George Thomas Downing, businessman and civil rights leader

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NYPL ID number: 1804236
Portrait Collection


circa 1880s


Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

George Downing was Thomas Downing's son and attend the Mulberry Street School at the same time as Peter Guignon. Following in his father's footsteps, he opened a catering business on Broadway, then moved to Newport, Rhode Island where he built a very fancy resort hotel, the Sea Girt House.

Like his father, George was a lifelong political activist. He firmly believed that integration was the only solution to America's race problems and successfully pushed for the integration of Rhode Island schools. After the Civil War, he moved for a time to Washington D.C. where he worked closely with Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner to ensure the passage of civil rights legislation. By the 1880s, however, he had become deeply disillusioned with party politics and for a time switched his allegiance from the Republican to the Democratic party.


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“George Thomas Downing, businessman and civil rights leader,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018,