Charles Bennett Ray (1807-1886) was a journalist, clergyman, and abolitionist who served as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. Black Past provides a helpful overview of his life.

Portrait by Woodson, Carter Godwin (1875-1950) – The Negro in Our History, p. 267, Public Domain,


Ray was born a free man in Massachusetts, attended Wesleyan Seminary in Wilbraham, Massachusetts , and then became the first black student to enroll at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. Unfortunately his studies were curtailed by white student protesters.

Ray participated in the abolitionist movement in the early 1830s. He was active in the New York Vigilance Committee, the American Anti-Slavery Society, and the Society of the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children (which he co-founded with Charles L. Reason).

He became co-owner – and then sole owner – of The Colored American (originally titled the Weekly Advocate) in the late 1830sThe newspaper “focused on the moral, social, and political elevation of free colored people and the peaceful emancipation of slaves.”

Ray had seven children with Charlotte Augusta Burroughs, including Charlotte E. RayFlorence Ray, and Henrietta Cordelia Ray.


While searching…

Ray’s daughter Charlotte E. Ray was the first African-American women to practice law in the United States. His daughter (Henrietta) Cordelia Ray was a poet; she wrote the “heroic echoes” poem “Lincoln,” which was read at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1876. Cordelia also co-wrote a memoir of her father with her sister Florence.


This post is part of the Roots of Greatness series inspired by Letitia Lee’s painting of that name.

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