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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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Alexander, Will Winton (15 July 1884–13 January 1956), leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration, leading southern liberal, expert on race relations, and member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, was born near Morrisville, Missouri, the son of William Baxter Alexander, a farmer, and Arabella A. Winton, a schoolteacher. Alexander received a B.A. from Scarritt-Morrisville College in 1908 and continued his studies at Vanderbilt University, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity in 1912. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1911, Alexander held pastorates at Nashville (1911–1916) and Murfreesboro, Tennessee (1916–1917). In 1914 he married Mabelle A. Kinkead; they had three sons....

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Allen, Levi (16 January 1746–16 December 1801), American Loyalist and free-trade advocate, was born in Cornwall, Connecticut, the son of Joseph Allen and Mary Baker, farmers. Though self-educated, Allen taught school in the Hudson River Valley for a year when he was eighteen. Expressing boredom with that sedentary life, he left teaching for the Indian trade in 1765. Over the next four years, Allen and his partner, Peter Pond, the prominent explorer and maker of wildly inaccurate maps, were among the first European Americans to trade in the Miami country. This experience made Allen a lifelong defender of the Native Americans. As he wrote in his autobiography, “Christians have not so much to boast over the American Indians as they Vainly attribute to themselves.” After a competitor in Detroit tried to kill him, Allen moved to the Green Mountains with several of his brothers and cousins in 1771. Allen became a member of the Green Mountain Boys, the militia founded by his brother ...

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Fisher Ames. Oil on wood, c. 1807, by Gilbert Stuart. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George Cabot Lodge.

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Ames, Fisher (09 April 1758–04 July 1808), Federalist party leader, member of Congress, essayist, and renowned orator, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames, Sr., a physician, tavern keeper, and almanac writer, and Deborah Fisher. Intellectually honed, Ames was admitted to Harvard at twelve. Steeped in the classics, he excelled in elocution and participated in a debating club, the Institute of 1770. Graduating in 1774, he served with the Dedham militia at the time of the battle of Bunker Hill but did not see combat. At home he pursued his scholarly interests, reading widely in classical literature and history. He also occasionally taught school. Under the tutelage of the prominent ...

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Ames, Nathaniel (09 October 1741–20 July 1822), almanac writer, physician, and political activist, was born in Dedham, Massachusetts, the son of Nathaniel Ames and Deborah Fisher Ames. The senior Nathaniel strongly influenced his son with his deep interest in the “new science” of Isaac Newton and his activities as a physician, tavern proprietor, and compiler of a notable almanac. At sixteen Nathaniel, Jr., entered Harvard College and in January 1758 began to keep a diary. His lively, absorptive mind responded to new ideas, particularly Professor ...

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Anderson, Charles William (28 April 1866–28 January 1938), politician and public official, was born in Oxford, Ohio, the son of Charles W. Anderson and Serena (maiden name unknown). After a public school education in his hometown and in Middletown, Ohio, he studied at Spencerian Business College in Cleveland and the Berlitz School of Languages in Worcester, Massachusetts. His schooling continued informally, as Anderson matured into an intellectually accomplished and engaging man. His friend ...

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Arenas, Reinaldo (16 July 1943–07 December 1990), novelist and political activist, was born in Holguín, a town in rural eastern Cuba, the son of Oneida Fuentes, a poor peasant woman, and a peasant father who abandoned his unborn child. Barely sixteen years old at the time of the Cuban Revolution, Arenas received excellent instruction during the Campaigns against Illiteracy conducted by volunteers sympathetic to Fidel Castro’s ideals. Such an opportunity for self-improvement was unheard of during the regime of the deposed leader, Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Arenas received a scholarship so that he might pursue a career in accounting in Havana....

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Arvey, Jacob Meyer (03 November 1895–25 August 1977), lawyer and Democratic leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Israel Arvey, a businessman, and Bertha Eisenberg. His parents were Jewish Lithuanian immigrants. Arvey, known as “Jack,” married Edith Freeman in 1915; they had three children. After earning a degree at the John Marshall School of Law, he opened a law practice in Chicago in 1916....

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Ashe, Arthur (10 July 1943–06 February 1993), tennis player, author, and political activist, was born Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Arthur Ashe, Sr., a police officer, and Mattie Cunningham. Tall and slim as a young boy, Ashe was forbidden by his father from playing football; he took up tennis instead on the segregated playground courts at Brookfield Park, near his home. By the time he was ten he came under the tutelage of a local tennis fan and physician from Lynchburg, Walter Johnson. Johnson had previously nurtured Althea Gibson, who would become the first African American to win Wimbeldon, in 1957 and 1958, and his second protégé would prove no less successful....

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Austin, Benjamin (18 November 1752–04 May 1820), polemicist and Democratic-Republican leader, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Benjamin Austin, a merchant and provincial councilor, and Elizabeth Waldo. He attended Boston Latin School but did not go on to college. In 1779 he was elected a clerk of the market by the Boston Town Meeting. Austin visited England in 1783 and following his return joined with his brother, ...

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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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Barbadoes, James G. (1796–22 June 1841), abolitionist and community activist., was an Nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth, early life, and education, although his surname may indicate West Indian origins.

Barbadoes emerged as an important figure in the small but influential African-American community in Boston’s West End by the mid-1820s; from 1821 to 1840 he operated a barbershop in Boston. He was a prominent member of the African Baptist church and of African Lodge #459, the preeminent black fraternal organization in the nation. An amateur musician applauded for both his vocal and instrumental talents, he performed regularly before local audiences. But he was best known as an “indefatigable political organizer.”...

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Barker, James William (05 December 1815–26 June 1869), nativist political leader, was born in White Plains, New York. Little is known about Barker’s early life except that he worked in New York as a clerk and later opened there his own dry goods business, whose success made him quite wealthy. By the early 1850s Barker was active in the New York Whig party....

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Bates, Barnabas (1785–11 October 1853), reformer and activist, was born in Edmonton, England. Soon after his birth he immigrated to New England with his parents, whose names are not known. Educated for the Baptist ministry, Bates began his career in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in 1808, and then relocated to Bristol, Rhode Island, in 1814. Within a year he became master of the local Masonic lodge, and his sermons began to drift toward Unitarianism. Unhappy with these developments, his small congregation attempted to depose their pastor in 1816, but the coup was only a partial success: Bates lost his salary but kept the church, which remained empty for the next eight years. During this time, Bates parlayed his reputation as an “undeviating Republican” into government appointments as the Bristol postmaster and then as port collector. He used the latter office to thwart the efforts of some reputed local slave smugglers and thereby earned the enmity of Bristol’s powerful deWolf family. At the urging of Senator James deWolf, the Senate rejected Bates’s 1824 renomination as port collector....

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Bellanca, August (14 March 1885–13 November 1969), trade union and political activist, was born in Sciacca, Sicily, Italy. His father was a farmer and a baker, but little else is known of his parents or his childhood in Sicily. Bellanca attended elementary school in Sciacca and went to work at age sixteen, when he was apprenticed to a tailor and a barber in Sciacca. Some time between 1900 and 1905, he immigrated to the United States and worked as a cigar maker in Tampa, Florida, and San Francisco, California, until he moved to the Northeast. Bellanca helped found the Brotherhood of Tailors, which became an important dissident group in the United Garment Workers of America (UGWA), a conservative affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Bellanca’s own immigrant background enabled him to become an organizing force among the garment workers, a group composed primarily of Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants who maintained their roots in ethnic communities and cultures....

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Victor Berger. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-100903).

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Berger, Victor Louis (28 February 1860–07 August 1929), a founder and leader of the Socialist Party of America and a U.S. congressman, was born in the Nieder-Rehbach region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Romania) to Ignatz Berger and his wife, Julia (maiden name unknown), innkeepers. Berger attended the Universities of Vienna and Budapest for two years. His family suffered economic reversals and in 1878 emigrated to Bridgeport, Connecticut. In 1881 Berger settled in Milwaukee, where he taught school. In the heavily Germanic city he emerged as a leader, initially through the ...

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Philip Berrigan. Leaving the courthouse after his arrest for splashing blood on draft records, Baltimore, Maryland, 28 October 1967. Courtesy of AP Images.

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Berrigan, Philip (05 October 1923–06 December 2002), political activist, was born Philip Francis Berrigan in Two Harbors, Minnesota, the youngest of six sons of Thomas W. Berrigan, a railroad engineer and union organizer who espoused radical politics, and Frida Fromhart Berrigan. Frida Berrigan, an immigrant from Germany, saw to it that her children were raised as strict Catholics; her husband, a second‐generation Irish Catholic, was less observant, preferring to write poetry rather than attend church. When Philip was a child his father was fired from the railroad, allegedly because of his politics. The family resettled on a small farm near Syracuse, New York, where Thomas Berrigan found work at a power plant and organized a local branch of the Electrical Workers Union....