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Article

Charles Rosenberg

barber, lawyer, and Cleveland's first city-council member of known African descent, was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Lavina Green Fleming. By 1880 Thomas Fleming had died, and his widow was raising seven-year-old daughter Larah, six-year-old Thomas, and four-year-old Ida on her own.

Men of African descent had a prominent role in civic life in Meadville during Fleming's childhood. At the age of six, he transferred from a racially segregated school to a school open to students from all local families. He had a job at a bakery when he was eleven. The bakery owner, also of African descent, was elected to the city council. A year later he quit school to work as a barber, helping support his mother and two sisters.

Fleming moved to Cleveland in 1893, opening his own barber shop within a year. On 9 July 1894 he married Mary Ingels Thompson like ...

Article

Mohamed Adhikari

South African trade unionist and political activist, was the only son of David Gomas and Elizabeth Erasmus. John Stephen Gomas was raised in Abbotsdale near Cape Town. After his father abandoned the family, Elizabeth moved with her son to Kimberley in 1911. Here Gomas entered an apprenticeship at a tailor’s workshop in 1915, where his employer, Myer Gordon, a Russian immigrant, introduced him to socialist ideas. In 1919 Gomas joined the International Socialist League, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). Toward the end of that year his participation in a successful clothing workers’ strike transformed the quiet, bookish youth into a vociferous champion for workers’ rights.

In 1920 Gomas moved to Cape Town where he worked privately from home as a tailor He was active in the ICU the ANC and the Tailors Industrial Union Attracted by its militancy and ...

Article

Frank N. Schubert

William Jefferson Hardin was born in Russellville, Logan County, Kentucky, of unknown parents. He was raised and educated by Shakers in South Union, Kentucky, until he was able to teach school to free African American children. Hardin migrated to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 and remained there for four years. He then lived for brief periods in Canada, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska before moving to Colorado in 1863. Hardin operated a barbershop in Denver for ten years and established a reputation as a Republican politician and public speaker. During his years in Denver he was a close associate and friend of African American political activist Barney Ford in the struggle for political rights for African Americans in Colorado. He also served as a delegate at several Republican conventions in Colorado Territory. Hardin left Denver in 1873 after a short stint as gold weigher and clerk ...

Article

Theresa A. Hammond

consumer markets specialist and business school professor, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, to Thomas D. Harris Jr. and Georgia Laws Carter. Thomas Harris was a messenger for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and also worked as an embalmer, and Georgia Carter Harris was a homemaker. Thomas stressed the importance of education for his three children, tutoring them in math, anatomy, and English after dinner. Harris attended Kingsland Elementary School (one of the black primary and secondary schools funded by Sears, Roebuck philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to improve education for black southerners) in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and D. Webster Davis High School, the Virginia State College laboratory school, in Petersburg, Virginia. While in high school, Harris earned a certificate in barber practice and science. He cut soldiers' hair on the nearby Fort Lee army base to help pay for his education at Virginia State College.

Harris s education ...

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Jennifer Fleischner

slave, dressmaker, abolitionist, and White House memoirist, was born Elizabeth Hobbs in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the daughter of Armistead Burwell, a white slaveholder, and his slave Agnes Hobbs. Agnes was the family nurse and seamstress. Her husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, the slave of another man, treated “Lizzy” as his own daughter, and it was not until some years later, after George had been forced to move west with his master, that Agnes told Lizzy the identity of her biological father. While her mother taught her sewing, the skill that would make her name and fortune, it was George Hobbs who first instilled in Lizzy a profound respect for learning. Ironically, it was Armistead Burwell, who repeatedly told Lizzy she would never be “worth her salt,” who probably sparked her ambition to succeed and prove him wrong.

As a young girl Hobbs lived in ...

Article

Felix James

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 5, 1859, George A. Myers was the eldest of Isaac Myers and Emma V. Myers's three children. In May 1868 his mother died. Two years later Myers enrolled in the preparatory department of Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. After his father married Sarah E. Deaver, he returned to Baltimore, where he graduated from the city's first grammar school for African American children. Because of the racial practices in that city, however, Myers was denied admission to Baltimore City College.

Myers left Baltimore in 1875 and worked as an apprentice to Thomas James, a veteran painter in Washington, D.C. Not liking the trade, he returned to Baltimore and studied the barber trade under Thomas Gamble and George S. Ridgeway He pursued this trade against the will of his father who had wanted him to enroll in Cornell Medical ...

Article

Gloria Chuku

Nigerian businesswoman and political activist, was born Mary Nwametu Onumonu on 16 October 1898 in Oguta, Nigeria. Her father was Chief Onumonu Uzoaru, one of the first two warrant chiefs appointed for Oguta by the British colonial government. Her mother was a veteran entrepreneur who dealt in palm produce, which she sold directly to the European traders in exchange for assorted imported goods, including textiles. Mary attended elementary school at St. Joseph’s Girls’ Convent in Asaba, Nigeria. Soon after graduation in 1920, she married Richard Nzimiro, a clerk with the United African Company (UAC). Their relocation to Port Harcourt, the site of many foreign businesses, opened opportunities for Mary and resulted in the expansion of her trading enterprise. Her husband resigned from his job and helped Mary manage the business.

As a petty trader at Illah Mary dealt in salt and palm oil But when they moved to Port ...

Article

Françoise N. Hamlin

beautician and civil rights activist, was born Vera Mae Berry in Leflore County, near Glendora, Mississippi, the home of her maternal great grandmother. She was the daughter of Wilder Berry, a barber and tailor, and Lucy Wright Berry. Her father walked away from his livelihood and his young family, leaving her mother to raise Vera and her brother, W. C., in Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County.

Lucy Berry's influence left its mark on her daughter. With only an eighth-grade education, she raised livestock and a garden while also working in the fields and as a domestic, so her children never felt the hunger of poverty, unlike the sharecroppers around them in the Delta. As an adult, Vera Pigee remembered her mother's resistance to white racism, a tenacious and dangerous stance in the Mississippi Delta during the years of Jim Crow Her good work and diligence made her a ...

Article

Pam Brooks

civil rights activist and community leader, was born Idessa Taylor in Montgomery, Alabama, the only child of Minnie Oliver. Other than the surname he shared with his daughter, Idessa Taylor's father's name is not recorded. Upon the early death of her mother when she was only two, Redden's maternal great grandparents, Luisa and Julius Harris, raised Redden in Montgomery until she was nine. Thereafter, her mother's brother, Robert Oliver, a railroad worker, and his wife, Dinah Beatrice Oliver a seamstress included Redden in their family of six children Redden attended St Paul s Methodist Church School Loveless School St John s Catholic School and State Normal High School in Montgomery As an elementary student on her way to school she had to endure the habitual taunts of young white boys In a videotaped interview on her ninetieth birthday Redden recounted one occasion when in retaliation for ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

entrepreneur, hair-care industry pioneer, political activist, and philanthropist. Many newspapers called Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, the first female African American self-made millionaire. The daughter of the former slaves Owen Breedlove and Minerva Breedlove, Walker was the first member of her family born free on the Burney family cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana. She and her five siblings were raised in poverty on farms there and in Mississippi. Walker was orphaned by age seven, and she had little more than three months of formal education. She lived with her older sister Louvenia and her sister's cruel husband in Vicksburg, Mississippi, until 1882, when she married Moses McWilliams at the age of fourteen. Their only child Lelia (who renamed herself A'Lelia in 1922 for unknown reasons) was born in 1885. After Moses McWilliams died in about 1888 Walker moved with her daughter to Saint ...

Article

A'Lelia Perry Bundles

“I got myself a start by giving myself a start,” Madam C. J. Walker often said of her unlikely personal transformation from an uneducated washerwoman into a hair care industry pioneer during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Born Sarah Breedlove on a Delta, Louisiana, cotton plantation near the banks of the Mississippi River, she was the fifth of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove’s six surviving children and the first freeborn Breedlove sibling. Her parents had been slaves on Robert W. Burney’s Madison Parish farm, which had been commandeered by General Ulysses S. Grant as a Civil War battle staging area during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg. Both parents died before Sarah’s eighth birthday.

Left orphans, Sarah and her younger brother Solomon moved with her married elder sister Louvenia Breedlove Powell across the river to Vicksburg around 1878 after a succession of failed cotton ...

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Tiffany Ruby Patterson

Born on a Louisiana cotton plantation shortly after the end of slavery, Sarah Breedlove was orphaned at the age of seven. At ten she became a domestic worker, and at fourteen, living in Vicksburg, Mississippi, she married Moses McWilliams. He died in 1887, leaving her with a two-year-old daughter, Lelia (latter known as A'Lelia). Moving to St. Louis, she eked out a living as a washerwoman. Using available products, she also developed hair-care treatments for black women, including remedies for baldness and other scalp conditions brought on by poor diet, stress, and damaging hair treatments.

Recognizing a lucrative market, she developed her own line of products for a growing clientele. She moved to Denver in 1905 and in 1906 married Charles Joseph Walker a journalist who became her business partner and promoter They marketed their products and the Walker System through door to door sales and ...

Article

Nina Davis Howland

government official, was born in New York City, the daughter of James S. Watson, the first black elected judge in New York, and Violet Lopez. After receiving her BA from Barnard College in 1943, she served as an interviewer with the United Seaman's Service in New York from 1943 to 1946; as owner and executive director of Barbara Watson Models, a modeling agency, from1946 to1956; as a research assistant for the New York State Democratic Committee, from 1952 to 1953; as a clerk at the Christophers, a nonprofit Catholic organization in New York, from 1956 to 1957; and as foreign student adviser at Hampton Institute in Virginia, from 1958 to 1959.

Watson, who was honored as “the most outstanding law student in the City of New York,” received an LLB from New York Law School in 1962 graduating third highest in ...