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Roger Nash Baldwin. [left to right] Roger Nash Baldwin, Felicia Bernstein, and Leonard Bernstein, celebrating Baldwin's eightieth birthday. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109651).

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Baldwin, Roger Nash (21 January 1884–26 August 1981), civil libertarian and social activist, was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the son of Frank Fenno Baldwin, a leather manufacturer who owned several companies, and Lucy Cushing Nash. The lines on both sides of the family went back to the Pilgrims. Baldwin attended Wellesley public schools. As a boy he lacked prowess in sports and developed interests in music, art, and nature. He was regarded as “different,” which made him seek, early in life, “unconventional, nonconformist avenues of expression” consistent with the intellectual heritage of ...

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Bonnin, Gertrude Simmons (22 February 1876–26 January 1938), author and activist, was born on the Yankton Sioux reservation in Dakota Territory, the daughter of Ellen Tate’lyohiwin Simmons. Bonnin’s father, about whom little is known other than that he was named Felker and was white, had left the family before Bonnin’s birth. Bonnin, who later became known as Zitkala-Sa or Red Bird, lived with her mother on the reservation until the age of eight, when she attended White’s Indiana Labor Institute, a boarding school for Native American children providing instruction in English and manual labor. These early experiences of indoctrination into European-American culture and the separation from her mother would inform Bonnin’s later writings and her commitment to Native American self-determination....

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Bradley, Mamie Till (23 November 1921–07 January 2003), advocate for racial justice, was born Mamie Elizabeth Carthan. Her father, Wiley Nash Carthan, was a factory worker; her mother, the former Alma Spearman, had been a domestic. Mamie Carthan was born in Webb, Mississippi, a hamlet near the Tallahatchie County seat of Sumner, and was raised in Argo, a suburb of Chicago, where she graduated high school....

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Calloway, Ernest (01 January 1909–31 December 1989), African American labor and civil rights leader, journalist, and public intellectual, was born in Heberton, West Virginia. His father, also named Ernest, was a coal miner, and his mother, Mary Hayes, was the elder Calloway’s second wife. In 1913 the family moved to Jenkins, Kentucky, where Calloway spent his teenage years. A bright and restless youth, Calloway rebelled against the racial segregation and tight social control he experienced in a company-dominated southern coal town. After working in the mines with his father, he hoboed across the United States during the early years of the Great Depression. In March 1934 Calloway’s first published article appeared in a National Urban League magazine and led to his receiving a scholarship to attend Brookwood Labor College, an independent school that supported working-class insurgency. Calloway’s stint at Brookwood imbued him with commitments to industrial unionism, interracial organizing, and democratic socialism that endured throughout his long career....

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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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Chafee, Zechariah, Jr. (07 December 1885–08 February 1957), professor of law and civil libertarian, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Zechariah Chafee, an industrialist, and Mary Dexter Sharpe. For generations his father’s family owned and ran the Builders Iron Foundry, and his mother’s family owned the Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company. Chafee attended Brown University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1907. For three years he worked at the family foundry but discovered that he was temperamentally unsuited to the life of an industrialist. He entered Harvard Law School in 1910 and again showed intellectual prowess by graduating at the top of his class in 1913. In 1912 he married Bess Frank Searle; they had four children. Chafee practiced at a law firm in Providence until 1916 when he joined the Harvard Law School faculty, where he would remain until his retirement in 1956. He was made a full professor in 1919, eventually occupied the prestigious Langdell Chair, and became a University Professor in 1950....

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Chapman, Maria Weston (26 July 1806–12 July 1885), abolitionist and reformer, was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the daughter of Warren Weston and Anne Bates. Maria Weston was educated in England, where she lived with the family of her uncle Joshua Bates. She returned to the United States in 1828 to become the principal of the newly founded ...

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Coolidge, Albert Sprague (23 January 1894–31 August 1977), chemical physicist, political activist, and civil libertarian, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Frederic Shurtleff Coolidge, an orthopedic surgeon, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. His mother was the daughter of Albert Arnold Sprague, a pioneer merchant of Chicago, which made it possible for Sprague Coolidge to be financially independent. He was directly descended from John Coolidge of Watertown, Massachusetts, who emigrated from England in 1630 and whose farm occupied almost all of what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. His college preparatory education was at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude with an A.B. from Harvard College in 1915. That year he married Margaret Stewart Coit. They had five children....

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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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DeSilver, Albert (03 August 1888–07 December 1924), civil liberties leader and lawyer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Carll Harrison DeSilver, a stockbroker and art patron, and Mary Henrietta Block. He attended private schools in Brooklyn and Connecticut and was graduated in 1910 from Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and the editorial board of the ...

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Dunnigan, Alice Allison (27 Apr. 1906–6 May 1983), journalist and civil rights activist, was born Alice Allison in Logan County, just outside Russellville, in western Kentucky. Her father, Willie Allison, was a tenant farmer, and her mother, Lena Pittman, was a “hand laundress.” Alice learned to work hard early in life. She gathered vegetables from the family garden, cooked, and cleaned house. She washed clothes for a white family and did housework for another while in high school. Early on she developed an interest in drama and writing stories. She admired her Sunday school teacher, Arleta Vaughn. Their relationship inspired Alice to want to become a teacher. Alice attended Knob City High School in Russellville which offered both elementary and high school classes. Her eighth-grade teacher encouraged her interest in writing. A cousin, who was schoolteacher in Owensboro, Kentucky, introduced her to the editor of the ...

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Flores, Francisca ( December 1913–27 April 1996), Chicana feminist, journal editor, and antipoverty activist, was born in San Diego, California, the second of six children born to Maria Montelongo, a cook and union shop steward, and Vicente Flores, who worked in a slaughterhouse. One of Flores’s brothers died of tuberculosis in 1926; that same year she herself developed tuberculosis and spent the next ten years in a tuberculosis sanatorium. While there she met and befriended women veterans of the Mexican Revolution. Those friendships led her to organize a political discussion group, Hermanas de la Revolución Mexicana, for women in the sanatorium. Politicized by her experience, Flores emerged from the sanatorium in 1936 at age twenty-three, determined to live a life of activism. Two years later she married Laverne Lynn; the couple divorced around 1954 without having any children....

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Elizabeth G. Flynn Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-97791).

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Flynn, Elizabeth Gurley (07 August 1890–05 September 1964), labor organizer and activist, was born in Concord, New Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas Flynn, a quarry worker and civil engineer, and Annie Gurley, a tailor. Both parents were descended from a long line of Irish rebels. During Elizabeth’s childhood, the family was poor due to the hard times and her father’s preference for political argumentation over earning a living. In 1900 the Flynns moved to a cold-water flat in the Bronx, which became a gathering place for Irish freedom fighters and prominent socialists. Impressed by Elizabeth’s intelligence and militancy, they encouraged her activism....

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Foltz, Clara Shortridge (16 July 1849–02 September 1934), first woman lawyer on the Pacific Coast, suffrage leader, and founder of the public defender movement, was born in Lafayette, Indiana, the only daughter of Elias Shortridge and Talitha Harwood. Trained as a lawyer, Elias Shortridge turned instead to preaching among the Disciples of Christ and in 1860 became pastor to a well-established church in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. For a few years, Clara attended the progressive Howe’s Academy until her father was expelled from his congregation for unorthodoxy. She then became a teacher herself in nearby Illinois before eloping—at the age of fifteen—with a handsome Union soldier, Jeremiah Foltz. During hard years on an Iowa farm, she bore four children....

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Franklin, John Hope (2 Jan. 1915–25 Mar. 2009), historian, author, civil rights activist, and public intellectual, was born in the all-black town of Rentiesville, Oklahoma, the son of Mollie (Parker) Franklin, an elementary school teacher, and Buck Colbert Franklin, an attorney, local postmaster, and store owner who had attended Roger Williams College in Nashville and Atlanta Baptist College (later renamed Morehouse College). Buck Franklin’s father had been a slave owned by members of the Choctaw Nation and served in a United States Colored Troops regiment during the Civil War. When John Hope Franklin was about five years old his father moved to Tulsa, where he opened a law practice. He planned to move his family there in ...

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Galamison, Milton Arthur (25 Mar. 1923–9 Mar. 1988), Presbyterian minister, civil rights leader, and community activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Gladstone Galamison, a postal worker, and Dorothy Galamison, a clothier. Galamison grew up in poverty, which he attributed not to the Great Depression but rather to his father’s abandoning his family. After his parents separated Galamison lived with his maternal grandmother and aunt....