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Alston, Melvin Ovenus (07 October 1911–30 December 1985), educator, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. Of middle-class background in terms of an African-American family in the urban South in the 1920s, he grew up in a house that his family owned, free of any mortgage. After attending Norfolk’s segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated from Virginia State College (B.S., 1935), honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship, and began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School in 1935. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men’s Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church....

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Medgar Evers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109400).

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Evers, Medgar (02 July 1925–12 June 1963), civil rights activist, was born Medgar Wiley Evers in Decatur, Mississippi, the son of James Evers, a sawmill worker, and Jessie Wright, a domestic worker. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and served in the invasion of Normandy and the French campaign. After the war ended Evers returned to Mississippi, where he attended Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College, a segregated land-grant institution, from which he graduated in 1952 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. While at Alcorn he met a nursing student, Myrlie Beasley, whom he married in 1951; the couple had three children....

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Hampton, Fred (30 August 1948–04 December 1969), black power and civil rights activist, was born Frederick Allen Hampton in Chicago, Illinois, the youngest of three children born to Francis and Iberia Hampton, who had left Haynesville, Louisiana, in the 1930s in search of economic and social opportunities and moved to Argo, Illinois, where they both eventually secured employment at the Corn Products Refining Company. In 1951 the Hamptons moved to Blue Island, Illinois, and stayed for seven years before moving to Maywood, Illinois, in 1958....

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116776).

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King, Martin Luther, Jr. (15 January 1929–04 April 1968), Baptist minister and civil rights leader, was born Michael King, Jr., in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of the Reverend Michael King ( Martin Luther King) and Alberta Williams. Born to a family with deep roots in the African-American Baptist church and in the Atlanta black community, the younger King spent his first twelve years in the home on Auburn Avenue that his parents shared with his maternal grandparents. A block away, also on Auburn, was Ebenezer Baptist Church, where his grandfather, the Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, had served as pastor since 1894. Under Williams’s leadership, Ebenezer had grown from a small congregation without a building to become one of Atlanta’s prominent African-American churches. After Williams’s death in 1931, his son-in-law became Ebenezer’s new pastor and gradually established himself as a major figure in state and national Baptist groups. In 1934 the elder King, following the request of his own dying father, changed his name and that of his son to Martin Luther King....

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Lovejoy, Elijah Parish (09 November 1802–07 November 1837), abolitionist editor and preacher, was born near Albion, Maine, the son of Daniel Lovejoy, a Congregational preacher and farmer, and Elizabeth Pattee. Lovejoy graduated from Waterville (now Colby) College in 1826 and a year later moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he conducted a private school and edited the ...

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Loving, Richard Perry (29 October 1933–29 June 1975), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of Twillie Loving, a lumber truck driver, and Lola Allen, a homemaker and midwife. He attended local schools, worked as a bricklayer, and was a drag racer in his spare time. In June 1958, in Washington, D.C., Loving, a white man, married Mildred Dolores Jeter, of mixed Native-American and African-American ancestry. They took up residence as newlyweds in her parents’ home in Caroline County. Early one morning some weeks later, they awoke to find three police officers in their bedroom, and they were arrested for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. In January 1959 they pleaded guilty, and the presiding judge, Leon Bazile, sentenced them each to a year in jail but suspended the sentence on condition that they leave the state and not return together for the next twenty-five years....

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Malcolm X Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115058).

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Malcolm X (19 May 1925–21 February 1965), African-American religious and political leader, also known as el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Earl Little and Louise (also Louisa) Norton, both activists in the Universal Negro Improvement Association established by ...

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Milk, Harvey (22 May 1930–27 November 1978), politician and gay rights activist, was born Harvey Bernard Milk in Woodmere, Long Island, New York, the son of William Milk and Minerva Karns. His father operated a department store in Woodmere that was founded in 1882 by his grandfather, Morris Milk (originally Milch), a Lithuanian immigrant. Before she married his father, Milk’s mother was an early feminist activist who joined the Yoemanettes, a group agitating for the inclusion of women in the U.S. Navy during World War I....

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Lambdin P. Milligan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75189).

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Milligan, Lambdin P. (24 March 1812–21 December 1899), lawyer and defendant in a notable U.S. Supreme Court case, was born in Belmont County, Ohio, the son of Moses Milligan and Mary Purdy, farmers. (It is not known what his middle initial stood for.) He attended only one term of a subscription school but read widely in his father’s library. He left home during his late teens and worked as a farm hand and schoolteacher for several years before choosing law over medicine as a career. In 1835 he passed his oral bar exam, scoring highest in a class of nine, which included ...

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Moore, Harry Tyson (18 November 1905–25 December 1951), educator and civil rights activist, was born in Houston, Florida, the son of S. Johnny Moore, a farmer and store owner, and Rosalea Alberta Tyson, an insurance agent. An African American, Moore grew up in rural, northern Florida when racial segregation was in full force. After attending public schools in Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, in 1925 Moore graduated from Florida Memorial College in Live Oak with an A.A. degree. (Not until 1951 did he receive a B.S. degree from Bethune Cookman College.) In 1926 Moore began his teaching career at Cocoa Junior High School in Cocoa, Florida. As a public school teacher, he knew firsthand that a separate school system shortchanged black students and faculty in providing unequal facilities and financial resources. In 1926 Moore married Harriette Vyda Simms; they had two children....

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Ozawa, Takao (15 June 1875–16 November 1936), central figure in naturalization test case, was born in Sakurai village, Ashigara-Kami District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Ozawa arrived in San Francisco at the age of nineteen. There he worked while putting himself through school and graduated from Berkeley High School. He then attended the University of California for three years. In 1906 he discontinued his studies and moved to Hawaii, where he was employed as a salesman by the Theo H. Davies Company, a large Honolulu dry goods wholesale dealer. He was married to Masako Takeya, who was also a Japanese immigrant. They had five children, all born, raised, and educated in Honolulu....

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Randolph, Benjamin Franklin (1820?– October 1868), African-American political leader in Reconstruction South Carolina, was born free in Kentucky, the child of mixed-race parents whose names are unknown. As a child, Randolph’s family moved to Ohio where he was educated in local schools. In 1854 he entered Oberlin College’s preparatory department, before attending the college from 1857 to 1862. At Oberlin, Randolph received instruction both in the liberal arts and at the college’s theological seminary. Soon after graduation he was ordained as a Methodist Episcopal minister. During the Civil War Randolph served as a chaplain in the Twenty-sixth Colored Infantry, which was dispatched to Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 1864....

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Scopes, John Thomas (03 August 1900–21 October 1970), high school science teacher, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Scopes, a railroad machinist who had immigrated from England, and Mary Alva Brown. When the family moved from Paducah to Danville, Illinois, Scopes and his sisters experienced bigotry firsthand. They were ostracized as southerners who sounded different. They and two African-American students were seated separately from the rest of their class during school assemblies....