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Henry Walton Bibb. Lithograph on paper, 1847, by Unidentified Artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Bibb, Henry Walton (10 May 1815–1854), author, editor, and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of David White of Shelby County, Kentucky, the son of James Bibb, a slaveholding planter and state senator, and Mildred Jackson. White began hiring Bibb out as a laborer on several neighboring plantations before the age of ten. The constant change in living situations throughout his childhood, combined with the inhumane treatment he often received at the hands of strangers, set a pattern for life that he would later refer to in his autobiography as “my manner of living on the road.” Bibb was sold more than six times between 1832 and 1840 and was forced to relocate to at least seven states throughout the South; later, as a free man, his campaign for abolition took him throughout eastern Canada and the northern United States. But such early instability also made the young Bibb both self-sufficient and resourceful, two characteristics that were useful against the day-to-day assault of slavery: “The only weapon of self defense that I could use successfully,” he wrote, “was that of deception.”...

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Brown, John (1810?–1876), field hand and author, was born in Southampton County, Virginia, the son of slaves Joe and Nancy. For most of his life as a slave he was called Fed or Benford. At around age ten he and his mother were moved to nearby Northampton County, North Carolina; eighteen months later he was sold alone and sent to Georgia, never again to see any of his kinfolk....

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Brown, William Wells (1814?–06 November 1884), author and reformer, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of George Higgins, a relative of his master, and Elizabeth, a slave. Dr. John Young, Brown’s master, migrated with his family from Kentucky to the Missouri Territory in 1816. Eleven years later the Youngs moved to St. Louis. Although Brown never experienced the hardship of plantation slavery, he was hired out regularly and separated from his family. He worked for a while in the printing office of abolitionist ...

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Clarke, Lewis G. (1815–1897), author and antislavery lecturer, was born into slavery on the plantation of his maternal grandfather, Samuel Campbell, in Madison County, Kentucky, the son of Campbell’s mixed-race slave daughter Letitia and her white, Scottish-immigrant husband, Daniel Clarke, a soldier in the American Revolution. Lewis Clarke’s middle name is variously recorded as either George or Garrand. Clarke’s family history, which he traced back to the founding of the nation, inspired his quest for freedom and his subsequent dedication to the abolition cause in the North....

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Joseph Heco. As pictured in Hutching's California Magazine, c. 1856–1860. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93843).

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Heco, Joseph (1837–1897), government interpreter, merchant, and publisher, was born Hamada Hikozō in the village of Komiya, near Kobe, Japan, on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea, the second son of a well-to-do farmer. After his father’s death his mother remarried, to a sea captain who adopted him. While on what should have been a brief internal voyage in late 1850, his ship was blown into the Pacific. He and sixteen other persons, after drifting for fifty-two days, were picked up by a U.S. ship that landed at San Francisco in February 1851. The American authorities, planning for Commodore ...

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King, Charles (16 March 1789–27 September 1867), editor, merchant, and college president, was born in New York, New York, the son of Rufus King, a diplomat, and Mary Alsop. His father, having succeeded Thomas Pinckney as minister plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James, moved with his family to London, England, in 1796. After a few years at a local school, Charles and his older brother John Alsop King were sent in December 1799 to Harrow, a private secondary school in Middlesex, where they had Lord Byron and Robert Peel as classmates. Leaving Harrow in December 1804, King and his brother then attended a branch of the École Polytechnique in Paris, France, for a few months, after which Charles King took a clerking position with Hope & Company, a banking firm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands....

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Malkiel, Theresa Serber (01 May 1874–17 November 1949), trade union leader, woman suffragist, publicist, and educator, was born in Bar, Russia. In 1891 she emigrated with her parents to the United States.

Soon after her arrival, Theresa Serber became a pioneer in the Jewish workers’ movement and socialist labor agitation in New York City. Employed in the garment industry, she joined the Russian Workingmen’s Club in 1892. In October 1894 she was among a group of seventy women who founded the Infant Cloak Makers Union (ICMU). Although it was a depression year, she and her associates decided not to accept wage cuts and deteriorating labor conditions any longer. Their action was front-page news. Eventually the ICMU became part of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance. In 1896, Serber was among the delegates to the first convention of the latter alliance; in 1899, along with many others, she broke with labor leader ...