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Rapier, John H., Jr.(1835–1865) - Physician, dentist, Views on Emigration and Civil Rights,  , Chronology

united blacks alabama education

John H. Rapier Jr., frustrated by the racial climate in the United States, pursued professional opportunities in the Caribbean. However, he returned to the United States to complete a medical degree and became one of the first acting assistant surgeons at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Rapier was born on July 28, 1835, one of four sons. Around 1831, John Rapier Sr., a barber, married Susan, a nineteen-year-old free black from Baltimore, Maryland. From this marriage, six children were born. John’s three brothers were Richard, Henry, and James, who became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama during Reconstruction. According to Loren Schweninger, six years after John’s birth, Susan, his mother, died in childbirth at the age of twenty-nine along with her twin infants, Jackson and Alexander.

After the death of Susan, John Sr. acquired a slave woman named Lucretia to help care for the four boys. However, in 1848, although not formally married due to the law that restricted free blacks from marrying slaves, he started a second family. Their five children were Rebecca, Joseph, Thomas, Charles, and Susan. Attempting to secure the freedom of his second family, John Sr. applied to the Lauderdale County Court, but to no avail. His family remained in bondage, technically speaking, until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Always concerned about the welfare of his children, John Sr. set aside funds for their education. The barbering business, after forty years, had been lucrative, and John wanted his sons to have good educational opportunities. Therefore, he sent them to Nashville, Tennessee to stay with their slave grandmother, Sally. Because Sally had lived in Nashville for so long and she had operated as a free black in an entrepreneurialcapacity, whites thought she was free. In Nashville, John and his brothers received a rudimentary education for six years. John had learned to write poetry at the age of ten. After completing this education, the boys moved back to Alabama. Upon the advice of his father, John Jr. left Alabama, intending to emigrate to Liberia.

Views on Emigration and Civil Rights

Disillusioned with the racial climate in the United States, in late 1854 and early 1855, John Rapier Jr. contacted the president of the American Colonization Society. After two inquiries and no reply, he abandoned the idea of going to Liberia and decided to join his uncle, James P. Thomas, who was making arrangements to emigrate to Central America. After arriving in Central America, Rapier realized that the poverty and misery for blacks in Central America was worse than for U.S. blacks. According to Philip Alexander, this factor prompted Rapier, after a few months, to return to the United States and initiate a freelance career in journalism in Minnesota, where his father had some real estate interests there. During the next four years, Rapier wrote more than one hundred articles for five different Minnesotan newspapers, including the Little Falls Pioneer and Democrat and the St. Paul Times . His themes varied but one interesting subject he elaborated on was the civil rights of colored children in St. Paul, especially regarding the absence of educational facilities, particularly since blacks paid school taxes. Elsewhere in his writing he chided federal officials for not accepting homestead applications submitted by blacks. Frustrated and upset, in 1858, he wrote an electrifying address urging blacks to leave the United States because of its unwillingness to provide liberty and equality to black Americans.




Born in Florence, Alabama on July 28


Goes to Nashville to receive a rudimentary education


Emigrates to Central America


Becomes a freelance journalist in Minnesota


Goes to Haiti in search of universal freedom


Goes to Kingston, Jamaica to study dentistry


Returns to the United States


Receives M.D. from Iowa State University in Keokuk


Serves as acting assistant surgeon at Freedmen’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.


Dies in Washington, D.C.

Rawls, Lou [next]

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