A man of great energy and resolve, Paul Cuffee was born on the tiny island of Cuttyhunk, eleven miles offshore of New Bedford, MA. He was the seventh of ten children of Kofi Slocum, a freed African slave, and Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Indian. His father took the name Slocum out of respect for the man who had freed him, John Slocum, a Quaker whose family owned Cuttyhunk.
His mother was descended from a long line of Wampanoags who had been friendly to the early white settlers. They were a hardworking, devout couple. Quakers themselves, they raised their children to be contributing citizens. They were free and ambitious, and they prospered. Continue reading
Andrew F. Brimmer, a Louisiana sharecropperâ€™s son, was the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board. Dr. Brimmer, an economist, held a number of high-ranking posts in Washington and taught at Harvard, but the economic conditions of poor, powerless, uneducated blacks was an abiding concern. He spoke about what he called the â€œschismâ€� between blacks who were educated and had marketable skills and those who did not. In later years he spoke frequently about how government policies no longer supported programs to help blacks enter the economic mainstream.
Dr. Brimmer was the assistant secretary of commerce for economic affairs when President Lyndon B. Johnson named him to the Fed board in 1966.
At the time, the Federal Reserve was bitterly divided over monetary policy. The chairman, William McChesney Martin Jr., threatened to resign if Mr. Johnson appointed a liberal who would vote in favor of lower interest rates. Continue reading
In 1921, John W. Cromwell, Jr., became the first African-American to earn the designation of CPA, some 25 years after the first CPA certificate was granted in the United States. Cromwell was a member of one of the leading African-American families in the country. His father was a teacher, political activist, attorney, and chief examiner for the U.S. Post Office. Cromwell’s older sister, Otelia, was the first African-American alumna of Smith College and went on to earn a Ph.D. in English at Yale. Cromwell was exceptional himself. He graduated from Dartmouth as the best student in science in the class of 1906. A year later he completed his master’s degree there.
The profession most open to African-Americans at the time was teaching. After finishing at Dartmouth, Cromwell returned home to Washington, D.C., and became a mathematics teacher at the Dunbar School, the most prestigious black high school in the country.
Fifteen years passed before John Cromwell became a CPA. He was not allowed to sit for the CPA exam in Washington, D.C., Virginia, or Maryland. In addition, all those places had experience requirements. The biggest barrier to African-Americans in becoming CPAs has always been the experience requirement: In order to become a CPA you have to work for a CPA, and for the first two-thirds of the last century, most firms would not hire African-Americans. Continue reading
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. 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. 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. 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.