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Bates, Daisy (1914-1999), civil rights activist, newspaper founder and publisher  

Barbara McCaskill

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....


Buck, Pearl S. (1892-1973), author and humanitarian  

Paul A. Doyle

Buck, Pearl S. (26 June 1892–06 March 1973), author and humanitarian, was born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia, the daughter of Absalom Sydenstricker and Caroline Stulting, missionaries who were on furlough from their Presbyterian missionary activities in China when Pearl, their first daughter, was born in the United States. Three months later the infant was taken to China when her parents returned to their duties. Educated by her mother at home and then by a Chinese tutor, Buck later attributed much of her knowledge to the influence of her Chinese amah who, together with Chinese playmates, gave her many insights into her exotic surroundings and developed imaginative outlets. Indeed Buck claimed that in her early years she was more fluent in Chinese than in English. She received additional training at a mission school and in 1909 was sent to board for a year at Miss Jewell’s School in Shanghai. Her parents insisted that she attend college in the United States, so in 1910 she enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she won several academic honors and graduated four years later with a bachelor of arts degree. She received a teaching assistantship at Randolph-Macon, but upon learning that her mother was seriously ill she returned to China to care for her....


Cleaver, Eldridge (1935-1998), social activist and writer  

Lauren Araiza and Joshua Bloom

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....


Davis, Ossie (18 Dec. 1917–4 Feb. 2005), actor, playwright, author, director, civil rights activist, and humanitarian  

Margena A. Christian

Davis, Ossie (18 Dec. 1917–4 Feb. 2005), actor, playwright, author, director, civil rights activist, and humanitarian, was born Raiford Chatman Davis in Cogdell, Georgia. He was the oldest of five siblings. His father, Kince Charles Davis, was a self-taught railway and construction engineer. His mother, Laura Cooper, was a homemaker. She called him “RC” for short, but others misconstrued her pronunciation as “Ossie.” His family was impoverished, and although both parents were illiterate, they stressed the importance of education through oral tradition with storytelling....


Day, Dorothy (08 November 1897–29 November 1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper  

James Terence Fisher

Day, Dorothy (08 November 1897–29 November 1980), founder of the Catholic Worker movement and Catholic Worker, a monthly newspaper, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of John Day, a newspaperman, and Grace Satterlee. Her father was a frustrated novelist and horseracing writer whose work took the family to Oakland and Chicago. While in Chicago, Day won a scholarship to the University of Illinois in 1914. She dropped out after two years to return to New York with her family, but she had become a socialist in college and was soon estranged from her father. She lived on the Lower East Side, where she wrote for the ...


Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist  

Andrea Egan Weever

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....


Douglass, Frederick (February 1818–20 February 1895), abolitionist, civil rights activist, and reform journalist  

Roy E. Finkenbine

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, an enslaved person, and an unidentified white man. Although enslaved, 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 ...


Fortune, Timothy Thomas (1856-1928), militant newspaper editor  

William Seraile

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)....


Green, Paul (1894-1981), playwright and champion of human rights  

Laurence G. Avery

Green, Paul (17 March 1894–04 May 1981), playwright and champion of human rights, was born Paul Eliot Green on his family’s farm in Harnett County, North Carolina, the son of William A. Green and Bettie Lorine Byrd. The farm lay along the Cape Fear River, and cotton was the principal crop. The Greens also had tobacco acreage, raised hogs commercially, and grew corn for feed. Usually three or four black tenant families helped with the farm, and Paul’s closest childhood friend was a tenant boy. When the boy died, Paul felt it like a death in the family but realized that his father looked on the death as merely the loss of useful farm labor. Awareness of this difference between himself and his father was an early step in the development of his identity....


Hale, Edward Everett (1822-1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister  

Francis J. Bosha

Hale, Edward Everett (03 April 1822–10 June 1909), author, reformer, and Unitarian minister, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Nathan Hale, a journalist, and Sarah Preston Everett. His father was a nephew of revolutionary war hero Captain Nathan Hale, and his maternal uncle and namesake was the orator and statesman ...


Johnson, James Weldon (1871-1938), civil-rights leader, poet, and novelist  

Eugene Levy

Johnson, James Weldon (17 June 1871–26 June 1938), civil-rights leader, poet, and novelist, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the son of James Johnson, a resort hotel headwaiter, and Helen Dillet, a schoolteacher. He grew up in a secure, middle-class home in an era, Johnson recalled in ...


Keller, Helen (1880-1968), author, reformer, and symbol of personal courage  

Richard A. Reiman

Keller, Helen (27 June 1880–01 June 1968), author, reformer, and symbol of personal courage, was born Helen Adams Keller in Tuscumbia, Alabama, the daughter of former Confederate captain Arthur H. Keller, a publisher and business entrepreneur, and Kate Adams. She was an unexceptional child until struck in her nineteenth month by an illness that was, possibly, scarlet fever. The event, she later recalled, “closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a newborn baby.” Profoundly and permanently deaf and blind, she was to carve out a life that astonished nearly everyone....


La Farge, Oliver Hazard Perry (1901-1963), anthropologist, author, and advocate of American Indian reform and welfare  

Robert A. Hecht

La Farge, Oliver Hazard Perry (19 December 1901–02 August 1963), anthropologist, author, and advocate of American Indian reform and welfare, was born in New York City, the son of Christopher Grant La Farge, an architect, and Florence Bayard Lockwood. A descendant and namesake of ...


Lloyd, Henry Demarest (1847-1903), journalist and social reformer  

E. Jay Jernigan

Lloyd, Henry Demarest (01 May 1847–28 September 1903), journalist and social reformer, was born in New York City, the son of Aaron Lloyd, a pastor of the Dutch Reformed church, and Marie Christie Demarest. Lloyd grew up in impoverished rural parishes in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. But in 1860 his father gave up the ministry and returned to New York City to move in with his father-in-law, a customs house official, and run a small book shop. A scholarship student at Columbia College, Lloyd graduated with a B.A. in 1867 and entered Columbia Law School. In 1869, after passing the New York bar exam, he became assistant secretary to the New York-based American Free-Trade League and for three years served as its public relations agent....


Loeb, Sophie Irene Simon (1876-1929), author, journalist, and welfare worker  

Marjorie N. Feld

Loeb, Sophie Irene Simon (04 July 1876–18 January 1929), author, journalist, and welfare worker, was born in Rovno, Russia, the daughter of Samuel Simon, a jeweler, and Mary Carey. Both of her parents were Jewish. Loeb emigrated to the United States with her family at the age of six; they settled in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. Upon the death of her father ten years later, she began part-time work in a local store while finishing high school. Sophie was teaching grade school when in 1896, at the age of nineteen, she married Anselm Loeb, an older man who owned the store where she had worked. She stopped teaching and lived the life of a middle-class married woman, concentrating on entertaining, music, art, and poetry. She wrote epigrams, which she later published, and sympathetic essays about the poor. Unhappy with her married life, and seeking to serve society, Loeb obtained a divorce in 1910 and moved to New York City....


Moody, Anne (15 Sept. 1940–5 Feb. 2015), civil rights activist and author  

E. Gale Greenlee

Moody, Anne (15 Sept. 1940–5 Feb. 2015), civil rights activist and author, was born Essie Mae Moody in Centreville, Mississippi; before starting high school, she discovered her name had originally been recorded as “Annie Mae Moody,” which she preferred. She was the eldest child of Fred Moody and Elmira (Williams) Moody, and the first of her mother’s ten children. Her parents worked as sharecroppers in Wilkinson County, near the Mississippi–Louisiana border....


Murray, Pauli (1910-1985), lawyer, writer, and minister  

Peter Wallenstein

Murray, Pauli (20 November 1910–01 July 1985), lawyer, writer, and minister, was born Anna Pauline Murray in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of William Henry Murray, a public school teacher, and Agnes Fitzgerald, a nurse. Triracial, she had African, European, and Native American ancestry. Her parents both died when she was a child (her mother had a cerebral hemorrhage in March 1914; her father was murdered in a state hospital in June 1923), and she grew up from age three in North Carolina with her maternal grandparents and her mother’s oldest sister, Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, a public school teacher who adopted her....


Riis, Jacob August (1849-1914), journalist and social reformer  

Robert D. Cross

Riis, Jacob August (03 May 1849–26 May 1914), journalist and social reformer, was born in Ribe, Denmark, the son of Niels Edward Riis, a Latin teacher, and Carolina Lundholm. After studying in his father’s school, Riis was apprenticed for four years to a carpenter in Copenhagen. Unable to find steady employment and spurned by Elisabeth Gortz, the young woman who in 1876 would marry him, Riis emigrated in 1870 to the United States. For the rest of his life he regularly compared the sociability and the close relationships of life in Ribe with the impersonality and harsh precariousness of American urban life....


Rukeyser, Muriel (1913-1980), poet, author, and social activist  

Jeffrey Gray

Rukeyser, Muriel (15 December 1913–12 February 1980), poet, author, and social activist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Lawrence B. Rukeyser, a construction supplies businessman, and Myra Lyons, a bookkeeper. While her adult life was intense and eventful, her childhood was quiet, affluent, and sheltered. She was educated at Manhattan’s School of Ethical Culture; the Fieldston school, from which she graduated in 1930; Vassar College, which she left in 1932 without graduating; and Columbia University. At Vassar, where her classmates included ...


Stowe, Harriet Beecher (1811-1896), author  

Joan D. Hedrick

Stowe, Harriet Beecher (14 June 1811–01 July 1896), author, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a clergyman, and Roxana Foote. Her father, one of the most popular evangelical preachers of the pre–Civil War era, was determined to have a role in shaping the culture of the new nation. Her mother, from a cosmopolitan, novel-reading, Episcopalian family, studied painting and executed portraits on ivory. After bearing nine children, she died when Stowe was five. Stowe’s father quickly remarried, but from this point, Stowe’s sister ...