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Alamayahu, Dajazmach  

David Killingray

Son of Téwodros II, Emperor of Ethiopia. Alamayahu was orphaned when his father committed suicide during the British assault on Magdala in the war of 1868. He was brought to Britain in the care of Captain Tristram Speedy as a ward of the government. At Osborne, in the Isle of Wight, Alamayahu was introduced to Queen Victoria, who from then on took a distant interest in the young boy's welfare. While on the Isle of Wight, Alamayahu caused something of a sensation among the islanders, and he was photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron her pictures show a listless and sad looking boy Speed took the young Ethiopian prince with him to India but at the age of 10 and against his wishes and the advice of Queen Victoria he was sent to boarding school in Britain At the age of 17 Alamayahu entered the Royal Military ...


Browne, William Washington  

David M. Fahey

fraternal society leader and banker, was born in Habersham County, Georgia, the son of Joseph Browne and Mariah (maiden name unknown), field slaves. As a young child he was called Ben Browne and was chosen to be the companion of his owner's son. A subsequent owner who lived near Memphis trained Browne as a jockey for race circuits in Tennessee and Mississippi. During the Civil War he plotted an escape with fellow slaves. When his owner learned of the conspiracy, he transferred Browne to a plantation in Mississippi. Despite the difficulties of tramping fifty miles without a compass, Browne persuaded three other young slaves to join him in a successful escape to the Union army at Memphis. After learning that his owner could demand his return, Browne fled upriver as a stowaway.

Browne later worked as a saloon servant in Illinois where his barroom experiences made him a teetotaler and ...


Colston, Edward  

Madge Dresser

Controversial philanthropist and merchant involved in the slave trade. He was the Bristol‐born son of a Bristol merchant who spent his early life in London, but it is in Bristol that he is most famous. A staunch Anglican and Tory, he was briefly MP for the city in 1710. His huge donations to church renovation and school building projects, mainly but not exclusively in Bristol, ensured his reputation as the city's greatest benefactor, as his major statue in the centre and his fine tomb by Michael Rysbrack attest. Several Bristol streets, schools, buildings, and venerable local charities still bear his name, and his birthday is still honoured in civic celebrations.

Colston s relevance to black history lies in the fact that he was involved in the British slave trade and in the trade of slave produced goods By the 1670s he was a City of London merchant trading ...


Dahmer, Vernon Ferdinand  

Mark Newman

civil rights activist, was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the eighth of twelve children of a white father, George Dahmer, and a mother of mixed racial heritage, Ellen Kelly. Vernon Dahmer's complex heritage derived from both sides of the family. Born the illegitimate son of a German immigrant and a white American mother, George Dahmer had been raised with eight younger black siblings, the result of his mother's later marriage to a former slave. Ellen Kelly was the daughter of a white planter father, who gave Ellen and George Dahmer part of his land near Hattiesburg, Kelly Settlement. The Dahmer children looked white and three of Vernon's five brothers migrated to the North, where they married white women and passed as white. Some members of the family on both sides of the color divide were ignorant of the existence of relatives on the other. In adulthood, Vernon Dahmer ...


Dexter, James Oronoko  

Susan B. Iwanisziw

activist, was named Oronoco (variously spelled Oronoke, Oranque, or Oronogue) in the earliest documents that record his early life as a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, slave. In 1749 he was inherited upon the death of his master, Henry Dexter, by Dexter's son, James. When James died in debt in 1767, the trustees of the estate freed Oronoco for the price of £100. In his manumission papers he is identified as “Oronoko royal Slave,” presumably an allusion to the African prince in Aphra Behn's novella Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave (1688) or in Thomas Southerne's dramatic transformation of the story entitled Oroonoko, a Tragedy (1696 which remained one of the most popular dramas staged in Britain throughout the eighteenth century If he was indeed born into African royalty Oronoco nevertheless changed his name upon gaining his freedom and he is usually noted in ...


Douglass, Helen Pitts  

Leigh Fought

Helen Pitts was born in Honeoye, New York, the daughter of the white abolitionists Gideon and Jane Wills Pitts. Her father began working with the renowned abolitionist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass in 1846. Thus, from an early age Helen knew of Douglass and his work. Her parents, wealthy enough to pursue their progressive ideals, ensured that she and her sisters, Eva and Jane, received a better education than most girls of the era. Although few institutions of higher learning accepted women students, Eva attended Cornell and Helen and Jane both attended Mount Holyoke College. Helen graduated in 1859.

Reconstruction offered Helen the opportunity to combine her education with her activism. She moved to Norfolk, Virginia, to teach in a school for freed slaves in 1863 The swampy climate there took its toll on her health and the violent hostility faced by the African American ...


Johnson, Ellsworth “Bumpy”  

H. Zahra Caldwell

Harlem gangster, was born Ellsworth Raymond Johnson in Charleston, South Carolina. He acquired the nickname “Bumpy” as a boy when his parents discovered a small marble-sized bump on the back of his head. This bump was simply an accident of birth, but it would provide Ellsworth with the nickname by which he would be known throughout his life. Little is known of Johnson's parents or childhood; however, by the age of fifteen he had moved to Brooklyn, New York, to live with an aunt. He finished high school and at sixteen he moved to Harlem to live on his own. He was soon involved in a life of petty crime. By sixteen he could already be described as a stickup gunman and a second-story burglar.

At the age of seventeen Johnson was sent to a reformatory in Elmira NewYork This stay would serve as the beginning of nearly half ...


King, Coretta Scott  

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott was born in Marion, Alabama, the second of three children of the farmers Obadiah Scott and Bernice Scott. By the standards of the time, the Scott family was financially successful. The family attributed a 1942 fire—which destroyed their home—to the actions of local whites who were envious of their prosperity.

The Scott parents encouraged all three of their children to attend college. Coretta was valedictorian of her high school class and earned a scholarship to attend Antioch College in Ohio. She graduated in 1951 with a degree in music and elementary education. A talented vocalist, she made her solo debut at the Antioch Second Baptist Church in 1948 While in college she also performed alongside the renowned singer and actor Paul Robeson After graduation she received a scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music ...


Metoyer, Augustin  

Fiona J. L. Handley

slave, wealthy landowner, and community leader, was born Nicholas Augustin Metoyer in Natchitoches, in the Spanish colony of Louisiana. His mother was Marie-Thérèse Coincoin, a slave and later a free woman and successful agriculturalist, and his father was Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, a wealthy French merchant and planter with whom his mother had a nineteen-year liaison. Marie-Thérèse was enslaved when Augustin and his twin sister Marie Susanne were born, and he was subsequently bought by his father on 31 May 1776 from Madame de St Denis along with three of his siblings for 1 300 livres He grew up as the oldest male child in a wealthy household where in an unusual situation an enslaved woman and a white man cohabited almost completely openly Although Pierre Metoyer never explicitly acknowledged his children with Marie Thérèse as his own most of them took ...


Osborne, William T.  

Edith L. Blumhofer

pastor and educator, was born in slavery at Burnt Corn, near Monroeville, Monroe County, Alabama, one of twelve children born of John (surname unknown), a Native American (probably Creek), and Rachel (surname unknown), a Virginia-born mixed-race slave of the Tait family. In the late spring of 1865, Osborne, an eleven-year-old attracted by uniforms and drums, followed the soldiers of the 117th Illinois Infantry as they marched through Monroeville for points beyond. He made himself useful in practical ways to the officers and men, and he won the sympathy of Lt. Col. Jonathan Merriam (whose horse became Osborne's special responsibility). When Merriam was mustered out of the army on 5 August 1865 Osborne accompanied him to Merriam s farm near Atlanta Logan County Illinois Merriam was a prosperous farmer who was active in Illinois politics and was an ardent Protestant and he promised the illiterate Osborne a home ...


Prince, Nancy Gardner  

Nancy Gardner Prince's 1850Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince, Written by Herself, chronicles the antebellum economic conditions of free blacks, her experience in the court of two Russian tsars, and the difficulties of missionary work in politically volatile, newly emancipated Jamaica. Prince's life, as told in this fascinating volume, reveals the opportunities available to and hindrances suffered by nineteenth- century black women.

Prince s early life as a free black in New England was marked by hunger hard work and racism She endured these harsh conditions by clinging to the dignity of her family history which included the exploits of an African grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War a Native American grandmother once enslaved by the British and an African stepfather who emancipated himself by jumping off a slave ship Despite her pride in her heritage her frustration with the social and ...


Tilmon, Levin  

Jared Winston Hickman

pastor and community activist, was born in Caroline County, Maryland, to an unnamed father and Sidney Rotter, both slaves. After he was manumitted at a young age, Tilmon's mother (who was also manumitted) indentured him in or around 1815 to a farmer in Northern Delaware. Life as an indentured servant was not much better than life as a slave, and on multiple occasions Tilmon physically resisted cruel masters. Around 1824 Tilmon escaped on a vessel via the Delaware River to Philadelphia but was quickly recaptured and jailed While in jail Tilmon learned that his insolvent master planned to sell him out of state to a slave trader which was considered kidnapping under Delaware state law With the help of the community and through legal means Tilmon was able to free himself from his master and finish the four remaining years of his indenture in Wilmington Delaware serving ...


Walker, A'Lelia  

Theresa Leininger-Miller

businesswoman, philanthropist, and art patron. Statuesque, outgoing, and elegantly dressed, A’Lelia Walker was host to Harlem's cultural elite in the 1920s. Born Lelia McWilliams in Vicksburg, Mississippi, she was the only child of Sarah Breedlove McWilliams and Moses McWilliams. After the death of Lelia's father when Lelia was two, her mother took her to Saint Louis, where she attended L’Ouverture Elementary School. In 1902 Lelia entered Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as a seventh-grade student; she graduated four years later.

In 1906 Lelia moved to Denver, Colorado. That year Sarah, who had joined her daughter, married Charles Joseph Walker and both women took his last name. Under the name Madam C. J. Walker Sarah developed products that softened and straightened African American women's hair and soon created a booming company. She left Lelia in charge of the company from the fall of 1906 to the ...