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Bodenheim, Maxwell (26 May 1892–07 February 1954), poet, critic, and novelist, was born in Hermanville, Mississippi, the son of Solomon Bodenheimer and Caroline Herman. An emigrant from Alsace, Solomon Bodenheimer never found financial or professional security; his career included stints as a traveling whiskey salesman and unsuccessful forays into clothing stores and men’s haberdashery. The daughter of a distinguished and wealthy surgeon, Caroline Bodenheimer came from a milieu that was vastly different from that of her husband. Indeed, the town of Hermanville itself obtained its name from Caroline Bodenheimer’s uncle, M. B. Herman, who had founded the town and established a small mercantile empire there. Caroline’s tales of lost prosperity provided a bitter contrast to the impoverished world in which Maxwell Bodenheim was reared....

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Canby, Edward Richard Sprigg (09 November 1817–11 April 1873), Civil War general, was born in Piatt’s Landing, Kentucky, the son of Israel T. Canby, a land speculator and politician, and Elizabeth Piatt. Canby received an appointment to West Point and graduated thirtieth out of thirty-one in the class of 1839. Shortly after graduation he married Louisa Hawkins; they had one child, who died young. He began his military career as a second lieutenant with the Second Regiment of the U.S. Infantry. Canby gained his first military leadership experience during the confrontation with the Seminole Nation in northern Florida, 1840–1842, and his first administrative experience in the Adjutant General’s Office during garrison duty at Fort Niagara, 1842–1846. At the end of this duty, in June 1846, he received promotion to first lieutenant and, in 1847, to captain as assistant adjutant general. During the Mexican War Canby fought beside ...

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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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Garfield, James Abram (19 November 1831–19 September 1881), twentieth president of the United States, was born in Orange township (now Moreland Hills) in the Western Reserve region of northern Ohio, the son of Abram Garfield and Eliza Ballou, farmers. After his father’s death in 1833, James was brought up amid rural poverty by his strong-willed mother. The hardships of those early years would later provide grist for campaign biographers, including ...

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Giancana, Sam (24 May 1908–19 June 1975), crime syndicate boss, was born Salvatore Giangana in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Antonino Giangana, a fruit peddler, and Antonia DeSimone. Giancana grew up in the tough ethnic ghetto called The Patch in Chicago’s Near West Side during the period when legendary gangster ...

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Hindman, Thomas Carmichael (28 January 1828–27 September 1868), general and congressman, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Thomas Carmichael Hindman and Sallie Holt. His father moved to Jacksonville, Alabama, in 1832 as an Indian agent of the federal government and then to Ripley, Tippah County, Mississippi, in 1841, where he operated a large plantation. As the son of a well-to-do family, Hindman attended a variety of local private schools and graduated in 1846 from the Lawrenceville Classical and Commercial Institute located near Princeton, New Jersey....

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Kennedy, John Fitzgerald (29 May 1917–22 November 1963), thirty-fifth president of the United States, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph P. Kennedy, a millionaire businessman and public official, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, daughter of Boston mayor John F. Fitzgerald. John Kennedy’s education stressed preparation for advancement of a Catholic in an Anglo-Saxon, generally anti-Catholic society. He entered Harvard College in 1936. Kennedy, known to his friends and family as Jack, was an indifferent student at first but became more interested in his studies following a European summer vacation after his freshman year. A longer stay in Europe in 1939 led to his senior honors paper, “Appeasement in Munich,” which was published the following year as ...

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Kennedy, Robert Francis (20 November 1925–06 June 1968), politician, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a capitalist, and Rose Fitzgerald. His father Joseph made a fortune in the stock market and through other investments and served from 1938 to 1940 as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. The seventh of nine children, Robert, known as “Bobby,” graduated from Milton Academy in 1943. In March 1944 he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, leaving it in February 1946 to become an apprentice seaman aboard the destroyer USS ...

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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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La Salle, René-Robert Cavalier de (21 November 1643–19 March 1687), explorer, was born in Rouen, France, the son of Jean Cavelier, a haberdasher, and Catherine Geest. The family was part of the prosperous bourgeoisie. The sobriquet “de La Salle” referred to an estate they owned outside Rouen. La Salle’s initial intention, however, seems to have been to escape his position, for after having studied with the Jesuits in Rouen, he renounced any claim to the family fortunes and entered the novitiate for the order in Paris in 1658. He actually took vows in 1660, continued, apparently rather brilliantly, his studies of mathematics, and taught in Jesuit schools until 1666. Having requested missionary assignments several times and been denied because he had been unable to demonstrate spiritual maturity and submission to the discipline of the order, he was released from his vows in 1667 and only a few months later went to New France, penniless but with many influential connections. There his brother, a Sulpician, was doubtless responsible for his obtaining from that order a grant of a seigneury on Montreal Island, but after two years La Salle sold most of it back to them and began his career of exploration by attaching himself to the Dollier and Galinée missionary party bound for the western Great Lakes. Hearing of the Ohio River from Iroquois Indian guides, he left the party, claiming illness, and virtually disappeared for four years....

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Lincoln, Abraham (12 February 1809–15 April 1865), sixteenth president of the United States, was born in Hardin County, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, farmers. Thomas Lincoln had come to Kentucky from Virginia with his father Abraham in 1782. He acquired only enough literacy to sign his name but gained modest prosperity as a carpenter and farmer on the Kentucky frontier. He married Nancy Hanks, also illiterate, in 1806. Abraham was born in a log cabin on “Sinking Spring Farm” three miles south of Hodgenville. When he was two years old the family moved to another farm on Knob Creek about seven miles northeast of Hodgenville. On this farm of 230 acres (only thirty of which were tillable) Abraham lived for five years, helped his parents with chores, and learned his ABCs by attending school for a few weeks with his older sister Sarah....

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Long, Huey Pierce (30 August 1893–10 September 1935), governor of Louisiana and U.S. senator, was born in the hill country of Winn Parish, Louisiana, the son of Huey Pierce Long and Caledonia Tison, modestly prosperous farmers who lived comfortably by the standards of their community and sent six of their ten children to college. Huey, however, was not one of them. Even while attending high school, he worked for several years as a traveling salesman. Later, he briefly studied law at the University of Oklahoma and Tulane University. He received no degree, but he equipped himself to pass the Louisiana bar exam. By the summer of 1915, he was practicing law in his home town of Winnfield and starting a family with his wife of two years, Rose McConnell. They would eventually have three children....

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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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McIntosh, William (1778?–30 April 1825), military leader and high-ranking chief in the Creek Nation, was born in Coweta, in present-day Russell County, Alabama, the son of Captain William McIntosh, a recruiter for the British army, and Senoya, a full-blooded Creek. McIntosh was raised as a Creek, enduring the customary rites of passage and advancing to the rank of chief, ...

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McKinley, William (29 January 1843–14 September 1901), twenty-fifth president of the United States, was born in Niles, Ohio, the son of William McKinley and Nancy Allison, both of Scotch-Irish ancestry. McKinley’s father managed charcoal furnaces and manufactured pig iron in a small way. McKinley went to school in Niles and later in Poland, Ohio. At seventeen he entered Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, but a brief illness and financial problems forced him to drop out after a single term....

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Ridge, John (1803–22 June 1839), Cherokee leader, was born in Oothcaloga, Georgia, the son of Major Ridge, a Cherokee leader, and Susanna Wickett. As a young man Ridge was slight, delicate, and walked with a limp because of a hip problem, but he appeared to be a bright and eager student. His parents stressed education early in the boy’s life, and he attended a mission school at age seven. Ridge was a quick learner and felt that the school system, which called for advanced students to tutor younger, slower students, was retarding his education. Therefore, he, with several other Cherokee students, attended a school in Cornwall, Connecticut, in 1818. There they received religious and agricultural training and studied geography, history, rhetoric, surveying, Latin, and natural science....

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Schultz, Dutch (06 August 1902–24 October 1935), gangster and underworld entrepreneur, was born Arthur Flegenheimer in the Bronx, New York City, the son of Herman Flegenheimer, a glazier and baker, and Emma Neu. Before the boy completed the sixth grade, his father either deserted the family or died. Arthur’s mother then took in laundry to support the family, and he quit school to sell newspapers, run errands, and work as an office boy, printer’s apprentice, and roofer. While he proudly retained his roofers’ union card as evidence of his working-class respectability, he was pulled into the gang world of the Bronx slums. In 1919 he was convicted on a burglary charge and was sent to a reformatory for fifteen months. This police record, plus his cultivation of a reputation as a hardened tough, led to his calling himself Dutch Schultz, the name of a well-known former street brawler in the area....

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Smith, Joseph (23 December 1805–27 June 1844), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the Mormon Church, was born in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, the son of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Lucy Mack, farmers. Joseph Smith was notable among religious figures for claiming to receive revelations and to translate ancient religious texts. Mormons consider these writings, published as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon, as scripture on a par with the Bible and think of Smith as a prophet in the biblical tradition. Smith did not consider himself to be either a reformer or the founder of a new religion. In his own eyes, he was restoring the Christian gospel as taught by Jesus and the first apostles. Nothing in Joseph Smith’s background prepared him to write scriptures or to head a religious movement. His parents were poor New England farmers who began life with a farm in Tunbridge, Vermont, but lost it in 1803 after a commercial venture failed. When Joseph Smith, Jr., was born two years later, the Smith family lived on a farm rented from a relative. In 1816 they migrated to Palmyra, New York, and in 1818 purchased 100 acres in Farmington (later Manchester) a few miles south of Palmyra village. For the first time in fourteen years they owned land of their own....

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Spotted Tail (1823–05 August 1881), leader of the Brulé [Sican gu] Teton, leader of the Brulé [Sican gu] Teton, was born in south-central South Dakota, the son of modest parents. (His name in his native tongue was Sinte Gleska.) At an early age, Spotted Tail sought a position of political leadership. As a young man he valiantly fought the Pawnee, earning his people’s approval and becoming a praiseworthy man. This was his first step toward political leadership, and it enabled him to understand that political gain could be achieved by waging a successful military expedition....

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Till, Emmett Louis (25 July 1941–28 August 1955), the most famous young victim of racial violence in southern and American history, was born near Chicago, the son of Louis Till, a soldier, and Mamie (maiden name unknown), a clerical worker. After completing the seventh grade in an all-black elementary school on the South Side of Chicago, “Bobo” Till was sent on vacation to the Mississippi Delta in late summer 1955. His hosts were his great-uncle, Moses Wright, a sharecropper, and Wright’s wife, Elizabeth....