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Church, Robert Reedlocked

(18 June 1839–29 August 1912)
  • David M. Tucker


Church, Robert Reed (18 June 1839–29 August 1912), one of the first wealthy African Americans of the post-Emancipation era, was born in either Memphis, Tennessee, or Holly Springs, Mississippi, the son of a light-skinned house servant from Virginia, Emmeline, and her white, Virginia-born master, Charles B. Church. Robert would later say that his African heritage was slight. While giving testimony before a congressional committee holding hearings in response to the 1866 Memphis race riot, Church stated, “My father is a white man; my mother is as white as I am. Captain Church is my father; he used to have a packet line. My father owned my mother.” Robert benefited from a paternity that went unacknowledged: “my father always gave me everything I wanted, although he does not openly recognize me.” Captain Church owned steamships during the 1850s, making regular trips between Memphis and New Orleans, and he taught his son how to run the business. Beginning as a dishwasher, Robert progressed to cook and finally to steward, purchasing groceries wholesale, keeping accounts, and managing the provision of food, drink, and gambling on his father’s boat....

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