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Baker, Ella Josephine (13 December 1903–13 December 1986), civil rights organizer, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the daughter of Blake Baker, a waiter on the ferry between Norfolk and Washington, D.C., and Georgianna Ross. In rural North Carolina where Ella Baker grew up she experienced a strong sense of black community. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, acquired the land in Littleton on which he had slaved. He raised fruit, vegetables, cows, and cattle, which he shared with the community. He also served as the local Baptist minister. Baker’s mother took care of the sick and needy....

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Bates, Daisy (11 November 1914–04 November 1999), civil rights activist, newspaper founder and publisher, was born Daisy Lee Gatson in Huttig, Arkansas. Her biological father and mother, reputedly John Gatson and Millie Riley, remain shrouded in mystery, and scholars have been unable to find evidence confirming her parentage. (Thus, her reported birth date varies: the one given here is widely acknowledged.) Bates grew up hearing that several white men had raped and murdered her mother and thrown the body in a pond. Leaving his infant daughter in the care of friends Orlee and Susie Smith, who became her foster parents, her father abandoned her, never to return. This was Bates's baptism into the poverty, insecurity, and racial violence that segregation fostered....

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Bethune, Mary Jane McLeod (10 July 1875–18 May 1955), organizer of black women and advocate for social justice, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, the child of former slaves Samuel McLeod and Patsy McIntosh, farmers. After attending a school operated by the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen, she entered Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1888 and graduated in May 1894. She spent the next year at ...

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Durr, Virginia Foster (06 August 1903–24 February 1999), civil rights activist, was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the daughter of Stirling Johnson Foster, Presbyterian minister, and Anne Patterson Foster. She grew up in a traditional middle-class southern household that experienced a decline in its financial fortunes following her father's removal from his pulpit. While he drifted through a series of largely unsuccessful efforts in the business world, Virginia Foster attended local public schools and finishing schools in Washington, D.C., and New York. Concerned that his bookish younger daughter might not “marry well,” her father sent her to Wellesley College in 1921. Although forced to drop out after her sophomore year for financial reasons, Wellesley proved to be a lasting influence on Foster. There she learned firsthand that women could make a difference in the outside world and how economic difficulties challenged the less fortunate in society. Perhaps of more importance, however, was the college's insistence that she dine with a young African American student at a time when such social contacts violated traditional southern mores. This and other similar social situations forced Foster to question many of the assumptions about society and life that she had accepted in her youth....

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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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Shabazz, Betty (28 May 1936?–23 June 1997), civil rights activist, educator, nurse, mother, was born Betty Dean Sanders, the daughter of Shelman Sandlin, a construction worker, and the teenager Ollie Mae Sanders from Pinehurst, Michigan. (Because her birth certificate is lost, scholars are uncertain about her place of birth.) Her young parents were unmarried—this was a social stigma in 1930s America—and her relationship with her mother was stormy. When she was eleven years old, she was adopted by Helen and Lorenzo Malloy, affluent, middle-class African American Methodists from Detroit, Michigan. Providing Shabazz with many social and material advantages, the Malloys also valued educational attainment, and they pushed her to excel in her classes and study hard. After graduating from high school, Shabazz enrolled in Alabama's Tuskegee University, then known as Tuskegee Institute, one of the nation's most distinguished places of higher education for African Americans. However, she was not happy there. Unaccustomed to the blatant racism of Jim Crow laws, she quickly decamped to New York City in 1956 to continue her studies....

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Simone, Nina (21 February 1933–21 April 2003), African American jazz singer, pianist, songwriter, and civil rights activist, was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, the sixth of eight children of John Divine Waymon, a barber and owner of a dry-cleaning business, and Mary Kate Irvin, a housekeeper and minister. Eunice was an accomplished musician at a young age who began playing piano for St. Luke's Christian Methodist Episcopal Church when she was six years old. Mary Kate encouraged Eunice's musical pursuits but discouraged her taking part in nonreligious music, including blues, jazz, and Tin Pan Alley....

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Terrell, Mary Eliza Church (23 September 1863–24 July 1954), educator and social activist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the daughter of Robert Reed Church, a businessman, and Louisa Ayres, a beautician and hair salon owner. Her father, a former slave, used his business acumen to become the first black millionaire in the South....

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Wells-Barnett, Ida Bell (16 July 1862–25 March 1931), editor and antilynching activist, was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the daughter of James Wells and Elizabeth Warrenton, slaves. Son of his master, James Wells was a carpenter’s apprentice and opened his own shop after emancipation. The eldest of eight children, Ida attended Rust College in Holly Springs until 1878, when a yellow fever epidemic killed her parents and one of her six siblings (another had died some years before). Determined to keep her family together, Wells began teaching in surrounding areas. In 1881 she moved her youngest siblings to Memphis to live with an aunt and took a job as a schoolteacher in nearby Woodstock....

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Winnemucca, Sarah (1844?–17 October 1891), spokeswoman for the Northern Paiute, was born near the sink of the Humboldt River in western Nevada, the daughter of Winnemucca, a Paiute chief, and Tuboitonie. In 1857 Chief Truckee, her maternal grandfather, arranged for Sarah and her younger sister Elma to live in the household of his friend, Major William Ormsby, a Virginian who managed a stage line at Mormon Station (Genoa). The girls worked at domestic chores and helped serve passengers at his stage stop. They were also companions to Ormsby’s only child, nine-year-old Lizzi. Here Sarah and Elma learned to read, write, and sing in English, picked up some Spanish phrases, and studied American history and the Bible. One year later the Ormsby family and the Paiute girls moved to Carson City, but in late September 1859 Sarah and Elma were suddenly called home by their father....