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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 ...

Article

Cameron, James Herbert  

Rose Pelone Sisson

survivor of a lynching attempt, civil rights activist, and founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron, a barber, and Vera Cameron who was employed as a laundress, cook, and housekeeper. At the age of fifteen months, James was the first African American baby ever admitted as a patient to the St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, where he underwent an emergency operation on the abdominal cavity. By the time James started school, his parents had moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and his parents separated.

When Cameron was sixteen he was living with his mother, two sisters, and grandmother in Marion, Indiana. His stepfather Hezikiah Burden hunted and fished long distances from home so was away from his family most of the time The family lived in a segregated section of Marion Indiana which counted about four thousand blacks among its ...

Article

Churchwell, Peter  

Brian Neumann

was born into slavery in Albemarle County, Virginia, to William and Dicey Churchwell. His owner was lawyer Reuben L. Gordon, who probably brought him to Orange County, Virginia sometime before 1840. On 25 December 1857, he married Maria Grey, who was probably also enslaved. Their daughter Harriet was born soon afterward, and Maria died in childbirth around 1859.

Churchwell escaped from slavery in August 1862 and made his way to Washington, D.C., where he spent the next two years working as a coachman. He enlisted in the Union army there on 13 July 1864 as a substitute for German lumber worker Jacob Leonhardt He mustered in as a private in Company H of the 23rd USCT Infantry Regiment later that day His enlistment records describe him as five feet two and a half inches tall with black hair black eyes and a black complexion After briefly ...

Article

Covey, Edward  

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Edward Covey, about twenty-eight years old in 1834, lived with his wife and infant son, Edward, on a rented farm of 150 acres located about seven miles from Saint Michaels, Maryland. The Covey home was small, unpainted, and hidden nearly a mile from the main road. Before setting up as a small farmer, Covey worked as an overseer, where he may have gained his reputation as a “Negro breaker.” In 1834 he rented the services of Frederick Douglass for an entire year. Douglass, nearly sixteen years old, initially submitted to the regular whippings but he eventually fought back and later recorded that this was when he finally felt like a man.

Douglass's owner, Thomas Auld, leased his slave's services to Covey; through this arrangement, Covey would receive low-cost farm labor and Auld could expect a more submissive slave in return. On 1 January 1834 Douglass traveled the ...

Article

Dorsey, Basil  

Steve Strimer

self-emancipated slave and teamster, was born in Libertytown, in Frederick County, Maryland. The best evidence suggests that his father and mother, like Dorsey, were slaves of Sabrett (sometimes known as Sabrick) Sollers, though Sollers himself is several times mentioned as Dorsey's father. He had three brothers, Charles, William, and Thomas. Dorsey contended that his grandfather was from England and that he was, by rights, a free man. His escape from slavery is remarkably well documented for a case where no written narrative was produced.

Dorsey married Louisa, who may also have been a slave of Sollers, although several sources claim she was a free woman. She may have been manumitted by her second owner, Richard Coale. The couple had three children, the first of whom was Eliza, born 4 November 1834.

Dorsey was to have been freed upon the death of his owner ...

Article

Douglass, Lewis Henry  

Donald Yacovone

Civil War soldier, reformer, and businessman, was the second of five children of the abolitionist leader and orator Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) and Anna Murray Douglass (1813–1882). Lewis, born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his father settled shortly after his flight from slavery, proved the most successful of the Douglass children and the one his father most relied upon in later years. After the family moved to Rochester, New York, the eight-year-old Lewis and his siblings became beneficiaries of his father's successful efforts to desegregate the city's public schools—a tradition that Lewis maintained as an adult when he lived in the District of Columbia. As soon as he was old enough, he helped his father with the publication of his antislavery newspapers and after his father fled Federal authorities in the wake of John Brown's 1859 raid at Harpers Ferry the nineteen ...

Article

Dumas, François Ernest  

Caryn Cossé Bell

businessman, Civil War veteran, and Reconstruction politician, was the son of the influential Creole New Orleanian Joseph Dumas, one of the owners of the Dumas Brothers French Quarter clothiers, a firm that specialized in imported French cloth and luxury apparel. Joseph Dumas invested his share of the firm's profits in real estate and accumulated a considerable fortune in property holdings and slaves. In 1860 African American Louisianans like François and Joseph Dumas constituted the wealthiest population of free blacks in the United States.

Joseph Dumas's import business necessitated that the Dumas family sojourn frequently in France, and it was there that François, was born, raised, and educated. François arrived in New Orleans shortly before the Civil War to manage the family business. He married Marguerite Victoria Victor, and the couple had five children, three girls and two boys. By 1860 he had become one ...

Article

Evers-Williams, Myrlie  

Jennifer Jensen Wallach

civil rights activist and chairperson of the NAACP. Raised by her grandmother and aunt in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Myrlie Beasely entered Alcorn A&M College in 1950 to study education and music. Shortly after enrolling she met an upperclassman, Medgar Wylie Evers, and the couple married in 1951. The next year they moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where Medgar Evers became field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Ignoring threats from white racists, Myrlie and Medgar Evers participated wholeheartedly in the civil rights movement, but on 12 June 1963 Medgar Evers was shot and killed. His assailant, a segregationist named Byron De La Beckwith, was captured and tried but not convicted. For thirty years Myrlie Evers fought for a retrial, and on 5 February 1994 Beckwith was finally convicted of murder. The trial was dramatized in the 1996 film Ghosts of Mississippi.

Following ...

Article

Frank, Leo  

Sandra D. Harvey

Jewish businessman, convicted of murder and lynched by vigilantes in Georgia. It is believed that his case contributed to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

Leo Max Frank was born in Texas but soon moved with his parents, Rudolph and Rachel Frank, to Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Cornell University in 1906, Frank apprenticed in his uncle's factory. In 1907 Frank was given a supervisory position with the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, which had a sizable Jewish population. He met Lucille Selig there, and on 30 November 1910 they were married. Frank and his wife lived in an upscale Jewish neighborhood and were prominent members of the Jewish community.

On 27 April 1913, Atlanta police discovered the strangled and possibly raped body of a thirteen-year-old National Pencil Company factory worker, Mary Phagan. Authorities arrested the night watchman, Newt Lee ...

Article

Franklin, Buck Colbert  

Melissa Nicole Stuckey

attorney, freedman, father of the eminent historian John Hope Franklin, and Tulsa race riot survivor, was born Buck Colbert Franklin in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma, the son of David Franklin and Millie Colbert. David Franklin raised cattle, horses, and other livestock for sale. He also farmed. Millie Colbert taught school. The seventh of ten children, B.C. went by his initials as an adult to prevent whites from calling him by his first name. His efforts were only partially successful, as many whites called him Ben, assuming that he was named after Ben Franklin. In reality he was named Buck in honor of his paternal grandfather and Colbert to honor his mother's family name.

Franklin s parents were freedmen a term used to define the black citizens of the Cherokee Chickasaw Choctaw Creek and Seminole Nations known ...

Article

Hinard, Eufrosina  

Donovan S. Weight

slave owner, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a freed slave and a white man (their names are unknown). Hinard never experienced slavery herself, and her life as a slave-owning black female was far removed from the common experience of most blacks in North America. This anomaly can be explained in part by the political and social turbulence of early New Orleans. By the time Hinard was forty-two, she had lived under French, Spanish, and American rule. In 1791 at the age of fourteen, Hinard was placéed (committed) to the white Spaniard Don Nicolás Vidal, the auditor de guerra the Spanish colonial governor In this lofty position Vidal provided military and legal counsel for both Louisiana and West Florida Both the Spanish and the French legislated against racial intermarriage as a way of maintaining pure white blood but this legislation did not stop white men from ...

Article

Howard, Milton  

Beverley Rowe Lindburg

Civil War soldier, cabinetmaker, and fifty-two-year employee of the Rock Island (Illinois) Arsenal, was born free but was kidnapped by slave traders at around the age of five along with his mother, father, brother, and a sister (all of whose names are unknown) from their home near Muscatine, Iowa. He was first sold as house slave to a man named Pickett from Alabama, and later to an Arkansas planter whose last name he took for a surname; he was generally known as “Milt.” Reports of his age vary greatly: census, military, and burial records indicate he was born between 1821 and 1845.

Howard and another house slave were married in a formal ceremony at the Pickett Plantation a privilege that was customarily afforded only to house servants Several children were born to the couple but all family ties were severed when Howard was sold to the Arkansas ...

Article

Ikard, Bose  

Liz Stephens

cowboy and trail-driver on the Goodnight-Loving Trail and close associate of the cattleman Charles Goodnight, was born a slave in Summerville, Mississippi, and later moved to Parker County, Texas, with the family of his owner and probable father, Dr. William Ikard. Bose Ikard's mother was named King and was also William Ikard's slave. Though the Texas Historical Commission lists Ikard's birth as 1843, and Ikard's own headstone lists 1859, a probable year of birth was 1847, the same year as that of William Ikard's “legitimate” son, with whom Bose was largely raised.

Ikard's association with Goodnight arose from their proximity as neighbors in Parker County, working in the same industry. With a move from Mississippi to Texas in 1852 the Ikard family became part of the primary industry of the region, cattle. The sale of one female slave, possibly Ikard's mother, to another neighbor, Oliver ...

Article

Jai, Anna Madgigine  

Bethany Waywell Jay

slave, plantation mistress, and refugee, was born Anta Majigeen Ndiaye in Senegal during years of intense warfare and slave raids. While there is no conclusive evidence of Jai's lineage, legends in both Florida and Senegal suggest that she was a princess in Africa who was captured and sold into slavery after her father led an unsuccessful bid for power in the Wolof states of Senegal. While little is known of Jai's life before her arrival in Spanish Florida, historian Daniel Schafer suggests that she was one of the 120 Africans who survived the nightmarish Middle Passage from Africa to Cuba on board the Sally. In 1806 Jai was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley a slave trader and planter from Florida From Cuba Jai sailed with Kingsley to his Laurel Grove plantation near what would later become Jacksonville Florida As the nineteenth century progressed Jai s life ...

Article

Jeremiah, Thomas  

John Howard Smith

fisherman, harbor pilot, and elite member of Charleston, South Carolina's, black population, was executed by the provincial government for purportedly fomenting a slave insurrection at the outset of the American War for Independence. Much of Jeremiah's life is shrouded in mystery. Born to unidentified slave parents, Jeremiah—or “Jerry” as he may also have been known—secured his freedom by some means in the 1750s or 1760s and was married, but the identity of his wife is not known. The marriage apparently produced no children.

Like many other young Low Country slaves and free blacks, Jeremiah became intimately familiar with South Carolina's river transport networks, and by 1760 had established himself as a capable pilot in and around Charleston Harbor He parlayed the time spent on the water into a lucrative fishing business He supplied the port city residents with his daily catches and in time became arguably one ...

Article

John Henry  

John Garst

“steel-driving man” and legendary hero, may have been a historic person born a slave in Mississippi, Virginia, or some other Southern state. In ballad and legend he is simply “John Henry,” but “John Henry” is a common combination of given names, so Henry may not have been his surname.

Songs about John Henry were collected as early as 1905. In 1916 the former West Virginia governor W.-A. MacCorkle confused him with John Hardy, an African American gambler and murderer who was hanged in Welch, West Virginia, in 1894 and is the subject of his own ballad. By the mid-1920s the ballad “John Henry” was being recorded commercially by Riley Puckett (1924), Fiddlin' John Carson (1924), and other white “hillbilly” performers, and shortly thereafter recordings by such African American bluesmen as Henry Thomas (1927) and Mississippi John Hurt (1928 began ...

Article

Johnson, Amy  

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property owner, and businesswoman in Natchez, Mississippi, was born into slavery. Little is known of her parents or early life. She was emancipated in 1814 at age thirty by her white owner, William Johnson, who was the likely father of her two young children, Adelia and William. He stated in the emancipation document executed in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, that in consideration of five dollars he had liberated Amy, who would be “able to work and gain a Sufficient Livilihood and maintenance” (Davis and Hogan, Barber, 15).

Amy was listed as a free Negro head of household in the Natchez, Mississippi, censuses of 1816, 1818, and 1820. Her children were also freed by William Johnson beginning with Adelia at age thirteen in 1818. Her son, William Johnson (1809–1851), was emancipated two years after this, in 1820 ...

Article

Johnson, Ann Battles  

Nicole S. Ribianszky

free woman of color, property owner, and slaveholder in Natchez, Mississippi, was born enslaved. Her mother, Harriet Battles, was an enslaved mixed-race woman. It is not clear who Ann's father was, although presumably it was a white man due to Ann's racial classification as “mulatto.” It is not readily evident, however, that it was Gabriel Tichenor, the white man who claimed ownership of mother and daughter. In 1822 Tichenor crossed the Mississippi River to Concordia Parish Louisiana and manumitted Harriet when she was thirty years old Because of the laws of Louisiana the children of freed people could not themselves be freed until they too reached age thirty Four years after Harriet s manumission Tichenor navigated around that issue by transporting Harriet and the eleven year old Ann to Cincinnati Ohio where he had their free papers duly recorded The mother and daughter then returned ...

Article

Johnson, William Isaac  

Brian Neumann

was born into slavery in Albemarle County, Virginia, to unknown parents. His owners were Anderson and Nancy Johnson, who probably moved him and his family to Goochland County in the 1840s. Anderson put him to work before he turned ten years old, forcing him to tend the chickens, sheep, and cows. When he was a teenager, Anderson trained him as a butler and hired him out to a man in Richmond.

Decades later Johnson still vividly remembered the violence of slavery. Speaking to a Works Progress Administration (WPA) interviewer in 1937, he described Anderson beating his slaves, placing them in shackles, and selling them into the Deep South if they tried to escape. Johnson, however, also emphasized Black agency and resistance. He recalled his fellow slaves refusing to work, hiding in the woods to avoid being hired out, and forging slave passes to help others escape from bondage.

Anderson ...

Article

Jordan, Michael  

Jill Dupont

basketball player, businessman, and NBA owner. It is always something of a mystery how those born in unremarkable circumstances achieve transcendence within and beyond their fields of expertise. By whatever alchemy of talent, hard work, and historical circumstance, perhaps no one in recent history has better embodied the earthbound problems and gravity-defying aspirations of the United States than Michael Jordan.

Growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina, Michael Jeffrey Jordan took to heart his parents lessons in diligence and human relations Instructed to treat everyone equally and with courtesy he experienced relatively few of the racial incidents that had occurred routinely in previous generations Jordan s anger flared once as a boy though when in response to a girl s racial slur he planted his popsicle on her head He acquired his work ethic like his height over time fueling himself with the real and imagined slights of ...