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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

(b Philadelphia, PA, Feb 14, 1760; d Philadelphia, March 26, 1831). American tunebook compiler. A former slave, he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1794 and was elected its first bishop on the incorporation of the church in 1816. He compiled a hymnbook of 54 hymns, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, for use by his congregation, the Bethel AME Church, in 1801. Later that year an enlarged version was published as A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs. It was the first hymnbook published by an African American for use by African Americans, and many of the hymns later became sources for black spirituals. With Daniel Coker and James Champion, Allen also compiled the first official hymnbook of the AME Church in 1818.

Article

John Saillant

Born a slave in the household of a prominent Philadelphian, Richard Allen was sold to a Delaware farmer who allowed him and his brother to work as day laborers to purchase their freedom. In Delaware, Allen also encountered exhorters of the Methodist Society, then still affiliated with the Church of England. The antislavery position of the Methodists attracted him, while their inspiration led him to teach himself to read and write and to feel a spiritual awakening, described at the out set of his autobiography, The Life, Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen (1833; rpt. 1960). His 1786 return to Philadelphia introduced him to Absalom Jones an African American preacher some years his senior and to African Americans who were hungry for social and religious leadership in their home city The Methodist emphasis on inner faith and weekly meetings of the faithful ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born a slave in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Allen grew up during the American Revolution (1775–1783), an era characterized by the advocacy of individual rights, the growth of denominational Christianity, and the inception of the antislavery movement. Around 1768 Allen's owner, a Philadelphia lawyer named Benjamin Chew, sold him, his three siblings, and his parents to Stokely Sturgis, a plantation owner in Delaware.

With the permission of Sturgis, Allen began to attend Methodist meetings, and around 1777 he converted to Methodism. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Methodism proliferated in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. This Christian denomination emphasized a simple set of virtues that included honesty, modesty, and sobriety. Following Allen's conversion, in 1780 Sturgis agreed to let Allen hire himself out in order to earn money to purchase his freedom for $2 000 In addition to doing manual labor Allen began to preach ...

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Frederick V. Mills

AmericanMethodist preacher and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, was born into slavery to parents who were the property of Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia. He and his parents and three additional children were sold in 1777 to Stokely Sturgis, who lived near Dover, Delaware. There he attended Methodist preaching events and experienced a spiritual awakening. Allen, his older brother, and a sister were retained by Sturgis, but his parents and younger siblings were sold. Through the ministry of Freeborn Garretson, a Methodist itinerant preacher, Sturgis was converted to Methodism and became convinced that slavery was wrong. Subsequently, Allen and his brother were permitted to work to purchase their freedom, which they did in 1780.For the next six years Allen worked as a wagon driver woodcutter and bricklayer while serving as a Methodist preacher to both blacks and whites in towns and rural areas in Maryland ...

Article

Scott A. Miltenberger

Richard Allen was born a slave into Philadelphia's noted Chew family, whose patriarch Benjamin Chew was a prominent lawyer and served as Pennsylvania's chief justice from 1774 to 1777. In 1767 the family sold Richard to Stokeley Sturgis, a farmer in Kent County, Delaware. There Richard met a Methodist circuit rider, an encounter that transformed his life.

Unlike all other Protestant groups at the time, the Methodists made no distinctions based on color; moreover, they opposed slavery. Sometime around 1780, after attending a revival held by an itinerant Methodist preacher, Richard had a profound religious conversion. He began to attend Methodist prayer meetings, learned to read and write, and eventually presided over the local meetings. Soon after, inspired by a sermon given at his home by the charismatic Methodist preacher Freeborn Garrettson Sturgis became convinced that slaveholding was wrong He drafted a gradual manumission contract with ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

In an era when African Americans saw many of the gains of Reconstruction overturned, one former delegate to the Republican National Convention created a town that he hoped would serve as a living model for black self-reliance. Upon his retirement from the army in 1906, Lieutenant Colonel Allensworth who had been born a slave in Louisville, Kentucky, began seeking residents for an all-black town in his adopted state of California. Advertising in black newspapers and in his own newsletter, Allensworth appealed to black veterans to realize their dream “to have a home, classic, beautiful, with perfect congenial environment.” In this vision, Allensworth was inspired by the message of African American educator Booker T. Washington that African Americans should “get a bank account. Get a home. … Get some property.”

By 1912 more than one hundred people had settled in Allensworth California which was located on farmland leased ...

Article

Jacob Andrew Freedman

soldier, minister, and social activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of the six children of Levi Allensworth and Phyllis (maiden name unknown), slaves of the Starbird family. The Starbirds were respected members of the community and were partners in Wilson, Starbird, and Smith, a wholesale drug company based in Louisville. Levi died when Allen was an infant. Phyllis's other five children either had been sold down the Mississippi River or had escaped to Canada. Phyllis hoped that Allen could “even if partly educated, win his freedom” (Alexander, 9). Believing that God would play a role in his redemption as well, Phyllis named Allen after Richard Allen, the founder and first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. In Allen Allensworth's early years he was given to Thomas Starbird, Mrs. Starbird's son, as a companion.

When Thomas was sent to school Allensworth s ...

Article

James V. Hatch

playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Anderson completed four years of school (the only formal education that he ever received) before his father moved the family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Anderson's mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the Telegraph Press on the corner of Third and Market streets in San Francisco.

After working as a porter on the railroad, Anderson worked for the next fifteen years as a bellhop in various San Francisco hotels. During this period he also became a temporary convert to Christian Science. One afternoon in 1924 he saw a performance of Channing Pollack's moralistic drama The Fool and knew immediately that he ...

Article

Sherrow O. Pinder

clergyman, army chaplain, and physician, was born a slave in Seguin, Texas. Little is known about his parents except that his mother was a slave, and during the Civil War she and William fled to Galveston, Texas. As a young boy, he joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which took on both local and national responsibility for the religious, intellectual, and social uplift of African Americans, often taking a leading role in promoting both secular and religious education. The AME Church, in fact, sponsored Anderson's education for three years at Wilberforce University in Ohio. The remainder of Anderson's education was financed by an Ohio sponsor, Stephen Watson, who was then the vice president of the London Exchange Bank of Madison County. In 1886 Anderson received a theology certificate from Howard University and two years later graduated from the Homeopathic Medical College of Cleveland Much ...

Article

Valerie A. Gray

college president, educator, and minister, was born Jared Maurice Arter in Jefferson County, West Virginia, the son of Jeremiah Arter, a slave and a miller by trade, and Hannah Frances Stephenson, a slave. When Arter was seven years old his father died in an accident at the mill. The plantation on which the family lived, the Little plantation, was located four miles from Harpers Ferry. In 1859 Arter witnessed the hanging of four men who participated in John Brown's raid at that city. This childhood memory sparked in him the desire to fight for equality; the schoolroom would be his battleground.

As a teenager Arter applied for a position as a bellboy for which he would have to pass a test demonstrating his ability to read numbers With help from his brother in law he mastered the skill sufficiently in one evening to pass the test This accomplishment ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the first man of African descent to be ordained an Episcopal priest in a southern U.S. diocese, pastored churches in Kentucky, Virginia, Georgia, and New York. He was born in Barbados and first came to the United States in 1864 as an agent of the Barbados Company for Liberia, seeking assistance from the American Colonization Society. That November he arrived in New York aboard the bark Montezuma and proceeded to Washington, D.C.

Atwell's origin and youth in Barbados remain undiscovered. The names Atwell and Sandiford are both common in early-nineteenth-century records from the island. His age on arrival is listed in passenger records as thirty-five, which suggests that he was born shortly before all enslaved persons in the British Empire were formally emancipated in 1833 No Joseph of the right age belonging to anyone named Atwell has so far been identified in the slave returns filed with British colonial ...

Article

Dave Gosse

was possibly raised in The Bahamas. Historical data depicts him as “a man of colour” with one ear and one eye, which was covered with a piratical scarf.

Additional biographical details surrounding the early to adult life of Moses Baker are tenuous as he dates his origin to New York. Baker describes himself as a freed African and a barber by profession; he was married on 4 September 1778 to Susannah Ashton, a freedwoman and dressmaker of New York. His association with the British army eventually led to his evacuation from New York to Jamaica in 1783.

The mere fact that he left with the British for Jamaica suggests that his freedom was most likely gained by fighting with the British and as such would have been questionable if he remained in the United States after the Revolutionary War This best explains his exodus to the British colony of ...

Article

George Yancy

philosopher and first African American to receive a PhD in Philosophy in the United States, was born enslaved of enslaved parents, Thomas Chadwick Baker, a Civil War veteran, and Edith (Nottingham) Baker, on Robert Nottingham's plantation in Northampton County, Virginia. Edith was the daughter of Southey and Sarah Nottingham of Northampton County. Thomas Nelson Baker was one of five children.

Describing the influences on his early intellectual life, Baker remembered:

My mother taught me my letters although I well remember when she learned them herself My first reading lesson was the second chapter of Matthew the Bible being the only book we had I never read a bad book in my life which is one of the blessings I got by being poor I began to attend the common schools at eight and learned to love books passionately I used to read through my recesses Evenings I read the Bible ...

Article

Sheila T. Gregory

radio and television pioneer, Masonic Christian Order founder, ordained Baptist minister, lawyer, community advocate, and business leader, was born on a sharecroppers' farm in Geneva, Kentucky, the son of Richard and Clara Banks, both tenant farmers. In June 1922 Banks graduated from the Lincoln Institute of Kentucky and moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he secured a job at the Dodge automobile main plant. He graduated from Wayne State University in 1926 and the Detroit College of Law in 1929. He briefly opened a criminal law practice, but after two years he discontinued his criminal work and invested in property during the Depression, while helping elect liberal Democrat and future Supreme Court justice Frank Murphy as Detroit's mayor in 1930.

In 1931 Banks was the head of the International Labor Defense League ILDL a legal organization known for defending numerous labor unions which at that time were ...

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

Tonia M. Compton

Catholic nun, was born Mathilda Taylor in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Caroline Taylor, a slave owned by James C. Taylor, whose surname he gave to his slaves. Her father, whose name is not known, was Native American. Little is known about Mathilda's early years, except that she learned to read and write and that she somehow received her freedom and moved to Savannah. There she began operating a secret school for African American children in the late 1850s, an enterprise for which she risked imprisonment because state laws prohibited education for blacks.

Taylor supported herself by working a variety of jobs in Savannah. In the 1860s she was employed at the Railroad House, a restaurant owned by Abraham Beasley, a prosperous free black man. In 1869 she married Beasley His ventures included a produce market a saloon a boardinghouse and at times the slave trade The two ...

Article

W. Caleb McDaniel

shoemaker, clergyman, and abolitionist, was born in Chatham, Connecticut, to Sarah Gerry and Cesar Beman, a manumitted slave and Revolutionary War veteran who may have chosen his surname to indicate his freedom to “be a man.” By 1809 Jehiel had moved to Colchester, Connecticut, and married Fanny Condol, with whom he fathered seven children, including the noted abolitionist Amos G. Beman. Jehiel worked in Colchester as a shoemaker and Methodist exhorter until 1830, when he moved to Middletown, Connecticut, to pastor the city's Cross Street African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church. On 11 August of that same year Jehiel's first wife died, and he married Nancy Scott on 17 October. In 1832 he left Cross Street after being appointed an itinerant missionary by the annual AMEZ conference, but he remained in Middletown as a preacher, shoemaker, and reformer until 1838 at ...

Article

Leyla Keough

Benedetto, or as he became known, Saint Benedict the Moor, was born in San Fratello, on the Italian island of Sicily, to Christopher and Diane Manasseri. His parents had been transported as slaves from Africa to Sicily, where they converted to Christianity. Benedetto worked on a farm until he gained his freedom as a teen.

Benedetto continued to work as a laborer. Sharing his wages with the poor and healing the sick, he became known as “the black saint.” He joined a group of hermits who chose Benedetto as their leader. In 1562 he became a lay brother. Stories began to circulate about his saintliness and miraculous deeds; he is said to have resurrected a young boy. Church accounts report that people of all classes in Sicily sought his prayers and his counsel. In 1578 though he was neither a priest nor literate he was chosen to lead a ...

Article

Bilali  

Allan D. Austin

Muslim leader and plantation manager, was born in Africa, sold into slavery, and transported to the Bahamas and then to Sapelo Island, Georgia. His name is also given as Bilali Mahomet and Bul‐Ali. Almost nothing is known about Bilali's life in Africa, but his fellow Fula or Peul (originally Malian) friend, Salih Bilali, who was enslaved on the neighboring island of Saint Simons, said that Bilali came from the village of Timbo, in Futa Jallon (later Guinea). This was an important Muslim educational and political community and the homeland of another Fula, Ibrahima abd al‐Rahman, who was enslaved in Mississippi. Bilali's strict adherence to Muslim ways and the book he wrote in Arabic show that he paid attention to his teachers in Africa. In the Bahamas Bilali married at least one of his four known wives before being brought to Georgia around 1802 He had a ...