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Brooks, Walter Henderson (30 August 1851–06 July 1945), clergyman, temperance leader, and poet, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Albert Royal Brooks and Lucy Goode, slaves. Brooks’s father was an enterprising slave who owned his own “snack house” and a livery business that brought him into contact with some of Virginia’s wealthiest citizens, including his wife’s owner, German consul Daniel Von Groning. Albert Brooks purchased his wife’s freedom in 1862 for $800. Still a slave, Walter Brooks at age seven was sold to the Turpin & Yarborough tobacco firm. He woefully recalled his time there, writing: “It was all I could do to perform the task assigned to my little hands. What I do remember is that I stood in mortal fear of ‘the consequences’ of failing to do what was required of me.” When the Richmond manufacturer fell victim to wartime economic decline, Brooks was allowed to reside with his mother and began working in hotels, boardinghouses, and restaurants. In his youth he acquired the doctrines that served as the foundation for his life’s work. He learned temperance from his pastor, the Reverend ...

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Josiah Henson. Illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1877. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-31848).

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Henson, Josiah (15 June 1789–05 May 1883), escaped slave and preacher, was born in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm owned by Francis Newman. As a child, Henson frequently saw his parents abused and severely beaten. On one occasion, as a punishment for defending his wife, Henson’s father was sentenced to a physical mutilation that left him permanently scarred. Although he was raised without religion, Henson was immediately converted to Christianity after his first exposure to it at a revivalist camp meeting. As a young boy, he was sold to Isaac Riley....

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Perry, Rufus Lewis (11 March 1834–18 June 1895), Baptist minister and editor, was born a slave on the plantation of Archibald W. Overton in Smith County, Tennessee, the son of Lewis Perry and Maria (maiden name unknown). His father, an able mechanic and cabinetmaker, was able to hire his own time from his owner and move his family to Nashville, where Perry was ranked as a free child and allowed to attend a school for free blacks. But when his father fled to freedom in Canada in 1841, the family was deprived of their temporary freedom and forced to return to Overton’s plantation....

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Rudd, Daniel (07 August 1854–04 December 1933), newspaper editor and Catholic lay leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Robert Rudd, a slave on the Rudd estate, and Elizabeth “Eliza” Hayden, a slave of the Hayden family in Bardstown. He was baptized a Catholic when an infant. Although little information exists about his early life, it may be conjectured that his Catholic upbringing was due chiefly to his mother who acted as sexton in the local church for more than sixty years. After the Civil War, he went to Springfield, Ohio, where an older brother had already established himself, to get a secondary school education. There is little information about Rudd until 1884 when he began a black newspaper, the ...