Little Known Black History Facts:
Thomas Day: Father of the North Carolina Furniture Industry
Thomas Day (1801-1861), a free African-American cabinetmaker (fine furniture maker) and businessman, lived and worked in Caswell County, North Carolina from the early 1820′s until he disappeared from the records in 1861. By 1850, he had the largest furniture business in the state. A great deal of his furniture has survived and is cherished today in private homes and museums primarily in North Carolina and Virginia. Day’s life opens a window into a world most Americans know little about: 19th-century African-American history, and especially the experience of the small percentage of African Americans who were not enslaved, who were known as “free people of color” or “free blacks.”
Thomas Day is at once anomalous and representative of the antebellum free black experience. The fact that such an extraordinary figure in business and in American decorative arts could have lain in obscurity for as long as he did, makes him a symbol of the many African Americans who anonymously contributed to American history and culture. In the words of historian Ira Berlin, “Day and many other antebellum African Americans refused to accept the hand that was being dealt to them.” Fortunately, like Thomas Day, many of these unsung heroes are now being brought out of the shadows.