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Alston, Melvin Ovenus (07 October 1911–30 December 1985), educator, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. Of middle-class background in terms of an African-American family in the urban South in the 1920s, he grew up in a house that his family owned, free of any mortgage. After attending Norfolk’s segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated from Virginia State College (B.S., 1935), honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship, and began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School in 1935. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men’s Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church....

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Crandall, Prudence (03 September 1803–28 January 1890), abolitionist and teacher, was born in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, the daughter of Pardon Crandall, a Quaker farmer, and Esther Carpenter. When Crandall was ten her family moved to another farm in Canterbury, Connecticut. As a young woman she spent a few years (1825–1826, 1827–1830) at the New England Friends’ Boarding School in Providence and also taught school for a time in Plainfield, Connecticut....

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Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Seated right, with J. E. Fellows, dean of admissions at the University of Oklahoma, seated left, and, standing left to right, Thurgood Marshall and Amos T. Hall, 1948. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-84479).

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Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel (08 February 1924–18 October 1995), civil rights pioneer, lawyer, and educator, was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the daughter of Travis B. Sipuel, a minister and later bishop of the Church of Christ in God, one of the largest black Pentecostal churches in the United States, and Martha Bell Smith, the child of a former slave. Her parents moved to Chickasaw, Oklahoma, shortly after the Tulsa race riot of 1921....

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Freeman, Elizabeth (1742–28 December 1829), slave, nurse, and slavery lawsuit plaintiff, was born either in New York or Massachusetts, the daughter of parents probably born in Africa. She apparently became the slave of Pieter Hogeboom of New York quite early. The only trace of her parents is Freeman’s bequest to her daughter of two articles of clothing—a black silk gown given to Freeman by her father as a gift, and another gown that supposedly belonged to Freeman’s mother. During her lifetime and even after her death, she was known as “Mum Bett” or “Mumbet,” a name derived from “Elizabeth.” Lacking a surname for most of her life, she sued for freedom under the name “Bett” and adopted the name “Elizabeth Freeman” after winning her lawsuit in 1781....

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Gaines, Myra Clark ( June 1805–09 January 1885), celebrated litigant, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Daniel Clark, a prominent merchant, real estate speculator, and first territorial representative from Louisiana to the U.S. Congress, and Marie Julie “Zulime” Carrière. Born in Sligo, Ireland, Daniel Clark emigrated to New Orleans, where he inherited his uncle’s extensive property holdings in Louisiana in 1799. A reputed bachelor, it is unclear whether Clark was ever legally married to Zulime Carrière, who was married to another man, but the couple did have two daughters, the second of whom was Myra. Clark failed to acknowledge his children publicly, and he placed Myra in the home of his close friend, Samuel Boyer Davis. She became known as Myra Davis and in 1812 moved with the Davises from New Orleans to Lewes, Delaware. She was educated at a selective female academy in Philadelphia....

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Gibbons, Thomas (15 December 1757–16 May 1826), planter, lawyer, and steamship owner, was born near Savannah, Georgia, the son of Joseph Gibbons and Hannah Martin, planters. Gibbons was schooled at home and in Charleston, South Carolina, where he also read law. He married Ann Heyword, but the date of the marriage is unknown. They had three children. Throughout his life Gibbons demonstrated a determined spirit. Contemporaries described him as a “high liver,” possessing a “strong mind, strong passions, strong prejudices, and strong self-will” (Halsted, pp. 16–17)....

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Gideon, Clarence Earl (30 August 1910–18 January 1972), convict whose Supreme Court case guaranteed indigents the right to legal counsel, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, the son of Charles Roscoe Gideon and Virginia Gregory, both employees in a shoe factory. His father died shortly after Gideon’s birthday, and his mother remarried two years later. His stepfather also worked at a local shoe factory. Gideon was educated in the Hannibal public school system until he ran away from home at the age of fourteen, “accepting the life of a hobo and tramp in preference to [his] home” (Lewis, ...

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King, Ada Copeland (23 December 1860?–14 April 1964), wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writer Clarence King, wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writer Clarence King, was born in or around West Point, Georgia. Though little is known of her early life, she was almost certainly born a slave, acquiring the name of Ada Copeland as a young girl. The names of her parents are unknown. In the mid-1880s, Copeland moved to New York City and found work as a nursemaid. In late 1887 or 1888 she met a man who introduced himself as a Pullman porter named James Todd. They were married in September 1888 by the Reverend James H. Cook, a prominent minister with the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. Although Todd represented himself to Copeland as a Marylander of African American descent, this was a false identity. He was in fact Clarence King (1842–1901), a socially and politically prominent white man from Newport, Rhode Island, educated at Yale, who had led the Fortieth Parallel Survey across the western United States, written a popular book called ...

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Loving, Richard Perry (29 October 1933–29 June 1975), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of Twillie Loving, a lumber truck driver, and Lola Allen, a homemaker and midwife. He attended local schools, worked as a bricklayer, and was a drag racer in his spare time. In June 1958, in Washington, D.C., Loving, a white man, married Mildred Dolores Jeter, of mixed Native-American and African-American ancestry. They took up residence as newlyweds in her parents’ home in Caroline County. Early one morning some weeks later, they awoke to find three police officers in their bedroom, and they were arrested for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. In January 1959 they pleaded guilty, and the presiding judge, Leon Bazile, sentenced them each to a year in jail but suspended the sentence on condition that they leave the state and not return together for the next twenty-five years....

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Maffitt, John Newland (28 December 1794–28 May 1850), Methodist preacher, was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a middle-class family that belonged to the Church of Ireland, a branch of the Anglican church. Information about Maffitt’s family background and early life is decidedly spotty: his parents’ names are unknown, although we do know that his father died when Maffitt was twelve and that his mother shortly thereafter attempted to establish him in a mercantile establishment devoted to tailoring. One account claims he graduated from Trinity College. The teenage Maffitt indulged a love of reading novels and historical romances, however, until a conversion experience in a Methodist meeting at age eighteen or nineteen—accounts conflict on this score—convinced him to become a preacher. The Irish Methodist church did not recognize him as a licensed preacher, and his sporadic attempts at evangelical work both in and beyond Dublin were a mixed success at best. Even so, he displayed a highly melodramatic style, which would personify his later career in the United States. He married Ann Carnic at age twenty. They had seven children; the oldest son, ...

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Lambdin P. Milligan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75189).

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Milligan, Lambdin P. (24 March 1812–21 December 1899), lawyer and defendant in a notable U.S. Supreme Court case, was born in Belmont County, Ohio, the son of Moses Milligan and Mary Purdy, farmers. (It is not known what his middle initial stood for.) He attended only one term of a subscription school but read widely in his father’s library. He left home during his late teens and worked as a farm hand and schoolteacher for several years before choosing law over medicine as a career. In 1835 he passed his oral bar exam, scoring highest in a class of nine, which included ...

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Virginia Louise Minor. Engraving, second half of the nineteenth century. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95372).

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Minor, Virginia Louise (27 March 1824–14 August 1894), suffragist and reformer, was born in Goochland County or Caroline County, Virginia, the daughter of Warner Minor, a landowner, and Maria Timberlake. When she was two years old the family moved to Charlottesville, where her father took a supervisory position in the dormitories of the University of Virginia. She spent a short time in a local female academy but otherwise was educated at home. In 1843 Minor married an attorney and distant cousin, Francis Minor; they had one child. She went to live with him in Mississippi, and a year later the couple moved to St. Louis....

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Ogden, Aaron (03 December 1756–19 April 1839), soldier, public official, and entrepreneur, was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the son of Robert Ogden II, a lawyer, and Phebe Hatfield. He attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and graduated with the class of 1773. Over the next three years he taught school, first in Princeton, then in Elizabethtown, but with the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and its American colonies, he was quickly drawn into the revolutionary confrontation....

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Ozawa, Takao (15 June 1875–16 November 1936), central figure in naturalization test case, was born in Sakurai village, Ashigara-Kami District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Ozawa arrived in San Francisco at the age of nineteen. There he worked while putting himself through school and graduated from Berkeley High School. He then attended the University of California for three years. In 1906 he discontinued his studies and moved to Hawaii, where he was employed as a salesman by the Theo H. Davies Company, a large Honolulu dry goods wholesale dealer. He was married to Masako Takeya, who was also a Japanese immigrant. They had five children, all born, raised, and educated in Honolulu....

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Penn, Hannah Callowhill (11 February 1671–20 December 1726), wife and executor of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and English Quaker leader, wife and executor of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania and English Quaker leader, was born in Bristol, England, the daughter of Thomas Callowhill, a wealthy merchant and linen draper, and Hannah (or Anna) Hollister, both Quakers. As the only child of nine to reach adulthood, Hannah remained close to her parents even after her marriage, becoming their executor when they died in 1712. She received instruction, probably at home, in reading, writing, arithmetic, and accounting....

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Plessy, Homer Adolph (1858?–1925), plaintiff in the 1896 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, plaintiff in the 1896 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, was born probably in New Orleans. Beyond the case, very little is known about Plessy. He was said to be thirty-four years old at the time of his arrest in 1892, which places his birth around 1858; yet his tombstone lists his age as sixty-three years old when he died in 1925, which places his birth around 1862. Described as a “Creole of Color,” Plessy was white in appearance but known to have had a black great-grandmother. He worked as a carpenter....

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Quinlan, Karen Ann (29 March 1954–11 June 1985), subject of a legal battle concerning the right to terminate hospital life support, was born Mary Ann Monahan in Scranton, Pennsylvania; her birth mother immediately gave her up for adoption by Joseph Quinlan, an accountant, and Julia Duane, a church secretary. Julia Quinlan had previously suffered three miscarriages and one stillbirth on account of an undetected Rh-negative condition, and the Quinlans had given up on the prospect of conceiving children on their own. The Quinlans adopted Karen through Catholic Charities. Karen grew up in the small town of Landing, New Jersey. She graduated from Morris Catholic High School in 1972; her graduation portrait was later used to illustrate many of the news stories about her case. She worked at a series of service and manufacturing jobs while considering earning a living through music. In 1975 she moved out of her parents’ house for the first time. A few months later, she rented a room from two acquaintances; eight days later, she lost consciousness....