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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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Blackwell, Randolph Talmadge (10 March 1927–21 May 1981), attorney, educator, and civil rights activist, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Joe Blackwell and Blanche Mary Donnell. He attended the city’s public schools for African-American youth and earned a B.S. in sociology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro in 1949. Four years later Blackwell earned a J.D. degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In December 1954 he married Elizabeth Knox. The couple had one child. After teaching economics for a year at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama, near Huntsville, Blackwell became an associate professor of social sciences at Winston-Salem State Teachers College in North Carolina....

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Clark, Peter Humphries (1829–21 June 1925), educator, politician, and civil rights leader, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Michael Clark, a barber, and his wife (name unknown). Clark was the product of a complex, mixed racial ancestry that provided the basis for a lifelong struggle to find a place for himself in both the white and African-American worlds. The oral tradition of Peter Clark’s family and of the Cincinnati African-American community contends that Michael Clark was the son of explorer ...

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Clark, Septima Poinsette (03 May 1898–15 December 1987), educator and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the daughter of Peter Porcher Poinsette, a caterer who was a former slave, and Victoria Warren Anderson, who took in laundry to supplement the family income. Septima’s mother, who had been raised in black-governed Haiti, instilled in her daughter a determination to succeed in spite of white racism....

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Cook, George William (07 January 1855–20 August 1931), educator and civil rights leader, was born a slave in Winchester, Virginia. The names of his parents are unknown. In May 1862 the Cook family, which included seven children, became war refugees after the Union capture of Winchester. The family eventually settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where young George Cook’s most important early experience as a free person was working as a servant for David D. Mumma, a Pennsylvania state legislator. Permitted to use the Mumma family library, Cook developed the ambition to seek higher education, which would have remained beyond his grasp except for several fortunate events. After he moved to New York in 1871, Cook learned of Howard University from the Reverend ...

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Cook, Vivian E. J. (06 October 1889–28 July 1977), educator, was born Vivian Elma Johnson in Colliersville, Tennessee, the daughter of Spencer Johnson, a farmer, and Caroline Alley, a teacher. One of eight children, she grew up under the enterprising spirit of her parents, both of whom were born in slavery. The fact that her mother was the first black schoolteacher in the Tennessee community of Fayette County set a special standard of achievement for her and her seven siblings. The family moved to Memphis when she was very young and the decision was made to favor the girls with a higher education. All four were to graduate from college, but Vivian, thanks to the financial assistance of a brother, inventor and railway postal clerk Thomas W. Johnson, was able to attend Howard University and later earn a master’s degree in English from Columbia University....

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Cooper, Anna Julia Haywood (1858?–27 February 1964), author, educator, and human rights activist, was born, probably on 10 August 1858, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the daughter of Hannah Stanley, a slave. Though her paternity is uncertain, she believed her mother’s master, Dr. Fabius J. Haywood, to have been her father. She later described her ancestry: “The part of my ancestors that did not come over in the Mayflower in 1620 arrived … a year earlier in the fateful Dutch trader that put in at Jamestown in 1619… . I believe that the third source of my individual stream comes … from the vanishing Red Men, which … make[s] me a genuine F.F.A. (First Family of America).”...

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Dillard, James Hardy (24 October 1856–02 August 1940), educator and promoter of racial harmony, was born in Nansemond County, Virginia, the son of James Dillard and Sarah Brownrigg Cross, planters. Dillard spent most of his early years on the family’s plantation with its over three hundred slaves. At the age of twelve he was sent to school in Norfolk. He enrolled in Washington and Lee University in 1873 where he excelled in history and received a master’s degree in 1876 and a bachelor of laws in 1877. Although Dillard considered building a legal practice, his parents’ poverty in the aftermath of the Civil War forced him to accept the principalship of the Rodman School in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1877 in order to immediately assist his family. Five years later he married Mary Harmanson and accepted an administrative position at Norfolk Academy....

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James Farmer Photograph by Marion S. Trikosko, 1964. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (U.S. News and World Report Collection: LC-U9-11814).

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Farmer, James (12 January 1920–09 July 1999), founder and national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), civil rights activist, and educator, founder and national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), civil rights activist, and educator, was born James Leonard Farmer, Jr., in Marshall, Texas, the son of James Leonard Farmer (known as “J. Leonard”), a Methodist minister and the son of ex-slaves, and Pearl Houston Farmer, who had been a teacher. Farmer's father, who earned a doctorate of religion from Boston University, was one of the first blacks in Texas to hold a Ph.D. When Farmer was six months old the family, which included an older sister, moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi, where his father had accepted teaching and administrative posts at Rust College. Able to read, write, and count by the age of four and a half, Farmer was accepted into the first grade. The family soon moved again, as Professor Farmer joined the department of religion and philosophy at Samuel Houston College in Austin, Texas....

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Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Seated right, with J. E. Fellows, dean of admissions at the University of Oklahoma, seated left, and, standing left to right, Thurgood Marshall and Amos T. Hall, 1948. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-84479).

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Fisher, Ada Lois Sipuel (08 February 1924–18 October 1995), civil rights pioneer, lawyer, and educator, was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the daughter of Travis B. Sipuel, a minister and later bishop of the Church of Christ in God, one of the largest black Pentecostal churches in the United States, and Martha Bell Smith, the child of a former slave. Her parents moved to Chickasaw, Oklahoma, shortly after the Tulsa race riot of 1921....

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Hope, Lugenia D. Burns (19 February 1871–14 August 1947), community organizer and educator, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Ferdinand Burns, a well-to-do carpenter, and Louisa M. Bertha. Lugenia was raised in a Grace Presbyterian, middle-class family. Her father’s sudden death forced her mother to move the family to Chicago to maintain their class standing and provide Lugenia, or “Genie” as she was called, with educational opportunities lacking in St. Louis. From 1890 to 1893, while her older siblings worked to support the family, Lugenia attended high school and special classes, the Chicago School of Design, the Chicago Business College, and the Chicago Art Institute....

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Hundley, Mary Gibson Brewer (18 October 1897–01 January 1986), educator and civil rights activist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of Malachi Gibson, a lawyer and graduate of Howard University, and Mary Matilda Syphax, a teacher. Hundley was the granddaughter of William Syphax, first superintendent of Colored Public Schools in Washington and Georgetown after the Civil War, and, according to family tradition, a descendant of ...

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Lanusse, Armand (1812–16 March 1868), writer, civil rights activist, and educator, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nothing is known of his personal life except that he married and had five children, four sons and a daughter. A brother, Numa Lanusse, also displayed considerable literary talent until his death at the age of twenty-six in a riding accident....

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Logan, Rayford Whittingham (07 January 1897–04 November 1981), historian of the African diaspora, university professor, and civil rights and Pan-Africanist activist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Arthur Logan and Martha Whittingham, domestic workers. Two circumstances of Logan’s parents are germane to his later life and work. Although he grew up in modest circumstances, his parents enjoyed a measure of status in the Washington black community owing to his father’s employment as a butler in the household of Frederic Walcott, Republican senator from Connecticut. And the Walcotts took an interest in the Logan family, providing them with occasional gifts, including money to purchase a house. The Walcotts also took an interest in Rayford Logan’s education, presenting him with books and later, in the 1920s and 1930s, introducing him to influential whites in government. Logan grew up on family lore about the antebellum free Negro heritage of the Whittinghams. It is open to question how much of what he heard was factual; nevertheless, he learned early to make class distinctions among African Americans and to believe that his elite heritage also imposed on him an obligation to help lead his people to freedom and equality....

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Matthews, Victoria Earle (27 May 1861–10 March 1907), writer, civil rights advocate, and social reformer, was born in Fort Valley, Georgia, the daughter of Caroline Smith, a slave, and, according to family legend, her mother's white master, although her obituary in the New York Times...

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Miller, Kelly (18 July 1863–29 December 1939), educator and essayist, was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina, the son of Kelly Miller, a free black who served in the Confederate army, and Elizabeth Roberts, a slave. The sixth of ten children, Miller received his early education in one of the local primary schools established during Reconstruction and later attended the Fairfield Institute in Winnsboro from 1878 to 1880. Awarded a scholarship to Howard University, he completed the Preparatory Department’s three-year curriculum in Latin, Greek, and mathematics in two years (1880–1882), then attended the College Department at Howard from 1882 to 1886....

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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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Reason, Charles Lewis (21 July 1818–16 August 1893), educator and reformer, was born in New York City, the son of Michel Reason and Elizabeth Melville, both from the Caribbean. Reason attended the African Free School along with his brothers Elmer Reason and Patrick Reason...