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Roger Nash Baldwin. [left to right] Roger Nash Baldwin, Felicia Bernstein, and Leonard Bernstein, celebrating Baldwin's eightieth birthday. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109651).

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Baldwin, Roger Nash (21 January 1884–26 August 1981), civil libertarian and social activist, was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the son of Frank Fenno Baldwin, a leather manufacturer who owned several companies, and Lucy Cushing Nash. The lines on both sides of the family went back to the Pilgrims. Baldwin attended Wellesley public schools. As a boy he lacked prowess in sports and developed interests in music, art, and nature. He was regarded as “different,” which made him seek, early in life, “unconventional, nonconformist avenues of expression” consistent with the intellectual heritage of ...

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Bonnin, Gertrude Simmons (22 February 1876–26 January 1938), author and activist, was born on the Yankton Sioux reservation in Dakota Territory, the daughter of Ellen Tate’lyohiwin Simmons. Bonnin’s father, about whom little is known other than that he was named Felker and was white, had left the family before Bonnin’s birth. Bonnin, who later became known as Zitkala-Sa or Red Bird, lived with her mother on the reservation until the age of eight, when she attended White’s Indiana Labor Institute, a boarding school for Native American children providing instruction in English and manual labor. These early experiences of indoctrination into European-American culture and the separation from her mother would inform Bonnin’s later writings and her commitment to Native American self-determination....

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Bradley, Mamie Till (23 November 1921–07 January 2003), advocate for racial justice, was born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan. Her father, Wiley Nash Carthan, was a factory worker; her mother, the former Alma Spearman, had been a domestic. Mamie Carthan was born in Webb, Mississippi, a hamlet near the Tallahatchie County seat of Sumner, and was raised in Argo, a suburb of Chicago, where she graduated high school....

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Calloway, Ernest (01 January 1909–31 December 1989), African American labor and civil rights leader, journalist, and public intellectual, was born in Heberton, West Virginia. His father, also named Ernest, was a coal miner, and his mother, Mary Hayes, was the elder Calloway’s second wife. In 1913 the family moved to Jenkins, Kentucky, where Calloway spent his teenage years. A bright and restless youth, Calloway rebelled against the racial segregation and tight social control he experienced in a company-dominated southern coal town. After working in the mines with his father, he hoboed across the United States during the early years of the Great Depression. In March 1934 Calloway’s first published article appeared in a National Urban League magazine and led to his receiving a scholarship to attend Brookwood Labor College, an independent school that supported working-class insurgency. Calloway’s stint at Brookwood imbued him with commitments to industrial unionism, interracial organizing, and democratic socialism that endured throughout his long career....

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Castro, Sal (25 October 1933–15 April 2013), high school teacher and community activist, was born Salvador Castro in Los Angeles, the only child of Carmen Buruel and Salvador Castro, both Mexican immigrant workers. Because his father was undocumented he was deported in 1935 as part of a repatriation movement that blamed Mexican immigrants for taking jobs from “real Americans” during the Great Depression; Castro and his mother were spared being part of this tragic episode. The separation eventually led to his parents divorcing; his mother later remarried....

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Chafee, Zechariah, Jr. (07 December 1885–08 February 1957), professor of law and civil libertarian, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Zechariah Chafee, an industrialist, and Mary Dexter Sharpe. For generations his father’s family owned and ran the Builders Iron Foundry, and his mother’s family owned the Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company. Chafee attended Brown University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1907. For three years he worked at the family foundry but discovered that he was temperamentally unsuited to the life of an industrialist. He entered Harvard Law School in 1910 and again showed intellectual prowess by graduating at the top of his class in 1913. In 1912 he married Bess Frank Searle; they had four children. Chafee practiced at a law firm in Providence until 1916 when he joined the Harvard Law School faculty, where he would remain until his retirement in 1956. He was made a full professor in 1919, eventually occupied the prestigious Langdell Chair, and became a University Professor in 1950....

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Chapman, Maria Weston (26 July 1806–12 July 1885), abolitionist and reformer, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of Warren Weston and Anne Bates. Maria Weston was educated in England, where she lived with the family of her uncle Joshua Bates. She returned to the United States in 1828 to become the principal of the newly founded ...

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Coolidge, Albert Sprague (23 January 1894–31 August 1977), chemical physicist, political activist, and civil libertarian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge, an orthopedic surgeon, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. His mother was the daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, a pioneer merchant of Chicago, which made it possible for Sprague Coolidge to be financially independent. He was directly descended from John Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts, who emigrated from England in 1630 and whose farm occupied almost all of what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. His college preparatory education was at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from Harvard College in 1915. That year he married Margaret Stewart Coit. They had five children....

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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DeSilver, Albert (03 August 1888–07 December 1924), civil liberties leader and lawyer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Carll Harrison DeSilver, a stockbroker and art patron, and Mary Henrietta Block. He attended private schools in Brooklyn and Connecticut and was graduated in 1910 from Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and the editorial board of the ...

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Flores, Francisca ( December 1913–27 April 1996), Chicana feminist, journal editor, and antipoverty activist, was born in San Diego, California, the second of six children born to Maria Montelongo, a cook and union shop steward, and Vicente Flores, who worked in a slaughterhouse. One of Flores’s brothers died of tuberculosis in 1926; that same year she herself developed tuberculosis and spent the next ten years in a tuberculosis sanatorium. While there she met and befriended women veterans of the Mexican Revolution. Those friendships led her to organize a political discussion group, Hermanas de la Revolución Mexicana, for women in the sanatorium. Politicized by her experience, Flores emerged from the sanatorium in 1936 at age twenty-three, determined to live a life of activism. Two years later she married Laverne Lynn; the couple divorced around 1954 without having any children....

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Elizabeth G. Flynn Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97791).

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Foltz, Clara Shortridge (16 July 1849–02 September 1934), first woman lawyer on the Pacific Coast, suffrage leader, and founder of the public defender movement, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the only daughter of Elias Shortridge and Talitha Harwood. Trained as a lawyer, Elias Shortridge turned instead to preaching among the Disciples of Christ and in 1860 became pastor to a well-established church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. For a few years, Clara attended the progressive Howe’s Academy until her father was expelled from his congregation for unorthodoxy. She then became a teacher herself in nearby Illinois before eloping—at the age of fifteen—with a handsome Union soldier, Jeremiah Foltz. During hard years on an Iowa farm, she bore four children....

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Galamison, Milton Arthur (25 Mar. 1923–9 Mar. 1988), Presbyterian minister, civil rights leader, and community activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Gladstone Galamison, a postal worker, and Dorothy Galamison, a clothier. Galamison grew up in poverty, which he attributed not to the Great Depression but rather to his father’s abandoning his family. After his parents separated Galamison lived with his maternal grandmother and aunt....

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Garcia, Hector Perez (17 January 1914–26 July 1996), physician, community organizer, and civil rights activist, was born 17 January 1914 in Llera, Tamaulipas, Mexico. He was the second of nine children born to José and Faustina García, who emigrated to Mercedes, Texas, in 1917. Both of García’s parents were teachers in Mexico before the Mexican Revolution forced the family to flee the country. They instilled in their children the value of education, conducting daily lessons in language, literature, history, and math. In Mercedes Héctor’s father was a small business owner managing a dry-goods store and supporting all of his children through college. Remarkably, six of the García children would complete medical degrees....

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Norman Dorsen and Sarah Barringer Gordon

Hays, Arthur Garfield (12 December 1881–14 December 1954), lawyer and author, was born in Rochester, New York, to Isaac Hays and Laura Garson, both members of prosperous families in the clothing trade. When Hays was twelve the family moved to New York City, where, with brief exceptions he lived throughout his life....

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Height, Dorothy Irene (24 March 1912–20 April 2010), social worker and civil rights and women’s activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia to James Edward Height and Fannie Burroughs Height. When Dorothy was four the family moved to Rankin, Pennsylvania (outside of Pittsburgh), part of the Great Migration northward by African Americans in the early twentieth century. Her father worked as a building contractor while her mother found employment as a private nurse. Height recalled being influenced by both her father’s activities in the black Baptist church and her mother’s involvement in the black clubwomen’s movement....

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Hill, Herbert Milton (24 Jan. 1924–15 Aug. 2005), labor and civil rights activist, was born at St. Mark’s Place Hospital in New York City, the son of Jacob Hill, a clarinet player in classical music orchestras, and Mary Gzibeck Hill, a milliner. Both were Yiddish-speaking immigrants who arrived before World War I from Russia, which then included Poland. They resided in Brooklyn. While Hill was still a boy his mother died, and he was sent to live with an uncle and aunt in Jackson Heights, Queens, before returning to his father’s home as a teenager. Seeking to make him into a pianist, his father enrolled him in Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, noted for musical excellence. There Hill encountered members of the Young Communist League, but he was repelled by the ...