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Simone Monique Barnes

educator and public school administrator, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the only child of Fannie Bassett of Vineyard Haven, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and John Briggs of Tiverton, Rhode Island. Her parents were married in 1831. Brigg's mother died when she was a young girl, and as a result, she was raised by her father, with the help of an aunt, Mrs. Bailey. John had grown up poor, in a rural area where he was allowed to attend school only in the winter. At about age twelve, he came to the city of New Bedford to work for George Howland, a Quaker and a whaling ship agent. John stayed employed by the Howland family until his death, more than fifty years later. When his daughter was still an infant, John was fitting Howland's whaling ships, the Java and Golconda and he developed a friendship with another of ...


Brian Tong and Theodore Lin

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as “Catherine Brown,” “Katherine Brown,” “Kate Brown,” or “Kate Dodson.” In the New York Times article “Washington, Affairs at the National Capital,” her name appears as “Kate Dostie.” Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had a colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for the Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843 Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton ...


educator and clubwoman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, just before her parents, Elizabeth Hartnett and Joseph Willson, moved their young family to Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, who had been born free in Georgia, was a dentist and the author of Sketches of the Higher Classes among Colored Society in Philadelphia (1841). Willson, her brother, and her three sisters grew up among the black elite. Her parents emphasized education and accomplishment—her mother was both a skilled musician and a music teacher—and Willson trained to be a teacher after graduating from Cleveland's Central High School in 1871. She then served as one of the first black teachers in Cleveland's integrated elementary schools.

She met her future husband, the U.S. senator Blanche Kelso Bruce, in June 1876 when he traveled to Ohio for the Republican National Convention The two corresponded and became friends though the family biographer ...


Alice Knox Eaton

labor organizer, was born in Richmond, Virginia, to parents whose names and occupations are unknown. Harris left school at the age of eight to work as a childcare worker and later as a cook for white families in Richmond.

Little is known about her life until she reached her forties and began working as a stemmer at the Export Tobacco Company in Richmond quickly noting the unhealthy working conditions long hours and low pay The average salary for a tobacco laborer in Richmond was approximately six dollars per week some factories had no cap on the number of hours worked per day and workers had nothing but kerchiefs wrapped around their faces to protect against tobacco dust that filled the factory Upon hearing that the Congress of Industrial Organizations CIO was organizing workers she brought sixty women from Export to the next union meeting and volunteered her services Labor ...


Stephanie Y. Evans

community activist. Dorothy Irene Height was born in Richmond, Virginia. Her mother, Fannie Burroughs Height, was a nurse, and her father, James Edward Height, was a building contractor. Growing up in Rankin, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh, she attended public schools and served as a volunteer in school and church groups. With a $1,000 oratorical scholarship and an excellent academic record, she enrolled in New York University and earned both bachelor's (1933) and master's (1935) degrees in educational psychology. Working for the New York Welfare Department, Height helped mediate during the Harlem riots of 1935 and became one of the young leaders of the National Youth Movement of the New Deal era.

While working as a caseworker for the welfare department in New York, Height joined the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW). When she met Mary McLeod Bethune the founder of ...


Martha A. Sandweiss

wife of the eminent geologist, explorer, and writerClarence King and litigant, was born in or around West Point, Georgia. Though little is known of her early life, she was almost certainly born a slave and as a young girl acquired the name Ada Copeland. In the mid-1880s she migrated to New York City and found work as a nursemaid. In late 1887 or 1888 Copeland met a man who introduced himself as a Pullman porter named James Todd. They were married in September 1888 by the Reverend James H. Cook a prominent minister with the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church Although Todd represented himself to Ada as a Marylander of African American descent this was a false identity He was in fact Clarence King a socially and politically prominent white man from Newport Rhode Island educated at Yale who had led the Fortieth Parallel Survey ...


Stefanie Cole

teacher, activist, and writer, was born Clara Sheppard, one of five children born to Ezell and Isabel Sheppard in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. Violence against blacks and segregation practices were common at that time in rural Oklahoma. Luper's parents were devout Christians who taught their children to love their enemies and anticipate a better America. Ezell Sheppard was a World War I veteran who drove a school bus, picked crops in segregated fields, and worked in a variety of other trades. Isabel Sheppard worked as a maid for white families.

Clara Luper attended Hoffman Elementary, a one-room school where students shared books discarded from white schools. The teacher was also the principal and the janitor. Even as a young child Luper's oratory was impressive. By age eight, she often ended regular church services by reading aloud to the congregation. In 1940 she graduated from Grayson High ...


K. Wise Whitehead

educator, civic leader, feminist, and writer, was born Maritcha Remond Lyons in Manhattan, New York. She was the third of five children (the eldest died before the age of three) born to Albro Lyons Sr., a graduate of the first African Free School in Manhattan and a prosperous businessman, and Mary Joseph Marshall Lyons, a seamstress and hairdresser whose father was from Venezuela and whose mother was a successful businesswoman. The Lyons family lived in a free black community in New York, a community that would become, by the start of the Civil War, economically viable, politically active, socially conscious, and well-educated.

By the time she was eight years old Lyons s father owned and operated a seaman s home and a seaman s outfitting store that served as a natural cover for her parents work as conductors on the Underground Railroad Lyons wrote about ...


Susan Knoke Rishworth

physician, civil rights and women's suffrage activist, settlement worker, and clubwoman, was born Verina Harris in Ohio, one of five children of Charlotte (Kitty) Stanly, a schoolteacher, and the Reverend W. D. Harris, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Her mother came from a family of North Carolina free blacks who had inherited slaves that they wished to emancipate in the North before the impending Civil War. Around 1850 the family moved to Ohio, where Kitty Stanly and her husband taught school. The year of Verina Harris's birth is given as 1865 in some sources, but most probably it was between 1853 and 1857. Little is known about her early life, but the family apparently moved south to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1870 while her father was serving in an AME ministry in various locations in South Carolina More information ...


Clare J. Washington

health care professional and union official, was one of five children. Her family lived in a very large tenement building, in what was an often seedy, rough neighborhood on the south Side of Chicago. She attended Chicago public schools, and then she managed to get a scholarship to the University of Illinois. After only six months, she had to return home and find a job. Her brother had been drafted into the U.S. Army, and there was no longer a source of income for the family.

During World War II, nurse's aide positions shifted from being the domain of upper-class women volunteers to poor (often black) women. As shortages and turnover became more prevalent in the hospitals, the conditions of work for these women worsened. In 1946 Roberts became the first African American nurse s aide hired at the University of Chicago Lying In Hospital She felt isolated ...


Vivian Njeri Fisher

political and civil rights activist, suffragist, and feminist, was born free in Charleston, South Carolina. The second daughter born to William and Margarette Rollin, her family and friends called her Lottie. Her parents were among the elite free Charleston families of color. Very little is known about her mother except that she was a free person of color and probably from Saint Dominque. Her father was a descendant of a French family, the De Caradeucs, who were wealthy aristocrats who left Saint Dominque in 1792 and relocated to Charleston. The De Caradeucs became involved in the lumber trade and because of his family connections, William Rollin also entered the lumber business, amassing wealth, political power, valuable real estate, and a few slaves.

To ensure that his daughters, Frances Rollin (1845–1901), Charlotte Rollin (b. 1849), Kate Rollin (1851–1876), and Louisa Rollin ...


Vivian Njeri Fisher

political and civil rights activist, suffragist, and educator, was born free in Charleston, South Carolina, as Katherine Euphrosyne Rollin, the third daughter of William Rollin, wood factor, and Margarette, housekeeper. Her mother's maiden name is unknown. Family and friends referred to her as Katie. Rollin and her parents were listed as mulatto in the 1850 U.S. census. Her parents wanted their four daughters to have a fine education. A law passed in 1834 in Charleston, however, “prohibited the maintenance of schools by and for free people of color and slaves.” As a result of this legislation, free blacks were forced to find other ways to educate their children (Holt, 53). Like her older sisters Frances Rollin and Charlotte Rollin Katie was privately tutored and she attended private schools in Charleston She also enrolled in secondary schools in Boston and in ...


Barbara A. White

educator and catalyst for the successful integration of Nantucket public schools and for the passage of the first law in the United States to guarantee equal access to education, was born on the island of Nantucket. She was the youngest child born to Jam, a laborer, and Mary Ross, and had one brother and three sisters. Her father was one of the few people on the island listed in the census of having been born in Africa.

During Eunice Ross s childhood Nantucket was a thriving whaling community African Americans lived on the outskirts of town in a segregated neighborhood known as Newtown or New Guinea During her childhood the black and white population of the island increased steadily and by the time she was seventeen the Newtown community had doubled in size to around six hundred residents The community was self sufficient with its own shops inns ...


James Sellman

Sojourner Truth was one of the best-known black women of her time, rivaled only by African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, yet her life remains surrounded by mystery. Truth, who was illiterate, left no written record apart from her autobiographical Narrative of Sojourner Truth, dictated to white abolitionist Olive Gilbert in the late 1840s. Much of what we know about her was reported or perhaps invented by others. More so than Frederick Douglass, her prolifically autobiographical contemporary, Truth has been transformed into myth. Feminists emphasize her challenge to restrictive Victorian codes of femininity; Marxist historians proclaim her solidarity with the working class. Her spirit has been invoked on college campuses in the United States in struggles to create African American and Women's Studies programs. Yet most interpretations of Truth fail to understand the centrality of her evangelical religious faith.

In their writings, both Harriet Beecher Stowe and ...


Nell Irvin Painter

abolitionist and women's rights advocate, was born in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, the daughter of James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves. Named Isabella by her parents, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843. As a child, Isabella belonged to a series of owners, the most memorable of whom were the John Dumont family of Esopus, Ulster County, to whom she belonged for approximately seventeen years and with whom she remained close until their migration to the West in 1849. About 1815 she married another of Dumont's slaves, Thomas, who was much older than she; they had five children. Isabella left Thomas in Ulster County after their emancipation under New York State law in 1827, but she did not marry again.

In the year before her emancipation Isabella left her master Dumont of her own accord and went to work for the ...


Rosetta E. Ross

Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, spy and scout, and social reformer, was born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, one of nine children, to slave parents Harriet Green and Ben Ross. She took her mother's name, Harriet, around 1844. This was also about the time she married John Tubman, a free black of about thirty-two years in age. The couple had no children.

The black community in which Harriet grew up comprised a mix of free and slave, skilled and unskilled people who married one another and formed interconnected, extended families. Freedmen and slaves worked together in the fields, swamps, forests, and canals. Harriet's father worked as a skilled slave, cutting and hauling timber for his master, Anthony Thompson, a lumber supplier for the area's shipbuilding industry. A favorite of Thompson's, Ross eventually won his freedom in 1840 by ...


Paula J. Giddings

antilynching reformer and journalist, was born Ida Bell Wells, the first of eight children born to James Wells, a carpenter, and Elizabeth Arrington, a cook, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Her parents worked for Spires Boling, a contractor and architect, as slaves and then as free blacks until 1867, when James Wells, against the wishes of his employer, exercised his new right to vote. After returning from the polls to find his carpentry shop locked, Wells moved the family to a house nearby and went into business for himself. In Holly Springs, Ida Wells attended a freedmen's school, of which her father was a trustee, and Shaw University (later Rust College), founded by the Freedmen's Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church and incorporated in 1870.

Ida Wells's early life as a “happy, light-hearted schoolgirl” (Duster, 16) was upended in 1878 when both of her ...