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Bush, John E.(1856–1916) - Organization founder, politician, activist, entrepreneur, Chronology

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Throughout his life, John E. Bush applied his philosophy of hard work to all of his endeavors as an African American organization founder, politician, government official, lecturer, entrepreneur, and community activist. Best known for founding the Mosaic Templars of America, Bush created a legacy that served as an example of black economic and social development.

Bush was born a slave in Moscow, Tennessee on November 15, 1856. As was the custom during the Civil War, his owner moved young Bush, his mother, and his siblings to a more secure location to keep them from being freed by the impending arrival of federal troops. Their new home was Arkansas. Because of the harsh living conditions, his mother died, leaving him an orphan and homeless at age seven. To survive, the youngster slept under bridges and in livery stables, eked out a living doing chores, and spent time getting into trouble until a concerned resident enrolled him in public school. Eventually Bush went to work in a brickyard, where during the summers he was able to earn money that enabled him to continue his education. In contrast to rural schools, the urban Arkansas high schools offered a better education for blacks, including Latin, bookkeeping, science, and higher mathematics. In 1876, Bush graduated with honors. Following graduation, the young man taught school for a short time and then was appointed principal of Capitol Hill School in Little Rock. From 1878 to 1879, he served as principal of a public school in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He returned to Little Rock in 1879 and married Cora Winfrey, daughter of a respected and wealthy Little Rock family. They bore seven children, three of whom survived Bush.

Bush’s life spanned a mercurial time in black history, including the highs of the abolition of slavery and the lows of the post-Reconstruction era. The ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896, effectively reduced African Americans to conditions and status similar to those under slavery. In the 1880s, Bush became active in Republican politics. His intense interest in politics led him in 1883 to run for a seat as representative of the Sixth Ward of Pulaski County at the Republican State Convention. Political advances continued when he became secretary of the convention the following year and was elected to an at-large position with the Pulaski County Republican Central Committee. Subsequently, the young man worked in a variety of jobs in city and county political organizations. Because of his involvement in Republican politics and unquestionable party loyalty, Bush was appointed as postal clerk in the railway mail service. In 1898, despite unwillingness in the South to appoint blacks to federal jobs, Bush’s political connections led to his being selected as receiver of the U.S. land office in Little Rock. In that job, Bush handled the receipt of public money for the office. At the time, it was the highest federal appointment held by a black man west of the Mississippi River and compensated him with a generous salary. As with many political positions, following a change in administrations, Bush’s bids for reappointment made him a target of political opposition, especially from white Republicans who wanted to eliminate blacks from the party. However, known as both honest and efficient, Bush served as receiver for sixteen years, through the presidential administrations of William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William H. Taft. When the country elected Democrat Woodrow Wilson to the presidency in 1912, Bush tendered his resignation. This freed him to devote his complete attention to the Mosaic Templars of America, the fraternal organization he founded.

Chronology

1856 Born in Moscow, Tennessee on November 15

1876 Graduates high school with honors

1879 Marries Cora Winfrey

1880 Elected to political office

1882 Founds Mosaic Templars of America

1898 Appointed as receiver of the U.S. Land Office

1903 Organizes protests against segregation of Arkansas streetcars

1905 Helps defeat measures to institute segregated school taxes

1911 Oversees construction of headquarters of the Mosaic Templars

1912 Resigns as receiver of the U.S. Land Office

1916 Dies in Little Rock, Arkansas on December 11

Bush, Kate (Catherine) [next] [back] Bush, Grand L. (1955–)

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