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Michaux, Lewis H. (04 August 1885–25 August 1976), bookseller and black nationalist, was born in Newport News, Virginia, the son of Henry Michaux and Blanche Pollard. Some uncertainty about his birthdate exists because his death certificate from the New York Vital Records Department lists it as 23 August 1884. Before coming to New York, Michaux worked variously as a pea-picker, window-washer, and deacon in the Philadelphia church of his brother, Solomon Lightfoot Michaux. According to Edith Glover, his secretary while a deacon, Michaux started selling books in Philadelphia with an inventory of five. When he founded his bookstore in 1932 in Harlem, he still had only a few books with him, including ...

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Roberts, William Randall (06 February 1830–09 August 1897), merchant, politician, and Fenian, was born in Mitchelstown, county Cork, Ireland, the son of Randall Roberts and Mary Bishop. Nothing is known about his parents’ occupations. William received only a little education, and at the age of nineteen he immigrated to the United States. He went to work in New York City as a dry goods clerk. In 1857 Roberts went into business for himself but was financially ruined in the panic of that same year. He began again, however, and ran his own store in the Bowery so successfully that by 1869 he was able to retire from business as a wealthy man....

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Singleton, Benjamin (15 August 1809–1892), black nationalist and land promoter, known as “Pap,” was born into slavery in Nashville, Tennessee. Little is known about the first six decades of his life. In his old age Singleton reminisced that his master had sold him to buyers as far away as Alabama and Mississippi several times, but that each time he had escaped and returned to Nashville. Tiring of this treatment, he ran away to Windsor, Ontario, and shortly thereafter moved to Detroit. There he quietly opened a boardinghouse for escaped slaves and supported himself by scavenging. In 1865 he came home to Edgefield, Tennessee, across the Cumberland River from Nashville, and supported himself as a cabinetmaker and carpenter....

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Spencer, Peter ( February 1782– July 1843), founder of the Union Church of Africans, was born a slave in Kent County, Maryland. Much of his early life is shrouded in obscurity. There is no record of his parents’ names. Freed upon the death of his master, he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, sometime in the 1790s and received a basic education in a free African school supported by Quakers....