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Alice Bernstein

carpenter, newspaper editor, and state representative during Reconstruction, was born free, of “unmixed African blood,” in New Bern, North Carolina, to Israel B. Abbott and Gracie Maria Green. His father died in 1844, and Abbott was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Hannah, the wife of Bristow Rue (Rhew). His mother's second husband was Nelson Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Hannah Cora, and stepsons Samuel H. Brown and George M. Brown. She married her third husband, the Reverend Joseph Green, a Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, in 1854. When Abbott was four, his grandmother contributed one dollar toward his education, and he attended a school taught by Mrs. Jane Stevens. He went to school regularly until age ten, when he began serving two years as apprentice to a carpenter, completing his trade with his stepfather, Joseph Green ...

Article

Michele Valerie Ronnick

linguist, missionary, sociologist, and college teacher and administrator, was born in Anomabu in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). His father, Kodwo Kwegyir, traced the family lineage to Carthaginian times. His mother, Abna Andua, was his father's third wife, and James was one of seventeen children. He was baptized in 1883 and a few years later the Reverend Dennis Kemp, a Wesleyan missionary, transferred him and a group of other students to Kemp's Mission House for schooling. Aggrey then went to the Wesleyan Centenary Memorial School. There the gifted student and natural teacher traded lessons in Fanti for those in Latin and French. He would later tell his nephew in 1912 that he had ranked first in everything in school including Greek and Latin After becoming an assistant teacher he often lectured to the lower grades about Caesar s Gallic campaigns and was said to have ...

Article

James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

Article

Christine G. Brown

writer and editor, was born in 1890; his parents’ names and his birthplace are now unknown. Little is known of his early life and education. He married Thelma Johnson, with whom he had one daughter. Carter and his wife lived in New York City at the same address, 409 Edgecombe Avenue, from the 1940s until their deaths.

A devoted New Yorker, Carter was a prolific writer and speaker for civil rights, especially concerning jobs, housing, and public office. A committed member of the National Urban League, on 23 July 1928 he delivered a speech on employment and fair housing issues during Negro Week on the Common. In September of that year he took over the editorship of Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life, the Urban League's in-house magazine, when Charles Spurgeon Johnson stepped down as editor With more than 10 000 subscribers when Carter took over the ...

Article

David A. Gerber

educator, politician, and civil rights leader, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Michael Clark, a barber, and his wife (name unknown). Clark was the product of a complex, mixed racial ancestry that formed the basis for a lifelong struggle to find a place for himself in both the white and African American worlds. The oral tradition of Peter Clark's family and of the Cincinnati African American community contends that Michael Clark was the son of the explorer William Clark, a Kentucky slaveowner who had children by his biracial slave Betty. Major Clark is said to have freed Betty and their children and settled them in Cincinnati. There she married and started another family with John Isom Gaines an affluent black man who owned a steamboat provisioning business Though it was never authenticated there is little doubt that Peter Clark himself believed the story of this ...

Article

washboard musician, raconteur, and hobo, was born William Edgar Givens in the sawmill town of Dupont, Florida. His mother ran a “juke joint,” a tavern where the music and the liquor flowed. Little other information about his parents is available. As a boy, Givens would watch the dancing and listen to the music through a hole in the wall of his sleeping room. It was in this manner that he discovered rhythm. He practiced on buckets and pots around the house and gave little shows for his siblings and the neighborhood children.

At a young age, he was adopted by his preacher grandfather, who changed the boy's name to William Edward Cooke. He left his grandfather's home in 1917 and made his way to south Florida, working odd jobs, including clearing land for roads, among these the great Dixie Highway, U.S. 1. In 1931 he took to the ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Philadelphia, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson was the youngest of five children of the devoted Quakers John and Mary Edmondson Dickinson. When Anna was two years old, her father died shortly after giving an antislavery speech. Although it is unlikely that Dickinson remembered her father, she may have been inspired by his legacy.

After John's death the family struggled financially, but Anna still received a quality education, attending the Friends' Select School in Philadelphia and the Greenwood Institute in New Brighton, Pennsylvania; at the latter she was known as an avid reader and questioner. She showed early promise, publishing her first article at age fourteen in the Liberator, the newspaper that served as a platform for the radical reformer and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

Following her 1860 address to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and her 1861 speech entitled Women s Rights and Wrongs Dickinson began receiving ...

Article

Eugenie P. Almeida

elocutionist, journalist, and civic leader, was born in Chicago to the Reverend Byrd Parker, pastor of the Quinn African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and Jane Janette Thomas. Her mother was one of the first black teachers in the Indianapolis public school system; she and Lillian's younger brother Charles T. Thomas died of tuberculosis in 1894.

In her youth Lillian worked at various jobs, including as a stenographer in Louisville, Kentucky. She moved to Indianapolis in 1886 and studied with Madame Hattie Prunk at the Indiana-Boston School of Elocution and at the Indianapolis Institute for Young Ladies. It was during this time that she developed her skills in dramatic reading and dialect. In 1888 she supported herself as a seamstress in her home. In 1891 she was one of the first Indianapolis blacks to take the civil service exam for a clerkship.

Also in 1891 ...

Article

Angela Bates

buffalo soldier, pioneer settler, and entrepreneur, was born in Lafayette County, Mississippi, to a Native American mother and an African American father. At the age of fourteen he boarded a riverboat on the Mississippi River and became a cabin boy. During the Civil War, Garland served as a Union volunteer. After the war, in 1867, he joined the Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was assigned to Company F at Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth became the first headquarters for the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. In 1866 the U S Congress designated the Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and the Twenty fourth and Twenty fifth Infantries These regiments were composed solely of African Americans except for their white officers the soldiers of these regiments were the first to officially serve in the military after the Civil War After training Company F was assigned to forts in western Kansas responsible for a ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Milton C. Sernett

John Jasper was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation ox cart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper's master sent him to Richmond a third time to work at Samuel Hargrove's tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell.

Jasper experienced conversion about mid-August 1837 while working in Hargrove s tobacco warehouse Of his conversion Jasper said ...

Article

Milton C. Sernett

Baptist preacher and orator, was born in Fluvanna County, Virginia, the son of slave parents, Philip Jasper, a slave preacher, and Nina, head servant of the Peachy family. (His father served as a preacher at slave funerals.) John worked as a cart boy accompanying the plantation oxcart and on errands around the Peachy “great house.” In 1825 his master hired him out to Peter McHenry, for whom he worked one year in Richmond before returning to the Peachy plantation. He later labored in the coal mines of Chesterfield County. Jasper's master sent him to Richmond again to work at Samuel Hargrove's tobacco warehouse. Jasper led a life he later confessed to have been irreligious and riotous. A fellow slave taught him to read and spell.

Jasper experienced conversion about mid-August 1837 while working in Hargrove s tobacco warehouse Of his conversion Jasper said I ...

Article

Colleen Cyr

barber, orator, and activist, was born in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of Mary Ann (Campbell) and George W. Jeffrey. George's father was one of the first trustees of the Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church of Middletown that was formed in 1828. Middletown's small black activist community shaped the life and work of George S. Jeffrey. There were several intermarriages between the Jeffrey family and the family of the Reverend Jehiel C. Beman, Cross Street AME Zion's first minister. Jeffrey's maternal aunt Clarissa Marie Campbell Beman founded the Middletown Colored Female Anti-Slavery Society. Citizens of color of Middletown, including his grandparents, uncles, and father, petitioned the Connecticut state legislature seven times between 1838 and 1843 over such issues as repealing the “Canterbury Law” (which effectively restricted young women of color from attending the boarding school founded for them by Prudence Crandall ...

Article

Michelle Kuhl

Baptist minister and editor, was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to John and Matilda Johnson. He graduated from public school in Buffalo, New York, in 1868, and he was baptized in Toronto four years later. After graduating from normal school in 1874, he became a minister the next year. He moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Wayland Seminary, a school named after a northern abolitionist and backed by the American Baptist Home Missionary Society (ABHMS), a group of northern white Baptists intent on converting and ministering to the spiritual needs of freedmen. Johnson graduated with honors and won a prize for best orator in 1879. That year he was also ordained as a Baptist minister and became pastor at First Baptist Church in Frederick, Maryland. In 1881 the ABHMS appointed Johnson the General Missionary of an area that included Maryland Virginia West Virginia and ...

Article

William H. Holland and Lawrence E. Hamilton

activist, poet, orator, and teacher, was born in Old Cane Springs, a community in Madison County, Kentucky. He was the son of slave parents. His father was Washington Laine of College Hill, Kentucky, and his mother's maiden name was Amelia Elkins, of Clark County, Kentucky. Commonly addressed as “Mr. Laine,” he was always striving to improve the human condition. Although his focus was on improving the plight of blacks in America, his religious upbringing helped to make him a humanitarian for all races and ethnic groups. He was effective in influencing and partnering with white Americans to advance the overall quality of life for people wherever he spoke, visited, or lived.

In his youth he was studious and developed a love of reading and writing at an early age Even though he had chores to perform and was frequently needed to contribute financially to the ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

Wendell Phillips transformed his life when he heard William Lloyd Garrison speak at the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 and watched a white mob attempt to lynch Garrison. The courage of the abolitionist so impressed Phillips that he resolved to give up his law practice and devote himself to winning freedom for all slaves.

Until 1835 Phillips lived as a member of the elite group known as the Boston Brahmins. He was born in that city in 1811, the son of John Phillips and Sally Whalley. The Phillips family's roots in America dated to the early seventeenth century, and they had amassed a fortune before the Revolutionary War. John Phillips held public office as a prosecutor, a Massachusetts state senator, a judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and the first mayor of Boston after it was incorporated as a city in 1822 Sally Whalley was ...

Article

Eric Gardner

Pillsbury was born in Hamilton, Massachusetts, to Oliver and Anna Smith Pillsbury. His ancestors had lived in New England since 1640. His father, a blacksmith, moved the growing family to Henniker, New Hampshire, in 1814 and took up farming. Pillsbury attended area schools and grew into his family's beliefs—temperance, abolition, and Congregationalism. After working as a farmhand and then moving to Massachusetts to work as a wagoner, Pillsbury returned to Henniker in 1832, joining the Congregational church there the following year.

Pillsbury studied at the Gilmantown Theological Seminary in New Hampshire between 1836 and 1838 and afterward completed a year at Andover Theological Seminary. He was licensed to preach and received an appointment at the Congregational church in Loudon, New Hampshire. Before beginning work in his congregation, Pillsbury spent two months as an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society—most often traveling with Nathaniel Rogers the editor ...

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

Joy G. Kinard

public orator, college president, philosopher, and clergyman, was born Joseph Charles Dozier in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, to Emily Pailin, a freeborn woman, and Charles Dozier, a former slave and ship carpenter. While Joseph was a young boy, Dozier moved away to find work in Baltimore, Maryland, at a shipyard. Joseph's mother later married David Price, and Price adopted Joseph as his own son. In 1863 the Price family moved to New Bern, North Carolina, which was controlled by federal troops at the time. While in New Bern, Joseph attended St. Andrews Chapel, a parochial school, and he attended the Lowell Normal School of New Bern in 1866. Beginning in 1871 he began teaching in Wilson, North Carolina, where he stayed for the next four years. He attended Shaw University in Raleigh in 1873 for a brief period. In 1875 he ...

Article

Gregg Cantrell

politician, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, the son of Kenneth Rayner, a white planter, and Mary Ricks, a slave. His father had a long public career as a Whig congressman, Know Nothing Party leader, and, after the Civil War, a Republican federal officeholder. Kenneth Rayner acknowledged that John was his son and helped him secure a college education at Raleigh Theological Institute (today Shaw University) and Saint Augustine's Normal and Collegiate Institute.

Before he graduated, John Rayner moved in 1872 to Tarboro, North Carolina, where, as a Republican, he held the local offices of constable and magistrate during Radical Reconstruction. He married Susan Staten in 1874; they had two children. In 1880 Rayner became a labor agent for several Texas cotton planters and persuaded a number of black farm workers to move with him to Robertson County Texas He settled in Calvert where he ...