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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Apple, R. W. (20 Nov. 1934–4 Oct. 2006), reporter and newspaper editor, was born Raymond Walter Apple, Jr. in Akron, Ohio, to grocer Raymond Walter Apple, Sr. and Julia (Albrecht) Apple. His parents expected that “Johnny” would follow his father and run the Acme supermarket chain in northern Ohio, but he discovered ...

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Congress created the office of Attorney General in the Judicial Act of 1789. The attorney general was tasked with prosecuting in the Supreme Court civil and criminal cases of national interest and lending legal advice to the president. In 1870, Congress, concerned about the constantly increasing workload of the attorney general and the private attorneys who worked as his assistants, created the Department of Justice and placed the attorney general in charge. The position evolved in the twentieth century to cover cases concerning the environment, civil rights, and national security....

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Bacall, Lauren (16 Sept. 1924–12 Aug. 2014), actress, was born Betty Joan Perske in the Bronx, New York, the only child of William Perske, a salesman, and Natalie Weinstein-Bacal, a secretary. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she was raised in Manhattan by her mother and grandmother, both Romanian Jewish immigrants. Betty attended Highland Manor school in Tarrytown and Julia Richman High School in Manhattan. At sixteen, longing for a career in the theater, she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, alongside future film star Kirk Douglas. Her tuition put a strain on the working-class family’s finances, and she left the school after one year....

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Howard Baker by Michael Arthur Worden Evans c. 1984 Gelatin silver print

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Portrait Project, Inc. © Michael Evans

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Baker, Howard Henry, Jr. (15 Nov. 1925–26 June 2014), politician and diplomat, was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, to Howard Henry Baker, Sr., a lawyer and politician who subsequently served in the US House of Representatives (1951–1964), and Dora Ladd Baker. The Baker family were staunch Presbyterians, members of the Republican Party since the Civil War, and longtime defenders of civil rights for the minority African American population. Young Baker’s paternal grandfather was a prominent judge, and his maternal grandmother was the first female sheriff in Tennessee....

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Banks, Ernie (31 Jan. 1931–23 Jan. 2015), baseball player, was the second of twelve children born to Eddie and Essie Banks in Dallas, Texas. Banks grew up in a shotgun house lit by kerosene lamps. His father made ten dollars a week with the Works Progress Administration, and Ernie picked cotton at two dollars a hundredweight. He played softball at Booker T. Washington High School. At seventeen, he barnstormed with the Amarillo-based Detroit Colts and passed his hat for nickels and dimes for every homer he’d hit. At six feet one inch and 180 pounds, Banks hit for power and imitated the short, quick stroke of future major leaguer Hank Thompson. After graduating in ...

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Bell, Daniel (10 May 1919–25 Jan. 2011), sociologist and public intellectual, was born Daniel Bolotsky in New York City, son of Benjamin Bolotsky and Anna Kaplan, immigrant Jewish garment workers living on the Lower East Side. His father died when Daniel was an infant; around ...

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Bernard, Jessie Shirley (8 Jun. 1903–6 Oct. 1996), sociologist and feminist scholar, was born Jessie Sarah (later changed to Shirley) Ravitch in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was the third of four children born to Bessie Kanter and David Solomon Ravitch who had emigrated separately to the United States from Transylvania (later Romania) in the 1880s. The Ravitchs, the only Jewish family living in their suburban, middle-class neighborhood, were treated as interlopers. This experience proved formative for Jessie and influenced her early scholarship....

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Blass, Bill (22 June 1922–12 June 2002), fashion designer, branding innovator, and philanthropist, was born William Ralph Blass in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father, Ralph Aldrich Blass, was a traveling hardware salesman, and his mother, Ethyl Keyser, was a dressmaker who worked from their home. Although his sister, Virginia (Gina), was just two years older than he, they were never close. When Blass was barely five years old, his father committed suicide at home, which Blass later assumed to be from manic-depression, although his mother never discussed the family trauma with her children. His mother did not remarry, and the family struggled during the Depression years on her income from a small annuity, rent from a lakeside cabin, and dressmaking....

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Bock, Jerry (23 Nov. 1928–3 Nov. 2010), composer, for the musical theater, was born Jerrold Lewis Bock in New Haven, Connecticut, the only child of George Joseph Bock, a salesman, and Rebecca (“Peggy”) Alpert. He was raised from around age two in Flushing (Queens), New York. Bock displayed musical talents from an early age and undertook formal piano study for about three years in preadolescence, but he mostly taught himself the harmonic language of jazz and popular songs of the day. In his final year at Flushing High School, he wrote all the music, co-wrote lyrics, and assisted in the production of an original musical, ...

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Bradlee, Benjamin Crowninshield (Ben) (26 Aug. 1921–21 Oct. 2014), newspaper editor and journalist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Frederick Bradlee, Jr., an investment banker, and Josephine de Gersdorff Bradlee, both of whom came from wealthy and established backgrounds. Ben, as he was always known, grew up with two siblings in a comfortable home in the upper-class Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. He was educated privately, first at the Dexter School and then at St. Mark’s boarding school, where he played baseball. His upbringing included French and music lessons and frequent exposure to Boston’s cultural offerings. The family’s financial status changed dramatically, however, when they lost most of their investments following the collapse of the stock market in ...

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Brady, James Scott (29 August 1940–3 August 2014), presidential press secretary and gun control advocate, was born in Centralia, Illinois, the son of Harold James Brady, a railroad yardmaster, and Dorothy Davidson Brady, a saleswoman and social worker. An only child, Brady made his mark at Centralia Township High School as an athlete, playing football and tennis and participating in track and field. After graduating, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in communications and became the president of the campus Young Republicans. Graduating in ...

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Burns, Eveline M. (16 March 1900–2 Sept. 1985), economist and Social Security expert, was born Eveline Mabel Richardson in London, the daughter of Frederick Haig Richardson and Eveline Faulkner. Her mother died of complications from her birth, and her father, who administered an office in London that sold silver flatware, remarried the next year. She characterized her father as a very conservative man who aimed to control his household. He did not encourage secondary education; he did not think women should work; he did not approve of government provision of services. Viewing her subsequent life choices, it is clear that Eveline did not let her father control her or her political views....

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Cannon, Poppy (2 Aug. 1905–1 April 1975), cookbook author, journalist, and advertising executive, was born Lillian Gruskin in Cape Town, South Africa, to Robert and Henrietta Gruskin, Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. (Henrietta’s maiden name is unknown.) The family moved to the United States in ...

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Carey, Hugh Leo (11 Apr. 1919–7 Aug. 2011) United States Representative and Governor of New York, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the third of Margaret Collins and Denis J. Carey’s six sons. Before his birth, his mother worked as the administrative assistant to steel company executive Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, known by her pen name “Nellie Bly” and celebrated for her feats as a round-the-world traveler, early female reporter, and social reformer. Carey’s father co-founded a motor fuel distribution company in the 1920s that went under during the Great Depression, a casualty, in part, of monopolistic practices by giant oil and railroad concerns. Carey went to Catholic schools, drawing excellent grades and graduating from St. Augustine’s High School in ...

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Carter, Elliott Cook, Jr. (11 Dec. 1908–5 Nov. 2012), composer, was born in New York City, the only child of Elliott Cook Carter, Sr. and Florence Chambers. His paternal grandfather, Eli C. Carter, started a business importing lace after the Civil War, and his father bought the highly successful business when Eli Carter retired. The young Elliott was expected to take over the family firm in due course, but he decided to pursue a career in music instead. Around ...

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Carter, Rubin “Hurricane” (6 May 1937–20 Apr. 2014), a boxer unjustly incarcerated for murder and later an activist on behalf of the wrongfully accused, was the fourth of six children born to Bertha and Lloyd Carter, Sr. in Delawanna, a suburban section of Clifton, a town in northern New Jersey. Lloyd Carter worked in a factory and had an ice delivery business. Both parents were devout Christians. As a boy Carter had a severe stutter. Consequently, he was ridiculed by his peers, but he learned to stand up for himself with his fists....

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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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Casal, Lourdes (5 Apr. 1938–1 Feb. 1981), poet, literary critic, social psychologist, and political activist, was born Lourdes Emilia Irene de la Caridad Casal y Valdés in Havana, Cuba, the daughter of two professional parents, Pedro Casal, a doctor in medicine and a dentist, and Emilia Valdés, an elementary school teacher. Of mixed heritage, Casal’s family included black, white, and Chinese ancestry....