James B. Fields – Preacher / Orator / Pioneering Businessman
J. B. Fields was born a slave on March 1, 1850 in Prairieville, Missouri. His parents were Henry and Minnie Fields and had originated in Virginia. The family escaped slavery in 1862 to the town of Quincy, Illinois. In Quincy, Fields received two years of school, and during that period joined the Baptist church. In 1866 moved to Macomb, Illinois to learn to be a barber.
Fields along with William H. Ball opened a barber shop on the Macomb square in 1872. This was the first black owned business in Macomb. William Ball was the son of Hiram Ball and was born in 1825 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He and his second wife, Melvina, were married in 1864 and had seven children. The 1880 Census listed their eldest son as a barber’s apprentice at the age of 14. Ball died at the age of 54 in November 1879, and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Macomb.
In October 1869 Fields married Missouri Carr in Palmyra, Missouri. They had three children, all sons. In 1870, while working as a barber, he began to study theology, and in 1875 he formed a church for blacks in Macomb.
James later moved to Denver, Colorado, and his parents followed. His father died August 27, 1883 at the age of 91.
On September 25, 1878, Fields was ordained in Macomb, and in September 1879, Rev. Fields first became nationally renowned with an oration given in Galesburg, Illinois. In January 1881 he was called to take charge of the Zion Baptist church in Denver. He was very successful at that church, helping to build a new church building and grow the congregation.
In January 1885, the Reverend Fields resigned to take work as a public lecturer, his oration having become very popular. That year he toured the country giving a speeches largely aimed at refuting Robert G. Ingersoll, a famous agnostic of the era. Fields continued to tour in 1866 but later returned to work in Denver.
Early in his career, Fields was affiliated with the Republican Party, but shortly before his death became a Democrat. In late September, 1896, Fields went to Salt Lake City, Utah to speak and raise money for the Baptist Missionary Society of North America, but his trip was cut short. On August 1, 1896, while in Salt Lake City, he died of heart disease.