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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 ...

Article

Barbara C. Behan

For three centuries, Americans of African descent have at times sought to establish communities where they could live in partial or complete isolation from the dominant culture. Settlements of formerly enslaved African Americans existed on the East Coast after the Revolutionary War. All-black settlements also developed among the Seminole Nation in Florida as early as the eighteenth century. As the nation industrialized, segregated company towns also were built in various locations.

The phrase “all-black towns” usually refers to the period of self-segregation and town-building that began after Reconstruction and continued into the early twentieth century. Historians estimate that at least seventy-five to one hundred all-black towns were founded during this time, mainly in the South and the West.

Article

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 ...

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 ...

Article

From the colonial era to the present, black organizations and leaders have promoted business as a route to economic equality, both on an individual basis and through the encouragement of support for black business by black economic nationalists. Other long traditions among blacks include cooperative economic ventures, from the burial societies and mutual benefit societies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the fraternal organizations and black banks and insurance companies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The past century saw the development of black business empires built on the black consumer market and, in the late 1900s, competition and integration of black business with white corporate America.

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

Caryn Cossé Bell

businessman, Civil War veteran, and Reconstruction politician, was the son of the influential Creole New Orleanian Joseph Dumas, one of the owners of the Dumas Brothers French Quarter clothiers, a firm that specialized in imported French cloth and luxury apparel. Joseph Dumas invested his share of the firm's profits in real estate and accumulated a considerable fortune in property holdings and slaves. In 1860 African American Louisianans like François and Joseph Dumas constituted the wealthiest population of free blacks in the United States.

Joseph Dumas's import business necessitated that the Dumas family sojourn frequently in France, and it was there that François, was born, raised, and educated. François arrived in New Orleans shortly before the Civil War to manage the family business. He married Marguerite Victoria Victor, and the couple had five children, three girls and two boys. By 1860 he had become one ...

Article

Robert Fay

The Freedman's Bank (officially called the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company) was chartered in 1865 as a nonprofit, philanthropic organization whose aim was to benefit the black community after the Civil War (1861–1865) by encouraging thrift among African Americans. Although it was not affiliated with the Freedmen's Bureau, both organizations were chartered at the same time, and directors at the Freedmen's Bureau also served on the board of directors at the Freedman's Bank. Blacks believed the bank was government-backed, a notion that the predominantly white directors encouraged by using Abraham Lincoln's likeness in bank advertisements. To further inspire black confidence, the directors hired black politicians, ministers, and businessmen to serve as cashiers and advisory board members at local banks.

African Americans responded In addition to individual deposits African American organizations such as churches and benevolent societies invested in the Freedman s Bank The majority of the deposits ...

Article

Eric Gardner

activist and entrepreneur, was born to free parents in Washington, D.C. Nothing is known of his parents or his early life. However, although he trained as a barber, Hall reportedly spent two years at Oberlin College and considered the ministry before moving to New York in 1845, where he ran a restaurant called the “El Dorado” on Church Street, and became active in both black Masonic organizations and the fight for black suffrage. However, at the end of the decade, like many other Americans, Hall headed west to seek gold in California.

He had some success as both a miner and a merchant and returned to New York in late 1851. He married Sarah Lavina Bailey in New York City on 16 March 1852 in a ceremony whose “splendor,” according to an item copied in the 1 April 1852Frederick Douglass's Paper was without parallel in ...

Article

Jason Philip Miller

businessman and politician, was born in Kaufman County in the eastern part of Texas to George McDonald, a native Tennessean who had once (reportedly) been owned by the Confederate officer and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. George was a farmer by trade. McDonald's mother, Flora Scott, was either a former slave or a freewoman, depending on the source. What appears certain is that she was from Alabama and died when McDonald was still very young. His father soon married a woman named Belle Crouch. Education in the family was a matter of great importance; McDonald was in fact named after William Shakespeare and the former U.S. president James Madison. He attended local schools and graduated from high school around 1884 As a young man he took work from a local cattle rancher and lawyer named Z T Adams who discussed the law ...

Article

farmer, miller, the first elected public official of African American descent in the state of Virginia, and the first and only African American representative to the House of Delegates for Lancaster County. Nickens was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the youngest child of Armistead Stokalas Nickens Sr. and Polly Weaver Nickens. Armistead Sr. and Polly were wed on 21 January 1819 in Lancaster County, Virginia, and had two other children, Robert V. Nickens and Judith A. Nickens. The Nickens family had been free since the late seventeenth century, and several members of that family served in the American Revolution. Armistead's maternal grandfather, Elijah Weaver, was also a seaman during the Revolution.

Home schooled as a youth Nickens was taught to read and write by his father and went on to further self study with books he purchased on his own Armistead lost his father as ...

Article

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 ...

Primary Source

Believed to be the first collective labor action undertaken by African American women, the petition reproduced below was presented to Mayor D. N. Barrows of Jackson, Mississippi, in 1866. Indeed, this may have been the first union formed in the state. Numerous journalists and politicians ridiculed the union’s demands for a uniform wage for female laundry workers. The Jackson Daily Clarion which published the petition even claimed that the impetus for the union originated with one or two Northern adventurers in other words the local black population had been riled up by troublemaking carpetbaggers In fact the union s struggle could be said to be a continuation of resistance that began during the days of slavery However the results of the washerwomen s efforts are lost to history suggesting that their demands were not met But within a few years of the petition black labor movements slowly became more prevalent ...

Article

Eric Bennett

The historian Roy Lubove describes early industrial Pittsburgh as “the ‘Smokey City,’ America's classic coketown … frequently compared to hell … an economic rather than civic entity.” Indeed, by the turn of the twentieth century, belching smokestacks and polluted waterways encroached on Pittsburgh's river-valley beauty. African Americans, however, had little hand in the desecration. From Pittsburgh's settlement, around 1760, until World War II blacks found few opportunities in the town's industries.

Despite the poverty that plagued African Americans in Pittsburgh until the American Civil War, their numbers grew from 1,000 to 20,000 during Reconstruction Flocks of migrants arrived from Virginia to work in Pittsburgh s factories but few newcomers found well paying jobs White employers excluded blacks from Pittsburgh s thriving iron and glass industries and most of the blacks settled for unskilled domestic work Even when World War I occasioned a large demand for industrial labor ...

Article

Robert Fay

After the American Civil War ended in 1865, the United States struggled to define the role that blacks would play in society, especially in the South. During the later stages of Reconstruction, Northern Republicans in the Congress of the United States sought to secure the citizenship rights for newly emancipated blacks by passing the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Reconstruction Acts of 1867 and 1868, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. These measures threatened the nature of Southern society, and some whites in the region undertook a campaign to preserve their way of life. This campaign became known as Redemption. Southern whites, led by those in the planter class, attempted to “redeem” the South by depriving blacks of their political and economic rights through violence, intimidation, and discriminatory laws.

By 1877 many people in the nation believed that ...

Article

Alice Eley Jones

carpenter, statesman, and inventor, was born free in Bertie County, North Carolina, the eldest son of John A. Robbins, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Robbins. Robbins hailed from a family and community of mixed-race, free black, and Chowanoke background in the counties of Bertie, Gates, and Hertford in northeastern North Carolina. The Algonquian-speaking Chowanokes lived on the west bank of the Chowan River that bears their name in northeastern North Carolina. Governor Ralph Lane was impressed by their villages in a 1585 Roanoke Island expedition. Parker's grandfather John Robbins was one of the chief men of the Chowanokes in 1790.

War and disease greatly reduced the Chowanoke population, and by 1790 during a sale of Chowanoke land it was reported whether falsely or not is unknown that the Chowanoke men had all died and the remaining women had intermarried with several free ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman and federal officeholder, was born in Washington, Georgia, the older son of slaves owned by Dr. William King. After the Civil War, Rucker's parents moved to Atlanta, where his father, Edward, became a skilled plasterer and whitewasher and his mother, Betsy, ran a boarding house. As a youth, Rucker attended the city's first school for freedmen in the Tabernacle Church Building on Armstrong Street.

Rucker briefly attended Atlanta University, founded by the American Missionary Association in 1865, where he financed his tuition by tutoring other students. He later devoted his primary energies to a series of business ventures, acquiring a profitable barbershop and an eleven-room house, which he purchased jointly with his father, and to civic and political affairs. In the late 1870s he joined one of Atlanta's black militia companies, and in 1880 was chosen as a delegate from the state s Fifth Congressional ...

Article

H. Viscount "Berky" Nelson

Next to slavery, sharecropping may be considered the most insidious, nefarious institution devised in the United States of America. The practice of forcing blacks to remain on white-owned farms by malicious landlords evolved out of the Reconstructed South and continued unabated until World War II. This demeaning southern policy instituted by callous white southerners crushed hopes for emancipated slaves and their progeny through several generations and restricted scores of African Americans to a life of continuous penury.

To some extent sharecropping appeared more heartless than slavery Slave owners maintained a vested interest in the economic value of their human property Since slaves were treated as chattel and represented a capital investment owners invariably maintained a profound interest in the health and welfare of a bondservant After Emancipation however the devastated embittered former slave holding class became indifferent to the well being of an independent black laborer Since ambitious blacks sought ...

Article

The African American intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote that “[t]he slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” Indeed, in the century between emancipation and such Civil Rights Movement victories as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1965, several factors conspired to keep former slaves in an inferior position in American society. Disfranchisement, discriminatory Jim Crow laws, segregated schools, and Lynching reinforced the political, legal, educational, and social inequality that African Americans faced. But the picture of racial injustice would not be complete without including economic factors—ranging from official and unofficial job discrimination to exclusion from white Labor Unions—that kept African Americans separate and unequal.

Chief among these unequal financial arrangements for rural Southern blacks was sharecropping Although the details varied throughout time and place sharecropping was and is in the ...

Article

John Herschel Barnhill

After the Civil War the economy of the South was severely disrupted, with its lifeblood, agriculture, nearly run dry and its commercial and banking systems in disarray. “King Cotton” remained the cash crop of the region. Cotton production diminished during the war but regained its prewar level by the mid-1870s. Formerly self-sufficient whites working small farms switched to cotton as a cash crop, but more often former slaves worked for a share of the crop.

Planters had land after the war but they lacked labor They also lacked credit and because the Confederate currency was worthless they could pay little in the way of wages The available pool of labor comprised former slaves who were generally uneducated and desperately poor free but without resources The solution was sharecropping whereby the planters could use the former slaves labor in return for providing furnish land equipment seed and credit at the local ...