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Rashauna R. Johnson

banker, real estate magnate, activist, and philanthropist, considered the first southern African American millionaire. Robert Reed “Bob” Church was born in 1839 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to an enslaved mother, Emmeline, and a white steamboat captain, Charles B. Church. His mother, a seamstress, died when Robert was twelve years old, and he spent much of his childhood on the Mississippi River with his father. Because of his closeness to his father, Robert enjoyed privileges not generally associated with slavery. While working on a steamboat during the Civil War, however, Union troops captured him, and he soon settled as a freedman in Memphis, Tennessee.

Church entered into business in postwar Memphis, but success did not shield him from the violence of Reconstruction. During the 1866 Memphis riot in which white mobs attacked freedmen vigilantes ransacked Church s saloon and shot him Church survived and ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Robert Reed Church, Jr., was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Church, who is believed to be the first African American millionaire, and Anna Wright Church. He was the youngest child of the wealthy businessman, and after graduating from Oberlin College in 1904, took a job with a Wall Street bank in New York City. Three years later, he returned to Memphis to work as a cashier in his father's Solvent Savings Bank and Trust, where he was named president in 1909. After his father's death in 1912, Church resigned as president, choosing instead to monitor his father's extensive property holdings throughout Memphis.

Turning to politics, Church founded the Lincoln League in 1916. He became a major contributor and director of the Tennessee Republican Party He was a delegate to eight Republican National Conventions an official on the National Advisory ...

Article

Thomas N. Boschert

politician and businessman, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Reed Church Sr., a banker and businessman, and Anna Sue Wright, a school principal. The wealth and prestige of his father afforded young Church opportunities not available to most African American children of his day. After attending a parochial school in Memphis and Oberlin Academy in Oberlin, Ohio, Church studied at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago, Illinois, and then enrolled in the Packard School of Business in New York City. He completed the business course and worked on Wall Street for several years before returning to Memphis in 1909 to help his father in the management of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company and other family enterprises. In 1911 he married Sara Paroda Johnson, a schoolteacher; they had one child.

Church's rise to political power began in 1911 when as a leader ...

Article

Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and businessman, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to John and Mary Coburn. Nothing is known about his upbringing and little about his parents and family. During the 1820s Coburn labored as a housewright and by 1830 had established a clothing business, probably with his white father, on Brattle Street. He married Emeline Gray, a New Hampshire native, and joined with his brother-in-law Ira S. Gray, a well-known light-skinned gambler, to establish a successful gaming parlor. Coburn remained in the clothing business into the mid 1860s, when he changed the name of his company to W. T. Coburn Clothing Store, after his adopted son, Wendell T. By the early 1850s he had acquired substantial real estate holdings in the city—with one house worth four thousand dollars and another valued at three thousand dollars—and possessed one thousand dollars of personal property.

As one of the most successful African Americans ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

Barney Launcelot Ford was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Given simply the name “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is reputed to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that Barney could practice his studies. Upon the death of his mother (circa 1837 Barney was enslaved ...

Article

Maria Elena Raymond

, Underground Railroad conductor, barber, and businessman, was born in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of a Mr. Darington (given name unknown), a slaveholder and plantation owner, and Phoebe (surname unknown), one of Darington's slaves. Called “Barney” at birth, he adopted the name Barney Launcelot Ford as an adult to please his soon-to-be wife and to provide himself with a “complete” name.

Ford spent the first quarter-century of his life enslaved. His mother is said to have planted the seeds of education in him as a child by secreting him out of camp at night to meet with sympathetic people who taught him the basics of reading and writing. She may have put herself in mortal danger on many occasions by smuggling in a section of newspaper or a Bible page so that he could practice his studies. Upon his mother's death around 1837 Ford was enslaved on a ...

Article

Melissa Nicole Stuckey

cofounder of Boley, Oklahoma, the largest all-black town in the United States, was the eldest child of Matthew and Dottie Haynes and was born in Red River County, Texas. Very little is known about Haynes's childhood and young adulthood. He was the eldest of more than twelve brothers and sisters, grew up on a farm, and had very little education during his formative years. By 1900 his parents had moved to Paris, Texas, a small city, which increased the educational opportunities available to Haynes's younger siblings, but whether the move took place early enough to allow Haynes to attend city schools is unknown. In the late 1880s or early 1890s, Haynes married and started a family. In 1899, shortly after his wife, whose name is unknown, passed away, he moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory, to begin anew. He was soon joined by his daughters, Winnie and George ...

Article

Andrew W. Kahrl

real estate developer, general contractor, philanthropist, and shipping and excursion steamboat owner, was born in Orange, Virginia.

Jefferson spent his youth in Washington, D.C. In 1881, at the age of fifteen, Jefferson enlisted in the Navy after falsifying his age. He traveled around the world working as a coal heaver. During his service, Jefferson secured connections with wealthy, influential whites, including Canadian shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allen, from whom Jefferson received a significant bequest after his death in 1882 Following his service Jefferson returned to Washington and started a small business that furnished manure and other fertilizers to city lawns and gardens and collected and shipped it out of town His wealth grew as a result of real estate investments Partnerships and friendships with influential whites in the city s business community helped to mitigate the effects of discrimination and protect him from ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

an educated and wealthy Louisiana man of mixed race caught up in the crosscurrents of racial identity and politics that followed the Civil War, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the son of a French man and a woman of African descent, possibly free. Sources even differ on whether his father was French or a free “colored” slave owner of French descent.

In French colonial culture unlike Anglo colonial culture it was common for wealthy slave owners to acknowledge children by enslaved or free colored women educating such children leaving them inheritances but always keeping them in a subordinate status to any white children by European descended wives Joubert s background and the specific identity of his parents is obscured by his efforts at times to maintain that he was a white man and at others to advance the cause of equal access to schools public accommodations and ...

Article

Clifton H. Johnson

Thomy Lafon was born a free person of color in New Orleans, the son of Modeste Foucher (of Haitian descent) and perhaps Pierre Laralde, who might have been a Caucasian born in France or a free person of color born in Louisiana. Although Thomy Lafon was a devout Roman Catholic, no baptismal record has been found, and there is no birth record. He probably took the name Lafon from Barthélémy Lafon, a prominent architect, engineer, and city planner, who was born in Villepinte, France, and took up permanent residence in New Orleans in 1789 or 1790. The connection between Thomy Lafon and Barthélémy Lafon is still unclear; there was a relationship, however, between the elder Lafon and Thomy Lafon's mother.

Most of what has been written about the early life of Thomy Lafon is based on hearsay and conjecture He was fluent in French Spanish and ...

Article

Clifton H. Johnson

real estate broker and philanthropist, was born free in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Modeste Foucher, a woman of Haitian descent. His father may have been Pierre Laralde, who might have been a Caucasian born in France or a free person of color born in Louisiana. Although Lafon was a devout Roman Catholic, no baptismal record has been found, and there is no birth record. He probably took the name Lafon from Barthélémy Lafon, a prominent architect, engineer, and city planner, who was born in Villepinte, France, and took up permanent residence in New Orleans in 1789 or 1790. The connection between Thomy Lafon and Barthélémy Lafon is still unclear; there was a relationship, however, between the elder Lafon and Thomy Lafon's mother.

Most of what has been written about the early life of Thomy Lafon is based on hearsay and conjecture He was ...

Article

Nick J. Sciullo

realtor, prominent citizen, and bureaucrat. Whitefield McKinlay was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George and Mary E. Weston McKinlay. He studied at the Avery Institute, Charleston's first free secondary school for African Americans. He continued his education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of South Carolina, and Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. At West Point he suffered continued hardship from classmates and staff and was finally physically disqualified from the school. When conservatives took over South Carolina in 1876, black students were forced to leave the University of South Carolina. McKinlay was a member of the Brown Fellowship Society, which was founded in 1790 to provide education, insurance, and a cemetery to its elite membership roster.

In 1887 McKinlay married Kate Wheeler The family moved to Washington D C when conditions in South Carolina deteriorated McKinlay and Wheeler had two ...

Article

Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George McKinlay and Mary E. Weston. His father, a free black man, had purchased a house on Meeting Street in Charleston in 1848; his grandfather, Anthony Weston, was a well-known mixed-race millwright and slave owner in antebellum South Carolina. After the Civil War McKinlay studied at Avery Institute in Charleston, and in 1874 he enrolled at the University of South Carolina, where he remained for three years, until blacks were excluded after the Democrats came to power. After teaching school in South Carolina, he matriculated at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he remained until 1881. By the age of twenty-nine, McKinlay could boast of a very strong education.

Although the profession of teaching was open to a person of his talents McKinlay moved to Washington D C and found a job in the Government ...

Article

Amber Moulton-Wiseman

educator, was born Carlotta Stewart in Brooklyn, New York, to Thomas McCants Stewart, lawyer, minister, educator, and civil rights activist, and Charlotte Pearl Harris Stewart. In 1883 Stewart-Lai's father accepted a professorship at the College of Liberia and left his family in Brooklyn with no apparent means of support as he assessed liberal and industrial education models for the Liberian school. His absence and neglect led to a divorce from Charlotte, but by 1886 Stewart had resumed his legal practice in New York and he and his children would remain there throughout Stewart-Lai's childhood.

Stewart-Lai attended public school in New York before accompanying her father and stepmother Alice to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1898 Entering the racially and ethnically diverse Hawaiian community with virtually no existing African American presence the Stewarts were able to live unburdened by many of the racial prejudices they had known in the ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

barber, real estate agent, accomplished debater and public speaker, leader of the pre and post civil war African American community in Philadelphia, was born free in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Josiah C. and Julia Wears. Josiah Wears was born in Virginia, where his father had been enslaved but purchased his own freedom and his wife's. The family moved to Philadelphia when Isaiah Wears was still a child, joining Mother Bethel AME church. Toward the end of his life, his birth year was estimated as 1822, but 1850 and 1870 census records give his age as thirty‐one and fifty‐one.

In the early 1840s, Wears married a woman from Delaware named Lydia. He was elected in 1846, shortly after the birth of their first daughter, Mary, to a delegation from Philadelphia for the Pennsylvania State Negro Suffrage Convention. As a delegate in 1854 to the National Negro ...