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Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor winner, was born in Mexico, Oswego County, New York. Unrecorded in the 1850 federal census, the names of Anderson's parents are confirmed to be unknown. However, likely candidates are Samuel and Mary Anderson, the only black or “mulatto” family recorded living in Oswego County in the 1840 (town of Granby) and 1850 (town of West Oswego) censuses. Samuel Anderson was a native of Bermuda, and his wife, Mary, was a New York native. Bruce Anderson does appear in the 1860 census, listed as a fourteen-year-old “mulatto” residing in Johnstown, New York, on the farm of Henry Adams and his daughter Margaret; he was likely a simple laborer. How he came to live with the Adams family is unknown, but Anderson would remain a resident in the area—except during the time of his Civil War service—for the remainder of his life.

While some ...

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Geraldine Rhoades Beckford

physician, educator, and community worker, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest daughter of the abolitionist movement leaders William Still and Letitia George Still. In 1850William Still became the head of the Philadelphia Underground Railroad and Vigilance Committee. He would later chronicle his experiences in the best-selling 1872 account, The Underground Railroad.

After completing primary and secondary education at Mrs. Henry Gordon's Private School, the Friends Raspberry Alley School, and the Institute for Colored Youth, Anderson entered Oberlin College. Although she was the youngest member of the graduating class of 1868, Anderson presided over the annual Ladies' Literary Society, a singular honor that had never been awarded to a student of African ancestry.

After graduating from Oberlin, Anderson returned home to teach drawing and elocution, and on 28 December 1869 she married Edward A. Wiley a former slave and fellow ...

Article

Susan Bragg

tailor, store owner, and newspaper editor, was born in Pennsylvania, to parents whose names and occupations are now unknown. Little is known about Anderson's early life except that he was a member of the Masonic Fraternity, ultimately gaining appointment as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge for the State of Pennsylvania. Anderson migrated west in the waning days of the California gold rush and in 1854 set up a tailor shop and clothing store in San Francisco. There he plunged into the city's small but energetic black community, a community linked by both the mining economy and by shared protest against injustices in the new state of California.

Anderson soon became a regular contributor to political discussions at the recently organized Atheneum Institute, a reading room and cultural center for black Californians. In January 1855 he and other prominent African Americans joined together to call ...

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Charles Rosenberg

a Civil War soldier and veterans leader and Reconstruction-era legislator, was born and lived all of his life in Louisiana. Felix Antoine was born into the distinct community of gens de couleur libre, free persons of color, which existed in the New Orleans area and some other parts of Louisiana since French colonial times. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812, who fought under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and his mother was a native of the West Indies. His paternal grandmother was reputed to have been the daughter of an African prince, who purchased her freedom from slavery; she saved $150,000 as a free woman (Shreveport Journal obituary of C.C. Antoine, 14 Sept. 1921). Antoine was the younger brother of Louisiana Lt. Governor Caesar C. Antoine who moved from New Orleans to Shreveport prior to ...

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Bertis English

political activist and journalist, was a slave who belonged to an influential antebellum lawyer from South Alabama. Little else is known about his life prior to the Civil War; however, it is known that during the early years of the Civil War, Berry was sent to toil in a hazardous saltworks that the Confederacy operated in Clarke County. Berry survived three years of intense labor there, and he emerged from the ordeal more experienced, as well as more militant, than many of the other African Americans he knew. After moving to the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, Berry became a member of the vanguard of black leaders who would help the state's black masses achieve legal and psychological freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Union victory and the federal effort to alter the legal status of black people deepened white Alabamians resistance to change State lawmakers were ...

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Jacob Andrew Freedman

farmer and entrepreneur, was born near Canton, Mississippi, the only child of Wesley Rutledge and Anne Maben. Rutledge was the nephew of William H. Goodlow, the owner of the estate where Anne Maben was a house slave. Wesley worked as the manager of the house for his aunt and uncle. At birth Bond was given the surname Winfield, and at the age of eighteen months he was sent with his mother to Collierville, Tennessee, where they lived until he was five years old. Subsequently, they were sent to work on the Bond farm in Cross County, Arkansas. In Arkansas Anne Maben met and married William Bond, who gave Scott Bond his surname.

The family remained on the Bond farm until the conclusion of the Civil War when only months after gaining her freedom Anne Maben died leaving Bond in the care of his stepfather Bond his stepfather ...

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Joseph P. Reidy

Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley's youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In Boston he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freed people who were resisting President Andrew Johnson's policy of restoring plantation land to its antebellum owners Bradley ...

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Joseph P. Reidy

Bradley, Aaron Alpeora (1815?– October 1882), Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley’s youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In the latter city he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freedpeople who were resisting President Andrew Johnson ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Michelle Kuhl

businessman, anti-lynching advocate, and pioneering member of Seattle, Washington's black middle class, was born in Kentucky, but exactly when or where has not been established. Some indications of Burdett's background, however, emerge from the 1850 census of Bullitt, Kentucky. One “Sam'l Burdett” is listed as a four-year-old black child living in the household of a white Burdette family headed by a fifty-year-old man named Pyton Burdett, who had a wife and seven children. A black woman named Louisa Burdett is also included in the household along with three black children, among them, “Sam'l.” The status of Louisa and her three children as either slaves or free persons is not indicated. Whatever her background in 1850, it is clear that ten years later Louisa had prospered. In 1860 the Bullitt Kentucky census listed Louisa Burdett 36 with three children including a fourteen year old Samuel living in their ...

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Agnes Kane Callum

slave, farmer, teacher, Reconstruction-era state legislator and lawyer, was born in South Carolina's famed Edgefield District. He was literate and the favored slave of Major Thomas Carwile the commissioner in equity of Edgefield Cain was probably raised much like other slave children on Edgefield plantations they would be cared for by an elderly lady while their mothers worked in the fields until the children were about six or seven years old when they were sent to work in the fields many serving as water carriers or weed pullers In some instances they were sent to work by the side of an adult Generally the children were called quarter workers since they produced about one fourth as much labor as an adult It is not known exactly how Cain learned to read and write but it is likely that he was taught by his owner as he was known as ...

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William C. Hine

clergyman and politician, was born to free parents in Greenbriar County, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1831 his family moved to Gallipolis, Ohio. Cain was educated at local schools and worked on an Ohio River steamboat before being licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844. Complaining of racial discrimination in the church, he resigned and joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Assigned a pulpit in Muscatine, Iowa, he was ordained a deacon in 1859. He returned to Ohio and in 1860 attended Wilberforce University. From 1861 to 1865 he served as pastor at Bridge Street Church in Brooklyn, New York, and was elevated to elder in 1862. He participated in the 1864 national black convention in Syracuse, New York, that advocated abolition, equality before the law, and universal manhood suffrage. Cain married Laura (maiden name unknown), and they adopted a daughter.

In 1865 ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and state legislator, was born to slave parents whose names have not been recorded. Nothing is known of his childhood, other than that he had one brother, Sam. By the time he reached adulthood, Charles Caldwell was working as a blacksmith in Clinton, a small village in Hinds County twelve miles from Jackson, Mississippi. Given that Mississippi's slave population expanded rapidly in the three decades after 1830, it is quite possible that Caldwell was born in another state to planters who had then brought or sold him on the lucrative Mississippi market.

Caldwell s skilled trade provided him a degree of relative autonomy in his work and may have enabled him to travel with fewer restrictions than the average plantation slave Slave blacksmiths carpenters barbers and other skilled workers often learned to read and write as Caldwell did and generally enjoyed a high status within the African American ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

educator and politician, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the third son of Lydia Williams, a freewoman of color, and Isaac Nunez Cardozo, a prominent white Jewish businessman. Cardozo's elder brothers, the Glasgow University-educated Francis Louis Cardozo and Henry Cardozo, were both prominent politicians and educators in Reconstruction-era South Carolina. Like his brothers, Thomas enjoyed the privileges of Charleston's freeborn black elite in his youth, attending private schools in the city, but experienced a reversal in his family fortunes following the death of his father in 1855. Apprenticed for a time to a Charleston manufacturer of rice-threshing machines, the youngest Cardozo moved to New York City with his mother in 1857 because of growing hostility to and legislative restrictions against free blacks in South Carolina. He continued his studies at Collegiate Institute in Newburgh, New York, and beginning in 1861 taught for several years in ...

Article

John N. Ingham

businessman and politician, was born a free person of color in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Bernard Cohen and Amelia Bingaman, a free woman of color. Although Cohen's father was Jewish, he was raised as and remained throughout his life a Roman Catholic. His parents died when he was in the fourth grade, whereupon he had to quit school, though he later attended Straight University in New Orleans for several years. As a boy Cohen became a cigar maker and later worked in a saloon. His entrée into the world of politics came during the period of Reconstruction, when he worked as a page in the state legislature, then meeting in New Orleans. There, Cohen became acquainted with several influential black Republicans, among them Oscar J. Dunn, C. C. Antoine, and P. B. S. Pinchback Pinchback founder of and dominant figure in the city ...

Article

Eric Gardner

educator and journalist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the son of William Corbin and Susan, both Virginia-born former slaves. Corbin's parents eventually settled in Cincinnati to raise their family of twelve children. Corbin attended school sporadically because of economic circumstances (one of his classmates was John Mercer Langston), though his family emphasized education. In the late 1840s Corbin and his older sister Elizabeth moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where their father had family. Both lived with the Reverend Henry Adams, the pastor of the black First Baptist Church. Though the 1850 census takers listed him as a cook, Corbin taught at least some of the time in a school supported by Adams.

Thirsty for further education, Corbin traveled north to Ohio University, where he earned a BA in 1853 and an MA in 1856 He settled in Cincinnati worked as a bank messenger and steward gained prominence ...

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Barbara A. White

fugitive slave, Baptist minister, and abolitionist leader on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, was born the son of his wealthy white owner and Mary, one of his father's slaves on a plantation in Virginia. No account has been found yet which reveals his father's name or how James Crawford himself was named. Though stories about how and when he escaped slavery are in conflict, all of them agree that his white half brother broke his promise to their dying father to free Crawford. Instead, Crawford was sent into the fields to work. His obituary in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror claimed that he escaped the first time by running to Florida to live among the Seminole Indians for two years as a preacher The same account claimed that his half brother then the master of the plantation spent a fortune to recapture him and then strung him up by the thumbs ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, farmer, public official, and three-term state legislator, was born a slave in Granville County, North Carolina, near the county seat of Oxford, to unnamed unknown parents. Little is known of his childhood, except that he received a limited education before the Civil War, probably because of his preferred status as the property, and possibly the son, of a prosperous white planter named Benjamin Crews. One account of Crews's early life says he was taken from his slave mother “at the age of two years and reared by a white family whose name he bore” (Edmonds, 102). He is also said to have attended both private and public schools in Oxford, where he grew up.

By 1870 Crews's education had enabled him to begin work as a schoolteacher in Oxford, even as he also ran his own farm and worked as a carpenter. Beginning in 1874 Crews embarked ...