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Burrell, Berkeley Graham (12 June 1919–30 August 1979), business executive and civic leader, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Hayward G. Burrell and Fannie Miles. Although his parents’ occupations are unknown, both his father and mother were natives of the District of Columbia, and Burrell’s roots in the area ran deep. After graduating from Dunbar High School at the age of fifteen, he worked as a driver for a local pharmacy and apparently also drove a cab for a while. He married at age sixteen (wife’s name unknown), and the marriage produced a son before ending in divorce seven years later....

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A. G. Gaston, 8 September 1963. Outside of his home in Birmingham, Ala., the same day it was torched in protest of his work in the Civil Rights Movement. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Gaston, A. G. (04 July 1892–19 January 1996), entrepreneur, was born Arthur George Gaston in Demopolis, Alabama, the son of Tom Gaston, a railroad worker, and Rosa Gaston (maiden name unknown), a cook. He grew up in poverty in rural Alabama before he and his mother moved to Birmingham, Alabama, after his father's death. He attended, and for a good time resided at, Tuggle Institute, where he received a moral and industrial education. In 1910 he graduated from the school with a tenth grade certificate. Before and after graduation, he worked at a variety of part-time jobs, including selling subscriptions for the ...

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Lowell, Ralph (23 July 1890–15 May 1978), banker and civic leader, was born in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, the son of John Lowell, a lawyer, and Mary Emlen Hale. Bearing one of the Bay State’s most distinguished family names, Lowell was brought up amid material comfort and dedication to community service. He graduated from Harvard College in 1912 with a Phi Beta Kappa key that he wore thereafter on his vest pocket chain. Lowell majored in anthropology and always maintained a keen interest in the Indians of the American Southwest....

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Parks, Henry Green, Jr. (29 September 1916–24 April 1989), business executive, entrepreneur, and civic leader, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the son of Henry Green Parks, Sr. His mother’s name is unknown, but both of his parents are known to have worked as domestic laborers. Seeking a better life, the family moved to Dayton, Ohio, when Parks was six months old. There Parks’s father found work as a hotel bartender and later as a wine steward in a private club. Because both of Parks’s parents worked long hours, the family did not spend a lot of time together. Henry spent most of his time with his paternal grandmother, whom he described as “very religious.” The example that his father set for him was one of diligence, perseverance, risk-taking, and making hard choices. All of these attributes were evident in Parks’s life....

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Scammon, Jonathan Young (27 July 1812–17 March 1890), lawyer, banker, and civic promoter, was born in Whitefield, Maine, the son of Eliakim Scammon and Joanna Young, farmers. As a boy he lost two fingers on his left hand, an injury that diverted his attentions away from farming and toward a profession. Scammon attended Maine Wesleyan Seminary, Lincoln Academy, and then Waterville (now Colby) College. Abandoning his studies at Waterville after only one year because of financial difficulties, Scammon went to Hallowell to read law at age nineteen and was licensed to practice in 1835....

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Isaac Newton Seligman With wife, Guta Loeb Seligman, c. 1911. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75063).

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Seligman, Isaac Newton (10 July 1855–30 September 1917), financier and civic leader, was born in Staten Island, New York, the son of Joseph Seligman, an investment banker, and Babette Steinhardt. He was educated at Columbia Grammar School (as a small boy he was tutored by ...

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Seligman, Joseph (22 November 1819–25 April 1880), merchant, investment banker, and New York civic leader, was born in Baiersdorf, Bavaria, the son of David Seligman and Fanny Steinhardt. Joseph, who excelled in literature and in the classics, graduated from the Erlangen Gymnasium and started to study medicine. Resentful of the economic and sociopolitical restrictions against Jews in the Germanies, he decided against a career in medicine and against one in the wool-weaving business of his father and in 1837 made the long journey on the ship ...

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Stranahan, James Samuel Thomas (25 April 1808–03 September 1898), capitalist and civic leader, was born in Peterboro, Madison County, New York, the son of Samuel Stranahan and Lynda Josselyn, farmers. As a child he attended local district schools and worked on the family farm. Following the death of his father when James was eight, his mother remarried another farmer, John Downer, and James spent the final years of his youth on his stepfather’s farm. Although the details of his next few years are uncertain, it is known that he taught in local schools and spent a year in study at Cazenovia Seminary. After gaining some knowledge of land surveying, he worked in that occupation for a period of time. Following an abortive 1828 trip to Michigan, where he attempted to enter the fur-trading business, Stranahan returned to New York and entered the wool business in Albany....

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White, Eartha Mary Magdalene (08 November 1876–18 January 1974), social welfare and community leader and businesswoman, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the daughter of Mollie Chapman, a former slave, and an unnamed prominent white man. She was adopted shortly after birth by freed slaves Lafayette White, a drayman and Civil War veteran, and Clara English, a domestic and cook. Lafayette White died when Eartha was five. Throughout her childhood Clara made Eartha feel as though God had chosen her for a special mission. Listening to stories of hardships that Clara endured as a slave and watching her mother’s humanitarian contributions to Jacksonville’s “Black Bottom” community convinced Eartha White that she too would someday make a difference in the African-American community....