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Erin Royston Battat

the first African American to publish an autobiography about conversion to Catholicism, was born in Santa Barbara, California, the only child of Lula Josephine Holden Adams, a painter, and Daniel Henderson Adams, a hotel headwaiter. Daniel and Lula Adams provided a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle for their daughter and raised her according to strict rules of courtesy, manners, and obedience. Shortly after Adams's birth the family moved to Los Angeles, where she attended an integrated primary school.

Adams and her parents fell victim to the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Mother and daughter returned to temperate Santa Barbara in 1920 at their doctor's recommendation and would suffer from chronic illness for the rest of their lives. Adams's father continued to work in Los Angeles for another four years and then died suddenly in 1924 shortly before he was to join the family in Santa Barbara During this period ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

known as “one of the best educated colored ladies of Oakland,” California (Beasley, p. 236), was born Rebecca Crews in or near Halifax or Pittsylvania counties, Virginia, the youngest child of Richard and Sylvia Crews. In 1870, when Rebecca Crews was five years old, her father was a blacksmith, her mother did washing and ironing, her older sister Martha Ann (who later took the married name of Ford) was hired out as a domestic servant, and her older sister Susan, like Rebecca, remained at home. She and Susan appear to have been the first in the family who learned to read and write.

Her parents and older siblings had been enslaved and an older brother George born in Halifax County Virginia was sold away from his parents at the age of two into Richmond Virginia He acquired the surname Mitchel It was by no means universal that formerly enslaved ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

the first woman executed by electric chair in Georgia, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, to Queenie Baker, a sharecropper, and a father whose name is unknown. Little is known about her early life. If typical of the African American experience in southwestern Georgia in the early 1900s Baker's childhood was probably one of long working hours and low expectations. Indeed, it was in the debt-ridden and desperate Georgia black belt of the early 1900s that W. E. B. Du Bois discovered the Negro problem in its naked dirt and penury Litwack 114 In an attempt to escape from that world of debt and desperation Baker began working at an early age at first helping her mother chop cotton for a neighboring white family the Coxes Like other black women in the community she also worked as a laundress and occasional domestic for white families in town Despite the legacy ...

Article

Theresa Leininger-Miller

artist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of James F. Bell and Susanna County, probably laborers. Little is known about Bell's early life. She presumably attended segregated schools. It is unlikely that she ever received artistic training; she declared that she drew “without human teaching.” She probably worked as a domestic servant, laundress, or seamstress, beginning in her teenage years, and she may have traveled extensively. Bell said she “lived all around” before World War I. Since she does not appear in early-twentieth-century city directories or census records in Washington, D.C., or Boston, Massachusetts, and because she apparently never married or had children, it is likely that she resided with her various employers.

By the mid-1920s Bell was working for Edward Peter Pierce, justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1914 to 1937, and Adele Dutaud Pierce his wife as a live ...

Article

Kimberly Cheek

enslavedAfrican-American woman, was born free in Illinois around 1818. The exact date and place of her birth, and the names of her parents are not known. The memoir From Darkness Cometh Light; or Struggles for Freedom, which was published by her daughter Lucy Ann Delany in 1891, provides an account of her mother's life. Despite this extant narrative the chronological record of Berry's origins, movements, and transfer of ownership during her enslavement remains vague.

Her enslavement began in the 1820s, when Polly was abducted, taken to St. Louis, Missouri, and sold into slavery. Shortly afterward she resided in Wayne County, Kentucky. Eric Gardner in Unexpected Places asserts that the Beatty family of Wayne County Kentucky were Polly s first owners p 33 Eventually the Beattys sold her to a poor farmer named Joseph Crockett and she became known as Polly Crockett When she was fourteen ...

Article

Yasmine Ali

a literate domestic servant, grew up in Philadelphia and in New York City with her family. While her parents' names remain unknown, in one of her 1859 letters, she revealed that her father owned a restaurant. Brown severed ties with her family after her father's death in October 1862. In her letters to Rebecca Primus, her beloved friend, she discussed how her mother had remarried a man whom Addie described as often present in her nightmares.

Brown is known today primarily because of her relationship to Rebecca Primus of Hartford, Connecticut. Primus was the only African American among the five teachers selected by the Freedman's Society in 1865 to head to the south and start schools for freed blacks. She relocated to Royal, Maryland, and founded a school there, working until 1869 She was an inspirational figure and a close friend to Addie Brown and seems ...

Article

K. Wise Whitehead

seamstress and domestic, was born free in Pennsylvania, one of four children born to Charles and Helena Davis. She grew up in Philadelphia with her sister, Elizabeth, and her two brothers, Alfred and Thomas. Davis was raised in the lower section of the Seventh Ward, near the shipyards, and probably attended one of the local black schools. Very little is known about Davis’s childhood, but her daily journal, which she kept from 1863 to 1865 provides some insight into her lifestyle, her educational background, and her political, social, and religious choices. Davis’s three pocket diaries are one of only four known unpublished primary sources written by a free black woman during the nineteenth century. In her diary, which begins on 1 January 1863 Davis chronicles her daily experiences living and working during the latter half of the Civil War The Jubilee Day celebrations of Abraham Lincoln s ...

Article

Lou-Ann Crouther

housekeeper, nurse's aide, and writer, was born in New York City, the oldest of the three daughters of James Lee Dickens, a barber and night watchman, and Laura Breckinridge Paige Dickens Potter, a housekeeper and cook. The household also included extended family members, Ethel and Edna Paige (Dorothy's older half-sisters), whose father was deceased. They attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem during some of the years in which Adam Clayton Powell Sr. (who was Laura Dickens's first cousin) was the head pastor. The family moved from Harlem to Mamaroneck, New York, when Dorothy was young, on the recommendation of the family doctor who suggested a more favorable location to cure her case of rickets. Her younger sisters, Evelyn and Irene were born in Mamaroneck and all three of the Dickens girls attended local schools in that city The three Dickens sisters shared the ...

Article

John G. Turner

domestic servant, teacher, and missionary, was born in Gainesville, Alabama, the daughter of Mary and Jesse Fearing, who were slaves of the planter Overton Winston and his wife Amanda Winston. At a young age Mrs. Winston removed Fearing from the care of her parents and began to train her, alongside her older sister, for work inside the plantation house.

Mrs. Winston, a Presbyterian, taught Fearing Bible stories, hymns, and the Westminster catechism, and she impressed upon Fearing the importance of foreign missions. As a young woman Fearing joined the Winstons' church, a congregation affiliated with the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States.

After the Civil War Fearing stayed in Gainesville and sought employment as a domestic servant. Motivated by a desire to read the Bible for herself, Fearing gained some measure of literacy through the help of friends. In 1871 a minister told ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

White House chief butler, was born in Lyles Station, Indiana, an all-black community founded by freed slaves in the 1850s, where his father ran a general store and his mother kept a boarding house. Fields's early love of music was influenced by his father, who directed the only African American brass band in southern Indiana. In 1920 the family moved to Indianapolis, where Fields and his father played together in a YMCA military brass band; Alonzo trained the choir, studied voice, and learned Irish ballads. His dream of becoming a professional singer had to be balanced, however, with his need to make a living, and he again followed in his father's footsteps by running a grocery store. When his business began to decline in 1925 Fields left Indianapolis for Boston where he enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music There he trained at first to be a ...

Article

Glenn Allen Knoblock

wife of Amos Fortune, was of unknown origin, but it is likely that she was forcibly enslaved and transported from Africa to the New World while young. Few details regarding Vilot's life are known. However, surviving evidence provides an accurate portrayal of her life and what it meant to be a free woman of color in northern New England in the late eighteenth century. Vilot is first documented on 9 November 1779, when she was sold by James Baldwin of Woburn, Massachusetts, to a free black, Amos Fortune, for the sum of fifty pounds. Described as “a Negro Woman … being now my property,” Vilot was fifty years old and had served as a domestic slave for the Baldwin family (Lambert, 38).

Vilot's purchaser Amos Fortune had been enslaved until he was manumitted in 1770 and had previously been married to Lydia Somerset whom he had also ...

Article

John Gruber

photographer, was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and attended Howard High School in Chattanooga. His parents were King and Hattie Murfrees Ganaway. Ganaway did not go to college, although his sister, Mamie Egester, graduated from college in Chattanooga. He worked as a butler from 1906 to 1925 for Mary A. Lawrence, the widow of Edward F. Lawrence, a prominent Chicagoan, who lived on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago's “Gold Coast.” During these years, he tried to revive a childhood interest in drawing, but frustrated with his efforts, he turned to photography. He was self-taught, spending his off days perfecting his photographic skills.

Ganaway's photo, “Spirit of Transportation”—an image of two sections of a passenger train, the 20th Century Limited, arriving in Chicago on a cold day in February 1918 captivated the media when it won the first prize in the fifteenth annual exhibition of photographs at ...

Article

Theresa Vara-Dannen

former slave and butler to Samuel Clemens, waiter, and businessman, was born to unknown enslaved parents. Although an 1880 census record indicates he was born in Virginia, Samuel Clemens, the author known as Mark Twain, maintained he was born in Maryland. An 1870 census record shows a twenty-two-year old George Griffin working as a waiter and residing in the Bay State House, a residential hotel; this record indicates that Griffin reported Maryland as his state of birth.

The little known about Griffin's youth was written by Samuel Clemens in an unpublished piece, “A Family Sketch”: Griffin was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation; in his youth, he saw the Civil War firsthand as a servant of General Charles Devens Jr., who fought at Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg and was later named attorney general under President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Clemens met Griffin in 1875 ...

Article

Adele N. Nichols

enslaved African American, mother, yarn spinner, weaver, and housekeeper, was born on the Mount Airy plantation in Virginia to Bill Grimshaw, a carpenter, and to Esther Jackson, a textile worker and cotton spinner, who were married in the early 1820s. Grimshaw's grandparents were Henry and Winney Jackson, domestic workers. Grimshaw's parents named her after her grandmother. By the time Grimshaw was born, their family was owned by William Henry Tayloe. Grimshaw had five siblings: Elizabeth (b. 1824), Anna (b. 1827), Juliet (b. 1929), Charlotte (b. 1834), James (b. 1831), and Henry (b. 1837). Charlotte died when she was young, but the remainder of her siblings survived into adulthood. At the time, most African American slaves were listed in records by their first name or a nickname. It was not until 1862 that Grimshaw was documented by her ...

Article

Cheryl Laz

humanitarian and founder of Hale House, was born Clara McBride in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she grew up. Her father was murdered when she was a child, and her mother died when Clara was sixteen. She left high school without graduating, although she eventually earned her high school equivalency diploma at the age of eighty-seven. After leaving school she married Thomas Hale and moved with him to New York City. There she did cleaning, worked as a domestic, and studied business administration by taking night classes at City College. When she was twenty-seven her husband died, leaving her with three children.

The conflict between financially supporting and physically caring for three young children spurred Hale to begin caring for children in her home. She became a licensed foster parent, taking in seven or eight children at a time. Between 1941 and 1968 she reared more than forty foster children.

Hale ...

Article

Margaret Blair Young

prominent black Mormon, was born in Union, Utah, the daughter of Lucinda Flake and George Washington Stevens. Her maternal grandparents were Green Flake, one of three “colored servants” in the vanguard company of Mormon pioneers, and Martha Crosby (sometimes Morris) Flake, for whom she was named. Her full name was Martha Ann Jane Stevens Perkins Howell. She was likely also named for Jane Manning James, now the best known Mormon pioneer of color.

Howell holds a place in the transitional generation between slavery and freedom for blacks in Utah Her mother was conceived soon after a letter from pioneer Amassa Lyman came to Brigham Young asking that Green Flake Howell s grandfather be sold and the proceeds sent to California where the widow of Flake s master lived The sale did not happen and Green Flake married Martha Crosby Their daughter Lucinda Flake Stevens Howell s mother was conceived ...

Article

Karen E. Sutton

property owner and matriarch of eighteenth-century free black Albany, New York. Records indicate that Jackson was the first African American to own property in Albany. In January 1779 she bought a city lot on the South side of lower Second Street. We know little of her origins; however, by the time of this fortuitous purchase she had married Jack Johnson, a free man of color from Albany. They had two sons, Jack and Lewis. In 1790Dinnah Jackson worked as the housekeeper at the Masonic Lodge and at Saint Peter's Episcopal Church. Exactly how she was able to purchase her property is unclear, but she may have been extremely frugal and resourceful, or perhaps she had an unknown benefactor.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries people lived near their work and most free blacks lived near one another for support and companionship Unlike many other northern ...

Article

Eric R. Jackson

personal assistant to President James Madison and the First Lady Dolley Madison, author, and enslaved African American, was born in Montpelier, Virginia. More importantly, Jennings is best known as perhaps the first non-president or member of a president's family to write a narrative about one's life experience in the Oval Office. His father, Benjamin (or William) Jennings, was a white English trader, his mother was an enslaved African American (unnamed) who was owned by President and First Lady Madison. As a child, young Paul was befriend by the Madison's son Payne Todd. When James Madison was elected as the fourth president of the United States in 1808 Jennings who at the time ten years old accompanied the family to Washington where he served the first family in the executive mansion On one occasion Jennings aided the First Lady as she greeted numerous guests during one of her legendary ...

Article

Laura M. Chmielewski

convert to Methodism and religious contemplative, was born probably in New York City, of unknown but most likely enslaved parents. All the details of Zilpah Montjoy's life are derived from Abigail Mott's 1826Narratives of Colored Americans, a collection of biographical sketches of prominent and, in Mott's view, exemplary black Christians that includes Richard Allen, Benjamin Banneker, Paul Cuffe, Gustavus Vassa (Olaudah Equiano), and Phillis Wheatley as well as more obscure figures such as Billy and Jenny Poor Pompey and Old Dinah The circumstances surrounding Zilpah Montjoy s birth and parentage are unknown According to her biographer Montjoy spent her early life in domestic slavery in New York City serving masters who invested nothing in her spiritual development beyond calling her by a name that had biblical origins Montjoy was reportedly bound so tightly to her work that throughout her youth she ...

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Kathryn L. Staley

lady's maid, hairdresser, and author, was presumably born free in Cincinnati or New York. Little is known about her childhood and personal life in general. She was raised in New York but her parents' names are unknown. One biographer lists her maiden name as Johnson and another states that she was the former Mrs. Johnson but neither provides a source. As a child she apparently did not obtain extensive education and began working as a domestic while young.

Most information about Potter stems from the anonymously published A Hairdresser's Experience in High Life (1859 At the time of publication it was universally attributed to her however within her work she masked most of her private life and instead described her clientele According to the autobiography Potter moved to Buffalo committed a weakness and married Potter 12 Ever private she neglects to mention to whom she ...