Biographical Sketches (26 total)

Abraham Moses

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Abraham Moses (1889-1985) migrated from Seale, Alabama, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1916. In his 1980 interview, Moses talked about his jobs handling cotton and rosin on the docks of Mobile, Alabama and working in general cargo on the Philadelphia waterfront. In Philadelphia, Moses also joined the International Workers of the World (IWW), and then, in 1922, helped found the local charter of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA). Moses continued to work on the Philadelphia waterfront for the next 30 years, retiring in 1957.

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Arthur Dingle

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Arthur Clifford Dingle (1891-1989) was born in Manning, South Carolina to Edward Dingle and Susan Emma Dingle.  One of nine children, he attended public school until the age of 17, when his father died. Dingle then left South Carolina in search of work to support his mother and siblings, beginning his migration towards the North. In 1918 he settled in Philadelphia, where he resided until his death in 1989. 

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Beulah Collins

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Beulah Collins (1892-1986), the daughter of a tenant cropper, grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. After her husband died in the influenza epidemic of 1918, Collins moved first to Wilmington, Delaware, and then to Philadelphia with her newborn child. There she found employment as a live-in domestic, working for the Richard family of Chestnut Hill for thirteen years. Focused on providing for her child, Collins never remarried, but her son did get the education that she never had. Collins shared her life story in two interviews, recorded in 1983 and 1984. 

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Charles Ealy

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Born in Mariana, Florida, Charles Ealy (1895-1990) lived and worked in Jacksonville before moving to Philadelphia to take a position with Citizens' & Southern Bank. In his 1985 interview, Ealy talks about the African-American banking industry and businesses in Philadelphia, his relationship with bank founder and president Major R.R. Wright Sr., the fall of Brown & Stevens Bank, the impact of the Great Depression on the banking industry, and his relationships with his depositors.

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Charles Vance

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Born in Mobile, Alabama, Charles Vance (1902-1988) was just nine when his mother died and his father relocated the family to Whistler, Alabama. Unable to support his family earning two dollars a day, Vance’s father moved North in 1917. Vance’s father told Charles not to follow and that he would send for him. The next day, Vance, then just fifteen years old, struck out on his own and spent the next six years working in the coke ovens, levee camps, and railroad track crews in the South before making his own way to Philadelphia in 1923.

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Crosby Brittenum

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Crosby Brittenum (born c. 1899) grew up in rural Arkansas before traveling by train seeking work. In 1920 he was brought to Philadelphia by his step-uncle and got a job as a waiter at Green's Hotel. In his 1984 interview, he shares his experience watching the arrival of hundreds of southern migrants by train and his familiarity with Philadelphia's neighborhoods and communities. 

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Ella Lee

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In this June 15, 1984 interview, Ella Lee (1891-1990) discusses her long and hard life in Georgia and Philadelphia. Recently widowed, Lee in 1929 moved from Jacksonville, Florida to Philadelphia, hoping for a better life and education for her children. In the decades that followed she did housework and laundry work in Philadelphia and New England. Unlike most of her African-American counterparts, Lee regretted the move north, stating “I would have done just as good” if she had stayed in the South.

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Ernest Grey

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Born off the coast of South Carolina on Cat Island, Ernest Grey (189-n.d.) spent his childhood moving among family members in Georgia and South Carolina. Never learning how to read or write, Grey worked as a farm laborer. Around 1916 he found free transportation to Philadelphia, where he lived the rest of his life. Grey did not return to South Carolina until 1982, when a church-sponsored trip enabled him to meet relatives he had not seen in close to 70 years. 

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Fannie Hutchinson

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Born and raised on a sharecroppers' farm near Petersburg, Virginia, Fannie Hutchinson (1905-1990) was one of sixteen children. In her 1984 interview, Hutchinson recalls how she started to work at the age of thirteen to help support her family, her move to Philadelphia in 1926, the limits placed upon her by an overprotective uncle, and her experiences as a domestic servant and factory worker. By the 1940s she owned her own grocery and luncheonette in West Philadelphia.

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Fletcher and Utensie Hillian

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In 1925 Fletcher (1895-1992) and Utensie (1902-2006) Hillian joined the Great Migration north, moving to Philadelphia in 1925 from South Carolina. They chose Philadelphia not just for the economic opportunities they believed they would find there, but also because of the opportunities for home ownership. Over the course of their lives, they made new lives in the city, helped family members make their own move to Philadelphia, and there raised a daughter in the home that they owned.

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Harvey L. Wilson

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Harvey L. Wilson (1880-1982) was born in South Carolina to a farming family. Even though he had a job as a railroad man in the South, he moved North in 1917 to find better work, hoping to find a job in the war plants or unloading trucks. He found many different jobs in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the most long-term being a mobile grocer in a variety of neighborhoods. Wilson shared his stories in an interview in November 1981, less than a year before his death.

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Hughsey Childs

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Hughsey Childs (1899-1986), a migrant from Abbeville, South Carolina, to Philadelphia during the late 1910s, recalls in this 1984 oral history interview details from his work, faith, career, and family. Drawing from personal experiences laboring in cotton fields and factories, encountering racism on a daily basis, and helping to create a new church, Childs is able to evoke the atmosphere of the era by narrating the stories of his rich tapestry of a life, which while distinct, shares similarities with many African Americans’ transitions during the years of the First Great Migration.

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I. Maximilian Martin Jr.

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In his two 1984 and 1987 oral history interviews, Isadore Maximilian Martin Jr. (1910-1992) recounts his family's move from Enfield, North Carolina, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1913.  There, his father Isadore Martin Sr. became a successful realtor, civic leader, and president of the Philadelphia branch of the N.A.A.C.P. Martin also speaks about his own life, including his education, work as a realtor, and his work with the N.A.A.C.P. for passage of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Bill of 1935 and the campaign to integrate Philadelphia's movie theaters and hotels in the 1930s.

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James Plunkett

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Born in Danville, Virginia, James Plunkett (c. 1896-1986) spent much his early life moving from job to job as tobacco farmer, bricklayer, railroad worker, and bartender. Over the course of three interviews conducted in 1983 and 1984, Plunkett recounted his childhood in Virginia, his move north at age 20, and the “sporting life” that he enjoyed once in Philadelphia, going to speakeasies, drinking bootleg liquor, chasing women, and playing the “numbers racket.” 

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John B. Summers

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Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1888, John B. Summers was the son and grandson of AME ministers. Raised in a prominent family, Summers moved to Philadelphia in 1918 to work as an inspector at Hog Island Shipyard. In the decades that followed, Summers worked behind the scenes to advance Black Philadelphians politically and witnessed their switch from Republican to Democrat Parties in the 1930s. During the Great Depression, he began a long and successful career as a labor organizer for the CIO.

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Joseph A. Marshall

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A self-described “Old Philadelphian,” Joseph A. Marshall (1901-1990) was born and raised in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 1923 he joined Engine Company No. 11, located at 1016 South Street, the only firehouse to employ African-Americans until desegregation of the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1952. Marshall served the fire department for twenty-three years before retiring in 1946. In 1974 he published Leather Lungs, a short history of Engine Company No. 11 and his own career in the Philadelphia Fire Department.

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Leon Grimes

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Born in Palatka, Florida, Leon Grimes (1899-1985) was 13 years old when his family moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In his 1984 oral history interview, Grimes talks about his childhood in Palatka, his failure to complete school at Princess Anne Academy and move to Philadelphia in 1923, his gambling and the "sporting life" of South Philadelphia, racial taunts, and the discrimination he faced while working for Horn & Hardart.  

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Louise Smith

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Born and raised in North Carolina, Louise Smith (189?-n.d.), moved to Philadelphia after a railroad accident left her father unable to work when she was just fifteen.  There, she labored as a domestic worker and joined East Calvary United Methodist Church, founded by Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, the city's most prominent and influential African American clergyman. Marriage took Smith to Baltimore during the First World War, but in the early 1920s she returned to Philadelphia, where she lived at 1522 Catharine Street for most of her life.  When interviewed in 1984, Smith was one of the oldest living members of Tindley Temple.

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Marie Mathis

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Marie Mathis (1910 - 2005) was born and raised on a sharecropper’s farm near Greenwood, South Carolina, then moved north to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, with her parents in the early 1920s. Three years later they moved to Philadelphia. There, Mathis, then sixteen, dropped out of school to help support her family. Rather than do domestic work, she worked in tobacco factories for nine years and then in clothing factories until her retirement.

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Milo Manly

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In Milo Manly's (1903-1991) 1984 interview, he discusses his experiences in Philadelphia during the 1920s and 1930s with the Lloyd Committee, Mothers Assistance Fund, and the Philadelphia branch of N.A.A.C.P. He also talks at length about his father, Alexander L. Manly (1866-1944), who fled in 1898 from a lynch mob in Wilmington, North Carolina to Washington D.C. and then to Philadelphia in 1902. There, as secretary of the Armstrong Association, he played a significant role in providing job opportunities for southern newcomers to the city during the First Great Migration.

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