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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 ...

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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 ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

Revolutionary War soldier and civic leader, is a man about whom few early personal details are known. Probably a former slave he was a free man and resident of New Hampshire when he joined the Continental army in July 1779 from the town of Gilmanton.

Dailey's service in the Revolutionary War mirrored that of many other blacks in New England, both slaves and free men, including such soldiers as Lambert Latham, Oliver Cromwell (1752–1853), and his fellow New Hampshire resident Prince Whipple. Whether or not Dailey was a free man before he joined the army is an open question. He may have already been a free man, or he could have used the bounty money he received for enlisting to purchase his own freedom, a method by which many slaves throughout New England gained their freedom during the war.

Once he joined the Continental army ...

Article

Thomas M. Leonard

diplomat, lawyer, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Samuel Durham and Elizabeth Stephens. Two of his uncles, Clayton Durham and Jeremiah Durham, were noted clergymen who helped Bishop Richard Allen establish the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Durham, who could almost pass for white, studied in the Philadelphia public schools and graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1876.

For five years after leaving high school Durham taught in Delaware and Pennsylvania. In 1881 he entered Towne Scientific School, a branch of the University of Pennsylvania, from which he earned a bachelor's degree in 1886 and a civil engineering degree in 1888. He held several positions during his college career, including reporter for the Philadelphia Times. He excelled as a newspaperman, and his unique abilities eventually led him to the assistant editorship of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ...

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

Blake Wintory

photographer, politician, sheriff, assayer, barber, and lawyer, was born a slave in Carroll County, Kentucky. William Hines Furbush became a member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as the first sheriff of Lee County, Arkansas. His Arkansas political career began in the Republican Party at the close of Reconstruction and ended in the Democratic Party just as political disfranchisement began.

Little is known about Furbush's early life, though his literacy suggests a formal childhood education. Around 1860 he operated a photography studio in Delaware, Ohio. In March 1862 he traveled to Union-controlled Helena in Phillips County, Arkansas, on Kate Adams and continued to work as a photographer. In Franklin County, Ohio, that December he married Susan Dickey. A few years later, in February 1865 he joined the Forty second Colored Infantry at Columbus Ohio He received an honorable discharge at the ...

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

H. Zahra Caldwell

philanthropist, activist, and numbers banker, was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. Holstein emigrated with his mother to the United States when he was nearly 12 years old. Little is known about his early childhood in the Virgin Islands. He attended high school in Brooklyn, New York, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1898. He was stationed, for a time, on the islands of his birth. After completing his tour of duty he settled in Harlem in New York City. Holstein began working as a porter and bellhop at a Wall Street brokerage firm. As he swept floors and carried packages he also observed the intricacies of the stock market. He had ambitions that stretched far beyond his work as a porter.

Holstein had arrived in Harlem when the numbers game known as Bolito was a waning but still popular recreational pastime for blacks ...

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

Mary Frances Berry

washerwoman, seamstress, organization founder, lecturer, and leader, was born into slavery in Rutherford County near Nashville, Tennessee. She had at least one sister, Sarah, and a brother, Charles. Her parents were slaves. Her father, Tom Guy, apparently served in the Union army. The 1880 Census lists her mother, Ann Guy, as a widowed washerwoman. Callie Guy had only a primary school education, probably attending Freedman's Bureau and church schools, but exhibited a high degree of literacy as an adult.

In 1883 she married William House, a laborer in Rutherford County, and bore six children, five of whom survived to adulthood. In the 1890s she was a widow, taking in laundry like her mother and other impoverished black women in the South.

About this time a new idea for political action surfaced in Rutherford County and other communities where former slaves ...

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

Melissa Nicole Stuckey

educator and newspaper editor, was born John Carter Leftwich in Forkland, Alabama, the eldest of the eight children of Frances Edge and Lloyd Leftwich. From 1872 to 1876 Lloyd Leftwich served as one of Alabama's last black state senators. John Leftwich and his siblings grew up on the 122-acre farm his parents purchased from Lloyd Leftwich's former owner. The former slaves instilled in their children the importance of religion and education. Not only did the couple learn to read and write after the Civil War but they also donated a portion of their property for the construction of Lloyd Chapel Baptist Church and Lloyd Elementary School. Remarkable for the time period, most of their eight children became college graduates.

In 1886 Leftwich entered Selma University in Selma, Alabama. Unhappy there, he wrote to Booker T. Washington for permission to transfer to Tuskegee Institute and he offered to ...

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 ...