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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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Helen Gahagan Douglas. Before her marriage to Melvyn Douglas. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G401-T-4775-002).

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Loy, Myrna (02 August 1905–12 December 1993), actress and political activist, was born Myrna Adele Williams in Radersburg, Montana, the daughter of David Franklin Williams, a cattle rancher, and Della Mae Johnson, a singer. After her father’s death in the 1918 influenza epidemic, the family moved to Culver City, California. While attending high school, Loy auditioned for movie studios and helped support her family by teaching children’s dancing classes and working as an assistant film cutter at Horsley Studios. She also danced in the prefeature chorus line at Grauman’s Chinese Theater before coming under contract to Warner Brothers. Her first role was a “human chandelier” in ...