Vermont Black History Database
The Vermont Black History Database is a project of the Vermont Historical Society to make the study of Black History in our state more accessible. The database highlights black people and places that made an impact on the history, culture, and landscape of our state. The database is meant to be a starting place, a guide to further study and exploration. This is an ongoing project and we welcome submissions for inclusion in the database. Please email recommendations for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org
Died:May 2, 1922 in Shoreham, Vermont
First African-American woman to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian of Middlebury College, 1899.
Died: August 28, 1959 in Burlington, Vermont
Primary Residence: Shoreham
Prominent black orchardist who was the second African American to serve in the Vermont legislature.
Died: March 16, 1843 in Malone, New York
Revolutionary War veteran and Free Will Baptist minister in Huntington, Vermont.
Died: April 20, 1827 in Georgia, Vermont
Primary Residence: Poultney and Georgia
Born Boyrereau Brinch in West Africa and captured and enslaved as a teen, the later-self-identified Jeffrey Brace was enslaved in Barbados and Connecticut before serving as a soldier in the American Revolution where he gained his freedom. He lived the rest of his life in Vermont where he dictated his autobiography in 1810.
Primary Residence: South Burlington
Louvenia Dorsey Bright was the first African-American woman elected to the Vermont legislature (1989-1994).
Primary Residence: Swanton, Vermont
Randy Brock served as Vermont Auditor or Accounts and as a Vermont Senator. He was the republican nominee for Governor in 2012 and the nominee for Lt. Governor in 2016.
Died: April 10, 1886 in Glens Falls, New York
Rev. George S. Brown was an early black Methodist minister who served as a circuit preacher, missionary in Liberia, and the pastor of the Wolcott Methodist Church.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the greater Burlington area had a little over 100 black residents. When the cavalry came, along with their families and other camp followers, the black population rose to over 1,500.
Contemplating this change in demographics, citizen groups and leading newspapers, including the Burlington Free Press and Rutland Herald, proposed Jim Crow laws such as segregated trolleys and other public services. The national press quickly jumped on these racist statements in a state that prided itself on its longstanding anti-slavery and equality stances. Business leaders and state politicians, embarrassed by the characterization, quickly put an end to the discussion of segregation laws and awaited the arrival of the troopers.
White Vermonters were quickly won over by the professionalism and openess of the 10th Regiment. Troopers participated in parades and civic events, invited the public to cavalry exercises, performed band concerts, and participated in baseball and basketball contests. Though many private businesses maintained discriminatory practices common to the time, the four years the cavalry stayed in Burlington media reported no overt racial tensions or violence. A small, black business community grew up to provide goods and services to the troops.
Though it advocated for segregation laws in 1909, the Burlington Free Press, in 1913, praised the troops and extolled the “good-will” that now existed between “the regiment and the people of this state.” The white community extended this praise only after the black troops had proved themselves to be good neighbors. No white regiments were ever required to live up to such standards. The Buffalo Soldiers left Vermont in December of 1913, and were replaced, with little fanfare, by the 2nd Regiment, an all-white unit.
Died: February 2, 2005 in Burlington, Vermont
Primary Residence: Burlington
"Big Joe" Burrell was an iconic fixture in the Burlington music scene from the late 1970s to his death in 2005. He inspired an entire generation of Vermont musicians, received two keys to the city of Burlington, and is memorialized by a life-sized statue on the Church Street Marketplace.
Black Vermonters from throughout the state joined the United States Colored Infantry Regiments and the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. They came from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds. Many were generational Vermonters while others were former slaves or children of former slaves.
They served under Grant in the Wilderness, they manned the siege lines of Charleston, they attacked Fort Harrison at Petersburg, they held off Confederate forces after the defeat at Oultsee, Florida, and they were present at Lee's surrender at Appomattox. After the war, they were denied a quick trip home and instead assigned to the swamps of the Texas-Mexico border.
Many troops eventually returned to Vermont while others made lives elsewhere. Black veterans can be found on Vermont Grand Army of the Republic rolls and listed on some town memorials. The linked resources provide specific information on known Black Vermont Civil War soldiers.
One of the few black-owned farms in Vermont and now a center for celebration, support, and study of the African and African-American diaspora in our community.
Celebrated pathologist and biochemist moved to Vermont in 1962 where he joined the faculty of the UVM Medical College. He was only the second African-American on the medical school faculty. With his wife Lydia, he bought, restored, and worked a farm in Charlotte - now the non-profit Clemmons Family Farm.
Singer, actor, teacher best known for portraying "Officer Clemmons" on Mister Roger's Neighborhood from 1968 to 1993.
Died: August 19, 1968 in Baltimore, Maryland
Robert Cole was the only Vermonter to serve with the famed Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.
Died: 1809 in Windsor, Vermont
Enslaved by Judge Stephen Jacob of Windsor, Vermont. The subject of a Supreme Court Case that probed the Vermont Constitutional ban on adult slavery.
Died: May 26, 1889 in Monrovia, Liberia
Primary Residence: Rutland
Graduating as salutatorian of his Middlebury College class, Martin Henry Freeman went on to become the president of Allegheny Institute, the first black college president in the United States.
Died: December 1, 1841 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
First black graduate of the University of Vermont and ardent abolitionist preacher.
Died: September 28, 1833 in South Granville, New York
A veteran of the American Revolution, Lemuel Haynes was the first black man to be ordained as a minister in the United States. He served the West Rutland Congregational Church for 30 years.
Died: September 13, 1919 in Montreal, Quebec
Mother superior of Villa Barlow in St. Albans, Vermont, the first African-American mother superior of a Catholic convent in North America.
Died: February 3, 1936 in Xenia, Ohio
Born into slavery, George Washington Henderson accompanied a Vermont Officer home from the Civil War and ended up graduating first in his class from UVM. He was the first black member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Born: November 13, 1929 in Coatesville, Pennsylvania
Died: October 31, 1988 in Los Angeles, California
Baptist minister who arrived in Irasburg, Vermont in 1968 and soon after, a group of young men shot at his house. Rather than investigate the shooter, the police investigated Rev. Johnson, ultimately charging him with adultery. Would later be called the Irasburg Affair.
Primary Residence: Bennington
Wrote for the New Yorker for almost twenty years and is the author of numerous short stories and books including, "At the Bottom of the River" (1984) and "Lucy" (1990). Visiting lecturer at Harvard University.
Died: June 28, 1881 in Beaufort, South Carolina
Prolific letter writer born to large family in Huntington and Hinesburg, Vermont. Joined the 54th MA Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. Attained rank of Sergeant-Major in the 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. Stayed in Beaufort, South Carolina after the war. Served as tax auditor, school commissioner and state constitutional convention representative during Reconstruction.
Died: April 9, 1928 in Washington, DC
On July 4, 1905, William Matthews started at second base for the Burlington Baseball Team of the Northern League. This assignment made him the only black player in all of professional baseball, with later historians calling him "the Jackie Robinson of his age." Matthews went on to a successful law career, eventually serving as an assistant U.S. Attorney General in the Coolidge administration.
Clelati Harrison (1874-1957)
Frank Pate (1872-1950)
Established by Cleta (Clelati) Harrison King Pate and her husband Frank Pate in 1928, the building at 86-90 Archibald Street in Burlington served as a rooming house and hotel for a generation of Black travelers. The Pates Hotel was listed in every edition of "The Negro Motorist Green-Book" until its discontinuation in 1966.
Died: July 11, 1821 in Sunderland, Vermont
Primary Residence: Guilford
One of the first African American poets in the United States. Poem, "Bar's Fight," depicts an Abenaki raid on the village of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Known for being an unofficial lawyer who argued a case before the Vermont Supreme Court.
Died: December 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada
UVM professor and administrator and first African-American to run for federal elective office from Vermont.
Died: December 30, 1923 in Grafton, Vermont
Primary Residence: Grafton
Alec Turner escaped slavery in 1862 and joined the Union Army in the Civil War. He married and moved to Grafton, Vermont where he built his farm, Journey's end. He and his wife Sally raised thirteen children in Vermont. His daughter Daisy became famous through her interviews with Vermont folklorists.
Died: February 8, 1988 in Springfield, Vermont
Primary Residence: Grafton
Daughter of former slaves who moved to Vermont after the Civil War. Gifted storyteller and rights activist. She lived for over a century and is the subject of several works by the Vermont Folklife Center.
Died: June 19, 1857 in Brownington, Vermont
Alexander Twilight is the first African-American known to have earned a bachelor's degree from an American college or university, graduating from Middlebury College in 1823. He was licensed as an Congregational preacher (not ordained). He was principal of the Orleans County Grammar School where he designed and built Athenian Hall, the first granite public building in the state of Vermont. In 1836 he was the first African-American elected as a state legislator, serving in the Vermont House of Representatives. He was also the only African-American ever elected to a state legislature before the Civil War.
Died: April 10, 1946 in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Under the pen name Sam Aleckson, Samuel Williams wrote his memoir "Before the War and After the Union" while living in Vermont. Born into slavery in South Carolina, Williams bears witness to slavery, reconstruction, and life as a black man in the north.