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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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Bailey, Gamaliel (03 December 1807–05 June 1859), antislavery journalist and political organizer, was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, the son of Gamaliel Bailey, Sr., a silversmith and Methodist minister, and Sarah Page. As the son of a minister, Bailey enjoyed educational advantages and an early association with evangelical Christianity. Following the relocation of his family to Philadelphia in 1816, Bailey joined with several other adolescents in forming a literary debating society, which stimulated his lifelong interest in literature. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1828, but medicine was never his main interest, and he ceased to practice it by the early 1840s....

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Barrows, Samuel June (26 May 1845–21 April 1909), minister, reformer, and editor, was born in New York City, the son of Richard Barrows, a printer, and Jane Weekes. He was four when his father died and nine when his mother asked her husband’s cousin, printing-press innovator ...

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Bell, Philip Alexander (1808–24 April 1889), abolitionist and journalist, was born in New York City (of unknown parents) and received his education there at the African Free School. He married Rebecca Elizabeth Fenwick, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, in 1832 (number of children unknown). Bell established his reputation as a civic leader in the early 1830s by participating in a wide range of activities in New York City’s African-American community. He was a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, served as New York’s first subscription agent for ...

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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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Blackwell, Henry Browne (04 May 1825–07 September 1909), social reformer, editor, and entrepreneur, was born in Bristol, England, the son of Samuel Blackwell, a sugar refiner and antislavery reformer, and Hannah Lane. After business reversals the family moved in 1832 to New York, where their household became a haven for abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and self-emancipated slaves. In 1838 the debt-ridden Blackwells moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. When his father died a few months later, thirteen-year-old Henry went to work to support the family, initially as a clerk in a flour mill. In 1845 he joined the two illiterate millers as a partner, and two years later his brother made him a partner in a hardware firm. Within a few years the enterprising Henry (“Harry” to his friends) had his finger in many economic pies—among them an agricultural publishing firm, land speculation, and sugar beet production (perhaps after his father, who had sought an alternative to slave-based sugar cane). At the same time Harry moved to the forefront of women’s rights agitation and abolitionism....

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Childs, George William (12 May 1829–03 February 1894), publisher, biographer, and philanthropist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. The names of his parents are not known. In Recollections (1890), his autobiography, Childs shrouds his family origins in mystery, making no reference to his parents or early childhood, beginning instead with an explanation of how he had had from a young age “a rather remarkable aptitude for business.” At twelve he worked a summer job as an errand boy in a Baltimore bookstore for two dollars a week. He reflects in ...

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Copley, Ira Clifton (25 October 1864–02 November 1947), newspaper publisher, congressman, public utilities executive, and philanthropist, was born in Copley Township, Knox County, Illinois, the son of Ira Birdsall Copley and Ellen Madeline Whiting, farmers. When Copley was two he was struck with scarlet fever, which left him blind. When he was three, the family moved to Aurora, Illinois, where he received treatment for his eyes. Even with the care of an eye specialist, his complete blindness lasted five years. With the move to Aurora, his father and his mother’s brother assumed ownership of the Aurora Illinois Gas Light Company, the beginning of a large utility company that Ira would one day manage....

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Frederick Douglass Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-19288).

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Douglass, Frederick ( February 1818–20 February 1895), abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel ...

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Evans, George Henry (25 March 1805–02 February 1856), labor editor and land reformer, was born in Bromyard, in Herefordshire, England, the son of George Evans, who served in the British army during the Napoleonic Wars, and Sarah White, who came from the modestly landed gentry. When she died in 1815 George Henry remained with his father to receive a “scholastic” education while his younger brother Frederick William was sent to live with relatives. In 1820 Evans immigrated to the United States with his father and brother; he was apprenticed to a printer in Ithaca, New York, where the family settled. The Evans brothers studied the writings of ...

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Marshall Field III In military uniform during World War I. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93592).

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Field, Marshall, III (28 September 1893–08 November 1956), investor, newspaper publisher, and philanthropist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Marshall Field II and Albertine Huck. Being the grandson of the first Marshall Field, the Chicago multimillionaire merchant and real-estate developer, meant that Field would be heir to fabulous wealth—all the sooner when his father, unhappy and passive in his active father’s shadow, committed suicide in 1905 and then when his beloved grandfather died of pneumonia two months later. Field’s mother, who had lived in England with her husband and their children and who disliked Chicago, returned to England. The grandfather’s will provided well for Albertine and gave Field and his younger brother a $75 million trust together. Field attended Eton (1907–1912) and then Trinity College, Cambridge (1912–1914), studying mostly history and vacationing with the horsy set. He returned to the United States in 1914 and married Evelyn Marshall the following year; the couple had three children, including Marshall Field IV. He also studied high finance and played polo. In April 1917 he volunteered as a private, despite his earlier rheumatic fever, in the First Illinois Cavalry (quickly converted to artillery service). He was soon commissioned and promoted, saw action in France as a captain with the Thirty-third Division, and was decorated for gallantry at Saint-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne....

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Timothy Thomas Fortune. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum.

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Fortune, Timothy Thomas (03 October 1856–02 June 1928), militant newspaper editor, was born in Marianna, Florida, the son of Emanuel Fortune, a literate slave artisan, and Sarah Jane Moore, a slave. Fortune was raised amid tumultuous times in Reconstruction Florida. His father, one of two African Americans elected as delegates to the 1868 state’s constitutional convention and a member of the Florida House of Representatives, was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and had to flee the area for months in 1869. Thirteen-year-old Timothy became the man of the house in his father’s absence. “The constant fear, the stories of outrage …, the sign of his once high-spirited mother gradually breaking under the strain of anxiety—all these had a lasting influence on the sensitive and imaginative boy” (Thornbrough, p. 17)....

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Funk, Isaac Kauffman (10 September 1839–04 April 1912), publisher and reformer, was born near Clifton, Ohio, the son of John Funk and Martha Kauffman, farmers. Funk graduated from Wittenberg College in 1860 and from its theological seminary the following year. He subsequently held pastorates at Lutheran churches near Moreshill, Indiana, and in Carey, Ohio, before moving to St. Matthews’ English Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he remained the longest. In 1863 he married Eliza Thompson; they had two children. The year after his wife’s death in 1868 he married her sister, Helen G. Thompson. The couple had one son....

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William Lloyd Garrison. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-27876).

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Garrison, William Lloyd (10 December 1805–24 May 1879), editor, abolitionist leader, and religious reformer, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the son of Abijah Garrison, a seaman, and Frances “Fanny” Lloyd, a housekeeper. The poverty, instability, and religiosity of Garrison’s childhood exerted a profound, lifelong influence on him, for his career was always shaped by his strong needs for public recognition, for self-vindication, and for expressing his spiritual zeal....

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Gay, Sydney Howard (22 May 1814–25 June 1888), journalist and abolitionist, was born in Hingham, Massachusetts, the son of Ebenezer Gay, a politician and banker, and Mary Alleyne Otis. He was taught respect for his New England heritage and had a sense of civic duty that he found both burdensome and inspiring in later life. Gay’s father—a prominent local figure who had great expectations of his children—announced to Gay while Gay was still young that he would enter the legal profession and set him on an appropriate course of study at Hingham’s Derby Academy....