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Brentano, Lorenz (04 November 1813–17 September 1891), German political leader, journalist, and congressman, was born in Mannheim, in the German state of Baden, the son of Peter Paul Bartholomaeus Brentano, a wholesale merchant, and Helene Haeger. He studied law at universities in Heidelberg, Freiburg, and Giessen and afterward practiced in Rastatt and Bruchsal before returning to Mannheim. In 1837 Brentano married Caroline Lentz; the fate of this union is unclear, but Brentano married a second time in later life. Elected to Baden’s chamber of deputies in 1845, Brentano fell in with a liberal faction clustered around ...

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Burnham, Louis Everett (29 September 1915–12 February 1960), journalist, activist, and radical, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Charles Breechford Burnham, a building superintendent, and Louise St. Clair Williams Burnham, a hairdresser. His parents had emigrated from Barbados to the United States in search of a better livelihood, and they bought their own property in Harlem and began providing rooms for new Caribbean immigrants. Burnham attended New York City public schools and graduated from Townsend High School in 1932. In the fall of 1932 he enrolled in City College. He became actively involved in student political activities, serving as president of the Frederick Douglass Society and vice president of the student council. Affable, charismatic, and a powerful orator, he often spoke on campus about racial injustice, the threat of fascism to world peace, unemployment, and the plight of American youth. He graduated from City College in 1936....

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Whittaker Chambers Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114739).

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Chambers, Whittaker (01 April 1901–09 July 1961), magazine editor and anti-Communist, was born Jay Vivian Chambers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Jay Chambers, a staff artist on the New York World, and Laha Whittaker, an actress. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, then settled in Lynbrook on Long Island’s south shore. The family home was spartan and contentious, and his parents separated around 1908. It was at this time that he took the name David Whittaker. After graduating from high school, Chambers, now calling himself Charles Adams, and a friend obtained work for four months as day laborers in Washington, D.C. They then unsuccessfully sought employment in New Orleans. Late in 1919 Chambers returned to Lynbrook, agreeing to work at his father’s advertising firm in New York City. Now known as Whittaker Chambers, he also enrolled at Columbia University. Discarding the conservative Republicanism of his parents and influenced by a cadre of young intellectuals, he was attracted to Marxism. As editor in chief of the ...

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Childs, Morris (10 June 1902–02 June 1991), Communist official and American intelligence double agent, was born Moishe Chilovsky in Kiev, Ukraine, the son of Joseph Chilovsky, a cobbler, and Anna Chilovsky. Joseph Chilovsky, a Jew, fled Tsarist oppression, arriving in America in 1910; he sent for the rest of his family late the next year. (In 1926 the spelling of their name was Americanized, and Morris became a naturalized citizen the following year.) In 1916 Morris went to work as an apprentice in his father's business; then he became a milkman. In 1919 he joined the Communist party in Chicago. Twice arrested for participating in street demonstrations, he soon became a protégé of future party leader ...

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Ciancabilla, Giuseppe (21 August 1871–16 September 1904), anarchist and journalist, was born in Rome, Italy, the son of Alessandro Ciancabilla, a lumber merchant, and Appollonia Corinaldini. Raised in modest circumstances, but studious and intelligent, Ciancabilla pursued classical studies in secondary school, and in his late teens he began to write poems and articles for various publications....

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Digges, Thomas Attwood (04 July 1742–06 December 1821), gentleman, confidential agent, ne'er-do-well, and novelist, gentleman, confidential agent, ne’er-do-well, and novelist, was born in Warburton, Maryland, the son of William Digges and Ann Attwood, the owners of “Warburton Manor.” Digges was sent abroad to be educated. Family tradition holds that he attended Oxford University, but his Catholic faith and the absence of his name in university records make this unlikely. In 1767, after being disowned by his family for reasons that are not known, Digges purportedly went to live in Portugal, where he stayed until 1773 or 1774. In a subsequent letter to ...

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Eisler, Gerhart (20 February 1897–21 March 1968), Communist journalist and politician, was born in Leipzig, Germany, the son of Rudolf Eisler, a philosopher, and Marie Ida Fischer. Eisler grew up in Vienna, Austria, where his father was an assistant professor without tenure (Privatdozent) at the university. The socialist sympathies of his parents, his own studies in anarchist and Marxist literature, writing for his school journal, and eventually his experiences as a young officer during World War I were all factors that influenced Eisler’s future. He was active in the revolution in November 1918 and joined the Communist party of German-Austria....

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Garza, Catarino Erasmo (25 November 1859–08 March 1895), Texas newspaper editor and Latin American revolutionary leader, nicknamed "Cato", Texas newspaper editor and Latin American revolutionary leader, nicknamed “Cato,” was born near Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, the son of Don Encarnacíon and Doña Maria Jesús Rodriquez de la Garza. Catarino was educated at Galahuises, Nuevo Leon, and became a student at San Juan College. He served in the Mexican National Guard. Partly because of his disillusionment with Porfirio Díaz’s seizure of the Mexican presidency, Garza emigrated to Brownsville, Texas, in the 1880s. There he edited ...

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Gold, Michael (12 April 1893–14 May 1967), radical intellectual and writer, was born Itzok Isaac Granich on the Lower East Side of New York City, son of Chaim Granich and Gittel Schwartz, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a storefront manufacturer of suspenders and a peddler but remained destitute all his life. Forced by economic stringency to leave school at age twelve, Mike Gold (at this point calling himself Irwin Granich) held a variety of jobs including night porter and clerk. He said he “had no politics … except hunger,” until he was nineteen. But Gold was radicalized in 1914 when he witnessed and experienced police beatings at a demonstration by the unemployed at Union Square in New York City....

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Jackson, James Edward Jr., (29 Nov. 1914–1 Sept. 2007), communist, black freedom activist, and editor, was born to Clara Kersey Jackson and James E. Jackson, Sr., in Richmond, Virginia. His mother, one of the first women to graduate from Howard University, and father, Richmond’s only black pharmacist, raised Jackson and his sisters to be politically aware. Jackson, Sr. was well-regarded as a local leader, both for fighting segregation in the community and for his business success. Following his father’s influence, Jackson organized the first black troop in Virginia to be admitted to the Boy Scouts of America in ...

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Rapp, Wilhelm (14 July 1827–01 March 1907), German-American leader and journalist, was born in Leonberg, Württemberg, Germany, the son of Georg Rapp, a Protestant minister, and Augusta (maiden name unknown). He studied theology, first in a seminary at Blaubeuren, then with the theological faculty at Tübingen. While a student at Tübingen, he was swept up in the revolutionary movements of 1848 in the German states. In May 1849 he was elected by the Democratic Society of Tübingen as a delegate to the revolutionary Peoples Assembly at Reutlingen. He also joined a group of students in the uprising in Baden. After this failed he fled to Switzerland, where he taught for a time in a private school in Ilanz in the canton of Graubünden. In the summer of 1850 Rapp secretly visited his family in Württemberg, whereupon he was apprehended and held for a year in the prison of Hohenasperg, near Ludwigsburg. In 1852 he followed other refugees of the 1848 revolutions to the United States....

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John Reed. Gelatin silver print, c. 1916, by Pirie MacDonald. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Reed, John (22 October 1887–17 October 1920), journalist and revolutionary, was born John Silas Reed in Portland, Oregon, the son of Charles Jerome Reed, a supervisor in the sale of farm equipment and later a U.S. marshal, and Margaret Green, the daughter of a wealthy capitalist. Sickened by kidney troubles, young Reed was sheltered by his mother. Having only his brother Harry as a playmate, Reed read fantasy and history books and developed an active imagination. He was healthy enough by age twelve to attend the prestigious Portland Academy, where he was a shy, mediocre student. In 1904 he enrolled in Morristown, a college preparatory school in New Jersey. There, through his pranks and charm, he became a popular rebel, writing short stories, poems, and essays for the school literary magazine....