Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on February 18th, 2014

Mary Peake: A black woman who risked her freedom to educate slaves.

Mary was born in 1823 in Virginia, a slave state, to an English father and a black but free mother. As a result, Mary was free, but her parents could not marry, for it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry.

When Mary was just six years old, her mother sent her to live with her aunt in what is now part of the District of Columbia, (DC) where for the next 10 years, Mary received a quality education.

But her education ended when the U.S. Congress passed a law ending education in DC for free black children, because free black people were educating slaves, which Mary had already begun to do.

At 16, Mary returned to live with her mother and eight years later her mother married a free black man, and the family resettled in Hampton, Virginia.

There Mary earned her living as a dress maker, but her heart was always in teaching and she continued to teach black children, free and slave, at the risk of her arrest. Meanwhile, Mary also founded Daughters of Zion, to assist poor and sick black people.

Mary Peake
Mary Peake

At the age of 28, Mary married a freed slave, Thomas Peake. They had a daughter named Hattie; they nicknamed "Daisy."

But Mary's historic work came during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). The Union Army occupied Hampton and fleeing slaves began arriving in large numbers to their fort.

Few of those slaves knew how to read and write, so under a large oak tree that still stands today, Mary began to teach them.

Emancipation Oak
Emancipation Oak

What began as a handful of students, quickly mushroomed into 50, then 100 and eventually into 900 men, women and children, all seeking an education

One mother and daughter aside from their work clothes only had one dress between them. In the morning, the daughter would wear the dress to attend school and later that day; her mother would wear the dress to attend school.

Mary wouldn't live to see the end of the Civil War, dying in 1862 from tuberculosis. But her school grew into Hampton University, which has educated thousands of people since then.

As an interesting piece of history, it was under Mary's oak tree that the Hampton black community gathered in 1863 to hear the reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

As a result, Mary's oak tree became known then as it is today, the Emancipation Oak. The U.S. government has designated it a National Historic Landmark.

Success Tip of the Week: If what you hope to achieve seems impossible, do as Mary did and at first take it a little at a time. If it truly is your destiny, it will mushroom in size.

Editor's Note: To learn more, please see http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/ (episode 3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_S._Peake , http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/trailblazers/2010/honoree.asp?bio=2

In the next KazanToday: A man who built a store empire 99 cents at a time.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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