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Bangs, John Kendrick (27 May 1862–21 January 1922), humorist, editor, and lecturer, was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of Francis Nehemiah Bangs, a lawyer, and Frances Amelia Bull, and the grandson of Nathan Bangs, a Methodist clergyman. His ancestors were domineering and ferocious personalities whose achievements overshadowed Bangs’s career, and his perennial reluctance to take either religion or law seriously can be seen as a mild rebellion....

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Bell, James Madison (03 April 1826–1902), abolitionist, poet, and lecturer, was born in Gallipolis, Ohio. His parents’ identities are unknown. At age sixteen, in 1842, he moved to Cincinnati. While there, in 1848, he married Louisiana Sanderlin (or Sanderline), with whom he had several children, and also learned the plastering trade from his brother-in-law George Knight. Bell worked as a plasterer during the day and attended Cincinnati High School for Colored People at night. Founded in 1844 by Reverend Hiram S. Gilmore, the school had a connection to Oberlin College and was said to have given impetus to the sentiment found in ...

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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Brown, John (1810?–1876), field hand and author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. At around age ten he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina; eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk....

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Burnett, Alfred (02 November 1824–04 April 1884), entertainer and journalist, was born in Bungay, Suffolk, England. The names of his parents and other facts about his early life are unknown. In 1828 he was sent to live with an aunt in New York City. After four years of schooling in Utica, New York, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1836. He later became proprietor of a confectionery business and by 1860 owned three such establishments....

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Carleton, Will (21 October 1845–18 December 1912), poet, lecturer, and editor, was born William McKendree Carleton in Hudson, Michigan, the son of John Hancock Carleton, a pioneer farmer, and Celestia Elvira Smith. An earnest, sensitive lad with an early passion for reading, he began writing poetry in his diary in his early teens....

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Coffin, Charles Carleton (26 July 1823–02 March 1896), novelist, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas Coffin and Hannah Kilburn, farmers. He grew up on the family farm, attended the village school, and studied for a year at the local academy. Coffin, after his marriage to Sallie Russell Farmer in 1846, earned his living by farming and surveying, a skill he had taught himself. The couple had no children. In 1852, with his brother-in-law ...

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Dixon, Thomas (11 January 1864–03 April 1946), author, clergyman, and lecturer, was born Thomas Dixon Jr. near Shelby, North Carolina, the son of Thomas Dixon, a Baptist minister and farmer, and Amanda McAfee Dixon. Thomas, the third of five children, was born during the Civil War. The Dixon family, which had once been prosperous, was reduced to extreme poverty by the war's end in 1865, owing to the collapse of the Southern economy and the destruction of farmland. During the ensuing years of Reconstruction, as lawlessness stalked the South, the elder Dixon struggled to support his wife and children, and their humiliation and degradation led him, like many other formerly prosperous Southerners, to join the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, a vigilante organization of white males that proclaimed the supremacy of the white race, had been founded in 1866 to restore honor to the South and to oppose social and political advancement by Negroes, as African Americans were then called. Both the senior Dixon and his brother, the favorite uncle of Thomas Dixon Jr., became leaders in the Klan, and young Thomas grew to adulthood revering the Klan and its teachings....

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Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98114).

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Emerson, Ralph Waldo (25 May 1803–27 April 1882), lecturer and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Emerson, a Congregational minister, and Ruth Haskins. Ralph was one of eight children. His father was a liberal, Concord-born minister of the First Church in Boston and active in the city’s intellectual and social life, being an editor of the ...

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Engle, Paul (12 Oct. 1908–22 March 1991), poet, literary critic, and educator, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Thomas Allen, a horse trader, and Evelyn (Reinheimer) Engle. He was educated at local schools, helped his father in the livery stable, and worked as a newsboy selling papers on the streets, a carrier boy, a chauffeur, a gardener, and, for many years, a drugstore clerk. He began writing poetry at Washington High School and was elected class poet. At Coe College in Cedar Rapids, he studied English literature, American history, and languages, and was awarded a B.A. in ...

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Fields, James Thomas (31 December 1817–24 April 1881), publisher, editor, writer, and lecturer, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Michael Fields, a sea captain, and Margaret Beck Fields. His father died at sea before James's fourth birthday, leaving his devoted mother little more than the modest house where she raised her two sons. A gregarious and book-loving boy, James completed high school at the age of thirteen, then headed for Boston. Although college was never an option, a family friend arranged what turned out to be the next best thing: an apprenticeship with the booksellers Carter and Hendee at what is still known as the Old Corner Bookstore. Remaining at that workplace after Carter and Hendee sold out to Allen and Ticknor in 1832, and after ...

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Fine, Benjamin (01 September 1905–16 May 1975), educational author, editor, and lecturer and school administrator, was born in New York City but was raised on a farm in Attleboro, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Fine and Rebecca Goldin, farmers. From his early youth Fine was rigorously active and would remain so for the rest of his life. He walked miles to get the school bus (good for later story enhancement), milked the cows, and did the farm chores, thus confirming philosopher ...

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Kirk, Russell Amos (19 October 1918–29 April 1994), political theorist, conservative writer, and lecturer, was born in Plymouth, Michigan, to Russell Andrew Kirk, a railroad engineer, and Marjorie Pierce Kirk. In his youth Russell spent a good deal of time conversing with his grandfather Frank Pierce, who stimulated his interest in better understanding the world around him. Equally influential to Russell’s intellectual development were his annual summer visits to his mother’s relatives in Mecosta, a small village in central Michigan. Dwelling on the lives of his ancestors, whose portraits donned the walls of his great-grandmother’s home, Russell developed an interest in history, especially connections between the past and the present....

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Morris, Robert (31 August 1818–31 July 1888), Masonic lecturer and poet, according to most biographers, including his son, was born near Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Robert Morris and Charlotte (maiden name unknown), teachers. However, the reliable twentieth-century Masonic historian Henry Wilson Coil in his ...

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Channing Pollock Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 932 P&P).

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Pollock, Channing (04 March 1880–17 August 1946), playwright, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Alexander Lyon Pollock, an employee of the U.S. Weather Bureau, and Verona Larkin. Pollock’s early schooling took place in Omaha and Salt Lake City, where his father worked as a newspaper editor and publisher. He also went to the Untergymnasium in Prague, while visiting his father’s relatives, the elder Pollock having emigrated in the 1870s from Austria. He had tutors in San Salvador, where his father served as U.S. consul, dying of yellow fever. Enrolled in Bethel Military Academy, Warrenton, Virginia, he grew impatient to work as a writer. Already at school at eight, he had written and acted in ...