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Robyn McGee

was born in Queens, New York, to an African American father, Jimmy Branch, who was a businessman, and a Japanese mother, Karen Matsumoto. She had one younger sister, Miko Branch, with whom she would go on to found the Miss Jessie’s brand of salons and products.

The two sisters were inspired to be hair care innovators and entrepreneurs by their paternal grandmother, Miss Jessie, after whom they named their business. Born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina to sharecroppers Ross and Gertrude Pittman, Jessie Mae Pittman married Charlie Branch in 1936 and the couple moved to Poughkeepsie, New York in 1946 They had two children a daughter Hilda and a son Jimmy Titi and Miko s father After the death of her first husband Miss Jessie had two more sons Irvin and Ricardo Dancey Miss Jessie s relationship with George Dancey ended and she wound up being a single parent ...

Article

Françoise N. Hamlin

beautician and civil rights activist, was born Vera Mae Berry in Leflore County, near Glendora, Mississippi, the home of her maternal great grandmother. She was the daughter of Wilder Berry, a barber and tailor, and Lucy Wright Berry. Her father walked away from his livelihood and his young family, leaving her mother to raise Vera and her brother, W. C., in Tutwiler, Tallahatchie County.

Lucy Berry's influence left its mark on her daughter. With only an eighth-grade education, she raised livestock and a garden while also working in the fields and as a domestic, so her children never felt the hunger of poverty, unlike the sharecroppers around them in the Delta. As an adult, Vera Pigee remembered her mother's resistance to white racism, a tenacious and dangerous stance in the Mississippi Delta during the years of Jim Crow Her good work and diligence made her a ...

Article

Pam Brooks

civil rights activist and community leader, was born Idessa Taylor in Montgomery, Alabama, the only child of Minnie Oliver. Other than the surname he shared with his daughter, Idessa Taylor's father's name is not recorded. Upon the early death of her mother when she was only two, Redden's maternal great grandparents, Luisa and Julius Harris, raised Redden in Montgomery until she was nine. Thereafter, her mother's brother, Robert Oliver, a railroad worker, and his wife, Dinah Beatrice Oliver a seamstress included Redden in their family of six children Redden attended St Paul s Methodist Church School Loveless School St John s Catholic School and State Normal High School in Montgomery As an elementary student on her way to school she had to endure the habitual taunts of young white boys In a videotaped interview on her ninetieth birthday Redden recounted one occasion when in retaliation for ...

Article

Glenn Caldwell

innovative Harlem hair stylist and jazz/pop songwriter, was born in Timmonsville, South Carolina, the second eldest of thirteen children of Floyd Sr. and Ethel Simon. Simon's formative years were spent in the segregated and racially tense era of the Jim Crow South but his parents never allowed him or his siblings to hate whites based on unequal laws and hostile treatment toward blacks. His positive nature and sense of style—traits that he learned from his mother—allowed him to be respected by all and would be a major part of his character for the rest of his life. He did not know, in his youth, that the “sense of style” part of his personality would play a major role in his life of hair, song writing, and entertainment.

In 1940 Simon completed his early education at the segregated Brockington School in Timmonsville He made several attempts to further his ...

Article

Richard S. Newman

leading citizen of color in nineteenth-century New York City, was born enslaved in 1766 in French colonial Saint Domingue Pierre was owned by Jean Berard a sugar planter who resided outside of Saint Marc in the western section of the prosperous French colony Pierre came of age in a colony dominated by bondage and death with masters importing as many as 30 000 enslaved people each year by the second half of the eighteenth century to replenish depleted plantations However Pierre was utilized predominantly as a household servant A talented and precocious lad he acquired literacy skills as well as a courtly sensibility which he maintained for the rest of his life in and out of slavery Though Berard family lore claims credit for encouraging Pierre s talents it may have been his enslaved grandmother Zenobie a wet nurse and household servant who had accompanied Bernard s eldest son ...

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Born in Haiti, Pierre Toussaint was a slave until 1809. After his owners moved from Haiti to New York City in 1787 he was apprenticed to a New York hairdresser Toussaint eventually developed his own thriving career and supported his widowed mistress and her daughter with his ...

Article

Thomas J. Shelley

hairdresser, businessman, and philanthropist, was born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (later Haiti). The names of his parents are unknown. Little is known of his early life except that, like his mother and maternal grandmother, he spent his youth as a house slave on a plantation in the Artibonite Valley near the port of Saint Marc. In the library of the plantation owner, Pierre Bérard, young Toussaint discovered the works of classical French preachers such as Bossuet and Massillon. Apparently it was from his reading of these sermons, rather than from any contact with the notoriously corrupt local clergy, that Toussaint developed his deep devotion to the Catholic faith. The main source for information on Toussaint's life is his autobiography, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in Saint Domingo, which was published anonymously by Hannah Lee Sawyer a contemporary ...

Article

David N. Gellman

Pierre Toussaint was a singular, yet elusive figure. The quality of his life moved some to call for his beatification as a Catholic saint in the twentieth century. His motivations and commitments as a historical figure—including his place in the history of free black life in antebellum New York City—are harder to pin down. Although he made monetary contributions to African American causes in New York and elsewhere, many of the most noteworthy beneficiaries of his assistance and sympathy were whites, with whom he forged unusually cordial connections during an era of increasing segregation and racial hostility.

Toussaint was born a slave in the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue; his year of birth has traditionally been listed as 1766, but a 1995 reassessment estimates 1778 as a more likely date, while another biographer proposes 1781 as Toussaint s birth year His mother and grandmother were house slaves ...