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Alice Knox Eaton

slave narrator, novelist, playwright, historian, and abolitionist leader, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, the son of a slave mother, Elizabeth, and George Higgins, the white half-brother of Brown's first master, Dr. John Young. As a slave, William was spared the hard labor of his master's plantation, unlike his mother and half-siblings, because of his close blood relation to the slave-holding family, but as a house servant he was constantly abused by Mrs. Young. When the family removed to a farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, William was hired out in various capacities, including physician's assistant, servant in a public house, and waiter on a steamship. William's “best master” in slavery was Elijah P. Lovejoy, publisher of the St. Louis Times, where he was hired out in the printing office in 1830 Lovejoy was an antislavery editor who would be murdered seven years later for refusing ...


Kimberly Springer

educator, writer, and activist, was born Anna Julia Haywood in Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hannah Stanley, a slave. There is no consensus regarding her father, although he was most likely her mother's owner, Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, or his brother, George Washington Haywood. Anna exhibited a love of books and a gift for learning early in her childhood. Hannah was hired out as a nursemaid to a successful local lawyer, whose family most likely assisted her daughter in learning to read and write. Most important, however, was Anna's mother herself, who although illiterate, encouraged her daughter's education.

In 1867 Anna was one of the first students admitted to St Augustine s Normal School and Collegiate Institute a recently founded Episcopal school for newly freed slaves At age nine she found herself tutoring students older than herself and decided to earn her teaching credentials At St Augustine s ...


Linda M. Perkins

When Fanny Jackson became principal of Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth in 1869, she held the highest educational appointment of any black woman in the nation at the time. While most of her attention, both before and after her marriage in 1881, was given to the institute, she was also active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Association of Colored Women, and, in later life, as a missionary to Africa.

Fanny Jackson Coppin was born a slave in Washington, DC, in 1837. Her freedom was bought during her early childhood by a devoted aunt, Sarah Orr. Jackson moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, and, by the early 1850s, to Newport, Rhode Island, to live with relatives. While in Newport, Jackson worked as a domestic in the home of George Henry Calvert, great-grandson of Lord Baltimore settler of Maryland Calvert s wife Mary was ...


Mikal N. Nash

Frederick Douglass the American slave turned statesman was a towering figure in the struggle to gain civil and human rights in the United States of America for African Americans thus becoming a pioneer in the struggle to make the country s practices more congruent with its principles That civil rights was so inextricably tied to the African American quest for freedom justice and equality in a country that was established in the name of freedom but which grappled with recognizing the humanity of Americans of African descent is indeed a paradox Douglass like Nat Turner and John Brown though not nearly as militant was a visionary and a much needed voice of passion moderation and reason in an environment that clung to conservatism on the issues of race class and gender equality His brand of militancy would become manifest in his advocacy of black participation in the American Civil ...


James Sellman

Frederick Douglass was more than a great African American leader. He was, in the words of his biographer William S. McFeely, “one of the giants of nineteenth-century America.” He was a man driven by his anger at injustice, McFeely observed, a man who “never ran away from anything”—except the bondage of slavery. Even in that, he took flight not simply to escape but to engage. After gaining his freedom, the former slave turned in his tracks and confronted the institution head-on.

Douglass played a prominent role in nineteenth-century reform movements, not only through his abolitionism but also in his support for women's rights and black suffrage. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he stayed true to his principles, remaining steadfast in his commitment to integration and civil rights. Douglass was militant but never a separatist. He rejected the nationalist rhetoric and latter-day conservatism of black abolitionist Martin Robison Delany ...


Sholomo B. Levy

journalist and activist, was born Timothy Thomas in Marianna, Florida, the third of five children, to Emanuel and Sara Jane, slaves of Ely P. Moore. After emancipation his family took the name Fortune from that of an Irish planter, Thomas Fortune, whom Emanuel believed to be his father. Emanuel was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1868 where he served for three years until he was forced to leave Marianna as the reign of terror that drove black office holders from power swept through Florida Before his family joined him in Jacksonville they lived in Tallahassee where the young Fortune worked as a page in the state senate During his four sessions there Fortune developed a distrust of black and white politicians from both political parties Though he spent only a few years at primary schools run by the Freedmen s Bureau he ...


Frances Smith Foster

minister, author, editor, and activist, was born near New Market, Maryland, to an enslaved couple then known as George and Henrietta Trusty. A few weeks after the death of their owner, Henry, his parents, his sister, and seven other relatives escaped to Wilmington, Delaware. Part of the Trusty family went to New Jersey, but George and Henrietta, having changed their surname to Garnet, continued on to New Hope, Pennsylvania, where nine-year-old Henry had his first days of formal education. In 1825 the family moved to New York City. Henry, along with his cousin Samuel Ringgold Ward (whose family were also fugitive slaves) and his neighbor Alexander Crummell, attended the African Free School. About 1830 while apprenticed to a Quaker farmer on Long Island Henry was crippled in an accident The intrepid fifteen year old returned to New York City and enrolled at Canal ...


Dickson D. Jr. Bruce

scholar and activist, was born in Colleton County, South Carolina, near Charleston, the eldest of three sons of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and member of one of South Carolina's leading families, and Nancy Weston, a slave owned by Grimké. He was also a nephew, on his father's side, of the noted white southern abolitionists Sarah Grimké and Angelina Grimké Weld. Although Archibald was born a slave, Henry acknowledged him as his son. After Henry's death in 1852 his mother took him to Charleston, where, even though he was still legally a slave, he attended a school for free blacks.

This condition was to change with the coming of the Civil War, when, in 1860, one of Henry's adult white sons, from an earlier marriage, forced the Grimké brothers—Archibald, John, and Francis J. Grimké—to work as household slaves. Archibald escaped in 1863 hiding in ...


Lynn Hudson

Mary Ellen Pleasant arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, probably sometime in 1852. For the next fifty years, she worked as cook, accountant, abolitionist, and entrepreneur in the bustling town on the bay. Histories of the West describe her as madam, voodoo queen, and prostitute. Pleasant herself requested that the words “she was a friend of John Brown’s” be printed on her gravestone, indicating her own desire to be remembered as an abolitionist. She was the target of what one historian has called an “avid conspiracy” that sought to silence her, and it was said that she harbored the skeletons of San Francisco’s elite in her closet.

The folklore about Pleasant reveals conflicting stories of her background (some say she was from Georgia, others Virginia), but Pleasant herself claimed she was born in Philadelphia She described her mother as a free colored woman and her ...


Stephen W. Angell

black nationalist and land promoter known as “Pap,” was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee. Little is known about the first six decades of his life. In his old age Singleton reminisced that his master had sold him to buyers as far away as Alabama and Mississippi several times, but that each time he had escaped and returned to Nashville. Tiring of this treatment, he ran-away to Windsor, Ontario, and shortly thereafter moved to Detroit. There he quietly opened a boardinghouse for escaped slaves and supported himself by scavenging. In 1865 he came home to Edgefield, Tennessee, across the Cumberland River from Nashville, and supported himself as a cabinetmaker and carpenter.

Although Singleton loved Tennessee he did not see this state in the post Civil War era as a hospitable place for African Americans Since coffin making was part of his work he witnessed firsthand the aftermath of ...


A'Lelia Perry Bundles

entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political activist, was born Sarah Breedlove in Delta (Madison Parish), Louisiana, the fifth of six children of Minerva to Anderson and Owen Breedlove Sr., sharecroppers and former slaves.

Orphaned at seven years old, she had almost no formal education during her early life. Around 1878—when racial violence was at its most virulent in her rural Louisiana parish—she moved with her elder sister, Louvenia Breedlove Powell, across the Mississippi River to Vicksburg. At fourteen Sarah married Moses McWilliams, about whom almost nothing is known, to escape what she called the “cruelty” of her brother-in-law Jesse Powell. Around 1887 when the McWilliamses' daughter Lelia, later known as A'Lelia Walker, was two years old, Moses died. Although some sources say he was lynched, there is no credible documentation to justify such a claim.

To support herself and her daughter, Sarah McWilliams ...


Maceo Crenshaw Dailey

educator and leader known as the “Wizard of Tuskegee.” Booker Taliaferro Washington's genius lay in his understanding of the politics of practicality and particularity. As a black leader in an always difficult and dangerous American South, Washington still managed to realize great personal fame and obtain results in education, agriculture, health, housing, and business for black and white Americans. He pushed for civil and human rights, but those unaware of his activities, past and present, have been prone to label him an Uncle Tom. Washington's main biographer, Louis R. Harlan, considers Washington an “accommodationist,” one who accepted the broad framework of segregation but nonetheless worked to improve the status of black Americans within that framework and also surreptitiously challenged Jim Crow laws.

Several more recent historians in contrast draw on a constructionalist framework to assess the phenomenon of Washington s rise to power and his exercise of influence This ...


James B. Seymour

Ida Bell Wells was born to slaves in Mississippi on 16 July 1862. Her parents, who emphasized the importance of education for their children, died in a yellow fever epidemic when Wells was sixteen. As a result, Wells began teaching school to support her younger siblings while she attended Rust University. In 1884 she moved to Memphis, Tennessee. After graduating from Fisk University, she became the editor and co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech, a local newspaper. When three black businessmen were lynched in Memphis in 1892, Wells published Southern Horrors, an exposé of lynching in the South.

Wells's theories of slavery were paralleled in Frederick Douglass's 1894 essay “Why Is the Negro Lynched?” White southern men justified lynching during Reconstruction (1865–1867 to recapture their former political power After reestablishing white control these men popularized the belief that black men raped white women ...


Stephanie C. Palmer

activist. Before Ida B. Wells launched her antilynching crusade in 1892, most Americans believed that the plague of southern lynching was an unpremeditated response to the crime of black on white rape. In her newspaper articles, pamphlets, and speeches, Wells attacked this fantasy by demonstrating that less than one-fifth of lynchings were linked to a rape accusation. She argued that lynching was a tool for punishing black economic and social advancement. In addition to leading the antilynching struggle, Wells-Barnett served as a protector of blacks in the legal system, a catalyst for the women's club movement, the founder of a settlement house, and a political campaigner. Born into slavery, she became one of the most important African American leaders in the 1890s. In the early twentieth century, Wells-Barnett grew too militant for Booker T. Washington s Tuskegee Institute or the NAACP Her refusal to compromise her determination to ...


Wanda A. Hendricks

Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an ardent advocate of African Americans’ civil rights, women’s rights, and economic rights. Throughout her life, she maintained a fearless devotion to justice, which often placed her in physical danger or social isolation. As a journalist and an activist, Ida B. Wells-Barnett made an indelible mark on the history of the United States and offered a harsh critique of the racial, sexual, and economic exploitation of black people.

Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Ida Bell Wells was the eldest of the eight children of Jim Wells and Lizzie Warrenton Jim Wells was born in Tippah County Mississippi the son of his master and a slave woman Peggy He was trained as a carpenter and apprenticed to a white contractor in Holly Springs Lizzie Warrenton was one of ten children born into slavery in Virginia Separated from her family and auctioned as a slave she ...


Paula J. Giddings

antilynching reformer and journalist, was born Ida Bell Wells, the first of eight children born to James Wells, a carpenter, and Elizabeth Arrington, a cook, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Her parents worked for Spires Boling, a contractor and architect, as slaves and then as free blacks until 1867, when James Wells, against the wishes of his employer, exercised his new right to vote. After returning from the polls to find his carpentry shop locked, Wells moved the family to a house nearby and went into business for himself. In Holly Springs, Ida Wells attended a freedmen's school, of which her father was a trustee, and Shaw University (later Rust College), founded by the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and incorporated in 1870.

Ida Wells's early life as a “happy, light-hearted schoolgirl” (Duster, 16) was upended in 1878 when both of her ...


Aaron Myers

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the first of Jim and Elizabeth Wells's eight children, was born six months before the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. She attended Shaw University (now Rust College) in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi, until she was forced to drop out because her parents died of yellow fever in 1878. Following their deaths, Wells-Barnett supported herself and her siblings by working as a schoolteacher in rural Mississippi and Tennessee. She took summer courses at Fisk University and continued to teach through 1891. She was fired from her teaching job for writing an editorial that accused the Memphis, Tennessee, school board of providing inadequate resources to segregated black schools.

In May of 1884 Wells-Barnett filed suit against a railroad company after she was forced off of a train for refusing to sit in the Jim Crow car designated for blacks She was awarded ...