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Picture of Richard Robert Wright
Richard Robert Wright

Major Richard Robert Wright, a pioneer in education, prominent banker and political activist, devoted his life to the advancement of blacks.

Wright was born in Dalton, Georgia. Near the end of the Civil War, his mother heard about a new school for blacks in Atlanta. The whole family walked over 200 miles, so that Wright could become one of the first to enroll.

In 1868, the commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau visited Wright's school and asked the students what message they had for children in the North. Young Wright stood and said, "Tell them, General, we're rising." His statement, delivered to General Oliver Otis Howard, inspired abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier's poem "Howard at Atlanta."

Wright later graduated as valedictorian of his 1876 Atlanta University class. That same year he married, and two years later he founded the Georgia State Teachers Association and published their Weekly Journal of Progress. In 1880 he founded Ware High School in Augusta, the first high school for blacks in Georgia. He also presided for 30 years over the State College of Industry for Colored Youth in Savannah, established in 1891.

Wright also was politically active throughout his life. He was a delegate for the Republican National Convention in 1880, and later represented Georgia in the First National Conference of Colored Men. A major in the army during the Spanish-American War, he was appointed Army Paymaster by President William McKinley, the first black in America to hold this position.

After a long career in education and politics, Wright turned to banking. With his son and daughter, he established the Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust Company in Philadelphia, in 1921. Determined to avoid the mismanagement he had seen in other banks, Wright, at the age of 67, enrolled in the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia. His bank was one of the few to stay open during the Great Depression.

Wright later helped erect a statue in Pennsylvania honoring black soldiers killed in all wars. He was also instrumental in establishing the National Freedom Day Association, and a commemorative stamp for Booker T. Washington. Having worked hard for his own influential position, he used his status to foster recognition for other black achievers.

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