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Bayne, Thomas (1824–1889), dentist and politician, was born into slavery in North Carolina and was known as Samuel Nixon before his escape from bondage in 1855. He was sold several times before being purchased by C. F. Martin, a dentist in Norfolk, Virginia. As the slave of Martin, Bayne learned sufficient dentistry to serve as the doctor’s assistant and to make dental house calls. Bayne also developed bookkeeping skills and monitored the doctor’s accounts....

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Clark, Peter Humphries (1829–21 June 1925), educator, politician, and civil rights leader, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Michael Clark, a barber, and his wife (name unknown). Clark was the product of a complex, mixed racial ancestry that provided the basis for a lifelong struggle to find a place for himself in both the white and African-American worlds. The oral tradition of Peter Clark’s family and of the Cincinnati African-American community contends that Michael Clark was the son of explorer ...

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John Mercer Langston. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.

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Langston, John Mercer (14 December 1829–15 November 1897), African-American political leader and intellectual, was born free in Louisa County, Virginia, the son of Ralph Quarles, a wealthy white slaveholding planter, and Lucy Jane Langston, a part–Native American, part-black slave emancipated by Quarles in 1806. After the deaths of both of their parents in 1834, Langston and his two brothers, well provided for by Quarles’s will but unprotected by Virginia law, moved to Ohio. There Langston lived on a farm near Chillicothe with a cultured white southern family who had been friends of his father and who treated him as a son. He was in effect orphaned again in 1839, however, when a court hearing, concluding that his guardian’s impending move to slave-state Missouri would imperil the boy’s freedom and inheritance, forced him to leave the family. Subsequently, he boarded in four different homes, white and black, in Chillicothe and Cincinnati, worked as a farmhand and bootblack, intermittently attended privately funded black schools since blacks were barred from public schools for whites, and in August 1841 was caught up in the violent white rioting against blacks and white abolitionists in Cincinnati....

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Manning, Joseph Columbus (21 May 1870–19 May 1930), reformer and politician, was born in the hill country town of Lineville, Clay County, Alabama, the son of Henry Allen Manning, a merchant and Methodist minister, and Martha Burrough. A bright, devout boy, Manning grew up amid profound social and economic changes. The price of cotton, which had become a dominant upcountry crop, declined in the 1870s and 1880s. Supply merchants like Manning’s father financed seeds and fertilizer at high rates of interest; many farmers fell into tenancy. As a result, a society once marked by a sense of equality among white landowners was increasingly stratified....

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Otero, Miguel Antonio (21 June 1829–30 May 1882), politician and businessman, was born in Valencia, New Mexico, then a province of the Mexican Republic, the son of Don Vicente Otero and Dona Gertrudis Chaves y Argon. Vicente Otero was primarily a farmer and merchant but also filled local judicial positions under the Mexican government. Miguel Antonio Otero entered St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, in September 1841 and continued his education there until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in May 1846, at which time his parents sent for him. In 1847 he enrolled at Pingree College, located in Fishkill on the Hudson, New York. Within a short time he became a teacher at the college and also an assistant to the principal. In 1849 Otero commenced the study of law, first with James Thayer, an attorney living in Fishkill on the Hudson, then with a General Sanford in New York City during the winter of 1849–1850, and finally with Trusten Polk in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1851 to 1852. Otero was admitted to the Missouri bar in the spring of 1852, immediately after which he returned to New Mexico, now a U.S. territory. That same year he took a herd of sheep, presumably the property of his brother, Antonio José Otero, overland to California....

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Pledger, William Anderson (1852–08 January 1904), editor, political leader, and civil rights activist, was born near Jonesboro, Georgia, the son of a slave mother and a white planter father (names unknown). He received limited formal education as a child but attended Atlanta University as an adult and finally gained entrance to the Georgia bar as a self-taught lawyer in 1894. Little is known of his childhood, though Pledger himself related his early interest in politics to a contemporary journalist. According to a 1902 biographical account by Cyrus Field Adams, one of Pledger’s “most pleasant recollections of his youth” was informing his mother in 1856 that presidential candidate ...

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Wendell Willkie Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103648).

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Willkie, Wendell Lewis (18 February 1892–08 October 1944), corporation lawyer and executive, politician, and civil rights activist, was born in Elwood, Indiana, the son of Herman F. Willkie and Henrietta Trisch. His father was a lawyer and local reformer, and his mother was one of the first female lawyers in Indiana. Willkie attended local schools and Indiana University, graduating in 1913. After teaching high school in Kansas (Sept. 1913–Nov. 1914), he returned to Indiana University to complete a law degree in 1916....