William H. Day

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William Howard Day

William Howard Day (October 16, 1825 – December 3, 1900) was a black abolitionist, editor, educator and minister.

Early life[edit]

Day was born in October 16, 1825, in New York City His mother was Eliza, a founding member of the first AME Zion Church and an abolitionist. His father, John, was a sail maker, veteran of the War of 1812 and Algiers, in 1815. He died when his son was four. The Willistons of Northampton, Massachusetts raised him. They asked his mother to allow them to educate him.

Early work[edit]

In 1834, the young Day joined Henry Highland Garnet and David Ruggles to form the all-male Garrison Literary and Benevolent Association. Day attended Oberlin College and graduated in 1847. He dedicated his life to the rights of Blacks in the U.S. In 1848 he was in Cleveland where he became the secretary of the National Negro Convention.[1]

Day was editor of one of the first weekly African-American newspapers, the Aliened American.[2] Published in Cleveland, Ohio, Day used the newspaper to support the abolitionist cause, as in this excerpt from April 9, 1853: "We speak for Humanity. If Humanity be a unit, wherever it is cloven down, wherever rights common to human beings are infringed, there we do sympathize."[3]

On November 25, 1852, Day married Lucy Stanton, an 1846 graduate of Oberlin College. In 1858 their only child was born, Florence Day. In 1858, Day abandoned his wife and child. Day and Lucy Stanton were legally divorced in 1872.[4] In 1873, Day married Georgia F. Bell.[5]

In Cleveland, he also was compositor to the Cleveland True Democrat published by Thomas Brown and edited by John C. Vaughen, for a year when he was promoted to mailing clerk and local editor. He also taught school, teaching many subjects including Latin, Greek, mathematics, rhetoric, logic, music and vocal music, short-hand, and writing. In 1857, he went to Canada to recover from an illness and continued teaching fugitive slaves there.[6]

In 1858, Day was elected president of the National Board of Commissioners of the Colored People by the Black citizens of Canada and the United States. Day was also active in the cause of the civil rights of the northern black minority. In 1858, he and his wife Lucy challenged racial segregation in public transportation in Michigan. In the 1858 case Day v. Owen, the Republican-dominated Michigan Supreme Court ruled against him and upheld segregation.[1]

In 1859 he visited England, Ireland, and Scotland with William King to raise money for a church and school house at Elgia in Buxton, Ontario. He met Martin R. Delany and Professor Campbell of the Institute for Colored Youth in London, and together the group founded the African Aid Society. He remained in Great Britain during the American Civil War (1861-1865).[6]

Back in the United States he attached himself to the Freedmen's Bureau, and in 1866 was appointed editor of the secular department of Zion's Standard and Weekly Review, a New York City Paper owned by the AME Zion church edited by Singleton T. Jones. In 1867 he moved to Baltimore at the invitation of Edgar M. Gregory where he became inspector-general for schools there, a charge of 140 schools, 150 teachers and 7,000 students. In 1869, Day moved to Wilmington, Delaware to register African-American voters, a hazardous assignment given the tensions of the time period. In 1870 he again took on a journalism role, and became editor of Our National Progress.[7] In 1872 he returned north and became clerk in the corporation department of the auditor-general of Pennsylvania. In 1875, he succeeded James A. Jones as Secretary of the General Conference of the AME Zion church, and he was re-elected in 1876. In 1878 he was elected to the school board of directors at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, serving for three years and holding the position of secretary to the committee on teachers. He was reelected in 1881 and did not stand for a third reelection in 1884. In 1887 he stood again and was again elected to the board.[6]

The Livingstone College led by Rev. Joseph C. Price awarded Day an honorary D. D. at its commencement in May 1887.[6]


Day died in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on December 3, 1900, at the age of 75. His resting place is Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook, Pennsylvania and the William Howard Day Cemetery was established in nearby Steelton in the 1900s as a burial place for all people, including people of color who were denied burial at the nearby Baldwin Cemetery. It remains a popular burial site for local African American families.[8]


  1. ^ a b Volk, Kyle G. (2014). Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 158–163, 213. ISBN 978-0199371921. OCLC 870986742.
  2. ^ Stirling, Dorothy (1973). Speak out in thunder tones. p. 374. ISBN 9780385024747.
  3. ^ Hutton, Frankie (1993). The Early Black Press in America, 1827 to 1860. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 36. ISBN 0313286965.
  4. ^ "Encyclopedia of Cleveland History".
  5. ^ Davis, Russell H. (1969). Memorable Negroes in Cleveland's Past. Cleveland, OH: Western Reserve Historical Society.
  6. ^ a b c d Simmons, William J., and Henry McNeal Turner. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising. No. 247. GM Rewell & Company, 1887. p978-984
  7. ^ Dalleo, Peter T. (2014). "African American Abolitionist and Kinship Connections in Nineteenth-Century Delaware, Canada West, and Liberia". In De B’Béri, Boulou Ebanda; Reid-Maroney, Nina; Wright, Handel Kashope (eds.). The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent's Settlements and Beyond. University of Toronto Press. p. 170. JSTOR 10.3138/j.ctt6wrgjz.
  8. ^ "William H. Day, minister, abolitionist, and college founder". African American Registry. African American Registry. Retrieved 27 June 2014.

Further reading[edit]

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