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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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Fisher Ames. Oil on wood, c. 1807, by Gilbert Stuart. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George Cabot Lodge.

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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Ames, Nathaniel (09 October 1741–20 July 1822), almanac writer, physician, and political activist, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames and Deborah Fisher Ames. The senior Nathaniel strongly influenced his son with his deep interest in the “new science” of Isaac Newton and his activities as a physician, tavern proprietor, and compiler of a notable almanac. At sixteen Nathaniel, Jr., entered Harvard College and in January 1758 began to keep a diary. His lively, absorptive mind responded to new ideas, particularly Professor ...

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Arenas, Reinaldo (16 July 1943–07 December 1990), novelist and political activist, was born in Holguín, a town in rural eastern Cuba, the son of Oneida Fuentes, a poor peasant woman, and a peasant father who abandoned his unborn child. Barely sixteen years old at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas received excellent instruction during the Campaigns against Illiteracy conducted by volunteers sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s ideals. Such an opportunity for self-improvement was unheard of during the regime of the deposed leader, Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Arenas received a scholarship so that he might pursue a career in accounting in Havana....

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Ashe, Arthur (10 July 1943–06 February 1993), tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe, Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father from playing football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured Althea Gibson, who would become the first African American to win Wimbeldon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful....

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Bailey, Gamaliel (03 December 1807–05 June 1859), antislavery journalist and political organizer, was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, the son of Gamaliel Bailey, Sr., a silversmith and Methodist minister, and Sarah Page. As the son of a minister, Bailey enjoyed educational advantages and an early association with evangelical Christianity. Following the relocation of his family to Philadelphia in 1816, Bailey joined with several other adolescents in forming a literary debating society, which stimulated his lifelong interest in literature. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1828, but medicine was never his main interest, and he ceased to practice it by the early 1840s....

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Carter, Willis McGlascoe (3 Sept. 1852–23 Mar. 1902), educator, newspaper editor, and political activist, was born a slave in Albemarle County, Virginia, the oldest of eleven children born to Rhoda Carter, a slave owned by Ann Goodloe, a widow. His father, Samuel Carter, also a slave, lived on a nearby plantation. Willis Carter did not suffer the physical and emotional violence endured by most slaves. Goodloe likely allowed his parents to marry, and she did not prevent him from learning how to read and write, skills he had developed by the eve of the Civil War. Nevertheless, she did not free the Carter family upon her death in ...

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Colón, Jesús (20 January 1901–1974), writer and political and community activist, was born to working-class parents in rural Puerto Rico, whose names are not known. In A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches, a compilation of his autobiographical short essays written in English, Colón described his humble childhood in Cayey, a small farming town in a breathtaking mountain range, well known for producing hand-rolled cigars. Cigars were among the most important products for export of this territory acquired by the United States after a successful war against Spain in 1898. In 1917 Puerto Ricans became American citizens. The Puerto Rico of Colón's childhood memories appears free of American influence. His dearest childhood memories belong to the world of tobacco workers, male and female, who spent many hours rolling cigars while listening to the local and international news that a hired reader read aloud to them. According to Colón's memoirs, the reader included literary passages, such as Émile Zola's ...

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Cotter, Joseph Seamon, Sr. (02 February 1861–14 March 1949), teacher, author, and civic leader, was born in Bardstown, Kentucky, the son of Michael (also spelled Micheil) Cotter, a boarding house owner, and Martha Vaughn. Although his father was known as an avid reader, Cotter was raised largely by his mother, a freeborn woman of mixed English, Cherokee, and African blood. It was from her naturally dramatic manner—she orally composed poems and plays as she worked at chores—that he acquired his love of language and stories. Having taught herself, she also taught Cotter to read and enrolled him in school, but at age eight economic necessity forced him to drop out and begin working at various jobs: in a brickyard, then a distillery, and finally as a ragpicker and a teamster. Until age twenty-two, manual labor consumed much of Cotter’s life....

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Curtis, George William (25 February 1824–31 August 1892), writer, editor, and orator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of George Curtis, a banker and businessman, and Mary Elizabeth Burrill, whose father had been a U.S. senator from and chief justice of Rhode Island. After his mother died in 1826, Curtis and his older brother James Burrill Curtis were cared for by their father and relatives for four years and then attended a boarding school in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts. In 1835 their father married Julia B. Bridgham, aged twenty-four, and the boys joined them in Providence. Four years later the family moved to New York City, where Curtis was tutored for a short time and then became a counting-house clerk. He and his brother participated in the Brook Farm communal experiment at West Roxbury, outside Boston (1842–1843), returned home for a year, and became farmhands in Concord (1844–1846). During these years, Curtis made enormous intellectual strides through contact with ...

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Desmond, Humphrey Joseph (14 September 1858–16 February 1932), editor and civic leader, was born near Cedarburg, Wisconsin, the son of Thomas Desmond, an educator and businessman, and Johanna Bowe. Desmond was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, achieving his degree in three years (1877–1880). At the university, Desmond was a coeditor of the student newspaper with ...

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Eagleson, William Lewis (09 August 1835–22 June 1899), editor and political activist, was born a slave in St. Louis, Missouri. The names of his parents and details about his early life are unknown. He married Elizabeth McKinney in 1865 in St. Louis; they had nine children. As a young man, he learned both printing and barbering, trades that he practiced intermittently throughout his life. In the 1870s, he settled in Fort Scott, Kansas, and started a newspaper, the ...

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Faulk, John Henry (21 August 1913–09 April 1990), humorist, liberal political activist, and writer, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of Judge Henry Faulk, a successful trial lawyer, and Martha Miner. His father embraced a series of leftist causes, supporting Eugene Debs...

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Gill, Brendan (04 October 1914–27 December 1997), writer and preservationist, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Michael Gill, a physician, and Elizabeth Duffy Gill. (His parents did not give him a middle name, but he later took the middle name “Michael” in honor of his father.) Although his mother died when he was seven years old, he later recalled that he had a happy childhood in a prosperous Irish-Catholic household: “My father … had not the slightest idea what to do with us children, except to supply us with houses, servants, money, trips to Europe, extravagant gifts, admiration, and love” ( ...

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Gonzales, Rodolfo “Corky” (18 June 1928–12 Apr. 2005), boxer, activist, and poet, was born in Denver, Colorado, to Federico and Indalesia Gonzales, the youngest of eight children. Gonzales’s nickname came from his uncle, who would chide the young Rodolfo for “always popping off like a cork” every time the boy was involved in an altercation. The name stuck and would come to reflect Gonzales’s life as a social activist....

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Grady, Henry Woodfin (24 May 1850–23 December 1889), journalist and orator, was born in Athens, Georgia, the son of William Sammons Grady, a substantial merchant, and Ann Eliza Gartrell. He attended the local schools and the University of Georgia, from which he was graduated in 1868. He then spent a year as a postgraduate student at the University of Virginia. He excelled as a debater. The events of the Civil War and its tumultuous aftermath made a profound impression on Grady, whose father, an officer in the Confederate army, died of wounds suffered at Petersburg. In 1869 Grady entered the field of journalism, editing a succession of small newspapers in Rome, Georgia, before becoming part-owner and editor of the Atlanta ...

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Gray, James Harrison (17 May 1916–19 September 1986), newspaper publisher, broadcast executive, and politician, was born in Westfield, Massachusetts, the son of Lyman Gray, an attorney, and Clara (maiden name unknown). James Gray spent his childhood in Springfield, Massachusetts, where his father served as district attorney. He received his A.B. in English from Dartmouth College in 1937, lettering in several sports and earning Phi Beta Kappa honors. After graduating Gray enrolled at the University of Heidelberg in Germany to study world history. While there in 1939 he contributed news articles about Nazi Germany to the ...

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Hapgood, Norman (28 March 1868–29 April 1937), journalist, critic, and reformer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles Hutchins Hapgood, a farm implement manufacturer, and Fanny Louise Powers. He grew up in wealth in Alton, Illinois. In 1890 he graduated with an A.B. from Harvard University, where he was strongly influenced by Professor ...

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Jackson, Gardner (10 September 1896–17 April 1965), newspaperman, public official, and liberal gadfly, also known as “Pat,” was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the son of William Sharpless Jackson, a wealthy banker and railroad magnate, and Helen Banfield. In the Jackson family, affluence mingled with sympathy for the oppressed: Jackson’s father was a Quaker, and his mother was the niece of his father’s late and revered second wife, ...