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James G. Spady

One of thirteen children, Robert Mara Adger was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Robert Adger, was black, and his mother, Mary Ann Morong, was Native American. In 1848 the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adger's father first found a job as a waiter in the Old Merchant's Hotel. Later, while working as a nurse, he industriously saved enough funds to open a furniture business. He was involved in many activities and was a founder of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

Robert Mara Adger received his early training at the Bird School, an early black educational institution in the United States. During his teenage years, he worked in his father's furniture stores, which had expanded from one in 1850 to three by 1858 Serving as a manager provided him with the business experience that he later found valuable as director of the Philadelphia Building and ...

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 ...

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Jason Philip Miller

businessman and politician, was born in Kaufman County in the eastern part of Texas to George McDonald, a native Tennessean who had once (reportedly) been owned by the Confederate officer and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. George was a farmer by trade. McDonald's mother, Flora Scott, was either a former slave or a freewoman, depending on the source. What appears certain is that she was from Alabama and died when McDonald was still very young. His father soon married a woman named Belle Crouch. Education in the family was a matter of great importance; McDonald was in fact named after William Shakespeare and the former U.S. president James Madison. He attended local schools and graduated from high school around 1884 As a young man he took work from a local cattle rancher and lawyer named Z T Adams who discussed the law ...

Article

Agnes Leslie

the first woman to become a paramount chief in Botswana, was born in 1950, the first child of Paramount Chief Kgosi Mokgosi III. “Mosadi,” which translates as “woman” in Setswana, was born in Ramotswa, a village about twenty miles (32 kilometers) south of the capital city, Gaborone. Ramotswa is also the capital of the Balete or Bamalete, ethnic group. She had seven sisters and one brother. Her father died in 1966, and after that a paternal uncle served as a regent for her brother, who was nine years her junior. Seboko attended Moedin College in Otse Village, south of Gaborone, and obtained the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate in 1969. She started working as soon as she finished high school in order to help her mother with her siblings when her father died. She pursued a career in banking for twenty-four years, joining Barclays Bank in 1971 ...

Article

Robert Fikes

minister, educational administrator, and civic activist, was born in Hayneville, Alabama, the son of Will Smith, a sharecropper, and Amanda (Tyler) Smith, a laundress. Valedictorian of his Miller's Ferry, Alabama, Presbyterian high school class, George worked his way through Knoxville College in Tennessee majoring in chemistry with a minor in biology and German. A member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, he was awarded his bachelor's degree in 1951, the same year that he married Irene Hightower; they eventually had three children.

Smith was taking graduate courses in education at Alabama State University while teaching high school in the rural town of Annemanie, Alabama, when a series of incidents of extreme racial brutality persuaded him to leave his job and his home state and enter the ministry, a career path that he had earlier rejected. In 1953 he enrolled at the Pittsburgh ...

Article

David Dabydeen

Banker, economist, close friend of William Wilberforce, and campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade. Owing to his background in financial matters, Thornton was able to be of great help to Wilberforce in terms of managing the monetary aspects of their anti‐slavery campaigns besides providing practical business advice. He was one of the founders of the Clapham Sect, a group of men under the influence of Wilberforce who were devoted to evangelical Christianity and believed that, through their faith in Jesus Christ, they would fight for moral, social, and political justice. The Sect was formed by Wilberforce and Thornton after their proposal for the abolition of the slave trade was rejected in 1789. It was Thornton's idea to create a Christian commune within which those dedicated to religious and political matters could live, exchange, and activate their ideas. In 1792 he purchased Battersea ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, businessman, banker, Republican Party activist, and longtime U.S. postmaster of Wilson, North Carolina, was born a slave near Castalia in Nash County, North Carolina, during the Civil War. The oldest son of five children born to carpenter Daniel Vick and Fannie (Blount) Vick, Samuel received his early education at Wilson Academy in Wilson, where the Vick family moved shortly after the war's end in 1865.

A gifted student, Vick excelled at his studies, and in 1880 he was admitted to Lincoln University (then the Ashmun Institute, after Jehudi Ashmun, leader of 1820s Liberia) in Pennsylvania, from which he received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1884 While his father helped finance his education Vick insisted on paying as much of his own expenses as possible by teaching school during summer vacations His philosophy of pragmatic independence guided his life thereafter ...

Article

Lisa E. Rivo

civil rights and women's rights activist, community leader, and the first black woman to found and become president of a chartered bank in America, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to Elizabeth “Lizzie” Draper, a former slave, and Eccles Cuthbert, a white writer. Unwed at the time of Maggie's birth, Lizzie Draper worked as an assistant cook in the home of Elizabeth Van Lew, an ardent abolitionist and Union spy. In 1869 Lizzie married William Mitchell, a former slave, who worked as Van Lew's butler and later as the headwaiter at the posh St. Charles Hotel. A son, Johnny, was born shortly after the family's move to downtown Richmond. In 1878 William was robbed and murdered, leaving Lizzie and her two young children without savings insurance benefits or financial support circumstances that informed Maggie s adult work on behalf of the economic status of black women Lizzie ...

Article

Gertrude Woodruff Marlowe

Maggie Lena Walker was always clear about what she was trying to accomplish as the executive head of the Independent Order of St. Luke, the organization she ran for thirty-five years and built to a membership of 100,000 in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia. She wanted to create businesses that would provide employment for black Americans, particularly black women, through cooperative effort and mutual support. As a vehicle for community education, the Order had, she said in 1913, “devoted itself to the teaching of the power of organization and the lesson of confidence.” This spirit animated her career of public service, explains much about her personal style, and suggests why St. Luke’s business enterprises, with one exception, enjoyed quiet, steady success when so many similar ones failed.

There is no official record of Walker’s birth. Most sources suggest that she was born in Richmond, Virginia in ...

Article

For Maggie Lena Walker, who rose from humble beginnings to become the first black woman bank president, the future of the race was dependent upon the education and advancement of black women. In her words, she was “not born with a silver spoon in mouth: but, instead, with a clothes basket almost upon my head.” Former slaves, Walker's mother, Elizabeth (Draper), was a cook's helper and her father, William Mitchell, was the family butler in the Van Lew mansion in Richmond, Virginia. After her father was found floating in the James River, apparently murdered, Maggie Walker assumed multiple responsibilities as delivery person and babysitter while she kept up with her studies, church attendance, and public service.

Educated in segregated public schools in Richmond, Walker finished at the head of her class in 1883 After graduation she taught for three years at the Lancaster school while she ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

banker, lawyer, and political activist, was born on the campus of Kittrell College in Vance County, North Carolina. He was the younger of two children born to John Leonidas Wheeler, the president of Kittrell College, and Margaret Hervey. Shortly after John was born, his father left Kittrell to work for the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in nearby Durham. The family moved again in 1912 to Atlanta, Georgia, where John’s father took a position as a regional supervisor for the North Carolina Mutual. The move ensured that John Hervey Wheeler enjoyed a relatively comfortable childhood among Atlanta’s black elite. He was a member of the prestigious Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church, attended public school in Atlanta up to the seventh grade, earned local fame as an accomplished violinist, and completed his high school education at Morehouse College. Wheeler graduated summa cum laude from Morehouse in 1929 ...