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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

slave and state legislator, was born to unknown slave parents near Holly Springs in Marshall County, Mississippi, just south of that state's border with Tennessee. His parents were owned by different masters, and in 1857, when George was eleven, his father was sold and forced to move to Texas.

Later when he was in his nineties Albright recalled that he had learned to read and write as a child even though the state of Mississippi prohibited slaves from doing so Historians have estimated that despite legal restrictions at least 5 percent of all slaves were literate on the eve of the Civil War though literacy rates were probably lowest in rural Black Belt communities like Holly Springs In Albright s recollection a state law required that any slave who broke this law be punished with 500 lashes on the naked back and have his or her thumb cut ...

Article

Charles Vincent

Allain was born on October 1, 1846, on a plantation in the Parish of West Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A wealthy white man, Sosthene Allain, owned the plantation. Like some other slaveholders, he made one of his slaves, “a pretty brown woman,” his mistress. They had a son, Théophile, who bore the improbable nickname of Soulouque, after the self-proclaimed black dictator of Haiti, Faustin Élie Soulouque. Théophile accompanied his father on trips to the North and to Europe. In 1856 Sosthene Allain sent for his son to join him in France, where he witnessed the christening of the prince imperial at Notre Dame. They journeyed also to Spain and England. Returning to the United States in 1859, young Allain entered school under a Professor Abadie in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1868 he was enrolled in a private school in New Brunswick New Jersey He owned ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

businessman and politician, was born a slave in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Sosthene Allain, a wealthy white planter, and one of Allain's slave mistresses, whose name is not recorded. Sosthene Allain appears to have favored his son, to whom he gave the nickname “Solougue,” after a Haitian dictator of the 1840s and 1850s. In 1856, when Théophile was ten, his father called him to France to attend the christening of the son of Louis Napoleon III in Paris and also to travel with him to Spain and Britain. Théophile returned to the United States in 1859, where he studied with private tutors in New Orleans and at a private college in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Although Allain had been born a slave his education and foreign travel prepared him well for a leadership position in Louisiana business and politics after the Civil War So too did ...

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

Charles Vincent

Antoine was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1836. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812; he had fought the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Antoine's mother was a native of the West Indies and the daughter of an African chief; her parents were taken as slaves from the shores of Africa. On his father's side (so the story goes), Antoine's grandmother Rose Antoine was a remarkable woman who purchased her freedom and acquired a small fortune through her work as a midwife.

Caesar C. Antoine spent his childhood in New Orleans and attended private schools. He was fluent in both French and English. After graduating, he entered one of the few occupations open to African Americans in the antebellum South: the barber trade. After federal troops captured Baton Rouge in 1862 Antoine organized a black company known subsequently as Company ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

Union army officer and politician, was born in New Orleans, the son of a West Indian midwife and a free black soldier who had served in the Corps d'Afrique with General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. His parents' names are not recorded. Family lore had it that Caesar's maternal grandfather, an African chief, had been enslaved and taken to America and that his paternal grandmother, Rose Antoine, had earned enough money from her work as a midwife to purchase her freedom. Rose Antoine also left each of her seven sons twenty thousand dollars in her will.

As a free black child in New Orleans Antoine attended private schools the public schools of the city were closed to blacks and became fluent in both English and French Upon leaving school as a teenager in the early 1850s he then apprenticed and worked as a barber one of ...

Article

Florence M. Coleman

slave, Civil War soldier, politician, and Baptist minister, was born Peter Barnabas Barrow, a Virginia slave. The month and day of his birth are unknown. It is believed that he was born near Petersburg, Virginia, and may have been taken to Mississippi or Alabama with his owner. In 1864 Barrow joined Company A, 66th U.S. Colored Infantry and in 1865 became a sergeant. A year later Barrow was discharged because of an injury he received. He went on to teach school at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Barrow, who was most likely self-educated, served as a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives for Warren County, Mississippi, from 1870 to 1871. From 1872 to 1875 he served in the Mississippi State Senate. He migrated to Spokane, Washington, in 1889 and settled there in the city s African American community Barrow and other African Americans were determined to thrive by establishing ...

Article

Eric Gardner

politician and activist, was born into slavery in North Carolina. Both he and his mother, Susan, were owned by the wealthy Thomas Burke Burton, who moved to Fort Bend County, Texas, from Halifax County, North Carolina, in the 1850s. Most accounts claim that the slaveholder favored Burton, taught him to read and write, and, after the Civil War, sold land to him; some accounts claim that Burton supported his former owner's wife when she was widowed during Reconstruction.

On 28 September 1868 Burton married Abba Jones (sometimes listed as Abby and sometimes as Hattie). The couple had three children, Horace J., Hattie M., and an unnamed child who died in infancy. Susan Burton lived with the young family until her death c. 1890.

Propertied, literate, and articulate, Burton quickly became active in the local Republican Party, the local Union League, and larger Reconstruction efforts. In 1869 ...

Article

Agnes Kane Callum

slave, farmer, teacher, Reconstruction-era state legislator and lawyer, was born in South Carolina's famed Edgefield District. He was literate and the favored slave of Major Thomas Carwile the commissioner in equity of Edgefield Cain was probably raised much like other slave children on Edgefield plantations they would be cared for by an elderly lady while their mothers worked in the fields until the children were about six or seven years old when they were sent to work in the fields many serving as water carriers or weed pullers In some instances they were sent to work by the side of an adult Generally the children were called quarter workers since they produced about one fourth as much labor as an adult It is not known exactly how Cain learned to read and write but it is likely that he was taught by his owner as he was known as ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and state legislator, was born to slave parents whose names have not been recorded. Nothing is known of his childhood, other than that he had one brother, Sam. By the time he reached adulthood, Charles Caldwell was working as a blacksmith in Clinton, a small village in Hinds County twelve miles from Jackson, Mississippi. Given that Mississippi's slave population expanded rapidly in the three decades after 1830, it is quite possible that Caldwell was born in another state to planters who had then brought or sold him on the lucrative Mississippi market.

Caldwell s skilled trade provided him a degree of relative autonomy in his work and may have enabled him to travel with fewer restrictions than the average plantation slave Slave blacksmiths carpenters barbers and other skilled workers often learned to read and write as Caldwell did and generally enjoyed a high status within the African American ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

farmer, shoemaker, and longtime state legislator, was born in Warren County, North Carolina, the third son of free, mixed-race parents Hawkins Carter and Elizabeth Wiggins, who were married in 1845. Few details are known of his early life or education, only that his father, a prosperous farmer, could afford to hire a young white teacher, W. J. Fulford, to tutor his eight children in 1861, the last year before the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the teenage Carter served as an officer's attendant for a Warrenton acquaintance, Captain Stephen W. Jones of the Forty-sixth North Carolina Regiment's Company C, raised at Warrenton in early 1862 Jones s company saw action at Antietam and other battles and Jones was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House where Carter presumably helped care for him The eldest son of the Warren County sheriff and a former deputy sheriff himself ...

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

Benjamin R. Justesen

journalist, businessman, and civil rights organization leader, was born into slavery, probably near Smyrna, Tennessee, to unnamed parents, and apparently orphaned soon afterward. Little is known of his childhood, except that Cooper moved at an early age to Nashville, where he was educated at the old barracks school for African American children on Knowles Street, later the nucleus of Fisk University.

Cooper later recalled working on a farm for two years before he began selling newspapers on passenger trains. He also worked briefly as a hotel waiter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Centennial Exposition there in 1876. About 1877 Cooper migrated to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he worked as a book-seller and became one of the first African Americans to graduate from the city's Shortridge High School in 1882 He began working for the Railway Mail Service and soon rose to chief clerk on the Louisville ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, farmer, public official, and three-term state legislator, was born a slave in Granville County, North Carolina, near the county seat of Oxford, to unnamed unknown parents. Little is known of his childhood, except that he received a limited education before the Civil War, probably because of his preferred status as the property, and possibly the son, of a prosperous white planter named Benjamin Crews. One account of Crews's early life says he was taken from his slave mother “at the age of two years and reared by a white family whose name he bore” (Edmonds, 102). He is also said to have attended both private and public schools in Oxford, where he grew up.

By 1870 Crews's education had enabled him to begin work as a schoolteacher in Oxford, even as he also ran his own farm and worked as a carpenter. Beginning in 1874 Crews embarked ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

wheelwright, politician, and postmaster, was born a slave in Athens, Georgia, to parents whose names have not been recorded. Little is known about the first three decades of his life, other than that he worked as a wheelwright for his master, a carriage maker. Davis learned to read and write while still a slave, skills that helped propel him to the forefront of black political leadership in Reconstruction-era Athens, alongside the tailor, William Finch.

Davis attended one of Georgia's earliest freedmen's conventions in Augusta in January 1866 and rose to prominence as captain of Athens's first black fire company. His reported “coolness and energy” in dealing with a major fire in Athens in 1866 was probably a factor in his election as one of Clarke County's two black delegates to Georgia's constitutional convention, which sat from 1867 to 1868 In the first elections ...

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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

James Edward Ford

city commissioner, entrepreneur, state representative, and prison reformer, was born a slave in Washington, North Carolina. Little information has been found concerning his early life and his parents. But it is agreed that Ellison was apprenticed to a local carpenter at a young age. By 1852 Stewart was working in Raleigh, North Carolina, on commercial construction projects. There is little information on his life during the Civil War. However, after the war he did open a grocery store, continued his work in construction, and became a building contractor, working with the Freedmen's Bureau to erect facilities for the newly freed men and women of Raleigh. Ellison occasionally attended night school, but he was mainly self-educated.

Ellison's political career began in the late 1860s when opportunities for blacks were opened up by Reconstruction. In early October 1866 he attended the State Equal Rights League Convention of ...

Article

Blake Wintory

photographer, politician, sheriff, assayer, barber, and lawyer, was born a slave in Carroll County, Kentucky. William Hines Furbush became a member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as the first sheriff of Lee County, Arkansas. His Arkansas political career began in the Republican Party at the close of Reconstruction and ended in the Democratic Party just as political disfranchisement began.

Little is known about Furbush's early life, though his literacy suggests a formal childhood education. Around 1860 he operated a photography studio in Delaware, Ohio. In March 1862 he traveled to Union-controlled Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas, on Kate Adams and continued to work as a photographer. In Franklin County, Ohio, that December he married Susan Dickey. A few years later, in February 1865 he joined the Forty second Colored Infantry at Columbus Ohio He received an honorable discharge at the ...