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José Antonio Fernández Molina

was born in Cartago, Costa Rica. He amassed the nation’s largest fortune during the first half of the nineteenth century and served in several political posts. Aguilar Cubero was identified as mulatto when he was baptized and was the great-grandchild of a mulatto slave woman. His grandfather and father were involved in businesses such as cacao production in the Caribbean coast and trade with Nicaragua. Immediately after independence in 1821, ethnic categories, which were an integral part of the colonial social hierarchy imposed by Spanish rule, were abolished and legally forbidden in the new Federal Republic of Central America, which encompassed Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua for two decades.

It was within this new framework that Aguilar Cubero became an important coffee producer and trader serving as the intermediary between local coffee producers and foreign markets According to family tradition he learned to write while working ...

Article

Leslie H. Fishel

George Thomas Downing was born in New York City, the son of Thomas Downing, a restaurant owner, and Rebecca West. His father's Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Young Downing attended Charles Smith's school on Orange Street and, with future black abolitionists J. McCune Smith, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell, and Charles Reason and Patrick Reason, the African School #2 on Mulberry Street. He completed his schooling privately and in his mid-teens was active in two literary societies.

Before he was twenty Downing participated in the Underground Railroad and worked with his father to lobby the New York legislature for equal suffrage. In 1841 both were delegates to the initial convention of the American Reform Board of Disenfranchised Commissioners one of many organizations formed by African American males to fight for the elective franchise in New York ...

Article

Kathy Covert-Warnes

George Thomas Downing lived nearly eighty-four years, but the results of his struggles for civil rights persisted long past his death. He was born to Thomas and Rebecca West Downing in New York City and attended the Mulberry Street School, which educated many future leaders in the fight for black civil rights. When George turned fourteen, he and several schoolmates organized a literary society in which to read, write, and talk about various issues of the day—primarily slavery. The young men in the society adopted a resolution against celebrating the Fourth of July because they believed that the Declaration of Independence mocked black Americans.

Downing graduated from Hamilton College in Oneida County, New York, and began his fight for black civil rights by serving as an agent for the Underground Railroad. From 1857 to 1866 he led the fight against separate public schools for blacks and whites in Rhode ...

Article

Sheila Gregory Thomas

teacher, politician, and businessman, was born in Austin, Texas. His mother, Eliza, a slave of mixed race, was owned by John Hancock, a lawyer, judge, state legislator, and U.S. congressman whom Hugh knew to be his father. When he was five years of age and the Civil War was threatening, Hugh and his mother were sent by John Hancock to Oberlin, Ohio, a thriving community of whites and free blacks. This not only placed them in a safe environment but also guaranteed Hancock an education, as Oberlin College and its preparatory department welcomed all. For younger children there was the village elementary school.

Hancock was one of many offspring of white fathers and former slaves for whom Oberlin was a safe haven from the hostilities and limitations of life in the South Black residents of Oberlin in the 1800s included entrepreneurs teachers and elected officials ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

businessman and politician, born in rural Arkansas, was the slave son of his owner, John Havis, a white farmer in Bradley and Jefferson counties, and an unnamed slave mother. Most often known simply as Ferd, his name appears in some records as Ferdinand. After the Civil War, he was educated in Freedmen's Bureau schools in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he lived for the rest of his life.

A successful entrepreneur, Ferd Havis began his career as a barber, but quickly expanded his interests, eventually operating both a saloon and retail whiskey distributorship in Pine Bluff, as well as owning tenement houses and two thousand acres of farmland in Jefferson County. He married his first wife, Dilsey, in the mid-1860s, and they had one daughter, Cora; Dilsey Havis died in 1870. In 1871 he was elected to the first of five terms as a Pine ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

Baptist minister, grocer, printer, and civil rights leader, reported by Ebony magazine as “the first Negro to qualify to vote in Belzoni [Mississippi] since Reconstruction days,” was born in Edwards, Mississippi. There is no well‐established record identifying his parents. His mother died when he was still a child; at the age of seventeen he appears to have been living with an aunt and uncle, Garfield and Minnie B. Holmes, in Sunflower County, Mississippi.

After graduating from high school Lee worked on the docks in New Orleans unloading bananas while studying typesetting through a correspondence course He served for a time as pastor of St James Church in Jackson Mississippi then accepted a call seventy miles to the north in the predominantly African American Delta community of Belzoni As in many churches the offerings of members were not sufficient to support a full time pastor He opened a grocery store ...