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Robert H. Lee
Robert Henry Lee was born on this date in 1882. He was a Black businessman.
Born in Howard County, MO, of a 16-year old Black mother named Eliza Lee, and her master, plantation owner John Lee, Robert spent most of his childhood living in Tipton, MO. He and his mother regularly visited her parents, Armstead and Ellen Lee who lived in nearby Willowfork, MO. The small towns of his youth were places where Black cowboys flourished and were strategically located on the main stagecoach line. Young Lee learned farm life and cattle and horse ranching.
After the American Civil War, Robert and his brother/friend Oliver Burckhardt were able to attend a nearby school called Lincoln Normal School in Jefferson, MO. This school had been established by Black soldiers in 1866 especially for Black children. Some of the officers stationed at Fort McIntosh, Texas, donated $5,000 to establish this school, which combined academics and labor.
Eventually, the school became Lincoln University, one of 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America. Lee paid 50 cents for school registration and students made the uniforms they wore. Classes in agriculture, masonry, woodworking, engineering, and similar subjects were taught. Lee also learned to play the violin and guitar at Lincoln.
At age 18, Lee became a Pullman porter on the trains between Tipton, Leavenworth, KS; Denver, CO, and Omaha, Nebraska. In his early 20s, Lee lived in Denver but often visited his brother in Lincoln. It was here that he met and eventually married Blanche Mae Carriger. The couple moved to Omaha from Denver in 1916 with their two children, Dorothy and Robert. In 1923 they relocated to Lincoln, which became their permanent home in a Black community known as “T”-Town. Four more children were born in their home on “R” Street: Margaret, Ernest, Joanna, and David.
Lee became an insurance salesman. In their spare time, he and Blanche were lay ministers with the Denton Church of God. Lee was also a member of the Prince Hall Masons. In the late 1920s, tragedy struck the Lee family. Robert Lee became ill with a terminal disease that causeS sensory, neuromuscular, and coordination degeneration, similar to polio in the effect on his life. Lee’s situation was made worse by the inferior health care available to Blacks in Nebraska during that time.
Lee lived in a convalescent home known as the County Farm for almost ten years and died in 1939 at the age of 57. Robert Henry Lee was buried near his wife Blanche at Wayuka Cemetery, the oldest graveyard in Lincoln.
Remembering the path to “T” Town,
Migration of an African American family through seven states to Lincoln, Nebraska, 1720-1940
By Roy and Stephanie Meyers