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The New York African Free School produced a remarkable number of black leaders. Doctor James McCune Smith, internationally known actor Ira Aldridge, radical abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet, and missionary and educator Alexander Crummell represent a sampling of the most famous among them.
Samuel Cornish, minister and newspaper editor, served as a liaison between parents of African Free School students and the New York Manumission Society. John Teasman, AFS principal, was an active member of the African American community and cofounder of the African Society for Mutual Relief. Charles C. Andrews, a white man, was hired by the New York Manumission Society to replace Teasman and served as principal of the school for twenty years.
The lives of many of those who were associated with or graduated from the school are unknown to us. Female graduates, in particular, are difficult to trace. Faced with the dual obstacles of race and gender prejudice, there were few venues in which they could make a historical mark. Additionally, tracing the lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women is very difficult because they were often lost in census records as they took their husbands' last names.