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ʿAbduh, Muhammad  

Geoffrey Roper

Egyptian Muslim theologian, modernist, and reformer, was born in the Gharbiya Province of Lower Egypt, the son of ʿAbduh ibn Hasan Khayr Allah, a peasant farmer, and his wife, who was descended from the Bani ʿAdl clan. He grew up in the village of Mahallat Nasr and received a traditional education, learning the Qurʾan by heart. In 1862 he was sent to the madrasa (Islamic college) in Tanta. There, he perfected his Qurʾan recitation and started to learn Arabic grammar, by the then normal method of memorizing texts and commentaries without explanation from his teachers.

Reacting against this, according to his own account, he ran away from the college and returned to his village, intending to become a peasant rather than a scholar. In this condition he married in 1865 at the age of sixteen But after various vicissitudes he resorted to his great uncle Shaykh Darwish Khadr who ...


Anderson, Matthew  

C. James Trotman

Presbyterian pastor, educator, and social reformer, was born in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the son of Timothy Anderson and Mary Croog One of fourteen children he was raised in the comforts of a rural middle class home less than thirty miles from historic Gettysburg On a typical day of his youth Matthew faced both the physical demands of farm life and the movement back and forth between two cultures One dominated by commerce and materialism was uncharacteristically open to the Andersons who owned lumber mills and real estate at a time when most black Americans were dehumanized and disenfranchised by chattel slavery The other was a culture defined by close family ties and Presbyterian piety At home Matthew heard Bible stories and dramatic tales of runaway slaves indeed religious piety and the pursuit of racial freedom were dominant themes in his life These early experiences inspired Matthew so ...


Barrett, Janie Porter  

Cynthia Neverdon-Morton

educator, school founder, and social welfare advocate, was born in Athens, Georgia, the daughter of Julia Porter. Various biographical accounts indicate that Barrett's parents were former slaves, while others speculate that her father was white. Little is known about either parent. During her early childhood, Barrett resided in the home of the Skinners, a white family whom her mother served as housekeeper. After her mother's marriage to a railway worker, Barrett remained with the Skinners, who encouraged her to further her education.

Though the Skinners suggested that she move north, Barrett, at her mother's urging, attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, graduating in 1884. While at Hampton she became convinced that it was her duty as an educated black woman to work assiduously for the betterment of all African Americans. That belief led her to teach in Dawson, Georgia, and at Lucy Craft Laney s Haines Normal ...


Barrow, Willie Taplin  

Patricia Reid-Merritt

social activist and spiritual adviser, was born Willie Taplin in the small rural town of Burton, Texas, the daughter of Nelson Taplin, a Baptist preacher, and Octavia, a Methodist congregant. A member of a large extended family, Barrow fondly recalled an upbringing steeped in strict traditional family values and old-time southern religion. She lived with her parents, six siblings, both sets of grandparents, and a great-grandmother in the family home, and they were sometimes joined by a cousin or two in need of temporary housing. The family lived together, worked together, and went to church together. Although they had limited economic resources, they grew the food that they needed on the family farm, and though she came to understand the family's poverty in later years, Barrow said that she never knew hunger as a child.

Barrow discovered her activist voice and spirit early in life Under the state sponsored ...


Beecher, Henry Ward  

Martha I. Pallante

Born to Lyman and Roxana Foote Beecher in Litchfield, Connecticut, Henry Ward Beecher was a member of one of the nation's most visible reform-minded families, and he would come to be acknowledged as one of nineteenth-century America's finest orators.

The ninth of ten children, who included the author Harriet Beecher Stowe and the educator Catherine Beecher, Henry grew up questioning the faith his father passionately espoused. Hoping to inspire his son, Lyman Beecher sent him to the Mount Pleasant Classical Academy in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1827. There Henry committed to becoming a minister. He attended Amherst College (1830–1834) and Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio (1834–1837). After serving as a the pastor for two Congregational churches in Indiana, at Lawrenceburg and Indianapolis, he was called to the pulpit of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, in 1847.

By the time Beecher returned to ...


Butler, Selena Sloan  

Michelle M. Strazer

community leader and child-welfare activist, was born in Thomasville, Georgia, the daughter of Winnie Williams, a woman of African and American Indian descent, and William Sloan, a white man who reportedly supported Selena and her older sister but lived apart from the family. Even after her mother died, presumably when Selena was fairly young, Selena kept quiet about her father's identity. Communication between them was minimal. At age ten, having been schooled by missionaries in Thomas County, she was admitted on scholarship to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College) in Atlanta and received her high school diploma in 1888 as a member of the school's second graduating class. After graduation she taught English and elocution in the public schools in Atlanta until around 1891, when she took a position at the State Normal School in Tallahassee, Florida (now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical State University).

In ...


Buxton, Sir Thomas Fowell  

David Dabydeen

Social reformer and active fighter for the abolition of slavery. Thomas Fowell Buxton was born at Castle Hedingham, Essex, to an Anglican family. Despite this, his mother was a member of the religious Society of Friends, and Buxton soon became acquainted with Quakerism. Through the Society of Friends he became closely connected to the Gurney family, who were Quakers, and later married one of the Gurney daughters, Hannah. The Quakers were renowned for their social reformation campaigns, and Buxton became heavily involved in many of these movements, most notably with one of the Gurney daughters, Elizabeth Fry, to whom he provided financial support for her prison reform work. In 1818 he was elected member of Parliament for Weymouth and worked, within the House of Commons, for the abolition of the slave trade. He helped William Wilberforce with the founding of the Society for the Mitigation and Gradual ...


Cannon, George Epps  

Dennis C. Dickerson

physician and social and political activist, was born one of twelve children to Barnett Glenn Cannon and Mary Tucker Cannon, a former slave. He was born in Fishdam (later Carlisle), South Carolina. Northern Presbyterians offered education for Cannon at the Brainerd Institute in South Carolina and at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Hearing that J. C. Price, a prominent African American educator and African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) minister, was a Lincoln graduate convinced Cannon to attend the Presbyterian school. Work as a Pullman porter covered his expenses at Lincoln, and as an athletic and abstemious undergraduate he emerged as a leader among his peers in the class of 1893. He became one of nine classmates to enter medicine, and like another Lincoln graduate, Eugene P. Roberts, class of 1891 he entered the New York Homeopathic Medical College and Flower Hospital Again his position as a porter ...


Cardozo, Thomas W.  

Steven J. Niven

educator and politician, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the third son of Lydia Williams, a freewoman of color, and Isaac Nunez Cardozo, a prominent white Jewish businessman. Cardozo's elder brothers, the Glasgow University-educated Francis Louis Cardozo and Henry Cardozo, were both prominent politicians and educators in Reconstruction-era South Carolina. Like his brothers, Thomas enjoyed the privileges of Charleston's freeborn black elite in his youth, attending private schools in the city, but experienced a reversal in his family fortunes following the death of his father in 1855. Apprenticed for a time to a Charleston manufacturer of rice-threshing machines, the youngest Cardozo moved to New York City with his mother in 1857 because of growing hostility to and legislative restrictions against free blacks in South Carolina. He continued his studies at Collegiate Institute in Newburgh, New York, and beginning in 1861 taught for several years in ...


Cole, Rebecca  

Lisa E. Rivo

physician, organization founder, and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second of five children all listed as “mulatto” in the 1880 U.S. census. Her parents' names are not known. In 1863 Rebecca completed a rigorous curriculum that included Latin, Greek, and mathematics at the Institute for Colored Youth, an all-black high school.

In 1867 Cole became the first black graduate of the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania and the second formally trained African American woman physician in the United States. Dr. Ann Preston, the first woman dean of a medical school, served as Cole's preceptor, overseeing her thesis essay, “The Eye and Its Appendages.” The Women's Medical College, founded by Quaker abolitionists and temperance reformers in 1850 as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, was the world's first medical school for women. By 1900 at least ten African American women had received their medical degrees from ...


Coles, Solomon Melvin  

Madalyn Ard

minister and educator, was born a slave in Petersburg, Virginia, to Charles and Nancy Coles, both of whom worked on the Pryor family farm in Dinwiddie County. Even though antebellum southern states excluded slaves from education, Coles learned the basics of reading and writing from the sympathetic sheriff of Dinwiddie County, H. J. Heartwell. After the Civil War, Coles moved to Connecticut and enrolled in the Guilford Institute. After graduating in 1869 Coles sought to continue his education by attending Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, from which he took a bachelor of arts in 1872 and a master of arts in 1874. A year later he earned his bachelor of divinity from Yale University.

Coles recognized what a rare thing it was for an African American to obtain a formal education in a time when access to universities and higher degrees for blacks remained limited Like many of his contemporaries ...


Collins, John A.  

Eric Gardner

Little is known of the youth or parentage of John Anderson Collins other than that he was born in Manchester, Vermont. He attended Middlebury College and then, like his abolitionist colleague Parker Pillsbury, Andover Theological Seminary. Unlike Pillsbury, who went into the ministry before fully committing himself to the abolitionist movement, Collins left the seminary and began working with the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, soon becoming its general agent. It was in this role that he seems to have actively fought the attempts of conservative clergymen like Amos Phelps and Charles Torrey to take control of the group from more radical abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison.

Anderson became a trusted ally of Garrison and went to Great Britain in 1840 in the hope of drawing economic and philosophical connections between the American Anti Slavery Society AASS and the British and Foreign Anti Slavery Society In Britain however Collins ...


Cuffay, William  

David Dabydeen

Journeymantailor and prominent leader of the Chartist movement. Cuffay was born in Chatham, Kent. His father, originally from St Kitts, had come to Britain as a roots on a British Warship. Cuffay became a journeyman tailor in his teens, but involvement in the strike by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union in 1834 resulted in the loss of his job. Angered by this, he joined the movement in support of the People's Charter, advocating universal suffrage. He was militant in his left‐wing views, and in 1839 contributed to the founding of the Metropolitan Tailors' Charter Association. He also became a member of the Masters and Servants Bill Demonstration Committee, which opposed the power given to magistrates to imprison employees for two months based solely on the employer's statements. His involvement in the Chartist movement grew, and in 1842 he was elected the president of the London Chartists He ...


Cullen, Frederick Ashbury  

Peg Duthie

minister and Harlem civil rights leader, was born in Fairmount (Somerset County), Maryland, the son of Isaac and Emmeline Williams Cullen, who had been slaves. The youngest of eleven children, Cullen grew up in poverty, his father having passed away two months after his birth. He moved to Baltimore with his mother at age twelve and worked for a physician while attending Maryland State Normal School (later Towson University). He then taught public school in Fairmount for two years before entering Morgan College (later Morgan State University), an Episcopalian seminary in Baltimore; between his first and second year of studies, he also worked as a waiter in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He had received a preacher's license while in Fairmount and was ordained in 1900.

Cullen's religious awakening had taken place in September 1894 at Sharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore and he had preached his ...


Cummings, Ida Rebecca  

Donna Tyler Hollie

educator, fraternal leader, and clubwoman, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Her mother, Eliza Davage Cummings, of the second generation of her family to enjoy freedom from slavery, operated a boarding house at the family residence. Her father, Henry Cummings, also born free, was a hotel chef and owner of a catering business. Cummings received her early education from the Oblate Sisters of-Providence, the nation's first order of black nuns.-Subsequently she attended Baltimore's public school for black children and Hampton Institute. She earned a BA from Morgan State College in Baltimore and later studied at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and at Columbia University.

Like many in the small postbellum black middle class the Cummings family felt a responsibility to improve the lot of less fortunate members of their race This expectation was reinforced by the family church Metropolitan Methodist which had played a role in the Underground ...


Du Toit, Stephanus Johannes  

Herman Giliomee

the first person to promote Afrikaans as a language of literary expression and vehicle of a new political consciousness, was born in Daljosafat near Paarl (in present-day South Africa) on 9 October 1847. He was the son of David Petrus du Toit and Helena Elizabeth Du Plessis. Stephanus (or “S. J.,” as he was called) du Toit, grew up on his father’s wine farm, Kleinbosch. He attended a Dutch school at a time when English dominated in education, government, and the professions. He studied to become a minister in Stellenbosch and was strongly influenced by the writings of John Calvin.

Du Toit was short in stature with a bold forehead and piercing eyes He was excessively ambitious and quarrelled with many As a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Paarl Du Toit soon became interested in the promotion of Afrikaans a language forged by colonists slaves and free ...


Forten, James  

Scott A. Miltenberger

James Forten was born into a free black family in Philadelphia. When he was eight he began working alongside his father at a sail loft owned by Robert Bridges. While working with his father, Forten attended the Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet's school for free blacks. With the death of his father, Forten, at age ten, ended his formal schooling and worked in a grocery store to support his mother.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, Forten convinced his mother to let him fight. He joined the crew of the American privateer vessel Royal Louis as a powder boy Captured by the British he languished on a prison ship for several months before being released Following the war he spent a year in England and upon returning to Philadelphia worked as a sailmaker s apprentice for Bridges s firm There he invented and perfected gear that made ...


Forten, James, Sr.  

Julie Winch

James Forten was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Forten, a freeborn sailmaker, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). Forten's parents enrolled him in the African School of abolitionist Anthony Benezet. When Forten was seven, his father died. Margaret Forten struggled to keep her son in school, but he was eventually forced to leave at age nine and work full-time to help support the family. His family remained in Philadelphia throughout the American Revolution, and Forten later recalled being in the crowd outside the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was read to the people for the first time.

In 1781, while serving on a privateer, Forten was captured by the British and spent seven months on the infamous prison ship Jersey in New York harbor. After a voyage to England in 1784 as a merchant seaman Forten returned to Philadelphia ...


Foster, Abby Kelley  

Kelly J. Baker

Abby Kelley was born in Pelham, Massachusetts, to parents of Irish-Quaker descent. She graduated from a Friends' school in Rhode Island in 1829 and became a teacher. In 1836 she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, for a teaching position. While in Lynn, Kelley became involved with the Lynn Female Society, an antislavery organization for women. She quickly gained positions as secretary and eventually as director of the organization. Kelley became involved in the abolitionist cause, and William Lloyd Garrison's attacks on slavery in particular impressed her. After hearing her speak at an antislavery meeting, Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld encouraged Kelley to join the antislavery cause as a lecturer; in 1839 she left teaching to join the lecture circuit It is possible that she was the first woman after the Grimké sisters to speak before mixed audiences Kelley was scorned and mocked by many of her audiences ...


Foster, Stephen S.  

Diane L. Barnes

Stephen Symonds Foster was born in Canterbury, New Hampshire, to the farmers Asa Foster and Sarah Morrill. Trained as a carpenter in his youth, Foster had abandoned the trade to study for the ministry by age twenty-two. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1838 and then briefly attended Union Theological Seminary in New York. At Dartmouth, he helped organize the New Hampshire Young Men's Anti-Slavery Society. At some point in his studies, Foster became disillusioned and abandoned organized religion for the life of a radical reformer. He joined the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) and closely followed the teachings of William Lloyd Garrison. Foster became an active lecturer in antislavery circles and in 1843 published The Brotherhood of Thieves; or, A True Picture of the American Church and Clergy. The popular pamphlet was reprinted at least twenty times.

Foster s embrace of Garrisonian abolition meant that he repudiated ...