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Alston, Melvin Ovenus (1911-1985), educator  

Peter Wallenstein

Alston, Melvin Ovenus (07 October 1911–30 December 1985), educator, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of William Henry “Sonnie” Alston, a drayman, and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Smith, a laundress. Of middle-class background in terms of an African-American family in the urban South in the 1920s, he grew up in a house that his family owned, free of any mortgage. After attending Norfolk’s segregated black public schools and graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he graduated from Virginia State College (B.S., 1935), honored for his debating and for excellence in scholarship, and began teaching math at Booker T. Washington High School in 1935. Beginning in 1937 he served as president of the Norfolk Teachers Association, and he also held local leadership positions in the Young Men’s Christian Association and the First Calvary Baptist Church....


Gibbons, Thomas (1757-1826), planter, lawyer, and steamship owner  

Carol S. Ebel

Gibbons, Thomas (15 December 1757–16 May 1826), planter, lawyer, and steamship owner, was born near Savannah, Georgia, the son of Joseph Gibbons and Hannah Martin, planters. Gibbons was schooled at home and in Charleston, South Carolina, where he also read law. He married Ann Heyword, but the date of the marriage is unknown. They had three children. Throughout his life Gibbons demonstrated a determined spirit. Contemporaries described him as a “high liver,” possessing a “strong mind, strong passions, strong prejudices, and strong self-will” (Halsted, pp. 16–17)....


Gideon, Clarence Earl (1910-1972), convict whose Supreme Court case guaranteed indigents the right to legal counsel  

Donna Grear Parker

Gideon, Clarence Earl (30 August 1910–18 January 1972), convict whose Supreme Court case guaranteed indigents the right to legal counsel, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, the son of Charles Roscoe Gideon and Virginia Gregory, both employees in a shoe factory. His father died shortly after Gideon’s birthday, and his mother remarried two years later. His stepfather also worked at a local shoe factory. Gideon was educated in the Hannibal public school system until he ran away from home at the age of fourteen, “accepting the life of a hobo and tramp in preference to [his] home” (Lewis, ...


Loving, Richard Perry (1933-1975), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967)  

Peter Wallenstein

Loving, Richard Perry (29 October 1933–29 June 1975), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), construction worker and plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia (1967), was born in Caroline County, Virginia, the son of Twillie Loving, a lumber truck driver, and Lola Allen, a homemaker and midwife. He attended local schools, worked as a bricklayer, and was a drag racer in his spare time. In June 1958, in Washington, D.C., Loving, a white man, married Mildred Dolores Jeter, of mixed Native-American and African-American ancestry. They took up residence as newlyweds in her parents’ home in Caroline County. Early one morning some weeks later, they awoke to find three police officers in their bedroom, and they were arrested for violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. In January 1959 they pleaded guilty, and the presiding judge, Leon Bazile, sentenced them each to a year in jail but suspended the sentence on condition that they leave the state and not return together for the next twenty-five years....


Maffitt, John Newland (1794-1850), Methodist preacher  

Robert E. Cray

Maffitt, John Newland (28 December 1794–28 May 1850), Methodist preacher, was born in Dublin, Ireland, to a middle-class family that belonged to the Church of Ireland, a branch of the Anglican church. Information about Maffitt’s family background and early life is decidedly spotty: his parents’ names are unknown, although we do know that his father died when Maffitt was twelve and that his mother shortly thereafter attempted to establish him in a mercantile establishment devoted to tailoring. One account claims he graduated from Trinity College. The teenage Maffitt indulged a love of reading novels and historical romances, however, until a conversion experience in a Methodist meeting at age eighteen or nineteen—accounts conflict on this score—convinced him to become a preacher. The Irish Methodist church did not recognize him as a licensed preacher, and his sporadic attempts at evangelical work both in and beyond Dublin were a mixed success at best. Even so, he displayed a highly melodramatic style, which would personify his later career in the United States. He married Ann Carnic at age twenty. They had seven children; the oldest son, ...


Milligan, Lambdin P. (1812-1899), lawyer and defendant in a notable U.S. Supreme Court case  

Frank L. Klement

Milligan, Lambdin P. (24 March 1812–21 December 1899), lawyer and defendant in a notable U.S. Supreme Court case, was born in Belmont County, Ohio, the son of Moses Milligan and Mary Purdy, farmers. (It is not known what his middle initial stood for.) He attended only one term of a subscription school but read widely in his father’s library. He left home during his late teens and worked as a farm hand and schoolteacher for several years before choosing law over medicine as a career. In 1835 he passed his oral bar exam, scoring highest in a class of nine, which included ...


Cover Milligan, Lambdin P. (1812-1899)
Lambdin P. Milligan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75189).


Ogden, Aaron (1756-1839), soldier, public official, and entrepreneur  

Paul G. E. Clemens

Ogden, Aaron (03 December 1756–19 April 1839), soldier, public official, and entrepreneur, was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the son of Robert Ogden II, a lawyer, and Phebe Hatfield. He attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and graduated with the class of 1773. Over the next three years he taught school, first in Princeton, then in Elizabethtown, but with the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and its American colonies, he was quickly drawn into the revolutionary confrontation....


Ozawa, Takao (1875-1936), central figure in naturalization test case  

Yuji Ichioka

Ozawa, Takao (15 June 1875–16 November 1936), central figure in naturalization test case, was born in Sakurai village, Ashigara-Kami District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. Ozawa arrived in San Francisco at the age of nineteen. There he worked while putting himself through school and graduated from Berkeley High School. He then attended the University of California for three years. In 1906 he discontinued his studies and moved to Hawaii, where he was employed as a salesman by the Theo H. Davies Company, a large Honolulu dry goods wholesale dealer. He was married to Masako Takeya, who was also a Japanese immigrant. They had five children, all born, raised, and educated in Honolulu....


Plessy, Homer Adolph (1858?–1925), plaintiff in the 1896 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson  

Mamie E. Locke

Plessy, Homer Adolph (1858?–1925), plaintiff in the 1896 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, plaintiff in the 1896 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, was born probably in New Orleans. Beyond the case, very little is known about Plessy. He was said to be thirty-four years old at the time of his arrest in 1892, which places his birth around 1858; yet his tombstone lists his age as sixty-three years old when he died in 1925, which places his birth around 1862. Described as a “Creole of Color,” Plessy was white in appearance but known to have had a black great-grandmother. He worked as a carpenter....


Scopes, John Thomas (1900-1970), high school science teacher  

Kathleen S. Brown

Scopes, John Thomas (03 August 1900–21 October 1970), high school science teacher, was born in Paducah, Kentucky, the son of Thomas Scopes, a railroad machinist who had immigrated from England, and Mary Alva Brown. When the family moved from Paducah to Danville, Illinois, Scopes and his sisters experienced bigotry firsthand. They were ostracized as southerners who sounded different. They and two African-American students were seated separately from the rest of their class during school assemblies....


Scott, Dred (1800-1858), slave  

Walter Ehrlich

Scott, Dred (1800–17 September 1858), slave, was born of unknown parentage in Southampton County, Virginia, the property of plantation owner Peter Blow. After brief sojourns in Huntsville and Florence, Alabama, in 1830 the Blow family settled in St. Louis where, strapped for funds, Blow sold Scott to Dr. John Emerson. In 1833 Emerson’s career as army surgeon took him, among other places, to Illinois and to what was then a part of Wisconsin Territory (now Minnesota). Scott accompanied him into these areas, one a free state and one a territory that had been declared free by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820. In 1836 or 1837, while at Fort Snelling in Wisconsin Territory, Scott married Harriet Robinson, whose master, Major Lawrence Taliaferro, transferred her ownership to Emerson. Dred and Harriet Scott subsequently had two daughters. Posted in 1840 to the Seminole War in Florida, Emerson left his wife, Eliza Irene Sanford Emerson, and the slaves in St. Louis. Emerson returned the following year but died shortly thereafter....


Zenger, John Peter (1697-1746), printer  

Charles E. Clark

Zenger, John Peter (1697–28 July 1746), printer, was born in the German Palatinate, the son of Johanna Zenger (his father’s name is unknown). In 1710 his family was part of a company of Palatine refugees whose migration to New York by way of England was financed by the British Crown. He arrived with his mother, a younger brother, and a younger sister; his father had died on the voyage. Governor ...