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Raymond Pace Alexander At his desk in his law office, circa 1935-1940. Collections of the University of Pennsylvania Archives.

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Alexander, Raymond Pace (13 October 1898–24 November 1974), lawyer, judge, and civil rights leader, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the third son of Hillard Boone and Virginia Pace Alexander, both slaves in Virginia who were freed in 1865 and migrated to Philadelphia in 1880. His background was working-class poor and he grew up in Philadelphia's seventh ward, an all-black community made famous by W. E. B. Du Bois's seminal study ...

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Blackwell, Randolph Talmadge (10 March 1927–21 May 1981), attorney, educator, and civil rights activist, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Joe Blackwell and Blanche Mary Donnell. He attended the city’s public schools for African-American youth and earned a B.S. in sociology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro in 1949. Four years later Blackwell earned a J.D. degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In December 1954 he married Elizabeth Knox. The couple had one child. After teaching economics for a year at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama, near Huntsville, Blackwell became an associate professor of social sciences at Winston-Salem State Teachers College in North Carolina....

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Boudinot, Elias Cornelius (01 August 1835–27 September 1890), Cherokee lawyer and progressive, was born in New Echota, Georgia, the son of Elias Boudinot, tribal leader and editor of the newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, and Harriet Gold, daughter of a prominent New England family. His mother died a year after his birth....

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Cohen, Felix Solomon (03 July 1907–19 October 1953), lawyer, was born in New York City, the son of Morris Cohen, an academic and philosopher, and Mary Ryshpan, a former teacher. Cohen attended Townsend Harris High School, which conducted a joint program with City College. After graduating magna cum laude from City College, he earned his M.A. in philosophy from Harvard in 1927. Cohen entered Columbia Law School in 1928, completed his Ph.D. comprehensive exams at Harvard and received his doctorate in 1929, and received his LL.B. from Columbia in 1931. That year he accepted a position as research assistant for a judge on the New York Supreme Court and married Lucy M. Kramer. They had two children....

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Durham, John Stephens (18 July 1861–16 October 1919), diplomat, lawyer, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Durham and Elizabeth Stephens. Two of his uncles, Clayton Durham and Jeremiah Durham, were noted clergymen who helped Bishop Richard Allen establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. A mulatto, Durham studied in the Philadelphia public schools, graduating from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1876....

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Grimké, Archibald Henry (17 August 1849–25 February 1930), lawyer, diplomat, and protest leader, was born a slave on “Caneacres” plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Henry Grimké, a lawyer and planter, and Nancy Weston, the family’s slave nurse. His parents probably never married, but his mother assumed the Grimké name. Grimké had an extremely difficult early life. After years of virtual freedom—he had attended Charleston schools for free African Americans though technically a slave—he and his brother ...

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William Hastie. With an unidentified woman. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-94041).

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Hastie, William Henry (17 November 1904–14 April 1976), civil rights attorney, law school professor, and federal judge, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Roberta Childs, a teacher, and William Henry Hastie, a clerk in the U.S. Pension Office (now the Veterans Administration). He was a superb student and athlete. His father’s transfer to Washington, D.C., in 1916 permitted Hastie to attend the nation’s best black secondary school, the Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, from which he graduated as valedictorian in 1921. He attended Amherst College, where he majored in mathematics and graduated in 1925, valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, and magna cum laude. After teaching for two years in Bordentown, New Jersey, he studied law at Harvard University, where one instructor adopted the custom of saying after asking a question of the class, “Mr. Hastie, give them the answer” (Ware, p. 30). He worked on the ...

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Charles Hamilton Houston. Oil on canvas, 1943-1944, by Betsy Graves Reyneau. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Harmon Foundation.

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Houston, Charles Hamilton (03 September 1895–22 April 1950), lawyer and professor, was born in the District of Columbia, the son of William LePre Houston, a lawyer, and Mary Ethel Hamilton, a hairdresser and former schoolteacher. Houston graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst College in 1915. After a year of teaching English at Howard University in Washington, D.C., he served during World War I as a second lieutenant in the 351st Field Artillery of the American Expeditionary Forces. Having experienced racial discrimination while serving his country, Houston “made up [his] mind that [he] would never get caught … without knowing … [his] rights, that [he] would study law and use [his] time fighting for men who could not strike back.” He entered Harvard Law School in 1919, where he became the first African American elected as an editor of the ...

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Hunton, George Kenneth (24 March 1888–11 November 1967), lawyer and activist, was born in Claremont, New Hampshire, the son of George P. Hunton and Elizabeth Dugan. In 1904 George moved with his family to New York. An Irish Catholic, he finished high school at Holy Cross Prep in 1906 and then entered Holy Cross College. After a year at Holy Cross, he enrolled in Fordham Law School. Hunton graduated from Fordham in 1910 and was subsequently admitted to the New York bar....

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Lamb, Theodore Lafayette (11 April 1927–06 September 1984), southern liberal, advertising executive, and lawyer, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Foster Lamb, a butcher, and Theodosia Braswell. Lamb’s father owned a small farm near Alexander, outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, where Lamb grew up. After attending the local one-room school, he hitchhiked into Little Rock, where he attended high school and served as class president. In 1944 he took classes at both Little Rock Junior College and Louisiana State University before enlisting in the army. He was sent to Yale University and trained as a Japanese linguist. He then served from 1944 to 1947 as a second lieutenant in the army’s 441st Counterintelligence Corps. He returned to Yale under the GI Bill and graduated in 1950....

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John Mercer Langston. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

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Langston, John Mercer (14 December 1829–15 November 1897), African-American political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part–Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles’s will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839, however, when a court hearing, concluding that his guardian’s impending move to slave-state Missouri would imperil the boy’s freedom and inheritance, forced him to leave the family. Subsequently, he boarded in four different homes, white and black, in Chillicothe and Cincinnati, worked as a farmhand and bootblack, intermittently attended privately funded black schools since blacks were barred from public schools for whites, and in August 1841 was caught up in the violent white rioting against blacks and white abolitionists in Cincinnati....

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Lowenstein, Allard Kenneth (16 January 1929–14 March 1980), lawyer, congressman, and political agitator, was born Allard Augustus Lowenstein in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Gabriel Abraham Lowenstein, a medical school teacher who turned restaurateur, and Augusta Goldberg. Lowenstein later chose Kenneth to replace Augustus, his given middle name. Only a year old when his mother died he was not told at first that his stepmother was not his birth mother, which he discovered when he was thirteen. In 1945 Lowenstein graduated from Horace Mann School in New York City and four years later graduated from the University of North Carolina. At North Carolina he succeeded in ending the practice of pairing Jewish students as roommates and gained them access to campus fraternities, and when the student state legislature met in Chapel Hill in December 1945 he got a resolution passed opening it up to black participation. Becoming a powerful personality on campus, Lowenstein found a hero and friend in the school’s president, ...

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Thurgood Marshall, c. 1935–1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-84486).

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Marshall, Thurgood (02 July 1908–24 January 1993), civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born Thoroughgood Marshall in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Canfield Marshall, a dining-car waiter and club steward, and Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher. Growing up in a solid middle-class environment, Marshall was an outgoing and sometimes rebellious student who first encountered the Constitution when he was required to read it as punishment for classroom misbehavior. Marshall’s parents wanted him to become a dentist, as his brother did, but Marshall was not interested in the science courses he took at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, from which he was graduated with honors in 1930. He married Vivian “Buster” Burey in 1929; they had no children....

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McGhee, Frederick Lamar (1861–09 September 1912), lawyer and black activist, was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi, the son of Abraham McGhee and Sarah Walker, slaves. Although his father, a blacksmith, was not afforded a formal education, he learned to read and write, later becoming a Baptist preacher. Abraham McGhee also made certain that his children were literate, teaching each of them how to read and write. Such skills served young Frederick well when his parents died in 1873. Having moved with his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, soon after his parents were freed, McGhee remained there, studying at Knoxville College under the tutelage of Presbyterian missionaries. Without completing his undergraduate studies, he soon ventured to Chicago, working as a waiter for a time and then studying law with Edward H. Morris, a prominent local lawyer....

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McKissick, Floyd Bixler (03 March 1922–28 April 1991), civil rights lawyer and activist, was born in Asheville, North Carolina, the son of Ernest McKissick, a hotel bellman, and Magnolia Esther Thompson, a seamstress. When Floyd was four years old, an angry bus driver ordered him to the rear of the bus after he had wandered into the white section to join some white children who were watching the driver. That incident revealed to him that black children did not have the same freedom and opportunity in North Carolina as white children did. Black children attended segregated schools with inferior facilities, sat in the back of the bus, and could not sit down and eat at lunch counters. They received harsh treatment from city employees like bus drivers and police officers. They did not have public skating rinks or swimming pools, and they could not use the public library. As a result of his awareness, McKissick decided early in life that he would study law to fight for equal rights for black Americans. In fall 1939 he began a prelaw course at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, working his way through the year as a dining hall waiter. At Morehouse he became the personal waiter for black political activist, sociologist, and historian ...