James Carroll Napier

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James Carroll Napier
Born(1845-06-09)9 June 1845[1][2]
Died21 April 1940(1940-04-21) (aged 94)
OccupationLawyer, politician
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Nettie De Ella Langston (1860–1938)[3]
ChildrenCarrie Langston Napier (adopted; 1894–1918)
Parent(s)William Carroll Napier
Jane Elizabeth Watkins
James Carroll Napier (Engraved Signature).jpg

James Carroll Napier (June 9, 1845 – April 21, 1940) was an American businessman, lawyer, politician, civil rights leader, and Register of the Treasury from 1911 to 1913. He is one of only five African Americans to have their signatures on American currency.


James Carroll Napier was born to William Carroll Napier and Jane Elizabeth Napier (née Watkins), who were slaves at the time of his birth,[4] in Davidson County, Tennessee. William was the son of his White master, Dr. Elias Napier, and a slave named Judy.[5] They were emancipated in 1848.[6] Napier attended a private school for free blacks in Nashville, until it was forced to close by whites in 1856.[7][8] Napier's family moved to Ohio, and in 1859 he enrolled in Wilberforce College. He later transferred to Oberlin College, the first American institution of higher learning to regularly admit female and black students in addition to white males. He left Oberlin in 1867 without a degree. Napier eventually received his law degree from Howard University in 1872. The year later, he married Nettie Langston, daughter of John Mercer Langston, Howard University law school's first dean.


After returning to Tennessee from Oberlin College, Napier served as the Commissioner of Refugees and Abandoned Lands in Davidson County, for a year, before moving to Washington, D.C. to serve as State Department Clerk – the first African American to hold the office. After receiving his law degree, he returned to Nashville, where he became influential in Nashville's African American community, serving on the Nashville City Council[9] and the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee. Napier was the first African American president of the city council, and worked to hire African American teachers for the black public schools, and organize the Black Fire-engine Company. Owing to his work in Nashville and his association with Booker T. Washington, Napier had become an influential African American leader.

In 1911, Napier was appointed Register of the Treasury for William Howard Taft's administration, where he served until 1913, when he resigned in protest of a segregation order requiring white and black employees of the Treasury Department to use separate restrooms.

Returning to Nashville, Napier resumed his law practice, and served as president of the National Negro Business League, opening a Nashville chapter in 1905. Napier was a founder of the One Cent Savings Bank in 1904 (later renamed the Citizen's Savings Bank and Trust Company and still ongoing as of 2017), helped organize the 1905 Negro streetcar strike[note 1] (although it was not until 1958, with the formation of the Nashville Christian Leadership Council, that Nashville's African American community would lay the foundation for fully dismantling racial segregation).[10] Napier presided over the Nashville Negro Board of Trade (now the Nashville Black Chamber of Commerce), and served on the boards of Fisk and Howard Universities. He also was instrumental in founding the Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College (now Tennessee State University). He later served on the board of the Nashville Housing Authority, the first black person to do so. In 1910, he helped organize a Memphis chapter of Sigma Pi Phi along with Josiah T. Settle of Memphis.[11]


After five months of illness, Napier died in Nashville, on April 21, 1940.[12]


Napier was granted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Fisk University. A historical marker was erected by The Historical Commission of Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County in 1970 to commemorate Napier's accomplishments.[13], and the J. C. Napier Homes, a housing project operated by MDHA, the successor to the Nashville Housing Authority, is named in his honor.


  1. ^ James Carroll Napier at Find a Grave
  2. ^ "Napier, James Carroll (1845–1940) – The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". Blackpast.org. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  3. ^ "James C. Napier". Nndb.com. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-08-14. Retrieved 2016-04-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Phillips, Betsy (18 February 2016). "William Napier made a huge investment his sons in an integrated Nashville he would not live to see". The Nashville Scene. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  6. ^ Clark, Herbert L. (16 May 1990). "James Carroll Napier: National Negro Leader". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 49 (4): 243–252. JSTOR 42626900.
  7. ^ "James Napier, businessman and more – African American Registry". Aaregistry.org. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  8. ^ "Black Bottom – Entries – Tennessee Encyclopedia". Tennesseeencyclopedia.net. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  9. ^ "James Carroll Napier (1845–1940) – Trials, Triumphs, and Transformations". Library.mtsu.edu. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  10. ^ Wynn, "The Dawning of a New Day", p. 44.
  11. ^ Gatewood, Willard B. Aristocrats of Color: the Black Elite 1880–1920 (p). University of Arkansas Press, 1990. p242
  12. ^ "Obituary: James Carroll Napier". Blacknashville.wordpress.com. 2 March 2008. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
  13. ^ "TN-NSH040 James Carroll Napier". Photos.historical-markers.org. Retrieved 2017-05-18.


  1. ^ Richard Henry Boyd, James Napier, Preston Taylor, and others organized a strike against Nashville's segregated streetcar service that lasted from July 1905 until July 1906. More information about this strike can be found in Bobby Lovett's A Black Man's Dream.