Seven People to Know for Week One of Black History Month
In celebration of Black History Month, I will be posting a series of pieces on figures in Black History who might not be as well-known as those we often hear about. Below is a listing and short biography for each of seven individuals whose stories we have.
Abraham (c. 1790- c. 1870) - Abraham was described as a person who was "full-blooded Negro," with a height over six feet and, well, many different builds for his body. Abraham had served in wars during and after his escape from slavery, and during his time living among the Seminole peoples he became well-known as a leader, warrior, interpreter, and peace negotiator. After working to resist the relocation of the Seminoles, Abraham eventually worked out a treaty in which the Seminoles, the African descendants who had been adopted into the Seminole community, and Abraham moved west. Abraham was reported to have become a successful cattle rancher after the move (Empak Publishing Company [Empak], 1986).
Clara Brown (c. 1803-1885) - Clara Brown was born into slavery in Gallatin, Tennessee, but spent most of her childhood years in Kentucky. She bore four children with her husband. One died at birth, and the others were sent elsewhere to be enslaved by other people. Clara was able to buy her freedom and attempted to find her family. She went west to find one, and while there she turned her home into a sanctuary for many: a hospital for the sick, a spiritual home for those who needed that, and a place to stay for those without one. Over time, Clara resumed her search for her family, eventually finding thirty-four relatives. She reunited with her daughter Eliza in 1882. Clara Brown died in 1885 and was honored with a burial by the Colorado Pioneers Association (Empak, 1986).
George Thomas Downing (1819-1903) - George Downing was born in New York City in 1819. He and his fellow Black students experienced verbal and physical violence at the hands of White children, and their parents had to escort them to and from school as a result. George organized a group of young Black individuals to help protect against the attacks, rather than succumbing to being escorted. George became an agent of the Underground Railroad and an avid supporter of equal rights for Black and Irish people in the United States. By the time he died in 1903, George Downing had amassed quite a bit of wealth from businesses, including a restaurant he ran in Washington, D.C., where he had refused to segregate and chose to serve people of all groups equally (Empak, 1987).
James Leonard Farmer (1920-1999) - James Leonard Farmer was the son of the first Black person in Texas to hold a Ph.D. James himself went on to earn two bachelor's degrees and to collaborate on the development of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). James was a proponent of nonviolent resistance to racism, and led a number of actions against segregation. James was a co-chair of the March on Washington in 1963, but was in jail for having lead a march in Louisiana earlier that month. James Farmer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, before passing in 1999 (Empak, 1987; Encyclopedia Brittanica, n.d.a;)
Mary Fields (1832-1914) - Mary Fields was born into slavery on May 15, 1832. She escaped, and went to Ohio, where she worked in a convent and formed a friendship with Mother Amadeus. She had planned to remain in Ohio when the nuns moved further west, but left for Montana after learning that Mother Amadeus was ill. Once Mother Amadeus recovered, Mary helped the nuns to build a school and protected them. Mary, a six-foot tall person, was known both for her ability to win fights with men and for her kindness toward those in need. After failing to run a restaurant due to this charitable nature, Mary became a mail coach driver and found success in this. She retired and began a laundry business. Mary celebrated her birthday twice a year, and was so well-liked that the town officials would close school for the day whenever Mary declared that it was her birthday. Mary Fields died in Cascade, Montana in 1914 (Empak, 1986).
Daisy Gatson Bates (1922-1999) - Daisy Gatson was the adopted daughter of the Gatson family, and found out at the age of eight that her mother had been brutally attacked, raped, and murdered by three White men. Daisy's father gave her to the Gatsons to raise. Daisy and her husband, L.C. Bates, began the newspaper the Arkansas State Press, within which they reported on and wrote against racism. Daisy was one of the individuals at the vanguard attempting to desegregate Little Rock's Central High School after the United States Supreme Court had ruled that segregation was unconstitutional. Daisy faced violence and intimidation as a result of her integration efforts. She spoke at the March on Washington in 1963, and continued to work toward equality until her death in 1999 (Empak, 1987; Encyclopedia Brittanica, n.d.b.).
George Washington (not that George Washington; 1817-1905) - George Washington was born of an enslaved African father and a White mother. His father was sold to another location, and his mother gave the child to another White family to raise. George and his family suffered the abuses of racism as they traveled West. George Washington became a land owner and the founder of Centerville, later called Centralia, in the Washington territory. He attracted others to the town and built a school, church, and other essential properties. When a depression set in, he provided relief to residents of Centralia to allow them to stay in town. When George Washington died in 1905, a day of mourning was declared (Empak, 1986).
Empak Publishing Company. (1986). A salute to Black pioneers.
Empak Publishing Company. (1986). A salute to Black Civil Rights leaders.
Encyclopedia Brittanica. (n.d.a.). James Farmer: American civil rights activist. https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Farmer
Encyclopedia Brittanica. (n.d.b.). Daisy Bates: American civil rights leader. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Daisy-Bates-civil-rights-leader