George Boyer Vashon, attorney, scholar, essayist and poet, made noteworthy contributions to the fight for emancipation and education of blacks. He was born on July 25, 1824, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the third child and only son of an abolitionist, John Bethune Vashon. At the age of 16, Vashon enrolled in Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio.Â On August 28, 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with valedictory honors, becoming the collegeâ€™s first black graduate. Five years later, Vashon was awarded a Master of Arts degree in recognition of his scholarly pursuits and accomplishments.
After returning to Pittsburgh, he studied law under Judge Walter Forward, a prominent figure in Pennsylvania politics. After two years of reading law, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar. His application was denied on the grounds that colored people were not citizens.Â This inequitable act led to Vashonâ€™s decision to emigrate to Haiti. Before leaving the United States, Vashon went to New York to take the bar examination, which he successfully completed on January 10, 1848, thus becoming the first black lawyer in New York.Â Continue reading
Macon Bolling Allen is believed to be the first black man in the United States who was licensed to practice law. Born Allen Macon Bolling in 1816 in Indiana, he grew up a free man. Bolling learned to read and write on his on his own and eventually landed his first a job as a schoolteacher where he further refined his skills.
In the early 1840s Bolling moved from Indiana to Portland, Maine. There he changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen and became friends with local anti-slavery leader General Samuel Fessenden, who had recently began a law practice. Fessenden took on Allen as an apprentice/law clerk. By 1844 Allen had acquired enough proficiency that Fessenden introduced him to the Portland District court and stated that he thought Allen should be able to practice as a lawyer. He was refused on the grounds that he was not a citizen, though according to Maine law anyone â€œof good moral characterâ€� could be admitted to the bar. He then decided to apply for admission by examination. After passing the exam and earning his recommendation he was declared a citizen of Maine and given his license to practice law on July 3, 1844.
Despite being born a slave on May 16, 1855, Major Richard Robert Wright, Sr. was a post-reconstruction pioneer and trailblazer, who made remarkable contributions in education, banking, politics, publishing, journalism, real estate, and civic affairs. Among his many accomplishments, he founded a high school, a college, and a bank; and owned several newspapers.
He also founded the National Freedom Day Association, and worked toward establishing a national day to commemorate freedom for all people.
On February 1, 1941, Major Wright invited national and local leaders to meet in Philadelphia to formulate plans to set aside February 1st each year to memorialize the signing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution by President Lincoln on February 1, 1865. One year after Wright’s death in 1947, a bill passed both U.S. Houses of Congress, making February 1st National Freedom Day, and was signed into law on June 30, 1948.Â Continue reading
Since its beginning in 1898, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company has grown to become one of the nation’s most widely-known and successful business institutions. It is the only insurance company domiciled in North Carolina with a charter dated before 1900. North Carolina Mutual is the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the United States.
The Company’s seven organizers were men who were active in business, educational, medical and civic life of the Durham community. An early financial crisis tested their resolve and the company was reorganized in 1900 with only John Merrick and Dr. Aaron M. Moore remaining. Charles C. Spaulding was named General Manager, under whose direction the company grew and achieved national prominence.Â Continue reading
The year was 1861. The American Civil War had shortly begun and the Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major General Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband of war” and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named “The Grand Contraband Camp” and functioned as the United States’ first self-contained African American community.
In order to provide the masses of refugees some kind of education, Mary Peake, a free Negro, was asked to teach, even though an 1831 Virginia law forbid the education of slaves, free blacks and mulattos. She held her first class, which consisted of about twenty students, on September 17, 1861 under a simple oak tree. This tree would later be known as the Emancipation Oak and would become the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Today, the Emancipation Oak still stands on the Hampton University campus as a lasting symbol of the promise of education for all, even in the face of adversity.