Paralee Lagon Gough Sampson


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists

Biographical Sketch of Paralee Lagon Gough Sampson, 1862-1955


By Chelsea Lundquist-Wentz, graduate student, North Carolina State University

Paralee Lagon Gough was born in 1862 to William and Betsy Gough, who were free black residents of Buckingham County, Virginia. She was one of their many children and her family included siblings William Gough, Jr. John Gough, Helen Gough, Hatty Gough, Mary Jane Hough, Ida Gough, Patty Gough, Annie Gough Read, Betty Lina Hocker and Robert Gough. By age 17, Paralee had moved to Richmond, Virginia in a home visible from the state capitol building. She lived with seven of her siblings who ranged in age from teenagers to late twenties, with her oldest sister Helen Gough listed as head of household in the 1880 Census. The oldest siblings all worked earning wages in the city, including Paralee who was occupied as a seamstress, while the younger children attended school. Their parents remained in their birthplace of Buckingham County.

In her mid-20s, Paralee Gough married James Henry Sampson on October 1, 1889. James Sampson was a free black resident of Richmond since his birth in 1850, and he worked his entire adult life as a barber. In August 1890, Paralee and James Sampson welcomed their only biological child, a son named Jacob Milton Sampson. Paralee delivered her son in her own birthplace of Buckingham County near Slate River Mills; his birth was recorded in a community Bible. The small family returned to Richmond, residing for many years in their home at 714 West Leigh Street. The family was financially secure. James Sampson had deposited funds in the ill-fated Freedman's Bureau Bank as early as 1870, and the family later owned their own home and a barber shop. Beginning in their son's childhood, a young woman named Mary Shepherd lived with the Sampson family for at least a decade, initially as a domestic servant though she remained close with the family throughout her life and was later referred to as their "foster" child.

Paralee Sampson was widowed in 1915; she spent her remaining years living with and remaining heavily involved in the life of her son J. Milton Sampson, who was then a language professor at Virginia Union University. In 1917, he purchased a home at 117 East Leigh Street, directly across the street from Maggie L. Walker, the influential African American banker and civil/economic rights activist. Jackson Ward was a hub for influential, successful African Americans, known contemporaneously as "Harlem of the South" or "Wall Street of the South." Paralee Sampson, her son J. Milton Sampson, and his new wife Sadie Mae Sampson all became involved in social justice and welfare initiatives, attending events throughout Richmond during the 1910s and 1920s.

On the morning of September 4, 1920, Paralee Sampson successfully registered to vote, becoming the first black woman to do so in the First Precinct and likely the first in the city of Richmond. While she never formally joined a suffrage organization, her eagerness to register to vote along with the approximately 2,400 black women who followed her, is an indication of her solid place in the highly motivated, politically engaged black community in Richmond.

By 1923, J. Milton Sampson founded the relatively unproductive Richmond Urban League, and this ultimately led to a higher-ranking position with the National Urban League in Chicago. Paralee Sampson moved to Chicago with her son, daughter-in-law and young granddaughter Helen. She lived with her small family for the rest of her life, and they returned to live full time in Richmond by 1940. Paralee Sampson died in her home on July 25 1955 at the age of 93. Her obituary notes that she was survived by one of her sisters, Bettie Hooks, and granddaughter Helen Brooks. Helen was married to John Brooks, an NAACP voting rights advocate, at the time of her grandmother's death.

Paralee Lagon Sampson Gough was buried in the historic African American East End Cemetery in Richmond.


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