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Article

Michael Bieze

artist, was born in Colquitt County, Georgia, son of John Henry Adams, a former slave and preacher in the Methodist Church, and Mittie Rouse. Many questions surround Adams's early life. While he reported in an Atlanta Constitution article (23 June 1902) that he came from a humble background, his father served parishes throughout Georgia. According to the History of the American Negro and His Institutions (1917), Adams Sr. was a man of accomplishment, leading black Georgians in a colony in Liberia for two years and receiving two honorary doctorates, from Bethany College and Morris Brown University. Educated in Atlanta schools, Adams claimed in the Atlanta Constitution article to have traveled to Philadelphia in the late 1890s to take art classes at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (later Drexel University). Drexel, established in 1891 opened its doors to a diverse student ...

Article

Valerie A. Gray

college president, educator, and minister, was born Jared Maurice Arter in Jefferson County, West Virginia, the son of Jeremiah Arter, a slave and a miller by trade, and Hannah Frances Stephenson, a slave. When Arter was seven years old his father died in an accident at the mill. The plantation on which the family lived, the Little plantation, was located four miles from Harpers Ferry. In 1859 Arter witnessed the hanging of four men who participated in John Brown's raid at that city. This childhood memory sparked in him the desire to fight for equality; the schoolroom would be his battleground.

As a teenager Arter applied for a position as a bellboy for which he would have to pass a test demonstrating his ability to read numbers With help from his brother in law he mastered the skill sufficiently in one evening to pass the test This accomplishment ...

Article

Susan J. Hubert

Autobiography has been a significant genre throughout the history of African American literature. In documenting the lives of African Americans, autobiographical writing has challenged racist beliefs and racially oppressive institutions—especially slavery—and provided examples of perseverance and resistance. Although they were primarily concerned with their individual thoughts and experiences, African American autobiographers have also helped define the character of African American people as a whole. As a literary form, African American autobiography evolved from its somewhat derivative beginnings into a distinctly African American literary movement.

Authenticity is a central issue in early African American autobiography Although some autobiographers relied on amanuenses the publication of narratives written by African Americans provided concrete evidence against racist claims that people of African descent were incapable of artistic and intellectually sophisticated writing Writing provided a degree of independence that has often been denied black people in racist societies and African American authors gained representation in ...

Article

Lynn Orilla Scott

Slave narratives are autobiographical accounts of the physical and spiritual journey from slavery to freedom. In researching her groundbreaking 1946 dissertation, Marion Wilson Starling located 6,006 slave narratives written between 1703 and 1944. This number includes brief testimonies found in judicial records, broadsides, journals, and newsletters as well as separately published books. It also includes approximately 2,500 oral histories of former slaves gathered by the Federal Writers' Project in the 1930s. The number of separately published slave narratives, however, is much smaller. Although exact numbers are not available, nearly one hundred slave narratives were published as books or pamphlets between 1760 and 1865, and approximately another one hundred following the Civil War. The slave narrative reached the height of its influence and formal development during the antebellum period, from 1836 to 1861 During this time it became a distinct genre of American literature and achieved immense popularity ...

Article

Jeannine DeLombard

Ball, Charles (1781?–?), fugitive slave, soldier, and memoirist, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Ball was four years old his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master’s debts; he never saw them again. Ball was sold to John Cox, a local slaveowner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Ball’s mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Ball became close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland around 1730.

Cox died when Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave named ...

Article

Jeannine DeLombard

fugitive slave, soldier, and slave narrative author, was born on a tobacco plantation in Calvert County, Maryland, the son of slave parents whose names are unknown. When Charles was four years old, his mother and siblings were sold to slave traders to settle their late master's debts; he never saw them again. Charles was sold to John Cox, a local slave owner, and continued to live near his father and grandfather. After the sale of Charles's mother, his father sank into a deep depression, eventually escaping from slavery on the eve of his purchase by a slave trader. Charles grew close to his octogenarian grandfather, a former African warrior who had arrived in Maryland about 1730.

Cox died when Charles Ball was twelve and the young slave worked for his late master s father until he was twenty years old During this time Ball married a slave ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

was born a slave near Camden, in Kent County, Delaware. Bayley wrote in his Narrative that his grandmother was a “Guinea woman” who had been transported from West Africa to Virginia when she was only eleven years old and sold to “one of the most barbarous families of that day.” Despite this, she gave birth to fifteen children and “lived to a great age” (38). Bayley's mother had been born and raised with the same Virginia family. She had had several children with her husband, Abner, by the time her master and mistress died and one of their daughters and her husband moved to Delaware, taking the black family. A few years later Solomon Bayley was born, one of thirteen children.

Bayley grew to manhood in Kent County Delaware He took a slave named Thamar as his wife and they had two children When the wife of the couple who ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

Born into slavery in Delaware, Solomon Bayley toiled in bondage until 1799, when he successfully used the law to change his condition. His original owner illegally transported him and other family members to Virginia and sold them to a new master, who sought to take him to one of the new states in the West (probably Kentucky). He escaped back to Delaware, where he was pursued by his master. Using Delaware law, which prohibited the export of slaves out of state and declared any slave sold out of state to be free, Bayley threatened to use the courts to obtain his legal freedom. Faced with this prospect, his master relented and agreed to let him purchase his freedom. Bayley then worked to purchase the freedom of his wife and children over the next few years.

Settling in Kent County Delaware Bayley worked for nearly three decades as a ...

Article

Belinda  

Jeremy Rich

author of the first known slave narrative by an African woman in the United States, and successful petitioner for reparations for her enslavement, was born around 1713. Some historians have argued that she was brought to the US from Ghana, because her petition noted that she had lived on the “Ria da Valta River,” which they viewed as a reference to the Volta River. However, she recalled praying in a sacred grove “to the great Orisa who made all things” as a child. Orisa deities are associated with spiritual traditions among Yoruba-speaking communities in southwestern Nigeria and parts of Benin.

Regardless of the exact location of her original home in her narrative she recalled her childhood as a happy one This peaceful world of groves gave way to the hardships of the Middle Passage European raiders came into her village when she was about twelve years of age whose ...

Article

Laura Murphy

minister and author, was born a slave in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, about sixty miles from Baltimore. He is best known for his narrative, published in 1847, which describes his time in slavery, his escape, and his call to the ministry.

Though Black served several owners in his early life he was eventually brought back to Maryland to live with his original owner where he was reunited with his four brothers Within six months of meeting them again three of his brothers escaped encouraging him to escape when he could While enslaved in Baltimore Black had the urge to read and though he bought books on several occasions his master found them and either burned them or gave them to his son Black is quick in his narrative to make the observation that in this case the education of a white child was not simply gained at the expense ...

Article

Daniel L. Fountain

Baptist minister, missionary, and author, was born Charles Octavius Boothe in Mobile County, Alabama, to a Georgia‐born slave woman belonging to and carried west by the slave owner Nathan Howard Sr. Little is known of Boothe s Georgian parents but he proudly claimed that his great grandmother and stepgrandfather were Africans Boothe s description of his ancestors reflects his lifelong pride in his African heritage but he was equally effusive about the spiritual influence that these Christian elders had on his life His earliest recollections included his stepgrandfather s prayer life and singing of hymns and the saintly face and pure life of my grandmother to whom white and black went for prayer and for comfort in the times of their sorrows These early familial Christian influences were further reinforced by attending a Baptist church in the forest where white and colored people sat together to commune and to ...

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

Laura Murphy

memoirist and soldier, was born in Clark County, Kentucky, twenty miles southeast of Lexington (where, in the decades leading to the Civil War, slaves accounted for approximately half of the population), to an enslaved mother and her white owner, John Bell Bruner. He had two siblings, also presumably the children of his master.

Bruner ran away many times as a young man—on one occasion he even made it all the way to the Ohio River—but each time was recaptured and returned to increasingly brutal treatment. Frustrated by Bruner's repeated escape attempts, his master had a set of leg shackles specially made to tie his slave to the wall each night to keep him from running. Bruner's owner also forced him to march through the town wearing the shackles as a warning to other slaves who might consider running away.

Soon after Peter Bruner s last unsuccessful escape attempt this ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

French traveler and travel writer who explored West Africa, was born in 1799 in Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon in the Deux-Sèvres region of France. His family was extremely poor. Caillié’s father had been banished to work as a prisoner rowing on government boats before he was born. His mother died very young. According to his later account of his travels in West Africa, Caillié had dreamed of reaching the fabled trade center of Timbuktu on the banks of the Niger River since he was a child. Whether or not this actually was the case, Caillié did manage to reach the Senegalese town of Saint Louis in 1815 He stayed there for several months and tried to join an English expedition up the Gambia River This project did not work out He then spent some time working on the French Caribbean colony of Guadeloupe but soon returned to Senegal He came back to ...

Article

Rochell Isaac

pastor, educator, and entrepreneur, was born a slave in Christian Country, Kentucky. Clark never knew his biological father. While Clark was still a baby, his father escaped from slavery. His mother, Mary Clark, subsequently married Jerry Clark, who would join the Union army in 1860. Charles Henry Clark remained a slave for a total of nine years, and it was at the age of seven that the overseer's wife took him as her servant. She taught Clark to spell and initiated his path to literacy, but the outbreak of the Civil War would separate Clark from his teacher. During this period, Clark's mother moved from Kentucky to New Providence, Tennessee, to await her husband, Jerry Clark, who was returning from the army. Mary Clark had difficulty financially supporting her family, since her only income at this time came from her eldest son, George W. Clark As ...

Article

Gregory S. Jackson

author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel (some sources say William) Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky. He was the son of Campbell's mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke's middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke's family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North.

Clarke's first six years were spent with his parents and nine siblings and were the only family life and childhood he experienced. Betsey Campbell Banton one of Campbell s white daughters and Clarke s maternal aunt whom he likened to a female Nero claimed Clarke by right of dowry taking him from his parents to her home in Lexington ...

Article

Janice L. Greene

antislavery memoirist and lecturer, Civil War veteran, and first black elected to the Common Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was one of ten children born into slavery in Madison County, Kentucky, on the plantation of his maternal grandfather Samuel Campbell. One of Milton's older brothers was the noted abolitionist Lewis G. Clarke. Also known as J. Milton Clark(e) and John M. Clark, Milton was the eighth child of Campbell's biracial daughter Letitia and her husband Daniel or Donal a Scotch Irish widower who immigrated to America to fight the British for this country s freedom The father s tales of battles at Bunker Hill and Valley Forge during the American Revolution were an inspiration for his sons persistent struggle against slavery and for the education and uplift of their brethren That struggle led them to escape slavery regardless of their sometimes privileged status and lighter skin ...

Article

Mary F. Corey

Daniel Coker was born a slave in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of Susan Coker, a white indentured servant, and Edward Wright, a black slave belonging to the same plantation owner whose name is unknown. Daniel Coker was educated with his master's son, who refused to go to school without his slave. When Coker was in his early teens he escaped to New York City where he joined the Methodist Church and was ordained as a lay minister.

Empowered by his education and ordination, Coker returned to Maryland in 1801 to become the first African American teacher at the African Academy, a school founded by the Baltimore Abolition Society for the education of free blacks. He was the first black licensed minister in Baltimore and the spiritual leader of an independent prayer meeting formed by black Methodists dissatisfied with their position within the white Methodist church ...

Article

Mary F. Corey

a founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, author, and educator, was born a slave in Frederick County, Maryland, the son of Susan Coker, a white indentured servant, and Edward Wright, a black slave belonging to the same plantation owner, whose name is unknown. Daniel Coker was educated with his master's son, who refused to go to school without his slave. When Coker was in his early teens he escaped to New York City where he joined the Methodist Church and was ordained as a lay minister.

Empowered by his education and ordination, Coker returned to Maryland in 1801 to become the first African American teacher at the African Academy a school founded by the Baltimore Abolition Society for the education of free blacks He was the first black licensed minister in Baltimore and the spiritual leader of an independent prayer meeting formed by black Methodists dissatisfied ...

Article

Roxanne Y. Schwab

writer and educator, was born in Dresden, Ontario, Canada, the fourth child of William and Nancy Newman. Little is known of her family, and the exact dates of her birth and death are unknown, but she was most likely born sometime in the mid-nineteenth century. As a young woman, she accompanied her father to the West Indies for missionary work, then returned to the United States when he became pastor of a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Following her father's death, she moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where she looked after her invalid mother for thirteen months. Upon her mother's death, Lucretia Newman became the head of the household for her siblings. After her early education she completed a course of scientific study at Lawrence University in Appleton before finding work as a high school music teacher and as a clerk in a dry goods store.

In 1883 Coleman was ...