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Arnold, Isaac Newton (30 November 1815–24 April 1884), congressman and biographer, was born in Hartwick, Otsego County, New York, the son of George Washington Arnold, a doctor, and Sophia Mason. His parents, natives of Rhode Island, had moved to Otsego County around 1800. Isaac attended local schools, including Hartwick Seminary. Between 1832 and 1835 he taught school and studied law, and in 1835 he was admitted to the bar. After practicing in Cooperstown for about a year, he moved in the fall of 1836 to Chicago, where he entered a partnership. In 1837 he was elected city clerk, a post he resigned in order to attend to his expanding practice....

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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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Bigelow, John (25 November 1817–19 December 1911), writer, and diplomat, was born in Bristol (now Malden-on-Hudson), New York, the son of Asa Bigelow and Lucy Isham, successful farmers and merchants. At thirteen he entered Washington (later Trinity) College in Hartford, Connecticut, but transferred to Union College in Schenectady, New York, from which he was graduated in 1835. In New York City Bigelow studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1838....

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English, William Hayden (27 August 1822–07 February 1896), congressman, vice presidential candidate, and historian, was born in Lexington, Indiana, the son of Elisha G. English and Mahala Eastin. Elisha, a landowner and railroad vice president, was a Democrat who served in the Indiana legislature for nearly twenty years and was friends with many important politicians. William benefited from his father’s contacts and status and was influenced by his views....

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Garvey, Amy Euphemia Jacques (31 December 1896–25 July 1973), journalist, Pan-Africanist, and the second wife of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, journalist, Pan-Africanist, and the second wife of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, the daughter of George Samuel Jacques, a property owner, and Charlotte (maiden name unknown). Amy Jacques’s family was rooted in the Jamaican middle class; thus, she was formally educated at Wolmer’s Girls’ School, an elite institution in Jamaica. As a young woman she suffered from ailing health due to recurring bouts with malaria. In need of a cooler climate, she emigrated to the United States in 1917 and settled in New York City where she had relatives. After hearing contradictory reports about the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), recently founded by Garvey, she attended a meeting in Harlem. She was intrigued by the organization and in 1918 became Garvey’s private secretary and office manager at UNIA headquarters in New York. She traveled with Garvey throughout the United States on behalf of UNIA, and they developed a relationship based on their mutual commitment to the organization. Marital problems between Garvey and his first wife, Amy Ashwood, had been evident within the first two months of their marriage. Garvey was granted a divorce from Ashwood in June of 1922, and he married Amy Jacques the next month in Baltimore, Maryland....

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Graham, Shirley (11 November 1896–27 March 1977), musical composer and director, author, and political activist, also known as Shirley Graham Du Bois, was born Lola Bell Graham in Indianapolis, Indiana, the daughter of the Reverend David A. Graham, an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and Etta Bell. She accompanied them when her father held pastorates in New Orleans, Colorado Springs, and Spokane. He delighted her with stories about important blacks in American history. In his churches, she learned to play the piano and the pipe organ and to conduct choirs. In 1914 she graduated from high school in Spokane, took business school courses, and worked in government offices in Spokane and Seattle. After she married Shadrach T. McCanns in 1921, she gave private music lessons and played the organ in white movie theaters, hidden backstage. She had two sons, Robert and David, and was either widowed in 1924 or obtained a divorce in 1929. (In many respects, biographical data concerning Graham are in dispute.)...

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Shirley Graham Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1946. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117469).

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Lash, Joseph P. (09 December 1909–22 August 1987), biographer, journalist, and political activist, was born in New York City, the son of Samuel Lash and Mary Avchin, grocery store owners. By the time Lash was eleven years old, the metropolitan press had dubbed him a “boy prodigy” because he had scored above college freshmen in the Binet-Simon intelligence test. While helping his Russian-Jewish immigrant parents operate their small store in their Columbia University neighborhood, Lash frequently waited on professors and students, acquiring—as he later recalled—“bookish and academic aspirations by sheer contact.” At De Witt Clinton High School, Lash displayed literary inclinations, winning a city-wide essay contest and serving as the student newspaper’s book review editor....

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Lee, Henry (28 May 1787–30 January 1837), politician and writer, was born at “Stratford Hall,” Westmoreland County, Virginia, the son of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, a politician and army general, and Matilda Lee. Lee attended Washington Academy (Lexington, Va.) and the College of William and Mary (1807–1808). From 1810 to 1813 he represented Westmoreland County in the Virginia House of Delegates, and he served on the Canadian frontier as a major in the Thirty-sixth U.S. Infantry during the War of 1812. After the war, President ...

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Mason, Alpheus Thomas (18 September 1899–31 October 1989), political scientist, biographer, and author, was born at Snow Hill on Maryland’s eastern shore, the son of Herbert William Mason and Emma Leslie Hancock, farmers. Although lacking in formal training, Mason’s father was a student of life and politics and pressed education on his son. In particular, he pushed his son to excel as a public speaker and helped him to win several oratorical prizes in school. Mason’s mother had a lasting influence on her son. Although she only finished seventh grade, like his father, she was a first-rate teacher and a perfectionist through and through. She instilled in her son the idea that nothing was “good enough” until it reached the acme of perfection. Her persistence and perfectionism were traits that her son inherited and admired....

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Nicolay, John George (26 February 1832–26 September 1901), journalist and private secretary and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, journalist and private secretary and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, was born in Essingen, Bavaria, the son of John Jacob Nicolay, a farmer and barrelmaker, and Helena (maiden name unknown). The Nicolay family emigrated to the United States when John was a small boy, arriving in New Orleans in 1838. From there the family moved frequently, living in Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri, before settling in Pike County, Illinois, where John’s father and brothers operated a flour mill. Nicolay clerked for a year in a store in White Hall, Illinois, before going to work as a typesetter at the ...

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Rives, William Cabell (04 May 1793–25 April 1868), politician, diplomat, and author, was born in Amherst County, Virginia, the son of Robert Rives, a revolutionary war veteran and merchant, and Margaret Jordan Cabell. Rives was educated at Hampden-Sydney College and graduated from William and Mary in 1809. He studied law with ...

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Thayer, Alexander Wheelock (22 October 1817–15 July 1897), diplomat and biographer, was born in South Natick, Massachusetts, the son of Alexander Thayer, a physician, and Susanna Bigelow. As a Harvard undergraduate, Thayer wrote a prize-winning essay on modern philosophy. Following his graduation in 1843, he pursued a law degree at his alma mater while serving as an assistant librarian, a position in which he developed research skills that would ultimately permit him to succeed in his life’s work: writing a factually accurate biography of Beethoven. He received his law degree in 1848 and worked for a summer for the United States Geological Survey before leaving the next year for Europe, where he mastered the German language and conducted research on Beethoven in Bonn, Berlin, and Vienna. Lack of funds and ill health caused him to return to the United States in 1851; the following year he assumed an editorial position with the ...