Category Archives: Black History

Presidents’ Day- Barack Obama

born August 4, 1961 is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004.

Following an unsuccessful bid against the Democratic incumbent for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 2000, Obama ran for the United States Senate in 2004. Several events brought him to national attention during the campaign, including his victory in the March 2004 Illinois Democratic primary for the Senate election and his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He won election to the U.S. Senate in Illinois in November 2004. His presidential campaign began in February 2007, and after a close campaign in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. In the 2008 presidential election, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

As president, Obama signed economic stimulus legislation in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. Other domestic policy initiatives include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and the Budget Control Act of 2011. In foreign policy, he ended the war in Iraq, increased troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered US involvement in the 2011 Libya military intervention, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. In April 2011, Obama declared his intention to seek re-election in the 2012 presidential election.


Bio- Percy Sutton

(November 24, 1920 – December 26, 2009) was a prominent black American political and business leader. A civil-rights activist and lawyer, he was also a Freedom Rider and the legal representative for Malcolm X. He was the highest-ranking African-American elected official in New York City when he was Manhattan boroughpresident from 1966 to 1977, the longest tenure at that position. He later became an entrepreneur whose included investments included the New York Amsterdam News and the Apollo Theater in Harlem.[1]




Bio- Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1908–93, U.S.  lawyer and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1967–91), b. Baltimore.  He received his law degree from Howard Univ. in 1933. In 1936 he joined the  legal staff of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  As its chief counsel (1938–61), he argued more than 30 cases before the U.S.  Supreme Court, successfully challenging racial segregation, most notably in  higher education. His presentation of the argument against the “separate but  equal” doctrine achieved its greatest impact with the landmark decision handed  down in Brown v. Board of Education of  Topeka (1954). His appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961 was  opposed by some Southern senators and was not confirmed until 1962. President  Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court two years later; he was the  first black to sit on the high court, where he consistently supported the  position taken by those challenging discrimination based on race or sex, opposed  the death penalty, and supported the rights of criminal defendants. His support  for affirmative action led to his strong dissent in Regents  of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). As appointments by  Presidents Nixon and Reagan changed the outlook of the Court, Marshall found  himself increasingly in the minority; in retirement he was outspoken in his  criticism of the court.


See biography by J. Williams (1998); studies by R. W. Bland  (1973) and H. Ball (1999); R. Kluger, Simple Justice (1976).

Read more: Thurgood Marshall —

Bio- William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr.

(October 23, 1810 – May 18, 1848) was one of the earliest mixed-race U.S. citizens in California and a highly successful, enterprising businessman. He was a West Indian immigrant of African Cuban, possibly Carib, Danish and Jewish ancestry. William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr. became a United States citizen in New Orleans in 1834. He migrated to California in 1841, then under Mexican rule, settling in Yerba Buena (San Francisco), a village of about 30 European-Mexican families.

He became a Mexican citizen in 1844 and received a land grant from the Mexican government, 8 Spanish leagues, or 35,500 acres (144 km2) south of the American River, known as Rancho Rio de los Americanos. He served as US Vice Consul to Mexico at the Port of San Francisco beginning in 1845. Leidesdorff was Presdident of the San Francisco school board and also elected as City Treasurer. Shortly before Leidesdorff’s death, vast amounts of gold were officially reported on his Rancho Rio De los Americanos. By the time his estate was auctioned off in 1856, it was worth more than $1,445,000, not including vast quantities of gold mined upon his land.

International Leidesdorff Bicentennial Celebrations will feature the “Golden Legacy of William Alexander Leidesdorff, Jr.” On October 22, 2011 on his native isle of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, a special event will highlight the season of celebrations.

Bio- George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (January 1864[1][2] – January 5, 1943), was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor. The exact day and year of his birth are unknown; he is believed to have been born into slavery in Missouri in January 1864.[1]

Carver’s reputation is based on his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, such as peanuts, soybeans and sweet potatoes, which also aided nutrition for farm families. He wanted poor farmers to grow alternative crops both as a source of their own food and as a source of other products to improve their quality of life. The most popular of his 44 practical bulletins for farmers contained 105 food recipes using peanuts.[3] He also developed and promoted about 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including cosmetics, dyes, paints, plastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. He received numerous honors for his work, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP.

During the Reconstruction-era South, monoculture of cotton depleted the soil in many areas. In the early 20th century, the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop, and planters and farm workers suffered. Carver’s work on peanuts was intended to provide an alternative crop.

He was recognized for his many achievements and talents. In 1941, Time magazine dubbed Carver a “Black Leonardo”, a reference to the Renaissance Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci.

Carver was born into slavery in Diamond Grove, Newton County, near Crystal Place, now known as Diamond, Missouri, possibly in 1864 or 1865, though the exact date is not known.[5][6] His master, Moses Carver, was a German American immigrant who had purchased George’s parents, Mary and Giles, from William P. McGinnis on October 9, 1855, for $700. Carver had 10 sisters and a brother, all of whom died prematurely.[citation needed]

When George was only a week old, George, a sister, and his mother were kidnapped by night raiders from Arkansas.[7] George’s brother, James, was rushed to safety from the kidnappers.[7] The kidnappers sold the slaves in Kentucky. Moses Carver hired John Bentley to find them, but he located only the infant George. Moses negotiated with the raiders to gain the boy’s return.[7] and rewarded Bentley.

After slavery was abolished, Moses Carver and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own children.[7] They encouraged George to continue his intellectual pursuits, and “Aunt Susan” taught him the basics of reading and writing.

Black people were not allowed at the public school in Diamond Grove. Learning there was a school for black children 10 miles (16 km) south in Neosho, George decided to go there. When he reached the town, he found the school closed for the night. He slept in a nearby barn. By his own account, the next morning he met a kind woman, Mariah Watkins, from whom he wished to rent a room. When he identified himself as “Carver’s George,” as he had done his whole life, she replied that from now on his name was “George Carver”. George liked this lady very much, and her words, “You must learn all you can, then go back out into the world and give your learning back to the people”, made a great impression on him.

At the age of thirteen, due to his desire to attend the academy there, he relocated to the home of another foster family in Fort Scott, Kansas. After witnessing a black man killed by a group of whites, Carver left the city. He attended a series of schools before earning his diploma at Minneapolis High School in the Kansas town of the same name.

Carver applied to several colleges before being accepted at Highland College in Highland, Kansas. when he arrived, they rejected him because of his race. In August 1886, Carver traveled by wagon with J. F. Beeler from Highland to Eden Township in Ness County, Kansas.[8] He homesteaded a claim[9] near Beeler, where he maintained a small conservatory of plants and flowers and a geological collection. He manually plowed 17 acres (69,000 m2) of the claim, planting rice, corn, Indian corn and garden produce, as well as various fruit trees, forest trees, and shrubbery. He also earned money by odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand.[8]

In early 1888, Carver obtained a $300 loan at the Bank of Ness City for education. By June he left the area.[8] In 1890, Carver started studying art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa.[10] His art teacher, Etta Budd, recognized Carver’s talent for painting flowers and plants; she encouraged him to study botany at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames.[10] When he began in 1891, he was the first black student, and later taught as the first black faculty member.

When he completed his B.S., professors Joseph Budd and Louis Pammel convinced Carver to continue at Iowa State for his master’s degree. Carver did research at the Iowa Experiment Station under Pammel during the next two years. His work at the experiment station in plant pathology and mycology first gained him national recognition and respect as a botanist.

In 1896, Booker T. Washington, the first principal and president of the Tuskegee Institute, invited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years, developing the department into a strong research center and working with two additional college presidents during his tenure. He taught methods of crop rotation, introduced several alternative cash crops for farmers that would also improve the soil of areas heavily cultivated in cotton, initiated research into crop products (chemurgy), and taught generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency.

Carver designed a mobile classroom to take education out to farmers. He called it a “Jesup wagon” after the New York financier and philanthropist Morris Ketchum Jesup, who provided funding to support the program.[11]

To recruit Carver to Tuskegee, Washington gave him a higher-than-normal salary and two rooms for his personal use, both of which concessions were resented by some other faculty. Because he had earned a master’s in a scientific field from a “white” institution, some faculty perceived him as arrogant when a young man.[12] Unmarried faculty members normally had to share rooms, with two to a room, in the spartan early days of the institute.

One of Carver’s duties was to administer the Agricultural Experiment Station farms. He had to manage the production and sale of farm products to generate revenue for the Institute. He soon proved to be a poor administrator. In 1900, Carver complained that the physical work and the letter-writing required were too much.[13] In 1904, an Institute committee reported that Carver’s reports on yields from the poultry yard were exaggerated, and Washington confronted Carver about the issue. Carver replied in writing, “Now to be branded as a liar and party to such hellish deception it is more than I can bear, and if your committee feel that I have willfully lied or [was] party to such lies as were told my resignation is at your disposal.”[14] During Washington’s last five years at Tuskegee, Carver submitted or threatened his resignation several times: when the administration reorganized the agriculture programs,[15] when he disliked a teaching assignment,[16] to manage an experiment station elsewhere,[17] and when he did not get summer teaching assignments in 1913-1914.[18][19] In each case, Washington smoothed things over.

Carver circa 1910

Carver started his academic career as a researcher and teacher, which he clearly preferred. In 1911, Washington wrote a letter to him complaining that Carver had not followed orders to plant particular crops at the experiment station This revealed Washington’s micro-management of Carver’s department, which he had headed for more than 10 years by then. Washington at the same time refused Carver’s requests for a new laboratory, research supplies for his exclusive use, and respite from teaching classes. Washington praised Carver’s abilities in teaching and original research but said about his administrative skills:

“When it comes to the organization of classes, the ability required to secure a properly organized and large school or section of a school, you are wanting in ability. When it comes to the matter of practical farm managing which will secure definite, practical, financial results, you are wanting again in ability.”

In 1911, Carver complained that his laboratory had not received the equipment which Washington had promised 11 months before. He also complained about Institute committee meetings.[20] Washington praised Carver in his 1911 memoir, My Larger Education: Being Chapters from My Experience.[21] Washington called Carver “one of the most thoroughly scientific men of the Negro race with whom I am acquainted.” [22] After Washington died in 1915, his successor made fewer demands on Carver for administrative tasks.

From 1915 to 1923, Carver concentrated on researching and experimenting with new uses for peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans, pecans, and other crops, as well as having his assistants research and compile existing uses.[23] This work, and especially his speaking to a national conference of the Peanut Growers Association in 1920 and in testimony before Congress in 1921 to support passage of a tariff on imported peanuts, brought him wide publicity and increasing renown. In these years, he became one of the most well-known African Americans of his time.

Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton. Together with other agricultural experts, he urged farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils by practicing systematic crop rotation: alternating cotton crops with plantings of sweet potatoes or legumes (such as peanuts, soybeans and cowpeas). These both restored nitrogen to the soil and the crops were good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops. To train farmers to successfully rotate and cultivate the new crops, Carver developed an agricultural extension program for Alabama that was similar to the one at Iowa State. To encourage better nutrition in the South, he widely distributed recipes using the alternative crops.

In addition, he founded an industrial research laboratory, where he and assistants worked to popularize the new crops by developing hundreds of applications for them. They did original research as well as promoting applications and recipes which they collected from others. Carver distributed his information as agricultural bulletins. (See Carver bulletins below.)

Peanut specimen collected by Carver

Carver’s work was known by officials in the national capital before he became a public figure. President Theodore Roosevelt publicly admired his work. Former professors of Carver’s from Iowa State University were appointed to positions as Secretary of Agriculture: James Wilson, a former dean and professor of Carver’s, served from 1897 to 1913. Henry Cantwell Wallace served from 1921 to 1924. He knew Carver personally as his son Henry A. Wallace and the researcher were friends.[24] The younger Wallace served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, and as Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s vice president from 1941 to 1945.

The American industrialist, farmer, and inventor William Edenborn of Winn Parish, Louisiana, grew peanuts on his demonstration farm. He consulted with Carver[25]

In 1916 Carver was made a member of the Royal Society of Arts in England, one of only a handful of Americans at that time to receive this honor. Carver’s promotion of peanuts gained him the most notability. In 1919, Carver wrote to a peanut company about the potential he saw for peanut milk. Both he and the peanut industry seemed unaware that in 1917 William Melhuish had secured patent #1,243,855 for a milk substitute made from peanuts and soybeans.

The United Peanut Associations of America invited Carver to speak at their 1920 convention. He discussed “The Possibilities of the Peanut” and exhibited 145 peanut products. By 1920, the U.S. peanut farmers were being undercut by low prices on imported peanuts from the Republic of China.

In 1921 peanut farmers and industry representatives planned to appear at Congressional hearings to ask for a tariff. Based on the quality of Carver’s presentation at their convention, they asked the African-American professor to testify on the tariff issue before the Ways and Means Committee of the United States House of Representatives. Due to segregation, it was highly unusual for an African American to appear as an expert witness at Congress representing European-American industry and farmers. Southern congressmen, reportedly shocked at Carver’s arriving to testify, were said to have mocked him.[citation needed] As he talked about the importance of the peanut and its uses for American agriculture, the committee members repeatedly extended the time for his testimony. The Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922 was passed including one on imported peanuts. Carver’s testifying to Congress made him widely known as a public figure.

During the last two decades of his life, Carver seemed to enjoy his celebrity status. He was often to be found on the road promoting Tuskegee, peanuts, and racial harmony. Although he only published six agricultural bulletins after 1922, he published articles in peanut industry journals and wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “Professor Carver’s Advice”. Business leaders came to seek his help, and he often responded with free advice. Three American presidents—Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt—met with him, and the Crown Prince of Sweden studied with him for three weeks. From 1923 to 1933, Carver toured white Southern colleges for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation.[23]

With his increasing notability, Carver became the subject of biographies and articles. Raleigh H. Merritt contacted him for his biography published in 1929. Merritt wrote,

“At present not a great deal has been done to utilize Dr. Carver’s discoveries commercially. He says that he is merely scratching the surface of scientific investigations of the possibilities of the peanut and other Southern products.”[26]

In 1932 the writer James Saxon Childers wrote that Carver and his peanut products were almost solely responsible for the rise in U.S. peanut production after the boll weevil devastated the American cotton crop beginning about 1892. His article, “A Boy Who Was Traded for a Horse” (1932), in The American Magazine, and its 1937 reprint in Reader’s Digest, contributed to this myth about Carver’s influence. Other popular media tended to exaggerate Carver’s impact on the peanut industry.[27]

From 1933 to 1935, Carver worked to develop peanut oil massages to treat infantile paralysis (polio).[23] Ultimately researchers found that the massages, not the peanut oil, provided the benefits of maintaining some mobility to paralyzed limbs.

From 1935 to 1937, Carver participated in the USDA Disease Survey. Carver had specialized in plant diseases and mycology for his master’s degree.

In 1937, Carver attended two chemurgy conferences, an emerging field in the 1930s, during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, concerned with developing new products from crops.[23] He was invited by Henry Ford to speak at the conference held in Dearborn, Michigan, and they developed a friendship. That year Carver’s health declined, and Ford later installed an elevator at the Tuskegee dormitory where Carver lived, so that the elderly man would not have to climb stairs.[4][28]

Carver had been frugal in his life, and in his 70s established a legacy by creating a museum on his work and the George Washington Carver Foundation at Tuskegee in 1938 to continue agricultural research. He donated nearly $60,000 in his savings to create the foundation.


  • Carver, George Washington. “1897 or Thereabouts: George Washington Carver’s Own Brief History of His Life.” George Washington Carver National Monument.
  • Hersey, Mark D. My Work Is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver (University of Georgia Press; 2011) 306 pages;
  • McMurry, L. O. “Carver, George Washington.” American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
  • Collins, David R. George Washington Carver: Man’s Slave, God’s Scientist, (Mott Media, 1981)
  • William J. Federer, George Washington Carver: His Life & Faith in His Own Words, AmeriSearch (January 2003) ISBN 0-9653557-6-4
  • George Washington Carver: In His Own Words (Paperback), ed. G.R. Kremer, University of Missouri Press; 1987, Reprint edition (January 1991) ISBN 0-8262-0785-5 ISBN 978-0-8262-0785-2
  • H.M. Morris, Men of Science, Men of God (1982)
  • E.C. Barnett and D. Fisher, Scientists Who Believe (1984)

Bio- Paul Cuffe


    Entrepreneur, sea captain, social activist, philanthropist, colonizationist and leader who fought for the empowerment of African Americans.
By Vanessa Julye The 1842 seal of Captain Paul Cuffe, showing his brig Traveler in which he provided passage for freed slaves to Sierra Leone (photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum).The 1842 seal of Captain Paul Cuffe, showing his brig Traveler in which he provided passage for freed slaves to Sierra Leone (photo courtesy New Bedford Whaling Museum).Paul Cuffe was born in Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts in a family of ten children. His father Kofi was a manumitted enslaved African and a member of the Akan tribe of Ghana. Paul Cuffee’s mother, Ruth Moses, was a Native American of the Wampanoag tribe from Martha’s Vineyard.  Ebenezer Slocum, a Friend, purchased Kofi (later Cuffe Slocum) in the 1720s.  Twenty-two years later John Slocum purchased Cuffe Slocum from his uncle and freed him in 1745. Although Paul Cuffe’s parents had been strongly influenced by Friends, there is no evidence that they belonged to a Quaker meeting.
Paul Cuffe taught himself mathematics, navigation, and other seafaring skills, and earned his wealth through whaling and trade in the Americas and Europe.  His shipping career began at the age of sixteen, when he signed up to be a member of a whaling vessel.  Cuffe began building his shipping enterprise during the Revolutionary War, and over a period of years he owned shares in up to ten ships. During the War he built a boat with his brother, David, and the two of them smuggled merchandise through British blockades. In 1793 Cuffe married Alice Pequit, with whom he had six children named Paul, William, Mary, Ruth, Alice and Rhoda. During that period in American history the shipping industry was dangerous because of the constant threat of pirates. But purchasing and delivering merchandise on the Atlantic coast, specifically in the South, was particularly hazardous for Cuffe and his crew because they were all African American.  In 1793 Congress passed a fugitive slave law that gave owners of enslaved Africans the right to retrieve an escaped enslaved person from another state. The enslaved were not entitled to a trial, a hearing, or able to testify for themselves. This law put Cuffe and his crew in continual peril of being kidnapped and sold. Paul Cuffe saw education as a means of liberation, and he fought for equal rights in many ways.  He was always eager to teach young men who wanted to learn the science of navigation and skills of a merchantman.  In 1799 he established a school on his own property in Westport, Massachusetts that was open to all children regardless of their race.  In 1800 he bought a gristmill in Acoaxet, and was a century and a half ahead of his time when he urged mills to include African Americans in the planning stages of organizations whose goal was helping blacks.  He encouraged African Americans up and down the East Coast to think about their social and economic status.  In 1780, when only men of European descent had the right to vote, he and other African Americans protested taxation on his father’s estate on the grounds of no taxation without representation. Despite his long involvement with Friends, Paul Cuffe did not join Westport Monthly Meeting until 1806, when he was forty-nine. He dressed in the manner of Friends, wearing Quaker gray along with a wide-brimmed black hat. In mid-September 1810 Cuffe shared a leading he was experiencing with his meeting: to establish a trading community in Sierra Leone that would trade goods instead of humans.  A committee was appointed to meet with and advise him on this matter. During the October business meeting a letter of recommendation was read and approved, and Cuffe also received a traveling minute from New England Yearly Meeting for this undertaking. It was the first of three minutes Cuffe would receive from for his travels related to establishing this system of commerce in Sierra Leone. Cuffe became an important and well-respected member of the Religious Society of Friends. During Westport’s January 1813 business meeting Cuffe was one of six members appointed to rebuild the old meetinghouse.  At yearly meeting sessions in 1815 he was asked by the Meeting for Sufferings to help make decisions about the Meeting House in Boston.
More Resources on Paul Cuffe 
  • “Paul Cuffe: Early Pan-Africanist”; By Rosalind Cobb Wiggins; in Black Quakers, Brief Biographies; Kenneth Ives, Editor; Progresiv Publishr, 1995; (out of print, available at some libraries)
  • Captain Paul Cuffe’s Logs and Letters, 1808-1817: A Black Quaker’s Voice from within the Veil; By Rosalind Cobb Wiggins; Howard University Press, 1996
  • Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffe, Liverpool Mercury; Africans in America Resource Bank, WGBH Boston;
  • Rise to Be A People; By Lamont D. Thomas; University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Bio- Madame CJ Walker

Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana plantation, this daughter of former slaves transformed herself from an uneducated farm laborer and laundress into one of the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs.

Orphaned at age seven, she often said, “I got my start by giving myself a start.” She and her older sister, Louvenia, survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi. At 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape abuse from her cruel brother-in-law, Jesse Powell.

Her only daughter, Lelia (later known as A’Lelia Walker) was born on June 6, 1885. When her husband died two years later, she moved to St. Louis to join her four brothers who had established themselves as barbers. Working for as little as $1.50 a day, she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter in the city’s public schools. Friendships with other black women who were members of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the National Association of Colored Women exposed her to a new way of viewing the world.

Madam Walker before and after using her shampoo and “Wonderful Hair Grower”

During the 1890s, Sarah began to suffer from a scalp ailment that caused her to lose most of her hair. She experimented with many homemade remedies and store-bought products, including those made by Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur. In 1905 Sarah moved to Denver as a sales agent for Malone, then married her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, a St. Louis newspaperman. After changing her name to “Madam” C. J. Walker, she founded her own business and began selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula, which she claimed had been revealed to her in a dream. Madam Walker, by the way, did NOT invent the straightening comb or chemical perms, though many people incorrectly believe that to be true.

To promote her products, the new “Madam C.J. Walker” traveled for a year and a half on a dizzying crusade throughout the heavily black South and Southeast, selling her products door to door, demonstrating her scalp treatments in churches and lodges, and devising sales and marketing strategies. In 1908, she temporarily moved her base to Pittsburgh where she opened Lelia College to train Walker “hair culturists.”

Madam Walker and her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, in Indianapolis (

By early 1910, she had settled in Indianapolis, then the nation’s largest inland manufacturing center, where she built a factory, hair and manicure salon and another training school. Less than a year after her arrival, Walker grabbed national headlines in the black press when she contributed $1,000 to the building fund of the “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis.

In 1913, while Walker traveled to Central America and the Caribbean to expand her business, her daughter A’Lelia, moved into a fabulous new Harlem townhouse and Walker Salon, designed by black architect, Vertner Tandy. “There is nothing to equal it,” she wrote to her attorney, F.B. Ransom. “Not even on Fifth Avenue.”

Walker herself moved to New York in 1916, leaving the day-to-day operations of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis to Ransom and Alice Kelly, her factory forelady and a former school teacher. She continued to oversee the business and to work in the New York office. Once in Harlem, she quickly became involved in Harlem’s social and political life, taking special interest in the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement to which she contributed $5,000.

Madam Walker was a member of the 1917 Negro Silent Protest Parade committee.

In July 1917, when a white mob murdered more than three dozen blacks in East St. Louis, Illinois, Walker joined a group of Harlem leaders who visited the White House to present a petition advocating federal anti-lynching legislation.

As her business continued to grow, Walker organized her agents into local and state clubs. Her Madam C. J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America convention in Philadelphia in 1917 must have been one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country. Walker used the gathering not only to reward her agents for their business success, but to encourage their political activism as well. “This is the greatest country under the sun,” she told them. “But we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible.”

By the time she died at her estate, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, she had helped create the role of the 20th Century, self-made American businesswoman; established herself as a pioneer of the modern black hair-care and cosmetics industry; and set standards in the African-American community for corporate and community giving.

Tenacity and perseverance, faith in herself and in God, quality products and “honest business dealings” were the elements and strategies she prescribed for aspiring entrepreneurs who requested the secret to her rags-to-riches ascent. “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success,” she once commented. “And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”


Bio- Carter G. Woodson

Carter Godwin Woodson (December 19, 1875 –  April 3, 1950)[1] was an African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Woodson was one of the first scholars to study African American history. A founder of Journal of Negro History (now titled The Journal of African-American History), Dr. Woodson has been cited as the father of black history.


Bio- Booker T Washington

Booker Taliaferro Washington (April 5, 1856 – November 14, 1915) was an American educator, author, orator, and political leader. He was the dominant figure in the African-American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915. Representative of the last generation of black American leaders born in slavery, he spoke on behalf of the large majority of blacks who lived in the South but had lost their ability to vote through disfranchisement by southern legislatures. While his opponents called his powerful network of supporters the “Tuskegee Machine,” Washington maintained power because of his ability to gain support of numerous groups: influential whites; the black business, educational and religious communities nationwide; financial donations from philanthropists, and his accommodation to the political realities of the age of Jim Crow segregation.[1]

Washington was born into slavery to Jane, an enslaved woman, and a white father, a nearby planter, in a rural area of the southwestern Virginia Piedmont. After emancipation, his mother moved the family to rejoin her husband in West Virginia; there Washington worked in a variety of manual labor jobs before making his way to Hampton Roads seeking an education. He worked his way through Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and attended college at Wayland Seminary (now Virginia Union University). In 1876, Washington returned to live in Malden, West Virginia, teaching Sunday School at African Zion Baptist Church; he married his first wife, Fannie Smith, at the church in 1881.[2] After returning to Hampton as a teacher, in 1881 he was named as the first leader of the new Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

Washington attained national prominence for his Atlanta Address of 1895, which attracted the attention of politicians and the public, making him a popular spokesperson for African-American citizens. He built a nationwide network of supporters in many black communities, with black ministers, educators and businessmen composing his core supporters. Washington played a dominant role in black politics, winning wide support in the black community and among more liberal whites (especially rich Northern whites). He gained access to top national leaders in politics, philanthropy and education. Washington’s efforts included cooperating with white people and enlisting the support of wealthy philanthropists, helping to raise funds to establish and operate thousands of small community schools and institutions of higher education for the betterment of blacks throughout the South. This work continued for many years after his death. Washington argued that the surest way for blacks to gain equal social rights was to demonstrate “industry, thrift, intelligence and property.”

Northern critics called Washington’s followers the “Tuskegee Machine”. After 1909, Washington was criticized by the leaders of the new NAACP, especially W. E. B. Du Bois, who demanded a stronger tone of protest for advancement of civil rights needs. Washington replied that confrontation would lead to disaster for the outnumbered blacks, and that cooperation with supportive whites was the only way to overcome pervasive racism in the long run. At the same time, he secretly funded litigation for civil rights cases, such as challenges to southern constitutions and laws that disfranchised blacks.[3]

In addition to his contributions in education, Washington wrote 14 books; his autobiography, Up From Slavery, first published in 1901, is still widely read today. During a difficult period of transition, he did much to improve the working relationship between the races. His work greatly helped blacks to achieve higher education, financial power and understanding of the U.S. legal system. This contributed to blacks’ attaining the skills to create and support the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, leading to the passage of important federal civil rights laws.


Bio- AG Gaston

Birmingham entrepreneur and businessman A. G. Gaston (1892-1996), was one of the most successful African American business owners in Alabama. Gaston overcame humble beginnings and racial discrimination to build a $40 million business empire, which included a savings and loan bank, business college, construction company, motel, real estate business, burial insurance company, two cemeteries, and two radio stations. Although criticized for what some viewed as an accommodationist attitude during the Birmingham civil rights movement in the 1960s, Gaston nevertheless used his accumulated wealth to provide financial support to the movement’s leaders and participants at crucial times and worked behind the scenes to help the movement achieve its goals.

Arthur George (A. G.) Gaston was born on July 4, 1892, in Demopolis, Marengo County, to Tom and Rosa Gaston. Gaston spent his early childhood living with his grandmother in Demopolis Demopolis native A. G. Gaston (1892-1996) was a A. G. Gastonbecause his father, a railroad worker, died soon after his birth and his mother worked as a family cook for A. B. Loveman, a wealthy Jewish businessman, 25 miles away in Greensboro. Although his grandmother lived in poverty, Gaston nevertheless began to develop his entrepreneurial skills early in life by charging neighborhood children admission in the form of pins or buttons for the privilege of playing on the swing in his grandmother’s yard—the only one in the neighborhood. At the age of 13, Gaston rejoined his mother when she accompanied the Lovemans to Birmingham in 1905. Loveman, who founded the state’s largest department store, was a successful entrepreneur and investor and undoubtedly made an impression on young Gaston.

Soon after arriving in Birmingham, Gaston’s mother enrolled him in the Tuggle Institute, a privately run charitable school for African Americans founded by Eufaula native and education and legal reformer Carrie Tuggle in 1903. The Tuggle Institute had adopted Booker T. Washington’s industrial educational philosophy, which emphasized the skilled trades and business. Washington, who visited the school often to make inspirational speeches to the students, quickly became Gaston’s role model. Inspired by Washington’s message of individual initiative, Gaston grew restless and left the Tuggle Institute after completing the tenth grade. He held odd jobs, including selling subscriptions to the Birmingham Reporter, a black-owned newspaper founded in 1906 by Oscar W. Adams, and working as a bellman at the Battle House Hotel in Mobile.

Unable to find fruitful business opportunities, Gaston enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1913. The armed forces were segregated at the time, and Gaston was eventually assigned to the Birmingham businessman A. G. Gaston, right, at his A. G. Gaston Motelall-black Ninety-second Infantry Division, which was deployed overseas to Cherbourg, France, for combat in 1917 during World War I. Although he was overseas fighting in a war, Gaston managed to consistently send home $15 of his $20 in monthly pay toward a mortgage on his first real estate investment in Birmingham.

Upon returning to Alabama after the war, Gaston drove a delivery truck for a dry-cleaning company and worked as a miner for Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in Fairfield, just outside Birmingham. Always looking for a way to make an extra dollar, Gaston was soon selling homemade sandwiches to his fellow miners at lunchtime. Gaston was able to save a remarkable two-thirds of his income, and with the additional money from his lunch business, he had enough cash on hand to begin lending money to his co-workers at the rate of 25 percent interest.

In 1923, tiring of toiling in the coal mines and seeing a need among poor blacks for more affordable funerals, Gaston founded his first business, the Booker T. Washington Burial Society. In its early years, the society worked much like a fraternal order, with members paying weekly fees of $0.25 that entitled them to burial services upon their death. This business thrived as a Entrepreneur A. G. Gaston opened the Booker T. Booker T. Washington Business Collegeresult of Gaston’s ability to form a coalition with area black ministers, who steered members of their congregations to the society. He also attracted customers by sponsoring gospel singers and Alabama’s first radio program aimed at African Americans. The society’s success led Gaston to establish in 1932 the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, which offered life, health, and accident insurance to its customers. Gaston’s shrewd business acumen soon led him to add burial insurance, undertaking, casket manufacturing, and sales of burial plots in company-owned cemeteries to his list of services. In 1923, Gaston married Creola Smith and then founded Smith and Gaston Funeral Directors.

Gaston had a knack for seeing a business need and filling that niche. For example, in response to a noticeable shortage of qualified skilled clerks and typists in the day-to-day operations of his businesses, he founded the Booker T. Washington Business College in 1939. Gaston continued to fulfill needs and expand his empire by adding businesses, including the Vulcan Realty and Investment Company, the A. G. Gaston Home for Senior Citizens, the WENN-FM and WAGG-AM radio stations, S & G Public Birmingham businessman A. G. Gaston's only business failure Brown Belle Bottling CompanyRelations Company, and the A. G. Gaston Motel. In the early 1950s, in response to difficulties for blacks in obtaining loans from white banks, he opened the Citizens Federal Savings and Loan Association, the first black-owned financial institution in Birmingham since the closing of the Alabama Penny Savings Bank 40 years earlier. Also at this time, he attempted to manufacture, bottle, and sell a soda called the Joe Louis Punch, trying perhaps to fill a need that was not so compelling. Of the numerous business ventures founded by Gaston, this was the only one that met with failure.

Gaston was not an outspoken advocate for civil rights, instead working quietly for equal treatment for blacks throughout his adult life. As early as the 1920s, Gaston not only encouraged his customers to save money, he also urged them to register to vote. In the 1950s, Gaston succeeded in having the “whites only” signs removed from the water fountains in the First National Bank as a result of privately threatening to close his account with the bank. In 1956, he provided a job to Autherine Lucy that gave her the financial support to become the first black student to register at the University of Alabama. Despite these efforts, Gaston earned criticism from some quarters for his low-key activities in relation to civil rights. Opposing the more confrontational tactics of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and his Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, Gaston served on the Committee of 100, a biracial group of Birmingham businessmen dedicated to bringing about desegregation in the city through less public means. This group had some initial success when downtown merchants agreed to desegregate their stores in the fall of 1962. Despite criticisms, Gaston provided space at a reduced rate in his motel to protest leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy for planning for their demonstrations. Gaston also bailed King out of jail when he was arrested in the spring of 1963, during the Birmingham Campaign.

Gaston himself became the victim of violence as a result of his support for King and Abernathy when his motel was bombed on May 12, 1963. In September 1963, Gaston’s home was bombed, but no one was injured and the house suffered minimal damage. In 1976, Gaston was again the victim of violence when he was kidnapped by an intruder, beaten with a hammer, handcuffed, and driven around the city for hours before the assailant was apprehended by police; the incident was thought to be prompted more by his financial status rather than simply his race.

In 1968, Gaston published his autobiography, Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston, motivated in large part by his desire to promote black entrepreneurship and to regain respect in the black community. The book was well received and earned Gaston an appearance on The Today Show.

Promotional material for the state-wide spelling bee founded A. G. Gaston Spelling BeeDuring the last decades of his life, Gaston amassed many honors and accolades. In 1975, he received an honorary law degree from Pepperdine University. In 1976, he was named an honorary president of Troy University and the Alabama Broadcasters Association named him its citizen of the year. Gaston was also honored by serving on the boards of trustees of Tuskegee University, Daniel Payne College, the Gorgas Scholarship Foundation, and the Eighteenth Street Branch YMCA. In 1992, he was named by the magazine Black Enterprise as “Entrepreneur of the Century.” Gaston gave back to the community in numerous ways, including donating $50,000 to establish the A. G. Gaston Boys Club in Birmingham and serving as its president. He also served on the boards of directors for the Jefferson County United Appeal, the Jefferson County Mental Health Association, the National Business League, Operation New Birmingham, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In 1986, Gaston added to his empire at the age of 94 with the A. G. Gaston Construction Company. The next year, Gaston rewarded his long-time employees by creating an employee stock option plan and sold the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company with assets totaling $34 million in assets to his employees for only $3.5 million. Gaston continued to operate the Citizens Federal Savings Bank and the Smith and Gaston Funeral Home in the 1990s despite suffering a stroke in 1992. Gaston, one of Alabama’s leading entrepreneurs, died on January 19, 1996, at the age of 103.


Gaston, A. G. Green Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston.1968. Reprint, Troy, Ala.: Troy State University Press, 1977.

Jenkins, Carol, and Elizabeth Gardner Hines. Black Titan, A. G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. New York: One World, 2004.

Noles, James L. Hearts of Dixie: Fifty Alabamians and the State They Called Home. Birmingham, Ala.: Will Publishing, 2004.

Smith, Suzanne E. To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.

Herbert J. “Jim” Lewis
Birmingham,  Alabama