"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

James W. C. Pennington

 This 1848 engraving by William Irwin of a photograph by Samuel Topham is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

James William Charles Pennington
Born Queen Anne’s County, Maryland

In 1855, a century before Rosa Parks challenged racial segregation on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, James W. C. Pennington was ejected from a New York City streetcar for attempting to ride in a “whites only” car. The internationally known clergyman, abolitionist, and civil rights activist was unsuccessful in his lawsuit against the streetcar company. But within several years, the New York Legal Rights Association, which Pennington helped to found, made significant progress in securing better treatment for African Americans within the city’s municipal transit system.

This portrait was created to accompany a brief biography of Pennington published in A Tribute for the Negro (1848). -- NPG

Wilson Armistead, the author of A Tribute for the Negro, remarked that “The portrait of this worthy man is engraved from a photograph, taken at the gallery of Samuel Topham, of Leeds, who kindly allowed the author the use of a duplicate he had preserved for himself.” 

Armistead's short biography of Pennington can be read here.

James W.  C. Pennington
© E. Fax 1947

A version of this image appeared in a 1947 “They'll Never Die” cartoon by Elton Fax. This one is from the Jackson (Mississippi) Advocate, {Pennington was not born in Hagerstown but he did escape from Hagerstown.}

James W.C. Pennington
The Ex-Slave Whose Brilliant
Oratory Won European Acclaim
In Hagerstown, MD. 1807 James W. C. Pennington was born. He learned blacksmithing, and at 21 made a northward dash for Freedom.

Starting as a janitor, he completed a regular college course at Yale. - Then set out for Europe - There he lectured so eloquently against slavery that 2 universities - one in Scotland - one in Heidelburg conferred the honorary degree “Doctor of Divinity” upon him.

Before returning to a Presbyterian pastorate in New York Dr. Pennington served as a Delegate to a Paris Peace Conference.

In 1941,  Pfeiffer's Beer used this wildly off-the-mark image of Pennington blacksmithing to advertise their product. Their short biography of Pennington in their Builders of History and Civilization series, can be read here.

©1941 The Pfeiffer Brewing Company Detroit Michigan.

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