Hansford C. Bayton was born in Essex County, VA, in 1863, just 10 months after slavery officially ended – on paper – with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Of course, decades of being beaten and sold as property were not erased with the markings of President Abraham Lincoln’s pen. Two years later, the Reconstruction period strained to set upright the cart of racial justice by officially granting freedmen equal rights under the Constitution. But 27 years later, Jim Crow Laws toppled over that wheel barrel inflicting the soil of racial segregation on public facilities from water fountains to libraries.
Yet Bayton, who was Black and Native American, managed to rise above the illusion of separate but equal entities and the very real threat of Ku Klux Klan lynchings to secure personal loans from wealthy white businessmen. Bayton used these investments to commission construction of five steamboats that he used for excursions and delivery of United States Postal Service mail, along the Rappahannock River in Virginia.
Captain Bayton’s great-granddaughter, Julie Sullivan-Detheridge, Ph.D. researched his life and wrote the biography, Against the Tide: The Turbulent Times of a Black Entrepreneur. Julie, who writes under the name J.H. Sullivan, will discuss this book as the keynote speaker at the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC) banquet 7 p.m., Saturday, June 10, in the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District Hotel, at 400 Arch Street.
As monumental as it was, a Black man owning five steamboats in the south during the 1800s wasn’t Captain Bayton greatest accomplishment. It was more remarkable that he maintained his steamboat business for 28 years even after the serial burnings of all of his boats, under mysterious circumstances. Determined not to fail, he had each boat rebuilt and still became a very wealthy man. The home he once owned now sells for more than $1 million.
The incredible accounts in Against the Tide inspired the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington, VA to design an exhibit about Captain Bayton’s life. When the tribute opened last month, Julie was invited to speak to visitors and read from her book about his life.
“The exhibit featured a timeline of my great-grandfather’s life and photographs of his family and boats,” Julie said. “People attending the exhibit were predominately local residents from the northern neck region, but people traveled to Irvington from throughout Virginia. During the reception on Saturday evening I spoke directly to about ten children in the audience about the importance of applying perseverance and courage in not being daunted in attaining your goals.”
Captain Bayton is just one of Julie’s relatives who fought against getting run over by the train of racial injustice. She comes from a family of resilient people. During her presentation at the PWC banquet, Julie will also speak about her father, the late Reverend Dr. Leon H. Sullivan, who made history overcoming racial barriers as a civil rights warrior and pastor of Zion Baptist Church of Philadelphia. Rev. Sullivan helped end apartheid in South Africa with the Sullivan Principles that called for improved human rights, social justice, and economic fairness. He created the free, international job training program Opportunities Industrialization Center, and founded the economic development ventures, Zion Gardens, the first $1 million apartment complex owned by African Americans and Progress Plaza, the country’s oldest African American-owned shopping center. Rev. Sullivan’s years of service earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award from the American government, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights, and more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities.
“My speech will predominately focus on my book, Against the Tide and the legacy of my maternal great-grandfather, Captain Bayton, who defied difficult circumstances during the Jim Crow era to succeed despite tremendous odds,” Julie said. “But I will also speak about the life of my late father, Reverend Leon Sullivan, and about those lessons my brother, sister and I learned about not giving up, about faith, and about the importance of economic self-empowerment.”
When Julie isn’t writing, researching, and speaking about her family history, this native Philadelphian is an educator. Julie is a professor at Arizona State University, College of Health and Nursing Innovation. She teaches Culture and Health, Communication within Communities, and Clinical Health Care Ethics courses. She also is a Second Grade Sunday School Teacher at her church in Arizona. She received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Arcadia University, a Master’s degree in Journalism from Temple University, and a Ph.D. in International Development with a concentration in Public Health from Tulane University.
Julie had the background to fill the role of president and CEO of the International Foundation for Education & Self-Help (IFESH), which her father founded in 1983. In that position, she was responsible for placing more than 1,100 American volunteer-educators (85 percent of whom held a master’s degree or higher with an average of 12 years of teaching experience) to train teachers and school administrators in health and education, focusing on vulnerable populations, in more than a dozen sub-Saharan African countries. These educators impacted, in turn, more than 2 million children on the continent.