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Hugo Black. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-95031).

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Black, Hugo Lafayette (27 February 1886–25 September 1971), associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and senator from Alabama, was born in Harlan, near Ashland, Clay County, Alabama, the son of William Lafayette Black, a storekeeper, and Martha Ardella Toland. Although not raised in poverty, Black was a child of relatively humble antecedents. Through the depressions of the mid-1870s and 1890s, his father gradually acquired title to the property of debtors and left his children a sizable estate. Hugo used his inheritance to finance his education, attending medical school in Birmingham before switching to the law. He graduated from the University of Alabama Law School at Tuscaloosa in 1906. He then opened a law office in Clay County, but business was moribund, and in 1907 he moved to Birmingham. Black’s first big case was the suit of a black convict who had been held in the convict lease program of a steel company for twenty-two days after his release date. Black won damages for his client and an enhanced reputation as well as his fee. Soon he became one of Birmingham’s most successful plaintiffs’ lawyers, a master of the jury trial, with an income of approximately $47,000, which was generated by hundreds of contingent-fee cases. He also earned the respect, even the friendship, of those in a position to judge his performance. Indeed, throughout his life, Black was renowned for his charm, his ability to withstand criticism with equanimity, and his generosity to opponents. He was polite, collegial, forgiving—and unswerving....

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James F. Byrnes Standing, as Representative Fred H. Dominick listens to a radio in the Capitol, 1924. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-107382).

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Byrnes, James Francis (02 May 1882–09 April 1972), U.S. senator and secretary of state, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of James Francis Byrnes, a Charleston city clerk, and Elizabeth McSweeney, a dressmaker. His father died before Byrnes was born, and at age fourteen Byrnes left school to help support his family. While working as a messenger in a law office, he took shorthand lessons and qualified as a court stenographer. To obtain the court position he had to misrepresent his year of birth as 1879, and he used that date the rest of his life. Under the tutelage and surrogate fatherhood of two judges, he was schooled in literature and history and read law. He passed the South Carolina bar exam in 1903 and began practice in Aiken, but he also continued to work as court stenographer. Born an Irish Catholic, Byrnes formally converted to the Episcopal church upon his 1906 marriage to Maude Busch. They had no children....

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Lamar, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus (17 September 1825–23 January 1893), U.S. representative and senator from Mississippi, secretary of the interior, and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born in Putnam County, Georgia, the son of Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, a state judge, and Sarah Williamson Bird. Lamar was educated at Emory College under the guidance of college president ...

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McKinley, John (01 May 1780–19 July 1852), U.S. senator and justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, the son of Andrew McKinley, a physician, and Mary Logan. Sometime after 1790, Dr. McKinley moved his family to Lincoln County, Kentucky, where John grew up. He read law and was admitted to the bar in 1800. He practiced first in Frankfort and thereafter in Louisville. By 1810 he owned two slaves. He married Juliana Bryan and, later, Elizabeth Armistead, twenty years his junior. He had at least two children....

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Minton, Sherman (20 October 1890–09 April 1965), U.S. Senator, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, son of John Evan Minton, a farmer, and Emma Lyvers, was born on a farm near Georgetown, Indiana. After graduating from New Albany High School, he attended Indiana University, graduating at the head of his class in the law college in 1915. A scholarship enabled him to earn an L.L.M. degree at Yale Law School in 1916. Minton’s law practice in New Albany, Indiana, was interrupted by service overseas as an infantry captain in World War I. Following his military discharge, he returned to his law practice in New Albany and became very active in the Democratic party. He married Gertrude Gurtz in 1917; they had three children....

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George Sutherland Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103588).

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Sutherland, George (25 March 1862–18 July 1942), U.S. senator and associate justice of the Supreme Court, was born Alexander George Sutherland in Stoney Stratford, Buckinghamshire, England, the son of Alexander Sutherland, Sr., a prospector and lawyer, and Frances Slater. Before George’s second birthday, his father decided to move the family to the United States. In order to be close to the Mormon church, the Sutherlands settled in Springville in what is now the state of Utah. After renouncing his faith in the church, Alexander held a variety of jobs, from miner to postmaster, justice of the peace, and lawyer. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1871. Young George began working at the age of twelve, holding jobs at a clothing store, a mining recorder’s office, and at Wells Fargo. In 1879 he enrolled at the newly established Brigham Young Academy in Provo, which later became Brigham Young University. There he was influenced by the broad teachings of the school’s president, Karl G. Maeser, who intimated that the U.S. Constitution was a divinely inspired document. At age eighteen Sutherland chaired the 1880 convention of the Liberal party, which sought to temper the influence of Mormons in the Utah territory. Following graduation from Brigham Young in the summer of 1881, Sutherland went to work for the Rio Grande Western Railroad, continuing his informal education on the western frontier. He soon enrolled in the law school at the University of Michigan, where he studied under James Valentine Campbell and ...

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Edward Douglass White. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-94150).

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White, Edward Douglass (03 November 1845–19 May 1921), chief justice and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. senator, was born in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, the son of Edward Douglass White, a Louisiana lawyer, congressman, governor, and sugar planter, who died shortly after White’s birth, and Catherine Sidney Lee Ringgold. White was initially schooled on his family’s plantation and then at a series of Jesuit institutions—the Preparatory School of the Immaculate Conception in New Orleans, Mount Saint Mary’s College in Maryland, and Georgetown College (now Georgetown University), which he entered in 1858....