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Sherri J. Norris

chemical engineer and environmental engineering entrepreneur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the second of four daughters of Ernest Buford Abron and Bernice Wise Abron, both educators. Abron was educated in Memphis public schools and was a member of the National Honor Society. Abron divorced and had three sons, Frederick, Ernest, and David; she is occasionally credited as Lilia Ann Abron-Robinson.

Abron stayed close to home when she attended LeMoyne College, a historically black college in Memphis, Tennessee. She considered medical school, but she was persuaded by her advisor, Dr. Beuler, to pursue a career in engineering instead. Her decision was a risky one. She did not know of any African Americans with engineering degrees who were actually working as engineers; instead, she once said in an interview, they were often working in post offices. In 1966 Abron received her BS in Chemistry from ...

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Mark Clague and John H. Zimmerman

flutist, composer, bandmaster, music educator, journalist, and hotelier, was born in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Danish West Indies (later U.S. Virgin Islands) and is remembered as the U.S. Navy's first African American bandmaster. Adams was the son of Jacob Henry Adams, a carpenter, and Petrina Evangeline Dinzey, a tailor; both his parents were members of the black artisan class centered around St. Thomas's port. This culture celebrated music and literature and instilled the young Adams with values of hard work and self-education. Although professional musicians were unknown in the Virgin Islands in his youth, Adams dreamt of a musical career inspired by his deeply held belief that music was not just entertainment, but vital to community health.

Adams attended elementary school and apprenticed as a carpenter and then a shoemaker choosing his trade based on the musical abilities of his master ...

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Erin Royston Battat

the first African American to publish an autobiography about conversion to Catholicism, was born in Santa Barbara, California, the only child of Lula Josephine Holden Adams, a painter, and Daniel Henderson Adams, a hotel headwaiter. Daniel and Lula Adams provided a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle for their daughter and raised her according to strict rules of courtesy, manners, and obedience. Shortly after Adams's birth the family moved to Los Angeles, where she attended an integrated primary school.

Adams and her parents fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Mother and daughter returned to temperate Santa Barbara in 1920 at their doctor's recommendation and would suffer from chronic illness for the rest of their lives. Adams's father continued to work in Los Angeles for another four years and then died suddenly in 1924 shortly before he was to join the family in Santa Barbara During this period ...

Article

Antero Pietila

a teenaged numbers runner who become an important Baltimore business leader, was born into a family of sharecroppers. He was raised by his grandparents in Zebulon, North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore in 1929, during the Depression. He quickly grew tired of the city's Dunbar High School, working instead in a rag factory and fixing bicycles—a sideline he had begun at age ten. On his bicycle, he also ran errands for numbers operators; lucrative illegal lotteries thrived in the city under the protection of the Democratic machine. By the age of twenty, he was an aspiring kingpin, and the owner of three stores.

Adams's grip on numbers strengthened in 1938, after the death of the city's “Black King,” Democratic boss Tom Smith Adams filled the vacuum That year white Philadelphia gangsters firebombed his tavern He repelled the takeover attempt living up to his nickname Little Willie acquired ...

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Jeffrey Green

Manager of a hostel for Africans in London in the 1920s and wife of Dr John Alcindor. Born in London of a French father, raised by her mother's family, she trained as a journalist. She was disowned by her family after her marriage in 1911 to John Alcindor, a Trinidadian.

While raising their three children, John (1912), Cyril (1914), and Roland (Bob, 1917), Alcindor also assisted her husband in his west London medical practice, often dealing with patients herself when the Harrow Road surgery was closed.

Along with her husband, Alcindor was active in the Pan‐Africanist movement (see Pan‐Africanism), and during the early 1920s was one of only two white women to serve on the committee of the London‐based African Progress Union, over which her husband presided from 1921.

Her husband's death in 1924 left the ...

Article

lawyer, businessman, and secretary of the army, was born in New York City, the only child of Clifford Leopold Sr. and Edith McAllister. Alexander's father, a Jamaican native, became an apartment building manager of Harlem's Young Christian Association. His mother was from Yonkers, New York, where she worked for a real estate firm. Later she headed the New York City welfare department. She was the first African American woman to get elected to the Democratic Party's Electoral College. In this position she became a prominent figure in the broader civil rights struggle. Both parents inspired Alexander's later work to end racial discrimination.

Alexander spent his childhood in New York City. He received his early education at the Ethical Cultural School and Fieldston Schools in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, Alexander went to Harvard University. Here he met McGeorge Bundy Harvard s Dean of Arts ...

Article

Wanda F. Fernandopulle

politician, was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia. His parents' names are not known. In 1837 Allen was taken to Harris County in Texas and was owned by J.—J. Cain until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Allen married soon after the notification of his emancipation. He and his wife Nancy went on to have one son and four daughters. As a slave Allen was known to be a skilled carpenter; he is credited with designing and building a Houston mansion occupied by Mayor Joseph R. Morris. In 1867 Allen entered the political world as a federal voter registrar, and in 1868 he served as an agent for the Freedmen's Bureau and as a supervisor of voter registration for the Fourteenth District of Texas. Although he had not received a formal education, he was literate by 1870.

After attending several Republican Party meetings and in ...

Article

Mary Ann Mahony

whose career spanned the late Brazilian Empire through the fifth decade of republican rule, was born to Maria Francisca Vitória, an unmarried, free Afro-Brazilian woman descended from rural slaves, on a small cacao farm in the emerging cacao district of Cachoeira de Itabuna in the municipality of Ilhéus, in the northeastern province of Bahia. Alves dos Reis is an example of the rapid social mobility available to ambitious and well-connected young men of African descent in the emerging cacao region of the northeast as European and US demand took off for cocoa and chocolate.

By 1887, when Alves dos Reis registered with the local National Guard unit, he was already a moderately prosperous merchant. In 1883 he and his wife lived in a one story wattle and daub thatched roof house with a door a window and a dirt floor It resembled the slave cabins on nearby local ...

Article

Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

Article

Christine Schneider

carpenter, insurance agent, contractor and activist, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina in 1885. As a young boy, Artemus saw that discrimination and oppression was still very much alive in the South, even following Emancipation in 1865 His parents were sharecroppers thus they were subject to subordination through this system because it ultimately favored the owners of the land not the workers Although there were many important benefits to this agricultural arrangement the sharecropping system was ultimately oppressive Landlords exploited their positions by extending credit to the workers during times of bad weather and poor quality of crop and market price The interest rates were often so high that workers were unable to pay them Often this meant landlords and sharecroppers were in much the same relationship as master and slave had been It was precisely for this reason that Artemus grew up determined to fight for his ...

Article

Michael J. Murphy

automobile worker and activist, was born General Gordon Baker Jr. in Detroit, Michigan, one of five children of General Gordon Baker Sr., an automobile worker, and Clara Baker, a housewife. Baker attended Southwestern High School in Detroit and went on to take classes at Highland Park Community College and Wayne State University. In the early 1960s he took a job with Ford Motor Company and continued to work in the automobile industry for almost forty years. In 1941 Baker s father had moved his family to Detroit from Georgia in search of a job in the booming war production industries taking part in the massive migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities in the North during the first half of the twentieth century Becoming an autoworker allowed Baker Sr to dramatically improve his family s standard of living especially in comparison to his prospects ...

Article

Sheila T. Gregory

radio and television pioneer, Masonic Christian Order founder, ordained Baptist minister, lawyer, community advocate, and business leader, was born on a sharecroppers' farm in Geneva, Kentucky, the son of Richard and Clara Banks, both tenant farmers. In June 1922 Banks graduated from the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky and moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he secured a job at the Dodge automobile main plant. He graduated from Wayne State University in 1926 and the Detroit College of Law in 1929. He briefly opened a criminal law practice, but after two years he discontinued his criminal work and invested in property during the Depression, while helping elect liberal Democrat and future Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy as Detroit's mayor in 1930.

In 1931 Banks was the head of the International Labor Defense League ILDL a legal organization known for defending numerous labor unions which at that time were ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

politician, business leader, and historian, was born in the late nineteenth century in Burundi. He belonged to the Batare royal family that had controlled Burundi prior to the entrance of German military officers in the 1890s. He originally came from southern Burundi as his father was a chief in the Vyanda region not far from the town of Bururi. He received a primary education at a German school at Gitega. After the Belgian government took over Burundi following World War I, Baranyanka became one of the most fervent supporters of the new administration in the entire colony. He was a firm supporter of Catholic missions and the development of cash-crop production. Baranyanka converted to Catholicism after undertaking instruction for four years. He established an extremely large coffee business that consisted of thirty-five thousand coffee bushes by 1935. A young Belgian tourist in 1949 expressed the views of most ...

Article

Born in Sanford, Florida, Claude Barnett was sent at a very young age to live with his grandparents and other relatives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. He returned to the South to study engineering at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), from which he graduated in 1906. Back in Chicago, he worked as a postal clerk and, exposed to a wide range of advertising journals, decided to make a career in advertising. In 1913 he produced a series of photographs of famous blacks, which he sold through the mail, furthering his interest in business.

Five years later Barnett and several other entrepreneurs formed the Kashmir Chemical Company which sold cosmetics Barnett left the post office took the job of advertising manager at Kashmir and toured the country selling cosmetics as well as his photographs In each town he visited the local black newspaper hoping to bargain for ...

Article

Robert L. Harris

entrepreneur, journalist, and government adviser, was born in Sanford, Florida, the son of William Barnett, a hotel worker, and Celena Anderson. His father worked part of the year in Chicago and the rest of the time in Florida. Barnett's parents separated when he was young, and he lived with his mother's family in Oak Park, Illinois, where he attended school. His maternal ancestors were free blacks who migrated from Wake County, North Carolina, to the black settlement of Lost Creek, near Terre Haute, Indiana, during the 1830s. They then moved to Mattoon, Illinois, where Barnett's maternal grandfather was a teacher and later a barbershop owner, and finally to Oak Park. While attending high school in Oak Park, Barnett worked as a houseboy for Richard W. Sears cofounder of Sears Roebuck and Company Sears offered him a job with the company after he graduated from high school but ...

Article

Florence M. Coleman

slave, Civil War soldier, politician, and Baptist minister, was born Peter Barnabas Barrow, a Virginia slave. The month and day of his birth are unknown. It is believed that he was born near Petersburg, Virginia, and may have been taken to Mississippi or Alabama with his owner. In 1864 Barrow joined Company A, 66th U.S. Colored Infantry and in 1865 became a sergeant. A year later Barrow was discharged because of an injury he received. He went on to teach school at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Barrow, who was most likely self-educated, served as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives for Warren County, Mississippi, from 1870 to 1871. From 1872 to 1875 he served in the Mississippi State Senate. He migrated to Spokane, Washington, in 1889 and settled there in the city s African American community Barrow and other African Americans were determined to thrive by establishing ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

photographer and businessman, was born in New Orleans, where he remained professionally based throughout his sixty-plus-year career.

The leading African American photographer in New Orleans in the first half of the twentieth century, Bedou saw his reputation grow to national proportions as a result of his images of the life and travel of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University) President Booker T. Washington from the early 1900s through 1915. He photographed Washington at public-speaking engagements addressing crowds in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, California, and numerous other locations during his final tour, which ended in 1915. He recorded Washington in transit by coach, train, and automobile in addition to his famous portraits of the education leader posed upon his horse.

As official photographer for the Institute, Bedou covered any number of events for the school. He recorded the 24 October 1905 ...

Article

Hassoum Ceesay

merchant, community leader, and socialite, was born Ada Jagne to Francis and Marie Jagne in Bathurst (now Banjul), Gambia. Little is known of her life before 1916, when she married Job Beigh, the richest merchant in Bathurst. Job owned choice real estate in Bathurst, many warehouses and shops, and a fleet of riverboats that transported merchandise to the ports of the Gambia River for European firms.

Job Beigh's career as a merchant exemplified the cutthroat business environment in the Gambia colony in the second half of the nineteenth century. He was born in Bathurst in 1847 and, following his secondary education in Freetown, Sierra Leone, he began his business career as a clerk with the Bathurst Trading Company, one of the six major European companies operating in Bathurst and upriver towns. Later, Job started trading on his own account in Bathurst in 1888 He was ...

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Gregory S. Bell

investment banker and entrepreneur, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the third of four children of Travers Bell Sr., a clerk at a brokerage firm, and Iona St. Ange, a teaching aide. Growing up on the tough streets of Chicago's South Side could often be rough, and Bell would later credit his experiences for giving him the wherewithal to survive and succeed on Wall Street later in his life.

After graduating from high school Bell planned to go to a teachers college At the time his father was working in the backroom of Dempsey Tegeler a Midwestern brokerage firm One summer Bell needed money so his father got him a job as a messenger at the firm On Bell s first day on the job a manager asked him to deliver a briefcase to a company across the street While walking to the destination Bell peeked into the briefcase and ...

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John Harris-Behling

disc jockey, impresario, and businessman, was born Arthur Bernard Leaner in Jackson, Mississippi. An ambitious young man, Benson sang with the family band, performed in black vaudeville, and produced shows at Jackson's black theater, the Alamo. He also attended Jackson Normal College. In the 1920s he moved to Chicago but returned to Jackson to weather the Great Depression. As the pains of the Depression eased, Benson moved back to Chicago, where he worked as a probation officer, a railroad cook, an interviewer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and a preacher before making his name as one of Chicago's leading radio personalities. He lived in Chicago with his wife, Norma, and their daughters, Arleta and Bertina, until he retired in 1967.

Benson began his radio career as Reverend Arthur Leaner hosting a fifteen minute Sunday morning broadcast from his storefront church on Chicago s South Side When station ...