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Adams, John Quincy (04 May 1848–03 September 1922), newspaper editor and publisher, civil rights leader, and Republican party activist, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Henry Adams, a prominent minister and educator, and Margaret Corbin. Both his parents were free persons of color. Following private schooling in Wisconsin and Ohio, Adams graduated from Oberlin College. After a brief teaching stint in Louisville, in 1870 he followed his uncle, Joseph C. Corbin, to work in Arkansas in the Reconstruction. By 1874 he had risen from schoolteacher to assistant superintendent of public instruction. His lifelong activism in the Republican party began in Arkansas; there he twice served as secretary to Republican state conventions, was elected as justice of the peace on the party ticket, and held the offices of engrossing clerk of the state senate and deputy commissioner of public works. The defeat of the Arkansas Republican party in 1874 and the racial repression that followed led Adams to return to Louisville, where he again engaged in teaching....

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Albert, Octavia Victoria Rogers (24 December 1853–1890?), author and activist, was born in Oglethorpe, Georgia, the daughter of slaves. Details of her life are sketchy. Little is known of her parents or her childhood beyond the date and place of her birth and the fact that she was born into bondage; thus, it is particularly intriguing that in 1870, only five years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and one year after Atlanta University opened, seventeen-year-old Octavia was among the 170 students enrolled at that institution. Further details of her life are equally sketchy. Most of what we know is culled from information in ...

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Barber, Jesse Max (05 July 1878–23 September 1949), African-American journalist, dentist, and civil rights activist, was born in Blackstock, South Carolina, the son of Jesse Max Barber and Susan Crawford, former slaves. Barber studied in public schools for African-American students and at Friendship Institute in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where he graduated as valedictorian. In 1901 he completed the normal school course for teachers at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, and afterward entered Virginia Union University in Richmond. There Barber was president of the literary society and edited the ...

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Bass, Charlotta Spears ( October 1880?–12 April 1969), editor and civil rights activist, was born in Sumter, South Carolina, the daughter of Hiram Spears and Kate (maiden name unknown). Before 1900 she joined her oldest brother (one of her ten siblings) in Rhode Island and worked for a newspaper. In 1910 she went to Los Angeles, California, for her health. She remained in Los Angeles except for a brief stay in New York City. She took journalism courses at Brown University, Columbia University, and the University of California at Los Angeles....

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Daisy Bates state president of the NAACP, stands in front of metal guards on the living room window of her home in Little Rock, 13 August 1959. Associated Press

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Bates, Daisy (11 November 1914–04 November 1999), civil rights activist, newspaper founder and publisher, was born Daisy Lee Gatson in Huttig, Arkansas. Her biological father and mother, reputedly John Gatson and Millie Riley, remain shrouded in mystery, and scholars have been unable to find evidence confirming her parentage. (Thus, her reported birth date varies: the one given here is widely acknowledged.) Bates grew up hearing that several white men had raped and murdered her mother and thrown the body in a pond. Leaving his infant daughter in the care of friends Orlee and Susie Smith, who became her foster parents, her father abandoned her, never to return. This was Bates's baptism into the poverty, insecurity, and racial violence that segregation fostered....

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Braden, Anne (28 July 1924–06 March 2006), civil rights activist and journalist, was born Anne Gambrell McCarty in Louisville, Kentucky, to Gambrell and Anita McCarty. Because her father was a traveling salesman, she grew up in various southern states, but mostly in rigidly segregated Anniston, Alabama. Her conservative white Episcopal parents fully embraced  the norms of southern racial hierarchy, and they remained comfortable throughout the Depression years of her childhood, but the young Anne, idealistic and devoutly religious, was troubled by the suffering around her. After graduating from Anniston High School in 1941, she left home to study literature and journalism at two Virginia women’s colleges, first Stratford Junior College and then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, where she discovered the life of the mind in a serious way and first met critics of racial segregation. In 1945, upon graduation from Randolph-Macon, she returned to postwar Alabama as a newspaper reporter, first for the ...

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Braden, Carl James (1914–18 February 1975), journalist and social justice activist, was born in New Albany, Indiana, the son of James Braden, a railroadman and auto worker, and Elizabeth Braden. He attended Catholic schools in Louisville and was for two years a proseminary student at Mount Saint Francis College in Indiana. In 1930, at the age of sixteen, he left Mount Saint Francis for a job as a reporter for the ...

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Bruce, John Edward (22 February 1856–07 August 1924), journalist and historian, was born in Piscataway, Maryland, the son of Martha Allen Clark and Robert Bruce, who were both enslaved Africans. In 1859 Major Harvey Griffin, Robert Bruce’s slaveholder, sold him to a Georgia slaveholder. Raised by his mother, Bruce lived in Maryland until 1861 when Union troops marching through Maryland freed him and his mother, taking them to Washington, D.C., where Bruce lived until 1892. In 1865 Bruce’s mother worked as a domestic in Stratford, Connecticut, where Bruce received his early education in an integrated school. One year later they returned to Washington, where Bruce continued his education. Although he did not complete high school, he enrolled in a course at Howard University in 1872. Bruce married Lucy Pinkwood, an opera singer from Washington, D.C. They had no children. In 1895 Bruce married Florence Adelaide Bishop, with whom he had one child....

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Burnham, Louis Everett (29 September 1915–12 February 1960), journalist, activist, and radical, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Charles Breechford Burnham, a building superintendent, and Louise St. Clair Williams Burnham, a hairdresser. His parents had emigrated from Barbados to the United States in search of a better livelihood, and they bought their own property in Harlem and began providing rooms for new Caribbean immigrants. Burnham attended New York City public schools and graduated from Townsend High School in 1932. In the fall of 1932 he enrolled in City College. He became actively involved in student political activities, serving as president of the Frederick Douglass Society and vice president of the student council. Affable, charismatic, and a powerful orator, he often spoke on campus about racial injustice, the threat of fascism to world peace, unemployment, and the plight of American youth. He graduated from City College in 1936....

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Eldridge Cleaver Photograph by Marion S. Trikosko, 1968. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (U.S. News and World Report Collection: LC-U9-20018).

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Cleaver, Eldridge (31 August 1935–01 May 1998), social activist and writer, was born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, the son of Leroy Cleaver, a waiter and nightclub piano player, and Thelma Hattie Robinson Cleaver, an elementary school teacher. When Cleaver was ten the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona; three years later, they moved again, this time to Los Angeles, California. Soon after, his parents separated. At this time, Cleaver became involved in criminal activities. In 1949 he was arrested for stealing a bicycle and was sent to reform school. In 1952 he was arrested for selling marijuana and was sent back to reform school. In 1954, a few days after his release, Cleaver was again arrested for marijuana possession and was sent to Soledad State Prison for a term of two and a half years....

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Frederick Douglass Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-19288).

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Douglass, Frederick ( February 1818–20 February 1895), abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist, was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton, Maryland, the son of Harriet Bailey, a slave, and an unidentified white man. Although a slave, he spent the first six years of his life in the cabin of his maternal grandparents, with only a few stolen nighttime visits by his mother. His real introduction to bondage came in 1824, when he was brought to the nearby wheat plantation of Colonel ...

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Durham, John Stephens (18 July 1861–16 October 1919), diplomat, lawyer, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Durham and Elizabeth Stephens. Two of his uncles, Clayton Durham and Jeremiah Durham, were noted clergymen who helped Bishop Richard Allen establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. A mulatto, Durham studied in the Philadelphia public schools, graduating from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1876....

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Timothy Thomas Fortune. Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum.

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Fortune, Timothy Thomas (03 October 1856–02 June 1928), militant newspaper editor, was born in Marianna, Florida, the son of Emanuel Fortune, a literate slave artisan, and Sarah Jane Moore, a slave. Fortune was raised amid tumultuous times in Reconstruction Florida. His father, one of two African Americans elected as delegates to the 1868 state’s constitutional convention and a member of the Florida House of Representatives, was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and had to flee the area for months in 1869. Thirteen-year-old Timothy became the man of the house in his father’s absence. “The constant fear, the stories of outrage …, the sign of his once high-spirited mother gradually breaking under the strain of anxiety—all these had a lasting influence on the sensitive and imaginative boy” (Thornbrough, p. 17)....

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Green, Ely (11 September 1893–27 April 1968), author, black activist, and clairvoyant, was born near Sewanee, Tennessee, the son of a college student, Edward H. Wicks, later a Texas attorney, and Lena Green, a fourteen-year-old kitchen servant and daughter of a privy cleaner who had been a slave. In Green’s own words, he “was a half-white bastard.” His mother died when he was eight. He was reared by Mattie Davis, a sympathetic neighbor who worked as a domestic. He did not finish the second grade but was largely self-taught. His phenomenal vocabulary came about because, so he said, “I studied from every man who would talk to me.”...

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Harrison, Hubert Henry (27 April 1883–17 December 1927), black intellectual and radical political activist, was born in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands), the son of William Adolphus Harrison and Cecilia Elizabeth Haines. Little is known of his father. His mother had at least three other children and, in 1889, married a laborer. Harrison received a primary education in St. Croix. In September 1900, after his mother died, he immigrated to New York City, where he worked low-paying jobs, attended evening high school, did some writing, editing, and lecturing, and read voraciously. In 1907 he obtained postal employment and moved to Harlem. The following year he taught at the White Rose Home, where he was deeply influenced by social worker Frances Reynolds Keyser, a future founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1909 he married Irene Louise Horton, with whom he had five children....

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Hunter, Jane Edna Harris (13 December 1882–19 January 1971), autobiographer and black women's rights activist, autobiographer and black women’s rights activist, was born in Pendleton, South Carolina, the daughter of Edward Harris and Harriet Millner, sharecroppers. Following her father’s death due to jaundice when she was ten years old, Jane and her three siblings were distributed briefly among the homes of various relatives. His death and the ensuing dispersal of her nuclear family were especially difficult for Jane, in part because she had customarily been “father’s ally in his differences with mother” ( ...