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Frank R. Levstik

Edwin C. Berry was born in Oberlin, Ohio, on December 10, 1854, the son of free parents who were born in Gallia County, Ohio. In 1856 his family moved to Athens County, where Berry remained for the rest of his life. In Athens County Berry attended Albany Enterprise Academy, one of the earliest educational institutions in the United States that was conceived, owned, and operated by blacks. The Berry family took in boarders, two of whom were to gain fame in their own right: Medal of Honor winner Milton M. Holland and his brother, William H. Holland, Texas legislator and educator.

Berry first found employment in Athens manufacturing bricks for the state mental hospital that was being constructed in town. In 1868 he secured work in a local restaurant as an apprentice cook for five years. On October 18, 1877 Berry married Mattie Madra of Pomeroy ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

baker, community leader, cautious abolitionist, and patriarch of a talented African American family well known into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was born in Burlington, New Jersey. His narrative records that he belonged to “the Estate of Samuel Bustill of the City of Burlington, but he Dying when I was Young I was Sold to John Allen of the Same City” (Bustill, p. 22). The name of Bustill's mother is recorded only as Parthenia; Samuel Bustill, an English‐born lawyer who died in 1742, was his father as well as his owner.

Many sources, including Lloyd Louis Brown's detailed history of the Bustill family in The Young Paul Robeson: On My Journey Now (1997), leave out the Allen family, and assert that Samuel Bustill's widow, Grace, arranged for Cyrus Bustill to be apprenticed to Thomas Pryor Jr. However Bustill s own account ...

Article

Marcie Cohen Ferris

businesswoman, chef, restaurateur, and community activist, was born Mildred Edna Cotten in Baldwin Township, Chatham County, North Carolina. The youngest daughter in a family of seven children, she was raised by her father Ed Cotten, a farmer and voice teacher. Council's mother Effie Edwards Cotten, a teacher trained at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, died at age thirty-four when her daughter was twenty-three months old. Mildred Council was nicknamed “Dip” by her brothers and sisters because her long arms allowed her to reach deep into the rain barrel and retrieve a dipper full of water, even when the barrel was low.

Council recalled as a significant moment the day in 1938 when her father asked her to stay home and “fix a little something to eat” while the rest of the family worked in the fields (Mama Dip's Kitchen, 2).

From a young age Council ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

George Thomas Downing was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School #2 on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American males to fight for the elective franchise in New York ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with the future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American men to fight for ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

George Thomas Downing lived nearly eighty-four years, but the results of his struggles for civil rights persisted long past his death. He was born to Thomas and Rebecca West Downing in New York City and attended the Mulberry Street School, which educated many future leaders in the fight for black civil rights. When George turned fourteen, he and several schoolmates organized a literary society in which to read, write, and talk about various issues of the day—primarily slavery. The young men in the society adopted a resolution against celebrating the Fourth of July because they believed that the Declaration of Independence mocked black Americans.

Downing graduated from Hamilton College in Oneida County, New York, and began his fight for black civil rights by serving as an agent for the Underground Railroad. From 1857 to 1866 he led the fight against separate public schools for blacks and whites in Rhode ...

Article

Ayesha Kanji

marketing executive and educator, was born in Washington, D.C., to William H. Fitzhugh, a messenger for the Department of Agriculture, and Lillian (maiden name unknown), a counselor at one of the local junior high schools. Both of his parents were involved in the community, his mother in civic affairs and his father through his membership in the Order of the Elks, a fraternal organization whose mission is to cultivate good fellowship and community spirit. In the 1920s, Fitzhugh attended a predominantly black high school, Dunbar High School, during a period of racial segregation in the United States.

Graduating from high school at the age of 16, Fitzhugh distinguished himself with a scholarship to Harvard University, where he was one of only four black students in the entering class. He was not allowed to live in the campus dormitories, but Fitzhugh excelled and graduated with honors in 1931 ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a trained agronomist who organized a team to help the Soviet Union develop its economy, and remained in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic until his death, was born on a cotton farm in Yazoo County, Mississippi, the son of Hilliard and Catherine Golden.

Golden's father was born in Mississippi in 1844, to parents born in North Carolina, while his mother was born in Texas, to a father born in North Carolina and a mother born in Virginia. He had older sisters born between the years 1862 and 1886 (Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, Rebecca, Biddie, Miriam, Virginia Mamie), and younger brothers and sisters born between 1891 to 1900 (Willie, Lily, and Viola). Golden's parents and grandparents had all been enslaved from birth until 1863 After emancipation Hilliard Golden saved money to acquire a substantial cotton farm but ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

cook and laborer, was born in Lawrenceville, Virginia, probably in 1862 or 1863. The names of his parents have not been recorded, and it is not known whether or not they were enslaved at the time of their son's birth. Indeed, but for the discovery of a package of letters written to Channing Lewis by Alice Hanley, a white Irish American woman, his life would have been largely lost to history. The letters, enclosed in a black lace stocking, fell from the attic of a house undergoing renovation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in spring 1992. When workmen opened up a hole in the ceiling, the stocking fell. Its contents provide a unique perspective on the southern black migrant experience and on the everyday life of black and white working-class people in New England at the turn of the twentieth century.

The letters also reveal a far from ...

Article

Carla J. Jones

grocer and community leader, was born Alethia Browning in the late eighteenth century in Maryland to parents whose names are unknown. No information is available about her early life. Referred to alternatively as Aletha, Lithe, Lethee, or, most commonly, Lethe, Browning grew up enslaved in southern Maryland and first appears in the historical record at the time of her manumission by Joseph Daugherty in Washington, D.C. In July 1810 Daugherty had paid Rachel Pratt of Prince George's County, Maryland, $275 for Browning, manumitting her four days later “for value received and other good causes” (Provine, 154). Subsequent histories refer to the $275 payment to Pratt as a deposit toward the sum of $1,400 that the white-woman demanded in return for Browning's freedom. Browning made the payments herself with money earned through independent work in Washington, D.C.

Rachel Pratt the mother of the Maryland governor and U S ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a leading rank-and-file organizer of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee in Chicago, and member of the subsequent United Packinghouse Workers of America, particularly instrumental in organizing the six “little” packers, providing a base from which to secure recognition at the dominant Armour, Swift, Cudahy and Wilson companies.

Details of Washington's birth have not been documented, but he grew up in Chicago, the son of a butcher at the Swift meatpacking company, who moved the family from Mississippi in 1915. Initially, Washington's father tried to obtain work in bricklaying and plastering, as he had in the Vicksburg area before moving north. Excluded from these occupations by the building trades unions' refusal to accept African Americans, he became a bitter opponent of unionization in the meatpacking industry, literally turning his back when representatives of the Stockyards Labor Council invited him to join.

Between the efforts of SLC to incorporate and advance ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a leading organizer and international vice president of the Packinghouse Workers Union of America, following a period as a respected organizer of the Swift Company's in-house welfare system, who later worked with the Political Action Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and with the merged AFL-CIO's Committee on Political Action (COPE).

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Philip Mitchell Weightman Jr. was the oldest son of a man of the same name, born around 1859, equally skilled at brickmaking, bricklaying, and butchering, and the former Sara Lee Watts, born around 1870, both native to Mississippi. Weightman's paternal grandmother was one of several sisters born enslaved in Brunswick, Virginia, and brought to Vicksburg by owners who refused to break up the family group. His paternal grandfather was classified as “white” by the laws and customs of the nineteenth century; the elder Weightman's “white” cousin Frank Hall owned ...