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Article

Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq  

David H. Anthony

Islamic scholar, Jamaican slave, and author, was born in Timbuktu, Mali. When he was two years old his family moved to Jenné in the western Sudan, another major center of Islamic learning and a renowned Sahelian trade city. Heir to a long tradition of Islamic saints and scholars claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, he was part of one of several dynasties designated as Sherifian or Shurfaa. Abu Bakr was trained and certified in Jenné by several ulama, the highly intellectual stratum of Islamic teachers. He was in the process of becoming a cleric when he was captured. As was true for many Islamized Africans caught in the vortex of the Atlantic slave trade, Abu Bakr's itinerant life had pre slave African and post slave black Atlantic dimensions His path shares the trajectory of many coreligionists from Muslim areas of the continent as well ...

Article

Allen, Geri Antoinette  

Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

Article

Brown, Josephine  

Eric Gardner

author and educator, was born in Buffalo, New York, to abolitionist and author William Wells Brown and Elizabeth Schooner. The small family moved to Farmington, New York, in 1845. Her father, soon-to-be famous as the author of a successful slave narrative and an abolitionist lecturer, separated from her mother soon after, and moved to Boston with Josephine and her older sister Clarissa. Elizabeth Brown reportedly died in January 1851. During the years surrounding the 1847 publication of Brown's Narrative and his 1849 journey to Europe (after refusing to have his freedom purchased), the sisters stayed in New Bedford with the family of local activist Nathan Johnson (a friend of Frederick Douglass) and attended school.

Josephine and Clarissa went to London to join their father in June 1851 aboard the steamer America under the care of Reverend Charles Spear a journey they shared with ...

Article

Cheswell, Wentworth  

Richard Alperin

teacher, coroner, scrivener, selectman, and justice of the peace, was born in New Market (now Newmarket), New Hampshire, the only child of Hopestill, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, housewright, and Catherine Cheswell. The name is sometimes spelled “Cheswill.” Wentworth's grandfather, Richard Cheswell, a black slave in Exeter, New Hampshire, purchased twenty acres of land from the Hilton Grant after he gained his freedom. The deed, dated 18 October 1716/17 (the discrepancy arises from the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar) is the earliest known deed in the state of New Hampshire showing land ownership by a black man. The land was located in what was to become the town of Newmarket. Richard's only child, Hopestill (1712–? became a housewright and worked mostly in Portsmouth He took part in building the John Paul Jones House as well as other important houses Hopestill was active in local affairs and ...

Article

Ferguson, Katy  

William E. Burns

, educator and philanthropist, was born Catherine Williams as her mother, Katy Williams, a slave, was in transit from Virginia to New York City. Nothing is known of her father. When she was only eight years old Katy was separated forever from her mother, who was sold by their master. She later credited her own compassion for children to the pain she suffered at the loss. Katy underwent a conversion experience at the age of fourteen or fifteen and shortly afterward, in 1789, joined New York's Scotch Presbyterian Church (later the Second Presbyterian Church), possibly causing some controversy among the white members of the church, which spatially separated white and black worshippers.

When Katy was sixteen or seventeen she was purchased by a New York woman for $200 The woman s plan was to allow Katy her freedom after six years work in compensation for the payment However ...

Article

Gardner, Newport  

crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

Article

Holland, Justin  

David Bradford

guitarist, teacher, composer, arranger, and civil rights advocate, was born in Norfolk County, Virginia, to Exum Holland a farmer. His mother's name is not recorded.

Justin Holland recognized at an early age that rural Virginia offered few opportunities for an ambitious young African American. Born on a farm in Norfolk County to free parents in 1819, Holland was only fourteen when he set out for Boston. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery (in 1783 and Boston had a small but comparatively thriving black population Holland found work that provided in his words a good living in nearby Chelsea and became immersed in the energetic cultural life of the city He had shown a knack for music from a young age but farm life provided little opportunity to develop musical talent Now inspired by the performances of Mariano Perez one of the ...

Article

Johnson, Francis  

Andy Gensler

bandleader, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and teacher, was probably born in Philadelphia to parents whose names are unknown. Early scholarship suggested he was born in Martinique in the West Indies. By 1812 he was known to be a professional musician in Philadelphia. While there is little historical record of Francis “Frank” Johnson's early life, it is known that three key figures helped young Francis hone his prodigious music skills: Matt Black, an African American bandleader from Philadelphia; P. S. Gilmore, “the father of the American band”; and Richard Willis, the director of the West Point military band.

That Johnson played many instruments is clear from a student's observations of his studio, which housed “instruments of all kinds…. Bass drum, bass viol, bugles and trombones” (A Gentleman of Much Promise: The Diary of Isaac Mickle, 1837–1845 196 While Johnson was an accomplished French horn ...

Article

Jones, Rev. Thomas H.  

Steve Strimer

Methodist minister, abolitionist lecturer, and self-emancipated slave, was born to slave parents, Grace and Tony Kirkwood, at the Hawes plantation in Hanover county near Wilmington, North Carolina. About 1815 he was sold to a storekeeper from whom he took his surname. After his escape to Massachusetts, Jones became a tireless speaker on the antislavery circuit in New England. The principal source of information for his early life is his widely circulated slave narrative, The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years. First published in 1850, his book went through at least nine printings.

Thomas succeeded in learning to read despite the disapproval of Mr. Jones, the storekeeper. Thomas was converted to Christianity around 1824. He attended services at a neighboring plantation against the objections of his irreligious owner. Upon Mr. Jones's death in 1829 Thomas began to ...

Article

Kebe, Lamine  

Allan D. Austin

Muslim teacher who is variously known as Kibbe, Lamen Abd al-Amin, and Paul. Beyond two short notices in the African [Colonization Society's] Repository (1835) and a mention in a list of Liberian colonists, all that is known about Kebe was recorded by Theodore Dwight Jr., African Colonizationist and a founder and secretary of the American Ethnological Society.

Lamine Kebe was born into a prominent family of the influential Kaba, or Kebe, of the Jakhanke clan of the Soninke or Serahule people. These were the founders of ancient Ghana, according to some accounts, and, more conclusively, twelfth-century converts to Islam from an area near the bend of the Niger River in present-day Mali. A short history of his people by Kebe accurately but sketchily describes the migration of a pragmatic, dedicated Qāadirīya brotherhood of teachers of Islam toward Kebe's Futa Jallon (home of Bilali ...

Article

Odrick, Alfred  

Leandi Venter, Hannah Heile, and Micaela Ginnerty

a former slave who helped facilitate the establishment of the first African American school in Virginia, which allowed for the formation of a thriving African American community bearing his name. Odrick was born into slavery and owned by the Coleman family of Dranesville, a district of Fairfax County located in northern Virginia. Little was documented about his life as a slave. However, it is known that immediately following his post–Civil War emancipation, Odrick moved to Chicago, Illinois. While in Chicago, Odrick employed his abilities as a carpenter, a trade he mastered during his enslavement. After his time in Chicago, Odrick returned to Virginia.

Once in Virginia, Odrick married “Maria” Annie Marie Riddle, who had also been born into slavery and had belonged to the Todd family of Difficult Run in northern Virginia. With Maria, Odrick started a family beginning with John, his eldest son, followed by Frank, Thadeus ...

Article

Prince, Nancy  

Martha L. Wharton

abolitionist, writer, lecturer, women's rights activist, and social critic, was born Nancy Gardner in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the daughter of an African American and Indian mother and an African American father, Thomas Gardner, who was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and died within three months of Nancy's birth. What is known about her is drawn primarily from her 1850 memoir, A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince. While Prince does not name her mother in her narrative, she provides descriptions of both parents that highlight their African descent, and she recounts her grandfather's violent removal to America, along with his memories of a proud life in Africa. She briefly notes the capture of her Indian grandmother by local English colonials. Her narrative speaks clearly to issues of race, gender, slavery, and morality in the United States and the Caribbean.

Prince s childhood ...

Article

Stockton, Betsey  

Barbara Bennett Peterson

educator and missionary, was born in slavery of unrecorded parentage. As a child Betsey was given by her owner, Robert Stockton, as a wedding gift to his daughter when she married the Reverend Ashbel Green, the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Most of Betsey Stockton's early life was passed as a slave domestic in the Green home at Princeton, except for four years that she spent with Green's nephew Nathaniel Todd when she was an adolescent. At Todd's she underwent a period of training intended to instill more piety in her demeanor, which had not been developed in the affectionate, indulgent Green household. Stockton returned to the Green home in 1816 and was baptized in the Presbyterian church at Princeton in 1817 or 1818 having given evidence through speech and deportment of her conversion to Christian ways At the time of ...

Article

Twilight, Alexander Lucius  

Sholomo B. Levy

educator, minister, and legislator, was born in Corinth, Vermont, the son of Ichabod Twilight, a free African American farmer who served with the Second New Hampshire Regiment during the Revolutionary War, and Mary Twilight (whose maiden name is now unknown). Some historians believe that the name “Twilight” might have been chosen as an apt description of Ichabod Twilight's racial identity, which was somewhere between white and black—although legally he was black. Mary was probably also of mixed race, but she could have been a white woman who was described as “colored” in Corinth town records because she was married to a black man. Ichabod and Mary had started their family in Plattsburgh, New York, before moving first to Bradford, Vermont, in 1792 and then to Corinth in 1795 where they became the first black settlers in the township Alexander was the third of their six ...

Article

Uncle Jack  

R. Iset Anuakan

preacher, teacher, and ex-slave, was born in Africa. Kidnapped and brought to America at age seven, the man later referred to alternately as “Uncle Jack” and “the African Preacher” was sold into slavery and resided in Nottoway County, Virginia. Very little is known of his early life, family, and exact place of origin before 1753 when he was purchased on the docks of the James River by a man named Stewart. He grew into manhood in Nottoway County, performing various plantation labors. At the age of forty, he encountered several missionaries who traveled throughout Virginia. They introduced him to tenets of the Bible, coaxing him in what would become his greatest vocation and earn him the title of “African Preacher.” Christianity's essential ideas of grace, salvation, and the resurrected life inspired him out of the despair and bleak condition of slavery.

Jack hungered to learn more and ...

Article

Wansharisi, Ahmad al-  

David S. Powers

Maliki scholar, jurist, and mufti, was born in Jabal Wansharis (Ouarsenis), a mountain massif in the Central Algerian Tell, 31 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Algiers. When Ahmad was five years old, his father moved the family to Tlemcen, where he studied the Qurʾan, Arabic language, and Maliki law and jurisprudence with distinguished scholars.

In 1469 at the age of forty al Wansharisi incurred the wrath of the Zayyanid sultan Muhammad IV who ordered that his house be ransacked and plundered Leaving everything behind al Wansharisi fled to Fez where he was welcomed by the scholarly community receiving food and shelter from the jurist Muhammad al Sughayyir He moved into a house near the Muʿallaq mosque in the Sharratin quarter of Fez al Qarawiyyin and was appointed professor of Maliki law at the Madrasa Misbahiyya His knowledge of the law was proverbial He who has not studied with al ...

Article

Whipple, Dinah  

Valerie Cunningham

teacher, was born Dinah Chase to an enslaved mother in the household of the Congregationalist minister in the tiny fishing village of New Castle, New Hampshire. Chase was emancipated upon reaching her twenty-first birthday. She moved to the adjacent shipbuilding and mercantile center of Portsmouth, and on 22 February 1781 she married an enslaved man of that city, known as Prince Whipple. At the time of Prince's death in 1797, they had seven children. By 1804 the young widow had established a school in her home for the education of Portsmouth's black children.

Dinah Whipple, as the child of an enslaved mother, had been born into slavery. She had later worked as a house servant, and in that capacity she acquired a variety of those skills required to maintain an efficient and gracious household. Her knowledge was useful in later years, when she married Prince Whipple ...