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Nancy Gordon Heinl

Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, on October 16, 1833, the son of Tobias Bassett, a mulatto, and Susan (Gregory) Bassett, a Native American of the Shagticoke branch of the Pequot tribe. Ebenezer attended the Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and graduated with honors from the Connecticut State Normal School. While principal of a high school in New Haven, Connecticut, he continued his studies at Yale College, where he seems to have been held in wide respect. From 1857 to 1869 Bassett was principal of the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, a school founded by Quakers for the education of Colored Youth in school learning and to prepare them to become teachers In addition to his duties as principal Bassett taught mathematics natural sciences and classics he also acted as school librarian The mayor of Philadelphia referred to the school under ...

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Benjamin Letzler

law professor, dean, and diplomat, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, to the Reverend Clarence Clyde Ferguson Sr. and Georgeva Ferguson. After a childhood in Baltimore he served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, earning a Bronze Star, before attending Ohio State University on a football scholarship. He soon left the football squad to focus on his academic work, completing his AB cum laude in two and a half years. Ferguson earned his LLB cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1951, one of three black members of the class.

After a year as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School and a year in private practice in New York, Ferguson served as assistant general counsel to the Moreland Act Commission to Investigate Harness Racing. Ferguson married the artist and sculptor Dolores Zimmerman in 1954 After her death in the late ...

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Gloria Grant Roberson

With the support of the Harvard-affiliated educator George Herbert Palmer, Greener participated in a program to expose an African American to a Harvard education. Although poor grades resulted in his repeating his first year, Greener went on to win the Boylston Prize for Oratory in his sophomore year and the inaugural Bowdoin Prize for Research and Writing for his senior dissertation on Irish culture. Greener apparently recognized the advantages of repeating his first year at Harvard, because later, as a professor of mental and moral philosophy at the University of South Carolina, he was instrumental in adding a “subfreshman” class to the curriculum for scholarship students struggling with Latin and Greek.

The only child of Richard Wesley Greener, a seafaring man with an adventurous spirit, and Mary Ann Le Brune, Greener was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania His mother was thrust into single parenthood when her husband failed to ...

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Olive Hoogenboom

Richard Theodore Greener was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Richard Wesley Greener, a seaman who was wounded during the Mexican War while serving aboard the USS Princeton, and Mary Ann Le Brune. When he was nine, Greener and his parents moved to Boston but soon left for Cambridge, where he could attend “an unproscriptive school.” Greener's father, as chief steward of the George Raynes, had taken his son on a voyage to Liverpool but then abandoned the sea in 1853 for the California gold fields He was taken sick met with losses and was never heard from again When Greener was twelve years old he left school to help support his mother Although he quit one of his positions after an employer struck him those whom he met while knocking around in different occupations often helped educate him sharing their libraries and tutoring ...

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Olive Hoogenboom

educator, lawyer, and diplomat, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Richard Wesley Greener, a seaman who was wounded during the Mexican War while serving aboard USS Princeton, and Mary Ann Le Brune. When he was nine, Greener and his parents moved to Boston but soon left for Cambridge, where he could attend “an unproscriptive school.” Greener's father, as chief steward of the George Raynes, had taken his son on a voyage to Liverpool but then abandoned the sea in 1853 for the California gold fields He was taken sick met with losses and was never heard from again When Greener was twelve years old he left school to help support his mother Although he quit one of his positions after an employer struck him those whom he met while knocking around in different occupations often helped educate him sharing their ...

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Dickson D. Jr. Bruce

scholar and activist, was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, near Charleston, the eldest of three sons of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and member of one of South Carolina's leading families, and Nancy Weston, a slave owned by Grimké. He was also a nephew, on his father's side, of the noted white southern abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld. Although Archibald was born a slave, Henry acknowledged him as his son. After Henry's death in 1852 his mother took him to Charleston, where, even though he was still legally a slave, he attended a school for free blacks.

This condition was to change with the coming of the Civil War, when, in 1860, one of Henry's adult white sons, from an earlier marriage, forced the Grimké brothers—Archibald, John, and Francis J. Grimké—to work as household slaves. Archibald escaped in 1863 hiding in ...

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Kenneth J. Blume

clergyman, politician, educator, and diplomat, was born a slave on the plantation of Thomas Jones in Elbert County, Georgia. William's mother died when he was nine, and he was obligated to rear his younger siblings while working as a plowboy. His education during his last years of enslavement (1860–1865) was in Sunday school in Elberton, Georgia. Legally prohibited from learning to read or write, he learned largely by memorizing Bible passages. But when he was fifteen the Civil War ended, and Union troops appeared. As he wrote in his memoir, From Slavery to the Bishopric in the A.M.E. Church (1924): “Freedom had come, and I came to meet it” (28). Freedom also meant the end of his Sunday school education, but Heard's father had earned enough money as a wheelwright to pay for William's lessons in spelling, reading, and arithmetic. From 1865 ...

Article

Robert L. Harris

educator, diplomat, and administrator, was one of thirteen children born to Robert and Viola Bagsby Holland in Auburn, New York. Most of the children did not survive childhood. One of his younger siblings affectionately called him “Brudder,” later shortened to “Brud,” which he was called by relatives and friends throughout his life. His father was a gardener and handyman for several families in Auburn. “Brud” Holland began to work with his father at age eight to support their poor family. He determined early in life that education was the key to success.

Holland was a stellar basketball and football player. He played four years on the varsity football team for Auburn High School and twice earned statewide honors. His high school coach years later referred to him as the best all-around athlete ever to play for Auburn. Holland entered Cornell University's College of Agriculture in 1935 ...

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Gregory Eiselein

In his third-person autobiography, From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol (1894), John Mercer Langston recounts his career as one of the most influential African American leaders of the nineteenth century. Born in Virginia and educated at Oberlin, Langston became in 1854 the first African American admitted to the Ohio bar and in 1855 the first elected to public office in the United States (town clerk of Brownhelm, Ohio). Throughout the 1850s he worked within antislavery and civil rights movements, advocating a nationalist, pro-emigration position before becoming a Republican party activist. Heading recruitment of African American soldiers in the West during the Civil War, he rose to national prominence after the war as the president of the National Equal Rights League (a forerunner of the NAACP), an educational inspector for the Freedmen's Bureau, and a Republican party organizer. In 1868 he accepted a professorship at Howard ...

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Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

John Mercer Langston was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part–Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839, however, when a court hearing, concluding that his guardian's impending move to Missouri (a slave state) would imperil the boy's freedom and inheritance, forced him to leave the family. Subsequently, he boarded in four different homes, white and black, in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part-Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839 when a court hearing concluding that his guardian s impending move to slave state Missouri would imperil the boy s freedom and inheritance forced him to leave the family Subsequently he boarded in four different homes white and black in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

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Thomas Adams Upchurch

Born in Virginia to a wealthy white planter and a slave mother, John Mercer Langston was one of the most influential African Americans of the nineteenth century. Widely regarded by contemporaries and historians alike as second in importance only to Frederick Douglass, Langston actually superseded the venerable Douglass in certain ways. Although Douglass enjoyed more widespread renown, Langston held more government positions and had a more varied career. The two men first met in 1848 and maintained a friendship for many years thereafter. They disagreed on some important racial issues, however, which sometimes led to hard feelings and, near the end of their lives, an intense rivalry that most observers would say made them bitter enemies.

Langston was about ten years younger than Douglass and while they were both mulattoes born to slave mothers their upbringings could hardly have been more different Whereas Douglass endured the most abhorrent circumstances ...

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Margaret Wade-Lewis

linguist, diplomat, and educator, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, to Raleigh Morgan Sr., a porter at Union Station, and Adrien Louise Beasley Morgan. The eldest of three children, Raleigh Jr. lived with his extended family; his mother left the household when Morgan was four years old. In addition to his father (b. 1888), Morgan's nurturers were his grandfather Jackson (b. 1865), a business owner; his-grandmother Anna (b. 1868), a homemaker; his uncle John W. (b. 1890); and his aunts Elizabeth and Adrien (both b. 1895). His younger siblings were John Edward (b. 1918) and Helen A. (b. 1919).

Morgan took his first course in Latin at age twelve and began to study German and French at ages fourteen and fifteen respectively He eventually became a contemporary Renaissance man whose life unfolded in three phases professor and ...

Article

Kenneth J. Blume

educator and diplomat, was born in Troy, New York, to William and Julian (Crawford) Powell. He was educated in Brooklyn and Jersey City, New Jersey, and graduated from the New Jersey Collegiate Institute, the New York College of Pharmacy, and the Ashmun Institute (named for Jehudi Ashmun, a white American administrator in 1820s Liberia, and later renamed Lincoln University) in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

In 1869 Powell was teaching freedmen at the Presbyterian Board of Home Mission, in Leesburg, Virginia. The following year he opened what is believed to be Virginia's first state school for black children in Alexandria, and he served as its director from 1870 to 1875. With few exceptions the rest of his career centered on education in New Jersey. He served as the principal of a school in Bordentown, New Jersey, from 1875 to 1881, and in 1881 he obtained a ...

Article

Sibyl Collins Wilson

anthropologist, university professor, and diplomat, was born in Trinidad and Tobago (then in the British West Indies) to Ettice Francis and Joseph McDonald Skinner. His parents’ professions are not recorded. One of five children—two girls and three boys—Skinner was raised by an aunt from Barbados. Although he was not raised to recognize personal limitations in his ability to learn and was exposed to many different cultures, he recognized that his color limited his economic opportunities in the British Caribbean. His family life also prefigured his scholarly interest in class differences, with his mother's family regarded as more modest in achievements and means than his father's Barbadian forebears, who were landowners and merchants. In 1943 he moved to the United States to live with his father in Harlem New York but instead of finding a job Skinner decided to enlist in the Army as the U S ...

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Linda M. Carter

lawyer, diplomat, educator, and editor, was born John Henry Smyth in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Sully Smyth, a slave, and Ann Eliza Goode Smyth, a free African American. Smyth was also born free because at the time of his birth, slave codes decreed that a child's status followed that of the mother. Ann Smyth then paid Sully Smyth's owner $1,800 to gain her husband's freedom, but Virginia law prohibited her from freeing him, and she willed her husband to Smyth.

Another African American woman in Richmond taught him Smyth how to read, and he was able to take advantage of better educational opportunities beyond Virginia's borders. In Philadelphia African American youth attended private schools as early as 1770 and public schools as early as 1822 When he was seven years old Smyth s parents sent him to Philadelphia where he attended a ...

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Gary R. Kremer

educator and diplomat, was born a slave in St. Louis County, Missouri, the son of John Turner, a free black farrier, and Hannah, the slave of Aaron and Theodosia Young, formerly of Kentucky. Mother and son were freed by Theodosia Young on 12 March 1844. Educated in clandestinely operated schools in St. Louis in defiance of Missouri law, Turner was sent by his parents to preparatory school at Oberlin College in Ohio during the mid-1850s. He remained there for no more than two years and returned to St. Louis during the late 1850s. He worked as a porter until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the war effort as a body servant to Colonel Madison Miller, a Union officer.

Turner began his public career in 1865 when he became a member of the Missouri Equal Rights League an organization formed ...

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Gary R. Kremer

Turner, James Milton (22 August 1839?–01 November 1915), educator and diplomat, was born a slave in St. Louis County, Missouri, the son of John Turner, a free black farrier, and Hannah Turner, the slave of Aaron and Theodosia Young, formerly of Kentucky. Mother and son were freed by Theodosia Young on 12 March 1844. Educated in clandestinely operated schools in St. Louis, in defiance of Missouri law, Turner was sent by his parents to preparatory school at Oberlin College in Ohio during the mid-1850s. He remained there for no more than two years and returned to St. Louis during the late 1850s. He worked as a porter until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the war effort as a body servant to Colonel Madison Miller, a Union officer.

Turner began his public career in 1865 when he became a member of the Missouri Equal ...

Article

Bill Dickens

economist, educator, businessman, and diplomat, was born Clifton Reginald Wharton Jr. in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four children of Clifton Reginald Wharton, an ambassador, and Harriette B., a social worker in Boston and a French and Latin teacher at Virginia State University. His father was the first African American to pass the Foreign Service examination and became the first black career ambassador.

Wharton attended the prestigious Boston Latin School and graduated in 1943. The precocious Wharton enrolled at Harvard University at age sixteen. At the age of nineteen he served as an army aviation cadet and was stationed in Tuskegee, Alabama. However, with five weeks remaining to earn his aviator wings, he decided to return to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree. He earned his AB in History in 1947 Wharton was the first African American to enroll in the Johns Hopkins School ...