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Article

Christopher Phelps

a Philadelphia radio journalist who became an international icon in debates over race and the death penalty after he was convicted for the murder of a police officer, was born Wesley Cook to Edith and William Cook, migrants from the South. The family subsisted on welfare in the housing projects of North Philadelphia. As a boy Cook read avidly and sought enlightenment, attending services with his Baptist mother and Episcopalian father, then dabbling in Judaism, Catholicism, and the Nation of Islam. When he was about ten years old his father died of a heart attack, prompting him to assume a protective role toward his twin brother, Wayne, and younger brother, William.

The black liberation movement shaped Cook's coming of age. In a 1967 school class in Swahili, a Kenyan teacher assigned him the first name Mumia. In 1968 at age fourteen he and some friends protested ...

Article

Ralph E. Luker

attorney, educator, and civil rights activist, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, the son of Joe Blackwell and Blanche Mary Donnell. Randolph attended the city's public schools for African Americans and earned a BS in Sociology from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro in 1949. Four years later he earned a JD degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. In December 1954 Blackwell married Elizabeth Knox; the couple had one child. After teaching economics for a year at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, Alabama, Blackwell became an associate professor of social sciences at Winston‐Salem State Teachers College in North Carolina.

Because of Blackwell's legal background, Wiley Branton, the director of the Voter Education Project (VEP), hired Blackwell as its field director in 1962. Secretly encouraged by the Kennedy administration, the VEP was launched in April 1962 with funding from private ...

Article

Rose Pelone Sisson

survivor of a lynching attempt, civil rights activist, and founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron, a barber, and Vera Cameron who was employed as a laundress, cook, and housekeeper. At the age of fifteen months, James was the first African American baby ever admitted as a patient to the St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, where he underwent an emergency operation on the abdominal cavity. By the time James started school, his parents had moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and his parents separated.

When Cameron was sixteen he was living with his mother, two sisters, and grandmother in Marion, Indiana. His stepfather Hezikiah Burden hunted and fished long distances from home so was away from his family most of the time The family lived in a segregated section of Marion Indiana which counted about four thousand blacks among its ...

Article

Julie Gallagher

lawyer, activist, and children's advocate. Marian Wright was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, to Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist preacher, and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright. Raised with a strong sense of community, Marian Wright was taught that character, self-discipline, determination, attitude, and service were the substance of life.

As a student at Spelman College in Atlanta, Wright studied with the historian and civil rights activist Howard Zinn. She also traveled to Europe, where she spent fifteen months learning to take risks and to follow her own path. Wright graduated as valedictorian of her Spelman College class in 1960 and proceeded directly to Yale University Law School. While still a law student she worked on a project to register African American voters in Mississippi. She graduated with a law degree in 1963.

Wright first went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational ...

Article

SaFiya D. Hoskins

gang and organization founder, criminal, was born Jeff Fort in Aberdeen, Mississippi, to John Lee Fort, a steel mill worker, and a mother about whom little information is available. In 1955 Jeff moved with his parents and ten siblings to the South Side of Chicago and settled down in Woodlawn, a middle-class white neighborhood prior to the influx of blacks migrating from the South, and the backdrop for Woodlawn native Lorraine Hansberry's play, A Raisin in the Sun. Jeff's father John Lee Fort had secured employment in a Chicago steel mill. Spurning hostile neighbors and a divided community, Fort, twelve years old and relatively small for his age, organized a group of boys who patrolled Blackstone Street between the corners of 64th and 66th where his family lived, to battle with white and black gangs in the area. In 1960 one year later Fort founded ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Luther Brown

activist, lawyer, and businesswoman, was born in Lynch Station, Virginia (near Lynchburg), the eighth of eleven children of Mary Elizabeth Robinson, a domestic, and John Milton Haden, a junk dealer. John Haden was almost totally absent from his children's lives, leaving it to Mary Elizabeth Haden to both rear and educate her progeny. She worked exceptionally hard scrubbing floors and clothes and serving white families to ensure that her children were provided for and received good educations. John Haden often turned to his white father for money allegedly to support the family. But Mabel recounted that her mother made the money to support the family and that her father kept the money from his junk business for himself.

Mabel was named for the white woman president of the boarding school the Allen Home School in Asheville North Carolina that she later attended She was always ...

Article

Greg Sidberry

civil rights leader. Benjamin Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Robert B. Hooks Sr., a self-made businessman and co-owner of the Hooks Brothers’ Photography Studio, which closed in 1939 but reopened after the depression. His mother, Bessie White, was a stay-at-home mother of seven children. Despite the existence of institutionalized racism, Hooks's family expected him to excel without offering excuses. He learned to read at an early age and, before starting high school, had read all of the classics found in their small home library. Reading—especially newspapers—was the primary source of information and entertainment for the family. Dinnertime was family discussion time; each child had an opportunity to participate as current events and daily activities were reviewed and analyzed. Hooks says he heard repeatedly: “You got to be twice as good.”

Benjamin skipped the sixth and was promoted out of the seventh grade He started Booker T Washington High ...

Article

H. Zahra Caldwell

Harlem gangster, was born Ellsworth Raymond Johnson in Charleston, South Carolina. He acquired the nickname “Bumpy” as a boy when his parents discovered a small marble-sized bump on the back of his head. This bump was simply an accident of birth, but it would provide Ellsworth with the nickname by which he would be known throughout his life. Little is known of Johnson's parents or childhood; however, by the age of fifteen he had moved to Brooklyn, New York, to live with an aunt. He finished high school and at sixteen he moved to Harlem to live on his own. He was soon involved in a life of petty crime. By sixteen he could already be described as a stickup gunman and a second-story burglar.

At the age of seventeen Johnson was sent to a reformatory in Elmira NewYork This stay would serve as the beginning of nearly half ...

Article

Erin L. Thompson

lawyer, executive, and civil rights activist. Jones attributes her commitment to civil rights activism to the reactions of her parents—a schoolteacher and a Pullman porter who was a member of America's first black trade union—to the racially charged atmosphere of her childhood in Norfolk, Virginia. Particularly influential was a visit to Chicago in the early 1950s when her family was turned away from hotels because of whites-only policies.

After graduating with honors in political science from Howard University in 1965, Jones taught English from 1965 to 1967 as one of the first African Americans to serve in Turkey as a member of the Peace Corps. She then became the first black woman to enroll in the University of Virginia's law school, graduating in 1970.

Jones then immediately joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund an organization dedicated to using the legal system to fight discrimination and civil ...

Article

Elizabeth K. Davenport

attorney and civic leader, was born in Chicago into an African American family of successful lawyers. Her father, C. Francis Stradford, was a prominent attorney on Chicago's South Side and the founder of the National Bar Association (NBA), which he established in 1925. In 1940 C. Francis Stradford successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark case Hansberry v. Lee, which abolished the restrictive covenants that had limited racial integration in Chicago neighborhoods. Her grandfather, J. B. Stradford, was a well-known lawyer in the African American community and the owner of the only black hotel in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her mother, Aida Arrabella Carter Stradford, was an artist and a homemaker.LaFontant's indoctrination to the legal profession occurred early. As a student at Englewood Public High School in Chicago, she spent the summers working in her father's law office. In the autumn of 1939 she ...

Article

Erin L. Thompson

cabinet official, lawyer, and energy specialist. Born in Newport News, Virginia, Hazel Rollins Reid was the daughter of Russell E. and Hazel Reid, both doctors. She was raised by her father and stepmother, Hazel Palleman Reid, after her parents divorced when she was eighteen months old. Young Hazel attended a high school for artistically talented youths in New Jersey. She returned to that state for a law degree from Rutgers University in 1966 after having graduated with honors from the historically black Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1959. Reid then worked as an assistant prosecutor in Essex County, New Jersey, and as an assistant attorney general for New Jersey before moving to Washington, D.C., where she became a partner in an accounting firm.

Reid was appointed the general counsel of the Community Services Administration by President Gerald Ford helping run its antipoverty ...

Article

Erin L. Thompson

activist, delegate to the United Nations, judge. Born Edith Spurlock in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a shipping clerk and a hatmaker, Sampson's childhood was poor. At age fourteen she left school to work in a fish market. After returning to high school and graduating, Sampson attended the New York School of Social Work. There, she met and married Rufus Sampson, a field agent for the Tuskegee Institute.

When her husband was transferred to Chicago, Sampson found work surveying conditions in the city's South Side neighborhoods for the Young Women's Christian Association while also taking courses at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. In the 1920s Sampson worked for the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society while attending the night program at John Marshall Law School. She graduated in 1925 and enrolled in the Loyola University Law School to obtain an LLM master of laws ...

Article

Julie Gallagher

political and civic activist, lawyer, and civil rights advocate, was the daughter of Robert A. Pelham, the former editor and publisher of the Washington Tribune, and Gabrielle Lewis Pelham, a pianist and the first honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her sister was Dorothy Pelham Beckley, the Deltas' second national president. Speaks was a graduate of the prestigious Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., and the University of Michigan, where she received a bachelor's degree in Science in 1924.

Prior to her marriage in 1926 to Dr. F. Douglas Speaks with whom she had one son she taught in South Carolina and did social work in Washington D C In the late 1920s Speaks assisted her father in organizing the Capital News Service an African American news agency in Washington She worked in journalism for three years before moving ...

Article

Angela Black

attorney and philanthropic foundation president, was born in New York City to James Thomas, a laborer, and Viola (Atherley) Thomas, a housekeeper. Thomas grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, the youngest of six children in a close-knit family of West Indies heritage. When Franklin was eleven years old his father died, and his mother took a second job during World War II as a machinist to support the family. However, when the war ended and the soldiers returned home, many companies replaced the minorities and women they had hired with war veterans, and Thomas's mother lost her machinist position.

Despite the violent atmosphere in his neighborhood Thomas was a well adjusted child socially and academically He was a Boy Scout and an excellent student who maintained high course marks By the time he entered Franklin J Lane High School he stood six feet four ...

Article

Tekla Ali Johnson

minister of information for the Black Panther Party of Omaha, Nebraska, and political prisoner, was born David Lewis Rice in Omaha, Nebraska, to Vera (Black) Rice and Otis Rice. We Langa graduated from Creighton Preparatory School in 1965 and for the next two years he took classes at Creighton University He was active for a short while in the Nebraska Democratic Party but grew increasingly discouraged over the continued oppression of African Americans in North Omaha Nebraska and soon began writing social commentary for alternative newspapers Police violence in the segregated community led to protests by young African Americans in North Omaha including we Langa Amid mounting police violence in Omaha during the 1960s a local branch of the Black Panther Party formed Its leaders declared their intention to serve as surveyors of police activities to document incidents of physical and verbal abuse and defend Nebraska s African American ...

Article

Chesya Burke

civil rights activist and attorney, was born Margaret Berenice Bush in St. Louis, Missouri—as she has been known to point out, before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. Her father, James T. Bush, a real estate broker, and her mother, Margaret Berenice (Casey) Bush, a committee executive of the St. Louis NAACP in 1920, were both instrumental in shaping young Margaret's views on racism. She attended public schools and graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis with honors in 1935. She received a BA in Economics and Mathematics, cum laude, from Talladega College in Alabama in 1940. During her senior year she received a Juliette Derricotte fellowship, named after the writer and educator.

In the late 1930s when Margaret Bush was still an undergraduate Missouri did not allow blacks to attend its state supported law schools The state ...