William H. Dupree
Ohioan William H. Dupree served in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the American Civil War and, following this conflict, became actively involved in securing equal rights for African Americans with whites.
Dupree was born a slave in Petersburg, Virginia, on March 13, 1839. It remains unclear on how Dupree obtained his freedom, but by the early 1860s, he had arrived in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he secured work as a plasterer. He also served as manager of the Ohio-Union Valley Brass Band, playing baritone in this organization.
On June 5, 1863, Dupree enlisted in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Dupree oversaw the 55th Massachusetts' regimental band. Upon leaving the military, Dupree returned to Ohio, settling in Chillicothe. Dupree eventually moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he became one of the first African Americans to secure employment in the Boston branch of the United States Post Office. Dupree remained in this position for several decades, becoming a superintendent, and eventually amassed a sizable fortune. In 1903, he and a few other investors purchased the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company and the Colored American Magazine. At this time, the Colored American Magazine was becoming one of the more prominent African-American journals in the United States of America, but it was in danger of bankruptcy. Dupree and his colleagues saved the magazine, which originally advocated a more confrontational approach for African Americans to secure equal rights with whites. Eventually, the paper's owners aligned the publication with Booker T. Washington's platform of accommodation. An equal rights advocate, Washington believed that African Americans should excel in occupations that were open to them, convincing whites that African Americans could also succeed in other jobs. Dupree was involved with the newspaper for a few years, before he sold his interest.
Dupree died in Boston on June 22, 1934.
Dupree illustrates the prejudice that existed in Ohio during the years before the American Civil War. Ohio was a state that did not allow slavery; nevertheless, that did not mean that all whites were open to granting African Americans equal rights. Free African Americans found that it was difficult to get fair treatment, and they often formed their own communities and institutions away from whites. Despite facing racism, many African Americans, including Dupree, actively sought to improve their lives.
- Stevenson, Robert. "America's First Black Music Historian." Journal of the American Musicological Society 26 (Autumn 1973): 383-404.
- Trotter, James M. Music and Some Highly Musical People. N.P.: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1981.