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Kenyatta D. Berry

engineer, machinist, and inventor, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of the free blacks Thomas and Hannah Baltimore. Though his father was a Catholic, Jeremiah followed his mother's influence and adopted the Methodist religion. As a child Jeremiah was fascinated with engineering and science. He was known to have experimented often with such utilitarian things as tin cans, coffeepots, stovepipes, and brass bucket hoops.

Jeremiah was educated at the Sabbath School of the Wesley Zion Church in Washington, D.C., which was located on Fourth Street near Virginia Avenue and was founded in 1839 after black members left the Ebenezer Church. As part of his education Jeremiah also attended the school of Enoch Ambush, which had begun operation in about 1833 in the basement of the Israel Bethel Church and remained open until 1864 Despite his attendance Jeremiah left unable either to read or to ...

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Roland Barksdale-Hall

inventor, was born in Jefferson County, Alabama, the son of Milton Beard and Creasey Tatum, both former slaves on the Beard family plantation. He adopted the name of his former master at age fifteen after he was liberated by Union forces. A year later, he married Edie Beard, about whom nothing else is known. The couple raised three children: John, Jack, and Andrew Jr.; the latter died following graduation from high school. Like most former slaves, however, Beard was illiterate and remained so throughout his life.

After the Civil War, Beard worked as a sharecropper on his former master's farm until he was about eighteen years old and then moved to St. Clair County, Alabama. In 1872 he made a three week journey from Birmingham to Montgomery on an oxcart that carried fifty bushels of apples which he sold for approximately two hundred dollars He eventually ...

Article

was born in Trujillo, in northwestern Peru, between 1707 and 1728; his exact year of birth is unknown. He was the son of Magdalena Tirado, who might have been a slave, and Miguel de Herrera, a free man of mixed descent. He defined himself as a pardo, or black man. It has been confirmed that he was a slave belonging to the silversmith Martín de la Cadena, which would explain his last name as well as his knowledge of metalwork; however, during the period of time documented in his biography, José was a free man.

Cadena’s first marriage was to Pascuala Velarde. In 1761 he signed his Cartilla música, a small treatise of musical theory published in Lima two years later. He was imprisoned briefly for debts he acquired in printing the treatise. It is probable that between 1763 and 1767 he might have lived in ...

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 ...

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Pamela C. Edwards

inventor and entrepreneur, blazed a path for black female inventors, yet little is known of her early life. Neither her parents' names nor her exact date or place of birth are known one biographer indicates that she was born in the 1850s and grew up in slavery. After the Civil War ended and former slaves in the South were emancipated, Goode, like thousands of African Americans, made her way north, taking up residence in Chicago by the early 1880s. In Chicago, she owned and operated a furniture store, and her entrepreneurial endeavors led to her become the first African American woman to receive a patent from the United States Patent Office. On 14 July 1885 Goode received her patent for a Folding Cabinet Bed comparable to modern sofa or hideaway beds The first of five black women to patent new inventions in the nineteenth century she was a ...

Article

Rayvon David Fouché

engineer and inventor, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of George W. Latimer, a barber, and Rebecca Smith, both former slaves who escaped from Norfolk, Virginia, on 4 October 1842. When not attending Phillips Grammar School in Boston, Latimer spent much of his youth working in his father's barbershop, as a paperhanger, and selling the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator. Latimer's life changed drastically when his father mysteriously disappeared in 1858. His family, placed in dire financial straits, bound out Latimer and his brothers George and William as apprentices through the Farm School a state institution in which children worked as unpaid laborers Upon escaping from the exploitation of the Farm School system Latimer and his brothers returned to Boston to reunite the family During the next few years Latimer was able to help support his family through various odd jobs and by ...

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Kenneth R. Manning

inventor, was born in Paramaribo, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), the son of Carl Matzeliger, a Dutch engineer in charge of government machine works for the colony, and a native Surinamese mother. At the age of ten, Matzeliger began serving an apprenticeship in the machine works. In 1871 he signed on to the crew of an East Indian merchant ship and set out to seek his fortune overseas. After a two-year voyage, he landed at Philadelphia, where he probably worked as a cobbler. In 1877 he settled in the town of Lynn Massachusetts the largest shoe manufacturing center in the United States His first job there was with the M H Harney Company where he operated a McKay sole stitching machine He also gained experience in heel burnishing buttonholing machine repair and other aspects of shoe manufacture Later he was employed in the shoe factory of Beal Brothers ...

Article

Portia P. James

inventor, was born in Colchester, Canada West (now Ontario), the son of George McCoy and Mildred Goins, former slaves who had escaped from Kentucky. In 1849 his parents moved the family to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where Elijah began attending school. In 1859 he went to Edinburgh, Scotland, to undertake an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer; he stayed there five years.

Unable to obtain a position as an engineer after he returned to the United States, McCoy began working as a railroad fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. This position exposed him to the problems of steam engine lubrication and overheating. Locomotive engines had to be periodically oiled by hand, a time-consuming task that caused significant delays in railroad transport of commercial goods and passengers. Poorly lubricated locomotives also used more fuel than those that were efficiently lubricated.

McCoy began his career as an inventor by first examining and improving ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

organizer and lecturer for the Colored Farmers Alliance, farmer and author, owner of eight patents for agricultural implements, and U.S. congressman from South Carolina (1893–1897), was born in Sumter County, South Carolina, to enslaved parents whose names have never been established and who died before 1865. Murray took up farming during his teen years after the Civil War and by 1880 had acquired his own land: forty-nine acres tilled and fifteen acres of woodland, worth about $1500 including buildings and improvements, producing income of around $650 a year.

He made several attempts to obtain an education. Applying to a local school in 1871, he was instead appointed teacher. Classes were held three to four months a year. Even when school was in session, he worked his fields in the morning and evenings. In 1874 he entered the University of South Carolina temporarily filled with students ...

Article

Frank R. Levstik

abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a slave mother and a white father whose names are unknown. At the age of eight, Parker was sold as a slave to an agent in Richmond, where he in turn was purchased by a physician from Mobile, Alabama. While employed as a house servant for the physician, Parker learned to read and write. In Mobile he was apprenticed to work in furnaces and iron manufactures as well as for a plasterer. Beaten by the plasterer, Parker attempted to escape, only to be captured aboard a northbound riverboat.

From 1843 to 1845 Parker was hired out as an iron molder and stevedore in the Mobile area He proved to be an extraordinarily skilled molder which enabled him to earn enough money to purchase his freedom for $1 800 at the end of the two year period Obtaining ...

Article

Russell H. Davis

George Peake, whose name was variably spelled Peek and Peak, was a native of Maryland. After living in Pennsylvania, he became the first permanent black settler in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a British soldier in the French and Indian War (1752–1763) and served at the battle of Québec under General James Wolfe. He was later reported to be a deserter from the British army with money entrusted to him to pay the soldiers.

Peake's residence in Cleveland dates from 1809 when he arrived with his family He bought a forty hectare 100 acre farm on the western outskirts of the city Along with his four sons he was remembered for giving to the community a highly prized labor saving device a new type of hand mill that he invented Prior to this mill grain was processed with a rather crude instrument called a stump mortar and ...

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Jacqueline-Bethel Mougoué

inventor, newspaper publisher, and editor, was born the second son and fifth child to Robert and Frances Pelham near Petersburg, Virginia. In the year of his birth his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, seeking better educational and economic opportunities. Pelham attended the public schools of Detroit and managed to finish a twelve-year educational course in nine years.

In 1871, while still in high school, Pelham sharpened his journalistic skills while working at the Daily Post, a leading Republican newspaper of the time. At the Daily Post Pelham worked under Zachariah Chandler, who not only was the owner of the Daily Post but also was a prominent Republican who went on to become mayor of Detroit and a U.S. senator. This close working relationship probably explains Pelham's later involvement with the Republican Party.

Pelham wrote for the Detroit Daily from 1883 to 1891 While ...

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

Gary L. Frost

mechanical and electrical engineer and inventor, was born in Columbus, Ohio. Nothing is known of Woods's parents except that they may have been named Tailer and Martha Woods. The effects of racism in Columbus, shortly before and during the Civil War, were somewhat blunted by the economic influence of a sizable African American population, which included artisans and property holders, and by growing sympathy among whites for abolitionism. Only a few years before Woods's birth, the city established a system of segregated schools for black children, which provided him an education until he was ten years old.

Like almost all American engineers during the nineteenth century, Woods obtained his technical training largely through self-study and on-the-job experience, rather than from formal schooling. Sometime after 1866 he began apprenticing as a blacksmith and machinist probably in Cincinnati where several decades earlier German immigrants had established a flourishing machine tool ...