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Michael J. Ristich

journalist, musician, and politician, was born James Henri Burch in New Haven, Connecticut, to Charles Burch, a wealthy black minister, and his wife. Burch was the sole black student at Oswego Academy in New York, where he was trained in journalism and music. He lived in Buffalo, New York, before the Civil War, where he became involved in the antislavery movement and taught music. Burch became an active member in the Garnet League, which championed the rights of former slaves. Upon moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Burch quickly worked his way in the political circles of Louisiana, serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Louisiana Senate.

At age thirty two with his father s encouragement Burch left the North for Louisiana to aid and educate free blacks during Reconstruction Soon thereafter Burch began directing the local school for blacks and began his rise through the Louisiana state ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

journalist, businessman, and civil rights organization leader, was born into slavery, probably near Smyrna, Tennessee, to unnamed parents, and apparently orphaned soon afterward. Little is known of his childhood, except that Cooper moved at an early age to Nashville, where he was educated at the old barracks school for African American children on Knowles Street, later the nucleus of Fisk University.

Cooper later recalled working on a farm for two years before he began selling newspapers on passenger trains. He also worked briefly as a hotel waiter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Centennial Exposition there in 1876. About 1877 Cooper migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he worked as a book-seller and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the city's Shortridge High School in 1882 He began working for the Railway Mail Service and soon rose to chief clerk on the Louisville ...

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Blake Wintory

photographer, politician, sheriff, assayer, barber, and lawyer, was born a slave in Carroll County, Kentucky. William Hines Furbush became a member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as the first sheriff of Lee County, Arkansas. His Arkansas political career began in the Republican Party at the close of Reconstruction and ended in the Democratic Party just as political disfranchisement began.

Little is known about Furbush's early life, though his literacy suggests a formal childhood education. Around 1860 he operated a photography studio in Delaware, Ohio. In March 1862 he traveled to Union-controlled Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas, on Kate Adams and continued to work as a photographer. In Franklin County, Ohio, that December he married Susan Dickey. A few years later, in February 1865 he joined the Forty second Colored Infantry at Columbus Ohio He received an honorable discharge at the ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, editor, public official, state legislator, and gifted orator, was born in Granville County, North Carolina, of unknown parents. Indeed, little is known for certain of his childhood. By some reports, he was born free; by others, he was freed from slavery in 1848, in connection with a trade apprenticeship. Decades later, in 1883, he listed himself in his legislative biographical sketch (Tomlinson, 70) as “self-educated,” although he may have studied at Oberlin College in Ohio as an adult.

In 1850 Harris still lived with his employer, Charles Allen, a white carpenter and upholsterer, near Oxford, North Carolina. He married Isabella Hinton in Wake County, North Carolina, on 3 December 1851 little is known of his wife and it is believed that they had no children Harris soon moved to Raleigh to open his own upholstery business but he left the ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, newspaper editor, labor activist, and state legislator, was one of five children born in Wilmington, North Carolina, to a slave mother, Eliza Mabson, and her wealthy white owner, George W. Mabson. Little is known of his early life or education before the end of the Civil War, only that he left Wilmington in 1865 to enter Lincoln University (formerly Ashmun Institute), in Pennsylvania, where he stayed for three years.

Like his older brother, George Lawrence Mabson, who was educated as a child in Massachusetts, William Mabson returned to North Carolina committed to the advancement of members of his race. There is no official record of his degree from Lincoln University, but he nonetheless became a popular teacher in a number of freedmen's schools across the state, including those in Rockingham, Abbottsburg, Rehoboth, Washington, and Leggetts. In 1870 he settled in Edgecombe County ...

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Charles Rosenberg

physician, newspaper founder, and attorney, initiated the challenge to Louisiana's “Separate Car Law,” which led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold “separate but equal” public accommodations in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Martinet was born free, the second of eight children born to Pierre Hyppolite Martinet, a carpenter who arrived sometime before 1850 in St. Martinsville, Louisiana, from Belgium, and his wife, the former Marie-Louise Benoît, a native of Louisiana. Benoît is generally referred to as a free woman of color, but there is a record in St. Martin Parish Courthouse that Pierre Martinet purchased her freedom on 10 January 1848 from Dr. Pierre Louis Nee, along with her mother and their infant son Pierre. They were married on 7 December 1869 in St Martin de Tours Catholic Church St Martinsville Louisiana before the Civil War Louisiana law did not permit ...

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Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, school administrator, businessman, journalist, public official, and state legislator, was born a slave at the Hermitage, a large plantation on the Chowan River in Bertie County, North Carolina. He was the son of Allen Mebane and an unnamed mother.

George Mebane's education before the Civil War was limited by circumstance; later he attended the public schools in two Pennsylvania towns, Prentissvale and Eldred, for at least a year or more.

After much of northeastern North Carolina was occupied by Union forces in early 1862, Mebane served as a mess boy or waiter for Company A, 85th Regiment of New York State Volunteers, which was stationed at Roanoke Island. After much of the regiment surrendered to Confederate forces at Plymouth in April 1864 Mebane and his family fled North Carolina for McKean County Pennsylvania on the New York border where they remained ...

Article

Kenneth L. Kusmer

newspaper editor and politician, was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the son of John Smith and Sarah (maiden name unknown), occupations unknown. Accompanied by his sister and widowed mother, he came to Cleveland in 1866 and remained there for the rest of his life. A self-taught cornet player, Smith played in several bands while attending high school. After graduating in 1883 he and three friends established the Cleveland Gazette. Smith, who remained a lifelong bachelor, soon bought out his partners and became sole proprietor and editor. The first significant African American newspaper in the city, the Gazette was published weekly until Smith's death, at which time the newspaper went out of existence. Known for its militant editorial stance on racial issues, the Gazette circulated widely throughout Ohio before World War I. After 1917 its influence steadily declined as a result of competition from other African American newspapers ...

Article

John Hope Franklin

soldier, clergyman, legislator, and historian, was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Williams, a free black laborer, and Ellen Rouse. His father became a boatman and, eventually, a minister and barber, and the younger Williams drifted with his family from town to town in western Pennsylvania until the beginning of the Civil War. With no formal education, he lied about his age, adopted the name of an uncle, and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops in 1864. He served in operations against Petersburg and Richmond, sustaining multiple wounds during several battles. After the war's end Williams was stationed in Texas, but crossed the border to fight with the Mexican republican forces that overthrew the emperor Maximilian. He returned to the U.S. Army in 1867 serving with the Tenth Cavalry an all black unit at Fort Arbuckle Indian Territory ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

barber, newspaper editor, public official, and six-term state legislator, was born in Covington, Georgia, the son of James Williamson, a slave, and an unknown mother. Little is known of his childhood, although he reportedly taught himself to read against the wishes of his owner, who hired him out to reduce his free time. The determined youth responded by borrowing his white playmates' schoolbooks at night, then tutoring them each morning.

His parents were owned by General John N. Williamson, a wealthy white attorney. In 1858 John Hendrick Williamson moved to Louisburg, North Carolina, with his widowed mistress Temperance Perry Williamson. By the end of the Civil War, he had become a skilled and popular barber, and in 1865 he became a delegate to the first statewide Freedmen's Convention. Two years later he was appointed a Franklin County voter registrar by the controversial general Daniel ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

editor, federal official, Republican activist, and state legislator, was born in Henderson, North Carolina, the son of a slave woman of whom nothing is known but that she was owned by Capt. D. E. Young, a wealthy farmer. His father, who was never named publicly, was described as a prominent white resident of Henderson who financed his son's education. Although little is known of his early life before 1865, James Young attended the common schools of Henderson after the war, and in 1874 he entered the private Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In early 1877 Young left Shaw to accept a position as messenger in the office of Col. J. J. Young, the U.S. collector of internal revenue for the Raleigh district, and thus began a lengthy, intermittent career in federal service. In 1881 he married his first wife, Bettie Ellison ...