James Carroll Napier was a prominent 19th-century businessman and civil rights leader of Nashville, Tennessee. Napier was born near Nashville on June 9, 1845, to Jane E. and William C. Napier, both of whom were both free blacks. Napier attended a private school for free black children in Nashville. In 1859, he enrolled in Wilberforce College before transferring to Oberlin College.
Napier left Oberlin College in 1867 to pursue other avenues. He served as the commissioner of refugees and abandoned land in Davidson County under the Freedmen’s bureau for a year. He then decided to move on to Washington, D.C., where he became the first black person to hold the position as State Department Clerk. Napier later enrolled in Howard University and received a Bachelor’s degree in Law in 1872.
He worked as a layer and also became an influential Republican politician. In 1911, through connections with Booker T. Washington, James Napier was appointed to the Register of the Treasury under President William Howard Taft, the highest governmental position available to Black Americans during that period. In 1913, he resigned that post to protest segregation practices towards federal employees, which was instituted under President Woodrow Wilson’s institution.
He eventually moved his family to Nashville and retired from politics. In 1903, he became an investor in One Cent Savings Bank. Napier joined Washington’s National Negro Business League and became president of the organization after the death of Booker T. Washington. Napier died on April 21, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee.