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Devorah Lissek

diarist and entrepreneur, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, the son of William Johnson, a slaveholder, and Amy Johnson, a slave. When William was five years old his mother was emancipated and established her household in Natchez. In 1820 the eleven-year-old William was freed by the Mississippi legislature at the request of his owner. Once emancipated, he apprenticed with his brother-in-law, James Miller, in Miller's barber business in Natchez. Johnson became proprietor of the business—reportedly the most popular barbershop in Natchez—when Miller moved to New Orleans in 1830. Johnson and his African American staff ran the shop, which served a predominantly white clientele. Not only did Johnson's barbers offer haircuts and shaves, they also fitted wigs, sold fancy soaps and oils, and, beginning in 1834, operated a bathhouse at the Main Street location.

Between 1830 and 1835 Johnson frequently traveled to New Orleans and ...

Article

John Garst

was probably born Ella Cherwiss in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was an African American woman whose death in New Orleans at age twenty-eight is the subject of the ballad “Ella Speed” (also known as “Alice B.” and “Po' Li'l Ella”). With her husband Willie Speed, she had a son and possibly other children.

For several years before her death, Ella Speed was a prostitute. In the spring of 1894, while an “inmate” at “Miss Lou” Prout's sporting house at 40 South Basin Street, a luxurious parlor house built nearly thirty years earlier for the renowned madam Kate Townsend, Speed met Louis “Bull” Martin, an Italian American born in July 1866. A short, stocky bully and small-time thug, Martin lived with his parents and worked as a bartender at Trauth's Saloon near the Dryades Street market. In August 1894 he was arrested for beating up ...