Charles Henry Langston, the grandfather of poet Langston Hughes, was born a free man on a Virginia plantation in 1817 to Captain Ralph Quarles and Lucy Jane Langston, Quarles’ mulatto slave. He had two brothers, John Mercer (who would become a Virginia Congressman in 1888) and Gideon. After the death of his father in 1834, Charles inherited a large part of his father’s estate, and he went to be educated at Oberlin College in 1842 and 1843.
The African American-manned 95th Engineer Battalion (General Service) was formed in April 1941 at Fort Belvoir, Virginia as part of the U.S. Army buildup preceding World War II. Unlike many construction units, the 95th received considerable training, participating in the Carolina Maneuvers and receiving practical experience at Camp AP Hill, Virginia, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Expanded to regimental size following Pearl Harbor, it was sent to Canada in June 1942 to assist in building the Alaska-Canada (Alcan) Highway.
Eugene Kinkle Jones was one of the seven founders or Jewels of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Executive Director of the National Urban League during its early formative period. Jones was born in 1885 in Richmond, Virginia. His father Joseph was a former slave, but his mother Rosa was born free. Jones attended Wayland Academy, a high school arm of Virginia Union University where his father Joseph Jones was a professor and his mother Rosa was a teacher. Upon graduation from high school, Jones entered Virginia Union, earning an undergraduate degree in 1905.
Jones then enrolled in graduate school at Cornell University in 1906 at the age of 21, at first majoring in engineering but later transferring to sociology. While at Cornell he was one of seven founders of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first black Greek letter organization founded in 1906. Jones was instrumental in pushing the other founders toward creating a fraternity. He graduated from Cornell in 1908 with an M.A. in sociology.
Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to occupy the White House. Obama was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was a Kenyan graduate student studying in the United States and his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, a white American from Wichita, Kansas. The two were married on February 2, 1961 in Maui, Hawaii. In 1971, when he was ten, Obama’s mother, who had remarried and was living in Indonesia, sent him to Honolulu, Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham for several years, where he attended Punahou, a prestigious preparatory school. Obama was admitted on a scholarship with the assistance of his grandparents.
Born Albert Turner Reid in Hampton, Virginia, November 13, 1927, this world-renowned mathematician earned his bachelor’s degree at Iowa State University in 1949 but never completed a graduate degree in his chosen field. Despite this, he immediately found work as a research assistant and statistician at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and the University of California at Berkeley. Early in his career Reid published papers on mathematical biology.
Nathaniel “Nat” Turner was born in Southampton County, Virginia on October 2, 1800, the son of slaves owned by Benjamin Turner, a prosperous farmer. Taught to read by the son of his owner, Turner studied Christianity which he interpreted as condemning slavery. Turner also began to believe that God had chosen him to free his people from slavery. He soon became known among fellow slaves as “The Prophet.”
Turner was sold to slaveholder Joseph Travis in 1830. Less than a year after the sale, Turner received what he assumed was a sign from God when he witnessed the eclipse of the sun. After sharing this experience with a few close friends, they began to plan an insurrection. While still planning the uprising, Turner saw that the color of the sun had changed to a bluish-green, which he believed was the final sign to initiate the uprising. With this confidence, Turner and seven other slaves moved forward with their plans. They first murdered the entire Travis family and eventually fifty whites in the futile effort to incite a general slave uprising. Only 75 slaves and free blacks joined the rebellion.
Ruth Edmonds Hill, ed., The Black Women Oral History Project (Westport, Connecticut: Meckler, 1991); Rayford W. Logan, Howard University: The First Hundred Years, 1867-1967 (New York: New York University Press, 1967); http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_109.html
I was in the seventh grade at the Newsome Training School in Aubrey, Arkansas when the United States Supreme Court handed down Brown vs. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. My most powerful memory of the Brown decision is that I have no memory of it being rendered or mentioned by my parents, teachers, or preachers. In my rural southern black community, there was a conspiracy of silence about Brown. It was completely invisible.
A conspiracy of silenceSummary: In the following article, James A. Banks, the Kerry and Linda Killinger Professor and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle, describes his Arkansas community's reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision when it was announced in 1954.
Sources: James A. Banks, Race, Culture, and Education: The Selected Works of James A. Banks (New York & London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 37-41. Reprinted with Permission.
Contributor: Affiliation: University of Washington
When African American enslaved people were set free on June 19, 1865, The Yates family moved to Houston where he became drayman and Baptist preacher. As a minister, Yates did missionary work among the freedmen and women who were rapidly moving into Houston immediately after the Civil War.
Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street, New York City, New York, played an important role during the American Revolution. Originally built in 1719 as a home to a New York colonial leader, it was sold at an auction to Samuel Fraunces (1722-95), a merchant of French-West Indian ancestry in 1762. Fraunces converted the home into the “Queen’s Head Tavern.” Fraunces was popular with New York City’s elite and many patronized his tavern. In 1768, these patrons established the first New York Chamber of Commerce at Fraunces Tavern.
Robert Russa Moton was born on the William Vaughan Plantation in 1867 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Moton attended the local freedman’s school and eventually went on to college at the Hampton Institute (now called Hampton University).
At Hampton Institute Moton distinguished himself academically and after graduation was appointed the school’s Commandant in charge of military discipline, a post he held for 25 years. Moton also became a Hampton fundraiser, traveling north to lecture on the school’s programs.
In 1915, Moton left the Hampton Institute to accept a post as Tuskegee Institute as its second president after the death of founder Booker T. Washington. Soon after his arrival Moton began to expand the Institute’s academic programs, adding a new department to educate future black school teachers. He also initiated the construction of what would become the Tuskegee Veterans Administration Hospital which would treat African American World War I veterans. Despite local white opposition, Moton insisted that the federal hospital be staffed by black doctors, nurses, and administrators.
The first SNYC conference was held in Richmond, Virginia on February 13 and 14, 1937 at the Fifth Baptist Church. Five hundred thirty-four delegates from across the South attended the meeting including individuals from almost every historically black college as well as delegates representing YMCA branches and chapters of the Girl and Boy Scouts across the region. One international delegate, a young woman from China, also attended. Like its parent organization, the National Negro Congress, SNYC also included Communists among its members.
Thomas Greene Wiggins was born May 25, 1849 to Mungo and Charity Wiggins, slaves on a Georgia plantation. He was blind and autistic but a musical genius with a phenomenal memory. In 1850 Tom, his parents, and two brothers were sold to James Neil Bethune, a lawyer and newspaper editor in Columbus, Georgia. Young Tom was fascinated by music and other sounds, and could pick out tunes on the piano by the age of four. He made his concert debut at eight, performing in Atlanta.
After graduating from law school Jackson-Lee moved to Houston, Texas after her husband, Dr. Elwyn C. Lee accepted a job offer from the University of Houston. Dr. Lee is currently Vice Chancellor and Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Houston. Jackson-Lee was in private practice from 1975 to 1987 when she was elected a Houston municipal judge. Jackson-Lee then ran for a seat on the Houston City Council in 1990. In 1994 Shelia Jackson-Lee was elected as a Democrat to represent the 18th Congressional District of Texas. She currently holds that seat.
Bill Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878 to Maxwell and Maria Robinson. Due to the death of both of his parents when he was an infant, Bill and his younger brother Percy were brought up by his grandmother. As a young child, Bill was given the nickname of “Bojangles” although Robinson himself was unsure of the origin of the name.
Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was a highly decorated Navy Officer who pioneered the way with a multitude of firsts for African Americans in the military. Some of his most notable achievements included, being the first African American Navy Vice Admiral, the first African American to command a Navy warship, the first African American to command a warship during combat, the first African American to command a Navy Fleet, and the first African American to obtain Flag Rank in the military. His decorations include the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal.
Samuel Gravely was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 4, 1922. He attended Virginia Union University for three years, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans in 1906. Postponing his education, he enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1942 where he trained as a fireman apprentice.
Henry E. Dabbs, Black Brass: Black Generals and Admirals in the Armed Forces of the United States (Charlottesville, Virginia: Howell Press, 1997); http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/samuel-gravely.htm.
Amha Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, was proclaimed ruler of the state three times, first in 1960 then in 1975 and finally while in exile in 1989. Selassie was born Asfaw Wossen Tafari in the walled city of Harrar in August 1916 to Dejazmach Tafari Makonnen, then the governor of Harrar and future emperor of Ethiopia, and his wife Menen Asfaw. Amha Selassie became Crown Prince Asfaw Wossen of Ethiopia when his father was crowned emperor on November 2, 1930.
In December 1960, the Imperial Guard launched a coup and seized power in Ethiopia while the emperor was on a visit to Brazil. The coup leaders compelled the 44 year old crown prince to read a radio statement in which he accepted the crown in his father’s place and announced a government of reform. However, the regular army and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church refused to accept the new government, and the leader of the church, Patriarch Abune Baslios, issued an anathema against all those who cooperated with the coup leaders. Emperor Haile Selassie returned to Ethiopia and the army stormed the palace, where members of the government were being held prisoner by the Imperial Guards.
Saheed A. Adejumobi, The History of Ethiopia (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2007).
Colonel Stephen Blucke led an all-black Regiment that fought for the British during the American Revolution. He settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia in 1783 and became a leader in the Black Loyalist community.
During the Revolutionary War, the most famous of the Black Loyalist Military units were called the Black Pioneers, which contained a small elite band of guerrillas known as the Black Brigade. The Black Brigade fought independently and later with the all-white unit Queen’s Rangers. The supplies they seized were vital to the survival of the Loyalists in New York. In a raid on a patriot militia leader, the Brigade and leader Colonel Tye were caught in a long battle. Their target was burned after Tye’s death and Blucke – a literate, free black from Barbados and officer in the Black Pioneers – succeeded Tye as Colonel of the Brigade.
Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002); Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006); http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/confederation/023001-2125-e.html.
John Mitchell, Jr. edited and published the Richmond Planet newspaper from one year after its founding in 1883, until his death in 1929. He was known as the “fighting editor” for his writing against racism.
In 1863, John Mitchell, Sr. and his wife Rebecca were living on the Lyons family estate in Henrico County, Virginia, near Richmond. The Mitchells were slaves; John was a coachman and Rebecca was a seamstress. On July 11, 1863, they had John, Jr., the first of two sons. After the Civil War, the Mitchell family moved to Richmond, where Rebecca and John, Jr. continued to work for the Lyons family.
Mitchell graduated high school at the top of his class in 1881. He taught in Virginia Public Schools until state politics led to the firing of many black teachers, including him.
In 1883 the black lawyer Edwin Archer Randolph founded the Richmond Planet. After just a year, the newspaper was in the red and on the verge of collapse. Mitchell led a group of former teachers who resurrected it.
Ann Field Alexander, Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting
Editor,” John Mitchell Jr., Charlottesville: University of Virginia
Press (2002); Richmond Planet, Richmond, Virginia (1884 – 1929);
William J. Simmons, Men of Mark, Cleveland: George M. Rewell & Co
Charles Spurgeon Johnson, one of the leading 20th Century black sociologists, was born in Bristol, Virginia on July 24, 1893. After receiving his B.A. from Virginia Union University in Richmond, he studied sociology with the noted sociologist Robert E. Park at the University of Chicago, Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in 1917. Initially a friend of historian Carter G. Woodson, he did collaborative work with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History until his relationship with Woodson deteriorated.
August Meier and Elliot Rudwick, Black Historians and the Historical Profession, 1915-1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986); Earnest W. Burgess, Elmer A. Carter, and Clarence Faust, “Charles S. Johnson, “Social Scientist, Editor, and Educational Statesman,” Phylon, 17 (Winter, 1956); Joe M. Richardson, A History of Fisk University-1865-1946 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980) ; Patrick J. Gilpin, “Charles S. Johnson, An Intellectual Biography” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Vanderbilt University, 1973).
The first African American professional football player, Charles W. Follis, was born February 3, 1879, in Cloverdale, Virginia. The Follis family moved to Wooster, Ohio, where he attended Wooster High School and participated in organizing and establishing the first varsity football team. He played right halfback and served as team captain on a squad that had no losses that year.
In1901, Follis entered the College of Wooster. Rather than playing football for the college, he played for the town’s amateur football team – the Wooster Athletic Association, where he earned the nickname of the “Black Cyclone from Wooster.”
In 1902, Frank C. Schieffer, manager of the Shelby Athletic Club secured employment for Follis at Howard Seltzer and Sons Hardware Store in rural Shelby, Ohio. The six-foot, 200-pound Follis played for Shelby in 1902 and 1903.
Milton Roberts, “Charles Follis: First Black Pro Gridder Labored in
Obscurity,” Black Sports 4 (November 1975); Charles K. Ross, Outside
the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National
Football League (New York: New York University Press, 1999); Edna and
Art Rust, Jr., Art Rust’s illustrated History of the Black Athlete
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1985).
In choosing librarianship over teaching or social work, Effie Lee Morris combined her desire to help people with a personal passion for education. In doing so she became one of America’s leading advocates for services to children, minorities, and the visually-impaired. Born in Richmond, Virginia on April 20, 1921, Morris spent her youth in Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1945, Bachelor of Library Science in 1946, and Master's in Library Science in 1956 all from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University).
Morris began work in 1946 at the Cleveland Public Library and established the first Negro History Week celebration for children there. In 1955, she moved to New York as a children’s branch librarian in the Bronx. Three years later, in 1958, she pioneered the development of library services for blind children. She later served as president of the National Braille Club from 1961 to 1963.
“ALA Names Three Honorary Members,” American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pressreleases2008/february20... Effie Lee Morris Collection, San Francisco Public Library, http://sfpl.lib.ca.us/librarylocations/main/elm/elm.htm; Jennifer M. York, editor, Who’s Who Among African Americans, 16th edition (Detroit: Thomson-Gale, 2003); Violet Harris, “An Interview with Effie Lee Morris,” The New Advocate, 14:3, 277-284 (Summer 2001).
Osborne Perry Anderson was one of the five African American men to accompany John Brown in the raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) in October 1859. Anderson was a free-born black abolitionist, born in West Fallow Field, Pennsylvania on July 27, 1830. Along with John Anthony Copeland Jr., another member of the Brown raiding party, Anderson attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. He later moved to Chatham, Canada, where he worked as a printer for Mary Ann Shadd's newspaper, the Provincial Freeman. In 1858 Anderson met John Brown and eventually became persuaded to join his band of men determined to attack Harpers Ferry.
Osborne Perry Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry: A Narrative of
Events at Harper's Ferry with incidents Prior and Subsequent to its
Capture by Captain John Brown and His Men (Boston: Privately Printed,
1861); Timothy Patrick McCarthy and John Stauffer, Prophets of Protest:
Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New York: The New
Press, 2006); Herb Boyd, Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of
African American History Told by Those Who Lived It (New York:
Doubleday, 2000); Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman, Terrible Swift
Sword: The Legacy of John Brown (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005);
Omar Ibn Said, also known as "Uncle Moreau" was unusual among enslaved people in the antebellum United States in that before he was captured he was highly educated and could read and write fluently at a time when most African slaves were illiterate. Said’s autobiography is unique because it is the only personal account of a slave written in his native language while he was in bondage in the United States.
Omar Ibn Said was born in 1770 along the Senegal River in Futa Tooro, West Africa to a wealthy Muslim family. When his father died, Said at age five was sent to a nearby town to study Islam and become a teacher. Religion was paramount in Said’s life and he was devout to the Muslim faith. With extensive religious training Said became well educated and fluent in Arabic.
“Autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, Slave in North Carolina, 1831,” The
American Historical Review 30: 4 (July, 1925); http://sites.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/omar-ibn-sayyid; Sylvaine A.
Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas
(New York: New York University Press, 1998).
The first black Greek-letter organization, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (Alpha) was founded on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York on December 4, 1906. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity currently has more than 850 chapters around the world and over 185,000 members.
Virginia State University is a public, historically black college located in Petersburg, Virginia. The university is the first fully supported, four year institution for African Americans in the United States and is one of two land-grant colleges in the State of Virginia.
The university was founded on March 6, 1882 as the Virginia Normal and College Institute after the state legislature passed a bill sponsored by Delegate Alfred W. Harris, a black attorney, which chartered the university. The state established the university to serve the needs of a population that was at the time excluded from other public institutions in Virginia. Virginia Normal and College Institute opened as a teacher training college for both male and female black students but it also included a modest liberal arts curriculum.
Virginia State University History, http://www.vsu.edu/about/history/history-vsu.php; (Official site); Trudy Harrington Becker, "Broadening Access to a Classical Education: State Universities in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century," Classical Journal, 96:3 (March 2001).
Alan Gilbert, University of Denver political scientist and anti-racist activist, is the author of Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, one of the few works that examines the free and enslaved blacks who joined the American Patriots and the British during the American Revolution and the anti-racist whites who supported them. In the account below he describes the book and why he wrote it.
Charles Lewis was a sailor and soldier during the American Revolutionary War. Lewis was born sometime around 1760 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia on Bel Aire, the Lewis Family Plantation owned by John Lewis. John and a free mulatto woman, Josephine Lewis, were the parents of Charles and his younger brother, Ambrose. Lewis and his brother were born free but their mother was indentured to John Lewis.
On April 15, 1776, Charles Lewis and his brother entered into the naval service of Virginia when they served on board the Galley Page, a warship commanded by Captain James Markham. On March 20, 1778, they entered the Naval Service of the United States when they joined the crew of the USS Dragon commanded by Captain Eleazor Callender.
Henry Brown, born enslaved in 1816 to John Barret, a former mayor of Richmond, eventually married another slave named Nancy and the couple had three children. Brown became an active member of Richmond’s First African Baptist Church where he was known for singing in the choir. In 1848 Brown’s wife and children were abruptly sold to away to North Carolina. Using “overwork” (overtime) money, Brown decided to arrange for his freedom.
He constructed a wooden crate three feet long and two feet six inches deep with two air holes. With help from Philadelphia abolitionists, he obtained a legal freight contract from Adams Express. This freight company with both rail and steamboat capabilities arranged to ship his package labeled “Dry Goods” to Philadelphia. The package was a heavy wooden box holding Brown’s 200 pounds.
It was these energetic young black members of the New Lights, as they were called, who assumed leadership roles and formally established First African Baptist Church in 1774 near Lunenburg, Virginia, on the William Byrd III plantation. Free members of the congregation later moved to Petersburg and changed the name to the First Baptist Church when the Byrd plantation meetinghouse succumbed to flames.
Buckroe Beach is one of the oldest recreational regions in Virginia. In 1619, the “Buck Roe” plantation was designated for public use for the newly arrived English settlers sent by the Virginia Company of London. By 1637, however, the plantation was converted into a commercial tobacco farm. After the Civil War, Buckroe became a fishing camp used by both black and white fishermen. In 1890 a group of Hampton Institute administrators purchased eight acres of beachfront on Chesapeake Bay to provide a place for student exercise and the location of a hotel which could host out-of-town guests. Led by Frank D. Banks, the administrators pooled their funds to build a four-room cottage they ambitiously named the Bay Shore Hotel.
The three-fifths clause was part of a series of compromises enacted by the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The most notable other clauses prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories and ended U.S. participation in the international slave trade in 1807. These compromises reflected Virginia Constitutional Convention delegate (and future U.S. President) James Madison’s observation that “…the States were divided into different interests not by their…size…but principally from their having or not having slaves.”
Young Hatter attended school in his hometown, Charles Town, West Virginia. In addition to his regular school studies, he learned carpentry, house framing, and became a skilled mechanic who could construct machines and make plows. He continued this work into his adult life and in 1893 at the age of 37 received the patent for an intricate machine that improves the harvesting of Indian corn.
BlackPast.org is an independent non-profit corporation 501(c)(3). It has no affiliation with the University of Washington. BlackPast.org is supported in part by a grant from Humanities Washington, a state-wide non-profit organization supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the state of Washington, and contributions from individuals and foundations.