October 19, 2005
A lecture on "Sally Thomas, A Slave Businesswoman" to be held on Sunday, October 23, in Martinsville.
Dr. Loren Schweninger, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, will give the lecture at 3 p.m. at the Christ Episcopal Church Parish House on Church Street.
Thomas was the matriarch of an African-American family. She was born around 1787 and ran a business washing white people's luxury clothing in Nashville, Tenn. She had three sons, including a future Supreme Court justice; her grandson was U.S. Rep. James R. Rapier (1837-1883).
Her story is told in the book, "In Search of the Promised Land," by Schweninger and John Hope Franklin.
The book is based on family letters and an autobiography by one of Thomas' sons and it follows their journey across the country in search of a "promised land" where blacks would be treated with respect.
The idea for the book came from a set of manuscripts Howard University professor John Hope Franklin received. Twenty years later, he mentioned them to Schweninger, who confirmed that the manuscript was written by James Thomas, Sally's youngest son, who was believed to have been the son of a Supreme Court justice.
Over the years, Schweninger reviewed legal documents mentioning the Thomas-Rapiers as he was researching the UNC Greensboro-based Race and Slavery Petitions Project, which aims to collect and eventually digitize surviving slavery-related legal petitions. He is director of that project.
Schweninger is the Elizabeth Rosenthal Excellence Professor at UNC in Greensboro and also has written "Black Property Owners in the South, 1790-1915." He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Colorado and a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Sunday's presentation is sponsored by the Fayette Area Historical Initiative.
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