James Carroll Napier was a businessman, lawyer, politician, civil rights leader, and Register of the Treasury from 1911 to 1913. He is one of only five African Americans to have their signatures on American currency.
Napier was born to William Carroll Napier and Jane Elizabeth Napier, who were slaves at the time of his birth, in Davidson County, Tennessee. William was the son of his White master, Dr. Elias Napier, and a slave named Judy. They were emancipated in 1848.
Napier attended a private school for free blacks in Nashville, until it was forced to close by whites in 1856. His family moved to Ohio, and in 1859 he enrolled in Wilberforce College. He later transferred to Oberlin College, he would later receive his law degree from Howard University.
In 1911, Napier was appointed to the position of Register of the Treasury under President William Howard Taft, the highest governmental position then available to African Americans. He had been recommended through connections of Booker T. Washington. Napier’s signature appears on many notes including series 1907 $1000 Gold Certificates. Napier resigned from the position in protest to segregation practices among federal employees instituted by President Woodrow Wilson. Later he succeeded Booker T. Washington as president of the National Negro Business League. James Napier died in Nashville, on April 21, 1940.