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Aaron  

Laura Murphy

a former Virginia slave who became an antislavery lecturer, used no last name. Almost nothing is known about him outside of the record contained in his episodic, forty-eight page memoir. He did not provide any information about his parents other than that “hard work and hard usage … killed them.” (Light and Truth 6 He recorded that he had lived in Maryland and Kentucky but that for most of his time as a slave he lived in Virginia owned by a master with seven other slaves three of whom were female Aaron s owner proved especially cruel preferring to personally punish his slaves rather than send them out for a whipping During the summer he forced his three female slaves to work all day and then spend the entire night cooling him and his family with fans while they slept Aaron was forbidden to go to church although ...

Article

Robert Fay

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., in Harlem, New York. Raised in a middle-class household and educated at Catholic schools in Manhattan, the young Alcindor was introduced to Basketball at age nine and played competitively throughout elementary and high school. Alcindor was six feet eight inches (2.05 meters) tall by the time he was fourteen years old and became a star center for Power Memorial Academy, leading the high school to two city championships. He continued his dominant play at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where he led the university's team to three consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. He lost only two games in his college career. An outspoken political activist who was influenced by the Black Power Movement, Alcindor changed his name in 1971 after converting to Islam. A popular NBA star from 1969 to 1989 Abdul Jabbar thwarted opponents ...

Article

Marty Dobrow

basketball player, was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, the son of Ferdinand Lewis “Al” Alcindor, a police officer with the New York Transit Authority, and Cora Alcindor, a department-store price checker. The almost thirteen-pound baby arrived in Harlem one day after the major league debut of Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn; as with Robinson, fiercely competitive athletics and the struggle against racial injustice would define much of his life.

From a young age Alcindor was introspective and intense He had an artistic sensibility drawn in part from his father a stern and silent cop who played jazz trombone and held a degree from Juilliard An only child in a strictly Catholic household he moved from Harlem at age three to the Dyckman Street projects on the northern tip of Manhattan a racially mixed middle class community In third grade he was startled to see a class photo that featured him not ...

Article

Abraham  

Kenny A. Franks

also known as “Prophet,” was a runaway slave who became a prominent leader among the Seminole. Nothing is known about his parents or childhood. Fleeing his master, Abraham escaped south into Florida, and was eventually adopted into the Seminole tribe, with whom he enjoyed considerable status. In 1826 he accompanied a tribal delegation to Washington, D.C., and became an influential counselor to Micanopy, a leading Seminole leader. The Seminole, or Florida Indians, once were a part both of the Muskogee (Creek) nation that had been driven out of Georgia by the early English colonists, and also of the Oconee and Yamasee tribes that had been driven out of the Carolinas following the Yamasee uprising of 1715. They had first settled among the Lower Creeks in the Florida Panhandle and created a haven for runaway slaves. Indeed, Semino'le is the Creek word for “runaway.”

In 1818Andrew Jackson led ...

Article

Diane Mutti Burke

fugitive slave, was born near Richmond, Virginia, on a plantation owned by the Delaney family. Despite his memories of being well treated, his father, Aleck, was sold to pay his master's debts and taken south. Rev. Delaney justified Aleck's sale by claiming that the literate slave had shared ideas about freedom with other slaves in the neighborhood. When Rev. Delaney died in 1831, Alexander's mother, Chloe, was left to Mrs. Delaney, and eighteen-year-old Alexander was left to the master's son, Thomas. Chloe Alexander died six months after Thomas Delaney took her son with him to Missouri.

Delaney settled in western St Charles County Missouri where Alexander married a local slave woman named Louisa He later sold Alexander to Louisa s master Jim Hollman when he moved from the state and the couple spent the next twenty years living with their growing family on the Hollman farm Alexander was ...

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

M. Cookie E. Newsom

dentist, was born a slave in the Panthersville District of Dekalb County, Georgia. His mother (name unknown) was a slave, and his father, J. D. Badger was a white dentist and also his master Roderick had several brothers including Robert and Ralph all of whom had the same white father but different mothers In many ways his life story can be seen as an example of the complex relationships between the races in the antebellum and postbellum South where the black and white societies were supposed to be separate but where mixed race children were common growing ever more numerous in the decade leading up to the Civil War As the son of his owner Badger enjoyed the privileges associated with that status including his eventual freedom and prosperity However his status as a mulatto and as a professional man did not protect him from many of the ...

Article

Leigh Fought

Ruth Cox Adams, a fugitive slave from Maryland, adopted the name Harriet Bailey and lived with Frederick Douglass and his family from 1844 to 1847. Ruth Cox was born in Easton, Maryland, sometime between 1818 and 1822. Her father was an unknown free black man who disappeared after he went to Baltimore in search of better wages during Ruth's childhood. Her mother, Ebby Cox, was a slave in the Easton household of John Leeds Kerr, a lawyer who represented Maryland first in the House of Representatives (1825–1829 and 1831–1833) and then in the Senate (1841–1843).

When Kerr died in February 1844 he left instructions for all his property to be sold, including the slaves, and for the proceeds to be used to pay his debts. This turn of events probably prompted Ruth to flee north. By August 1844 she was ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

was a native of South Carolina. Baker was likely born enslaved, but nothing is known of his early life. In 1880, at the age of twenty-two, he was living in Effingham, South Carolina, with his eighteen-year old wife Lavinia and earned a living as a farmer. Nearly two decades later Baker's life, and that of his family, would be turned upside down and end in tragedy as a result of a political appointment following the presidential election of 1896.

By 1897Frazier and Lavinia Baker were living in Lake City, South Carolina, their family having grown to include six children, daughters Cora, Rosa, Sara and newborn Julia, and sons Lincoln and William. In the spring of 1897Frazier Baker received a political appointment from the newly elected president, William McKinley as postmaster of the predominantly white community of Lake City How Baker gained ...

Article

Barry Marshall

singer, was born in Chicago as Delores Williams. Nothing is known about her parents. Raised by her aunt, Merline Baker, also known as the blues singer Memphis Minnie, Baker started singing almost as soon as she could walk, both in her Baptist church and in the street. She grew up in poverty and sang for change on the downtown Chicago streets from the age of three. She started singing professionally as a teenager at the Club Delisa, decked out in down-home clothes and billed as “Little Miss Sharecropper.” The “Sharecropper” sobriquet was a takeoff on the popular blues shouter “Little Miss Cornshucks,” and although it garnered her attention at the time, she was embarrassed by it later in her life. She also appeared at different venues as Bea Baker.

At the age of seventeen, Baker moved to Detroit. By 1947 she was appearing regularly at ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in Muskegon, Michigan, to Ezra Douglas and Natalie VanArsdale Bell. As a youngster, Bell was such a committed reader that visits to the library were withheld from him as punishment for misbehaving. His love for reading served him well throughout his life.

Bell enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1968 and remained in the service until 1970, after which he attended the University of Michigan for a year. After relocating to New York, he attended Hofstra University for free because he worked as a custodian, maintaining classrooms in 1970. Applying those same principles of hard work in exchange for opportunity, he joined the staff at Newsday and worked his way up from custodian to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. According to a biography written for the Pulitzer Prize award book, he held many positions in the Newsday organization including porter clerk ...

Article

Charles Orson Cook

African “Pygmy” who was put on display at the Bronx Zoo. In 1904, the white missionary Samuel Phillips Verner brought Ota Benga whose freedom he had purchased with a bribe to Belgian Congo officials and seven other Congolese Pygmies to the Saint Louis World s Fair as part of an ethnological exhibit of primitive peoples which included among others the Native American Apache chief Geronimo Verner s agreement with the World s Fair required him to bring several Africans and as much of their village intact as possible He actually brought fewer tribesmen than his contract required and many fewer artifacts but the exhibit was one of the most popular attractions at the fair The Africans were the objects of constant public attention and they also drew the interest of professional and academic ethnologists who measured the physical and mental characteristics of the Pygmies concluding that they were ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

the last person publicly executed in the United States, was born Joseph Rainey Bethea in Roanoke, Virginia, to Rainey Bethea and Ella Louise Huggins. Most press reports of his execution state that Bethea Jr. was twenty‐two at the time of his arrest, though he also claimed at times that he had been born in 1909. Since Bethea Jr.'s father would have been only fifteen years old in 1909, it appears more likely that the 1913 date is correct. The younger Bethea hardly knew his parents. He was still a child when his mother died in 1919 and barely a teenager when his father died seven years later in 1926, leaving Bethea, his sister Ora, and his brother as orphans. Around that time the siblings separated. While his brother remained in Virginia and his sister moved to Nichols, South Carolina, Bethea traveled west to Owensboro, Kentucky.

In ...

Article

Paul Finkelman and Richard Newman

escaped slave, was born on a plantation in Louisa County, Virginia, to unknown parents. As a youth, Brown lived with his parents, four sisters, and three brothers until the family was separated and his master hired him out at age fifteen to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, Virginia. Brown's autobiography illuminates the vicissitudes of slave life but does not recount any further major events in his own life other than his marriage around 1836 to Nancy, the slave of a bank clerk, with whom he had three children. In August 1848 Nancy's owner sold her and her three children (Brown's children) to a slave trader who took them South. Brown begged his own master to purchase them, but he refused. Brown later wrote in his autobiography: “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away According to his autobiography Brown actually saw his wife and ...

Article

Paul Finkelman

Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County, Virginia, probably around 1815. By 1830 he was living in Richmond, where his master hired him out to work in a tobacco factory. Around 1836, when he would have been about twenty-one, Brown married a slave named Nancy, who was owned by a bank clerk. The owner promised not to sell Nancy but soon did so anyway. She was later resold to a Mr. Cottrell, who persuaded Brown to give him fifty dollars of the purchase price. Cottrell also promised never to sell Nancy, but in 1848 he sold her, and her children with Henry, to slave traders, who removed them from the state. Brown pleaded with his own master to buy Nancy and the children. As Brown wrote in his autobiography, “I went to my Christian master but he shoved me away from him as ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Born a slave in Richmond, Virginia, Henry Brown labored on a plantation before going to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond, under a master who was regarded as relatively benevolent. Although he later described his life in enslavement as tolerable, Brown decided to escape in 1848 when his wife, Nancy, and their three children were sold away from him. He devised an ingenious plan, which he maintained was divinely inspired.

In March 1849 Brown had a white friend, Samuel A. Smith, package him in a wooden box and ship him by Adams Express to antislavery headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the twenty-seven-hour journey, Brown spent much of the time on his head, as he was transferred back and forth from wagons, trains, and steamboats. An astonished group of abolitionists “received” him once he arrived in Philadelphia.

Antislavery groups helped Brown relocate, first to Boston, Massachusetts ...

Article

F. N. Boney

fugitive slave and slave narrative author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. When he was about ten years old he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina. Eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk.

Bought by the ambitious and quick-tempered Thomas Stevens, Fed grew to maturity on a farm in central Georgia near the state capital at Milledgeville. Stevens drove his slaves hard, often employing whippings and other brutal punishments. Gradually Stevens accumulated much land and more than twenty slaves, becoming a “planter” by federal census standards. In the 1820s Stevens expanded his family enterprises into DeKalb County near Cherokee territory in northwestern Georgia and when these Indians were driven west ...

Article

Marlene L. Daut

escaped slave, navy landsman, and U.S. Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1841 of unknown parentage. Brown was a slave in Mississippi on a cotton plantation, and nothing is known of his childhood or to whom he belonged. In the early 1860s, at the start of the Civil War, Brown ran away from his master on a skiff that eventually managed to reach a Union ship stationed on the Mississippi River. This encounter with the navy probably accounts for his subsequent enlistment. The navy was a likely choice for an escaped slave; many escaped slaves, as well as free blacks from the North, were often drawn to the service because of its better pay and purported fairer treatment of blacks. Brown enlisted in the Union navy on 18 March 1863 under the title 1st Class Boy and was officially described as a Contraband Negro five ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

escaped slave, was named Dinah, but was better known as Di. She was born on a plantation near Petersburg, Virginia, to Priscilla, a house servant, and Henry Hope, a slave owner, planter, and a partner in a clothing warehouse. Hope—a pseudonym provided by Browne in her dictated narrative—was understood to be Browne's father. He also fathered another child with Priscilla who died before Dinah's birth. Although Browne did not know her date of birth, researchers place Browne's birth year around 1815. After the death of Browne's mother from consumption when Browne was only six months, she was raised by her grandparents. Little is known about Browne's childhood; she started working at her slave owner's house when she was ten. Browne was repeatedly beaten for the littlest offense. For example, when Browne did not retrieve Hope's boots in a satisfactory period, he kicked her on her right thigh.

When Browne ...

Article

David M. Fahey

fraternal society leader and banker, was born in Habersham County, Georgia, the son of Joseph Browne and Mariah (maiden name unknown), field slaves. As a young child he was called Ben Browne and was chosen to be the companion of his owner's son. A subsequent owner who lived near Memphis trained Browne as a jockey for race circuits in Tennessee and Mississippi. During the Civil War he plotted an escape with fellow slaves. When his owner learned of the conspiracy, he transferred Browne to a plantation in Mississippi. Despite the difficulties of tramping fifty miles without a compass, Browne persuaded three other young slaves to join him in a successful escape to the Union army at Memphis. After learning that his owner could demand his return, Browne fled upriver as a stowaway.

Browne later worked as a saloon servant in Illinois where his barroom experiences made him a teetotaler and ...