Profile: James Madison Bell (1826-1902)

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James Madison Bell  was an African-American poet, orator, and political activist who was involved in the abolitionist movement against slavery.

Bell was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, on April 3, 1826. He moved to Cincinnati in 1842 where he lived with his brother-in-law George Knight and worked as a plasterer.  In the evenings, he attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People, which had been established by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore. In his studies, Bell was exposed to ideas of abolitionism.

In 1854, Bell and his family moved to Chatham, Ontario in Canada, where he became involved with politics. In Canada, he became friends with John Brown and supported his raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. 

In 1860, Bell moved to San Francisco where he continued activism and wrote poetry on the themes of abolition.  Bell became one of the most well-known American black poets of the nineteenth century.

Bell moved to Toledo, Ohio in 1865, and continued fighting for civil rights. 

Bell died in 1902.

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