The public career of James Carroll Napier, businessman, politician and crusader for racial justice, 1845-1940.

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Clark, Herbert
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Middle Tennessee State University
The purpose of this study is to establish an accurate and unbiased account of the life of James Carroll Napier, 1845-1940, and to use his life as a model for an analysis of the use of biographies in introductory college level American history courses. Where appropriate, some interpretation of the social, economic, and political forces which affected his development has been made. Brief interpretations of significant personalities and momentous events, which helped to shape the life of Napier, are offered to posit a more accurate and realistic image of the man and his times. Finally, Napier's racial philosophy is analyzed in relationship to Negro thought in general and the changing trends in the larger stream of white American thought. The concluding section of this inquiry constitutes a discussion of various teaching strategies which can be used to incorporate biographical data into the college-level American History Survey Course.
Napier was born a slave on June 9, 1845, in Dickson County, Tennessee. After the family was freed in 1848, they moved to Nashville where his father William operated a livery stable. Between 1859 and 1870, young James Carroll Napier attended, in succession, Wilberforce College and Oberlin College in Ohio and Howard University Law School in Washington, D. C. He made Nashville his home following his graduation from law school. Since there were few opportunities at the time for Negro lawyers, he went to work for the Internal Revenue Service. In 1878, while still a revenue agent, Napier successfully ran for a seat on the Nashville City Council. As a councilman, he wielded a considerable amount of influence in the Davidson County Republican Party and, subsequently, the state party.
By 1910, as a result of his loyalty to the Republican Party, association with black educator, Booker T. Washington, the National Negro Business League, and affiliation with the Anna T. Jeanes Trust Fund, he had emerged as a national Negro leader. Perhaps his greatest personal accomplishment was his appointment by President William Howard Taft to the position of Register of the United States Treasury in 1911. He served as the official bookkeeper of the United States in this post. After two years as Register, Napier resigned when President Woodrow Wilson sanctioned a segregation order which required white and black employees to use separate rest room facilities in the Treasury Department.
Napier was sixty-eight years of age when he resigned as Register of the Treasury. He returned to Nashville and resumed his law practice, banking and political activities, and civic work. He was instrumental in the founding of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College for Negroes and an active supporter of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College. The bank he founded in 1906, now named the Citizen's Savings Bank and Trust Company, was one of the first black banks established in the United States.
Napier used his public career to implement his racial ideology. His public career was essentially a long crusade to secure the rights and self-improvement of Negroes. To accomplish his racial objectives, he associated himself with institutions and organizations which were devoted to the uplifting and self-improvement of black people.
A variety of primary and secondary sources was used in preparing this study. The James Carroll Napier Papers, which are housed at Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, constituted the main source. However, such materials as newspapers, court and tax records, Nashville City Council minutes, Tennessee State Department of Education records, the Booker T. Washington Papers, and Napier's correspondence while he was Register of the United States Treasury were also valuable sources of information.