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John Craig Hammond

“I do not set up for being perfect: far from it!” wrote the Kentucky antislavery agitator Cassius Marcellus Clay to the abolitionist John Fee in 1855. “I wish I were,” he continued, but “a good balance sheet of good against evil is all I aspire to!” Judged by his own standards as well as by those of black and white antislavery advocates, Cassius Clay succeeded in fulfilling his ambition, through his battles against the evil of slavery. A former slaveholder and one of the few antislavery leaders to remain in the South after 1830, Clay became something of a hero to northern abolitionists, who appreciated his willingness to challenge slaveholders on their own turf.

Cassius Clay was born in Kentucky s Bluegrass region to the planter Green Clay and his wife Sally in Clermont Clay lived to the age of ninety three and spent much of his life ...


Daniel A. Dalrymple

Democratic Congresswoman Collins was a mainstay in the United States House of Representatives for more than twenty years. She was the first woman and African American to serve as the Democratic whip-at-large and the first African American to chair a subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Collins’s career was defined by her strong congressional record on a wide variety of issues, focusing on African Americans, women, and the environment. She was a congresswoman who refused to be pigeonholed as a single-issue representative and spoke up whenever she saw injustice.

Cardiss was born to the laborer Finley Robertson and the nurse Rosia Mae Robertson in St. Louis, Missouri. Her family relocated to Detroit in 1941 when she was ten years old. While in Detroit she attended Bishop and Lincoln Elementary Schools before graduating from the Detroit High School of Commerce. In 1958 Cardiss married George W. Collins before ...


Fred Lindsey

U.S. congressman, was born in Detroit, Michigan, the first of five children of John Conyers Sr., a factory auto painter who became an international representative for the United Automobile Workers, and Lucille Simpson. John Conyers Sr.'s progressive politics proved a major influence on his son's life and career. Conyers grew up in a predominantly Italian American neighborhood in East Detroit and graduated from the city's Samson Elementary School in 1943, the year of a major race riot in the city. The riot and his father's political activism shaped Conyers's political consciousness, but his primary interest as a teenager was jazz. An accomplished trumpet player, he included among his friends in high school Sonny Stitt, Milt Jackson, and Betty Carter who all pursued careers in music Unchallenged by his school work Conyers spent much of his time in pool halls when not playing music He ...


Timothy P. McCarthy

politician was born in Aiken South Carolina His father was a free black tailor and his mother was a cloak maker of Haitian descent their names are unknown Though several records claim that DeLarge was born into slavery it is more likely that his parents were free blacks who owned slaves This peculiar and paradoxical designation surely inspired the dual sensibilities that later characterized his political and social life as both an advocate for universal black enfranchisement and a member of South Carolina s propertied often exclusionist light skinned elite Fortunate to receive the benefits of the prewar education available to free black children DeLarge attended primary school in North Carolina and Wood High School in Charleston For a short time he was employed as a tailor and farmer and some sources indicate that he was also a part time barber During the Civil War he amassed some money ...


Kelli Cardenas Walsh

The story of Mary Fields is one of race, gender, and age. She was the antithesis of the nineteenth-century Victorian image of womanhood. In an age of domesticity, Fields lived a frontier life dependent upon no one and uninhibited by Jim Crow.

A former slave, in freedom Fields became an independent, gunslinging, liquor-drinking woman in the untamed frontier of Montana. She stood six feet tall and was stout. Details about the early life of Mary Fields are sparse, other than that she was born into slavery in 1832. Judge Dunn in Hickman County, Tennessee, owned Fields and presumably owned her family. She was befriended by her master’s daughter, Dolly, and remained with the family after Emancipation.

Once she left the Dunn family Fields spent an unspecified time in Ohio and along the Mississippi River During this time Dolly joined a convent of Ursuline nuns taking the name of ...


Alston Fitts and Loren Schweninger

politician, was born a slave on a plantation near Columbus in Muscogee County, Georgia. Sold twice before becoming the property of Jonathan Haralson of Selma, Alabama, a lawyer and the head of the Confederate Niter Works, the self-taught Haralson remained in Dallas County as a freedman following the Civil War. There he married Ellen Norwood in 1870, and their son Henry (who later attended Tuskegee Institute) was born.

Unsure about the future of the Republican Party, Haralson entered politics in 1867 as a Democrat. A gifted orator who combined humor and wit with a discussion of serious issues, he campaigned in 1868 for Democratic presidential candidate Horatio Seymour, who, he said, “represented the true principles of philanthropy and national government” (Selma Times, 4 Nov. 1868). When Democrats failed to attract support from newly enfranchised blacks, Haralson switched his party allegiance in 1869 He and ...


Glenn Allen Knoblock

Civil War soldier and Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Austin, Texas, the son of slaves Jack and Emily Holland. Milton had three known brothers, Toby, William, and James, all part of “the third generation of African-Americans born as slaves” on the Holland Family Plantation run by Bird Holland later the Texas secretary of state Arlington National Cemetery Perhaps because of his light complexion and the fact that he was later freed and sent to school in the North Bird Holland may have been the real father of Milton as well as his brothers William and James a fact speculated upon by some historians Bird Holland would later free Milton William and James and send them north to Ohio in the late 1850s Here Milton Holland attended the Albany Manual Labor Academy an educational institution that accepted blacks and women This school was ...


Samuel Brenner

lawyer, U.S. attorney general, U.S. senator, civil rights advocate, and presidential candidate. Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy, the energetic and enthusiastic younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and the older brother of longtime Massachusetts Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, was a civil servant who, although he had complicated and difficult relationships with several important African American leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., became increasingly liberal and devoted to the cause of civil rights after serving as attorney general in the 1960s.

Kennedy, born in Brookline, Massachusetts, was the seventh child of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy. Joseph Kennedy, who harbored enormous ambitions for his family, was a controversial figure accused of being—while serving from 1938 to 1940 as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom—an anti-Semite interested in appeasing Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany Having attended several private boarding schools Robert Kennedy served in the U S Navy ...


Paul Finkelman and Vickey Kalambakal

Abraham Lincoln, self-made and self-educated, remains one of America's best-loved presidents. He rose from obscurity and poverty through his own efforts to become president. His election in 1860 as the first president dedicated to ending the spread of slavery to new states led to the secession of seven slave states. His refusal to allow the Union to fall apart led to civil war and to the secession of four more states. During the war Lincoln presided over a revolution in American race relations that ended slavery; allowed for black political and military participation in the affairs of the nation; and, after his assassination, resulted in blacks' gaining full rights as American citizens.


George Derek Musgrove

U.S. congressman, was born Parren James Mitchell, the ninth child of Clarence Maurice Mitchell, a waiter, and Elsie Davis in Baltimore, Maryland. The Mitchells lived in a cramped, two-story row house on one of the “alley” streets of Old West Baltimore, and the family could be considered poor. Parren attended segregated Garnet Elementary School, Booker T. Washington Junior High School, and Frederick Douglass High School, from which he graduated in 1940. In 1942 he joined the army and was immediately shipped overseas where he served in the Ninety-Second Infantry Division as a commissioned officer and company commander. Mitchell was awarded the Purple Heart in 1944 after being wounded during fighting in Italy.

After being honorably discharged from the army in 1946, Mitchell returned to Baltimore to attend Morgan State College. There he earned a BA in Sociology and graduated with honors in 1950 Immediately ...


Eric D. Duke

Moseley Braun made history in 1992 when she became the first African American woman—and first African American Democrat—elected to the U.S. Senate. With her election to the nation’s top legislative body, she instantaneously became a symbol of both racial and gender diversity. However, Moseley Braun’s career as a U.S. Senator was only one highlight in her successful career as both a lawyer and public official. With a résumé composed of service at the local, state, and federal levels, Moseley Braun proved to be more than simply a “symbol.” She established herself as one of the premier public officials in the United States, for any race or gender.


Chandra M. Miller

Reconstruction politician and U.S. congressman, was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, the son of free blacks Richard Nash and Masie Cecile. He received little public school education and as a young man worked as a bricklayer in New Orleans.

In 1863 nineteen-year-old Nash joined the Tenth Regiment of the Corps d'Afrique, later renamed the Eighty-second U.S. Colored Infantry. He joined the army as a private but was soon promoted to the rank of sergeant major. Nash's regiment fought at the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, and was involved in the last infantry battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fort Blakely, Alabama, in April 1865 While storming Fort Blakely Nash received wounds that cost him most of his right leg and earned him an honorable discharge Apparently about ten days before his discharge he received promotion to first lieutenant but the promotion was not approved His ...


Steven J. Niven

author, U.S. senator, and first African American president. Born Barack Hussein Obama in Honolulu, Hawaii, he was the only son of Barack Obama Sr., a native of Kenya, and Ann Dunham, a white Kansan, who met and married while they were both students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Obama Sr. grew up herding goats with his father, who was a domestic servant for British colonial officials in the small Kenyan village of Nyangoma-Kogelo. Obama Sr. arrived in Hawaii in 1959 as part of a program initiated by the Kenyan nationalist politician Tom Mboya to educate promising young African students in the United States. Mboya's program aimed to prepare an African-born elite for government service after the end of British colonial rule, and he secured scholarship funds from a number of African Americans active in the civil rights movement, including Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier ...


Caryn E. Neumann

U.S. Army four-star general, national security adviser, and secretary of state. Colin Luther Powell was born in Harlem, New York, the second child of Luther Powell, a foreman in a women's clothing factory, and Maud Powell, a worker in the garment industry. Both parents were Jamaican-born immigrants. The family moved to the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx in 1941. Powell enrolled at the City College of New York (CCNY) in 1954 but soon discovered that he preferred the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), which he joined in 1955, to any other coursework. He liked the comradeship and sense of belonging.

Upon graduating from CCNY in 1958 Powell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U S Army He subsequently attended Ranger School at Fort Benning Georgia and was assigned to the Third Armored Division in Gelnhausen West Germany forty miles from the East ...


Glenda E. Gilmore

congressman, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina, the son of an unknown white man and Lydia, a slave woman who worked as a house servant for the John McKee family in Beaufort. Descendants of Smalls believed that his father was John McKee, who died when Robert was young. The McKee family sent Robert to live with their relatives in Charleston, where he worked for wages that he turned over to his master. Smalls apparently taught himself the rudiments of reading and writing during this period. Later he attended school for three months, and as an adult he hired tutors. In 1856 Smalls married Hannah Jones, a slave who worked as a hotel maid. They had three children, one of whom died of smallpox. The couple lived apart from their owners, to whom they sent most of their income.In 1861 Smalls began working as a deckhand ...


Frederick H. Blake

cofounder of the Congressional Black Caucus, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the eldest son of Louise Stone and Charles Stokes, two Georgia natives who came to the midwest during the Great Migration of the 1920s. His father, a laundry worker, became a member of the Future Outlook League, a group that helped increase job opportunities and improve working conditions for black workers in Cleveland. When his father died in 1929, Lou and his younger brother Carl were raised by their industrious mother in the Outhwaite Homes, Cleveland's first federally funded housing project.After graduating from Central High School in 1943, Stokes served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. He left the then segregated military and returned to Cleveland, Ohio, where he used funds from the G.I. Bill to complete a degree from what was then known as Western Reserve University in 1948 In ...


David N. Gellman

Pierre Toussaint was a singular, yet elusive figure. The quality of his life moved some to call for his beatification as a Catholic saint in the twentieth century. His motivations and commitments as a historical figure—including his place in the history of free black life in antebellum New York City—are harder to pin down. Although he made monetary contributions to African American causes in New York and elsewhere, many of the most noteworthy beneficiaries of his assistance and sympathy were whites, with whom he forged unusually cordial connections during an era of increasing segregation and racial hostility.

Toussaint was born a slave in the French sugar colony of Saint Domingue; his year of birth has traditionally been listed as 1766, but a 1995 reassessment estimates 1778 as a more likely date, while another biographer proposes 1781 as Toussaint s birth year His mother and grandmother were house slaves ...


Charles W. Jr. Carey

Reconstruction politician and U.S. congressman, was born near Winchester, Virginia. His parents' names are unknown and Walls's public statements regarding his parents' status during slavery are contradictory. Quite possibly he was born the slave of Dr. John Walls, a Winchester physician, but his dark skin casts doubt on the premise that Dr. Walls was also his father.

In 1861Josiah Walls was kidnapped by Confederate artillerymen and put to work as a servant. He was freed by Union troops during the battle of Yorktown in May 1862 and sent to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he attended school for a year, his only known formal education. In July 1863 he enlisted in the Third Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), and took part in that unit's siege of Batteries Wagner and Gregg near Charleston, South Carolina. After their fall, his unit was stationed in northern Florida. In June 1864 Walls ...