Sample Entries



Bowser, Mary Elizabeth (1839? - ?), Union spy during the Civil War...
Cole, Rebecca (16 Mar. 1846 - 14 Aug. 1922), physician, organization...
Evers, Medgar (2 July 1925 - 12 June 1963), civil rights activist, was...
Flood, Curt (18 Jan. 1938 - 20 Jan. 1997), baseball player and artist ...
Hyman, Flora “Flo” (31 July 1954 - 24 Jan. 1986), volleyball player...
Onesimus (fl. 1706 - 1717), slave and medical pioneer, was born in the...
Parks, Gordon, Jr. (7 Dec. 1934 - 3 Apr. 1979), filmmaker, was born in...
Petry, Ann (12 Oct. 1908 - 30 Apr. 1997), author and pharmacist, was...
Pleasant, Mary Ellen (1812? - 1904), legendary woman of influence...
Reverend Ike (1 June 1935 -     ), religious leader, was born Frederick...
Waller, Fats (12 May 1904 - 15 Dec. 1943), pianist, organist, singer...
Whipple, Prince (? - 1797), slave, Revolutionary War veteran, abolitionist...
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Bowser, Mary Elizabeth (1839? - ?), Union spy during the Civil War, was born a slave on the Richmond,Virginia, plantation of John Van Lew, a wealthy hardware merchant. Very little is known about her early life. Upon Van Lew’s death in 1843 or 1851, his wife and daughter, Elizabeth, manumitted his slaves and bought and freed a number of their family members, Mary among them. Like most of their former slaves, Mary remained a servant in the Van Lew household, staying with the family until the late 1850s. Noting her intellectual talent, Elizabeth, a staunch abolitionist and Quaker, sent Mary to the Quaker School for Negroes in Philadelphia to be educated.

Mary returned from Philadelphia after graduating to marry Wilson Bowser, a free black man. The ceremony was held on 16 April 1861, just days before the Civil War began. What made the ceremony so unusual was that the parishioners of the church were primarily white. The couple settled outside Richmond. There is no record of any children. Even after her marriage, Bowser was in close contact with the Van Lew family, clearly sharing their political goals. As a result, their wartime record was very much intertwined, and information about Bowser can be gleaned through the records of Elizabeth Van Lew.

Despite her abolitionist sentiments, Elizabeth Van Lew was a prominent figure in Richmond. Shunned by many before the war began, her loyalty for the Union during the war earned her further enmity. Unlike other spies, Van Lew used this enmity as a cover for her serious efforts on behalf of the Union. Adopting a distracted, muttering personae, she was dubbed “Crazy Bet.” During the war, Van Lew helped manage a spy system in the Confederate capitol, went regularly to the Libby Prison with food and medicine, and helped escapees of all kinds, hiding them in a secret room in her mansion.

Perhaps Van Lew’s most trusted and successful source for information was Mary Bowser. Like Van Lew, Bowser had considerable acting skills. In order to get access to top-secret information, Bowser became “Ellen Bond,” a slow-thinking, but able, servant. Van Lew urged a friend to take Bowser along to help out at functions held by Varina Davis, the wife of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. Bowser was eventually hired fulltime, and worked in the Davis household until just before the end of the war.

At the Davis’s house, Mary worked as a servant, cleaning and serving meals. Given the racial prejudice of the day, and the way in which servants were trained to act and seem invisible, Mary was able to glean considerable information simply by doing her work. That she was literate, and could thus read the documents she had access to--and, in that way, better interpret the conversations she was hearing --could only have been a bonus. Jefferson Davis, apparently, came to know that there was a leak in his house, but until late in the war no suspicion fell on Mary.

Richmond’s formal spymaster was Thomas McNiven, a baker whose business was located on North Eighth Street. Given his profession, he was a hub for information. Visiting his bakery was an unexceptional destination for his agents, and McNiven was regularly out and about town, driving through Ricmond making deliveries. When he came to the Davis household, Mary could daily--without suspicion--greet him at his wagon and talk briefly. In 1904, just before he died, McNiven reported his wartime activities to his daughter, Jeannette B. McNiven, and her nephew, Robert W. Waitt Jr., chronicled them in 1952. According to McNiven, Bowser wass the source of the most crucial information available, “as she was working right in the Davis home and had a photographic mind. Everything she saw on the Rebel president’s desk, she could repeat word for word. Unlike most colored, she could read and write. She made a point of always coming out to my wagon when I made deliveries at the Davis’ home to drop information” (quoted in Waitt, Thomas McNiven Papers).

By the last days of the Confederacy, suspicion did fall on Mary--it is not known how or why--and she chose to flee in January 1865. Her last act as a Union spy and sympathizer was an attempt to burn down the Confederate White House, but this was not successful.

After the war ended, the federal government, in an attempt to protect the postwar lives of its Southern spies, destroyed the records--including those of McNiven’s and Van Lew’s activities--that could more precisely detail the information Bowser passed on to General Ulysses S. Grant throughout 1863 and 1864. The journal that Bowser later wrote chronicling her wartime work was also lost when family members inadvertently discarded it in 1952. The Bowser family rarely discussed her work, given Richmond’s political climate and the continuing attitudes toward Union sympathizers. There is no record of Bowser’s postwar life, and no date for her death.

Bowser is among a number of African American women spies who worked on the Union side during the Civil War. Given the nature of the profession, we may never know how many women engaged in uncover spy operations, both planned and unplanned. HARRIET TUBMAN is the most well known, especially for her scouting expeditions in South Carolina and Florida that resulted in the freedom of hundreds of slavesIn 1995 the U.S. government honored Mary Elizabeth Bowser for her work in the Civil War with an induction into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

Further Reading

Coleman, Penny. Spies! Women in the Civil War (1992).
Forbes, Ella. African American Women During the Civil War (1998).
Kane, Harnett T. Spies for the Blue and Gray (1954).
Lebsock, Suzanne. A Share of Honor: Virginia Women 1600 - 1945 (1984).
Van Lew, Elizabeth. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of “Crazy Bet” Van Lew, ed. David D. Ryan (2001).

Lyde Cullen Sizer

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Cole, Rebecca (16 Mar. 1846 - 14 Aug. 1922), physician, organization founder, and social reformer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second of five children all listed as “mulatto” in the 1880 U.S. census. Her parents’ names are not known. In 1863 Rebecca completed a rigorous curriculum that included Latin, Greek, and mathematics at the Institute for Colored Youth, an all-black high school.

In 1867 Cole became the first black graduate of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and the second formally trained African American woman physician in the United States. Dr. Ann Preston, the first woman dean of a medical school, served as Cole’s preceptor, overseeing her thesis essay, “The Eye and Its Appendages.” The Women’s Medical College, founded by Quaker abolitionists and temperance reformers in 1850 as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, was the world’s first medical school for women. By 1900 at least ten African American women had received their medical degrees from the school.

After completion of her MD, Cole was appointed resident physician at the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, a New York City hospital founded in 1857 by America’s first woman physician, Elizabeth Blackwell, her sister, the surgeon Emily Blackwell, and Marie Zakrzewska, a German- and American-trained doctor. Cole worked as a “sanitary visitor,” making house calls to families in slum neighborhoods and giving practical advice about prenatal and infant care and basic hygiene.

In the early 1870s Cole practiced medicine for a short time in Columbia, South Carolina, before taking a position as superintendent of the Government House for Children and Old Women in Washington, D.C. She then returned to Philadelphia, serving as superintendent of a shelter for the homeless until 1873, when she co-founded the Women’s Directory Center. The center offered free medical and legal services to poor women, and according to its charter, programs aiding in “the prevention of feticide and infanticide and the evils connected with baby farming by rendering assistance to women in cases of approaching maternity and of desertion or abandonment of mothers and by aiding magistrates and others entrusted with police powers in preventing or punishing [such] crimes” (quoted in Hine, 113).

A sought-after lecturer on public health, Cole boldly countered W.E.B. DU BOIS’s claim that high mortality rates for blacks were due to an ignorance of hygiene. In an article published shortly before the turn of the century in The Woman’s Eye, a clubwoman’s journal, Cole argued that the spread of disease within the African American community was due to the unwillingness of white doctors to take proper medical histories of black patients.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, American medicine had been essentially unregulated. Doctors underwent less training than ministers and did not need a license to practice. Women benefited from the ease with which proprietary medical schools were given charters; between 1860 and 1900, nineteen medical schools for women were founded. During this same period, the number of women physicians rose from fewer than 200 to more than 7000, or around five percent of American doctors (a percentage not surpassed until the 1970s). American women, of course, had long been practicing healing, as had African Americans of both genders. The earliest known African American physician was JAMES DURHAM, a slave born in 1762. The first African American to receive a formal medical degree, JAMES MCCUNE SMITH, did so in Scotland in 1837. Ten years later, David J. Peck became the first black to get an MD from an American medical school.

In 1890, 909 African American physicians were in practice, of these 115 were women, including Rebecca Cole. Beginning with REBECCA LEE CRUMPLER, America’s first black woman doctor, these pioneers comprised one of the earliest groups of African American professional women. Despite the dual barriers of race and gender, many of these women worked outside their private practices in helping underserved populations of women and children and blacks barred from segregated facilities. Often denied privileges at existing institutions, these trailblazers established an array of healthcare institutions. In 1881 Susan Smith McKinney Steward co-founded a black hospital, the Brooklyn Women's Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary. Eight years later, Caroline Still Wiley Anderson, the daughter of abolitionist WILLIAM STILL, co-founded the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School in Philadelphia. After years of treating patients at her home, Matilda Arabella Evans established the first African American hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Lucy Hughes Brown and Sarah Garland Jones founded black hospitals and training schools in, respectively, Charleston, South Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. The first woman to practice medicine in Alabama, Hallie Tanner Dillon Johnson, daughter of BENJAMIN TUCKER TANNER and sister of HENRY OSSAWA TANNER, established a dispensary and nurses’ training school while serving as resident physician at Tuskegee Institute.

By the last decades of Cole’s career, however, the number of African American women physicians declined dramatically. The 1920 U.S. census lists only sixty-five African American women physicians. The professionalization and standardization of medicine further marginalized blacks and women, who were generally excluded from key organizations. Coeducation, which resulted in the closure of scores of women’s schools and training facilities, further curbed the number of women physicians and dismantled much of the institutional and intellectual infrastructure that had supported late-nineteenth-century women doctors. Male African American doctors weathered these changes fairly well, as they now had access to a number of black medical schools and hospitals; in 1920 black male doctors numbered 3,885.

In 1922, Rebecca Cole died after fifty years of practicing medicine. Her career and the contributions of the first wave of black women physicians illustrate that had opportunities been available, black women might have further invigorated the practice of medicine with their collaborative and community-based approach to health care.

Further Reading

Hine, Darlene Clark. “Co-Laborers in the Work of the Lord” in Ruth Abrams, ed. "Send Us a Lady Physician": Women Doctors in America (1985).
Wells, Susan. Out of the Dead House: Nineteenth-Century Women Physicians and the Writing of Medicine (2001).

Lisa E. Rivo

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Evers, Medgar (2 July 1925 - 12 June 1963), civil rights activist, was born Medgar Wiley Evers in Decatur, Mississippi, the son of James Evers, a sawmill worker, and Jessie Wright, a domestic worker. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in the invasion of Normandy and the French campaign. After the war ended Evers returned to Mississippi, where he attended Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, a segregated land-grant institution, from which he graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. While at Alcorn he met a nursing student, Myrlie Beasley (MYRLIE EVERS-WILLIAMS), whom he married in 1951; the couple had three children.

After graduating from Alcorn, Evers spent several years working as a traveling salesman for the Magnolia Mutual Insurance Company, a business founded by, run by, and serving African Americans. His extensive travels through impoverished areas of Mississippi made him aware of the terrible poverty and oppression suffered by many black southerners and led him to become an active volunteer in the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP. His skill and enthusiasm did not pass unnoticed by the organization’s leadership, and in 1954, after Evers’s application to the University of Mississippi Law School was rejected on racial grounds, he was appointed to the newly created and salaried position of state field secretary for the NAACP, in Jackson.

Evers’s duties as field secretary were originally bureaucratic--collecting, organizing, and publicizing information about civil rights abuses in Mississippi. However, his anger, aroused by the refusal of southern authorities to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision against segregation of public institutions, led him to more direct forms of action, sometimes to the dismay of the generally more conservative NAACP leadership. Evers did not shy away from high-profile activities; he helped to investigate the death of EMMETT TILL, a teenager murdered allegedly for having whistled at a white woman, and he served as an adviser to JAMES MEREDITH in his eventually successful quest to enroll as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.

Evers’s more aggressive style of leadership became evident in the early 1960s, when he helped to organize the Jackson Movement, an all-out attempt to end segregation in Mississippi’s largest and most densely black-populated city. Throughout 1962 and 1963 Jackson’s African-American residents, under Evers’s leadership, struggled for racial justice, focusing on the issues of integration of public schools, parks, and libraries and the hiring of African Americans for municipal offices and on the police force. Evers’s tactics, which included mass meetings, peaceful demonstrations, sit-ins, and economic boycotts of segregated businesses and of the state fair, helped to unify Jackson’s black community. His energy and diplomacy helped to resolve conflicts and create unity between radical youth groups and the more conservative organizations of middle-class adults and also attracted the participation of some moderate white Jackson residents. However, Evers’s actions were perceived as antagonistic by many other white Jacksonians.

Shortly after midnight on 12 June 1963 Evers returned to his home after a Movement meeting and was ambushed in his driveway and shot to death. News of the murder spread rapidly through Jackson’s black community, and a riot was narrowly averted. Evers was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and the NAACP honored him posthumously with its 1963 Spingarn Medal.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of Evers’s murder led to the arrest of Byron de la Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman, avowed anti-integrationist, and member of a long-established Mississippi family. Beckwith was tried for the crime, but, despite the testimony of several witnesses who claimed that they had heard the accused boast of having shot Evers, he was found not guilty by an all-white jury. A retrial ended in the same verdict. In February 1994, however, a third trial, this time by a racially mixed jury, ended in Beckwith’s conviction for Evers’s murder and a sentence of life imprisonment.

Although his career as a political activist and organizer was cut short by his death, Medgar Evers became and has remained an important symbol of the civil rights movement. The brutal murder of a nonviolent activist shocked both black and white Americans, helping them to understand the extent to which areas of the Deep South tolerated racial violence. Evers’s death was a crucial factor that motivated President John F. Kennedy to ask the U.S. Congress to enact a new and comprehensive civil rights law, an action that committed the federal government to enforcement of policies to promote racial equality throughout the United States. Evers’s name has remained alive through the efforts of the NAACP’s Medgar Evers Fund, which provides financial assistance for efforts to improve housing, health care, education, and economic opportunity for African Americans. A branch of the City University of New York was named Medgar Evers College in 1969. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, served as interim president of the national NAACP in 1995.

Further Reading

Bailey, Ronald. Remembering Medgar Evers (1988).
Evers, Charles. Evers (1971).
Evers-Williams, Myrlie, and William Peters. For Us the Living (1967).
Nossiter, Adam. Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers (1994).
Salter, John R. Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle and Schism (1979).
Vollers, Maryanne. Ghosts of Mississippi: The Murder of Medgar Evers, the Trial of Byron de la Beckwith, and the Haunting of the New South (1995).
Obituary: New York Times, 13 June 1963.

Natalie Zacek

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Flood, Curt (18 Jan. 1938 - 20 Jan. 1997), baseball player and artist, was born Curtis Charles Flood in Houston, Texas, the youngest of six children of Herman and Laura Flood. In 1940 the family moved to Oakland, California. Flood’s older brother, Carl, who had trouble with the law from childhood, slipped into a life of crime. Flood, however, began playing midget-league baseball at the age of nine. George Powles coached the team and produced, besides Curt Flood, such players as Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Joe Morgan, and Jesse Gonder. The other factor that kept Flood out of trouble was encountering Jim Chambers, who encouraged his interest and development as an artist at Herbert Hoover High School in Oakland. Flood played baseball throughout his teenage years and became a promising athlete. However, he was small, weighing barely one hundred forty pounds and standing only five feet, seven inches tall as a senior in high school. Despite his diminutive stature, he was signed by the Cincinnati Reds in 1956 for a salary of four thousand dollars. He received no bonus for signing, but the contract was impressive for a working-class boy who had just graduated from high school.

As a minor league player in Tampa, Florida, Flood had to endure the racial taunts and slurs that other black ball players suffered when playing newly integrated baseball in the South. Having grown up on the West Coast, he had never encountered the uncompromising nature of southern segregation, and it was quite a revelation to him. The odds were not in Flood’s favor of making it to the major leagues, but he hit .340 in his first year of professional baseball, including twenty-nine home runs. He briefly came up to play with the Reds at the end of the season—Flood was being groomed by the team to be a third baseman—but he had little future in that position with the organization. So, in 1957 Cincinnati traded Flood to the St. Louis Cardinals, who made him a centerfielder, a position he held for them for the next twelve years.

At the time Flood joined the Cardinals, they were geographically the southernmost major league team. Owned by August Busch Jr., who also owned the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, and who was, in many respects, predictably conservative, the team itself exhibited surprisingly liberal tendencies for its day. Minority and white players got along very well, and the team insisted on integrated accommodations for its players during spring training. Under managers Johnny Keane and Red Schoendienst, the team flourished on the field in the mid-1960s. With stars such as pitcher Bob Gibson, third baseman Ken Boyer, second baseman Julian Javier, first baseman Bill White, and outfielder Lou Brock, along with the outstanding play of Flood, who was not only a good hitter but one of the best defensive outfielders of his day, the Cardinals won the World Series in 1964, beating the New York Yankees. Adding outfielder Roger Maris and first baseman Orlando Cepeda, they won again in 1967, beating the Boston Red Sox. St. Louis went to the World Series again in 1968, but lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. Busch began to break up his championship team in 1968, and the Cardinals did not go the World Series again until 1982.

In October 1969, after a disappointing season for St. Louis, Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, and pitcher Byron Browne were traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood was thirty-one years old in 1969, and the Cardinals thought, reasonably enough, that the outfielder’s best years were behind him. Flood, shocked and disappointed by the trade and what he took to be the team’s cavalier treatment of him, refused to accept it. At first he considered retiring. He had a lucrative business as a portrait artist in St. Louis and many other ties in the city. Moreover, he had heard that Philadelphia was a tough place for a black player to play, though the Phillies offered Flood a salary of ninety thousand dollars, a handsome sum at the time.

After thinking the matter over and talking with his friend Marian Jorgensen, Flood decided to sue Bowie K. Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball, and the American and National Leagues over baseball’s reserve clause, which prevented Flood from being able to negotiate with any team he wished that might desire his services. Flood presented his case to his union, the Players Association, and its new executive director, Marvin Miller, who, though thinking the suit was ill timed and not likely to succeed, supported Flood. His fellow players simply wanted Flood’s assurances that he was not challenging the league for racial reasons, which he insisted he was not. Former Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg represented Flood.

Flood was not the first player to challenge the reserve clause, which was established in the 1870s and made a player permanently the property of the particular team that possessed his contract; however, he became the most famous. Baseball owners argued that without the reserve clause, their leagues would have no stability, because players would simply move from team to team in order to leverage the highest salary. The history of early baseball actually supported this contention by the owners. However, the main reason for the reserve clause was to control player salaries by not permitting them to offer their services in an open market. The baseball team owners essentially argued that it was a monopoly that could not function successfully unless it completely controlled the freedom of its employees, a position supported by the U.S. Supreme Court, which had exempted professional baseball teams from antitrust laws in 1922.

Flood was facing long odds in his lawsuit. The public was decidedly against him, not feeling great sympathy for a man claiming to be a “slave” and being treated like “a consignment of goods” who was making ninety thousand dollars a year. Most sportswriters were similarly unsympathetic, as were the lower federal courts and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Flood lost his case and sat out the 1970 season. While appealing the case to the Supreme Court, he returned to baseball briefly, playing for the Washington Senators, which had made a deal with Philadelphia to get him. But Flood left the Senators after playing only thirteen games. He felt that he no longer had the desire or the ability to play, especially in the face of hostility from the baseball establishment, and he moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he spent most of the 1970s. He never played professional baseball again.

On 18 June 1972, the Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit’s ruling by a vote of five to three. Even though the Court ruled against him, Flood had generated enormous publicity and discussion about the reserve clause. By the end of 1972 baseball owners agreed to salary arbitration, the beginning of the end of the reserve clause. In 1975 pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally challenged the reserve clause by working one year without a contract and then declaring themselves free agents. They won their case in labor arbitration, and the age of free agency had arrived.

Flood was right in calling himself “a child of the sixties.” There was a strong element of protest and reform in his challenge. Other black athletes of the time, most notably MUHAMMAD ALI, openly defied society’s expectations of them and challenged the businesses for which they worked. But the issue here, actually, transcends race and is more powerfully related to athletes being seen by the public as more than mere performers or machines, but as men and women with vital concerns about their well-being and with vital interests that they should be permitted to protect. It must be remembered that all Flood wanted was the right to offer his services to any major league team, the same freedom to move from one job to another that most Americans enjoy.

Flood, who had been a heavy smoker, died of throat cancer at the age of fifty-nine. He was survived by his wife, actress Judy Pace, and a child by a previous relationship. In 1998 Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, giving Major League Baseball players the same protection under antitrust laws that all other athletes enjoyed.

Further Reading

Flood, Curt (with Richard Carter). The Way It Is (1971).
Korr, Charles. The End of Baseball As We Knew It: The Players Union, 1960 - 1981 (2002).
Miller, Marvin. A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball (1991).
Will, George F. Bunts (1999).

Gerald Early

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Hyman, Flora “Flo” (31 July 1954 - 24 Jan. 1986), volleyball player, was born Flora Jean Hyman in Inglewood, California, to George W. Hyman, a railroad janitor and supervisor, and Warrene Hyman, the owner of the Pink Kitty Café. As a child Flo was self-conscious about her rapid growth--she stood six feet tall in junior high school--although her mother, who was also tall, encouraged her to be proud of her height and precocious athletic talent. Though she could have starred in basketball or track, in her sophomore year she took up volleyball, a game played primarily by affluent whites in nearby Redondo Beach, not by African Americans in working-class Inglewood.

In 1974 the strength and athleticism Hyman showed as a high schooler playing for the South Bay Spoilers earned her a place on the U.S. national volleyball team. That same year, University of Houston volleyball coach Ruth N. Nelson awarded her the first athletic scholarship ever awarded to a woman at the college; Hyman characteristically refused to accept the full amount of the award so that some of her teammates might also benefit. She studied mathematics and physical education and received several honors, most notably the 1976 - 1977 Broderick Sports Award from the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. In 1977, after being acclaimed the nation’s top collegiate player and one of the world’s outstanding players, Hyman decided to forego her senior year to practice and play full-time for the U.S. national team in preparation for the 1980 Olympics. Under Dr. Arie Selinger, a demanding but inspirational coach, Hyman hoped that the United States could match the sport’s most dominant nations, though unlike Japan, the Americans lacked major corporate sponsorship, and unlike China, they lacked state support and a talent pool of ten million players. Indeed, while basketball’s WILT CHAMBERLAIN had vigorously promoted volleyball, most Americans ignored the sport, and the television networks showed no interest in broadcasting any women’s team events. The American team made up for these deficiencies with a strong sense of camaraderie, which was sorely tested when the United States withdrew from the 1980 Moscow Olympics to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Americans’ absence from Moscow denied the team a major stage upon which to display its talents, but the global volleyball community took note of Hyman’s skills at the 1981 World Cup, where she was selected the tournament’s outstanding player, and at the world championships in 1982, when she led the United States to the bronze medal.

American sports fans began to pay attention, too. At six feet, five inches tall, Hyman was the nation’s most intimidating offensive player, able to spike a volleyball as fiercely and accurately as her contemporary, Julius Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers, dunked a basketball. On defense, her rangy, angular frame was initially a handicap, but she overcame her reluctance to throw her body to the floor when required and soon mastered the backcourt as well. According to sports journalist George Vecsey, Hyman was also one of the most charismatic athletes of her generation. Yet if Hyman’s dominance in women’s volleyball in the 1980s was as great as MICHAEL JORDAN’s ascendancy in basketball a decade later, her celebrity and financial rewards never came close to those of even journeymen NBA players.

Buoyed by corporate sponsorship and the patriotic fervor that accompanied the 1984 Olympics in her hometown of Los Angeles, Hyman led the U.S. women to unprecedented public acclaim and a silver medal. Having devoted ten years of her life to volleyball--often cutting short the brief vacations she allowed herself--Hyman earned plaudits for her dominating performance and for her magnanimous praise of the gold-medal-winning Chinese team. Hyman made the most of the fame that the Olympics had granted her, joining civil rights leader CORETTA SCOTT KING, astronaut Sally Ride, and vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferarro at a women’s rights rally during the 1984 elections.

American interest in women’s volleyball proved fleeting, however, and Hyman returned to Japan, where she had begun to play professional volleyball for the Daiei team in 1982. By 1986 she had transformed Daeie, a struggling minor league team sponsored by a supermarket chain, into a leading force in Japan’s major volleyball league. Hyman remained a fierce competitor, though her coaching skills and ability to read the game now mattered as much as her play on the court. Indeed, to many it seemed fitting that Flo Hyman’s final words were an exhortation to a teammate, uttered shortly before she collapsed near the end of a match in Matsue City, Japan, in late January 1986. Hyman died later that evening from what was first reported as a heart attack, but later announced as complications resulting from Marfan syndrome, an hereditary disorder that often leads to a fatal rupturing of the aorta. Hyman displayed one manifestation of the syndrome, her height, but did not suffer the more telling signs of the disorder, notably curvature of the spine or breastbone. As a consequence her condition was never diagnosed, though her death helped to publicize Marfan syndrome and has encouraged athletes and others at risk from the disorder to be tested. Hyman, who never married, was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery in her hometown, and was survived by her father, who died three years later, and eight siblings. Her posthumous awards have been many: she was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1988 and named by USA Volleyball as the MVP for the years 1978 - 2002. She was also the first woman admitted to the University of Houston’s Hall of Honor in 1998.

Flo Hyman typifies the new generation of women athletes who emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. They were the first beneficiaries of Title IX, federal legislation passed in 1972, which prohibited sex discrimination in college athletic programs that received federal funding. Indeed, in 1985 Hyman and basketball player CHERYL MILLER testified on Capitol Hill in support of strengthening Title IX. Hyman’s open determination to win also reflected broad changes in American gender roles. Female athletes had always exhibited strength, power, and endurance, but now they began to celebrate those attributes, as well as the more traditionally accepted virtues of speed, skill, and grace. As Hyman put it in an interview with the New York Times in 1983, “Pushing yourself over the barrier becomes a habit. . . . If you want to win the war, you’ve got to pay the price” (Vecsey, S3). Her widely admired resolve and sportsmanship makes it fitting, therefore, that the Women’s Sports Foundation established in 1987 an annual Flo Hyman Award to the female athlete who best exemplified over the course of her career Hyman’s “dignity, spirit, and commitment to excellence.”

Further Reading

Demak, Richard. “Marfan’s Syndrome: A Silent Killer,” Sports Illustrated, 18 Aug. 1986.
Vecsey, George. “America’s Power in Volleyball,” New York Times, 2 Oct. 1983.
Obituary: New York Times, 25 Jan. 1986.

Steven J. Niven

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Onesimus (fl. 1706 - 1717), slave and medical pioneer, was born in the late seventeenth century, probably in Africa, although the precise date and place of his birth are unknown. He first appears in the historical record in the diary of Cotton Mather, a prominent New England theologian and minister of Boston’s Old North Church. Reverend Mather notes in a diary entry for 13 December 1706 that members of his congregation purchased for him “a very likely Slave; a young Man who is a Negro of a promising aspect of temper” (Mather, vol. 1, 579). Mather named him Onesimus, after a biblical slave who escaped from his master, an early Christian named Philemon.

This Onesimus fled from his home in Colossae (in present-day Turkey) to the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in nearby Ephesus. Paul converted Onesimus to Christianity and sent him back to Philemon with a letter, which appears in the New Testament as Paul’s Epistle to Philemon. In that letter Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus “not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved” (Philemon 1.16 [AV]). Mather similarly hoped to make his new slave “a Servant of Christ,” and in a tract, The Negro Christianized (1706), encouraged other slaveowners to do likewise, believing that Christianity “wonderfully Dulcifies, and Mollifies, and moderates the Circumstances” of bondage (Silverman, 264).

Onesimus was one of about a thousand persons of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony in the early 1700s, one-third of them in Boston. Many were indentured servants with rights comparable to those of white servants, though an increasing number of blacks--and blacks only--were classified as chattel and bound as slaves for life. Moreover, after 1700, white fears of burglary and insurrection by blacks and Indians prompted the Massachusetts assembly to impose tighter restrictions on the movements of people of color, whether slave, servant, or free. Cotton Mather was similarly concerned in 1711 about keeping a “strict Eye” on Onesimus, “especially with regard unto his Company,” and he also hoped that his slave would repent for “some Actions of a thievish aspect” (Mather, vol. 2, 139). Mather believed, moreover, that he could improve Onesimus’s behavior by employing the “Principles of Reason, agreeably offered unto him” and by teaching him to read, write, and learn the Christian catechism. (Mather, vol. 2, 222).

What Onesimus thought of Mather’s opinions the historical record does not say, nor do we know much about his family life other than that he was married and had a son, Onesimulus, who died in 1714. Two years later Onesimus gave the clearest indication of his attitude toward his bondage by attempting to purchase his release from Mather. To do so, he gave his master money toward the purchase of another black youth, Obadiah, to serve in his place. Mather probably welcomed the suggestion, since he reports in his diary for 31 August 1716 that Onesimus “proves wicked, and grows useless, Froward [ungovernable] and Immorigerous [rebellious].” Around that time Mather signed a document releasing Onesimus from his service “that he may Enjoy and Employ his whole Time for his own purposes and as he pleases” (Mather, vol. 2, 363). However, the document makes clear that Onesimus’s freedom was conditional on performing chores for the Mather family when needed, including shoveling snow, piling firewood, fetching water, and carrying corn to the mill. This contingent freedom was also dependent upon his returning a sum of five pounds allegedly stolen from Mather.

Little is known of Onesimus after he purchased his freedom, but in 1721 Cotton Mather used information he had learned five years earlier from his former slave to combat a devastating smallpox epidemic that was then sweeping Boston. In a 1716 letter to the Royal Society of London, Mather proposed “ye Method of Inoculation” as the best means of curing smallpox and noted that he had learned of this process from “my Negro-Man Onesimus, who is a pretty Intelligent Fellow” (Winslow, 33). Onesimus explained that he had

undergone an Operation, which had given him something of ye Small-Pox, and would forever preserve him from it, adding, That it was often used among [Africans] and whoever had ye Courage to use it, was forever free from ye Fear of the Contagion. He described ye Operation to me, and showed me in his Arm ye Scar.” (Winslow, 33)

Reports of similar practices in Turkey further persuaded Mather to mount a public inoculation campaign. Most white doctors rejected this process of deliberately infecting a person with smallpox--now called variolation--in part because of their misgivings about African medical knowledge. Public and medical opinion in Boston was strongly against both Mather and Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, the only doctor in town willing to perform inoculations; one opponent even threw a grenade into Mather’s home. A survey of the nearly six thousand people who contracted smallpox between 1721 and 1723 found, however, that Onesimus, Mather, and Boylston had been right. Only 2 percent of the six hundred Bostonians inoculated against smallpox died, while 14 percent of those who caught the disease but were not inoculated succumbed to the illness.

It is unclear when or how Onesimus died, but his legacy is unambiguous. His knowledge of variolation gives the lie to one justification for enslaving Africans, namely, white Europeans’ alleged superiority in medicine, science, and technology. This bias made the smallpox epidemic of 1721 more deadly than it need have been. Bostonians and other Americans nonetheless adopted the African practice of inoculation in future smallpox outbreaks, and variolation remained the most effective means of treating the disease until the development of vaccination by Edward Jenner in 1796.

Further Reading

Herbert, Eugenia W. “Smallpox Inoculation in Africa.” Journal of African History 16 (1975).
Mather, Cotton. Diary (1912).
Silverman, Kenneth, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (1984).
Winslow, Ola. A Destroying Angel: The Conquest of Smallpox in Colonial Boston (1974).

Steven J. Niven

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Parks, Gordon, Jr. (7 Dec. 1934 - 3 Apr. 1979), filmmaker, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the eldest son of Sally Alvis and GORDON PARKS SR., the latter an award-winning photojournalist, author, composer, and filmmaker. Born less than a year into his parents’ marriage, Gordon Jr. was nicknamed Butch as a newborn by his maternal grandfather, Joe Alvis. “There was not too much I could give my first three children being a waiter on a railway,” recalled Gordon Parks Sr. in the 2001 film documentary Half Past Autumn. In 1940 the Parks family moved to Chicago. There Gordon Jr. spent much of his childhood while his father forged his career. Parks developed a passion for riding horses, which became a lifelong interest.

When he was sixteen Parks moved to Paris, where his father had been assigned for two years by Life magazine. In Europe, he developed a keen interest in the fine arts, also cultivating a desire to travel that greatly influenced his later career as a filmmaker. He attended the American School in Paris, where he learned French as a second language, and accompanied his father to concerts, museums, and weekend and summer jaunts to St. Tropez and Cannes. While in school he took up painting and began to direct student plays.

After moving back to New York, Parks watched as his parents’ marriage crumbled. Estranged from his mother, Parks and his siblings, Toni and David, went to live with his father. In 1952 he graduated from high school in White Plains, New York. In an attempt to distance himself from the career path of his famous father, Parks worked for a time in the garment district of New York City, moving clothing racks. When he was photographing a story for Life magazine, however, Gordon Sr. offered his son the opportunity to spend a weekend hanging out with the infamous gang leader Red Jackson. The opportunity presumably had an effect on the inner-city realism that Parks later brought to his first feature film, Superfly.

In 1957 Parks was drafted into the U.S. Army. While stationed in Desert Rock, Nevada, his convoy truck broke down and he narrowly missed radiation exposure from a nearby atomic test. After six months of close observation, he was discharged from the army and returned to New York City. During the early 1960s Parks played guitar and sang folk music in bars and coffeehouses in New York City’s Greenwich Village.

Much of Parks’s professional life, however, was spent in the shadow of his father. Because their names are so much alike, many of Parks’s accomplishments have been mistakenly credited to his father. Commenting on their father-son relationship, Parks’s stepmother, Genevieve, noted in the film documentary Half Past Autumn that there was always a “certain air of competitiveness between the two.” Like his father, Parks developed a professional interest in photography, using the name Gordon Rogers for several years to distance himself from his birth name. In 1969 he was hired as a still photographer for the Marlon Brando film Burn and performed the same role on a more famous Brando film in 1972--The Godfather. Parks also worked as a cameraman on his father’s 1969 debut film, The Learning Tree. From these experiences, Parks learned much about making films. “I love movies, I’ve spent hours at movies, our generation is all movies,” he said in an interview. “I’ve lived with film all my life” (Oakland Post, 3 August 1972).

In 1972 Parks capitalized on his passion for movies by directing the action-thriller Superfly. The story of Priest, a drug pusher attempting to better his life, Superfly became noted for its gritty realism and its ability to elicit audience sympathy for its criminal antihero. Released on the heels of his father’s landmark 1971 detective drama, Shaft, the film was largely produced by black businessmen, using a black crew, on a shoestring budget of $500,000. Widely considered the zenith of the so-called blaxploitation films of the early 1970s, Superfly went on to gross tens of millions of dollars. The film sparked a huge commercial boom in black-themed films and catapulted the careers of a number of black directors. Critics have credited Parks with some of the film’s more interesting touches, including its steamy, risqué sex scene, the photographic black-and-white stills that appear toward the middle of the narrative, and the decision to foreground the film’s now-classic musical score composed by Curtis Mayfield. Superfly, however, unleashed a maelstrom of controversy about the moral direction of black films in Hollywood. While some critics saw it as a harsh and invigorating depiction of black urban life, others criticized the film for its romanticization of machismo, drug use, and crime.

Having moved to his horse ranch in the California Valley, Parks continued to direct films. In 1974 he helmed the lumbering Thomasine and Bushrod, starring Max Julien and Vonetta McGee. A black “Bonnie and Clyde” set at the turn of the twentieth century, the film recounts the story of Oklahoma thieves who steal from rich whites to give to poor people of color. His next film, Three the Hard Way (1974), starred the action heroes JIM BROWN, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly as a trio out to save the United States from a white-supremacist plot to taint the national water supply. In 1975 he directed Aaron Loves Angela, an inner-city update of the Romeo and Juliet story transformed into a black and Puerto Rican conflict, which was released just months before his father’s Leadbelly (see LEAD BELLY). Each of Parks’s releases faded into obscurity, either due to studio neglect or audience disinterest, and many critics felt that Parks had lost his artistic footing since Superfly.

In 1979 tragedy struck. Parks had just started an independent production company, African International Productions/Panther Film Company, and planned to make the first of three films on the African continent. On 3 April 1979 he died in Kenya when his plane crashed in an aborted takeoff on the runway of the Nairobi airport. After his cremation, some of his ashes were left in Africa and the rest brought back to New York City, where services were held at the United Nations’ Chapel. At the time of Parks’s death, his wife, Leslie, was pregnant with his first child, Gordon III.

Even in death, newspaper and radio reports mistakenly announced that Gordon Parks Sr. had been killed, and bibliographical accounts still often confuse the two men.

Further Reading

Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (1989).
Kovel, Mikel J. Blaxploitation Films (2001).
Parks, Gordon, Sr. Half Past Autumn: A Retrospective (1997).
_______. Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (1990).
Obituary: Jet, 19 Apr. 1979.

Jason King

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Petry, Ann (12 Oct. 1908 - 30 Apr. 1997), author and pharmacist, was born Ann Lane in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The youngest daughter of Peter C. Lane, a pharmacist and proprietor of two drugstores, and Bertha James, a licensed podiatrist. Ann Lane grew up in a financially secure and intellectually stimulating family environment. After graduating from Old Saybrook High School, she studied at the Connecticut College of Pharmacy (now the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy) and earned her Graduate in Pharmacy degree in 1931. For the next seven years Lane worked as a pharmacist in the family business. Her family’s long history of personal and professional success served as the foundation for her own professional accomplishments. She cherished the family’s stories of triumph over racism and credited them with having “a message that would help a young black child survive, help convince a young black child that black is truly beautiful” (Petry, 257). These family narratives and their message of empowerment enabled her to persevere in the sometimes-hostile racial environment of New England.

After Lane’s marriage on 22 February 1938 to George D. Petry, of New Iberia, Louisiana, she and her husband relocated to Harlem, New York City. Harlem provided her with the environment in which to expand her creative talents and source material for her future fiction. From 1938 to 1944 Petry explored a variety of creative outlets: performing as Tillie Petunia in Abram Hill’s play On Striver’s Row at the American Negro Theater, taking painting and drawing classes at the Harlem Art Center, and studying creative writing at Columbia University. She also served as an editor and reporter for People’s Voice from 1941 to 1944. Equally important for her creative work, however, was the time Petry spent organizing the women in her community for Negro Women Inc., a consumer advocacy group, and running an after-school program at a grade school in Harlem. These experiences gave Petry insight into the harsh realities facing working-class black Americans and offered her a distinct contrast to the financially comfortable world in which she was raised. Witnessing the struggles of impoverished black families in Harlem and observing the social codes of more affluent communities, such as Old Saybrook, enriched Petry’s fiction, which explores the ways in which social expectations, along with the forces of racism and sexism, can constrain individual lives.

Petry published her first short story shortly after moving to Harlem. “Marie of the Cabin Club” (1939) appeared in an issue of Afro-American, a Baltimore newspaper, under the pseudonym Arnold Petri. In 1943, under her own name, Petry published “On Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon” in the Crisis. An important turning point in her career came when this publication caught the attention of an editor who suggested that she apply for the Houghton-Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award. She submitted the first chapters and an outline of what would become her most famous novel, The Street, and won the fellowship in 1945. Funded by a $2,400 stipend, Petry finished the novel in 1946.

The Street garnered immediate critical and popular acclaim. Twenty thousand copies sold in advance of its release, and the novel’s sales surpassed 1.5 million copies, making it the first novel by a black woman to sell over a million copies. The story of Lutie Johnson, an ambitious black woman trying to work toward financial security, The Street uses the bleak landscape of an impoverished Harlem street to personify the relentlessness of racism. In its use of some elements of urban realism, The Street evokes comparison to RICHARD WRIGHT’s Native Son, in which Bigger Thomas’s social position--poor, black, and uneducated--inevitably leads to violence and tragedy. But Petry’s novel offers what some critics consider a more nuanced examination of the way in which racism shapes black experience. Lutie Johnson not only contends with racism but also confronts sexism from white and black communities alike on an almost daily basis. Furthermore, unlike Bigger Thomas, she is a reasonably well-educated and ambitious woman, driven by the mythology of the American Dream and convinced that her hard work will ultimately be rewarded. Lutie’s tragic failure to achieve her goals indicts not only the racism of American society but also the deceptive mythologies that encourage people like Lutie to believe that they have an equal chance at success.

The Street’s enthusiastic reception made Petry a public figure. Seeking privacy, she and her husband returned in 1947 to Old Saybrook, where they lived for the rest of Petry’s life. In the same year, Petry published Country Place, a novel that also explores the role of environment and community on individuals, though it does not deal explicitly with black characters or experiences. In 1949 Petry gave birth to the couple’s only child, Elisabeth Ann Petry, and published the first of what would be several books for children and young adults, The Drugstore Cat.

While it is not as well known as The Street, The Narrows, published in 1953, further complicates the issues Petry raises in her first novel. Set in a fictional New England city, The Narrows explores the repercussions of a love affair between a black man and a white woman. The nearly inevitable downfall of Link Williams in The Narrows revisits Lutie Johnson’s situation in The Street. Both characters are ambitious and intelligent, yet constrained by the mechanisms of racism, which prevent them from ever really succeeding. The Narrows offers a pointed commentary on social behavior, not only interracial romance but also excessive class consciousness. Within this frame, Petry suggests that social codes and behavioral expectations are damaging to black and white communities alike.

Petry’s themes of community relationships and the complexity of black experience in the United States continued in her later publications, including the nonfiction children’s books Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad (1955), Tituba of Salem Village (1964), and Legends of the Saints (1970). In 1971 Petry published Miss Muriel and Other Stories. A compilation of stories from the 1940s through 1971, the collection draws on Petry’s experiences in Harlem as well as in small-town America. In addition to writing, Petry undertook several visiting lectureships, earned a National Endowment of the Arts creative writing grant in 1978, and was awarded several honorary degrees, including an honorary D.Litt. from Suffolk University in 1983 and honorary degrees from the University of Connecticut in 1988 and Mount Holyoke College in 1989. Petry died in Old Saybrook on 30 April 1997.

As the first best-selling African American woman writer, Ann Petry holds a firm place in American literary history as both a groundbreaker and a literary predecessor to some of the twentieth century’s most significant black women novelists. The works of Gloria Naylor, ALICE WALKER, and TONI MORRISON continue to explore the complicated interplay of race, gender, and socioeconomic status that Petry illuminated so well in her fiction.

Further Reading

First editions of Petry’s work, correspondence, and critical reviews are housed in the Ann Petry Collection at the African American Research Center, Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina. Additional manuscript materials may be found at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University; the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; the Woodruff Library at Atlanta University; and the Moorland-Springarn Research Center at Howard University, Washington, D.C.

Petry, Ann. “Ann Petry.” Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (1988).
Ervin, Hazel Arnett. Ann Petry: A Bio-Bibliography (1993).
Holladay, Hilary. Ann Petry (1996).
Obituary: New York Times, 30 Apr. 1997.

Cynthia A. Callahan

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Pleasant, Mary Ellen (1812? - 1904), legendary woman of influence and political power in Gold Rush and Gilded Age San Francisco, was born, according to some sources, a slave in Georgia; other sources claim that her mother was a Louisiana slave and her father Asian or Native American. Many sources agree that she lived in Boston, as a free woman, the wife of James W. Smith, a Cuban abolitionist. When he died in 1844 he left her his estate, valued at approximately $45,000.

Mary Ellen next married a man whose last name was Pleasant or Pleasants and made her way to California, arriving in San Francisco in 1849. Her husband’s whereabouts after this time have never been made clear. She started life in San Francisco as a cook for wealthy clients, then opened her own boardinghouse. Her guests were said to be men of influence, and it was rumored that her places were also houses of prostitution.

Many sources state that Pleasant was a very active abolitionist, helping escaped slaves find jobs around the city. When she heard of John Brown’s desire to incite slave rebellions, she supposedly met with him in Canada in 1858, handing him $30,000 of her own money to further his cause. When Brown’s attempt to seize the arsenal at Harpers Ferry failed, authorities began searching for her, though she was able to disguise herself and find her way back to San Francisco under the name of Mrs. Ellen Smith. When Brown was captured, he supposedly had a note in his pocket that said, “The ax is laid at the root of the tree. When the first blow is struck, there will be more money to help.” It was signed with the initials W. E. P., though some conjecture that Pleasant signed the note and deliberately made her “M” look like a “W.”

Back in San Francisco, Pleasant fought racism by suing a streetcar company for not allowing her to ride. She sued twice, once in 1866 and again in 1868. She finally received damages in the latter suit, but she had to have a white man witness the streetcar conductor refusing her a seat in order to win her case. During the 1860s she supposedly found wives for wealthy men as well as homes for their illegitimate children. She placed former slaves as servants in homes all over the city, creating a communication network for the receipt of gossip and information, in the much the same way that her contemporary, the voodoo priestess MARIE LAVEAUX, built a power base in New Orleans.

Pleasant is best known for being the housekeeper of banker Thomas Bell, who married Teresa Percy, one of Pleasant’s protégés. By this time Pleasant was known to white San Franciscans as “Mammy,” and was said to have some sort of power over the Bells. It was even rumored that voodoo rituals were held in the Bell home on Octavia Street, and the mansion soon became known as the “House of Mystery.” Pleasant was considered a woman of mystery herself, and was described in newspaper articles and in the memoirs of native San Franciscans as “strange” “mesmeric” and “picturesque”.

In 1883 and 1884 Pleasant’s name was again in local newspapers because of her involvement in the court case of Sarah Althea Hill v. William Sharon. Sharon, a millionaire, former Nevada senator, and owner of the opulent Palace Hotel, was being sued by Hill for support under the terms of a secret marriage contract. The contract later proved to be a forgery and supposedly had been arranged by Pleasant. Pleasant’s access to and seeming power over the rich men of San Francisco made this a believable story to most of the city’s citizens. During the trial, Hill claimed to be “controlled” by Pleasant, and Pleasant’s appearance in court always caused a stir, as recorded on 6 May 1884 in the San Francisco Call: “Mammy Pleasant, as the plaintiff calls her colored companion, shows herself in court only as a bird of passage, so to say. She bustles in, converses pleasantly with the young men attached to the defendant’s counsel…and like a wind from the south astray in northern climes departs and leaves but chill behind.”

One of the few established facts in the life of Mary Ellen Pleasant is that Thomas Bell died in 1892, after a fall from the second story landing of the House of Mystery. Many thought Pleasant had murdered him; if so, and if the murder was for gain, it was fruitless, for when his wife inherited Bell’s money, she eventually forced Pleasant out of the house and into a small flat in the city’s African-American district. Living in poverty, Pleasant was taken in by the Sherwood family, to whom she had rendered assistance at one time. When Pleasant died in San Francisco, she was placed in the Sherwood family plot in the Tucolay Cemetery in Napa, California. At her request, her gravestone contained the words: “She Was a Friend of John Brown.” After her death the San Francisco Call (12 Jan. 1904) reported a mysterious matter that pertained to her association with John Brown: “Among her effects are letters and documents bearing upon the historical event in which she played an important part. The Brown family raided her flat when Mrs. Sherwood took her home. After her death, the Sherwoods found Mrs. Pleasant’s trunks in her Webster Street flat to be all but empty.”

Pleasant seems to have wielded power over influential people, yet because she was African American and female, her activities did not reflect her racial and social status, which possibly led to the rumors that she engaged in voodoo and even murder. She moved freely through the highest levels of society, yet she dressed always like a servant. She left nothing in writing, and surviving diaries and newspaper articles paint her as a mysterious and sinister figure. At the same time, some recalled Pleasant as “generous,” claiming that she used her own money to aid African-American railroad strikers and assisted with other black causes. A few San Franciscans who were children during Pleasant’s lifetime remembered her as a churchgoing “lovely old lady” and said that they never believed the voodoo stories.

Historians have rediscovered Mary Ellen Pleasant, and perhaps new materials will come to light to reveal more about this woman whose presence haunts the annals of nineteenth-century San Francisco.

Further Reading

Few primary materials on Mary Ellen Pleasant have survived or been discovered. A photograph, generally agreed to be that of Pleasant, is in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library. Pleasant’s biographer, Helen Holdredge, has placed notes and transcripts of interviews in the San Francisco Public Library.

Holdredge, Helen. Mammy Pleasant (1953).
Hudson, Lynn. The Making of “Mammy Pleasant: a Black Entrepreneur in Nineteenth Century San Francisco (2003).
Wheeler, B. Gordon. Black California: The History of African-Americans in the Golden State (1993).

Lynn Downey

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Reverend Ike (1 June 1935 - ), religious leader, was born Frederick Joseph Eikerenkoetter II in Ridgeland, South Carolina, to Frederick Joseph Eikerenkoetter Sr., a Baptist minister and architect, and Rema Estelle Matthews, a teacher. As a boy, he was exposed to the fundamentalist theology of the Bible Way Church in Ridgeland, where his father was the pastor, and he became an assistant minister at the age of fourteen. After graduating from high school in 1952, Frederick won a scholarship to the American Bible College in New York and earned a Bachelor of Theology degree in 1956. He then became a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force and started what might have become a traditional and uneventful ministerial career. However, after only two years, Eikerenkoetter left the security of the chaplaincy to embark on a new vocation as an evangelist.

Back in South Carolina, he veered from his Baptist roots and began to develop an eclectic ministry, akin to Pentecostalism, that relied heavily on faith healing, the excitement of revival meetings, and the appeal of a charismatic preacher. By 1962 the United Church of Jesus Christ, which he had founded a few years earlier, had only a few members and met in a converted storefront, yet even then he anticipated building a great church empire, and, for this reason, he established the United Christian Evangelist Association, which would become the organizational and business umbrella for his future endeavors. In 1964 he married Eula Mae Dent; together they had one son, Xavier. Ultimately, his wife would become the co-pastor of his ministries, and his son would be given the title Bishop Coadjutor. They moved to Boston in 1965, where he founded the Miracle Temple and acquired his first radio audience.

Until Eikerenkoetter’s ascendance, the Reverend C. L. FRANKLIN, with his syndicated radio programs and recording contracts, was the most popular black preacher in America. Historically, the success of most black ministers relied on how well they delivered a standard Protestant message that emphasized faith in God and hard work and that generally deprecated the desire for material pleasures. Indeed, many ministers became quite wealthy by advocating this austere doctrine. Eikerenkoetter offered a radically different theology that contrasted sharply with the old-time religion in both form and substance.

Like FATHER DIVINE at the turn of the century, who was influenced by Charles Fillmore and Robert Collier, the pioneers of New Thought philosophy, Eikerenkoetter was also drawn to ideas that originated with New Thought because they placed greater power and responsibility upon the individual to affect the course of his or her life in this world, rather than praying for a better life in the hereafter. Eikerenkoetter, however, never proclaimed himself to be God or a messiah, as Father Divine and DADDY GRACE had strongly intimated. It is likely that Eikerenkoetter was exposed to New Thought philosophy through white ministers, such as Norman Vincent Peale, and motivational speakers, such as Dale Carnegie, who had popularized a new gospel of positive thinking. Eikerenkoetter was the first to package this concept within an African American religious ethos and successfully market it to black consumers.

In 1966 two decisions contributed greatly to Eikerenkoetter’s success: he established his flagship congregation on 125th Street in Harlem, New York, and he began to use the name Reverend Ike instead of the difficult-to-pronounce Dutch name Eikerenkoetter. Not even the flamboyant Harlem minister ADAM CLAYTON POWELL JR. was as flashy or as ostentatious as Reverend Ike, who flaunted his diamond rings, fur coats, and mink-upholstered Rolls Royce. While the mainstream press ridiculed his extravagance and considered it proof that he was a charlatan, Reverend Ike argued to his critics and to the thousands who were drawn to him that his very wealth was proof that his program worked. In contrast to a long tradition of pie-in-the-sky preaching, Ike repeatedly said, “I want my pie now, with ice cream on top” (Morris, 180). He taught that “the LACK of money is the root of all evil” (Morris, 184) and to overcome the guilt that many religious people had about desiring money, he developed the mantra “I like money. I need money. I want money. . . . Money is not sinful in its right place. Money is good” (Morris, 176).

The response to this theology of prosperity was so overwhelming that in 1969 the congregation purchased the historic Palace Auditorium, which occupied a full block on Broadway and 175th Street. Five thousand people attended services there each week, and the building also contained his school, the United Church and Science of Living Institute. Reverend Ike claimed that millions of people subscribed to his magazine, Action!, or listened to him on more than eighty-nine radio stations. In 1971 he became the first black leader since MARCUS GARVEY to pack Madison Square Garden, and in 1973 he became the first black preacher to acquire a television program, Joy of Living. Through all of these outlets he sold literature extolling his “Blessing Plan,” as well as products promising to heal or enrich the purchaser—if the person had faith and contributed to his church.

At the height of his popularity in the late 1970s, Ike was prominent among a new generation of televangelists. He received offers to speak to diverse audiences and once even lectured on psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In an effort to deflect criticism that his ministry was completely self-serving, his church sponsored programs to help drug addicts, and he purchased a lifetime membership with the NAACP. During the 1980s, however, his star began to fade, and the former religious icon quickly became a parody of black preachers who prey on the poor and desperate. His public image also suffered from a number of unsuccessful criminal investigations by the Internal Revenue Service and the Postal Service and by a sexual harassment suit brought by a male employee against him in 1995. Reverend Ike’s ministry survived these accusations, but it never regained its former stature.

Lingering questions about Reverend Ike’s motives and character obscured the theological innovations that he pioneered, and excessive attention to Ike’s showmanship prevented many observers from recognizing that at its core his message appealed to African Americans who legitimately wanted a greater share of American prosperity.

Further Reading

The records and papers of Reverend Ike are not publicly available. The most scholarly study of his ministry is an unpublished dissertation by Martin V. Gallatin, “Rev. Ike’s Ministry: A Sociological Investigation of Religious Innovation,” New York University, 1979.

Baer, Hans A., and Merrill Singer. African American Religion (2002).
Morris, James. The Preachers (1973).
Riley, Clayton. “The Golden Gospel of Reverend Ike,” New York Magazine (19 Mar. 1975).
Sanders, Charles L. “The Gospel According to Rev. Ike,” Ebony (Dec. 1976).

Sholomo B. Levy

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Waller, Fats (12 May 1904 - 15 Dec. 1943), pianist, organist, singer, and composer, was born Thomas Wright Waller in New York City, the fourth of five surviving children of Edward Waller and Adeline (maiden name unknown). Edward was a Baptist lay minister, and one of young Thomas’s earliest musical experiences was playing harmonium for his father’s street-corner sermons. Thomas’s mother was deeply involved in music as well, and the family acquired a piano around 1910. Although Waller had formal musical instruction during his formative years, he was largely self-taught and indulged in a lot of musical experimentation.

Thomas’s development as a jazz pianist really began in 1920, when, upon the death of his mother, he moved in with the family of the pianist Russell Brooks and then with the Harlem stride piano master James Price Johnson. Like his pianist contemporaries, Waller had learned some aspects of ragtime and jazz style from studying the player piano rolls of masters such as Johnson. Now his instructional experience consisted of sitting at one piano while Johnson sat at another. Johnson’s earliest impression of Waller was that he “played with fervor” but that “he didn’t have any swing then” (Peck, 20). At the time, young Thomas was playing quite a bit of organ and had not developed the propulsive and difficult stride left hand required of the jazz piano style of the day. Long hours of practice, association with Johnson and other stride masters, and formal studies with the pianist Leopold Godowsky and the composer Carl Bohm at Juilliard honed Waller’s skills.

By 1922 Waller had embarked on a busy career cutting piano rolls and playing theater organ at the Lincoln and Lafayette theaters. In that same year he made his debut solo recording for the Okeh label with “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues.” He also began accompanying a number of vaudeville blues singers, including Sara Martin and Alberta Hunter. In 1923, through an association with the New Orleans songwriter Clarence Williams, Waller launched his own songwriting career with the publication and recording of “Wild Cat Blues.”

In the mid-1920s many of Waller’s instrumental compositions were recorded by the prominent Fletcher Henderson orchestra, including “Henderson Stomp,” which featured a brief sixteen-bar solo by Waller as guest pianist that demonstrated his muscular technique and innovative ascending parallel tenths in his left hand. Henderson also recorded Waller’s “Stealin’ Apples” and an overblown parody of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra called “Whiteman Stomp.” During this time Waller began his association with the lyricists Spencer Williams and Andy Razaf. With Razaf, Waller wrote his most enduring songs, those included in the musicals Keep Shufflin’ (1928) and Hot Chocolates (1929). Hot Chocolates, which premiered at Connie’s Inn in Harlem, moved to Broadway within a month. “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” a song from that show, was a signature vehicle for CAB CALLOWAY and was largely responsible for propelling the singing career of LOUIS ARMSTRONG.

Waller became a star entertainer in his own right. His large physical dimensions--which earned him the nickname “Fats”--his wit, and his extroverted personality made him a comic favorite to millions. While many fans and critics saw Waller as a mere buffoon, they failed to grasp the true genius of his humorous presentation. Often given uninspired hack songs to record, Waller transformed the material into successful performance vehicles that simultaneously offered veiled, biting commentary. Through his musical and comic ingenuity, he chided pompous, highbrow society in the song “Lounging at the Waldorf” and tainted the glib romantic sentiment of Billy Mayhew’s “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” by modifying the lyric to “If you break my heart, I’ll break your jaw, and then I’ll die.” Much like the interlocutors of minstrelsy, he used pompous, complex word replacements, such as “your pedal extremities are colossal” in place of “your feet’s too big.” Waller was also able to diffuse overt racist expressions in songs like “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” by referring to it as “Sepia Town.”

Waller had a long-running relationship with Victor Records dating back to 1926 and had an exclusive contract with them by 1934. He recorded prolifically with his own ensembles, Fats Waller and His Rhythm, and costarred with and accompanied other artists. In addition to an exhausting and ultimately fatal road tour schedule, he had his own regular radio program on WOR in New York (1931) and WLW in Cincinnati (1932 - 1934). He made four “soundies,” song-length music videos on film that were shown in nickelodeon arcades, and appeared in three full-length films, King of Burlesque (1935), Hoorayfor Love (1935), and Stormy Weather (1943), costarring LENA HORNE, BILL “BOJANGLES” ROBINSON, KATHERINE DUNHAM, the Nicholas Brothers, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

Fats Waller’s ultimate contribution to music was as a pianist. Behind the comic exterior was an uncompromising and deeply gifted keyboard artist. His most sublime piano performances were recorded in a series beginning in 1929 that included “Handful of Keys,” “Smashing Thirds,” and “Numb Fumblin’.” These pieces continued the two-fisted, swinging, and virtuoso solo style developed by James P. Johnson and others, but they also showcased Waller’s own innovations, such as a graceful melodic sense and gliding walking tenths in the left hand that presaged modern swing. His influence can be heard in almost all the swing pianists who followed him, including COUNT BASIE. Waller had a love and deep knowledge of classical music, especially Bach, and in 1928 he was the soloist premiering in James P. Johnson’s Yamekraw, a concert work for piano and orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall. In London in 1939 Waller ventured into longer compositional forms with his London Suite, which was orchestrated and recorded by the Ted Heath Orchestra in 1950. Waller continued to record jazz, blues, and popular songs on his beloved pipe organ and was the first prominent artist to showcase the new Hammond electric organ in the 1930s.

In 1943 Waller’s overweight condition and indulgences in food, tobacco, and liquor, combined with the exhausting pace of his career and several personal crises, including an alimony liability to Edith Hatchett, his wife of 1920 - 1923, that dogged him all his adult life, finally caught up with him. On a train returning to the East Coast from Hollywood after filming Stormy Weather, Waller died in his sleep somewhere around Kansas City. He was thirty-nine years old.

Further Reading

Hadlock, Richard. Jazz Masters of the Twenties (1965, reprinted 1988).
Kirkeby, Ed. Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Story of Fats Waller (1966, reprinted 1988).
MacHlin, Paul S. Stride: The Music of Fats Waller (1985).
Peck, Seymour. “The Dean of Jazz Pianists,” PM, 27 Apr. 1945: 20.
Shipton, Alyn. Fats Waller: The Cheerful Little Earful (2002).
Waller, Maurice, and Anthony Calabrese. Fats Waller (1977).

“Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller” in Performances in Transcription 1927 - 1943, comp. Paul S. MacHlin, Music of the United States of America series, vol. 10 (2001).
Posnak, Paul, compiler. The Great Piano Solos 1929 - 1941 (1998).

David Joyner

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Whipple, Prince (? - 1797), slave, Revolutionary War veteran, abolitionist, and jack-of-all-trades, was born, according to the historical record, in “Amabou, Africa.” This location is probably Anomabu in present-day Ghana, which was known as the Gold Coast when Prince Whipple was born. The names of his parents are unknown, but oral tradition published in the mid-nineteenth century implies he was born free and maintains he was sent abroad with a brother (or cousin) Cuff (or Cuffee), but parental plans went awry and the youths were sold into slavery in North America. A collective document Whipple signed with twenty others in 1779 describes their shared experience as being “torn by the cruel hand of violence” from their mothers’ “aching bosom,” and “seized, imprisoned and transported” to the United States and deprived of “the nurturing care of [their] bereaved parent” (New Hampshire Gazette, 15 July 1780).

Prince was acquired by William Whipple, and Cuff by William’s brother Joseph Whipple, white merchants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. William Whipple’s household also included Windsor Moffatt and other slaves. There are several possible reasons for the confusion about whether Prince and Cuff were brothers or cousins: linguistic translation difficulties, uncertain community memory after their deaths, and white indifference to such distinctions in a marginalized race.

Likewise, Prince Whipple maintained that his given name reflected his actual status in Africa, although the numerous enslaved black men named Prince suggests the name was frequently given by white owners in sentimentality or mockery. If Prince’s name records his African status, it represents an infrequent case of resistance to white renaming, a practice that stripped away African identity and dissociated the enslaved from both the dominant society and their own humanity. However, the persistence of Cuff’s African name in a town where only a few other African names persisted lends some credence to this interpretation of Prince’s name.

Nineteenth-century tradition spins an elaborate tale of Prince’s participation in the American Revolution, fragments of which may be verified, disproved, or called into doubt. No documentation substantiates the claim that Prince accompanied William Whipple, a colonel in the First New Hampshire Regiment, on early revolutionary campaigns or to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776.

Documentation also argues against a tradition that Prince was with George Washington at the crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776. On that date, William Whipple was attending Congress, first in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. Were Prince with him, it seems unlikely that William would have sent the enslaved Prince unaccompanied 130 miles to a war zone in which the enemy promised manumission in exchange for defection. The pervasive story about Prince’s crossing the Delaware first appears in William C. Nell’s 1855 Colored Patriots of the Revolution, written at the height of the abolitionist movement. It is unclear whether Nell recorded an undocumented but accurate family tradition circulating among Prince’s heirs or a confused family tale, or whether he symbolically attached to one individual the forgotten reality of black participation in both the Revolution and Washington’s crossing. Heroic paintings of this event by the nineteenth-century artists Thomas Sully (1819) and Emmanuel Leutze (1851) do indeed include a black man, illustrative of the lingering memory of black participation in the Revolution. New England traditions place other black men in Washington’s boat, for example Prince Estabrook of Lexington (later of Ashby), Massachusetts.

Prince Whipple did, however, participate in the Revolution. He accompanied William Whipple, by then a brigadier general, on military campaigns to Saratoga, New York, in 1777 and Rhode Island in 1778. Prince was attuned to revolutionary philosophy. In 1779 he and Windsor Moffatt were among twenty enslaved men who signed a petition to the New Hampshire legislature for the abolition of slavery in the state. All the signatories were held as slaves in prominent and politically active white patriot families, and thus had ample opportunity to overhear, contemplate, and reinterpret revolutionary rhetoric. However, the petition was tabled, and slavery was not formally abolished in New Hampshire until 1857.

After the Revolution, Prince attained freedom in gradual, if unclear, stages. On Prince’s marriage day, 22 February 1781, William Whipple prepared a special document that allowed Prince the rights of a freeman. The actual status conveyed by this document is obscure, as Prince was not formally manumitted until three years later, on 26 February 1784. The document may have been in response to a request from his bride’s clergyman owner, who may have wished to legitimize the marriage according to his religious standards. Prince’s bride, twenty-one-year-old Dinah Chase of New Castle and Hampton, New Hampshire, was manumitted by her owner on her wedding day.

In freedom, the black Whipples faced the daunting task of making a living in a context of social and economic marginalization. In his widow’s obituary, Prince was remembered as “the Caleb Quotem of the old fashioned semi-monthly assemblies, and at all large weddings and dinners, balls and evening parties. Nothing could go on right without Prince.” That is, he served as master of ceremonies at the Assembly House balls for white socialites. (Caleb Quotem was an eccentric, voluble character in The Review, or The Wags of Windsor [1801], by the English playwright George Colman.) On various occasions, these balls included other black people as caterers and musicians, and it is likely that Prince’s role was to bring together this supportive talent. He was “a large, well proportioned, and fine looking man, and of gentlemanly manners and deportment” (Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, 22 Feb. 1846). William Whipple died one year after Prince’s manumission, and his widow carved a house lot out of the back corner of the pleasure garden behind the Whipple mansion and loaned it to their former slaves. Prince and Dinah, along with Cuff, who had been manumitted in 1784, and his wife Rebecca Daverson (married on 24 August 1786) moved an old house to the lot, where they and their children lived for forty years.

Their home life was crowded. In addition to the adults and first child who occupied the house when the 1790 census was taken, others were soon born, including Prince’s daughters, Esther and Elizabeth. In addition, Dinah operated the Ladies Charitable African School for black children, probably in their house, as well working for the North Church.

Prince died in Portsmouth in 1797, Cuff in 1816. Dinah’s obituary in 1846 described Prince’s earlier death as “much regretted both by the white and colored inhabitants of the town; by the latter of whom he was always regarded as their prince.” This reminiscence notwithstanding, Prince was not an officer of the Negro Court that held annual coronations in eighteenth-century Portsmouth. However, his signature on the abolition petition alongside those of Portsmouth’s black king, viceroy, sheriff, and deputy confirms Prince’s active participation in the local black community.

Prince was not buried in Portsmouth’s segregated Negro Burial Ground, suggesting that it may have been closed by the 1790s. Following local tradition for black people, his grave in North Burial Ground was marked with two rough stones. Its location was later identified by a grandson, John Smith, and a more impressive stone installed. Today it is marked as that of a Revolutionary War veteran. Prince’s age at death is unknown, but he was almost certainly a decade or more older than the age (forty-six) sometimes supposed.

Prince Whipple’s life characterizes white Portsmouth’s preference for the importation of enslaved children rather than adults, and also exemplifies his generation’s participation in and advocacy for a coherent black community. The loaned residence, extended family, and his heirs’ continuation in Portsmouth throughout much of the nineteenth century diverge from a local pattern of frequent changes of residence and of filial out-migration. Prince’s participation in the Revolution while enslaved may have been elaborated in folk memory. But, along with CRISPUS ATTUCKS, PRINCE HALL, SALEM POOR, among others, his story reminds us of the significant African American contribution to the American struggle for independence.

Further Reading

Kaplan, Sidney. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution 1770 - 1800 (1973).
Melish, Joanne Pope. Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780 - 1860 (1998).
Nell, William C. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855).
Piersen, William D. Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (1988).
Sammons, Mark J., and Valerie Cunningham. Black Portsmouth (2003).

Mark J. Sammons

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