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Pamela Lee Gray

wood carver, sculptor, and folk artist, was born Jesse James Aaron in Lake City, Florida, to descendants of slaves and Seminole Indians. Aaron attended school for less than one year before he was sent to work as a contract laborer for local farms. Trained as a baker when he was twenty-one years old, he found he enjoyed the creativity it required. He opened several bakeries, worked as a cook at Gainesville's Hotel Thomas from 1933 to 1937, and then cooked for a variety of fraternities and hospitals in Florida. Aaron also worked as a cook aboard the Seaboard Air Line Railroad during this time.

Aaron married Leeanna Jenkins, and when the family settled in northwest Gainesville in the 1930s they opened a nursery. From this point until 1968 when Aaron became a folk artist at the age of eighty one it is difficult to determine what is ...

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Frank R. Levstik

Edwin C. Berry was born in Oberlin, Ohio, on December 10, 1854, the son of free parents who were born in Gallia County, Ohio. In 1856 his family moved to Athens County, where Berry remained for the rest of his life. In Athens County Berry attended Albany Enterprise Academy, one of the earliest educational institutions in the United States that was conceived, owned, and operated by blacks. The Berry family took in boarders, two of whom were to gain fame in their own right: Medal of Honor winner Milton M. Holland and his brother, William H. Holland, Texas legislator and educator.

Berry first found employment in Athens manufacturing bricks for the state mental hospital that was being constructed in town. In 1868 he secured work in a local restaurant as an apprentice cook for five years. On October 18, 1877 Berry married Mattie Madra of Pomeroy ...

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Linda M. Carter

domestic and restaurateur, was born on the Farrin plantation near Clayton, Alabama. She was the daughter of the Farrins' female cook and the male owner of a plantation located approximately two miles away from the Farrin plantation. Burton's mistress was persistent in her attempts to get Burton's father, who was from Liverpool, England, to acknowledge his daughter, but he ignored Burton whenever she was in his presence. During the Civil War, Burton's mother left the Farrin plantation and her children after an argument with her mistress led to her being whipped. Several years later, Burton and her siblings were reunited with their mother when she returned to the plantation after the war had ended and took her children to their new home. The Farrins demanded that Burton's mother return her children to them until she threatened to go to the Yankee headquarters. In 1866 the family moved to ...

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Gabrielle P. Foreman

Slave narratives are usually recognized and treated as an antebellum genre. Yet a significant group of exslaves who were children at the close of the Civil War also published their autobiographies. Annie Burton is one of the few such authors who, instead of dictating her story to someone else, wrote her own narrative. For some readers, Burton's Memories of Childhood's Slavery Days (1909) may seem to be a disjointed and nostalgic tale of what she calls the “Great Sunny South.” She breaks the narrative into eight sections: two autobiographical sketches, “a vision,” a piece she authored for her graduating essay, a radically progressive essay by the black minister Dr. P. Thomas Stanford entitled “The Race Question in America”, her own short “historical composition”, and her “favorite poems” and “favorite hymns” The first section is a wistful sketch of her childhood in Clayton Alabama which then ...

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Charles Rosenberg

baker, community leader, cautious abolitionist, and patriarch of a talented African American family well known into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was born in Burlington, New Jersey. His narrative records that he belonged to “the Estate of Samuel Bustill of the City of Burlington, but he Dying when I was Young I was Sold to John Allen of the Same City” (Bustill, p. 22). The name of Bustill's mother is recorded only as Parthenia; Samuel Bustill, an English‐born lawyer who died in 1742, was his father as well as his owner.

Many sources, including Lloyd Louis Brown's detailed history of the Bustill family in The Young Paul Robeson: On My Journey Now (1997), leave out the Allen family, and assert that Samuel Bustill's widow, Grace, arranged for Cyrus Bustill to be apprenticed to Thomas Pryor Jr. However Bustill s own account ...

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Larvester Gaither

businessman, author, and presidential candidate, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the elder son of Lenora (Davis) Cain and Luther Cain Jr. His mother, from Georgia, worked as a domestic, while his father, from Arlington, Tennessee, worked mainly as a private chauffeur for Robert Woodruff, president of the Coca-Cola Company. Cain's parents were both raised by poor subsistence farmers (sharecroppers) in the South. In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Cain's father migrated to Mansfield, Ohio, and landed a job working for a tire factory. While there he met Lenora Davis, who had also come there in search of better opportunities. The two moved to Memphis in 1945 for a brief stay and then settled in Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after Herman Cain was born. Thus, while born in Memphis, Cain, along with his younger brother, Thurman (who died in 1999 was raised in Atlanta ...

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Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

the first non-Indian woman to view the Black Hills. Conflicting information exists about her early years, but all sources agree that she was born in Kentucky, in 1813 or perhaps 1824. The 1813 date appeared in one of her obituaries. In later years she told of traveling up the Missouri River on the first steamboat in 1831, perhaps as a servant, cook, or lady's maid. Employment on the riverboats plying the Missouri River trade from St. Louis north during the mid-1800s provided opportunities for many black Americans to experience a measure of freedom, save some money, and have an adventure. Often they settled in one of the many northern river ports. Sarah Campbell made the most of that opportunity She worked many years on the river before purchasing property in the river town of Bismarck in present day North Dakota a territory when Campbell settled there North ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

sharecropper and minister, was born in the Mississippi Delta, the tenth of twelve children of Miles Carter, a sharecropper descended from Georgia slaves owned by the forebears of President Jimmy Carter. The name of Miles Carter's wife is not recorded The Carters lived a peripatetic existence moving from one plantation to another but never escaping the cycle of poverty that characterized much of black life in the Jim Crow South Despite the hopelessness of that situation Miles Carter was an ambitious man who occasionally advanced to the position of renter Unlike sharecroppers who usually possessed antiquated farming tools and equipment and received only half of the value of their crop renters often owned their own mules and implements and could expect to earn a three quarter share of their crop which in the Delta was inevitably cotton Miles Carter s success as a renter required however that his ...

Article

Jane Brodsky Fitzpatrick

chef and the “Queen of Creole cooking,” was born Leah Lange in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Charles Robert Lange, a caulker in a Madisonville shipyard, and Hortensia (Raymond) Lange. She was the eldest girl in a family of fourteen children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood. She was raised in the small rural fishing town of Madisonville, about thirty miles north of New Orleans. The family was poor, living mainly on vegetables from her father's garden. Her mother had only a sixth-grade education. In a 2003 interview Chase said that poverty, not segregation, was the most difficult experience of her childhood.

Chase s parents instilled in her a deep religious faith as well as the importance of family and service to the community They were strict and believed strongly in education She started school at age four Her father did not want her to associate with non Catholics so ...

Article

Marcie Cohen Ferris

businesswoman, chef, restaurateur, and community activist, was born Mildred Edna Cotten in Baldwin Township, Chatham County, North Carolina. The youngest daughter in a family of seven children, she was raised by her father Ed Cotten, a farmer and voice teacher. Council's mother Effie Edwards Cotten, a teacher trained at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, died at age thirty-four when her daughter was twenty-three months old. Mildred Council was nicknamed “Dip” by her brothers and sisters because her long arms allowed her to reach deep into the rain barrel and retrieve a dipper full of water, even when the barrel was low.

Council recalled as a significant moment the day in 1938 when her father asked her to stay home and “fix a little something to eat” while the rest of the family worked in the fields (Mama Dip's Kitchen, 2).

From a young age Council ...

Article

Douglas Morgan

founder of the Church of God and Saints of Christ (CGSC), was born on a slave plantation in Maryland. Crowdy escaped in 1863 and joined the Union army, in which he was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps as a cook for the officers. After the war he purchased a small farm in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Crowdy put his skills as a cook to use with the Santa Fe railroad, which frequently took him to Kansas City, Missouri. There he met a young widow, Lovey Yates Higgins, at a church fair and married her around 1880. At some point in the mid-to-late 1880s, the couple moved to a farm in Oklahoma with their three children, Mattie Leah (who died soon afterwards), Isaac, and August. Crowdy served as a deacon in the Baptist church but does not seem to have been regarded as unusually pious or knowledgeable on religious ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

best known as the reputed inventor of the potato chip, who established his own restaurant in the resort community of Saratoga Springs, New York. His ancestry and ethnicity are a matter of speculation; he may have been best described in Saratoga Springs, New York: A Brief History as “of thoroughly mixed American blood.” He is generally reported in census data from 1850 to 1880 as mulatto and in later censuses as black. It is commonly said that his mother was of Native American descent and that he “looked Indian.”

Crum was born in Malta, New York, to Abraham (or Abram) Speck and his wife Catherine. Although oral accounts suggest Speck was from Kentucky and possibly had been enslaved there, the 1820 Federal Census shows a “Free Colored Person” male, age twenty-six to forty-five, of that name, living in New York, and the 1840 Census shows a free ...

Article

entrepreneur in the food service and real estate arenas, was born Lillian Harris in the Mississippi Delta. She made a small fortune selling pigs’ feet and other Southern culinary delicacies on the streets of Harlem, first out of an old baby carriage, later out of a steam table attached to a newsstand owned by John Dean, who became her husband. She multiplied this small fortune through shrewd real estate investments and retired comfortably in California, where she died in 1929. According to the journalist Roi Ottley, she arrived in New York in 1901 and first worked as a domestic. She soon began selling pigs’ feet in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan, which was then a large African American neighborhood (before Harlem gained prominence) and later became the site of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Duke Ellington immortalized the rough and tumble San ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

George Thomas Downing was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School #2 on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American males to fight for the elective franchise in New York ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with the future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American men to fight for ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

George Thomas Downing lived nearly eighty-four years, but the results of his struggles for civil rights persisted long past his death. He was born to Thomas and Rebecca West Downing in New York City and attended the Mulberry Street School, which educated many future leaders in the fight for black civil rights. When George turned fourteen, he and several schoolmates organized a literary society in which to read, write, and talk about various issues of the day—primarily slavery. The young men in the society adopted a resolution against celebrating the Fourth of July because they believed that the Declaration of Independence mocked black Americans.

Downing graduated from Hamilton College in Oneida County, New York, and began his fight for black civil rights by serving as an agent for the Underground Railroad. From 1857 to 1866 he led the fight against separate public schools for blacks and whites in Rhode ...

Article

Ayesha Kanji

marketing executive and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., to William H. Fitzhugh, a messenger for the Department of Agriculture, and Lillian (maiden name unknown), a counselor at one of the local junior high schools. Both of his parents were involved in the community, his mother in civic affairs and his father through his membership in the Order of the Elks, a fraternal organization whose mission is to cultivate good fellowship and community spirit. In the 1920s, Fitzhugh attended a predominantly black high school, Dunbar High School, during a period of racial segregation in the United States.

Graduating from high school at the age of 16, Fitzhugh distinguished himself with a scholarship to Harvard University, where he was one of only four black students in the entering class. He was not allowed to live in the campus dormitories, but Fitzhugh excelled and graduated with honors in 1931 ...

Article

John Howard Smith

tavern owner and innkeeper in New York City and Philadelphia, was probably born in the French West Indies. There seems to be some controversy regarding his race, as his nickname, “Black Sam,” would indicate an African American identity, while some primary sources imply that he was either white or a Mulatto. Historians are generally agreed, however, that Fraunces was African American. Much of what is known about him comes from his 1785 petition for compensation from Congress for services rendered during the American War of Independence, letters from George Washington, and an obituary in the 13 October 1795 issue of the Gazette of the United States. He owned an inn in New York City in 1755 and the following year obtained a license to operate an ordinary which was a tavern serving meals as well as the usual ales and spirits At this time he was married ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a trained agronomist who organized a team to help the Soviet Union develop its economy, and remained in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic until his death, was born on a cotton farm in Yazoo County, Mississippi, the son of Hilliard and Catherine Golden.

Golden's father was born in Mississippi in 1844, to parents born in North Carolina, while his mother was born in Texas, to a father born in North Carolina and a mother born in Virginia. He had older sisters born between the years 1862 and 1886 (Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Biddie, Miriam, Virginia Mamie), and younger brothers and sisters born between 1891 to 1900 (Willie, Lily, and Viola). Golden's parents and grandparents had all been enslaved from birth until 1863 After emancipation Hilliard Golden saved money to acquire a substantial cotton farm but ...

Article

Linda M. Carter

entrepreneur and consultant, was born in Oconee, Georgia, one of twenty-three children born to Berry Gordy, a successful farmer who owned at least 168 acres, and Lucy Hellum Gordy. He was one of nine Gordy offspring who lived to adulthood and the fifth oldest child. Gordy's maternal great-grandfather was Native American, and his maternal great-grandmother was African American. Gordy's paternal grandmother, Esther Johnson, was a slave, and his paternal grandfather, Jim Gordy, was a plantation owner.

Gordy Sr. and his family lived in a log house in Oconee. When he and his siblings (Sam, Lula, Esther, Mamie, Lucy, John, Joe, and Charlie were old enough to attend grammar school they worked on the family farm after the school day ended During the summer the Gordy children also worked one hour before they attended school When they completed elementary school ...