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Rashauna R. Johnson

banker, real estate magnate, activist, and philanthropist, considered the first southern African American millionaire. Robert Reed “Bob” Church was born in 1839 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to an enslaved mother, Emmeline, and a white steamboat captain, Charles B. Church. His mother, a seamstress, died when Robert was twelve years old, and he spent much of his childhood on the Mississippi River with his father. Because of his closeness to his father, Robert enjoyed privileges not generally associated with slavery. While working on a steamboat during the Civil War, however, Union troops captured him, and he soon settled as a freedman in Memphis, Tennessee.

Church entered into business in postwar Memphis, but success did not shield him from the violence of Reconstruction. During the 1866 Memphis riot in which white mobs attacked freedmen vigilantes ransacked Church s saloon and shot him Church survived and ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Robert Reed Church, Jr., was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Church, who is believed to be the first African American millionaire, and Anna Wright Church. He was the youngest child of the wealthy businessman, and after graduating from Oberlin College in 1904, took a job with a Wall Street bank in New York City. Three years later, he returned to Memphis to work as a cashier in his father's Solvent Savings Bank and Trust, where he was named president in 1909. After his father's death in 1912, Church resigned as president, choosing instead to monitor his father's extensive property holdings throughout Memphis.

Turning to politics, Church founded the Lincoln League in 1916. He became a major contributor and director of the Tennessee Republican Party He was a delegate to eight Republican National Conventions an official on the National Advisory ...

Article

Thomas N. Boschert

politician and businessman, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Reed Church Sr., a banker and businessman, and Anna Sue Wright, a school principal. The wealth and prestige of his father afforded young Church opportunities not available to most African American children of his day. After attending a parochial school in Memphis and Oberlin Academy in Oberlin, Ohio, Church studied at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago, Illinois, and then enrolled in the Packard School of Business in New York City. He completed the business course and worked on Wall Street for several years before returning to Memphis in 1909 to help his father in the management of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company and other family enterprises. In 1911 he married Sara Paroda Johnson, a schoolteacher; they had one child.

Church's rise to political power began in 1911 when as a leader ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to John and Mary Coburn. Nothing is known about his upbringing and little about his parents and family. During the 1820s Coburn labored as a housewright and by 1830 had established a clothing business, probably with his white father, on Brattle Street. He married Emeline Gray, a New Hampshire native, and joined with his brother-in-law Ira S. Gray, a well-known light-skinned gambler, to establish a successful gaming parlor. Coburn remained in the clothing business into the mid 1860s, when he changed the name of his company to W. T. Coburn Clothing Store, after his adopted son, Wendell T. By the early 1850s he had acquired substantial real estate holdings in the city—with one house worth four thousand dollars and another valued at three thousand dollars—and possessed one thousand dollars of personal property.

As one of the most successful African Americans ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

Barney Launcelot Ford was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Given simply the name “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is reputed to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that Barney could practice his studies. Upon the death of his mother (circa 1837 Barney was enslaved ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

, Underground Railroad conductor, barber, and businessman, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Called “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is said to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that he could practice his studies. Upon his mother's death around 1837 Ford was enslaved on a ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

an educated and wealthy Louisiana man of mixed race caught up in the crosscurrents of racial identity and politics that followed the Civil War, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the son of a French man and a woman of African descent, possibly free. Sources even differ on whether his father was French or a free “colored” slave owner of French descent.

In French colonial culture unlike Anglo colonial culture it was common for wealthy slave owners to acknowledge children by enslaved or free colored women educating such children leaving them inheritances but always keeping them in a subordinate status to any white children by European descended wives Joubert s background and the specific identity of his parents is obscured by his efforts at times to maintain that he was a white man and at others to advance the cause of equal access to schools public accommodations and ...

Article

Nick J. Sciullo

realtor, prominent citizen, and bureaucrat. Whitefield McKinlay was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George and Mary E. Weston McKinlay. He studied at the Avery Institute, Charleston's first free secondary school for African Americans. He continued his education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of South Carolina, and Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. At West Point he suffered continued hardship from classmates and staff and was finally physically disqualified from the school. When conservatives took over South Carolina in 1876, black students were forced to leave the University of South Carolina. McKinlay was a member of the Brown Fellowship Society, which was founded in 1790 to provide education, insurance, and a cemetery to its elite membership roster.

In 1887 McKinlay married Kate Wheeler The family moved to Washington D C when conditions in South Carolina deteriorated McKinlay and Wheeler had two ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George McKinlay and Mary E. Weston. His father, a free black man, had purchased a house on Meeting Street in Charleston in 1848; his grandfather, Anthony Weston, was a well-known mixed-race millwright and slave owner in antebellum South Carolina. After the Civil War McKinlay studied at Avery Institute in Charleston, and in 1874 he enrolled at the University of South Carolina, where he remained for three years, until blacks were excluded after the Democrats came to power. After teaching school in South Carolina, he matriculated at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he remained until 1881. By the age of twenty-nine, McKinlay could boast of a very strong education.

Although the profession of teaching was open to a person of his talents McKinlay moved to Washington D C and found a job in the Government ...