George T. Downing
|Died||July 21, 1903 (aged 83)|
George T. Downing (December 30, 1819 – July 21, 1903) was an abolitionist and activist for African-American civil rights while building a successful career as a restaurateur in New York City; Newport, Rhode Island; and Washington, DC. His father had been an oyster seller and caterer in Philadelphia and New York City, building a business that attracted wealthy white clients. From the 1830s until the end of slavery, Downing was active in the Underground Railroad, using his restaurant as a rest station for refugees on the move. He built a summer season business in Newport, and made it his home. For more than 10 years, he worked to integrate Rhode Island public schools. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Downing helped recruit African-American soldiers.
After the war Downing moved to Washington, DC, where for a dozen years he ran the Refectory for the House of Representatives. He was a prominent member in the Colored Conventions Movement and worked to join the efforts of women's rights and black rights. He became close to senator Charles Sumner and was with the legislator when he died. Late in his life he returned to Rhode Island, where he continued as a community leader and civil rights activist.