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Article

Jane Brodsky Fitzpatrick

first African Americanwoman legislator in Oklahoma, librarian, teacher and activist, was the fifth of six children born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to Mabel Kennedy and James Thackeray Diggs Sr., a contractor for Gulf Oil Company.

Both Atkins's parents graduated from Slater Industrial Academy. Her parents encouraged the children, four of whom were girls, to attend college. Her brother Edward O. Diggs was the first black to attend the University of North Carolina Medical School (1961). Atkins attended segregated public schools in Winston-Salem, and graduated as valedictorian of Atkins High School at age fifteen. She enrolled in St. Augustine's, an Episcopalian college in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she met and married Charles Nathaniel Atkins on 24 May 1943. A few days later she graduated with a B.A. in French and Biology. She was an honors student, whose advisor was the historian John Hope ...

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Linda M. Carter

state legislator, attorney, police officer, and social worker, was born Cora Mae Brown in Bessemer, Alabama, the only child of Richard and Alice Brown. Her father and mother were employed as a tailor and cook respectively. In 1922 the family moved to Detroit when Brown was seven years old. After graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1931, Brown attended Fisk University and received a degree in sociology in 1935.

Brown returned to Detroit, and until 1941, she was employed as a social worker. After working for the Children's Aid Bureau, Old Age Assistance Bureau, and the Works Progress Administration, Brown, as a policewoman in the Women's Division of the Detroit Police Department from 1941 to 1946, prepared legal cases. In 1946 Brown enrolled in Wayne State University's School of Law; she received her LL.B degree in 1948 and passed ...

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Aaron L. Day

recreation commissioner, PTA president, and community advocate, was born Mary Dell Byrd in Greenville, Texas, to Eliza Henderson and George Byrd, who worked as a porter for the railroad. Mary had a twin sister named Adele—the only children in the family—and attended grade school and high school in Greenville. After high school, Byrd married Charlie Joe Christian and had two daughters, Georgia and Beverly. The marriage lasted only a few years, and at age twenty-one, she moved to Long Beach, California, with her two daughters. There she met Richard Butler, and the two were married in 1948. The couple had six sons: Anthony, Reginald, Douglas, Stanley, Timothy, and Eric. It was because of her children that Butler became engaged in school and civil rights activism.

The 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional and that ...

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Caryn E. Neumann

the first African American woman elected to the Florida legislature, grew up (and was likely born) in Miami. Cherry earned her bachelor's degree from the predominantly black Florida A & M University (FAMU) in 1946. She belonged to Sigma Gamma Rho, a black Greek-letter organization, and later served as legal counsel to the sorority from 1970 until 1970. Cherry obtained a master's degree from New York University in 1950. In the era of segregation, talented African Americans often left the South to obtain advanced degrees. Unlike many of them, Sawyer returned home to teach school, marry, and have children, before deciding to return to academic life. She earned a law degree cum laude in 1965 from FAMU, after serving as secretary of the Student Bar Association. She was the first black woman to practice law in Dade County, Florida.

A Democrat Cherry was elected to the Florida ...

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LaRay Denzer

first woman mayor of the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown, was born into a prominent old Krio (then spelled Creole) family on 7 January 1918 in Freetown. Young Constance grew up in a household deeply involved in local politics and culture. Her parents were Johnnie William Horton, sometime city treasurer, and Regina Elizabeth (Awoonor-Wilson) Horton, a granddaughter of a recaptive from Keta, Gold Coast (now Ghana). Constance was the youngest of their three children, all girls, but she also had two half brothers, one of whom was Asadata Dafora, who won acclaim in the 1930s for introducing African dance drama to the New York theater. Her paternal family traced its ancestry back to James Beale Horton (1835–1883), better known as Africanus Horton, the son of an Igbo recaptive who was influential in the British colonial service and the outspoken author of West African Countries and Peoples (1868 ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

reporter and columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, New York City radio journalist, special assistant to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, and member of several government panels on women's advocacy and cultural institutions, was born Evelyn Elizabeth Long in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. She was the only daughter and eldest child of Clyde L. and Mary Irvin Whitehurst Long.

Her father ran a pool hall in Elizabeth City, then moved the family, including son Clyde W., born in 1918, to New York. He found work there as a hotel bellman, and later drove a taxi, while Mary Long found work as a dressmaker to a private family. In New York, Evelyn Long graduated from Hunter College High School in 1934 During a life of ninety four years she married four times outliving all four husbands She had no children and took the name she used professionally ...

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Monika R. Alston

the first black woman mayor in the United States, was born Lelia Kasenia Smith in Taft, Oklahoma, the youngest daughter of Willie Smith, a sharecropper, and Canzaty Smith, a midwife. The Smiths were a large family and although very poor, they were generous at heart. Canzaty Smith often accepted food in the place of her $15 fee for delivering a baby, and she and her husband once took in a homeless family, which impressed upon her daughter the importance of caring for community and having respect for all people.

Lelia Smith, a graduate of Moton High School, became a single mother at the age of twenty. By 1967 she had five children and was receiving public assistance to support herself and her children. She later married, becoming Lelia Foley, but she was soon divorced. In a candid 1973 interview with Essence magazine, Foley discussed the ...

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M. Lois Lucas

educator and the first African American woman elected to the West Virginia State Legislature, was born in Motley, Virginia, the eldest of eleven children of Katherine Douglass, a housewife, and H. Grant Simpson a barber The Simpsons were among the first wave of blacks to move north during the Great Migration Hoping to take advantage of the growing coal mining industry the family settled in Elkhorn a small coal mining town in McDowell County in southern West Virginia They were a part of the expanding black middle class of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that adhered to a philosophy of personal advancement and racial uplift With an increase in the number of blacks working in the coal mines in West Virginia came an increase in black businesses and other professions Grant Simpson was the owner of a barbershop that catered to both blacks and whites ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

legislator and activist, was born Crystal Dreda Bird in Princess Anne, Maryland, the daughter of Benjamin Bird, a high school principal, and Portia E. Lovett. Crystal's father died when she was only four, and her mother took over his principalship of the all-black Princess Anne Academy until her own death in 1900. An orphan by age seven, Crystal remained true to her parents' commitment to education. Ironically, her early loss probably improved the educational opportunities of a child born on Maryland's segregated Eastern Shore. Reared by an aunt in Boston, she attended public school, graduated from the city's Normal School in 1914, and taught for three years. She later earned a BS from Columbia University Teacher's College in 1931.

Her personal success notwithstanding, Crystal Bird came to realize that racial inequality was an American, rather than merely a southern, dilemma. In 1918 on ...

Article

V. P. Franklin

She was born to Benjamin Oliver Bird and Portia E. (Lovett) Bird in Princess Anne, Maryland, but was raised in Boston by her maternal aunt, Lucy Groves. There she attended public schools and was considered an outstanding student. Later in life Fauset maintained that her social and political conscience was shaped by her experiences as a child in Boston. She went on to Teachers College, Columbia University, where she earned a BS degree in 1931.

Upon graduation Crystal Bird worked as a social worker and administrator of Negro affairs for the Young Women’s Christian Association in New York City and Philadelphia. In 1931 she married the author and educator Arthur Huff Fauset. The couple separated soon after their marriage, and he divorced her in 1944. In 1933 she was named executive secretary for the Institute of Race Relations at Swarthmore College While serving in ...

Article

Sandra Kelman

community activist, city councilwoman, and ordained minister, was born Beatrice Frankie Fowler in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to Maude Fowler, a domestic worker, and to a father who left when she was a toddler. In a 1989Baltimore Sun Magazine article, Gaddy recalled “many days” that she and her four siblings (Mottie Fowler, Pete Young, Tony Fowler, and Mabel Beasly) “didn't eat because when my mother didn't work and couldn't bring home leftover food, there was nothing to eat. And, even when there was food, if my stepfather had been drinking, he'd come home and throw our plates out in the back yard or through the window.” A high school dropout, Gaddy was divorced twice by her early twenties. As a single mother, she struggled for years to make a living for herself and her children (Cynthia, Sandra, John, Michael, and Pamela ...

Article

Mamie E. Locke

social worker and clubwoman, was born in Ocala, Florida, the daughter of Charles McCoy and Mamie Ellis. She grew up in Chicago, where her mother moved after her parents divorced in 1903. Beginning in 1905 she attended the Fisk University Normal School in Nashville, Tennessee, from which she graduated in 1910.

Returning to Chicago after her graduation, McCoy could not find work as a teacher because of racism. She engaged in the kind of drudgework most black women were able to find at that time: laundry and cleaning, earning as little as five dollars per week. In 1914 she married Harris B. Gaines, a Chicago lawyer; they had two sons. She returned to school in 1918, studying social work at the University of Chicago until 1921. She eventually did further study at Loyola University's School of Social Administration from 1935 to 1937 ...

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Susan J. McWilliams

legislator and activist, was born Grace Towns in Atlanta, Georgia, the second of five children of George Alexander Towns, a professor of English and pedagogy at Atlanta University, and Nellie McNair, a graduate of the same institution. Both of her parents placed a high premium on education, civic involvement, and political activism. George Towns was a protégé and friend of W. E. B. Du Bois, publicly supporting his clashes with Booker T. Washington and independently striving to increase the ranks of African American voters. Nellie Towns, meanwhile, volunteered extensively in the community; she worked with the First Congregational Church and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), and she helped found the Gate City Free Kindergarten Association, which assisted children of the black working poor. In this environment, the young Grace Towns grew up with senses of relative privilege and social obligation.

For a time Towns was ...

Article

Sowande' Mustakeem

Grace Towns Hamilton is best known as the first African American woman to serve in the Georgia legislature. Throughout her political career, Hamilton upheld the ideals of interracial cooperation, but her continued activism reflected her faithful commitment to political empowerment and the improvement of social conditions for African Americans.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Hamilton was the eldest of the four surviving children of George Towns and Nellis McNair Towns Raised in the close knit community of Atlanta on the campus of Atlanta University Hamilton was protected during her early life from the racism that was common throughout much of Georgia Within the Towns s home education church community involvement and service to the black race were emphasized Hamilton s mother a housewife and committed volunteer for the African American branch of the Young Women Christian Association YWCA played a role in Hamilton s later community activism and personal ...

Article

Jorjet Harper

the first African American woman legislator in the United States, was born in the town of Winfield, Putnam County, West Virginia. The Buckinghams were a large, extended mixed-race family with roots in England and in the West Indies, and branches in West Virginia and Ohio. Harper grew up with ten brothers and sisters and was educated in the West Virginia public school system.

As a young woman, Harper, along with one of her sisters, found work as a schoolteacher. In 1916 she gave birth to a son, George Ivan Edward “Buck” Buckingham. When George was six years old, Minnie Buckingham married Ebenezer Howard Harper, a man twenty-two years her senior, who was one of the leading African American men in West Virginia.

Originally from Virginia and born during the Civil War, Ebenezer Howard Harper had graduated in 1899 from Howard University in Washington D C and had ...

Article

Sherri J. Norris

chief of police and security director, was born Beverly Joyce Bailey in Macon, Georgia, the youngest of seven children. She attended school in Macon, where she was an excellent student. In 1972 Harvard earned a BA in Sociology with a minor in psychology from Morris Brown College in Atlanta. In 1973 she married Jim Harvard, whom she had met while they were both students at Morris Brown. They would have one daughter, Christa. Harvard graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) National Executive Institute. She held two honorary doctor of law degrees from Morris Brown and University of South Carolina.

After graduation from college Harvard worked in communications Out of this work she developed a genuine interest in law enforcement but her career as a police officer was the result of a bet she made with her husband According to Harvard her husband agreed with a friend ...

Article

Jeannette Elizabeth Brown

chemist, patent attorney, and legislator, was born Esther Arvilla Harrison in Stamford, Connecticut, the only daughter of George Burgess Harrison and Esther Smalls Harrison Her father was a chauffeur and custodian at a church and her mother worked in domestic service Neither of her parents had an advanced education her father had some high school education and her mother attended only primary school She started school at the same time as her older brother having tested into kindergarten at the age of three and a half She and her brother continued to go to school together through elementary school In high school Esther was on the pre college track taking all the science courses available to her She had determined to become a brain surgeon after meeting a female brain surgeon in one of the offices her father cleaned She was impressed by this woman and ...

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Debra A. Reid

teacher, home demonstration agent, and administrator, was born in Finchburg, Alabama, to Elijah E. and Frances (Moore) Edwards. Mary Evelyn V. Edwards was the fifteenth of their seventeen children, and she worked as a bookkeeper at her father's store, sawmill, and gin. She was a senior in the local high school when she married J. A. Hunter, the high school principal. The couple moved first to Woodville, Texas, and then relocated to La Porte, Texas, where they leased a ranch on Jennings Island. They had two sons, John McNeile Hunter in 1901 and Ira T. Hunter in 1905. M. E. V. Hunter taught school, and after her husband's death in the early 1910s, she began taking courses at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College (later Prairie View A&M) to gain teaching credentials. She ultimately earned a BS from that school in 1926 ...

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Karen Cotton McDaniel

insurance salesperson, member of the Kentucky legislature, and civil rights activist, was born in Millersburg, Kentucky, to Anna Belle Leer, a domestic, and Charles Robert Jones, a white man and a son of the family for whom Leer worked. Mae was never introduced to her biological father, and he never acknowledged her as his child. Jones eventually married and had his own family, and sometimes they visited Mae and her mother. Mae, however, felt rejected by Jones and wanted nothing to do with him or his family. As the daughter of a white man who denied their relationship, Kidd faced discrimination in both the white and the black communities throughout her life.

When Mae was two years old, her mother married James William Taylor the man Mae considered to be her father and whose surname name she was given James Taylor was a tobacco ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

attorney, Detroit area civic leader, and nominee for the sixth circuit federal court of appeals, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Wade Hampton McCree Jr. and Dores B. McCrary McCree, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan.

Her father served as a Michigan circuit judge for Wayne County, 1954–1961, and as a federal U.S. district judge 1961–1966, and U.S. sixth circuit court of appeals judge from 1966 to 1977, when he was appointed solicitor general of the United States by President Jimmy Carter. He was the first African American to serve on the sixth circuit court, and the second (after Thurgood Marshall) as solicitor general. Kathleen Lewis attended Detroit public schools, graduating from Cass Technical High School in 1965, then entered Fisk University (Jet, 24 Mar. 1966, 39), where Judge McCree was an alumnus and later a ...