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Article

Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

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Steven J. Niven

businessman and politician, was born a slave in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Sosthene Allain, a wealthy white planter, and one of Allain's slave mistresses, whose name is not recorded. Sosthene Allain appears to have favored his son, to whom he gave the nickname “Solougue,” after a Haitian dictator of the 1840s and 1850s. In 1856, when Théophile was ten, his father called him to France to attend the christening of the son of Louis Napoleon III in Paris and also to travel with him to Spain and Britain. Théophile returned to the United States in 1859, where he studied with private tutors in New Orleans and at a private college in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Although Allain had been born a slave his education and foreign travel prepared him well for a leadership position in Louisiana business and politics after the Civil War So too did ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

Union army officer and politician, was born in New Orleans, the son of a West Indian midwife and a free black soldier who had served in the Corps d'Afrique with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. His parents' names are not recorded. Family lore had it that Caesar's maternal grandfather, an African chief, had been enslaved and taken to America and that his paternal grandmother, Rose Antoine, had earned enough money from her work as a midwife to purchase her freedom. Rose Antoine also left each of her seven sons twenty thousand dollars in her will.

As a free black child in New Orleans Antoine attended private schools the public schools of the city were closed to blacks and became fluent in both English and French Upon leaving school as a teenager in the early 1850s he then apprenticed and worked as a barber one of ...

Article

Moya B. Hansen

noted farmer, was born to George Washington Bush (c. 1790–1863), a pioneer in the Oregon Territory, and Isabella James (c. 1809–1866), a German American. William was the eldest of five sons born in Missouri: Joseph Tolbert, Rial Bailey, Henry Sanford, and January Jackson.

William's grandfather Mathew Bush is believed to have been the son of a sailor from the British West Indies who married an Irish American woman named Maggie. William's father, George, was born in Pennsylvania and received a Quaker education from the Stevenson family for whom Mathew worked. The Bush family moved to Cumberland County, Tennessee, with the Stevensons and, as a free black man, Mathew was later able to inherit a portion of the Stevenson estate.

George Bush left Tennessee as a young man to join the U.S. Army. He fought at the 1812 Battle of New Orleans ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

farmer, shoemaker, and longtime state legislator, was born in Warren County, North Carolina, the third son of free, mixed-race parents Hawkins Carter and Elizabeth Wiggins, who were married in 1845. Few details are known of his early life or education, only that his father, a prosperous farmer, could afford to hire a young white teacher, W. J. Fulford, to tutor his eight children in 1861, the last year before the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the teenage Carter served as an officer's attendant for a Warrenton acquaintance, Captain Stephen W. Jones of the Forty-sixth North Carolina Regiment's Company C, raised at Warrenton in early 1862 Jones s company saw action at Antietam and other battles and Jones was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House where Carter presumably helped care for him The eldest son of the Warren County sheriff and a former deputy sheriff himself ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

carpenter, merchant, public official, and legislator, was born in Beaufort County, near Washington, North Carolina, of unnamed parents, probably free. Little is known of his early life or education, only that he was both free and literate when he moved to Tarboro, the Edgecombe County seat, in 1860, according to that year's federal census.

Within just a decade of his arrival in Tarboro, the mixed-race carpenter acquired significant social standing, a comfortable income, and political influence at both the local and state levels in the state's new Republican Party. Cherry's marriage in March 1861 to Mary Ann Jones (b. 1837) secured his place in the social ranks of the largely African American town. The daughter of a white Edgecombe planter and his free mistress, Miss Jones was the owner of her own house and a respected church leader The rest of her husband s achievements came ...

Article

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 ...

Article

James Edward Ford

city commissioner, entrepreneur, state representative, and prison reformer, was born a slave in Washington, North Carolina. Little information has been found concerning his early life and his parents. But it is agreed that Ellison was apprenticed to a local carpenter at a young age. By 1852 Stewart was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, on commercial construction projects. There is little information on his life during the Civil War. However, after the war he did open a grocery store, continued his work in construction, and became a building contractor, working with the Freedmen's Bureau to erect facilities for the newly freed men and women of Raleigh. Ellison occasionally attended night school, but he was mainly self-educated.

Ellison's political career began in the late 1860s when opportunities for blacks were opened up by Reconstruction. In early October 1866 he attended the State Equal Rights League Convention of ...

Article

Bertis English

politician, civil rights activist, black nationalist, and labor leader, was born James K. Green in North Carolina. Little is known about Jim's parents or his childhood years, but eventually he became the valued servant of a Mr. Nelson, a wealthy Hale County, Alabama, planter who owned 500 slaves. Despite Green's somewhat privileged position among the bondmen, he was never taught how to read or write, but he did master carpentry. Consequently, Green became one of the relatively few black skilled laborers in the predominantly black cotton, or Black Belt, region of Alabama who were able to use their antebellum earnings to become economically independent once they were emancipated.

Following the Civil War, Green joined the Republican-led Union, or Loyal, League and entered politics. In 1867 he represented Hale County during the state constitutional convention. The same year, he succeeded Greene County Registrar Alexander Webb ...

Article

David E. Paterson

harness maker, state legislator, community organizer, and barber, was born on James Spier's farm, the Hurricane Place, three and a half miles from Thomaston, Upson County, Georgia, the fourth child of Guilford Speer and Viney, two of Spier's slaves. Guilford and Viney separated soon after William was born, and Guilford moved to Thomaston to operate a harness and shoe shop. William probably spent his earliest years with his mother, his three elder brothers, and several younger half siblings on the Hurricane Place, but by the late 1850s William had undoubtedly moved to the village and was learning his father's trade of harness making. In 1863 a devastating fire destroyed three-quarters of downtown Thomaston, and thereafter William probably worked in a shop organized by his father in Barnesville, Pike County, sixteen miles away.

Sometime during the Civil War, William married Lourinda presumably a slave but ...

Article

Linda Przybyszewski

businessman and politician, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of a slave woman of mixed race. His father was reputedly his owner, James Harlan (1800–1863), a white lawyer, Kentucky politician, and the father of the first justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911). However, modern DNA analysis of male descendants from both families revealed no match. While still young, Robert Harlan arrived in Kentucky, where he began attending the public schools that were closed to black children. It seems that the boy's mixed-race heritage was not readily apparent, but he was expelled when the authorities learned of it. He continued his education at home, where James Harlan's older sons tutored him in their lessons despite his status as one of several slaves owned by James Harlan.

Robert Harlan began his business career as either a barber or a shopkeeper in Harrodsburg Kentucky He ...

Article

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

farmer, miller, the first elected public official of African American descent in the state of Virginia, and the first and only African American representative to the House of Delegates for Lancaster County. Nickens was born in Lancaster County, Virginia, the youngest child of Armistead Stokalas Nickens Sr. and Polly Weaver Nickens. Armistead Sr. and Polly were wed on 21 January 1819 in Lancaster County, Virginia, and had two other children, Robert V. Nickens and Judith A. Nickens. The Nickens family had been free since the late seventeenth century, and several members of that family served in the American Revolution. Armistead's maternal grandfather, Elijah Weaver, was also a seaman during the Revolution.

Home schooled as a youth Nickens was taught to read and write by his father and went on to further self study with books he purchased on his own Armistead lost his father as ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman, public official, and state legislator, was born in North Carolina, the oldest of at least six children born to Rev. George W. Price, Sr., and Eliza Price. The exact date and location of his birth are not certain, nor is his birth status as free or enslaved. Little is known of his early life or education before the Civil War, although unconfirmed accounts list him as a sailor in the Union navy during the conflict.

Price's father was a popular Methodist clergyman in Wilmington, North Carolina, a presiding elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church who abruptly left that denomination in 1871 for the newly formed Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church, taking his Wilmington congregation and several other churches with him. As early as 1865 the younger Price had also moved to Wilmington where he served as an organizer of the ...

Article

Alice Eley Jones

carpenter, statesman, and inventor, was born free in Bertie County, North Carolina, the eldest son of John A. Robbins, a farmer and carpenter, and Mary Robbins. Robbins hailed from a family and community of mixed-race, free black, and Chowanoke background in the counties of Bertie, Gates, and Hertford in northeastern North Carolina. The Algonquian-speaking Chowanokes lived on the west bank of the Chowan River that bears their name in northeastern North Carolina. Governor Ralph Lane was impressed by their villages in a 1585 Roanoke Island expedition. Parker's grandfather John Robbins was one of the chief men of the Chowanokes in 1790.

War and disease greatly reduced the Chowanoke population, and by 1790 during a sale of Chowanoke land it was reported whether falsely or not is unknown that the Chowanoke men had all died and the remaining women had intermarried with several free ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman, teacher, banker, philanthropist, and state legislator, was born in Craven County, North Carolina, the son of Thomas and Harriet Smith. His birth status is uncertain; he may have been born a slave, but was educated at an early age by a benevolent white family, who helped arrange for him to attend the private Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina, after the Civil War.

Smith began his career as a schoolteacher in New Bern, the Craven County seat, but his relentless energy and business acumen soon propelled him into the world of residential and commercial real estate, in which he accumulated a substantial personal fortune. By the time of his death, his worth was estimated to exceed $100,000, much of it in land, buildings, and stores he owned in the so-called Smithtown section of New Bern.

Smith began buying selling and renting these ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

waiter, storekeeper, and politician, was born near Montgomery, Alabama, to slave parents whose names-are unknown. His parents had been brought to Alabama from South Carolina in the 1830s by their owner, William H. Taylor, who became a wealthy planter in Montgomery County. Taylor also owned Thompson but appears to have allowed him to hire out his time as a waiter at the Madison House hotel in Montgomery prior to the end of the Civil War. Thompson learned to read and write and probably enjoyed greater freedom than most slaves in Alabama, though as a slave he was not allowed to marry legally. He did, however, have a common-law wife, Binah Yancey, who was born in 1842 in Alabama and was owned by William Lowndes Yancey a prominent Alabama secessionist politician Like her husband Binah Yancey was able to read and write and enjoyed a ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

leather worker, lawyer, and politician, was born Edward Garrison Walker in Boston to David Walker, a radical abolitionist and writer, and Eliza Butler, whose occupation is unknown. Although sometimes referred to as Edward G. Walker and E. G. Walker, he most commonly appears in the historical record as Edwin G. Walker. There is some dispute as to his date of birth, which one obituary gives as 26 September 1835, five years after David's death. Most sources suggest, however, that Edwin was, indeed, the son of the author of Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), probably born several months after David's death in Boston in August 1830. His middle name may have been given in honor of the white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who founded the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator in Boston in January 1831 ...

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

carpenter, public official, and legislator, was born on a cotton plantation near Tarboro in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, the son of slave parents whose names are not known. Little is known of his education before the Civil War, although he briefly attended the common schools of Tarboro after the war ended.

Wimberly was raised as a field hand, working for planter James S. Battle at the Walnut Creek plantation. After the war ended, Wimberly initially chose to remain as a wageworker on the Battle plantation, and he established a strong relationship with new overseer Kemp Plummer Battle, a future president of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Wimberly was given new responsibilities and was trusted enough to be allowed to drive delivery wagons of poultry and other produce to Raleigh, a two-day trip, alone.

A farmer and skilled carpenter he gradually became an active member ...