The U.S. Government and the Sea Island Slaves

In August 1861, at Fortress Monroe in Virginia, Union General Benjamin Butler declared that the slaves who escaped and came into his lines for protection were contraband of war, a term commonly used thereafter to describe this new status of slaves, which meant that the Army would not return escaped slaves to their masters. This would set the stage for a much larger undertaking at Port Royal a few months …Read More...

African American Folk Artist in the South

Harriet Powers is one of the best African American quilt makers in the South in the Civil War era. Although only two of her older quilts have survived, she is now nationally recognized. Using the applique technique, Powers told stories with her quilts, depicting scenes from the Bible and events in American history.

Image: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt (1886)
Eleven scenes from Bible stories
Patchwork and applique

Early Years
Harriet …

Black Heroines of the Civil War

Susie King Taylor
Born a slave in Savannah, Georgia in 1848, Susie King Taylor was 14 years old when the Union Army attacked nearby Fort Pulaski (April 1862). Taylor fled with her uncle's family and other blacks to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where slaves were being liberated by the army. Since most blacks were illiterate, it was soon discovered that Taylor could read and write.

Image: Susie King Taylor

Five days after her …

Black Women Intelligence Agents in the Civil War

Other than a very few famous African American women spies, little is known about the black women who gathered intelligence for the Union during the Civil War. We do know that some were former slaves and others were free women who volunteered to spy on the Confederacy, often at great risk to their own personal safety.

Image: Unidentified African American Woman

Escaped slaves served as a primary source of intelligence for the …Read More...

First African American Woman Lawyer

Not only was Charlotte Ray the first African American woman lawyer in the United States, she was one of the first women to practice in the District of Columbia and the third American woman of any race to earn a law degree (Howard University Law School, 1872).

Charlotte E. Ray was born in New York City on January 13, 1850 to Charlotte and Reverend Charles Bennett Ray. She had six siblings, including two sisters, Cordelia …Read More...

Successful Businesswoman and Humanitarian

Mary Ellen Pleasant was a civil rights activist and entrepreneur who used her fortune to further the abolitionist movement. She worked on the Underground Railroad in several states, including California during the Gold Rush and won significant civil rights in the courts, earning the name 'Mother of Civil Rights in California.'

Mary Ellen Pleasant altered and embellished her story in several memoirs to offset the criticisms levied against her toward the end of her life, making …Read More...