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John T. Kneebone

civic and organization leader, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to William P. Burrell, a butler and hotel waiter, and Mildred Burrell, a washerwoman. His parents had been slaves, most likely in Richmond, and his uncle James B. Burrell was prominent among African American entrepreneurs in the early years after Emancipation. Burrell was one of fourteen children, but his intelligence and energy made him stand out.

Reportedly Burrell was selling ice water to thirsty Richmonders at the age of five, and he soon became his mother's assistant, gathering and returning the clothes she washed. Burrell experienced conversion in 1877 and formally joined the Moore Street Baptist Church having served the church s Sunday school as librarian and secretary from the age of nine He was successively elected church clerk janitor deacon treasurer and trustee Elected assistant secretary of the Richmond Baptist Sunday School Union at eleven he became ...

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Linda M. Perkins

educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father's name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by George Henry Calvert, a descendant of Lord Baltimore, the settler of Maryland. Jackson's salary enabled her to afford one hour of private tutoring three times a week. Near the end of her six-year stay with the Calverts, she briefly attended the segregated public schools of Newport. In 1859 Jackson enrolled at the Rhode Island State Normal School in Bristol In addition to the normal course she also studied ...

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W. Farrell O'Gorman

author, teacher, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boardinghouse owner who was known as an avid reader, and Martha Vaughn. Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African heritage. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught her son to read and enrolled him in school. When he was eight, however, economic necessity forced him to drop out of school to begin work at various jobs, first in a brickyard, then in a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter's life.

The friendship of the prominent black Louisville educator William T. Peyton who sensed Cotter ...

Article

Sara Kakazu

autobiographer and religious leader, was born Lucy Ann Berry in St. Louis, Missouri, to Polly Crocket Berry, who was born free in Illinois, but was kidnapped and enslaved as a child. She and her husband, whose name is not known, were enslaved by Major Taylor Berry of St. Louis and had two children, Lucy and Nancy. Delaney's early childhood was relatively happy; she was not aware of her position as a slave nor was she expected to perform any labor for her owners. Lucy Delaney's peaceful childhood was interrupted when Major Berry who had paradoxically been both a master and a friend to her father was killed in a duel After Berry s death his widow remarried and Delaney s father was sold south contrary to the Major s will This traumatic separation only increased Polly Berry s determination to escape with her daughters to freedom she ...

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Charles Rosenberg

author, advocate for the civil rights of African Americans in Louisiana, an organizer of the Citizen's Committee that launched the Plessy v. Ferguson legal challenge to racial segregation in public transportation, was the son of Jeremie Desdunes and Henriette Gaillard Desdunes.

Rodolphe Desdunes's grandson, Theodore Frere, recalled in 1971 that Jeremie Desdunes was Haitian and Henriette from Cuba; the couple reported in the 1880 census that both were born in Louisiana, Jeremie's mother was born in Cuba, and Henriette's father in France. All the Desdunes' sons consistently reported that their parents were both born in Louisiana (Census 1880, 1900, 1920). The Desdunes family was part of New Orleans's large community of gens de couleur libre—free people of color, primarily French-speaking. The 1840 census lists a Jeremie Des Dunes in the Third District of New Orleans whose household included five free colored males and ...

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Thomas M. Leonard

diplomat, lawyer, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Durham and Elizabeth Stephens. Two of his uncles, Clayton Durham and Jeremiah Durham, were noted clergymen who helped Bishop Richard Allen establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Durham, who could almost pass for white, studied in the Philadelphia public schools and graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1876.

For five years after leaving high school Durham taught in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In 1881 he entered Towne Scientific School, a branch of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1886 and a civil engineering degree in 1888. He held several positions during his college career, including reporter for the Philadelphia Times. He excelled as a newspaperman, and his unique abilities eventually led him to the assistant editorship of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

slave, tailor, and politician, was born in Washington, in Wilkes County, Georgia, to Frances, a slave, and a white man whose surname was Finch. When William was twelve he was sent to live with another Wilkes County native, Judge Garnett Andrews, and in 1847, when he was fifteen, he apprenticed as a tailor. The following year Joseph H. Lumpkin, the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, purchased William and brought him to his home in Athens, where Finch learned to read and write and also began a lifelong commitment to Christianity. Although he later joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, it is likely that Finch first converted to the faith of his master, a devout Presbyterian. In 1854 Finch married Laura Wright, with whom he had five children.

Although still legally enslaved the Finch family enjoyed a fairly high degree of ...

Article

Krystal Appiah

educator and civic leader, was born Elizabeth Thorn, the daughter of Lydia and Francis Thorn. Flood was raised and educated in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1848 she married the mariner Joseph C. Scott and traveled with him to California during the Gold Rush, making the long journey by ship across the Isthmus of Panama. By 1852 the Scotts were living in Placerville, California, where Scott mined for gold until his death. A widow with three young sons, Flood left the rough frontier and moved to Sacramento, a larger town with a sizable black community.

Flood became an education activist after she unsuccessfully attempted to enroll one of her sons in a Sacramento public school Local school districts such as Sacramento had the power to exclude nonwhite children from attending their schools Furthermore the state legislature refused to appropriate taxes to fund separate schools for African Americans Flood ...

Article

Laura M. Calkins

surgeon and civic leader, was born in Washington, D.C. As a youth he attended the segregated black schools in the District of Columbia, and in 1868–1872 he attended Howard University's Normal Preparatory and Commercial Departments, whose curricula emphasized vocational training. At age sixteen Francis was sent to the elite Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where his studies included mathematics, philosophy, and the natural sciences. Returning to Washington, D.C., in 1875, he became an apprentice to Dr. C. C. Cox, a white physician who was head of the District of Columbia's board of health. Under Cox's supervision Francis enrolled in Howard University's medical college, studying there between 1875 and 1877. Francis left in the autumn of 1877 and enrolled at the University of Michigan as an advanced student, and in the spring of 1878 he received a degree in medicine.

Francis returned to Washington D C where ...

Article

Barbara Bair

Baltimore attorney, civic leader, political activist, and champion of legal challenges to racial segregation laws, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of Susan Cobb Hawkins and Robert Hawkins, a minister. Hawkins graduated in 1885 from the Centenary Biblical Institute (later Morgan College). In March of the same year he married his first wife, Ada McMechen (1867–?) of Virginia, in a Baltimore service led by the Reverend Benjamin Brown, a church activist and pastor of the Sharp Street Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, of which Hawkins was a lifelong member. William and Ada Hawkins had two daughters, Aldina Hawkins (Haynes) (1885–1940) and Roberta Hawkins (West) (1891–?).

Hawkins worked as an educator while studying law at the University of Maryland but he was forced to leave the college when white students petitioned to exclude blacks He graduated from the Howard ...

Article

Ramona Hoage Edelin

professor, coach, and civic leader, was born in Chester, South Carolina, the eldest of sixteen children of William Charles and Susie (Jackson) Lewis. Only five of the children lived past early childhood. Lewis's father was born on 11 March 1854, the son of an enslaved woman. He was permitted to obtain an education by learning with the white children of the household and, later, by attending public school. He later taught school in Chester County, South Carolina. He and Susie, always a homemaker, raised their surviving children in a two-story house and farm on York Road in Chester.

William Charles Lewis II attended the Brainard Academy in Chester, a private school of the Presbyterian Church. He graduated with a three-year trade certificate in harness making from Virginia's Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) and in 1907 was a football player and coach ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

educator, civic leader, feminist, and writer, was born Maritcha Remond Lyons in Manhattan, New York. She was the third of five children (the eldest died before the age of three) born to Albro Lyons Sr., a graduate of the first African Free School in Manhattan and a prosperous businessman, and Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons, a seamstress and hairdresser whose father was from Venezuela and whose mother was a successful businesswoman. The Lyons family lived in a free black community in New York, a community that would become, by the start of the Civil War, economically viable, politically active, socially conscious, and well-educated.

By the time she was eight years old Lyons s father owned and operated a seaman s home and a seaman s outfitting store that served as a natural cover for her parents work as conductors on the Underground Railroad Lyons wrote about ...

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Richard Newman

book collector and religious leader, was born in Coldwater, Ohio, the son of William Edward Mooreland (sic) and Nancy Jane Moore, farmers and members of a black family that had been free for several generations. Raised by his maternal grandparents because of his parents' early deaths, Moorland, an only child, attended Northwestern Normal University in Ada, Ohio, and the theological department of Howard University. In 1886 he married Lucy Corbin Woodson; they had no children. Moorland was ordained to the ministry in the Congregational Church in 1891 and became the organizing pastor of a church in South Boston, Virginia, as well as secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Washington, D.C. From 1893 to 1896 he was minister of Howard Chapel, Nashville, Tennessee, and then went to Mount Zion Congregational Church in Cleveland, Ohio.

A social gospel preacher who believed in working ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

influential barber and longtime Republican Party leader in Ohio, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He was the oldest of three children of Isaac Myers, a prominent shipyard owner and labor activist in Baltimore, and his first wife, Emma Virginia Myers, who died when George was nine. Educated initially in the preparatory division of Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, George returned home to complete his education in Baltimore's public schools after his father married Sarah Elizabeth Deaver.

Barred from attending the racially segregated Baltimore City College High School, and unwilling to study medicine elsewhere, as his father wished, George Myers first moved briefly to Washington, DC, to work as a housepainter. He soon returned to Baltimore to undergo training as a barber, and in 1879, moved to Cleveland, Ohio.

George Myers was married twice. In 1884 he married Annie E. Deans a Baltimore schoolteacher and they had ...

Article

Carole Watterson Troxler

slave, entrepreneur, civic leader, and murder victim, probably was born in Alamance County, North Carolina. His mother gave her name as Jemima Phillips; she may have been a member of a free African American family named Phillips who lived in Caswell County, North Carolina, in the early nineteenth century. His father is unknown. Some of Outlaw's contemporaries thought he was the son of Chesley Farrar Faucett, a merchant with agricultural and tanning operations in northern Alamance County who served in the state legislature from 1844 to 1847 and from 1864 to 1865.

The judge and writer Albion Tourgée knew both Outlaw and Faucett and characterized them fictionally in Bricks without Straw (1880 Tourgée depicted Faucett sympathetically as an aged justice of the peace known for kindness as a slaveholder quiet wartime Unionism and cooperation with the Union League during Reconstruction Outlaw ...

Article

Lynne B. Feldman

pastor, banker, and race leader, was born in Granville County, North Carolina, the son of William Pettiford and Matilda (maiden name unknown), farmers. Pettiford, a free black, spent his early years laboring on the family farm. He received a rudimentary education at home and then attended Marion Normal School; he was employed from 1877 to 1880 as a teacher and financial agent at Selma Institute (later Selma University). In 1869 he married Mary Jane Farley, who died that same year. In 1873 he married Jennie Powell, who died in September 1874. In 1880 he married Della Boyd, with whom he had three children.

Pettiford's most remarkable accomplishments were achieved after he accepted in 1883 the pastorate at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama Birmingham was a booming city of the New South where blacks migrated in search of employment primarily ...

Article

Chaitali Korgaonkar and Robert Smieja

porter, clerk, and civic leader in Hartford, Connecticut, was born in Guilford, Connecticut, the son of Ham Primus, a sailor, and Temperance Asher. His grandfather, named simply Primus, is recognized in one local history as a servant and apprentice to a Dr. Wolcott in East Windsor, Connecticut, in the mid-eighteenth century. Later on, inspired by Dr. Wolcott's work, this Primus became a doctor himself, setting up his own office. We know little about Holdridge Primus's early life, but we do know he was earning a living by age twelve. In his early teenage years, he made his way to Hartford, Connecticut, where he worked and apprenticed for William Ellsworth, (later governor of Connecticut from 1838 to 1842). When Ellsworth served in Congress around 1840 he chose to take Primus with him based on his merit intelligence and dedicated service Primus was employed in a ...

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Arthuree McLaughlin Wright

clubwoman, and civic leader, was born to Jackson and Beattie Connor (or Conner), former slaves. The Connors moved their ten children to Selma, Ohio, where Emma attended school. Details of her early life are sketchy, but as a young adult, Emma Connor worked as a teacher and was active in the local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In 1886 Emma met Reverdy Cassius Ransom, a senior at Wilberforce University, when he was appointed student pastor at the Selma church. He and Emma were married in Selma on 27 October 1887, and she joined him in Altoona, Pennsylvania, where he was assigned a pastorate. The following year, their infant son died a few hours after he was born. A second son, named for his father, was born 2 September 1889. Reverend Ransom's son from a first marriage, Harold moved in with them after Reverdy ...

Article

civic leader, politician, and barber, was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He claimed, in an autobiographical sketch published shortly before his death, to be the son of Streshley Simmons, a black veteran of the War of 1812, and Rosetta Waring (Historical Hand, 33). A tradition among Robert's descendants, however, held that his actual father was “a master” (white plantation owner). Certainly Simmons's facial features appeared mulatto, and he is listed as such in three federal censuses. No documentation is known for the earliest period of Simmons's life. However, it is known that in April 1841 he immigrated to Parkersburg, (West) Virginia, on the Ohio River and successfully established himself as a barber, which would remain his lifelong vocation. On 19 January 1843, he married Susan King. By 1858, the couple had become parents of nine children.

Simmons s rise to ...

Article

Mary L. Young

politician, civic leader, writer, and bishop, was born in Colborne, Canada, the son of Nehemiah Henry Smith, a commissary sergeant of a black regiment in the English army. Little is known about his mother. Smith spent his childhood and adolescence in Bowmanville, Canada, where he attended public school and worked as an apprentice in furniture finishing. After completing public school, he moved to the United States and pursued a medical degree at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. From 1869 to 1871 he was a teacher with the Freedman s Bureau in Kentucky Mississippi and Alabama Smith was the first African American preacher to obtain a medical degree in the United States but he never actively practiced His call to the ministry outweighed his desire to practice medicine Therefore Smith turned to the African Methodist Episcopal AME Church to exercise his talents becoming one ...