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Shirley J. Yee

educator, journalist, editor, and lawyer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the daughter of Abraham Doras Shadd and Harriet Parnell. Although she was the eldest of thirteen children, Mary Ann Shadd grew up in comfortable economic circumstances. Little is known about her mother except that she was born in North Carolina in 1806 and was of mixed black and white heritage; whether she was born free or a slave is unknown. Shadd's father was also of mixed-race heritage. His paternal grandfather, Jeremiah Schad, was a German soldier who had fought in the American Revolution and later married Elizabeth Jackson a free black woman from Pennsylvania Abraham Shadd had amassed his wealth as a shoemaker and his property by the 1830s was valued at five thousand dollars He was a respected member of the free black community in Wilmington and in West Chester Pennsylvania where the family had moved ...

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Carolyn Calloway-Thomas

In the winter of 1856, upon receiving the news that antislavery agents were roaming through Canada, Mary Ann Shadd Cary began to write. She objected to those who, begging on behalf of the fugitive slaves who had fled to Canada, took advantage of antislavery sentiment. Believing in a moral right and duty, she became single-minded in her efforts to expose them. She charged that “begging agents” were “wending their way from Canada to the States in unprecedented numbers.” “Bees gather honey in the summer,” she wrote, “but beggars harvest in the winter.” In typically blunt language, Cary preached integration, self-reliance, and independence among black Canadians during the 1850s. A pillar of zeal, she helped found the newspaper known as the Provincial Freeman as an instrument for transforming black refugees into model citizens What she wrote as the first black North American female editor publisher and investigative reporter marked ...

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Gloria Grant Roberson

With the support of the Harvard-affiliated educator George Herbert Palmer, Greener participated in a program to expose an African American to a Harvard education. Although poor grades resulted in his repeating his first year, Greener went on to win the Boylston Prize for Oratory in his sophomore year and the inaugural Bowdoin Prize for Research and Writing for his senior dissertation on Irish culture. Greener apparently recognized the advantages of repeating his first year at Harvard, because later, as a professor of mental and moral philosophy at the University of South Carolina, he was instrumental in adding a “subfreshman” class to the curriculum for scholarship students struggling with Latin and Greek.

The only child of Richard Wesley Greener, a seafaring man with an adventurous spirit, and Mary Ann Le Brune, Greener was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania His mother was thrust into single parenthood when her husband failed to ...

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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 ...

Article

Peter Wallenstein

civil rights attorney, law school professor, and federal judge, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Roberta Childs, a teacher, and William Henry Hastie, a clerk in the U.S. Pension Office (now the Veterans Administration). He was a superb student and athlete. His father's transfer to Washington, D.C., in 1916 permitted Hastie to attend the nation's best black secondary school, the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, from which he graduated as valedictorian in 1921. He attended Amherst College, where he majored in mathematics and graduated in 1925, valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, and magna cum laude. After teaching for two years in Bordentown, New Jersey, he studied law at Harvard University, where one instructor adopted the custom of saying after asking a question of the class, “Mr. Hastie, give them the answer” (Ware, 30). He worked on the Law Review and earned an ...

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Elizabeth K. Davenport

attorney and civic leader, was born in Chicago into an African American family of successful lawyers. Her father, C. Francis Stradford, was a prominent attorney on Chicago's South Side and the founder of the National Bar Association (NBA), which he established in 1925. In 1940 C. Francis Stradford successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark case Hansberry v. Lee, which abolished the restrictive covenants that had limited racial integration in Chicago neighborhoods. Her grandfather, J. B. Stradford, was a well-known lawyer in the African American community and the owner of the only black hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her mother, Aida Arrabella Carter Stradford, was an artist and a homemaker.LaFontant's indoctrination to the legal profession occurred early. As a student at Englewood Public High School in Chicago, she spent the summers working in her father's law office. In the autumn of 1939 she ...

Article

Aimee Lee Cheek and William Cheek

political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part-Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles's will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839 when a court hearing concluding that his guardian s impending move to slave state Missouri would imperil the boy s freedom and inheritance forced him to leave the family Subsequently he boarded in four different homes white and black in Chillicothe and Cincinnati worked ...

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Thomas Adams Upchurch

Born in Virginia to a wealthy white planter and a slave mother, John Mercer Langston was one of the most influential African Americans of the nineteenth century. Widely regarded by contemporaries and historians alike as second in importance only to Frederick Douglass, Langston actually superseded the venerable Douglass in certain ways. Although Douglass enjoyed more widespread renown, Langston held more government positions and had a more varied career. The two men first met in 1848 and maintained a friendship for many years thereafter. They disagreed on some important racial issues, however, which sometimes led to hard feelings and, near the end of their lives, an intense rivalry that most observers would say made them bitter enemies.

Langston was about ten years younger than Douglass and while they were both mulattoes born to slave mothers their upbringings could hardly have been more different Whereas Douglass endured the most abhorrent circumstances ...

Article

Omar H. Ali

attorney, educator, and activist, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In 1882 Lytle's parents, John R. and Mary Ann (“Mollie”) Lytle, her three siblings, and grandmother moved to Kansas as part of the Exoduster Movement of African Americans to the Midwest and West. While virtually nothing is recorded about Lytle's mother, her father, who owned and operated a barbershop in downtown Topeka, was a highly visible member of the community. The Lytle family settled on Monroe Street in Topeka, where Lytle and her brothers attended the city's high school. Lytle's father was a leader of the anti-Republican progressive Populist Flambeau Club, which he helped to organize in 1893 The club was an arm of the Kansas People s Party which served as a vehicle for the black and white Populist movements in the mid 1890s bringing disaffected white Democrats and black Republicans into a shared party Lytle ...

Article

Mark Tushnet

civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born Thoroughgood Marshall in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Canfield Marshall, a dining-car waiter and club steward, and Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher. Growing up in a solid middle-class environment, Marshall was an outgoing and sometimes rebellious student who first encountered the Constitution when he was required to read it as punishment for classroom misbehavior. Marshall's parents wanted him to become a dentist, as his brother did, but Marshall was not interested in the science courses he took at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, from which he was graduated with honors in 1930. He married Vivian “Buster” Burey in 1929; they had no children.

Unable to attend the segregated University of Maryland School of Law Marshall enrolled in and commuted to Howard University School of Law where he became a protégé of the dean ...

Article

Jenifer W. Gilbert

civil rights lawyer and activist, was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the son of Ernest McKissick, a hotel bellman, and Magnolia Esther Thompson a seamstress When Floyd was four years old an angry bus driver ordered him to the rear of the bus after he had wandered into the white section to join some white children who were watching the driver That incident revealed to him that black children did not have the same freedom and opportunity in North Carolina as white children did Black children attended segregated schools with inferior facilities sat in the back of the bus and could not sit down and eat at lunch counters They received harsh treatment from city employees like bus drivers and police officers They did not have public skating rinks or swimming pools and they could not use the public library As a result of his awareness McKissick ...

Article

Jennifer Wood

lawyer, jurist, New York state senator, and prominent civil rights advocate, was born Constance Baker in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of twelve children of Willoughby Alva Baker and Rachel Keziah Huggins, immigrants from the West Indian island of Nevis. Her father worked as a chef for Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale, and owned a restaurant briefly in the 1930s, but the Depression caused the endeavor to fail. Her mother was a leader in the black community, particularly as a member of St. Luke's Church. One of the oldest African American Episcopal churches in the nation, the church served predominantly West Indian families.

Constance Baker was an excellent student and had published both a poem and a prize winning essay on tuberculosis by the time she graduated from high school At fifteen Baker decided that she wanted to pursue a legal career ...

Article

Peter Wallenstein

lawyer, writer, and minister, was born Anna Pauline Murray in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of William Henry Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald, a nurse. She had African, European, and Native American ancestry. Her parents both died when she was a child (her mother had a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914; her father was murdered in a state hospital in June 1923), and she grew up from age three in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents and her mother's oldest sister, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, a public school teacher who adopted her.

Murray graduated in 1926 from Hillside High School (which went only through grade eleven) in Durham, North Carolina, and then lived with relatives in New York City and graduated in 1927 from Richmond Hill High School After working for a year in Durham for a black newspaper and ...

Article

Maceo Crenshaw Dailey

politician, attorney, and businessman, was born on the western outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. His parents, William C. Napier and Jane E. (maiden name unknown), were slaves at the time of his birth but were freed in 1848. After manumission and a brief residency in Ohio William Napier moved his family to Nashville, where he established a livery stable business. James attended the black elementary and secondary schools of Nashville before entering Wilberforce University (1864–1866) and Oberlin College (1866–1868), both in Ohio.

James Napier began his career as a race leader and politician during the Reconstruction era in Tennessee as Davidson County commissioner of refugees and abandoned lands in the Freedmen's Bureau. In 1870 he led a delegation of black Tennesseans to petition President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress for relief from politically motivated violence aimed at nullifying black voting strength for ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Stark County, Ohio. His father was a native of Virginia, while his mother was from Pennsylvania. Federal Census records of 1870 classify Robert Pinn as a “Mulatto,” an indicator that one of his parents was probably white, or perhaps that he was fair in complexion. Little is known about Pinn's early life, but he was most likely raised in Massillon, Canton, or the surrounding area in Stark County. The early years of the Civil War found Pinn a resident of Massilon, Ohio, making a living as a farmer. At the age of twenty, on 15 September 1863, Pinn set aside his farming tools and traveled the eighty-odd miles westward to the town of Delaware to enlist in the 127th Ohio Regiment, the state's first regiment of black soldiers raised to fight in the Civil War.

Little prior ...

Article

Brett Gadsden

attorney, civil rights activist, and public defender, was born in Alexandria, Virginia, the son of Lewis A. Alfred, a postal carrier, and Mary Ann Holmes. The Reddings moved to Wilmington, Delaware, soon after Louis's birth, and Louis later attended Howard High School. After finishing high school, Redding left Wilmington to attend Brown University in Rhode Island; he graduated in 1923. He moved to Florida to serve as assistant principal at the Fessenden Academy in Ocala, and then moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as an instructor of English at Morehouse College. Redding then went back north to attend Harvard Law School, graduating in 1928 before returning to Wilmington, where he passed the bar exam in 1929 becoming the first black lawyer in Delaware history He also had the dubious distinction of being the only black lawyer in the state for almost the ...

Article

Larissa M. Smith

civil rights lawyer and federal judge, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the oldest of the three children of Spottswood W. Robinson Jr. and Inez Clements Robinson. Robinson's father was a prosperous real estate broker, lawyer, and professor in the legal program at Virginia Union University from 1926 until it closed in 1931.

His father's example no doubt influenced the younger Robinson in both his choice of profession and in his work habits. In a biographical sketch of his father, Robinson wrote how juggling his varied professional roles taxed his father's energies. “The days were long—even nights and weekends largely were preempted—and the struggle against time was intense,” Robinson wrote. “Nonetheless, he persevered through what for many would have been an ordeal, without a waning of interest in any of his endeavors and without complaint or expectation of praise” (Bryson 555 As an adult Robinson worked ...

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Eric Anderson

lawyer and member of Congress, was born in Bladen County, North Carolina, the son of Mary (maiden name unknown) and Wiley F. White. With one grandmother Irish and the other half American Indian, White jocularly described himself as no more than “mostly Negro.” Like most black boys in the antebellum South, he had little opportunity for education. A biographical sketch in the New York Tribune on 2 January 1898 put it in graphic understatement: “His early studies were much interrupted because of the necessity he was under to do manual labor on farms and in the forests, and it was not until he was seventeen years old that his serious education was actually begun.” After attending a combination of local schools, public and private, and saving one thousand dollars from farm work and cask making, White enrolled at Howard University.

White graduated in 1877 and returned to North ...