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Abernathy, Ralph David (11 March 1926–17 April 1990), civil rights leader and minister, was born David Abernathy in Linden, Alabama, the son of William L. Abernathy and Louivery Valentine Bell, farmers. A sister’s favorite professor was the inspiration for the nickname “Ralph David,” and although Abernathy never made a legal change, the name remained with him from age twelve....

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Burns, Anthony (31 May 1829?–27 July 1862), fugitive slave and pastor, was born in Stafford County, Virginia; his parents (names unknown) were slaves of the Suttle family. Burns’s father had died during his infancy. Influenced by his devout mother, he converted to the Baptist faith and later became an unofficial preacher to other slaves. Burns’s owner, Charles F. Suttle, farmed in Stafford until 1852, when he moved to Alexandria to become a commission merchant. Suttle prospered and sufficiently distinguished himself that both communities elected him to various offices....

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King, Martin Luther (19 December 1897–11 November 1984), Baptist pastor and civil rights activist, was born Michael King in Stockbridge, Georgia, the son of James Albert King, an impoverished sharecropper, and Delia Linsey, a cleaning woman and laundress. As a boy King attended school from three to five months a year in an old frame building, where Mrs. Lowe, the wife of the pastor of Floyd’s Chapel Baptist Church, taught 234 children in all grades. At Floyd’s Chapel, King gained confidence as a singer and had a growing sense of a call to preach. At fifteen, when he delivered a trial sermon at Floyd’s Chapel and was licensed to preach, King had learned to read but could not yet write. As a young country preacher he occasionally visited Atlanta. At twenty he left Stockbridge and settled there. He lived in a rooming house and worked at various jobs, including making tires in a rubber plant, loading bales of cotton, and driving a barber-supply truck....

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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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Peabody, Lucy Whitehead McGill Waterbury (02 March 1861–26 February 1949), Baptist and interdenominational lay leader in women's foreign mission organizations, Baptist and interdenominational lay leader in women’s foreign mission organizations, was born in Belmont, Kansas, the daughter of Canadian-born William McGill, a merchant, and Sarah Hart. Soon after Lucy’s birth the family moved to Pittsford, New York, her mother’s birthplace, and a few years later to nearby Rochester, where Lucy graduated from high school as valedictorian (1878) and taught for three years at the city’s State School for the Deaf. In 1881 she married Norman Waterbury, a recent graduate of Rochester Theological Seminary, and the couple soon sailed for Madras, India, under appointment of the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU) as missionaries to Telegu-speaking people. An outgoing, gregarious woman, Lucy Waterbury effectively conducted a teaching ministry among women. Her husband died of dysentery in November 1886, and the young widow arrived back in Rochester the following August with their two surviving children. (One other child had died.)...

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Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. (29 November 1908–04 April 1972), minister and congressman, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and Mattie Fletcher Shaffer. The Family moved to New York City in 1909 after the senior Powell became minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, then located at Fortieth Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. In 1923, at the elder Powell’s urging, the church and the family joined the surge of black migration uptown to Harlem, with the church moving to 138th Street between Seventh and Lenox avenues....

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Simmons, William James (26 June 1849–30 October 1890), Baptist leader, educator, and race advocate, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of enslaved parents, Edward Simmons and Esther (maiden name unknown). During his youth, Simmons’s mother escaped slavery with him and two of his siblings, relocating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Simmons’s uncle, Alexander Tardieu (or Tardiff), a shoemaker, became a father for the children and a protector and provider for the fugitive slave family. He moved them among the cities of Philadelphia, Roxbury, Massachusetts, and Chester, Pennsylvania, constantly eluding persistent “slave catchers,” before permanently taking residence in Bordentown, New Jersey. While Simmons never received formal elementary or secondary school education, his uncle made a point of teaching the children to read and write. As a youth Simmons served as an assistant to a white dentist in Bordentown. At the age of fifteen he joined the Union army, participating in a number of major battles in Virginia and finding himself at Appomattox in 1865. After the war, Simmons once again worked briefly as a dental assistant. He converted and affiliated with the white Baptist church in Bordentown in 1867, announced his call to the ministry, and ventured to college with the financial support of church friends....

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Williams, George Washington (16 October 1849–02 August 1891), soldier, clergyman, legislator, and historian, was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, the son of Thomas Williams, a free black laborer, and Ellen Rouse. His father became a boatman and, eventually, a minister and barber, and the younger Williams drifted with his family from town to town in western Pennsylvania until the beginning of the Civil War. With no formal education, he lied about his age, adopted the name of an uncle, and enlisted in the United States Colored Troops in 1864. He served in operations against Petersburg and Richmond, sustaining multiple wounds during several battles. After the war’s end, Williams was stationed in Texas, but crossed the border to fight with the Mexican republican forces that overthrew the emperor Maximilian. He returned to the U.S. Army in 1867, serving with the Tenth Cavalry, an all-black unit, at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory. Williams was discharged for disability the following year after being shot through the left lung under circumstances that were never fully explained....