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Amanda Johnson Dunlap

Amanda Johnson Dunlap (1845? – April 16, 1912)

Civil War Cook/Devoted Wife

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Amanda Johnson Dunlap.

Considered to be the first woman who applied for a Civil War pension, Amanda Johnson Dunlap served as a cook in several camps for the Union Army, crossing enemy lines to secure provisions for the commanding officers.  She later married a white man whose mental illness was not a deterrent to her love for him.

Born in slavery around 1845 in Tennessee, Amanda Johnson made her escape after the Civil War began and found safety with the Union troops.  Because of her outstanding culinary skills, she became the private cook of Colonel Cameron.  One day, he was attacked by Confederate soldiers as she was serving him his meal.  She got away on horseback but was permanently separated from that camp.  Mrs. Dunlap then sought refuge in the camp of General John McAllister Schofield.  During the 1864 siege of Nashville, TN, the food supply ran out, so Gen. Schofield signed a passport that ensured Mrs. Dunlap’s safety as she crossed enemy lines to replenish provisions for the troops.

After the war, she traveled to Illinois and married George Dunlap, a White man about twenty years her junior.  The couple lived in Evanston, IL, and throughout their marriage, Mr. Dunlap was repeatedly incarcerated.  He was eventually committed to a mental institution.

Mrs. Dunlap applied for a government pension to supplement her income from cleaning and cooking in local homes.  Though much effort went into securing this support from Washington, DC, her request was denied.  As far as we know, Mrs. Dunlap was the first woman to seek pension payments from the War.
 
From her deathbed, which was covered with war memorabilia such as buttons, photos and the passport signed by Gen. Schofield, Mrs. Dunlap wrote a letter to a local justice, requesting that he persuade the local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.), a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans, to attend her funeral.  Many of them were present, in recognition of her faithfulness to the Union cause.

Sources:

  • Evanston Daily News 4/19/1912, 1
  • 1880, 1900, 1910 U. S. Census records

Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

Madam Flora Batson Bergen

Madam Flora Batson Bergen (April 16, 1864 – December 1, 1906)

Queen of Song/Philanthropist

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Madam Flora Batson Bergen.

bergenAs one of the most internationally renowned operatic sopranos of the late 19th century, Flora Batson Bergen was often described as “the greatest colored singer in the world”.  She was also called the “double-voiced queen of song” in acknowledgement of her soprano-baritone range.  

The daughter of a Civil War widow, Mrs. Bergen was born in Washington, DC.  She and her mother relocated to Providence, RI in 1867, where she joined various local choirs.  By 1878, she was singing for Storer College in Harpers Ferry, WV.  Though Mrs. Bergen was offered a full music scholarship at Storer, she decided to continue singing professionally.  Temperance reformer Thomas N. Doutney was her manager, so she participated in many temperance revivals.

In 1885, during a revival at the Masonic Temple in New York City, her rendition of “Six Feet of Earth Make Us All One Size” caught the ear of John G. Bergen, the white manager of the black Bergen Star Concert Company.  Her critically acclaimed performance of the song for ninety consecutive nights led him to invite her to join his group, and within two years, she was an international star.  At the end of 1887, they married in a controversial but beneficial union, as both of their careers flourished.  After John Bergen’s death in 1896, she toured with black basso Gerard Millar, whom she later married.  Her international travels included concerts where she sang before dignitaries such as Pope Leo XIII, Queen Victoria of England, and Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii.

Though opera selections were in her repertoire, her primary genre was the ballad, and Mrs. Bergen often received standing ovations and jewelry in recognition of her title, “The Queen of Song”.  As vaudeville became more popular and her solo engagements decreased, for the remainder of her life, Mrs. Bergen performed primarily for religious organizations and charities.

Sources:

Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

 

Audrey Layne Jeffers

Audrey Layne Jeffers (February 12, 1898-June 24, 1968)

Organizer/Philanthropist/Politician

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Audrey Layne Jeffers.

jeffersOften referred to as the “Mother of Trinidadian Philanthropy”, Audrey Layne Jeffers helped to define “community care” by inspiring the wealthy to help the poor.  Born to an upper-class family, her life was dedicated to easing the burdens of poor blacks living in Trinidad and Tobago.  Educated in Great Britain, Miss Jeffers was a founder of the Union of Students of African Descent (later the League of Colored Peoples).  During World War I, she served with West African troops and even established a fund to help those soldiers.  Jeffers was the founder of a Junior School that educated poor black children, and in 1921, she joined other like-minded women to set up feeding programs through the Coterie of Workers so that hungry students would have a mid-day meal.

Over time, the organization, now known as the Coterie of Social Workers, expanded its reach by establishing homes for the elderly, homeless and blind, as well as day care centers. In 1936, she was an honored guest of the Negro Progress Convention in British Guyana, marking the 100th anniversary of slave emancipation.  That May, the Coterie hosted the First Conference of British West Indies and British Guyana Women Social Workers in the Port of Spain, which was the first major women's conference of the English-speaking Caribbean.  Miss Jeffers took advantage of an opportunity to run for public office in October 1936 and became the first woman elected to the Port of Spain City Council.

In 1946, the Governor appointed her to the Legislative Council, and in 1959, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.  These positions allowed her to expand the work not only in her home country but also throughout the Caribbean.  To this day, many of Miss Jeffers’ methodologies are still in use.   

Sources:

Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

Georgia M. DeBaptiste Faulkner

Georgia M. DeBaptiste Faulkner (November 24, 1867- ?)

Writer/Missionary/Teacher/Social Worker

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Georgia M. DeBapiste Faulkner.

faulknerThe daughter of a Baptist pastor, writer, and missionary, Georgia Mabel DeBaptiste Faulkner distinguished herself as a writer who dedicated herself to education and local and foreign missions.  Born in Chicago to Rev. Richard DeBaptiste, Pastor of Olivet Baptist Church, Miss Faulkner was educated in the local schools.  Her mother, Georgianna, died when she was six years old.  After her high school years, she was published in The Baptist Herald, The Baptist Headlight, The African Mission Herald, and Our Women and Children.  Her interest in music paralleled that of her brother, both of whom were accomplished pianists.

In the 1890s, Miss Faulkner emerged as an early leader in the National Baptist Convention’s Women’s Auxiliary, serving as its President for many years.   She was also President of the Mothers Union, in association with the Missionary Society.  In 1899, she married Henry C. Faulkner, and together they traveled to Liberia, a place to which she returned many times, for missionary work.  Over the years, she taught music and language classes across the country in universities, normal and industrial schools and seminaries in Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Virginia and Liberia (where she served as an assistant principal).  Miss Faulkner was also a social worker in New York and Chicago, where she served as the Superintendent for the Home for Business and Working Young Women (supported by the Methodist Episcopal Church, Rock River Conference).   Her other community involvements included the Urban League, the YW C A, the NAACP and the World’s Fellowship of Faiths.  She also organized the Butler Community Center in Chicago. Miss Faulkner’s prolific work on behalf of the communities in which she lived continued the tradition she learned from her father.

Sources:

Sheyann Webb-Christburg

Sheyann Webb-Christburg (February 17, 1956- )

Lifelong Freedom Fighter

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Sheyann Webb-Christburg.

christburgA participant in the 1965 March across Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge (“Bloody Sunday”), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called 9-year old Sheyann Webb the “youngest freedom fighter”. Today, using her own experiences as an example, Sheyann Webb-Christburg continues to speak about the importance of youth involvement in struggles for social justice.  

One of eight children, Sheyann Webb was born in Selma, AL in 1956 and attended racially segregated public schools.  After a chance encounter with Dr. King outside her church in January 1965, she attended her first meeting to learn about plans for non-violent protests against the unjust voting practices.  Sheyann’s parents, who were active in the Civil Rights Movement, wanted her to be informed but not involved as they sought to protect her from the very real potential for violence and backlash.  Still, eight year-old Sheyann sneaked out at night and skipped classes in order to attend the rallies and demonstrations.  

Over time, Sheyann became a conduit of information for her classmates as well as her teachers, many of whom were afraid to participate for fear of losing their jobs.  During the rallies, Sheyann inspired attendees with her powerful singing, and she grew close to Dr. King, who was moved by her dedication.  After the murder of one protester during a rally, plans were made to march the 54 miles between Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL, the state capital, to present a voting rights petition to Gov. George Wallace.

On March 7, 1965, Sheyann and her teacher, Mrs. Margaret Moore, were part of the group that made the first Montgomery March attempt, which ended in a bloody confrontation with police beating, trampling and gassing marchers who refused to turn back after they had crossed the bridge.  Though she and her family were persecuted as a result of her continued involvement, Sheyann’s passion never waned.  She wasn’t allowed to march on the third attempt, but she did participate at the successful rally in Montgomery.  National television exposure to the violence led President Lyndon B. Johnson to propose and sign the Voting Rights Act soon after.  Sheyann asked her parents to register to vote as their birthday present to her.  Agreeing to her request, the first time they voted, they took her along as a witness.

Sources:

Compiled by Rhonda K. Craven

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