Medical Doctor, Author, and Political and Civil Rights Activist.
Second son of Isaac and Catherine Riley (the first settlers of the Elgin Settlement in Buxton, Ontario, Canada).
His father and mother were runaway slaves that made their way from Perry County, Missouri, stopping in Michigan; then crossing over to Windsor and on to St Catherine’s. In 1849, the Riley’s read in a bulletin of the colored settlement to be built at Buxton, Township of Raleigh, Kent County, Canada by Rev. William King. At four years old Riley along with his family were the first settlers in Buxton. Years after their arrival, his mother is quoted as saying “There we were in darkness here we are in the light” (Drew, 1855).
Ten Years later, to his parents’ delight; Jerome was among the first four graduates of the Buxton Mission School, gaining a classical education including latin and mathematics in an integrated setting in 1856. He attended Knox College, University of Toronto and in 1861, Riley received his licence to practise medicine in Canada West.
While serving with the Union Army as an assistant surgeon.during the War between the States, Dr. Riley along with Dr. Anderson Abbott and Dr. T. Rapier founded the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C.
After the war, Riley furthered his medical education and graduated from the Trinity with honours in Chicago, and Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., (G) (1873). He graduated with a degree in Allopath – (A practitioner of traditional/mainstream or “Western” medicine; the term Allopathic is largely of historical interest and was used in the 19th century to differentiate the practitioner from a homeopath).
Jerome became an active ‘Redeemer’ Democrat and participated in the 1874 Constitutional Convention in Arkansas. The Democrats made a point of retaining the controversial civil rights provisions of their predecessors. New York Herald reporter Charles Nordhoff visited Arkansas in 1875, Dr. Jerome R. Riley, County Physician and Coroner, boasted that “more colored men were elected and commissioned to offices of trust and pay” than under the Republicans. A black reporter from the Indianapolis Freedman was so impressed with the situation he found in Arkansas that he dubbed the state the “Negro Paradise.” That didn’t settle well with many and Dr. Riley soon lost favor within the white community. He was encouraged to move back to Washington D.C.
(Note *Jim Crow laws were put in place in Arkansas by 1890. No black man served in public office again until the 1960’s Civil Rights legislation.)
In Aug of 1877, Jerome Riley married the beautiful former Agnes M. Nalle of Virginia Until he could get his medical practice up and running Riley took the position as Capital Hill Watchman for $900 per annum.
Dr. Riley authored “The Philosophy of Negro Suffrage” a written work on the race problem in 1895.. Later by 1896, Dr. Riley was the 2nd term President of “The William J. Bryan Club,” which just changed its name from the “John M. Palmer Colored Democratic Club.” He remained politically involved and continued to write. In 1901 he wrote; “Evolution or Racial Development” (published by J.S. Ogilvie, New York, 1901). In 1903 The Byrd Printing Co. (Atlanta) published his third book “Reach the Reached Negro”.
Dr. Riley was also a member of the “National Negro Anti-Expansion, Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Trust, and Anti-Lynching League” or the “National Negro League.”
Read what Jerome Riley wrote about living in Buxton on pages 77, 78, and 79.
The Buxton Museum webpage http://www.buxtonmuseum.com/
African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in America’s Civil War (Studies in Canadian Military History). (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2015, from http://www.powells.com/biblio/9780774827454