5 Heroic Black Women Who Helped Shaped The 1800s

5 Posted by - August 27, 2023 - BLACK POWER, BLACK WOMEN, LATEST POSTS

1. Elizabeth Jennings Graham, 1830-1901

Elizabeth Jennings Graham photo source: Kansas Historical Foundation, photo circa 1854-1860

(1830-1901) Elizabeth Jennings was a New York City schoolteacher whose 1854 defiance of a streetcar conductor’s order to leave his car helped desegregate public transit in New York City. With the help of her prominent father, the wealthy businessman Thomas L. Jennings, she filed and won a lawsuit against the streetcar company. Thomas L. Jennings, the first African-American to win a patent, owned a large clothing store and co-founded the famous Abyssinian Baptist Church. He used most of his profits in the fight against slavery and racism, founding a Legal Rights Association, which fought for civil rights through the courts. The association’s first case was his daughter’s. The judge in her case issued a ruling that prohibited discrimination in public transit against blacks. Chester A. Arthur, who later become the 21st President of the United States was her attorney. While she won her suit, only after blacks won another anti-discrimination lawsuit in 1859, did New York City’s public transit substantially desegregate. Later, with school’s remaining segregated, Jennings founded New York City’s first black kindergarten. — Sources: Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865 and The New York Times.

 2. Elizabeth T. Greenfield, 1817-1876

Elizabeth T. Greenfield photo source: New York Public Library.

(1817-1876) Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born a slave in Natchez, Mississippi, but freed as a child by her mistress, who became a Quaker. Eventually, Greenfield became a singing virtuoso whose talent gained her fame as far away as Europe and made her the target of racial antagonism.

Greenfield probably began singing in Philadelphia churches after moving there in 1836. According to legend, she discovered her talent after she attended a concert given by Jenny Lind, “the Swedish Nightingale.” According to Martin Delany:

“She went home. She stole an opportunity when no one listened; let out her voice, when [behold!] she found her strains four notes above Sweden’s favored Nightingale. She descended, when lo! she found her tones three notes below! Now she ranks second to no vocalist in the world. The Black Swan is singing to fine fashionable houses and bids fair to stand unrivalled in the world of song.”

In 1851, after performing a concert in Buffalo, she gained national fame and earned the name “Black Swan,” a moniker likening her to the “White Swan,” the Irish-born Catherine Hayes. In 1853, she performed in New York City for an audience of 2,000 at Metropolitan Hall, which barred other blacks from attending the concert. Greenfield’s appearance at Metropolitan Hall was so controversial that it prompted arson threats against the theater. One New York news organization decided against running its profile of the singer, because of the hatred she inspired. That same year, Greenfield performed in London and went on to do other shows in England and Ireland, including an 1854 concert for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. After her time in Europe, she returned to Philadelphia. Becoming a vocal teacher, she occasionally gave concerts. — Sources: New York Historical Society, African-American Registry, Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865

3. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 1825-1911

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper photo source: New York Public Library.

(1825-1911) Born free in Maryland, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, was a teacher, anti-slavery lecturer, feminist and writer. The author of ten volumes of poetry and at least three novels, including Iola Leroy,she lectured and taught in the South after the Civil War. She wrote the first short story published by an African-American author. And because she was a prolific magazine writer, she is considered to be the mother of African-American journalism. Active in the women’s rights movement, she found or held high office in several national progressive organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women. She was also one of several black women who fought against lynching.” — Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865 and Dictionary of Unitarian & Universality Biography.

4. Mary Ann Shadd Cary, 1823-1893

Mary Ann Shadd Cary (1823-1893) “Abraham D. Shadd, Mary Ann’s father, was a pioneer black abolitionist. In 1833, he moved his family from Delaware to Pennsylvania so that his children could obtain an education. A schoolteacher, Miss Shadd settled in Canada after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. There she became “editress” of the Provincial Freeman — the first black woman editor — and a leader of the black community in Chatham. She married Thomas F. Cary in 1856. A supporter of John Brown, she helped Osborne P. Anderson write his Voice from Harper’s Ferry.Returning to the United States during the Civil War, she was an official recruiting officer for black regiments. In Washington, D.C., after the war, she taught school, wrote for the black newspapers and attended Howard University’s law school. Receiving a law degree in 1884 (around age 60), she was an attorney in Washington for the remainder of her life.” — Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865

 5. Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons

Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons photo source: New York Public Library.

“The Lyons were New Yorkers of African, Indian and English descent. Maritcha’s father, Albro Lyons (1814-1896), an anti-slavery worker, owned a sailors boarding house and outfitting store, until the 1863 riot destroyed his business and drove him from the city. Relocating in Rhode Island, he became a manufacturer of ice cream. His wife, Mary Lyons, the niece of James Hewlett, the actor, helped him run an underground railroad station during their New York years. Returning to the city after the Civil War, her daughter Maritcha Lyons became assistant principal of a public school in Brooklyn. Her unpublished biography, Memoirs of Yesterdays — All of Which I Saw and Part of Which I Was is a rich source of information about New York’s black community in the 19th century.” — Speak out in Thunder Tones, Letters and Other Writings by Black Northerners 1787-1865 Maritcha Lyon’s mother, Mrs. Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons, 1860-1965.

Original Article Found On DominionNewYork.com



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