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Bowman, Thea (29 December 1937–30 March 1990), Roman Catholic nun, educator, and advocate for Catholicism within African American communities, was born Bertha Elizabeth Bowman in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the daughter of Theon Edward Bowman and Mary Esther Coleman Bowman. According to Bowman, her childhood was relatively happy and free from financial worries; her father was a doctor and her mother had been a teacher prior to the birth of their only child. As a young girl Bowman attended a number of African American churches, including Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Adventist, A.M.E., and A.M.E. Zion. Relationships she developed with members of the Catholic Order of the Missionary Servants of the Moly Holy Trinity, which included priests, sisters, and brothers, led her to convert to Catholicism when she was nine years old. In June 1947 Bowman was baptized at Holy Child Jesus Mission in Canton, Mississippi. She made her First Communion the following day....

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Bronson, Ruth Muskrat (3 Oct. 1897–12 June 1982), Cherokee activist, educator, and federal official, was born Ruth Muskrat, the fourth of seven children, on a small farm in the Delaware District of the Cherokee Nation near what is now Grove, Oklahoma. Her mother, Ida Lenora Kelly, was the child of English-Irish immigrants who entered the Cherokee Nation on work permits from Missouri. Her father, James Ezekiel Muskrat, was a descendant of both Old Settler Cherokees and those forcibly removed from their homes in Georgia two decades later during what has come to be known as the Trail of Tears. A language speaker and conservative traditionalist, James was a committed Cherokee nationalist in a time when Cherokee sovereignty was increasingly under assault by industrial interests, territorial advocates, and proponents of allotment, assimilation, and Oklahoma statehood. With the passage of the Curtis Act in ...

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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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Catto, Octavius Valentine (22 Feb. 1839–10 Oct. 1871), civil rights activist, educator, and athlete, was born to William T. Catto and Sarah Isabella Cain in Charleston, South Carolina. His family soon moved to Baltimore, Maryland and ultimately settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Catto’s father, a former slave who gained his freedom early in life, became an ordained Presbyterian minister. His mother came from a mulatto family. Catto attended segregated primary classes at the Vaux Primary School and the Lombard Street School in Philadelphia and the prestigious Allentown Academy in Allentown, New Jersey. In ...

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Portrait of Octavius V. Catto, c.1871, by S. Fox

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ppmsca-18480]

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Horton, Myles (9 July 1905–19 Jan. 1990), co-founder of the Highlander School, educator and activist in the labor and civil rights movements, was born Myles Falls Horton in Savannah, Tennessee, the eldest son of Elsie Falls Horton and Perry Horton. Both parents were schoolteachers prior to Horton’s birth, but lost their jobs when the qualifications to teach were increased to include a year of high school, which neither of them possessed. After a number of years of low-paying jobs, Horton’s father became an active participant in the Worker’s Alliance, the union of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), while Horton’s mother volunteered to teach literacy in the community. Horton later said that he took from his mother a belief in the power of love, “the principle of trying to serve people and build a loving world” (Horton, p. 7). These lessons in working for the greater good of society would serve as the guiding force throughout his life....

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McMillan, Enolia (20 October 1904–24 October 2006), educator and civil rights activist, was born Enolia Virginia Pettigan in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. She was the eldest of four children born to former slave John Pettigan and domestic worker Elizabeth Fortune. Her family moved to Cecil County, Maryland in 1912 after her father bought a small farm. She graduated from Baltimore’s Douglass High School in 1922. She was recipient of the first scholarship from the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and attended Howard University, a traditionally black college in Washington, D.C., and graduated with a bachelor of arts in education in 1927....

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Wharton, Robert Leslie (5 Sept. 1871–2 Aug. 1960), presbyterian missionary, pastor, teacher, and school administrator in Cuba, was born on his parents’ farm in McLeansville, North Carolina to William P. Wharton and Jane N. Rankin Wharton, who were married in 1856. After graduation from Davidson College with an A.B. in ...