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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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Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

Article

Patrick Brode

fugitive slave and abolitionist, was originally named Jack Burton after his enslaver, a Missouri planter. His parents are unknown. Raised in his master's household, Anderson (the name he used in later life) eventually supervised other slaves and farmed his own small plot. In 1850 he married Maria Tomlin, a fellow slave from a nearby farm, and devoted himself to buying their freedom. In the meantime he had become accustomed to visiting Maria at her plantation and was growing impatient with the restrictions of slavery. His master tried to curb his wandering, but Anderson refused to submit to the lash. When this resulted in his sale to a planter on the far side of the Missouri River, Anderson resolved to run off.

On 3 September 1853 the third day of his escape he encountered a planter Seneca Digges and four of his slaves By Missouri law Digges had the ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Philadelphia, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was the youngest of five children of the devoted Quakers John and Mary Edmondson Dickinson. When Anna was two years old, her father died shortly after giving an antislavery speech. Although it is unlikely that Dickinson remembered her father, she may have been inspired by his legacy.

After John's death the family struggled financially, but Anna still received a quality education, attending the Friends' Select School in Philadelphia and the Greenwood Institute in New Brighton, Pennsylvania; at the latter she was known as an avid reader and questioner. She showed early promise, publishing her first article at age fourteen in the Liberator, the newspaper that served as a platform for the radical reformer and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

Following her 1860 address to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and her 1861 speech entitled Women s Rights and Wrongs Dickinson began receiving ...

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Theresa Vara-Dannen

entrepreneur, abolitionist, music teacher, and banjoist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Hosea Easton, a Boston-born minister in Hartford and Hosea's wife, the former Louisa Matrick. Sampson Easton's lineage is distinguished on both sides of his tri-racial family because his mother was the daughter of Quack Matrick, a Revolutionary War soldier; his paternal grandfather was James Easton of Boston, a well-known contractor and iron-worker artisan, and an activist for the rights of African Americans. Sampson Easton's father, Hosea Easton, wrote A Treatise On the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States; And the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them; With A Sermon on the Duty of the Church To Them (1837), a short book that suggested that black “uplift” could create a more congenial environment for African Americans only with a dramatic reversal of white prejudice.

While ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and Episcopal minister, was born near Shoemakertown, New Jersey. Nothing else is known about his family background. Eloquent, forceful, and determined, Gardner earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and congregants. The great black nationalist Martin R. Delany considered him a man of “might and talent” who compelled whites to “recognize and respect” African Americans (Christian Recorder, 29 Apr. 1880). Theodore Dwight Weld, a celebrated antislavery lecturer, considered Gardner one of the country's leading black orators, and in 1837 Gardner became the first African American to address an annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

He began his ministerial career in 1809 as an itinerant Methodist preacher visiting churches throughout the Chesapeake region The experience led him to condemn the institution of slavery and the colonization movement which aimed at the expatriation of free blacks to Africa His criticism of Methodist slaveholders especially ...

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crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

Article

Debra Jackson

Little is known of his boyhood years. He was apparently born free, unfettered by slavery, and secured an apprenticeship to a carpenter. Some scholars have suggested a family connection between Alexander Hamilton and William Hamilton, apparently based on a passage from the obituary of William’s son Thomas in the newspaper the Anglo-African on 10 June 1865. In praising the leadership qualities of the deceased, the author notes his “grandfather lies in Trinity Churchyard, perforated by the bullet of Aaron Burr.” Signed “Types,” the obituary is unlikely to have been written by Thomas’s brother Robert. Additional scholarship is needed to determine a more conclusive statement on this question. Historian Donald Yacovone, an editor on the Black Abolitionist Papers, has stated that the Hamilton family had an “unwavering belief that they had descended from the Founding Father” and first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (personal communication to the editors, 8 Mar ...

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Graham Russell Hodges

William T. Hamilton's parents are unknown, although his father was rumored to be Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. In 1796 the teenaged William made his first mark in a letter to John Jay, the governor of New York. Skillfully blending his own thoughts with those expressed in the English poet and abolitionist William Cowper's “Negro's Complaint,” Hamilton informed Jay that he could not help but shed a tear for those fellow blacks remaining in slavery (a phrase indicating that Hamilton was free at the time). Hamilton asked how Jay could proclaim America the land of freedom and equality when “almost every part of it abounds with slavery and oppression.” Hamilton beseeched the governor to end slavery. Such conflation of poetry and antislavery arguments would appear frequently in Hamilton's writings.

As an adult Hamilton became a carpenter and part of the nascent free black community ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and singer, was born Lavinia (sometimes Lavina) F. Ames in Andover, Massachusetts, to Prince and Eunice (Russ) Ames. Nothing else is known about her early life except that the U.S. census listed her as a mulatto. She married the abolitionist leader John T. Hilton on 31 October 1825. The couple had six children—one died an infant in 1826—Lucretia, Louisa, John W., Henry, and Thomas B. She was active in Boston's African Baptist Church and in April 1833 performed a vocal solo in a concert held in the church by the Baptist Singing Society. While her husband achieved fame as an abolitionist leader and grand master of the Prince Hall Freemason lodge number 459 in Boston, Lavinia pursued her own antislavery work—a contribution that has been largely overlooked by historians.

In April 1833 while her husband helped form a gentleman s temperance ...

Article

Colleen Cyr

barber, orator, and activist, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Mary Ann (Campbell) and George W. Jeffrey. George's father was one of the first trustees of the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church of Middletown that was formed in 1828. Middletown's small black activist community shaped the life and work of George S. Jeffrey. There were several intermarriages between the Jeffrey family and the family of the Reverend Jehiel C. Beman, Cross Street AME Zion's first minister. Jeffrey's maternal aunt Clarissa Marie Campbell Beman founded the Middletown Colored Female Anti-Slavery Society. Citizens of color of Middletown, including his grandparents, uncles, and father, petitioned the Connecticut state legislature seven times between 1838 and 1843 over such issues as repealing the “Canterbury Law” (which effectively restricted young women of color from attending the boarding school founded for them by Prudence Crandall ...

Article

Lois Kerschen

Russell Parrott was prominent in Philadelphia's black circles in the early 1800s. A lay reader at the historically important Saint Thomas Episcopal Church, Parrott became an assistant to the pastor in 1812. Parrot was a close ally of James Forten's, and these two members of the Philadelphia African Institution were both notable activists of their day.

Parrott saw the colonization of America as a desire for gain and believed that this greed had led to the slave trade. Parrott's writings were filled with vivid descriptions and strong phrases that illustrated the conditions of slavery. He decried the emotional scarring that resulted from the brutal capture of Africans and their voyage to America, the tragic separation of families, and the cruelty of the slaveholders. In 1812 in an address at the traditional New Year s Day celebration of the abolition of the slave trade Parrott expressed sympathy for ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

Wendell Phillips transformed his life when he heard William Lloyd Garrison speak at the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 and watched a white mob attempt to lynch Garrison. The courage of the abolitionist so impressed Phillips that he resolved to give up his law practice and devote himself to winning freedom for all slaves.

Until 1835 Phillips lived as a member of the elite group known as the Boston Brahmins. He was born in that city in 1811, the son of John Phillips and Sally Whalley. The Phillips family's roots in America dated to the early seventeenth century, and they had amassed a fortune before the Revolutionary War. John Phillips held public office as a prosecutor, a Massachusetts state senator, a judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and the first mayor of Boston after it was incorporated as a city in 1822 Sally Whalley was ...

Article

Eric Gardner

Pillsbury was born in Hamilton, Massachusetts, to Oliver and Anna Smith Pillsbury. His ancestors had lived in New England since 1640. His father, a blacksmith, moved the growing family to Henniker, New Hampshire, in 1814 and took up farming. Pillsbury attended area schools and grew into his family's beliefs—temperance, abolition, and Congregationalism. After working as a farmhand and then moving to Massachusetts to work as a wagoner, Pillsbury returned to Henniker in 1832, joining the Congregational church there the following year.

Pillsbury studied at the Gilmantown Theological Seminary in New Hampshire between 1836 and 1838 and afterward completed a year at Andover Theological Seminary. He was licensed to preach and received an appointment at the Congregational church in Loudon, New Hampshire. Before beginning work in his congregation, Pillsbury spent two months as an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society—most often traveling with Nathaniel Rogers the editor ...

Article

Charles Lenox Remond was born into a family of abolitionists and activists. His mother helped found the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society and his father was a lifetime member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). Like himself, his younger sister, Sarah Parker Remond, was a respected abolitionist speaker.

Charles Remond was involved with the AASS nearly from its beginning. Philosophically, he concurred with William Lloyd Garrison's doctrines of nonresistance and moral persuasion. In 1838 the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society named him its first full-time black lecturer. In a tour of the British Isles he pressed the cause of abolition, although this was not the sole focus of his advocacy. When the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention, meeting in London, refused to seat women delegates, he spoke against the policy and left the meeting. After returning to the United States he traveled through the Midwest on a speaking tour with Frederick Douglass ...

Article

Stacy Kinlock Sewell

abolitionist and civil rights orator, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, the son of John Remond and Nancy Lenox, prominent members of the African American community of that town. His father, a native of Curaçao, was a successful hairdresser, caterer, and merchant. Remond attended Salem's Free African School for a time and was instructed by a private tutor in the Remond household. His parents exposed him to antislavery ideas, and abolitionists were frequent guests in their home. He crossed the paths of a number of fugitive slaves while growing up and by the age of seventeen considered himself an abolitionist. He had also developed considerable oratorical talent.

Remond was impressed by William Lloyd Garrison's antislavery views, particularly the notion of slaveholding as a sin. He heard Garrison speak in 1831 in Salem, and the two became longtime associates when in 1832 Remond became a subscription agent for ...

Article

Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Charles Lenox Remond was born free in Salem, Massachusetts, the first son of John and Nancy (Lenox) Remond. Remond was educated in Salem's Free African Schools and privately tutored in his home. Like his father, Remond worked as a barber in his hometown and was involved in the antislavery movement from an early age, meeting fugitive slaves and hearing his parents' views against slavery. Abolitionists visited the Remond home frequently.

In 1831 Remond heard the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison lecture in Salem against slavery and was moved by Garrison's idea that slavery was a moral sin. Garrison's influence on Remond proved indelible. In 1832 Remond became a subscription agent for Garrison's abolitionist newspaper the Liberator. As an agent, Remond traveled throughout New England, gaining subscriptions and encouraging the development of antislavery societies. In 1833 Remond then a member of the Colored Association of Massachusetts became an officer ...

Article

Daniel J. Leab

composer, orchestrator, arranger, and musician, once called the “Dean of Afro-American Composers,” was born in Woodville, Mississippi, the son of William Grant Still, a music teacher and bandmaster, and Carrie Lena Fambro, a schoolteacher. His father died during Still's infancy. Still and his mother moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where she taught school and in 1909 or 1910 married Charles Shepperson, a railway postal clerk, who strongly supported his stepson's musical interests. Still graduated from high school at sixteen, valedictorian of his class, and went to Wilberforce University.

Still's mother had wanted him to become a doctor, but music became his primary interest. He taught himself to play the oboe and clarinet, formed a string quartet in which he played violin, arranged music for his college band, and began composing; a concert of his music was presented at the school. In 1915 ...