James Napier was born in Nashville in 1845. Most African Americans in the South were slaves back then, but Napier’s parents were free.
After the Civil War, Napier became a leader in the black community. In the late 19th century he was at the heart of every political struggle fought by black residents in Nashville. Councilman Napier led the battle to get Nashville’s government to hire black teachers for black public schools, and Citizen Napier helped organize Nashville’s fire engine company.
In 1911 Napier was chosen by President William Taft to be Registry of the Treasury. Napier stayed with the treasury until July 1913, and during that time his signature appeared on all paper money printed by the federal government.
However, as you can see on the right (under “First Look”), Napier resigned that position in protest when he was ordered to segregate his department by race.
Today a public housing project in Nashville is named for James Napier.