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Charles Francis Adams, Jr. During his Civil War service. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-B8171-7390).

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Adams, Charles Francis (27 May 1835–20 March 1915), railroad official, civic leader, and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Charles Francis Adams (1807–1886), a diplomat and politician, and Abigail Brown Brooks. He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and great-grandson of ...

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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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Albrier, Frances Mary (21 September 1898–21 August 1987), civil rights activist and community leader, was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the daughter of Lewis Redgrey, a supervisor in a factory, and Laura (maiden name unknown), a cook. Following the death of her mother when Frances was three, she and her baby sister were reared by her paternal grandparents, Lewis Redgrey, a Blackfoot Indian, and Johanna Bowen, a freed slave, on their 55-acre farm in Tuskegee, Alabama....

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Alexander, Abraham (1718–23 April 1786), early leader in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, was born probably in Cecil County, Maryland, the son of Francis Alexander (mother’s name unknown). Alexander was descended from one of several families bearing his surname who arrived in the middle colonies from Northern Ireland early in the eighteenth century, many of them settling in Cecil County. His grandfather, Joseph Alexander, a tanner, recorded his will in Cecil County in 1726. His father may have migrated with his wife and children, but it is more likely that Abraham was in the vanguard of younger relatives who commenced relocating in the early 1750s to the southern piedmont of North Carolina. The Alexander clan was enticed to the region by Lord George Augustus Selwyn and ...

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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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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Appleton, William Sumner (29 May 1874–24 November 1947), preservationist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Sumner Appleton, a numismatist and genealogist, and Edith Stuart Appleton (Appleton was both her maiden and married name). Appleton grew up in the materially and culturally privileged world of Boston’s Beacon Hill. His family’s involvement in the formation of several historical and cultural organizations dedicated to preserving some aspect of their Puritan heritage influenced him. His grandfather, the industrialist and banker Nathan Appleton, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Massachusetts, was an organizer of the Boston Athenaeum. His father had no need to pursue any gainful employment and wrote many works on numismatics and genealogy. He was also a founder of the Bostonian Society, the Boston Numismatic Society, and the American Historical Society....

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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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Nathaniel Bacon. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-91133).

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Bacon, Nathaniel (1647–26 October 1676), leader of colonial rebellion, was born in Suffolk County, England, the son of Thomas Bacon, a landed proprietor, and Elizabeth Brooke. His tutor, John Ray, with whom he shared a European grand tour, described him as a young gentleman of “very good parts, and a quick wit,” but “impatient of labour, and indeed his temper will not admit long study.” A dark side was always present in Bacon’s background, as is clear from the fact that when he married Elizabeth Duke, daughter of Sir Edward Duke of Benhall, that gentleman was so angered that he disinherited his daughter and never spoke to her again. Bacon and his wife would have one child. After Bacon became involved in a scheme to defraud a neighboring youth, his father packed him off on a tobacco ship to Virginia where his cousin, Nathaniel Bacon, Sr., served as one of the king’s councilors of state....

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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....