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Nathan Zook

minister, civil rights leader, and member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, was born Avery Caesar Alexander in the town of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, to a family of sharecroppers. The names of his parents are not known. Seventeen years later, his family moved to New Orleans. Avery Alexander maintained an active life there and in Baton Rouge for the next seventy-two years.

Prior to his election to the Louisiana legislature, Alexander was employed as a longshoreman. At the same time, he pursued an education by taking night courses, receiving his high school diploma from Gilbert Academy in 1939. He became politically active by working as a labor union operative for a longshoreman's union, Local 1419. He also held the occupations of real estate broker and insurance agent.

Alexander received a degree in theology from Union Baptist Theological Seminary and became an ordained Baptist minister ...


Andre D. Vann

lawyer, educator, and first black chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, was born in Ellerbe, North Carolina, the eighth of the twelve children of Walter Frye and Pearl Motley, farmers. In the late 1920s his father sought to ensure financial security for his family by purchasing a forty-six-acre tobacco and cotton farm with the assistance of a loan from a local bank, which made him one of only a handful of blacks who owned land in Ellerbe. Later his father purchased a small sawmill from white owners. Frye attended the segregated Mineral Springs School in Ellerbe and graduated as valedictorian in 1949. In June 1953 he earned a BS in biology with highest honors from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College later North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U S Air Force and served ...


Jeff Bloodworth

congressman, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of Nyanza Hawkins, a pharmacist who moved his family to Los Angeles in 1918 when Hawkins was eleven years old, and Hattie Freeman. Thereafter Los Angeles remained Augustus Hawkins's home. He graduated from Jefferson High School and from the University of Southern California with a degree in Economics in 1931. Only five feet four inches tall and so light-skinned that he was often mistaken for white, Hawkins entered electoral politics at an early age.In 1935, after leaving a job selling real estate, Hawkins was elected to the California State Assembly. Running as a Democrat and a proponent of Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC) program, he defeated a longtime incumbent. Once in office Hawkins became a committed New Deal liberal, supporting Franklin Roosevelt and eschewing socialism and other radical prescriptions to end the Great ...


Jennifer Wood

lawyer, jurist, New York state senator, and prominent civil rights advocate, was born Constance Baker in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of twelve children of Willoughby Alva Baker and Rachel Keziah Huggins, immigrants from the West Indian island of Nevis. Her father worked as a chef for Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale, and owned a restaurant briefly in the 1930s, but the Depression caused the endeavor to fail. Her mother was a leader in the black community, particularly as a member of St. Luke's Church. One of the oldest African American Episcopal churches in the nation, the church served predominantly West Indian families.

Constance Baker was an excellent student and had published both a poem and a prize winning essay on tuberculosis by the time she graduated from high school At fifteen Baker decided that she wanted to pursue a legal career ...


Monique M. Chism

As a leading figure of the era, Motley was on the ground floor of the civil rights revolution. Not only did she help to ensure the legal incorporation of African Americans, but she also was instrumental in laying the foundation for the women’s movement and the continued protection of civil liberties for other marginalized groups. As a pioneer in her profession, Motley repeatedly broke gender and racial barriers. She was the first black woman attorney to argue before the United States Supreme Court, first black woman to serve in the New York State Senate, first woman elected as president of the Manhattan Borough, and first African American woman on the federal bench.

Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Her West Indian parents, Willoughby Alva and Rachel Huggins Baker migrated to the United States from the Caribbean island of Nevis Constance was the ninth child in a family ...


Don Schanche

Georgia commissioner of labor, state representative, and lawyer, was born in Athens, Georgia, the youngest of nine children of Sidney and Vanilla Thurmond. His parents were sharecroppers.

Athens is home to the University of Georgia, which remained segregated until Thurmond was eight years old. Thurmond's home in rural Clarke County was a world away from the university. He recalled, “I was sixteen before we got an indoor bathroom” (author's interview with Thurmond, 2005). But his parents made education a priority. All the Thurmond children finished high school and four of them—including Michael—finished college.

Thurmond attended segregated schools until his senior year in high school, when the county schools were consolidated in 1971. The black high school, Burney Harris was slated for closure not integration and Thurmond led an unsuccessful protest against the closing When the school board sought and won an injunction to ...


Gloria Grant Roberson

George Washington Williams had a pioneering spirit throughout his life as a soldier clergyman, journalist, historian, lawyer, author, and state legislator. Often aided by influential social and political alliances, he made valuable contributions to the cultural enlightenment of black people. However, as an ambitious and abrupt young man, Williams's drive for success often antagonized those whose support he needed.

Williams was born in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, to Thomas and Ellen Rouse Williams. He had one older sister and three younger brothers, but little is known of his siblings—Margaret, John, Thomas, and Harry. In his thoroughly researched biography, John Hope Franklin noted that Williams was a “wicked and wild” child who spent time in a boy's shelter. Departure from home at age fourteen to join the military reveals young Williams's propensity for adventure. His positive adjustment to military life is evidenced in his reenlistment patterns from 1864 through 1868 ...