Monday, April 19, 2010

Col. James Young, John Merrick and John Chavis

Anna Pauli Murray, Col. James Young, John Merrick, John Chavis (select to enlarge)

Colonel James H. Young (1860-1921)
Young was an African American politician in North Carolina. Young was born in 1860 near Henderson, North Carolina to a slave woman and a prominent white man. Educated at Shaw University, Young was hired to work in the office of Colonel J. J. Young, an internal revenue collector, in 1877, and became involved with the Republican Party. In 1883, Young was elected to the Raleigh board of aldermen, but the board, controlled by Democrats, had Young and three other black Republicans removed from office because they held federal government jobs.

President Benjamin Harrison nominated Young twice for the position of Collector of the Port of Wilmington but the U.S. Senate failed to confirm him.

As owner and editor of the Raleigh Gazette (then "the most popular black newspaper in the Piedmont region of North Carolina") from 1893 to 1898, Young helped organize the electoral fusion of the state's Republicans and Populists. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives from Wake County on a Fusion ticket in 1894 and 1896. Historian Helen G. Edmonds called Young "the outstanding Negro in the state legislature during the Fusion period." He was vilified by the Democrats, who nevertheless acknowledged his intellect and political astuteness, which they attributed "to his white blood."

Young was an ally of Gov. Daniel L. Russell, who appointed him colonel of a black volunteer regiment organized for the Spanish-American War. The unit did not see action, but Young was believed to have been the first African American to hold the rank of colonel in the United States (Charles Young was the first black colonel in the regular United States Army).

Young later received a federal appointment from Pres. William McKinley as deputy revenue collector for Raleigh, which he held from 1899 through 1913. He was also active in the Baptist church.
John Henry Merrick (1859-1919)
Merrick was an insurance agent, entrepreneur, business owner was born in Clinton, North Carolina on September 7, 1859. Merrick was born a slave; he lived with his mother Martha Merrick and a younger brother. With the 1963 Emancipation Proclamation his family was freed. When Merrick was twelve he and his family relocated to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He got a job as a helper in a brickyard which provided support for his family. At the age of eighteen Merrick moved to Raleigh, North Carolina where he began work as a hod carrier.  Merrick eventually became a brick mason and worked on the construction of Shaw University in Raleigh. 

In 1881, one year after Merrick arrived in Durham to work as a barber, he began buying property in an all-black section of the city known as the Hayti.  He bought and built rental properties and by the end of the decade Merrick was one of the largest property owners in the Hayti.  Merrick then joined two other Durham businessmen, Dr. Aaron M. Moore and Charles Clinton Spaulding to create the Merrick-Moore-Spaulding Land Company.

In 1883 Merrick joined businessmen John Wright, W.A. Day, J.D. Morgan, and T.J. Jones to purchase the Royal Knights of King David, a fraternal lodge which had a budding insurance business.  The Royal Knights of David provided inexpensive insurance policies to lodge members.  Often this was the only insurance available to African Americans in the Durham area.  The lodge and its insurance business expanded across six southeastern states over the next twenty-five year. By the time of his death in 1919, on August 6, 1919, Merrick was the largest shareholder in the lodge's insurance business.

Merrick is most remembered, however, as one of the founders of the North Carolina Mutual Provident Life Insurance Company which eventually became the largest black-owned insurance company in the United States. Realizing the limitations of lodge-sponsored insurance, Merrick joined Aaron McDuffie, P.W. Dawkings, D.T Watson, W.G. Pearson, E.A. Johnson, and James E. Shepard in 1898 to found North Carolina Mutual Provident Life.  Each founder contributed $50 to purchase shares. Merrick was selected as the first company president. Six months after its founding, however, Merrick bought out the other partners and brought in Dr. Aaron M. Moore. They shortened the company name to North Carolina Mutual Insurance Company.  By 1918, North Carolina Mutual had over $1 million in insurance in force and was at that point the largest black-owned insurance firm in the nation. Later they founded the Bull City Drug Company, the Durham Negro Observer, the local black newspaper, and the short-lived Durham Textile Mill. Merrick also helped establish Mechanics and Farmers Bank and the Lincoln Hospital in Durham. Through their efforts Durham, North Carolina became the 20th Century city with the greatest concentration of black-owned business firms in the United States.
John Henry Merrick died in Durham on August 6, 1919.

John Chavis (1763-1838)John Chavis, early 19th Century minister and teacher, was born on October 18, 1763.  His place of birth is debated by historians.  Some scholars think that Chavis hailed from the West Indies.  Others believe that he was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, or that he was born in North Carolina.  Available records document that Chavis was a free African American who probably worked for Halifax, Virginia attorney James Milner beginning in 1773.  It is likely that Chavis utilized the books in Milner’s extensive law library to educate himself.

In 1778, while still a teenager, Chavis entered the Virginia Fifth Regiment and fought in the Revolutionary War. He served in the Fifth Regiment for three years. In the 1780s Chavis earned his living as a tutor and while working in this capacity he married Sarah Frances Anderson.  Although an excellent teacher, Chavis’ own intellectual capacity was not satisfied. He soon moved his family to New Jersey to enter a tutorial program with John Witherspoon, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In 1792, at the age of 29, Chavis was accepted into the College of New Jerseys’ Theological School; later renamed Princeton University.

In 1794, after Witherspoon’s death, Chavis left New Jersey transferring to Liberty Hall Academy in Virginia (later renamed Washington Academy) and was licensed to preach in the Presbyterian Church of Lexington, Virginia upon his graduation in the fall of 1800.

In 1808, John Chavis opened a private school in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he taught black and white children. Chavis specialized in Latin and Greek, and his school soon gained a reputation for excellence.  Before long, however, white parents protested the presence of black pupils, and Chavis re-arranged his school, teaching white children during the day and African American children by night.  Despite their instance on segregated classrooms, some of North Carolina’s most powerful whites sent their children to Chavis to be educated. Chavis educated a generation of young North Carolinians including the children of Governor Charles Manly.

In his later years Chavis became vocal in his support of the abolitionist movement. His outspokenness may have cost him the allegiance of some white families. While a few abolitionists in Virginia and North Carolina were allowed to openly express their views, the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion of August 1831 in Southampton County Virginia made such dissent unacceptable. Virginia and North Carolina passed laws restricting free African American freedom of movement and barred their education. Chavis could no longer practice his professions in North Carolina. He became, however, more vocal in his condemnation of slavery and fought for the rights of African American citizens.  Foul play may have lead to Chavis’ mysterious death in June of 1838. He was survived by his wife, and son, Anderson Chavis.

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