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David H. Anthony

Islamic scholar, Jamaican slave, and author, was born in Timbuktu, Mali. When he was two years old his family moved to Jenné in the western Sudan, another major center of Islamic learning and a renowned Sahelian trade city. Heir to a long tradition of Islamic saints and scholars claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, he was part of one of several dynasties designated as Sherifian or Shurfaa. Abu Bakr was trained and certified in Jenné by several ulama, the highly intellectual stratum of Islamic teachers. He was in the process of becoming a cleric when he was captured. As was true for many Islamized Africans caught in the vortex of the Atlantic slave trade, Abu Bakr's itinerant life had pre slave African and post slave black Atlantic dimensions His path shares the trajectory of many coreligionists from Muslim areas of the continent as well ...

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Ronald P. Dufour

pianist and composer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Mount Vernell Allen Jr., a principal in the Detroit public school system, and Barbara Jean Allen, a defense contract administrator for the federal government. She began studying classical piano at age seven but was also exposed to jazz at an early age. She met the trumpeter Marcus Belgrave when he was an artist-in-residence at her high school, Cass Technical; she studied jazz piano with him, and he became an important mentor, appearing on several of her later recordings. Allen also studied at the Jazz Development Workshop, a community-based organization.

After graduating from high school, Allen attended Howard University, where she was captivated by the music of Thelonious Monk and studied with John Malachi. In 1979 she earned a BA in Jazz Studies and taught briefly at Howard before moving to New York City where she ...

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Roy E. Finkenbine

was an abolitionist and community activist. Nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth, early life, or education, although his surname may indicate West Indian origins.

Barbadoes emerged as an important figure in the small but influential African American community in Boston's West End by the mid-1820s. From 1821 to 1840 he operated a barbershop in Boston. He was a prominent member of the African Baptist Church and of African Lodge #459, the preeminent black fraternal organization in the nation. An amateur musician applauded for both his vocal and his instrumental talents, he performed regularly before local audiences. But he was best known as an “indefatigable political organizer.”

In 1826 Barbadoes joined with the controversial essayist David Walker and several others to organize the Massachusetts General Colored Association MGCA which over the next few years led local protests corresponded with race leaders throughout the North supported the emerging ...

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Belinda  

Roy E. Finkenbine

a former slave who achieved renown in the era of the American Revolution by laying claim to a portion of the wealth of her former master's estate, was born in the region of West Africa known as the Gold Coast (later Ghana). Her early years were spent in a village on the Volta River. According to her later memories, it was an Edenic existence. However, when she was about age twelve, the Atlantic slave trade shattered this bucolic world. She was captured in a slaving raid, permanently separated from her parents, marched overland to the coast, and sold to European slave traders. For several weeks she endured the horrific Middle Passage with some three hundred other Africans in chains, who were “suffering the most excruciating torment” (Carretta, 143).

In about 1732, after six or seven years in North America, Belinda became the slave of Isaac Royall Jr. a ...

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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 ...

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Kari J. Winter

slave, sailor, soldier, and farmer, was born Boyrereau Brinch, the seventh of eight children (four boys and four girls) born to Whryn Brinch, the son of Yarrah Brinch, and of Whryn Douden Wrogan, the daughter of Grassee Youghgon. He lived in the city of Deauyah in the kingdom of Bow-woo, which was probably situated in the Niger River basin, in the area that would later become Mali. In 1758 when he was around the age of sixteen Boyrereau was abducted by slave traders transported to Barbados and sold to Captain Isaac Mills of New Haven Connecticut who trained him for British naval service Like thousands of other slaves and freed Africans in the Caribbean Brace as he would come to be called years later after his manumission This may have been an anglicized version of Brinch was forced to labor aboard ship during ...

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Charles Rosenberg

barber and Underground Railroad station operator, was born to free parents in Virginia, where he lived until moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1828. Although records in Ohio do not identify his parents, it is likely that he came from the large extended family of Browns in and around Charles City County, Virginia, descended from William Brown, born around 1670, who all had the status of “free colored.” Abraham Brown, born in 1769, was a founder of Elam Baptist Church of Charles City County. There were several men in the family named John, and newborns were often named for relatives.

“John Brown the barber,” as he was commonly known in Cleveland, may have been related to John Brown, born in 1768, head of a Chesterfield County family of eight “free colored” people in 1810, or John Brown, born in 1764 and his ...

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Eric Gardner

author and educator, was born in Buffalo, New York, to abolitionist and author William Wells Brown and Elizabeth Schooner. The small family moved to Farmington, New York, in 1845. Her father, soon-to-be famous as the author of a successful slave narrative and an abolitionist lecturer, separated from her mother soon after, and moved to Boston with Josephine and her older sister Clarissa. Elizabeth Brown reportedly died in January 1851. During the years surrounding the 1847 publication of Brown's Narrative and his 1849 journey to Europe (after refusing to have his freedom purchased), the sisters stayed in New Bedford with the family of local activist Nathan Johnson (a friend of Frederick Douglass) and attended school.

Josephine and Clarissa went to London to join their father in June 1851 aboard the steamer America under the care of Reverend Charles Spear a journey they shared with ...

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Will Gravely

African Methodist Episcopal minister and bishop, was born of mixed parentage in Charleston, South Carolina, where he spent his early and middle years. Apparently self-educated, he worked as a boot maker and shoe repairman; he married Maria (maiden name unknown), with whom he had six children. Associated with the city's community of free people of color, Brown earned a reputation for assisting slaves in purchasing their freedom and for teaching and advising both free and enslaved African Americans in the region.

Soon after his religious conversion and his joining of the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church, Brown was licensed to preach. In that role he had greater access to the slave population as well as to groups of free African Americans. As the number of blacks grew, both generally and within the African church in Charleston, Brown emerged as their leader. As a result of an 1816 dispute over a ...

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Charlton W. Yingling

abolitionist and black rights activist, was born to a woman of African descent, probably named Eugenie, who was from French Saint‐Domingue (later Haiti). He was allegedly the unrecognized son of Aaron Burr, U.S. Senator from New York and the third vice president of the United States, and he was likely not the only child of this relationship. John P. Burr was also known as Jean‐Pierre Burr, which was probably his birth name. His mother was, by all accounts, a governess for the Burr family who was hired to care for their children during their stay in Saint‐Domingue. The majority of sources indicate that Burr–s mother was Caribbean‐born and of African descent, though one later source says she was originally from Calcutta. John P. Burr may have been born in New Jersey, and he was described as being very fair‐skinned.

By 1818 Burr had made his home in Philadelphia ...

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Charles Rosenberg

baker, community leader, cautious abolitionist, and patriarch of a talented African American family well known into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was born in Burlington, New Jersey. His narrative records that he belonged to “the Estate of Samuel Bustill of the City of Burlington, but he Dying when I was Young I was Sold to John Allen of the Same City” (Bustill, p. 22). The name of Bustill's mother is recorded only as Parthenia; Samuel Bustill, an English‐born lawyer who died in 1742, was his father as well as his owner.

Many sources, including Lloyd Louis Brown's detailed history of the Bustill family in The Young Paul Robeson: On My Journey Now (1997), leave out the Allen family, and assert that Samuel Bustill's widow, Grace, arranged for Cyrus Bustill to be apprenticed to Thomas Pryor Jr. However Bustill s own account ...

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Brycchan Carey

slave, writer, and abolitionist, was, according to his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, born in the village of Essaka in Eboe, an unknown location in the Ibo-speaking region of modern Nigeria. Equiano recorded that he was the son of a chief and was also destined for that position. However, at about the age of ten, he was abducted and sold to European slave traders. In his narrative, Equiano recalls the Middle Passage in which “the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable” (58). Despite falling ill, Equiano survived the voyage and was taken first to Barbados and then to Virginia, where in 1754 he was bought by Michael Pascal a captain in the Royal Navy Pascal s first act was to rename the ...

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Julie Winch

businessman and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Forten, a freeborn sailmaker, and Margaret (maiden name unknown). James's parents enrolled him in the African School of abolitionist Anthony Benezet. When James was seven, his father died. Margaret Forten struggled to keep her son in school, but he was eventually forced to leave at age nine and work full time to help support the family. His family remained in Philadelphia throughout the American Revolution, and Forten later recalled being in the crowd outside the Pennsylvania State House when the Declaration of Independence was read to the people for the first time.

In 1781, while serving on a privateer, Forten was captured by the British and spent seven months on the infamous prison ship Jersey in New York harbor.

After a voyage to England in 1784 as a merchant seaman Forten returned ...

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Donald Yacovone

abolitionist and Episcopal minister, was born near Shoemakertown, New Jersey. Nothing else is known about his family background. Eloquent, forceful, and determined, Gardner earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and congregants. The great black nationalist Martin R. Delany considered him a man of “might and talent” who compelled whites to “recognize and respect” African Americans (Christian Recorder, 29 Apr. 1880). Theodore Dwight Weld, a celebrated antislavery lecturer, considered Gardner one of the country's leading black orators, and in 1837 Gardner became the first African American to address an annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

He began his ministerial career in 1809 as an itinerant Methodist preacher visiting churches throughout the Chesapeake region The experience led him to condemn the institution of slavery and the colonization movement which aimed at the expatriation of free blacks to Africa His criticism of Methodist slaveholders especially ...

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crystal am nelson

community leader and musician, was born Occramer Marycoo in West Africa. Although his country of origin is unknown, a 1757 ship manifest shows that he was brought to America at the age of fourteen. He was on one of that year's seven slaving voyages that brought a total of 831 African slaves to Rhode Island. Gardner was one of the 106,544 slaves brought to Newport, Rhode Island, between 1709 and 1807. Caleb Gardner, a white merchant and member of the principal slave-trading team Briggs & Gardner, bought the teenage Marycoo and baptized him into the Congregational faith as Newport Gardner.

The forced exposure to Christianity aided Gardner s rise to a leadership position in the New World He quickly learned English from daily Bible studies with his master who freed Gardner after overhearing him pray for emancipation Upon gaining his freedom Gardner combined his new religious fervor with ...

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Chernoh M. Sesay

abolitionist and founder of the first black Freemasonic lodge, probably received his manumission from William Hall, a Boston leather-dresser, and his wife Susannah in 1770. No extant material confirms Hall as the Barbados son of a white father and a mother of mixed racial heritage, as most of his published biographies state, or as an emigrant to Boston any time before 1760, or as a preacher in a Cambridge church. The slave released by William Hall, only described as Prince, probably went on to become Prince Hall, a Boston leather worker, who, having organized the first black Freemasonic lodge, garnered respect from Boston luminaries and deference from his northern black peers and organized one of the country's oldest African American institutions.

Marriage records show that one or several Prince Halls had several wives. Hall, while a servant to William Hall, married Sarah Richie also ...

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Sholomo B. Levy

minister and blacksmith, was born in Leonardtown, Maryland, the son of Jane and Thomas Henry, slaves of Richard Barnes, the largest slave owner in the district. It is thought that Henry's maternal grandmother, Catherine Hill, had been purchased by the Barnes family on a return trip from England and the Caribbean. Thomas's parents were domestic servants of the Barnes family, which owned tobacco plantations and other business interests. Before his death in 1804, Richard Barnes had stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; one unusual stipulation he added that suggests a special closeness with these individuals was that the manumitted slaves take the name Barnes.

Thomas, however, did not gain his freedom until almost twenty years after his master's death, because John Thomson Mason a nephew of Richard Barnes and the executor of his estate exploited a growing number of ...

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Kathryn Grover

abolitionist and entrepreneur, was born in circumstances that are unclear. One undocumented account states that he was born in Virginia; another, simply that he was born into slavery; a third, that he purchased his freedom. It is known that Johnson was in New Bedford on 24 October 1819, the day he married Mary (called Polly) Mingo Durfee Page, who was descended at least in part from the Fall River tribe of Wampanoag Indians.

In 1820 Polly Johnson was working in the home of Charles Waln Morgan, who in June 1819 had come from Philadelphia to New Bedford to marry Sarah Rodman and begin his career as a whaling industry merchant. Nathan Johnson's mother, Emily Brown, who lived with her son in 1850 and was buried with him in New Bedford, claimed to have been born in Philadelphia; so too did his brother Benjamin A ...

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Steve Strimer

Methodist minister, abolitionist lecturer, and self-emancipated slave, was born to slave parents, Grace and Tony Kirkwood, at the Hawes plantation in Hanover county near Wilmington, North Carolina. About 1815 he was sold to a storekeeper from whom he took his surname. After his escape to Massachusetts, Jones became a tireless speaker on the antislavery circuit in New England. The principal source of information for his early life is his widely circulated slave narrative, The Experience of Thomas H. Jones, Who Was a Slave for Forty-Three Years. First published in 1850, his book went through at least nine printings.

Thomas succeeded in learning to read despite the disapproval of Mr. Jones, the storekeeper. Thomas was converted to Christianity around 1824. He attended services at a neighboring plantation against the objections of his irreligious owner. Upon Mr. Jones's death in 1829 Thomas began to ...

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Richard J. Boles

minister, teacher, missionary, and abolitionist, was born free in New York City during the spring of 1793. His parents and the circumstances of his childhood are unknown. Around 1800 Levington relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he spent most of his adolescence and worked in the bookstore of Sheldon Potter. There he became a friend and protégé of Sheldon's brother, Alonzo Potter, who eventually became the Episcopal bishop of Pennsylvania and who helped secure Levington's entry into the Protestant Episcopal ministry. In 1819 Levington moved to Albany, New York, under Potter's mentorship. Potter became a professor at Union College and he unofficially instructed Levington part-time there until he returned to Philadelphia in 1822 In Albany Levington was employed as a teacher in a school for African American children and he attended St Peter s Church It was likely through his teaching position that ...