John Quincy Allen (c. 1843-1905)
John Quincy Allen was one of three men to graduate from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1862. While few records remain to provide details about his life, Allen was a pioneer for African American teachers, especially in Philadelphia.
John Quincy Allen was born sometime around 1843 to Joseph W. Allen, a barber, and his wife Elizabeth. After graduating from the Institute for Colored Youth, Allen broke the color-line of public school teachers by getting a teaching position at the Banneker Colored School in 1862. To get the job he beat out thirty white candidates. He left this position in 1864 to replace Jacob C. White, Jr. at the Institute for Colored Youth, who was leaving to become Principal of the Roberts Vaux Consolidated School.
Allen was also active in the city’s African American community. In November 1863, he spoke at an event honoring the 3rd Regiment USCT. Three years later he spoke at a meeting of the Colored People’s Union League Association on the subject of streetcar segregation. He was also a member of the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League.
But despite his active role in the community, Allen did not remain in Philadelphia. On August 12, 1869, he married Emily Purvis, the granddaughter of Philadelphia abolitionist Robert Purvis. Shortly thereafter the couple moved to Albany, New York, accompanied by John’s younger sister Laura, where he worked as a schoolteacher. He also served for a time as Principal of the Wilberforce School. In addition to teaching, Allen continued to be active in the social and political community. On October 6, 1872, for example, he spoke at meeting of African Americans supporting Ulysses Grant’s Presidential campaign. The reporter described Allen as an “an accomplished and eloquent speaker.” Unfortunately, Emily died in childbirth in 1872, leaving Allen with a daughter, Annie.
By 1880, Allen was living in Brooklyn, New York. He had married again to a woman named Alice, and had two sons, John and Junius. He was also teaching. One of the few records of John Quincy Allen’s life in New York is not a positive one. In October 1883, Allen, at this time Principal of the Colored Public School No. 2, was arrested for “dragging Annie Walker, age fourteen, one of his pupils, on the floor and injuring her, without provocation.” But this incident did not appear to ruin Allen’s career; by 1890 he was Principal of P.S. No. 68 in Brooklyn.
John Quincy Allen died on August 22, 1905 in Manhattan, New York. He was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. Allen was a model example of the Institute for Colored Youth’s goal of producing quality black teachers to educate the African American community both in Philadelphia and beyond.
Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, Philadelphia, 2010, 289; Roger Lane, William Dorsey’s Philadelphia and Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America, New York, 1991, 118-119, 135-138; Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten, New York, 2002, 365; Objects of the Institute for Colored Youth, with a list of the officers and students, and the annual report of the Board of Managers, for the year 1862, Philadelphia, 1862; Objects of the Institute for Colored Youth, with a list of the officers and students, and the annual report of the Board of Managers, for the year 1868, Philadelphia, 1868; 1860 Federal Census, Philadelphia Ward 5 Southern Division, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Roll M653_1155, Page 426, Image 430, Family History Library Film 805155, Ancestry.com; 1870 Federal Census, Albany Ward 10, Albany, New York, Roll M593_900, Page 136A, Image 275, Family History Library Film 552399, Ancestry.com; 1880 Federal Census, Brooklyn, Kings, New York, Roll 856, Family History Film 1254856, Page 471A, Enumeration District 241, Image 0125, Ancestry.com; “John Q Allen,” Death Certificate, August 22, 1905, New York, New York, Death Index, 1862-1948, Ancestry.com; “John Quincy Allen,” Passport Application, Passport Applications, 1795-1905, Ancestry.com; “Emily Allen,” Burial Card, November 1872, Menands, New York, Albany Rural Cemetery Burial Cards, 1791-2011, Ancestry.com; “Presentation of a Flag,” The Christian Recorder, November 21, 1863; “Mass Meeting of Colored Citizens,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, June 22, 1866; “Married,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 13, 1869; “Meeting of Colored Citizens,” Albany Journal, October 7, 1872; "Mr. John Quincy Allen," Albany Journal, January 22, 1874; “Home News,” New-York Tribune, October 26, 1883; “Died,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 28, 1905.