Posts Tagged ‘biographies’


“Jan Matzeliger invented the automatic shoe lasting machine, mechanizing the complex process of joining a shoe sole to its upper, and revolutionizing the shoe industry.”
He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. His portrait, biographical information, and details about his invention are at this website.


“This U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp honors Jan Matzeliger, a Black American who revolutionized America’s shoe-making industry in the late 19th century. It is the latest in the Postal Service’s Black Heritage series.
“The stamp, designed by Higgins Bond of Teaneck, New Jersey, features a portrait of Matzeliger against a sketch of his shoe lasting machine.
“Jan E. Matzeliger” and “Black Heritage USA” are printed prominently in black.
“Matzeliger came to the United States in 1870 from Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and found work as an apprentice cobbler in Philadelphia. Later, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Matzeliger invented the shoe lasting (shaping) machine, which cut the time required to make a shoe to one minute, slashed consumer costs in half, and doubled wages and improved working conditions for millions of people in the shoe industry.”
Black Heritage Stamp Series: Jan Matzeliger

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Jean Fagan Yellin’s article about Harriet Jacobs was published in the North Carolina Dictionary of Biography. Click on the image of Harriet Jacobs to read it online at NCPedia.

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. When she was in her forties, Jacobs published her memoir, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, under the pseudonym Linda Brent. Her flight to freedom began with a seven-year hide-out in an attic in that city. For many years Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl  was believed to be a work of fiction created by a sympathetic white abolitionist. Scholarship proved otherwise.


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself
(full audiobook) (public domain) (7:47:00) LibriVox


Professor Sheds Light on Harriet Jacobs’ Path to Freedom”  (14:10) NPR, January 7, 2008


Harriet Jacobs: A Life (1:21:37) C-SPAN, May 18, 2005
“Jean Fagan Yellin talked about her biography Harriet Jacobs: A Life, published by Basic Books. It profiled the life of slave woman Harriet Jacobs. The author explains that Harriet Jacobs became the first-ever published slave woman with the publication of her book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, nearly 150 years ago. Ms. Yellin detailed the former slave girl’s adolescent years of sexual abuse, seven years of hiding in an attic, and her eventual escape to the North. After the discussion, she responded to audience questions.”


Harriet Jacobs and Dr. Jean Fagan Yellin” (8:33) YouTube, February 27, 2013
“Dr. Yellin, author of a biography of Harriet Jacobs, discusses in this exclusive interview how she found the real historic person behind the author of the only slave narrative told from a feminine point of view.”

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I.C. Norcom & Jeffrey T. Wilson

Two prominent residents of Portsmouth, Virginia — Israel C. Norcom and Jeffrey T. Wilson — contributed documentation to at least one veteran’s pension application. When a community leader vouched for a claimant, the researcher would do well to look into that person’s life story. Exploring the connection between the claimant and the witness has the potential to deliver interesting and useful material that would otherwise be missed.

Photograph used with permission of the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth (AAHSP).

“Israel C. Norcom, served as principal of Chestnut Street Colored School, a school established by the Peabody Fund, from 1884 to 1916. Norcom came to Portsmouth as a highly qualified and young teacher and administrator, the product of Andover Preparatory School, Yale University, and Harvard University. He was responsible for establishing an academic curriculum at Chestnut School and was a much-beloved principal. Three years after his death at the age of 60, a new high school for black students was named in his honor.”

— Cassandra Newby-Alexander and Mae Breckenridge-Haywood, and the African American Historical Society of PortsmouthPortsmouth, Virginia Black America Series. Charleston: Arcadia, 2003, page 21.

“[Israel C. Norcom] attended Emanuel AME Church which is still located in Portsmouth, Virginia on North Street. Norcom served as a secretary of the Trustee Board for many years until failing health brought about his resignation … secretary of the Tidewater Building and Loan Association, and he was one of the founders of the Southern Aid Insurance Company. He belonged to a Masonic lodge, the Acme Club of Norfolk, as well as several other civic and fraternal organizations.”

— Mae Breckenridge-Haywood and Dinah Walters. Inscriptions in Triumph: Tombstone Inscriptions from the African American Cemeteries of Mt. Calvary, Mt. Olive, Fisher’s Hill and Potter’s Field, Portsmouth, Virginia. Portsmouth: 1st Book Library, 2002, page 251




“Jeffrey T. Wilson was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1843. There is uncertainty about the ownership of his mother at the time of his birth and conflicting accounts, but Wilson appears to have been owned by the Charles A. Grice family, who he lived with beginning in 1853. Prior to then, he was living with his mother and stepfather (Moses Taylor?). According to his obituary, he learned to read and write in secret. Based on his diary, he was the body servant of A[lexander]. P. Grice, likely the son of his owner, who served with Company A, Cohoon’s Battalion, Virginia Infantry, at least during a part of 1862. In 1866, after being freed, Wilson enlisted and went to Europe with the U.S. Navy. When he returned home, he lived in the house he inherited from his mother. Wilson worked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, as a laborer, and as a bailiff for the Federal Court at Norfolk. In his later years, from 1924 until his death in 1929, he wrote a column called “Colored Notes” for The Portsmouth Star. The column included social news, Wilson’s political views, and issues of race relations–all themes that occur throughout his diaries. Wilson was active in the Emmanuel AME Church in Portsmouth, where he taught Sunday school. In June of 1929, Wilson was hit by a car. He died at his ( son’s home, two months later, on August 25, 1929.”

— “Biography,” Jeffrey T. Wilson Diaries, 1913, 1928 (MS 2011-015), Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University ( https://digitalsc.lib.vt.edu/exhibits/show/wilsondiary/biography ) accessed February 3, 2019

There’s a lengthy feature story/obituary at “Jeffrey T. Wilson’s Obituary As Published in The Portsmouth Star
( http://www.racetimeplace.com/497Projects/2003students/carlos/JTWObit.htm ) accessed February 3, 2019


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