Know your ‘Black History’: Mary Ellen Pleasant
We’ve all heard of Madame CJ Walker, who is famously thought to be the first Black female millionaire, but have you ever heard of Mary Ellen Pleasant?
Her story is quite extraordinary and illustrates how a savvy Black cook, who was deemed “invisible” by whites, used financial tips she picked up while eavesdropping on wealthy White businessmen she served, lead her to become a multimillionaire.
Born sometime between 1814 and 181, the exact date is unknown, and dying in January 1904, Pleasant was a 19th-century American entrepreneur, financier, real estate magnate and abolitionist. She identified herself as “a capitalist by profession” in the 1890 United States Census.
She worked on the Underground Railroad and helped bring it to California during the Gold Rush era. She was a lover, friend and financial supporter of John Brown and well known in abolitionist circles. After the Civil War, she won several civil rights victories, one of which was cited and upheld in the 1980s and resulted in her being called “The Mother of Human Rights in California,” though other legal battles had mixed results.
In Creole terms, Pleasant could have been referred to as a “passe blanc,” which is someone whose appearance could pass for White.
She wrote that her mother was a “full-blooded Negress from Louisiana” and her father was Hawaiian.
Pleasant married James Smith, a wealthy flour contractor and plantation owner who had freed his slaves and was also able to pass as white. She worked with Smith as a “slave conductor” on the Underground Railroad until his death about four years later. They transported slaves to northern states such as Ohio and even as far as Canada. Smith left instructions and money for her to continue the work after his death. Pleasant is looked at by many historians as “The Harriet Tubman of California.”
When Pleasant arrived in San Francisco, she passed as white, using her first husband’s name among the whites, and took jobs running exclusive men’s eating establishments. She met most of the founders of the city as she catered lavish meals, and she benefited from the tidbits of financial gossip and deals usually tossed around at the tables. She engaged a young clerk, Thomas Bell, at the Bank of California and they began to make money based on her tips and guidance. Thomas made money of his own, especially in quicksilver, and by 1875 they had together amassed a 30-million-dollar fortune. The partnership was seen by many as illicit; the mansion she built in San Francisco for herself and Bell and his family was thought to be a brothel.
Pleasant did not conceal her race from other blacks and was adept at finding jobs for those brought in by Underground Railroad activities. Some of the people she sponsored became important black leaders in the city. She left San Francisco from 1857 to 1859 to help John Brown. She was said to have actively supported his cause with money and work. There was a note from her in his pocket when he was arrested after the Harpers Ferry Armory incident, but as it was only signed with the initials “MEP” (which were misread as “WEP”) she was not caught. She returned to San Francisco to continue her work there, where she was known as the “Black City Hall.”
After the Civil War, Pleasant publicly changed her racial designation in the City Directory from “White” to “Black,” causing a stir among some Whites. She began a series of court battles to fight laws prohibiting blacks from riding trolleys and other such abuses.
Pleasant was regularly called the derogatory slur “Mammy Pleasant” by local Whites. The press also called her “Mammy” Pleasant, but she did not approve.
“I don’t like to be called ‘Mammy’ by everybody. Put. that. down. I am not ‘Mammy’ to everybody in California. I received a letter from a pastor in Sacramento. It was addressed to Mammy Pleasant. I wrote back to him on his own paper that my name was ‘Mrs. Mary E. Pleasant.’ I wouldn’t waste any of my paper on him,” she said.
If you didn’t know– now you know!
October 16, 2023, HOUSTON, TX – Congressional Candidate Amanda Edwards has raised over $1 million in less than 4 months, a substantial sum that helps bolster the frontrunner status of the former At-Large Houston City Council Member in her bid for U.S. Congress. Edwards raised over $433,000 in Q3 of 2023. This strong Q3 report expands on a successful Q2 where Edwards announced just 11 days after declaring her candidacy that she had raised over $600,000. With over $829,000 in cash-on-hand at the end of the September 30th financial reporting period, Edwards proves again that she is the clear frontrunner in the race. “I am beyond grateful for the strong outpouring of support that will help me to win this race and serve the incredible people of the 18th Congressional District,” said Edwards. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s trajectory, and we need to send servant leaders to Congress who can deliver the results the community deserves. The strong support from our supporters will help us to cultivate an 18th Congressional District where everyone in it can thrive.” Edwards said. “Amanda understands the challenges that the hard-working folks of the 18th Congressional District face because she has never lost sight of who she is or where she comes from; she was born and raised right here in the 18th Congressional District of Houston,” said Kathryn McNiel, spokesperson for Edwards’ campaign. Edwards has been endorsed by Higher Heights PAC, Collective PAC, Krimson PAC, and the Brady PAC. She has also been supported by Beto O’Rourke, among many others. About Amanda: Amanda is a native Houstonian, attorney and former At-Large Houston City Council Member. Amanda is a graduate of Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD. Edwards earned a B.A. from Emory University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Edwards practiced law at Vinson & Elkins LLP and Bracewell LLP before entering public service. Edwards is a life-long member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. For more information, please visit www.edwardsforhouston.com
As September 13th rolls around, we extend our warmest birthday wishes to the creative powerhouse, Tyler Perry, a man whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking work have left an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. With his multifaceted talents as an actor, playwright, screenwriter, producer, and director, Tyler Perry has not only entertained but also inspired audiences worldwide, particularly within the African-American community, where his influence and role have been nothing short of powerful. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1969, Tyler Perry’s journey to stardom was a path riddled with adversity. Raised in a turbulent household, he found refuge in writing, using it as a therapeutic outlet. This period of introspection gave rise to one of his most iconic creations, Madea, a vivacious, no-nonsense grandmother who would later become a beloved figure in Perry’s works, offering a unique blend of humor and profound life lessons. Despite facing numerous challenges, including rejection and financial struggles, Perry’s determination and unwavering belief in his abilities propelled him forward. In 1992, he staged his first play, “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” which, although met with limited success, was a pivotal moment in his career. Unfazed by initial setbacks, Perry continued to hone his craft, and by 1998, he had successfully produced a string of stage plays that showcased his storytelling prowess.
Calling all teenage student-athletes! If you have dreams of playing college soccer and wish to represent an HBCU, the HBCU ID Camp is your golden opportunity. From 8 am to 5 pm on November 11-12, Houston Sports Park will transform into a hub for aspiring male and female soccer players. Coaches from HBCUs across the nation will be present to evaluate, scout, and offer valuable feedback. Moreover, they might even spot the next soccer prodigy to join their collegiate soccer programs. This camp is not just about honing your soccer skills but also a chance to connect with the HBCU soccer community. You’ll learn the ins and outs of what it takes to excel on the field and in the classroom, which is crucial for a college athlete. The HBCU ID Camp is an excellent platform to network with coaches, learn from experienced athletes, and take the first steps toward your college soccer journey. To secure your spot at this incredible event, don’t forget to register [here](insert registration link). Space is limited to 120 participants, so make sure to reserve your place before it’s too late. It’s time to turn your dreams of playing college soccer into a reality.