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James G. Spady

One of thirteen children, Robert Mara Adger was born in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, Robert Adger, was black, and his mother, Mary Ann Morong, was Native American. In 1848 the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adger's father first found a job as a waiter in the Old Merchant's Hotel. Later, while working as a nurse, he industriously saved enough funds to open a furniture business. He was involved in many activities and was a founder of the Benjamin Banneker Institute.

Robert Mara Adger received his early training at the Bird School, an early black educational institution in the United States. During his teenage years, he worked in his father's furniture stores, which had expanded from one in 1850 to three by 1858 Serving as a manager provided him with the business experience that he later found valuable as director of the Philadelphia Building and ...


Rashauna R. Johnson

banker, real estate magnate, activist, and philanthropist, considered the first southern African American millionaire. Robert Reed “Bob” Church was born in 1839 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, to an enslaved mother, Emmeline, and a white steamboat captain, Charles B. Church. His mother, a seamstress, died when Robert was twelve years old, and he spent much of his childhood on the Mississippi River with his father. Because of his closeness to his father, Robert enjoyed privileges not generally associated with slavery. While working on a steamboat during the Civil War, however, Union troops captured him, and he soon settled as a freedman in Memphis, Tennessee.

Church entered into business in postwar Memphis, but success did not shield him from the violence of Reconstruction. During the 1866 Memphis riot in which white mobs attacked freedmen vigilantes ransacked Church s saloon and shot him Church survived and ...


Thomas N. Boschert

politician and businessman, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Robert Reed Church Sr., a banker and businessman, and Anna Sue Wright, a school principal. The wealth and prestige of his father afforded young Church opportunities not available to most African American children of his day. After attending a parochial school in Memphis and Oberlin Academy in Oberlin, Ohio, Church studied at Morgan Park Military Academy in Chicago, Illinois, and then enrolled in the Packard School of Business in New York City. He completed the business course and worked on Wall Street for several years before returning to Memphis in 1909 to help his father in the management of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company and other family enterprises. In 1911 he married Sara Paroda Johnson, a schoolteacher; they had one child.

Church's rise to political power began in 1911 when as a leader ...


Sandra Opdycke

labor leader, was born in Frederiksted, Saint Croix, Virgin Islands, the son of William Ignatius Crosswaith, a painter, and Anne Eliza (maiden name unknown). He left school at thirteen and immigrated in 1910 to the United States, where he joined the U.S. Navy as a mess boy. In 1915 he married Alma E. Besard; they had four children. Settling in New York City, Crosswaith worked as an elevator operator during the day and at night attended the Rand School of Social Science, a socialist educational center.

While at the Rand School, Crosswaith encountered two influences that changed his life: the teachings of the socialist leader Eugene V. Debs and the radical politics of the New Negroes, a group of young African Americans in Harlem who had begun speaking out against the accommodating policies of their elders. Upon his graduation in 1918 Crosswaith began a long career of socialist ...


Linda Przybyszewski

businessman and politician, was born a slave in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, the son of a slave woman of mixed race. His father was reputedly his owner, James Harlan (1800–1863), a white lawyer, Kentucky politician, and the father of the first justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911). However, modern DNA analysis of male descendants from both families revealed no match. While still young, Robert Harlan arrived in Kentucky, where he began attending the public schools that were closed to black children. It seems that the boy's mixed-race heritage was not readily apparent, but he was expelled when the authorities learned of it. He continued his education at home, where James Harlan's older sons tutored him in their lessons despite his status as one of several slaves owned by James Harlan.

Robert Harlan began his business career as either a barber or a shopkeeper in Harrodsburg Kentucky He ...


Kerry Pimblott

politician and trade unionist, was born in Cairo, Illinois, the eldest son of Nevada Bell and Charles Hayes Sr., the latter a farm laborer. Charles Arthur Hayes spent his formative years in Cairo, graduating from that city's Sumner High School in 1935.

After high school, Hayes took a job stacking lumber at E. L. Bruce Company, a leading manufacturer of hardwood flooring. Hayes quickly rose to the more skilled position of machine operator and became active in efforts to organize a union. In 1939, these efforts resulted in the founding of Local 1424 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. A few months later, Hayes was elected president, marking the beginning of a long career as a labor organizer.

During World War II, Hayes, like thousands of African Americans, migrated north to Chicago in search of better employment opportunities. In 1942 Hayes ...


Loren Schweninger

newspaper editor, businessman, and politician, was born in Marion, Alabama. Nothing is known of his parents. He was sent to a primary school, and he later attended the state normal school in his hometown and Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. At age twenty he married Lillie A. Jones of Marion, and they had two children. At age twenty-six he became editor of the Mobile State Republican, and between 1894 and 1907 he edited the Mobile Weekly Press, described by Booker T. Washington as a “thoughtful Negro journal.”

In his editorials, Johnson attempted to put the best cast on racial conditions and outwardly expressed optimism about the future for African Americans in the South. At other times, however, as when the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901 disfranchised blacks he was less optimistic Whites he said then had made a mockery of popular democracy His editorials ...


Donna Tyler Hollie

entrepreneur, labor leader, and political and social activist, was born free in Baltimore, Maryland, to John and Chaney Locks. It is likely that he attended one of Baltimore's private schools for African Americans, and at the age of eighteen he began a three-year apprenticeship with a carpenter. In 1842 Locks s father died and willed him a house and a $900 account in the Savings Bank of Baltimore Using his training to obtain employment and his inheritance to finance a variety of business ventures Locks achieved an unusual degree of economic stability and prosperity for a free black man in a slave society He worked as a carpenter and a caulker and was promoted to foreman at a white owned shipyard With his funds saved in the Freedmen s Bank after the Civil War Locks began his most profitable enterprise a livery and hacking business ...


Jason Philip Miller

businessman and politician, was born in Kaufman County in the eastern part of Texas to George McDonald, a native Tennessean who had once (reportedly) been owned by the Confederate officer and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest. George was a farmer by trade. McDonald's mother, Flora Scott, was either a former slave or a freewoman, depending on the source. What appears certain is that she was from Alabama and died when McDonald was still very young. His father soon married a woman named Belle Crouch. Education in the family was a matter of great importance; McDonald was in fact named after William Shakespeare and the former U.S. president James Madison. He attended local schools and graduated from high school around 1884 As a young man he took work from a local cattle rancher and lawyer named Z T Adams who discussed the law ...


Steven J. Niven

soldier, journalist, businessman, and political activist, was born Osceola Enoch McKain in Sumter, South Carolina, to Selena Durant McKain. His father's name is not recorded. Selena Durant McKain was only sixteen when she gave birth to Osceola, whom she named after a Seminole Indian warrior from the 1830s. By the time that Ossie, as he was known in the family, was six, his mother was working as a self-employed laundress in Sumter and had married George Abraham, a waiter and janitor. The couple raised four sons and two daughters in addition to Osceola, but Abraham never formally adopted him. Osceola also retained his mother's surname, adding an extra “e” for a touch of individuality, just as his mother had changed her name from McCain to McKain.

From an early age Osceola worked Along with his siblings he helped his mother make her laundry deliveries ...


Nick J. Sciullo

realtor, prominent citizen, and bureaucrat. Whitefield McKinlay was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George and Mary E. Weston McKinlay. He studied at the Avery Institute, Charleston's first free secondary school for African Americans. He continued his education at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the University of South Carolina, and Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa. At West Point he suffered continued hardship from classmates and staff and was finally physically disqualified from the school. When conservatives took over South Carolina in 1876, black students were forced to leave the University of South Carolina. McKinlay was a member of the Brown Fellowship Society, which was founded in 1790 to provide education, insurance, and a cemetery to its elite membership roster.

In 1887 McKinlay married Kate Wheeler The family moved to Washington D C when conditions in South Carolina deteriorated McKinlay and Wheeler had two ...


Loren Schweninger

businessman, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of George McKinlay and Mary E. Weston. His father, a free black man, had purchased a house on Meeting Street in Charleston in 1848; his grandfather, Anthony Weston, was a well-known mixed-race millwright and slave owner in antebellum South Carolina. After the Civil War McKinlay studied at Avery Institute in Charleston, and in 1874 he enrolled at the University of South Carolina, where he remained for three years, until blacks were excluded after the Democrats came to power. After teaching school in South Carolina, he matriculated at Iowa College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he remained until 1881. By the age of twenty-nine, McKinlay could boast of a very strong education.

Although the profession of teaching was open to a person of his talents McKinlay moved to Washington D C and found a job in the Government ...


Sherrow O. Pinder

political activist, businesswoman, and humanitarian, was born Irene Amos in Baltimore, Maryland. She was the daughter of Ethel (maiden name unknown) and Robert Amos, and the sixth of nine children. Growing up, she attended the Seventh Day Adventist church where her parents were members. Morgan was in and out of high school. Especially during the Great Depression, she cleaned, did laundry work, and took care of children in order to financially assist her family. Eventually, she married Sherwood Morgan and bore two children, Brenda and Sherwood. The Morgan family lived in Baltimore. During her marriage to Mr. Morgan, she worked in a plant that made World War II bombers.

On 16 July 1944 Morgan was traveling on an interstate greyhound bus going to Baltimore When the bus became packed as it reached Saluda Virginia the bus driver keeping alive the local and state Jim Crow ...


Sandy Dwayne Martin

shoemaker, newspaper publisher, clergyperson, denominational leader and organizer, business leader, and political activist, was born the eighth of ten children to James and Cora Cornelia Morris near Spring Place in Murray County, Georgia, as a slave. On 24 November 1884 Morris married Fannie E. Austin of Alabama; they had five children. His father, James, came to Alabama from North Carolina in 1850. The father, relatively educated for the time, practiced a trade in town and visited the farm twice weekly, during which time he taught his family reading and writing in preparation for their eventual freedom. Elias augmented this home training by attending schools between 1864 and 1875 in Dalton, Georgia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Stevenson, Alabama; and Nashville, Tennessee (the school that eventually became Roger Williams University). Converted in 1874 he was also licensed to preach by a Baptist church the same year ...


Charles Rosenberg

businessman and community leader, was born to Luther C. Peery and Catherine B. Peery in St. Joseph, Missouri. His father and paternal grandparents were from Missouri, whereas his mother was born in Kentucky. Returning from military service in Europe after World War I, he lived with his parents for a few years, working as a construction laborer. His wife Carolyn, whom he married in the early 1920s, was born in Kansas to parents from Kentucky. They had seven sons between 1922 and the early 1930s: Benjamin Jr., Nelson, Alvin, Carroll, Ross, Norman, and Richard.

When Peery and another black veteran passed the civil service exam for the previously segregated Railway Mail Service a district supervisor transferred him from Missouri to Minneapolis Minnesota where another supervisor responded to complaints about discrimination by transferring him to the rural community of Wabasha His family ...


Ann Zeidman-Karpinski

chemist, author, and activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Goode, a clerk in the U.S. War Department, and Eslanda Cardoza Goode, an osteopath and beautician. Eslanda, or Essie as she was known to her friends, attended the integrated public schools in New York and finished high school in just three years, when she was sixteen years old. She won a scholarship to attend the University of Illinois. Originally encouraged to major in domestic science, she was so bored after two years that she considered leaving. An adviser asked her what classes she liked, and when she said that chemistry was her favorite subject, she was encouraged to pursue that instead. For her senior year she attended Columbia University Teachers College.

Through her adviser at Columbia and due to the labor shortages created by World War I Robeson secured employment as a chemist ...


Marie Shear

the first black flight attendant of either sex for a U.S. airline and an activist, was born Ruth Carol Taylor in Boston, Massachusetts, the older of two children of Ruth Irene Powell, a registered nurse, and William Edison Taylor, a barber and farmer, who lived in nearby Cambridge.

After several years in New York City, the family moved to a farm in Trumansburg, in upstate New York, where Taylor grew up. She attended Elmira College for Women in Elmira, New York, and New York University in New York City, became a registered nurse in 1955 upon graduation from the Bellevue Schools of Nursing at New York University, and practiced nursing for the next three years.

With the nation s airlines under pressure to break the color line Taylor became one of about eight hundred Negro girls interviewed by Mohawk Airlines a regional carrier based in Ithaca New York ...


Robert Jr. Johnson

labor activist, journalist, and presidential candidate, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, the son of Bryant Taylor, a slave at the time of George's birth, and Amanda Hines, a free woman. George had twelve siblings. In 1861 his mother died in Alton, Illinois, where she had been cared for by a William Lovejoy. After the death of his mother, Taylor became homeless, drifting, never knowing where his next meal would come from, and losing contact with his brothers and sisters. On 8 May 1865 he alighted from the steamer Hawkeye State in the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin. He attended public schools for one year but then met Nathan Smith a black man who sheltered him and later adopted the young boy In La Crosse Taylor worked as a farmer with his new family More important for the first time he was in ...


Benjamin R. Justesen

teacher, businessman, banker, Republican Party activist, and longtime U.S. postmaster of Wilson, North Carolina, was born a slave near Castalia in Nash County, North Carolina, during the Civil War. The oldest son of five children born to carpenter Daniel Vick and Fannie (Blount) Vick, Samuel received his early education at Wilson Academy in Wilson, where the Vick family moved shortly after the war's end in 1865.

A gifted student, Vick excelled at his studies, and in 1880 he was admitted to Lincoln University (then the Ashmun Institute, after Jehudi Ashmun, leader of 1820s Liberia) in Pennsylvania, from which he received both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1884 While his father helped finance his education Vick insisted on paying as much of his own expenses as possible by teaching school during summer vacations His philosophy of pragmatic independence guided his life thereafter ...


Clarence G. Contee

The only child of Eliza and David Walker, Edward Walker was born in Boston after his father's death. His mother, known as Miss Eliza, was probably a fugitive slave. His father was the author of the supposedly subversive David Walker's Appeal … to the Colored Citizens of the World, published in Boston in 1829. Walker's exact birth date is uncertain. An obituary, which called him Edwin, listed the date as September 28, 1835. However, since the father is said to have died in 1830, Edward must have been born in either 1830 or 1831.

Walker attended public schools in Boston and earned his living as a leather worker and owner of his own shop with as many as fifteen workers The heritage of his father and the Boston abolition atmosphere led Walker to aid in the release of the slave Shadrach from capture in ...