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Albert, Eddie (22 April 1906–26 May 2005), actor and environmental activist, was born Edward Albert Heimberger in Rock Island, Illinois, the son of Frank Daniel Heimberger, a realtor, and Julia Jones. At the age of one his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he attended parochial school before graduating from Central High School in 1924. He then entered the University of Minnesota where he majored in business and worked his way up to manager at the local theater. Young Eddie left school without graduating and worked a series of odd jobs before joining a singing trio that appeared on the local radio station. Tired of hearing his name mangled as “hamburger” he changed it to Eddie Albert, and after successfully auditioning at NBC he moved to New York with partner Grace Bradt to star in ...

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Amory, Cleveland (02 September 1917–14 October 1998), writer and animal rights advocate, was born in Nahant, Massachusetts, the son of Robert Amory, a textile manufacturer, and his wife, Leonore Cobb Amory. Both parents were descendants of long-established upper-class families in Boston, where Cleveland grew up in a privileged household. He was educated at private schools, including Milton Academy, and enrolled at Harvard in 1935. After graduating four years later, he worked briefly as a reporter for the ...

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Cleveland Amory Standing next to a display case containing a variety of chess sets, 1962. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112709).

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Josephine Baker Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1949. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-93000).

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Caras, Roger (24 May 1928–18 February 2001), animal rights activist, Hollywood executive, and naturalist, was born in Methuen, a rural Massachusetts town around thirty miles north of Boston, the son of Jacob Caras, an insurance salesman, and Bessie Caras, an accountant. His affection for animals developed at an early age. At home he was exposed to dogs, cats, and canaries, and in the woods surrounding his house were raccoons, deer, opossums, and skunks. "Methuen was a wonderful place in which to learn and to explore," he recalled in his autobiography, ...

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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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Furness, Betty (03 January 1916–02 April 1994), actress, product spokesperson, and consumer advocate, was born Elizabeth Mary (Betty) Furness in New York City to George Choate Furness, an executive with the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, and Florence Sturtevant, who later became an interior decorator. Betty was educated at New York City’s elite Brearley School and then attended the Bennett School for Girls in Millbrook, New York, where one of her classmates predicted she would become an actress. That prophecy made sense because Betty had long shown an interest in performing. Her introduction to the media came at age seven, when she accompanied her father to the studio to watch him produce informational radio talks about the care and use of batteries. She got her first job at age fourteen, modeling for the John Robert Powers Modeling Agency during summer vacation. Several years later she caught the eye of a well-known photographer named Hal Phyfe, who was taking graduation pictures at the Bennett School. He too was impressed by how personable and photogenic she was, and he made sure her photos got to the right people....

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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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Johnson, Osa (14 March 1894–07 January 1953), author, lecturer, and film producer, was born Osa Helen Leighty in Chanute, Kansas, the daughter of William Sherman Leighty, a railroad engineer, and Ruby Isabel Holman. In 1910 she left high school to marry Martin Johnson, whom she had met eleven years earlier when he visited Chanute as an eighteen-year-old itinerant photographer. In the meantime he had visited Europe alone and traveled with ...

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La Follette, Fola (10 September 1882–17 February 1970), actress and feminist, was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the daughter of Robert Marion La Follette, a progressive politician, and Belle Case La Follette, a lawyer and suffragist. Though named Flora at birth, she used her childhood nickname throughout her life. A history major at the University of Wisconsin (1900–1904), La Follette studied under historian of the American West ...

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Lewisohn, Irene (05 September 1892–04 April 1944), theater patron and practitioner and philanthropist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Rosalie Jacobs and Leonard Lewisohn, a German-Jewish immigrant who made his fortune in the mining and processing of copper and other minerals. The deaths of Lewisohn’s parents before she was ten years old left her older sister Alice and her with considerable wealth—and the social burden of such wealth. The daughter of a philanthropist, Lewisohn was impressed by the Henry Street Settlement, one of her father’s causes. After attending the Finch School in New York, she studied dance independently and eventually found her calling in the unique combination of social service and the arts....

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McCann, Alfred Watterson (09 January 1879–19 January 1931), journalist, radio commentator, and crusader for pure food, was born in Pittsburgh, the son of Michael McCann, a printer and engraver, and Maria (maiden name unknown). He attended the University of Chicago and was graduated in 1899 from Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University, where he accepted a faculty position teaching English and mathematics after graduation. In 1905 he married Mary Carmody of Pittsburgh; they had five children....

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Paul Robeson As Othello. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1944. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111185).

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Robeson, Paul (09 April 1898–23 January 1976), actor, singer, and civil rights activist, was born Paul Leroy Robeson in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of William Drew Robeson, a Protestant minister, and Maria Louisa Bustill, a schoolteacher. Robeson’s mother died when he was six years old, and he grew up under the influence of a perfectionist father, a former runaway slave who fought in the Union army. During his senior year at the Somerville, New Jersey, high school, he achieved the highest score in a statewide scholarship examination to attend Rutgers College (later Rutgers University). The lone black at Rutgers as a freshman in 1915 and only the third African American to attend the institution, Robeson was an outstanding student and athlete. A varsity debater, he won class prizes for oratory all four years, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, was one of four seniors chosen for membership in the Cap and Skull honorary society, and was named class valedictorian. The 6′ 3″, 215-pound Robeson earned twelve varsity letters in four sports (baseball, basketball, football, and track) and was twice named football All-America (1917 and 1918). According to former Yale coach ...

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Gilbert Seldes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 1019 P&P).

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Seldes, Gilbert Vivian (03 January 1893–29 September 1970), critic and writer, was born in Alliance, New Jersey, the son of George Sergei Seldes, a pharmacist, and Anna Saphro, who died when Gilbert was three. His only sibling, George Seldes, became a distinguished journalist known for his coverage of European affairs between the world wars. Their father, a freethinker of Russian Jewish descent, sought to convert his farm into an anarchist utopian colony. When that did not succeed, he entered the drugstore business. He enjoyed friendships with ...

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Thomas, Danny (06 January 1912–06 February 1991), entertainer and philanthropist, was born Muzyad Yakhoob in Deerfield, Michigan, the son of Shaheed Yakhoob (later anglicized to Charles Jacobs), a horse breeder, and Margaret Christen Simon. He started working at the age of eleven, first selling newspapers on a street corner and then candy and soda pop in a burlesque house. He later changed his name to Amos Jacobs and started a song-and-dance act with one of his brothers. He quit high school at age sixteen and attempted unsuccessfully to find employment as a comedian, then worked several years as a punch press operator, night watchman, and semiprofessional basketball player. In 1932 he became an announcer on a local radio station and then master of ceremonies at Bert’s Beer Garden, in Detroit, Michigan....

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Villanueva, Danny D. (5 Nov. 1937–18 June 2015), professional athlete, sports broadcaster, media entrepreneur, and philanthropist, was born Daniel Dario Villanueva in Tucumcari, New Mexico, the ninth child (out of twelve) of Primitivo and Pilar Villanueva. His Mexican-born father and mother had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. Primitivo, an itinerant Methodist minister, was reassigned to a new ministry in Phoenix, Arizona shortly after Daniel’s birth. After moving the family there he would later move to Calexico, California. There, in the borderlands of Greater Mexico, Danny Villanueva spent most of his childhood years....

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Walton, Lester A. (20 April 1882–16 October 1965), diplomat, journalist, civil rights activist, and theater producer, was born Lester Aglar Walton in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Benjamin A. Walton, Sr., and Olive May Camphor Walton. After graduation from Sumner High School, Walton began his career as a journalist at the ...