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Coppin, Fanny Jackson (1837–21 January 1913), educator, civic and religious leader, and feminist, was born a slave in Washington, D.C., the daughter of Lucy Jackson. Her father’s name and the details of her early childhood are unknown. However, by the time she was age ten, her aunt Sarah Orr Clark had purchased her freedom, and Jackson went to live with relatives in New Bedford, Massachusetts. By 1851 she and her relatives had moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Jackson was employed as a domestic by ...

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Councill, William Hooper (12 July 1848–17 April 1909), black educator, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the son of William Councill and Mary Jane (maiden name unknown), both slaves. In 1854 Councill’s father escaped to freedom in Canada, leaving his wife and children to be dispersed in the South by slave traders. In 1863 young William, his mother, and his youngest brother escaped from a plantation in northern Alabama to a U.S. Army camp in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Councill attended a freedmen’s school in Stevenson, Alabama, from 1865 to 1867 and later was tutored at night in Latin, physics, chemistry, and mathematics. In 1867 he established a school for freedmen in Jackson County and in 1869 began another in Madison County, laboring under the constant threat of Ku Klux Klan violence....

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Healy, Patrick Francis (02 February 1834–10 January 1910), Jesuit priest and university president, was born in Jones County, Georgia, the son of Michael Morris Healy, an Irish-American planter, and Mary Eliza (maiden name uncertain, but possibly Clark), a mulatto slave. The senior Healy deserted from the British army in Canada during the War of 1812 and by 1818 had made his way to rural Georgia where he settled, speculated in land, and acquired a sizable plantation and numerous slaves. He fathered ten children by an African-American woman he had purchased. Healy acknowledged Mary Eliza as “my trusty woman” in his will, which provided that she be paid an annuity, transported to a free state, and “not bartered or sold or disposed of in any way” should he predecease her. Healy also acknowledged his children by Mary Eliza, although by state law they were slaves he owned, and he arranged for them to leave Georgia and move to the North, where they would become free....

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Russell, James Solomon (20 December 1857–28 March 1935), educator and priest, was born on the Hendrick Estate in Mecklenburg County near Palmer Springs, Virginia. His father, Solomon, and his mother, Araminta (maiden name unknown), both lived as slaves on adjoining properties, with the North Carolina state line between them. With the ambiguity of slave status following ...

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William James Simmons. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90544).

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Simmons, William James (26 June 1849–30 October 1890), Baptist leader, educator, and race advocate, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of enslaved parents, Edward Simmons and Esther (maiden name unknown). During his youth, Simmons’s mother escaped slavery with him and two of his siblings, relocating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons’s uncle, Alexander Tardieu (or Tardiff), a shoemaker, became a father for the children and a protector and provider for the fugitive slave family. He moved them among the cities of Philadelphia, Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Chester, Pennsylvania, constantly eluding persistent “slave catchers,” before permanently taking residence in Bordentown, New Jersey. While Simmons never received formal elementary or secondary school education, his uncle made a point of teaching the children to read and write. As a youth Simmons served as an assistant to a white dentist in Bordentown. At the age of fifteen he joined the Union army, participating in a number of major battles in Virginia and finding himself at Appomattox in 1865. After the war, Simmons once again worked briefly as a dental assistant. He converted and affiliated with the white Baptist church in Bordentown in 1867, announced his call to the ministry, and ventured to college with the financial support of church friends....