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John Garst

the inspiration for the “Frankie and Johnny” song, was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were Cedric Baker and his wife Margaret (maiden name unknown), and she had three brothers: Charles, Arthur, and James. Charles, who was younger than Frankie, lived with her on Targee Street in 1900. In 1899 Baker shot and killed her seventeen-year-old “mack” (pimp), Allen “Al” Britt. St. Louis pianists and singers were soon thumping and belting out what would become one of America's most famous folk ballads and popular songs, “Frankie and Johnny,” also known as “Frankie and Albert,” “Frankie Baker,” and “Frankie.”

At age sixteen or seventeen Baker fell in love with a man who, unknown to her, was living off the earnings of a prostitute (this kind of man was known as an “easy rider,” a term made famous by W. C. Handy in his ...

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Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...

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Kit Candlin

freewoman of color and the star witness in the trial of Thomas Picton, the governor of British Trinidad, for torture. Calderón was born in Trinidad in 1786 to Maria del Rosario Calderón, a freewoman of color, originally from Venezuela. She had two half-sisters, Catalina and Benancia, who were 10 years older than she. Both Calderón and her mother were employed at the house of a Spanish trader, Pedro Ruiz, as domestics.

In December 1801, when she was 14, she was arrested for complicity in a robbery at the house of her employer. It was alleged that her boyfriend—a man in his thirties known as Carlos Gonzales—was given access to the house by Calderón to rob 2,000 Spanish dollars that her employer kept in a strongbox in the kitchen.

Looking for evidence to convict Gonzales Ruiz took Calderón into custody for questioning The governor became interested in the case because ...

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Julie Winch

writer, adventurer, and perennial litigant, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the grandson of Jacques Clamorgan, a French entrepreneur and land speculator. Jacques died in 1814, leaving as his heirs the four children he had fathered with his various slaves whom he then emancipated. One of those children, Apoline, was Cyprian Clamorgan's mother. Apoline never married. Instead, she lived with a series of white “protectors.” A Catholic by upbringing in a deeply Catholic community, she presented each of her children for baptism at the Old Cathedral and revealed to the priest the name of the father so it could be entered in the baptismal register. However, she did not live long enough to have Cyprian baptized, and the identity of his father died with her.

Clamorgan and his siblings, Louis, Henry, and Louise, were left in the care of a white neighbor, Charles Collins ...

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Taunya Lovell Banks

in Massachusetts in 1781. “I heard that paper read yesterday that says, ‘all men are born equal, and that every man has a right to freedom.’ I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?” According to Catherine Sedgewick, Elizabeth Freeman said this to Theodore Sedgewick, a young Massachusetts lawyer who was Catherine’s father.

Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved black woman also known as Mum Bett (or Mumbet), was born in Claverack, New York, and sold to Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield Massachusetts She approached Theodore Sedgewick after hearing the Declaration of Independence read at the village meetinghouse in Sheffield Another account claims that Freeman overheard talk about the Massachusetts state constitutional provision while waiting on tables There is at least one possible explanation for the conflict over the legal source of Freeman s claim She may have asked about the Declaration of ...

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Elizabeth Freeman was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman's bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman's mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781.

The proposed dates for her birth, which range from 1732 to 1744 are derived from an estimate carved on her tombstone suggesting that she was about eighty five ...

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Martha A. Sandweiss

wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writerClarence King and litigant, was born in or around West Point, Georgia. Though little is known of her early life, she was almost certainly born a slave and as a young girl acquired the name Ada Copeland. In the mid-1880s she migrated to New York City and found work as a nursemaid. In late 1887 or 1888 Copeland met a man who introduced himself as a Pullman porter named James Todd. They were married in September 1888 by the Reverend James H. Cook a prominent minister with the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church Although Todd represented himself to Ada as a Marylander of African American descent this was a false identity He was in fact Clarence King a socially and politically prominent white man from Newport Rhode Island educated at Yale who had led the Fortieth Parallel Survey ...

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David Brodnax

slave and civil rights litigant, was born Rafe Nelson in Virginia and renamed after his master in infancy; nothing is known about his parents. In 1834 Montgomery, then a slave in Marion County, Missouri, heard stories of fortunes to be made in the lead mines of Dubuque, a rough frontier village of about two thousand people located on the upper Mississippi River in the Iowa Territory. Montgomery's sister Tilda was already living in Dubuque, where she was one of seventy-two other African Americans and sixteen slaves recorded in the county in the 1840 census, although slavery was illegal in Iowa. Ralph and his master Jordan Montgomery drew up an agreement allowing him to work in the mines for five years, after which he would pay $550 for his freedom; he may have hoped to purchase his sister's freedom as well.

When the five year period ended Montgomery had barely ...

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Mamie E. Locke

shoemaker and plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), was born Homère Patris Plessy in New Orleans, to carpenter Adolphe (Joseph) Plessy and seamstress Rosa Debergue. Louisiana's antebellum caste system designated both parents as free people of color. Homer Plessy's grandfather was a white Frenchman named Germain Plessy, who arrived in New Orleans from Haiti in the early 1800s. His union with a free woman of color named Agnes Mathieu produced eight children including Homer's father, Adolphe.

Homer Plessy was born two months after the Emancipation Proclamation, and his early life was marked by the Reconstruction era in the state. The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution freed the enslaved (1865); granted equal citizenship rights (1868); and prohibited the denial of suffrage based on race (1870 Plessy thus reached adulthood with the right to ...

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Donald Yacovone

abolitionist, printer, journalist, and civil rights litigant, was born in the heart of Boston's black community on Beacon Hill, the second of Sarah Easton Roberts and Robert Roberts's twelve children. Both parents were active abolitionists—his mother was the daughter of James Easton, the successful black Massachusetts businessman and reformer, and his father was an author and household manager for the elite white families of Christopher Gore and Nathaniel Appleton. Roberts's father had been born in Charleston, South Carolina; he moved to Boston in-1805 and married in 1813. His second son, named-for the famed Benjamin Franklin, reflected the family's commitment to the principles of the American Revolution and foretold his career as a printer.

As a young man Roberts became a shoemaker s apprentice but after completing his training whites refused to hire him They refused I suppose merely on account of ...

Article

Sara Bruya

soldier whose dishonorable discharge became a rallying point for opponents of President Teddy Roosevelt, was born in Marion, South Carolina. Little is known about his parents or early life, but he may have worked as a cotton hand before enlisting in the army on 16 May 1881.

Like many African American men of his time, Sanders benefited from an 1866 Act of Congress, which authorized two cavalry and four infantry regiments within the Regular Army to “be composed of colored men,” giving blacks a permanent place within the Armed Forces of the United States. The Twenty-fifth Infantry division was stationed in Louisiana and Texas for over a decade before it was transferred to Fort Randall in the Department of Dakota and later to Fort Missoula (Montana) in May 1888. In 1896 Lieutenant James A. Moss commander of the Twenty fifth Infantry organized a bicycle corps at ...

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Eric Gardner

litigant, slave, and laundress, was born probably in Virginia to enslaved parents about whom nothing is known. By the 1830s, she had become the slave of Lawrence Taliaferro, an Indian agent and a major in the U.S. Army. When Taliaferro, a Virginian who had transplanted to Pennsylvania, was stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, he brought Harriet with him. There she met Dred Scott soon after his master, Dr. John Emerson, was also posted at Fort Snelling. Though such weddings were exceedingly rare, Taliaferro, also a justice of the peace, performed a formal marriage ceremony between Scott and Robinson in 1836 or 1837. After the marriage, Harriet Scott was either given or, more likely, sold to Emerson.

Emerson hired the Scotts out to various officers at Fort Snelling before he married Irene Sanford on 6 February 1838. After a brief period at the Jefferson ...

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Eric Gardner

fugitive slave and litigant, was born to unknown parents in the late 1820s. In court documents tied to his famous 1851 fugitive slave case, Sims maintained that he was born in Florida, but both the agents of the slaveholder claiming him and the later public records listed Georgia as his place of birth. Sims also asserted that his father had purchased his freedom as a child, but Massachusetts courts never accepted this claim and instead found him to be the slave of James Potter If Sims was Potter s slave it is unlikely that the two ever interacted personally the South Carolina born Potter owned massive plantations outside of Savannah as well as several hundred slaves and he generally left their management to various agents Potter also had strong affinities for the North he graduated from Yale all of his children were born in Philadelphia and the family ...

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Alfred L. Brophy

businessman, lawyer, and civil rights litigant, was born John the Baptist (“J. B.”) Stradford (also sometimes spelled “Stratford”) probably in slavery at Versailles, Kentucky, the son of Julius Caesar Stradford. Little is known about Stradford's childhood. He studied at Oberlin College from 1882 to 1885 and Indianapolis Law School (later Indiana University–Indianapolis. He married Augusta, and they lived in Lawrenceberg, Kansas, among other places, before moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1899. Stradford owned and operated a rooming house, the Stradford Hotel, in Greenwood, the black section of Tulsa. Like other leaders of the Greenwood community (including fellow lawyers A.-J. Smitherman and Buck Colbert Franklin, the father of John Hope Franklin), Smitherman was concerned with aggressively preventing lynching and other violence. In 1909 Stradford challenged Oklahoma s statute that permitted unequal treatment on segregated railroad cars The statute permitted railroads to provide ...

Article

Nell Irvin Painter

Sojourner Truth, born a slave in Ulster County, New York, a symbol of women's strength and black women's womanliness, is summed up in the phrase “ar'n't I a woman?” Known as Isabella VanWagener until 1843, she changed her name and became an itinerant preacher under the influence of Millerite Second Adventism.

In the 1840s Truth encountered feminist abolitionism during her stay in the Northampton (Mass.) Association of Education and Industry. There she met Olive Gilbert, who recorded The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time, which Truth published in Boston in 1850. During the 1850s and 1860s sales to antislavery and feminist audiences of this narrative provided Truth's main source of income. Truth attended the 1851 Akron, Ohio, convention on women's rights in order to sell her book. The chair of that meeting, Frances Dana Gage wrote the most popular version of ...

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James Sellman

Sojourner Truth was one of the best-known black women of her time, rivaled only by African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, yet her life remains surrounded by mystery. Truth, who was illiterate, left no written record apart from her autobiographical Narrative of Sojourner Truth, dictated to white abolitionist Olive Gilbert in the late 1840s. Much of what we know about her was reported or perhaps invented by others. More so than Frederick Douglass, her prolifically autobiographical contemporary, Truth has been transformed into myth. Feminists emphasize her challenge to restrictive Victorian codes of femininity; Marxist historians proclaim her solidarity with the working class. Her spirit has been invoked on college campuses in the United States in struggles to create African American and Women's Studies programs. Yet most interpretations of Truth fail to understand the centrality of her evangelical religious faith.

In their writings, both Harriet Beecher Stowe and ...

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Nell Irvin Painter

Sojourner Truth is one of the two most widely known nineteenth-century black women; the other, Harriet Tubman, was also a former slave without formal education. While Tubman is known as the “Moses of her people” for having led hundreds of slaves to freedom, Truth is remembered more for a few memorable utterances than for her acts. Before the Civil War, she was a feminist abolitionist; after the war, she worked in freedpeople’s relief. Truth is closely identified with a phrase she did not utter, “and ar’n’t I a woman?” She often made the point that women who are poor and black must be included within the category of woman, but not in these precise words. A white feminist journalist, Frances Dana Gage, invented these particular words in 1863 Truth s twentieth and twenty first century persona worked most effectively within the politically minded worlds of black ...

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Alfreda S. James

By the time Sojourner Truth met Frederick Douglass in the early 1840s she had evolved from a fugitive slave to a Pentecostal preacher and a member of the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, an egalitarian community in Massachusetts that honored work and rejected slavery and other class distinctions. In the twenty years since Truth had liberated herself from slavery, she had developed a reputation as a simple yet razor-sharp commentator on religion and people.

Her name at birth was Isabella, and she was the youngest child of two Dutch-speaking slaves, James and Elizabeth Baumfree (or Bomefree). The Baumfrees lived in the town of Hurley in Ulster County, New York, and were the human property of Johannis Hardenbergh, a Revolutionary War veteran. When Hardenbergh died in either 1807 or 1808 his estate sold Isabella to an English speaking family in Ulster County The early circumstances of Isabella s life ...

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Nell Irvin Painter

abolitionist and women's rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont's slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York State law in 1827, but she did not marry again.

In the year before her emancipation Isabella left her master Dumont of her own accord and went to work for the ...