travel prepared him well for a leadership position in Louisiana business and politics after the Civil War So too did ...

Article

Wanda F. Fernandopulle

politician, was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia. His parents' names are not known. In 1837 Allen was taken to Harris County in Texas and was owned by J.—J. Cain until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Allen married soon after the notification of his emancipation. He and his wife Nancy went on to have one son and four daughters. As a slave Allen was known to be a skilled carpenter; he is credited with designing and building a Houston mansion occupied by Mayor Joseph R. Morris. In 1867 Allen entered the political world as a federal voter registrar, and in 1868 he served as an agent for the Freedmen's Bureau and as a supervisor of voter registration for the Fourteenth District of Texas. Although he had not received a formal education, he was literate by 1870.

After attending several Republican Party meetings and in ...

Article

pianist, educator, and philanthropist, was born a slave in Trenton, Kentucky, to Mary Dickinson, also a slave, and Mr. Leavell, likely a scion of the white Benjamin Leavell family, pioneers of Trenton. According to family history, Josephine's father wanted to send her and her sister to Canada on the Underground Railroad, but their mother objected because of the danger and distance. Sometime between 1868 and 1875 Josephine attended the Nashville Normal and Theological Institute (also known as the Baptist Institute), a college for African Americans that was later renamed Roger Williams University. Daniel W. Phillips, a white Baptist minister, had started the school in 1864, teaching Bible classes to freed people in his home. The school was later acquired by Vanderbilt University and incorporated into its George Peabody campus, a teachers' college.

While at the Baptist Institute Josephine studied music particularly piano and ...

Article

James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

Article

Charles Vincent

Antoine was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1836. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812; he had fought the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Antoine's mother was a native of the West Indies and the daughter of an African chief; her parents were taken as slaves from the shores of Africa. On his father's side (so the story goes), Antoine's grandmother Rose Antoine was a remarkable woman who purchased her freedom and acquired a small fortune through her work as a midwife.

Caesar C. Antoine spent his childhood in New Orleans and attended private schools. He was fluent in both French and English. After graduating, he entered one of the few occupations open to African Americans in the antebellum South: the barber trade. After federal troops captured Baton Rouge in 1862 Antoine organized a black company known subsequently as Company ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

Union army officer and politician, was born in New Orleans, the son of a West Indian midwife and a free black soldier who had served in the Corps d'Afrique with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. His parents' names are not recorded. Family lore had it that Caesar's maternal grandfather, an African chief, had been enslaved and taken to America and that his paternal grandmother, Rose Antoine, had earned enough money from her work as a midwife to purchase her freedom. Rose Antoine also left each of her seven sons twenty thousand dollars in her will.

As a free black child in New Orleans Antoine attended private schools the public schools of the city were closed to blacks and became fluent in both English and French Upon leaving school as a teenager in the early 1850s he then apprenticed and worked as a barber one of ...

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

David M. Fahey

temperance reformer, federal customs official, and educator, was born William Middleton Artrell, of one quarter African and three quarters European ancestry, at Nassau in the Bahamas. There Artrell benefited from a basic education on the British model, acquired experience as a schoolteacher, and became a staunch Episcopalian.

During the American Civil War the Bahamas prospered as a result of services to blockade runners, who transported British cargo in the short but dangerous voyage between the Bahamas and the Confederate coast. When the war ended, however, economic depression forced many Bahamians to seek work in the United States. In 1870 Artrell migrated to Key West, at that time a major port in Florida. Unlike most African Americans in the South, he had never been a slave. In 1870 Key West opened the Douglass School for African American children Artrell became its first principal and as a result he was sometimes ...