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Bayne, Thomas (1824–1889), dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As the slave of Martin, Bayne learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor’s assistant and to make dental house calls. Bayne also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor’s accounts....

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Bradley, Aaron Alpeora (1815?– October 1882), Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley’s youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In the latter city he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney....

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Blanche Kelso Bruce. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-2781).

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Bruce, Blanche Kelso (01 March 1841–17 March 1898), black political leader and U.S. senator during the Reconstruction era, was born in Farmville, Virginia, the son of Polly (surname unknown), a slave. The identity of his father is unknown, but he took the surname of the man who owned his mother before he was born. His childhood as a slave on a small plantation, first in Virginia, then briefly in Mississippi, and finally in Missouri did not significantly differ, as he later recalled, from that of the sons of whites. This relatively benign experience in slavery perhaps owed a great deal to the fact that he was a light-skinned mulatto and the favorite of a benevolent master and mistress. He shared a tutor with his master’s son and thus obtained the education that prepared him for later success. During the Civil War, despite the benevolence of his owner, he fled to freedom in Kansas, but after slavery was abolished he returned to Missouri where he reportedly established the first school in the state for blacks, at Hannibal....

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Bush, John Edward (15 November 1856–11 December 1916), businessman and politician, was born a slave in Moscow, Tennessee. In 1862 his master moved him and his mother to Arkansas to keep them from being freed when the Union army moved into western Tennessee. His mother died when Bush was only seven years old. He was educated in the freedmen’s and public schools of Little Rock and was considered a good student by his teachers. He paid his school tuition by molding bricks. In 1876 he graduated from high school with honors and was immediately appointed principal of Capital Hill School, a public institution for African Americans in Little Rock. In 1878 he moved to Hot Springs, where he was named to head that city’s African-American high school....

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Jefferson Franklin Long. Lithograph on paper, 1872, by Currier & Ives Lithography Company. (Long on right.) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Long, Jefferson Franklin (03 March 1836–04 February 1901), Reconstruction era politician, was born a slave of mixed African and Caucasian ancestry in Knoxville, Crawford County, Georgia. The names of his parents and of his owners are unknown. Sometime before the beginning of the Civil War, Long was taken from rural Crawford County to nearby Macon, where he evidently taught himself to read and write and learned a trade. Freed at the end of the war, he opened a tailor shop in Macon, which he and his son operated for a number of years and which provided him a steady income and a position of some eminence in the black community there. He married Lucinda Carhart (marriage date unknown) and had seven children....

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Napier, James Carroll (09 June 1845–21 April 1940), politician, attorney, and businessman, was born on the western outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee. His parents, William C. Napier and Jane E., were slaves at the time of his birth but were freed in 1848. After manumission and a brief residency in Ohio, William Napier moved his family to Nashville, where he established a livery stable business. James attended the black elementary and secondary schools of Nashville before entering Wilberforce University (1864–1866) and Oberlin College (1866–1868), both in Ohio....

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Joseph H. Rainey. Engraving by Charles Bryan Hall, c. 1870–1879. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105892).

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Rainey, Joseph Hayne (21 June 1832–02 August 1887), politician, was born a slave in Georgetown, South Carolina, the son of Edward L. Rainey and Gracia C. (maiden name unknown). The elder Rainey purchased his family’s freedom and moved with them in about 1846 (the exact date is unknown) to Charleston where he was employed as a barber at the exclusive Mills House hotel. He prospered and purchased two male slaves in the 1850s. Joseph Rainey received a modest education and was trained by his father as a barber. In 1859 he traveled to Philadelphia and married Susan E. (maiden name unknown). As a result of the intervention of several friends, the couple managed to circumvent the state prohibition against free people of color entering or returning to South Carolina, and they moved to Charleston. After the Civil War began, Rainey was conscripted to serve as a steward on a Confederate blockade runner. He was later compelled to work in the construction of Confederate fortifications around Charleston. He escaped with his wife to Bermuda on a blockade runner. They settled first in St. George and then in Hamilton. He resumed barbering, and his wife worked as a dressmaker. They returned to Charleston in 1865, shortly after the war ended....