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Alice Bernstein

carpenter, newspaper editor, and state representative during Reconstruction, was born free, of “unmixed African blood,” in New Bern, North Carolina, to Israel B. Abbott and Gracie Maria Green. His father died in 1844, and Abbott was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Hannah, the wife of Bristow Rue (Rhew). His mother's second husband was Nelson Brown, with whom she had a daughter, Hannah Cora, and stepsons Samuel H. Brown and George M. Brown. She married her third husband, the Reverend Joseph Green, a Methodist Episcopal Zion Church minister, in 1854. When Abbott was four, his grandmother contributed one dollar toward his education, and he attended a school taught by Mrs. Jane Stevens. He went to school regularly until age ten, when he began serving two years as apprentice to a carpenter, completing his trade with his stepfather, Joseph Green ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

landowner, businessman, and state legislator, was born enslaved in Dallas County Alabama, to parents named Sarah and Pete, who had been born in South Carolina. David, like his parents, was the property of a family named Abner. There is some dispute as to his birth date—some giving 1826 and others 1838—but the most reliable date appears to be December 1820, as suggested by a letter from his youngest daughter. It is not known when David took the Abner surname for himself, a common but by no means universal practice for formerly enslaved persons. He was sent to Texas in 1843, driving a covered wagon for the newly married daughter (Thelma) of the man who held title to him.

Her father considered his new son in law unreliable and entrusted David to get his daughter safely to her new home and manage ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

militia leader, was born in Georgia to parents whose names have not been recorded. Some sources list his name as Doc Adams. He was probably born a slave, as were the vast majority of African Americans in Augusta's cotton-rich hinterlands in the late 1830s; the 1840 U.S. census lists fewer than two hundred free blacks in Richmond County. As a carpenter Adams, like other slave artisans, may have been able to hire out his time, and he may have saved enough money to purchase his freedom. In any case Adams joined the Union army during the Civil War, and he acquired enough money to purchase five hundred acres of land—worth three thousand dollars—near Nashville, Georgia, where he lived for a time after hostilities ended in 1865. By 1872 he had returned to Augusta where he earned good wages working as a boss carpenter Adams was also involved ...

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

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

Rachel Malcolm-Woods

slave craftsman, bateau man, and business agent for John Jordan and the Jordan and Irvine Company of Lexington, Virginia, was born in Amherst County in western Virginia. He grew up along the James River where he apprenticed in blacksmithing, carpentry, and navigation and earned the sobriquet “Dick the Boatman.” Bullock was likely a descendant of the Igbo, who were the predominant cultural group of the region. Many of these people and their descendants became skilled craftsmen. From 1740 to 1790 many Igbo people were brought directly to Virginia from Igboland by William and Thomas Randolph, who were slave traders and plantation merchants. By 1744Nicholas Davies, the former bookkeeper for the Randolphs, brought vast slave holdings to Amherst County derived from the same source. Upon his death in 1794 Davies manumitted many of his blacks bequeathing each family one hundred acres of land The mobility with which ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

carpenter, merchant, public official, and legislator, was born in Beaufort County, near Washington, North Carolina, of unnamed parents, probably free. Little is known of his early life or education, only that he was both free and literate when he moved to Tarboro, the Edgecombe County seat, in 1860, according to that year's federal census.

Within just a decade of his arrival in Tarboro, the mixed-race carpenter acquired significant social standing, a comfortable income, and political influence at both the local and state levels in the state's new Republican Party. Cherry's marriage in March 1861 to Mary Ann Jones (b. 1837) secured his place in the social ranks of the largely African American town. The daughter of a white Edgecombe planter and his free mistress, Miss Jones was the owner of her own house and a respected church leader The rest of her husband s achievements came ...

Article

Andree Layton Roaf

Virginia state legislator, brick mason, plasterer, contractor, and educator, was born free in Manchester (later South Richmond), Chesterfield County, Virginia, the son of Edward Bradbury Edwards Jr. and Mary Trent Edwards. Edwards's family, of black, white, and American Indian ancestry, had been free landowners since the early 1700s. His father was a carpenter and his mother a teacher. Edwards was taught to read and write at an early age by his mother and learned the construction trades from his father. In 1850 Edwards married Sara Ann Coy, also a teacher, and together they had thirteen children.

Throughout his life Edwards was a prominent member of the historic First Baptist Church in South Richmond, which was established by free blacks as the African Baptist Church of Manchester in 1821 Edwards s family was among the founding members of the church which his father ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Butler Medal recipient, was born in Surry County, Virginia. Likely a former slave, Gilchrist enlisted for service in the 2nd North Carolina Colored Volunteers Regiment at Hampton, Virginia, on 3 October 1863 for three years Military records list his age as twenty four his height 5 10½ his skin color as brown and his occupation as carpenter One of the regiment s enlistees at its inception composed largely of blacks from North Carolina and Virginia Gilchrist surely showed leadership qualities from the start as he soon rose from the rank of private to sergeant in Company K He was likely promoted because of his aptitude age and size nearly all of the other men in his company were farmers or laborers with an average age of approximately twenty two years and averaged around 5 6 in height Indeed Gilchrist s intelligence demonstrated by his ...

Article

Debra Jackson

Little is known of his boyhood years. He was apparently born free, unfettered by slavery, and secured an apprenticeship to a carpenter. Some scholars have suggested a family connection between Alexander Hamilton and William Hamilton, apparently based on a passage from the obituary of William’s son Thomas in the newspaper the Anglo-African on 10 June 1865. In praising the leadership qualities of the deceased, the author notes his “grandfather lies in Trinity Churchyard, perforated by the bullet of Aaron Burr.” Signed “Types,” the obituary is unlikely to have been written by Thomas’s brother Robert. Additional scholarship is needed to determine a more conclusive statement on this question. Historian Donald Yacovone, an editor on the Black Abolitionist Papers, has stated that the Hamilton family had an “unwavering belief that they had descended from the Founding Father” and first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (personal communication to the editors, 8 Mar ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

William T. Hamilton's parents are unknown, although his father was rumored to be Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. In 1796 the teenaged William made his first mark in a letter to John Jay, the governor of New York. Skillfully blending his own thoughts with those expressed in the English poet and abolitionist William Cowper's “Negro's Complaint,” Hamilton informed Jay that he could not help but shed a tear for those fellow blacks remaining in slavery (a phrase indicating that Hamilton was free at the time). Hamilton asked how Jay could proclaim America the land of freedom and equality when “almost every part of it abounds with slavery and oppression.” Hamilton beseeched the governor to end slavery. Such conflation of poetry and antislavery arguments would appear frequently in Hamilton's writings.

As an adult Hamilton became a carpenter and part of the nascent free black community ...

Article

Bernadette Pruitt

the self-reliant bondsman of the legendary Sam Houston, was born to a slave mother and reared on the Temple Lea Plantation in Marion, Perry County, Alabama, three years after the territory gained statehood. Joshua stood out at an early age. Although a field hand, the boy began learning blacksmithing and other skills. With the aid of the Lea family Joshua also began reading. The remarkable youngster garnered a reputation early on as a precocious and assiduous child. Barely eighteen, he carried this reputation with him when moved to Texas.

In 1834 Joshua's owner, Temple Lea, died and willed the twelve-year-old Joshua to his teenage daughter Margaret Moffette Lea, who six years later at the age of twenty-one married and became the third wife of the forty-six-year-old Sam Houston Houston the former general who led the Anglo American victory against General Antonio López de Santa Anna s six ...

Article

Susan E. O'Donovan

radical Republican, labor leader, Georgia state representative, and carpenter, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Little is known of Joiner's mother, Lucy Parker, except that she bore at least four other children (Lucy Ann Joiner, Betsey Gill, and Carter and George Murray). Even less is known of Joiner's father, a man Philip never met. One of an estimated 3 million enslaved men and women who were forcibly transported from the upper to the lower South between 1790 and 1860, Joiner was sold away from most of his Virginia kin in 1847. Accompanied by his mother, Joiner arrived as an eleven-year-old in southwest Georgia, an area of the cotton South later made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1903 Most likely coming of age on one of the plantations that ...

Article

John S. Lupold

bridge designer and builder, was born near Cheraw, South Carolina, the son of Edmund and Susan King, slaves of African, European, and American Indian ancestry. King, his mother, his sister Clarissa (Murray), and his brother Washington were purchased circa 1830 by John Godwin and his wife, Ann Wright Godwin. According to some accounts, King may have been related to Ann's family, the Wrights of Marlboro County, South Carolina. King was already a master carpenter by the time Godwin purchased him, and Godwin expanded King's skills by teaching him how to build bridges. King was literate, although he never attended Oberlin College, as was incorrectly told in family myth.

The Godwins and their slaves moved west in 1832 when Godwin won a contract from Columbus Georgia to construct a four hundred foot wooden bridge across the Chattahoochee River They settled in Girard now Phenix City at the ...

Article

Brandon Portal

possible former slave, self-taught master builder, engineer, contractor, and property manager, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His parentage is unknown. Although little is certain about Lanson's early life, a Connecticut Journal notice appeared on 5 December 1799 in which Solomon Fisk of Southington, Connecticut, put out a $10 reward for the return of a runaway “Negro servant” by the name of Lanson. It is possible that this was the same Lanson. At some point, Lanson married his wife, Nancy.

The first public record of Lanson was a contract for the extension of New Haven's Long Wharf, for construction that took place from 1810 to 1812 The Long Wharf expansion was essential to the prosperity of New Haven for decades the shallow harbor area had posed a danger to larger cargo ships and severely curtailed trade Lanson overcame this obstacle by extending the wharf ...

Article

Tina C. Jones

decorated World War II veteran, born in Chicago, Illinois, was the son of William Marion, a World War I veteran, and Ola Mae Bostick Marion, a homemaker and entrepreneur. Shortly after his birth, his family returned back to Atlanta, Georgia, where he became a lifetime resident. Johnny, as he was fondly called by his family, was an extraordinary young man. He was educated in the Atlanta Public School system and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. Having a strong aptitude and interest in math and science, Johnny had dreams of becoming a medical doctor. However, after the death of both parents by the time he was eighteen, his responsibilities to his family caused him to amend his plans.

A few years later he was drafted in the U S Army and became a decorated World War II veteran Marion served in combat in both the European and Pacific ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

craftsman, minister, and businessman, was born a slave in Virginia. The names of his father, a Baptist preacher, and his mother are unknown. A skilled carpenter and cooper, Meachum was allowed to save some of his earnings, and eventually he bought his freedom. Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, he married a slave, Mary, and then purchased her out of bondage; they had an unknown number of children. About 1815 he moved with his wife to St. Louis, reportedly with only three dollars in his pocket. There Meachum used his carpentry skills to find a job as a cooper. He established his own cooper's shop a few years later and began buying St. Louis real estate.

During the 1830s in order to help fellow African Americans become free Meachum started buying slaves training them in barrel making and letting them earn money to pay him back for their ...

Article

Rosalyn Mitchell Patterson

minister, carpenter, and civil rights activist, was born Walter Melvin Mitchell, the eldest child of Minnie Mitchell, a homemaker, and an unknown father, in rural Greene County, Georgia. Mitchell was told by relatives that his father was Fate Buice, the son of a white planter in the community where his mother lived. Although Buice never openly acknowledged Mitchell as his son, he maintained contact with Mitchell over the years. In the mid-1920's Buice traveled nearly a hundred miles from Greene County to Augusta, Georgia, to hear Mitchell preach at the historic African American Springfield Baptist Church. Mitchell's early life was greatly influenced by his grandfather, Pano Mitchell who maintained a strong affinity for the land and his African heritage Mitchell and his five sisters and brothers attended the local school through the sixth grade the highest grade available for African Americans in that ...

Article

Susan G. Pearl

architect, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Sarah Pittman, a laundress. The identity of his father is unknown. Raised by his widowed mother and educated in the black public schools of Montgomery, William enrolled in 1892 at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, completing his studies in mechanical and architectural drawing in 1897. With financial support from Tuskegee's principal, Booker T. Washington, Pittman continued his education at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, earning a diploma in architectural drawing in 1900. Returning to Tuskegee as an instructor, he assisted in the planning and measured drawing of several of the buildings on the campus.

In May 1905, dissatisfied with his faculty status and unable to get along with his supervisor, Pittman left Tuskegee for Washington, D.C., and began work as a draftsman in the office of architect John A. Lankford Within a ...

Article

elected county official and Macon, Georgia, civil rights leader, was born in Valdosta, Georgia, the fourth of six children of Harry and Carrie Randall. He was reared in Macon, where his father, formerly the Valdosta manager for the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, had returned to work for his own mother's grocery wholesale and retail business. William P. Randall graduated from Hudson High School and Beda Etta Business College in Macon before going to work as a carpenter. He worked for a large construction company but after World War II went into business with his brother, a bricklayer. Eventually he became one of the major black contractors in the Southeast, working on large-scale commercial and residential projects.

In an era when Jim Crow custom forced African Americans to step aside when a white approached on the sidewalk Randall s father taught him not to give way As ...