Thursday, October 12, 2017

Emma J. Atkinson, one of the mysterious “Big Four" abolitionists.

Emma J. Atkinson was a Black abolitionist who was one of the mysterious “Big Four,” a group of women at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. in Chicago who provided aid to runaway slaves.
Atkinson arrived in Chicago around 1847 with her husband, Isaac. When they arrived, there were only around 200 Negroes in the city. By 1850, the Negro population in Chicago consisted of fewer than 400 residents out of a population of over 23,000.

The “Big Four” women acted as conductors for the Underground Railroad. They provided shelter, food, and other necessities need to help runaway slaves. Out of the four black women, Atkinson is the only known name. There were no records kept by the “Big Four” abolitionists, and little else is known about their work.

The first congregation of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. were mainly former slaves and strong advocates of the abolition movement. In 1871, the chapel was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. The church’s congregants became nomads once again, holding services in a series of temporary locations. However, when the church was rebuilt in 1891, the location remained a safe haven for runaway slaves.

by Black Then


  1. What runaway slaves would have needed aid in 1891?

    1. Racism isn't always the same. There are some periods during which it seems to get much more intense. The 1890s were a period of intense, horrifying racial violence and deliberate, sustained political oppression of African Americans.

      Jim Crow law, in U.S. history, any of the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.

  2. Do we know if she had contact with Mary Richardson Jones? How about Allan Pinkerton?


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