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Kerima M. Lewis

The African American members of the First Baptist Church in New York City withdrew their membership in 1808 when they were subjected to racially segregated seating. With Ethiopian merchants they organized their own church, called “Abyssinian” after the merchants’ nation of origin. The church was located at 44 Anthony Street, and the Reverend Vanvelser was its first pastor. Abyssinian numbered three hundred members in 1827 when slavery ended in New York. The Reverends William Spellman, Robert D. Wynn, and Charles Satchell Morris served as pastors during the church's early history. By 1902 the church was a renowned place of worship with more than sixteen hundred members.

The appointment of the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr. in 1908 ushered in a new era of the church's history. His pastorate was devoted to spiritual and financial development. In 1920 he acquired property in Harlem and then oversaw the building ...

Article

Nathan Zook

minister, civil rights leader, and member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, was born Avery Caesar Alexander in the town of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to a family of sharecroppers. The names of his parents are not known. Seventeen years later, his family moved to New Orleans. Avery Alexander maintained an active life there and in Baton Rouge for the next seventy-two years.

Prior to his election to the Louisiana legislature, Alexander was employed as a longshoreman. At the same time, he pursued an education by taking night courses, receiving his high school diploma from Gilbert Academy in 1939. He became politically active by working as a labor union operative for a longshoreman's union, Local 1419. He also held the occupations of real estate broker and insurance agent.

Alexander received a degree in theology from Union Baptist Theological Seminary and became an ordained Baptist minister ...

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

aviator and instructor of the Tuskegee Airmen, was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to Janie and Iverson Anderson, of whom little else is known. During his early childhood, he lived with his grandmother in Staunton, Virginia. There Anderson longed for an airplane so he could fly to see what was on the other side of the mountains that surrounded Staunton and the Shenandoah Valley. He frequently left home in search of airplanes that were rumored to have crashed in the valley. His constant disappearances frustrated his grandmother, and she sent him back to his parents. Once back in Pennsylvania, however, he continued leaving home in search of airplanes.

At the age of thirteen Anderson applied to aviation school, but was denied admission because he was African American. In 1926 at the age of nineteen he used his savings and borrowed money from friends and relatives to purchase a ...

Article

Teresa A. Booker

attorney, politician, and diplomat, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the youngest of two children and the only son of Charles W. Anderson Sr., a physician, and Tabitha L. Murphy, a teacher.

Motivated by the high value that his parents placed on education, Charles W. Anderson Jr. entered Kentucky State College at age fifteen and attended from 1922 to 1925. He then transferred to Wilberforce University, one of the earliest universities established for African Americans. Although the reason for Anderson's transfer to Wilberforce University during the penultimate year of his undergraduate career is unclear, it is likely that he, like other black Kentuckians, was forced to pursue higher education outside of the state because of the still-standing Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 authorizing separate but equal educational facilities Higher educational institutions for blacks did not exist in Kentucky and rather than wait for them ...

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

Leonard L. Brown

musician, composer, arranger, teacher, scholar, and humanitarian, was born Thomas Jefferson Anderson in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, the only son and eldest of three children born to Thomas Jefferson Anderson Sr., a college professor and school principal, and Anita Turpeau Anderson, a teacher. Anderson's early years were spent in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, Ohio. His mother was a pianist who accompanied singers in church. She was his first musical mentor, providing encouragement from a very early age through music lessons on violin and trumpet.

Anderson attended James Monroe Elementary School in Washington, D.C., where he conducted a rhythm band and impressed Esther Ballou a city supervisor of music who told his mother the musical world will hear from your son He later attended Benjamin Banneker Junior High in Washington D C It was during his time in Washington that he discovered the Howard Theatre and the big bands of ...

Article

Larry R. Gerlach

baseball umpire, was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Littleton Ashford, a truck driver, and Adele Bain. Ashford was two or three years old when his father abandoned the family, so he grew up under the strong influence of his mother, a secretary for the California Eagle, an African American newspaper published in Los Angeles. As a youth, Ashford exhibited the traits that marked him in adult life as a gregarious extrovert. At Jefferson High School he was a sprinter on the track team, a member of the scholastic honor society, and the first African American to serve as president of the student body and as editor of the school newspaper. He graduated from Los Angeles City College and attended Chapman College in nearby Orange from 1940 to 1941. From 1944 until 1947 he served in the U.S. Navy.

Ashford began his umpiring career ...

Article

Josepha Sherman

aviator, was born in Oklahoma, the younger of the two children and only son of Riley and Cora Banning, of whom little else is known. In 1919 the family settled in Ames, Iowa, where Banning attended Iowa State College to study electrical engineering but soon became fascinated with the idea of flying and of gaining his pilot's license. After a year of college, Banning left and learned to fly in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was taught by an army aviator at Raymond Fisher's Flying Field. Banning did so well that he became one of the first black pilots to gain a pilot's license, CAA # 1324, issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

To earn a living—and to support his interest in flying—Banning formed and operated the J. H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928. In 1929 Banning was named the ...

Article

Lili C. Behm

politician and civil rights activist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the youngest son of Adlena (Gilliam) and Earnest Barbee, the latter a painting contractor and the first African American member of the Tennessee state contractor's union. Lloyd Barbee became involved with the struggle for African Americans’ civil rights when he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1937 at age twelve. Though his family lived in poverty in the Depression‐era Jim Crow South, Barbee's father and uncles encouraged him to pursue higher education. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946, Barbee earned his bachelor of arts degree at Memphis's all‐black LeMoyne College in 1949, and decided to pursue legal studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Law School. He had received a scholarship to the school, and sought to leave behind virulent Southern racism.

Though he suspended his studies out ...

Article

Byron Motley

baseball player, was born in Greenville, North Carolina. As a teenager working in the tobacco fields he honed his skills as a pitcher. His first exposure to professional baseball came in 1936 when the manager of the visiting Wilson Stars from Wilson, North Carolina, spotted his burgeoning talent. After the team manager promised Barnhill's mother a dollar a day for her son's pitching duties, she consented to let her son join the team.

Barnhill barnstormed for two years with several independent teams. In 1938 he began his first of twelve Negro League seasons by joining the Jacksonville Red Caps. The following year, with the Ethiopian Clowns, Barnhill took part in the team's minstrel sideshows. Earning the nickname “Impo,” Barnhill cut up with his teammates in clown makeup and wild wigs while performing comic displays to delighted fans.

In the winter of 1940–1941 Barnhill pitched in the Puerto Rican ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

four-time mayor of Washington, D.C., was born on a cotton plantation near the Delta hamlet of Itta Bena in northwestern Mississippi to sharecroppers Marion Barry Sr. and Mattie Barry. In 1940 Barry Sr. died, and in 1944 Barry, his mother, and his sister moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where Mattie worked as a maid and married Dave Cummings a butcher The combined family which eventually included nine members lived in a narrow wooden shotgun house in South Memphis one of four black enclaves in the city Barry slept on the couch and rose early each morning to chop wood for the stove He stuffed cardboard in his shoes to fill the holes and sold his sandwiches to other kids at school for pocket money A bright industrious child he eventually became one of the first African American Eagle Scouts in Memphis In the summer he traveled with his mother ...

Article

Adam W. Green

was the second of three children born to two freed slaves, Eben Tobias, a farmer, and Susan Gregory, a mixed-race Pequot Indian, in Derby, Connecticut. An education proponent and political activist, Bassett became America's first black diplomat when he served as Resident Minister in Haiti for eight years, helping pave the way for those seeking opportunities in international diplomacy and public service.

Along with his mixed race birth and royal lineage that his family claimed from Africa Bassett whose surname came from a generous white family close to his grandfather s former owners also had elected office in his blood His grandfather Tobiah who won his freedom after fighting in the American Revolution had been elected a Black Governor as had Bassett s father Eben The largely nominal honorific was bestowed upon respected men in various locales via Election Days sometimes by a voice vote these Black Governors ...

Article

J. D. Jackson

civil rights attorney and political activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. One of three sons, he attended Birmingham public schools, including the city's first and oldest, and, at one time, the South's largest African American high school, Industrial (A. H. Parker) High.

After graduating from high school Billingsley attended two highly respected, historically black institutions of higher learning. The first was Talladega College, a private liberal arts college located in Alabama, fifty miles east of Birmingham. He graduated with high honors in 1946 and headed for Washington, D.C., where he attended Howard University School of Law. He earned his law degree there in 1950. Afterward, he returned to Alabama, where he was admitted to the Alabama state bar in 1951, one of the first ten African Americans to do so.

Instantly Billingsley threw himself behind the post World War II fight for full black citizenship in America Always ...

Article

Liliana Obregón

The Black Codes comprise an elaborate set of principles, rules, and procedures that were designed to protect plantation economies and prevent slaves from running away. But because they conflicted with the slaveholders' actual interests and practices—the codes specified minimal standards for slaves' food and clothing, restrictions on punishments, and means of achieving manumission—they were rarely implemented. Nevertheless, the codes give insight into the working conditions, economic interests, and social practices of the French Caribbean and Spanish American slave societies they addressed. These laws contrast with those relating to slavery in the Portuguese colony of Brazil; the Brazilian laws were never codified, though compilations were published to instruct slaveholders on their rights and responsibilities.

Article

The Black Codes were instituted by Southern legislative bodies in 1865 and 1866 in response to the emancipation of the 4 million former slaves in the Southern states during and after the American Civil War (1861–1865). The Black Codes recognized the new status of African Americans as freedpeople and offered them some of the basic rights of citizenship. However, the codes also defined the freedpeople as legally subordinate to whites and attempted to manage their labor in a way that would cause minimal disruption to the labor system instituted under slavery.

Faced with a rapidly transformed political and economic structure in the postbellum South, Mississippi and South Carolina began passing laws in 1865 to limit the freedom of African Americans New vagrancy laws placed blacks in jeopardy of imprisonment or forced labor if they could not prove they were employed or self supporting Often the result was ...

Article

Graham Russell Hodges

African American activists in the antebellum and post–Civil War eras invoked a language and political strategy of black uplift or elevation. Composed of ideas and actions about physical, mental, or intellectual and personal morality and the realm of the soul, black activists, through speech and literature, used uplift as a general program to improve the race. Uplift was also intended to refute white racism prevalent in the literature and public activities of the nineteenth century. Accordingly, two key components were respectability and self-help. Frederick Douglass for one noted that only racism kept the avenues of wealth and honor from being open to all who chose to enter them Respectability and wealth were not just accessories to wealth and fame but required individual action particularly virtuous assistance to the race or against slavery as well as a purer soul Blacks also shared the general anxiety over confidence men or tricksters ...

Article

Rose C. Thevenin

educator, was born Sarah Ann Blocker in Edgefield, South Carolina, one of the five children of Sarah A. Stewart of Delaware and Isaiah Blocker of Edgefield, South Carolina. Nothing is known about her early childhood. Blocker briefly attended Atlanta University and enrolled in teacher education classes. At the age of twenty‐two, Sarah Blocker moved to Live Oak, Florida, where she taught at the Florida Baptist Institute, a school established by African American Christian ministers of the First Bethlehem Baptist Association of West Florida in 1879.

Resistance and hostility toward African Americans in Live Oak resulted in escalating violence. Blocker herself was almost wounded in a shooting incident in 1892. Blocker's determination remained steadfast, however. In 1892 she cofounded the Florida Baptist Academy, an elementary and secondary educational institution for African American girls and boys. She was assisted in this project by the reverends Matthew W. Gilbert and J ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

the first African American to manage a public library, founded a widely acclaimed program to train African Americans as library assistants in Louisville, Kentucky, where he supervised the first library department established for African Americans in an era of Jim Crow exclusion. Blue was the first person of African descent to appear in an American Library Association conference program (1922) and a founder of the Conference of Colored Librarians in 1927.

Blue was born in Farmville, Virginia, the second child of Noah and Henri Ann Crowly Blue, who had previously been enslaved. By 1870, Noah Blue was listed in the U.S. Census as a carpenter; he may have been the twelve-year-old male listed in the 1850 slave census as the property of Thomas Blue District No 24 Hampshire County Virginia now West Virginia The family included a six year old daughter Alice and a ...

Article

Anne K. Driscoll

pilot, Tuskegee Airman, civil servant, teacher, and juvenile probation officer, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest child of Georgia Crane and Earl Bohannon, occupations unknown. Bohannon was the youngest of ten children, although only his oldest sister and a brother were alive when Bohannon was born. One of his greatest influences growing up was his mother, who taught him the importance of principles, hard work, and honesty.

Bohannon began working at eight years of age in a hardware store His next job was working on a laundry truck It was the laundry job that ultimately led Bohannon to his dream of becoming an aviator Bohannon stopped twice a week at Atlanta s Candler Field later William B Hartsfield Airport While picking up the aviators laundry he listened to the pilots discussing their flights the difficulties of flying in adverse weather conditions and other matters that inspired him to ...