Author: Tommy L. Bogger


Thomas Bayne (ca. 1824–1888)

Thomas Bayne was a member of the Convention of 1867–1868 and a Republican leader during Reconstruction. Bayne was born enslaved and was known as Samuel Nixon. Literate and possessing a keen intellect, he became an assistant dentist while working at his owner’s Norfolk dental practice. His relative freedom of movement allowed him to work on the Underground Railroad until he fled to Massachusetts in 1855. There he adopted Thomas Bayne as his new name and established his own dental practice in New Bedford. Returning to Norfolk by 1865, he began working for African American equal rights as a political activist and an itinerant preacher. In 1867 the city’s voters elected him as one of their delegates to the convention called to rewrite the state constitution. There he became the most powerful black leader of the Republican Party’s radical faction, arguing forcefully for integrated public schools and equal suffrage. Bayne sought a congressional seat in 1869, but a split among party candidates doomed him to defeat. He reduced his role in state politics but remained active in local elections into the 1880s.


John M. Armistead (1852–1929)

John M. Armistead was an influential Baptist minister in Portsmouth. Born enslaved, Armistead began his religious studies in 1868. He was a successful minister in Tennessee before taking over Portsmouth’s Zion Baptist Church in 1882. During his forty-three years at the congregation’s helm its membership nearly tripled and helped create five other churches. One of the most inspiring pulpit orators of his time, Armistead presided over the Virginia Baptist State Convention for six years, and he helped broker a deal that led to the establishment of Lynchburg Baptist Seminary (later Virginia University of Lynchburg). He retired in 1925 and died in Portsmouth four years later.